Top 10 Films of 2015

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. Max faces off against Immortan Joe and his War Boys. Mad Max was the latest installment in the franchise after a 30 year hiatus, and the highest grossing. 

Andrew Shermoen andColleen Kelly

Top 10 Films of 2015

2015 was a great year for Hollywood, filled with films that were absolutely stunning both visually and thematically. 2015 revived the long-loved “Star Wars,” “Mad Max” and “Rocky” franchises, as well as produced several new up-and-coming directors who proved that they truly can compete with the big boys of the film industry. Picking out only ten films was a tricky endeavor, but after much deliberation we are happy to present our 10 films of 2015 that are definite must-sees.

10. “It Follows”

When a college student named Jay has a one-night stand, she doesn’t expect to wake up with a curse. A shapeshifting monster begins to stalk her, visible only to people who are “it.” It will pursue her at a constant walking pace until it eventually can kill her, at which point it will go back and kill the previous person to have passed it on. Now Jay is forced to question her sanity and flee from the seemingly unstoppable foe.

Andrew: “It Follows” is a brilliant horror film with a haunting premise and imagery. It isn’t a relentless onslaught of jump scares. Rather, it’s a perfectly paced horror film that keeps you in suspense the entire time. A fun homage to ’80s horror with a well-crafted narrative, a beautifully haunting score and plenty of scares, “It Follows” will certainly stick with you.

Colleen: This movie was a throw back to classic ’80s horror film from the way it was shot, to the sound mixing and especially the masterful suspense. That’s what this movie does so well, actually — you feel an actual sense of dread and suspense throughout the entire film, true horror without all of the gore and cheap scares. This was a prime example of less is more.

9. “The Revenant”

Based on the true story, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a fur trader exploring the land of the Louisiana Purchase. Following a gruesome bear mauling and a personal tragedy, his team leaves him for dead. When Glass recovers and realizes what has happened, he vows to track down the men responsible and get his revenge.

Andrew: Filled with amazing cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki and wonderful performances, “The Revenant” is an amazing film. The film exudes beauty and adds a sense of intensity with its incredibly riveting continuous shots. The scenes of action are incredibly riveting and filmed brilliantly. DiCaprio’s performance is fantastic, as usual, and the character of Glass is a compelling character that has been thrown into a situation of true desperation. His tale is incredibly captivating, and one of the best cinematic experiences of this year.

Colleen: There are multiple scenes I wish I could have as a poster from this film. From the acclaimed director of last year’s Oscars sweetheart “Birdman,” Alejandro G. Iñárritu floored me with his keen directorial eye and use of natural lighting. DiCaprio proved to us once and for all that he is still very much in his prime, taking on the visceral, physical role of Glass beautifully. While some metaphorical aspects of the film such as Glass’s visions and spirit quest didn’t quite work for me, the overall narrative was an engaging and emotional epic.

8. “Creed”

Adonis Creed is the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed who is adopted by Creed’s wife after the famed boxer’s death in the ring. Despite having a privileged upbringing and a high-paying desk job, he cannot ignore his urge to box like his father and leaves it all behind to move to Philadelphia in an attempt to train under Apollo’s former friend and opponent Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). While dealing with the public and private pressures of living up to his father’s legacy, he finds a bright side to it all in a budding relationship with his neighbor Bianca.

Andrew: When I speak of up-and-coming directors showing a lot of promise, I think of Ryan Coogler. His skill behind the camera is amazing. Beautiful and exciting camera shots turn “Creed” into both a riveting story, but a masterpiece from a technical perspective as well. Michael B. Jordan excels in his portrayal of Adonis, who is a deeply interesting and captivating emotional character. Thompson’s portrayal of Bianca is not only incredibly endearing, but is a much more interesting character than Audrey. The real standout performance is from Sylvester Stallone, who has probably delivered the performance of his career. The Rocky in this movie is so emotionally resonate in a multitude of ways, and Stallone captures it all.

Colleen: I have always hated the “Rocky” franchise. However, I absolutely adore this movie and I’m stunned by it. My favorite scene was the climactic fight scene, mainly due to it being filmed as a wide, sweeping long shot. Jordan’s emotive performance has made him someone to look out for in the film industry. The sheer physicality required of the role and emotional depth that he brought to the character were a hard but winning combo in his hands, and I cannot say enough good things about him. Stallone, too, proved his acting chops in this latest installment and was anything but dead weight. This film could have so easily been ruined or stolen by him, but he and Jordan proved an outstanding duo.

7. “Sicario”

Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) is a brilliant FBI agent who just recently raided a home of kidnappers who work for a cartel located in Juarez, Mexico. After this raid, a Department of Defense advisor and CIA officer named Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) reveals that this cartel is currently being hunted by the U.S. government and picks Mercer to assist them in tracking down the men and perform sting operations against them in Juarez and on the Mexico-Texas border.

Andrew: Denis Villeneuve handles suspense in a beautiful and captivating way. The man composed every shot of the film without music to make sure “Sicario” was suspenseful and haunting without a score. The character’s motivations are intriguing, and the performances are wonderful. The film is filled with beautiful stylistic choices and is so fun to watch, but it also handles incredibly interesting themes and morals that make it one of the most interesting, thought-provoking and suspenseful movies of the year.

Colleen: “Sicario” is a bleak movie if I’ve ever seen one, and it is done beautifully. Given the subject matter, bleak and tense was the only route to go to do this story full justice. Each of the main characters brings something to the table, and their slowly revealed motivations are just enough to keep you on the hook to stick out this macabre crime thriller to the end. The pacing is incredibly slow at some points, which could be divisive for viewers. However, there is more than enough well-choreographed action and intelligent dialogue to keep you entertained.

6. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

30 years after the events of the second Death Star, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has gone into hiding and is being hunted by The First Order, a group of the Galactic Empire loyalists led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a Sith intent on finishing what Dark Vader started. Opposing the First Order is The Resistance, led by Skywalker’s sister, Leia (Carrie Fisher), who sends her best pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), to acquire a map to Luke’s location. After being captured, however, Dameron leaves the map behind in his protocol droid BB-8. Together, Rey (Daisy Ridley), a force-sensitive scavenger, and Finn (John Bodega), a rebellious Stormtrooper, find BB-8 and must team up with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) to deliver the map to safety.

Andrew: Visually stunning and filled with great characters, “The Force Awakens” was a big crowd pleaser, and one of my favorite films of 2015. I’ve always been a huge fan of the “Star Wars” films, mostly the original trilogy. This film renewed my love for the franchise and not only introduced an incredibly diverse cast of characters, but some of the most complex character development we have seen this year. “The Force Awakens” may have been derivative of “A New Hope,” but that doesn’t slow down how clever and fun it was to see an enjoyable and entertaining “Star Wars” film.

Colleen: This, too, is the latest installment in a franchise I didn’t care for, and yet I loved it. This film single-handedly changed my mind about the entire series, and that has everything to do with its careful balance of nostalgia and innovation. The new additions to the “Star Wars” cast (Daisy Ridley in particular) surpassed the original trio in my eyes, but that’s not to take away from the clear talent present in the original cast’s performances here. This film was an explosion of masterful special effects, as well, but what truly won me over was the cinematography. “The Force Awakens” is the poignant space adventure fans deserve.

5. “The Hateful Eight”

In post-Civil War Wyoming, a bounty hunter and former Union soldier, Maj. Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) stops a stagecoach during a blizzard and hitches a ride with fellow bounty hunter, John “The Hangman” Routh (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to the local town of Red Rock. On their way toward town, they come across the newly appointed sheriff of Red Rock, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). Due to the weather, the group is forced to stay the night at Minnie’s Haberdashery, which is already housing with guests. Routh quickly suspects that someone in the group is working with Domergue to help her escape her hanging. As the night carries on, suspicions are raised and tensions run high in the cramped cabin.

Andrew: Like Tarantino’s films usually are, this film is a dedicated and odd homage to films of old. Tarantino’s movies are interesting stories filled with brilliant characters and creative dark humor, but this is all because his movies are rooted as well-constructed love stories to film. “The Hateful Eight” is no exception. Boasting amazing cinematography, beautiful scenery, hilarious dialogue, creative and fun characters, an interesting style and a clever and suspenseful story all work to make “The Hateful Eight” another awesome addition that proves Tarantino is a master of this art form.

Colleen: As a long-time fan of Tarantino’s work, I can honestly say that this is one of his best movies to date. Everything from the 70mm film used to shoot it to the way it utilized artistically framed wide shots to the score itself was a love letter to classic spaghetti westerns. In fact, the composer behind the film is a retired mastermind

4. “Ex Machina”

When Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a talented programmer for the largest tech company in the world, wins a contest to spend a week’s vacation with the eccentric CEO of the company, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), he’s not sure what to expect. When Caleb arrives, he learns that Nathan wants him to test an AI he has created, an android named Ava (Alicia Vikander) to see if she could truly be considered human or if she is merely a machine. Caleb accepts the experiment and grapples with his own humanity and whether it can truly be defined within the confines of the dangerous game.

Andrew: A suspenseful and frightening film that also explores themes of humanity and obsession with technology, even going so far as to comment on man’s penchant to create the things that will destroy them. Without the interesting thematic elements though, “Ex Machina” is still impressive because of its cinematography, clever and poignant dialogue, and the incredible performances from the actors. Vikander is especially interesting in her portrayal of Ava, who delivers a performance that is both haunting and creepy but very endearing as well.

Colleen: “Ex Machina” is easily the most thought-provoking and engaging film I have had the privilege to watch in quite awhile. The questioning of humanity and whether we can ever truly test or define one’s humanity and consciousness is a question modern science and philosophy still struggle to answer. It was an incredibly atmospheric experience, in that Nathan’s home and laboratory gradually shift from warm and luxurious to claustrophobic and dangerous. The trick to this story is that all of Ava’s machinery are clearly exposed except for her very human-like face, but even so, the audience often forgets that she isn’t a real woman in captivity, but a machine with motives and goals as questionable as her human companions. In that way, Vikander stole the show in her portrayal of Ava. This film was primarily a thought experiment, driven more so by its characters and dialogue than actual plot, and it worked fantastically. Your gut will be in knots with tension, but the wonder and intrigue make the examination of the uncanny all the more worth it.

3. “Inside Out”

Riley is a preteen girl living happily in Minnesota. Inside Riley’s head are her five emotions personified influencing her actions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). Joy runs the operation, making Riley’s main emotion happiness. After her family’s sudden move to San Francisco, Riley is uprooted and out of her comfort zone in her new life. As a result, Sadness feels obligated to have a stronger influence upon Riley, leading to a rift in the emotions. After Joy and Sadness are accidentally ejected from HQ, Joy and Sadness must get to HQ as soon as possible, lest the damage done to Riley in their absence becomes irreversible.

Andrew: Pixar’s return to form has provided us with another masterpiece as good as “Up,” “WALL-E” and the “Toy Story” films. The performances are incredibly nuanced, especially those of Kind, Poehler and Smith. There are plenty of scenes with uplifting humor, but what really captivates you is the emotion of the film. Riley’s troubles are universal, and the intense emotion and care you feel for the characters of the film make it incredibly enjoyable. With beautiful visuals and a captivating story, “Inside Out” isn’t just one of 2015’s greatest films, but one of Pixar’s as well.

Colleen: “Inside Out” hits you where you live. It takes you back to your own preteen years and right back into those feelings of insecurity and social awkwardness, and the idea of personifying each of the emotions was genius, especially as we see the emotions and behaviors they produce when collaborating. This is a film that beautifully illustrates to children the complexities of emotion and mental health and reminds adults to stay in tune with their own emotions. The animation is gorgeous, maturing in color palette throughout the story as Riley’s personality does. There are so many precious details and aside jokes that you’re sure to notice something new after multiple viewings. This was an emotional (pardon the pun) thrill ride that truly touched my heart when I wasn’t busted up laughing. Pixar is still very much at the top of its game.

2. “The Martian”

When a massive dust storm hits, the Ares III mission is forced to abandon their assignment on Mars and make a hasty retreat to Earth. During evacuation, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is struck by a piece of flying debris and unintentionally left for dead. Forced to survive with limited supplies and within the small Mars base, Watney is faced with the ultimate man vs. nature dilemma as NASA scrambles to form a rescue plan.

Andrew: Subsequently praising the power of science, advocating for an increased interest in space exploration and offering a thrilling narrative, “The Martian” is one of the most enjoyable films of this year. The cast is filled with well-known and talented actors who all do an incredible job portraying their characters. Matt Damon’s performance, as expected, is riveting. Mark Watney is incredibly likeable. He becomes someone you deeply care for and sympathize with, and every moment of adversity he faces is a gut punch. “The Martian” is a brilliant return to form for talented director Ridley Scott and it’s incredible story is one of the best this year.

Colleen: “The Martian” is outstanding. Based on the equally brilliant novel, this film blew me away with its sheer narrative scope. We go between Watney, his crew and NASA’s points of view and stick with them for long periods of time, giving the story a well-rounded voice as we watch them all approach the nightmarish situation from both logistical and moral standpoints. The best part of this, though, is how lighthearted and fun the story turned out to be. This film could have been bleak and terrifying, but instead found its footing by marrying realism and optimism. This is easily Damon’s best performance to date, mastering the deadpan humor and delivering long monologues of scientific jargon with practiced, confident ease. The soundtrack is wonderful, too, so if you’re a fan of disco guilty pleasures and some classic rock, you are in for a treat. If nothing else, “The Martian” has proven that director Ridley Scott is still a master of the science fiction genre.

1. “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Civilization has collapsed after the nuclear Water Wars, making gasoline, water and vegetation as precious commodities in the post-apocalyptic desert. Still haunted by the deaths of his wife and child, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) has traveled the Wasteland for years and is captured by the War Boys, a faction of warriors that fight for Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). A warlord of The Citadel, Joe is obsessed with producing a male heir with one of his numerous unwilling Wives. Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) strays from the path and attempts to liberate the Wives from Joe’s reign of terror. Seeing no other options, Max and Furiosa form a pact to help the other escape from Joe’s vicious caravan.

Andrew: An amazing setting with crazy characters around every corner, “Fury Road” is the type of film that keeps you leaning forward in anticipation. Each shot is filled with beautiful and crazy imagery. The world that director and writer George Miller has come up with some of the most insane concepts in his time and “Fury Road” is filled with those crazy ideas. Motorcycle-riding, sharpshooting elderly women, an mechanical arm made from spare car parts, a twin-necked guitar with a flamethrower attached — his film is an amazing action movie special, filled with dazzling and amazing practical effects. An amazing story with an enjoyable and colorful cast of characters and some of the most breathtaking and beautiful action scenes I have ever seen. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a brilliant film, the type of movie that all other action films should aspire to be, and that’s why it is the number one film of the year.

Colleen: This film floored me. While marketed as yet another brainless action movie with flashy cars, “Fury Road” proved to be easily one of the most thought-provoking and well made films of the past decade. The acting was great, Theron and Hardy carrying the film effortlessly with their outstanding, emotive performances, and Keayrs-Byrne becoming the embodiment of one of my new favorite villains. To say that this film was gorgeous would be a gross understatement. Part of what made “Fury Road” as dazzling and unique as it is was the director’s choice to use almost exclusively practical effects in lieu of CGI or green screen (yes, the flame-thrower guitar is real). The film was beautiful not only in its special effects, but also in its themes: the importance of finding a place to call home and never losing hope no matter how bleak life becomes.

Honorable Mentions: “Dope,” “Room,” “Brooklyn,” “What We Do in the Shadows,” “Crimson Peak,” “Straight Outta Compton,” “The Gift,” “Love and Mercy” and “Kingsman: The Secret Service.”

So there you have it! Ten films that really made this year in films a great one. It was incredibly hard to narrow them all down to just 10, but having a quality movies to choose from is always an excellent problem to have and we should all be very excited for next year.