If I made a full “best movies” list, these films (plus a few others) would all be on it somewhere, but I have much more to say about my top-three list than these. All I can really say about these movies are are “go see them, they’re great!”
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)
Mad Max: Fury Road
The first time I saw this movie, I liked it, but I didn’t start loving it until later. Fury Road is the kind of movie that sticks with you, and the more I thought about it and read interpretations of its plot and themes, I realized just how good it really was. It deserves way more awards than it’s going to win, but if it doesn’t sweep at least the technical categories at the Oscars, I might incite a riot.
The Hateful Eight
I’m a Quentin Tarantino purist: my favorite film of his (and I will argue that it’s objectively his best) is his 1992 debut, Reservoir Dogs. The Hateful Eight does not unseat it, nor is it a good introduction to Tarantino’s style. With all of that being said, it’s a highly enjoyable movie, packed with great performances and a stellar script, and is one of the most beautifully-shot movies I’ve seen all year. I saw it in digital at an ordinary AMC theater, but I can’t imagine what a treat it would’ve been to see it on 70mm film.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
I am not a Star Wars fan. In fact, I’ve always preferred the positivity of the Star Trek universe over the former’s science-fantasy violence. The Force Awakens, though, might have converted me. The original series is treated as almost a mythology in and of itself and new characters are introduced almost seamlessly. Plus, it was honestly just so much fun to watch.
This movie was on my top-three list until a movie I saw late in the year knocked it down onto the honorable mentions. (We’ll get to it later.) Seriously, how great is it that Ridley Scott finally made another great movie? His career has been a series of misfires lately, and it was wonderful to see him make a film so entertaining and yet so thought-provoking– not to mention Matt Damon proving once again what a good actor he really is.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Part 2)
I really don’t understand all the hate that the last two Hunger Games films have gotten. Whatever the reason, I feel they are both very underappreciated and I’ve enjoyed them immensely. Mockingjay Part 2 is the swan song of the series, combining the action people loved about the Games sequences from the earlier movies while building on the political commentary– a deep and critical view of the Capitol that, to me, made the first Mockingjay so compelling.
3. The End of the Tour
(rated R, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel)
This is the movie that knocked The Martian onto my honorable-mentions list. My familiarity (read: lack thereof) with the writer David Foster Wallace begins and ends with basic biographical information and the inclusion of an excerpt from his Kenyon College commencement speech “This is Water” in my AP English Language textbook this year. I have not read any of his fiction, let alone tried to conquer his 1000-page magnum opus Infinite Jest. But Jason Segel as Wallace in this movie– all I can say is “wow.” He is unrecognizable in the best possible way– as is Jesse Eisenberg as David Lipsky, a Rolling Stone reporter and author of the book upon which the movie is based. The movie isn’t really about either of them as people, though. The movie really treats an abstract relationship as its main character: the sort-of-friendship that evolves from the interviewer/interviewee relationship between Lipsky and Wallace, and as such it’s a very character-driven film.
The film is set in 1996, over five days at (based on the title, what else) the end of the Infinite Jest book tour. I can’t comment on the criticism levied at the movie for factual inaccuracies or its portrayal of Wallace and Lipsky as people, but as actors playing characters, Segel and Eisenberg are both incredible. It’s a shame that this movie has been mostly forgotten during awards season (the only major acting award it’s been nominated for so far is Segel for an Independent Spirit Award. It’s a shame, because Segel as Wallace was my favorite film performance of the year.)
This movie is not a straight-up biopic of Wallace or Lipsky and is definitely not for everyone. But for what it is– a road trip movie that’s basically nothing but two staggeringly intelligent men talking about life and fame –it was outstanding and I was riveted the entire time. Neither Segel nor Eisenberg are likely to be nominated for Oscars for their roles here (the best shot it has is Adapted Screenplay, but even that’s a long shot), but they more than deserve them.
2. Inside Out
(rated PG, with the voices of Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling, Lewis Black, and Bill Hader)
Three of my all-time favorite movies are the aforementioned Reservoir Dogs, Jurassic Park, and Pixar’s Up. I mention this seemingly-unrelated fact as a segue to tell you that I think Pixar’s last truly great film was Up, which was released in 2009. I grew up during Pixar’s golden age. The first two Toy Story films, Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc., The Incredibles– these were all movies I watched countless times as a child. Once I got old enough to appreciate Pixar’s films beyond entertainment value, they seemed to head into a decline. The only Pixar movie I ever truly disliked was Cars 2, but their films the last few years never held the same magic that their late-90s and early-2000s ones did.
So I was overjoyed when I walked out of Inside Out– like The Martian and Ridley Scott, it feels so great to say Pixar made another truly amazing film. The animation is beautiful, the voice acting outstanding, but the plot, story, and themes are what really shine– just in the way that they should in a Pixar film. I’m beginning to wonder if voice actors are eligible for acting Oscars, because Phyllis Smith as the voice of Sadness is transformative. Don’t let people tell you that animated movies are just for kids (which they shouldn’t tell you anyway): Inside Out was incredible.
(rated R, starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schrieber, Stanley Tucci, and Brian d’Arcy James)
No movie is flawless. But if I’d seen a movie this year as close to flawless as possible, it would have been Spotlight. It’s clearly Oscar-bait, and I mean that as the highest possible compliment. The film is an ensemble piece, and this is where it truly shines: all of the actors are in top-form here. Mark Ruffalo gives probably the best performance of his career so far; Rachel McAdams (who is a very good actress but usually ends up playing roles that don’t show off her talent) is outstanding as well. And after the Birdman Oscars debacle last year, I expect that Michael Keaton is the most likely upset possibility for Best Actor.
The writing is on point, the premise (the Boston Globe uncovering the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal in the early 2000s) is timely, the pacing is slow enough to allow the implications of what occurs to set in but quick enough that it never gets boring. Like I said, it is as close to a flawless movie as I’ve seen all year. Please, do yourself a favor and watch it.
2015 was a great year for movies, and with numerous movies I’m very excited for coming out in 2016, let’s hope this year is even better. Next week, I’ll be back with a recap of the Oscar nominations, with predictions, snubs, and surprises.
(Copyright 2015 Sadie Britton) (All images from their respective films; used in a review/analysis)