After a series of lists pertaining to 2015's most overrated and underrated films, as well as the most underrated acting performances, I'm finally ready to divulge my Top 10 movies of the past cinematic year. 2015 proved to be a solid calendar year of films, evident by the 18 finalists I had to sort through to find my ten best. There were plenty of really strong options to choose from, but only my top two titles below really blew me away. Otherwise, let's recap 2015's best of the best.
Honorable Mention: The Martian, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 99 Homes, Ex Machina. Sicario, Straight out of Compton, The Big Short and Kilo Two Bravo
Guy Ritchie's super-spy action flick, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., was one of the funnest movie experiences I had all year. The slick and humorous script is further supported by uptempo editing that provides top notch action sequences. Man of Steel's Henry Cavill finds the role of a lifetime as an American CIA agent who's forced to team up with a Russian KGB operative (Armie Hammer) during the heart of the Cold War in the 1960s. This unlikely duo must work together to ensure that nuclear weapons don't end up in the wrong hands. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a strong entry all across the board and worthy to appear on this list.
#9. The Gift
One of the surprise movies of the year was Joel Edgerton's directorial debut, The Gift. As a co-star, writer, and director of this pet project, Edgerton puts his flashy versatility on display. This gripping thriller finds Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife (Rebecca Hall) back in his hometown looking for a fresh start. But when Simon bumps into an old classmate named Gordo (Edgerton), it unlocks a dark secret that can't be ignored any longer. Smart writing and impressive performances carry the audience to an unforgettable finale that puts a stamp of approval on this wonderful debut film.
As a longtime fan of director James Ponsoldt's eye-catching filmography, I was very pleased by his latest effort, The End of the Tour. This soulful true story details Rolling Stone Magazine reporter, Dave Lipsky's (Jesse Eisenberg), five day road trip and interview with acclaimed novelist, David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel). This wordy screenplay is bolstered by profound dialogue that creates an intimate and personal movie experience. Jason Segel delivers a career-best performance that was sadly omitted from the awards season discussion. The End of the Tour is yet another insightful film from the ever-improving American filmmaker, James Ponsoldt.
Having the unique opportunity of catching Maya Forbes', Infinitely Polar Bear, at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, it felt unjust to construct my annual top ten list without giving the movie another watch. After seeing the film yesterday for the first time in nearly two years, I was just as impressed with Mark Ruffalo's surprising Golden Globe nominated performance as I was in 2014. Ruffalo gives a fully committed turn as Cam Stuart, a manic depressive husband and father who struggles holding a job and assuming responsibility on a daily basis. But when his antics pushes his wife (Zoe Saldana) to a boiling point that forces her to leave Boston to earn an MBA in New York, Cam must handle the Mr. Mom duties of solely raising their two daughters for the next 18 months. Filled both earnest moments and genuine laughs, Infinitely Polar Bear is a fantastic dramedy worthy of a watch.
Quentin Tarantino continues to amaze with his latest twisted Western, The Hateful Eight. This post-Civil War tale finds bounty hunter John "The Hangman" Ruth escorting the fugitive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to Red Rock, Wyoming where she'll be hung for crimes committed. Yet, a vicious blizzard forces Ruth and Domergue, whose capture holds a $10,000 reward, to take shelter in a stopover filled with strangers he doesn't know and certainly can't trust. Outside of Tarantino's brilliant screenplay, a regular occurrence with his heralded work, Samuel L. Jackson shines as the brightest aspect of the film. This lengthy, but well-paced, story culminates in a bloody showdown of epic Tarantino-like proportions. The Hateful Eight is an enjoyable watch for anyone able to stomach the finale.
One of the most delightful features of the year came from John Crowley's crowd-pleasing drama, Brooklyn. Leading lady Saoirse Ronan has thrust herself into the Best Actress race with an Oscar-destined turn as Ellis, a young 1950s Irish immigrant who leaves her family behind and ventures to America for a chance at a better life. And once the homesickness becomes almost unbearable, she meets a charming Italian plumber named Tony (Emory Cohen) who wins her heart. But when unforeseen circumstances pull her back to Ireland, Ellis must decide between her staying in her birthplace and the man she loves. I had issues with the film's rushed third act, but it's impossible to deny the beauty and wit scattered all throughout Crowley's exceptional work.
#4. The Revenant
I had the pleasure of catching Alejandro G. Inarritu's late-year release, The Revenant, back in early December. The filmmaker top home the Best Director award for last year's Best Picture winner, Birdman, but he returns a year later with an effort that's far superior. Leonardo DiCaprio has his fingers crossed for an Oscar statue following his role as famed explorer, Hugh Glass. While working with a hunting team in a massive uncharted wilderness, Glass faces a gruesome attack by a grisly bear and is left for dead by Fitzgerald (Tom hardy). However, Glass goes to inhuman lengths to survive a brutal winter and recover from his wounds to seek revenge on Fitzgerald. I don't know if I've ever experienced a film before that placed me into its setting with such unhindered ease. Inarritu's direction is beyond masterful and transforms The Revenant into a breathtaking revenge tale. But be warned, it's a violent and brutal affair that will, unfortunately, turn off a fair share of Oscar voters.
Many insiders will declare that Tom McCarthy's Spotlight is the current Oscar frontrunner for Best Picture. This strong-willed and spirited true story reveals the efforts of the Boston Globe's investigative research team, Spotlight, to expose the Catholic Church's sexual abuse cover-up. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams give excellent performances in one of the finest investigative journalism films in recent memory. The movie is pretty straight-forward, good is good and bad is bad. But even through this narrow lens, Spotlight manages to captivate its audience with a gripping screenplay that tells a necessary, albeit it regrettable, true story.
We're down to the final two selections, and both of these films represent a huge step over the rest of the year's crop of titles. First up is Lenny Abrahamson's emotional drama, Room. This magnificent adapted screenplay follows a kidnapped woman (Brie Larson) who is held as a sex slave in a 10 foot by 10 foot room padlocked room. And when she eventually gives birth to Jack (Jacob Tremblay), her captor's son, she struggles to properly raise him in this secluded environment. Room is a deeply moving film that tells an unimaginable story. Brie Larson gives the year's finest acting performance which is beautifully complemented by the supporting work of youngster, Jacob Tremblay, and veteran, Joan Allen. Room is a bona-fide Best Picture contender that I'll be rooting for these next couple months. You can only understand this powerful film by experiencing it first hand. It's safe to assume that Room will have another theatrical run as the Oscars approach, and you won't want to miss the opportunity when it does.
It's an annual expectation that the best films don't normally reach audiences until October at the earliest. 2015 broke the mold with a top movie that first debuted in January at the Sundance Film Festival where it went on to win both the Jury and Audience awards. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's virtually flawless coming-of-age tale, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, wins over its viewers with an emotional screenplay that's heightened by perfectly-timed humor. Thomas Mann stars as Greg, a high school senior who forms an unexpected friendship with a classmate (Olivia Cooke) recently diagnosed with cancer. The premise is nothing new, but perhaps Me and Earl's most impressive quality is the film's ability to turn the ordinary into something extraordinary. Boasting a fabulous soundtrack, elite performances from its starring trio (Mann, Cooke and newcomer, RJ Cyler) and a genuine script, Me and Earl absolutely consumes the viewer. Thanks to its superb direction, you'll fall in love with its characters and its beautiful message, clearly labeling Me and Earl as the biggest must-see film of 2015.