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Top 10 Movies of 2015 (Bumbray)

And so another year is in the books. Overall, 2015 turned out to be a pretty giant year, with record-breaking box office and the minting (or rather, reactivation) of several lucrative new franchises that’ll keep us talking for years to come. While not all franchise movies were especially good (TERMINATOR GENISYS was a disaster, JURASSIC WORLD was overrated, and AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON was the rare Marvel entry to fall flat) a lot of them were pretty great, with movies like ANT-MAN, KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE, STAR WARS – THE FORCE AWAKENS and more blowing away expectations.

However, it was a lot of the smaller films, or rather unexpected triumphs that took me by surprise this year and the fact that it was so hard to whittle this list down to ten proves just how strong a year this really was.

Check out JimmyO's Top 10 of 2015HERE!

And, check out Eric Walkuski's Top 10 of 2015 HERE!

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

I’d be willing to bet that of the three of us doing year-end Top 10s, our top pick will all be the same. Sure enough, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is still the film to beat for 2015. I’ve written so much about it since May I don’t know what else to add, but at this point I bet even the Academy would be hard-pressed to overlook the best reviewed, most technically accomplished film of the year. George Miller made a masterpiece and also updated his MAD MAX character in a way that they could potentially build a whole franchise around Tom Hardy, although no one can deny the real breakout star here is Charlize Theron as Furiosa, one of the most iconic action heroines since Ripley in ALIEN or The Bride in KILL BILL.

2. The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino’s made his most divisive movie yet with THE HATEFUL EIGHT. A 70MM epic reminiscent of spaghetti westerns like THE GREAT SILENCE, a certain knowledge of the genre is almost a prerequisite to get full enjoyment out of this. For film geeks such as me, this kind-of parlor western was a three hour plus treat. A friend of mine called this THE THING if it was set in the Old West, and right down to the Ennio Morricone score (much of it rejected cues from THE THING) he has a point. Hopefully THE HATEFUL EIGHT will also be the movie that makes Walton Goggins a star, with him making one of the most interesting anti-heroes of the year as Chris Mannix (a kind of Klaus Kinski-meets-Terrence Hill type character). Like THE REVENANT, this is a must see ON THE BIG SCREEN and preferably in 70MM.

3. Sicario

Denis Villeneuve’s SICARIO is the most haunting action thriller I’ve seen in years. A gorgeously shot (by Roger Deakins) crime saga, it’s interesting that Emily Blunt, as great as she was as SICARIO’s FBI heroine, doesn’t feel like the real star of the movie. Rather, it feels like an elegiac character piece for Benicio Del Toro’s morally ambivalent hit-man, whose actions at the conclusion of the film have sparked much debate. I told Del Toro myself that I felt like this could be taken as a kind of quasi-sequel to TRAFFIC, and while he maintained they were different films, he admitted there were many similarities. All told, this was one hell of a movie and its box-office success is heartening.

4. Creed

While I knew Ryan Coogler’s CREED was going to be good, in my wildest dreams I never thought it would be one of the best films of the year. One of the coolest things to come out of its success is the critical reappraisal the ROCKY saga has undergone, with me not being the first critic to note the uniqueness of Rocky’s arc throughout the series, giving an atypical look at the real ups and downs faced by each and every one of us. CREED, with Michael B. Jordan’s personable Adonis as our new hero, is the ideal continuation of the saga and it just might also net Sylvester Stallone a much-deserved best supporting actor nomination (something no one could have predicted a few months ago).

5. The Revenant

While I respected BIRDMAN for its visual dazzle, it’s not a film I’ll be returning to much over the years. However, the same cannot be said of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s follow-up, THE REVENANT. Far superior to BIRDMAN, this masterful western in the mold of movies like A MAN CALLED HORSE features a career-best performance by Leonard DiCaprio who – if he doesn’t win the Oscar this year never will. This is the kind of performance that proves who’s a star and who’s not, and DiCaprio is a star, as is Iñárritu at this point. With Emmanuel Lubezki as the DP and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto providing his best score since MERRY CHRISTMAS MR LAWRENCE, THE REVENANT looks and sounds like nothing you’ve ever seen before. I’ve seen it twice now and I’ll certainly be seeing it again (and please, see it on the big-screen!).

6. Spotlight

Does anyone else remember another year when one director was responsible for both the best and worst films of the year? Sure enough, it happened with Tom McCarthy, who started out the year on a bum note with his awful Adam Sandler vehicle THE COBBLER (one of three horrible Sandler films to come out in 2015). As such, no one expected miracles with SPOTLIGHT, but hallelujah, McCarthy knocked this one out of the park. Simply shot, brilliantly written and acted, SPOTLIGHT tells the true story of the Boston Spotlight team who, in early 2002, blew the lid off the Catholic Church abuse scandal in the city, starting a chain reaction that reached all the way up to the Vatican. The acting in this one is incredible, from Mark Ruffalo, to Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Live Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, Brian d’Arcy James and more.

7. 99 Homes

99 HOMES is another movie that pretty much came-and-went without a peep this fall. Maybe the fact that the distributor held this a full year after it’s well-received TIFF 2014 debut had something to do with it, but those of us lucky enough to catch 99 HOMES walked-away thinking it was a masterpiece. Andrew Garfield is superb as a young father caught up in the housing market crash of 2008, who makes a Faustian bargain with Michael Shannon’s venal real-estate broker, where he’s able to recover his family’s home in-exchange for costing other people’s theirs. Shannon has one of the best roles of his career as the Satanic broker, proving once again that the real gangsters out there aren’t necessarily the ones out on the streets, but rather the white-collar types involved in shady financial doings. In many ways, this is the ideal companion piece to Adam McKay’s excellent, more buzzy THE BIG SHORT. That film’s all about the finances, while this is all about the street-level effect.

8. James White

I’m sure many of you reading this list haven’t seen or maybe even heard of Josh Mond’s JAMES WHITE, which was one of the most admired films of this year’s Sundance Film Festival but only got a modest theatrical release (although you can find it on VOD). A troubling character study, JAMES WHITE stars former Girls-star Christopher Abbott as a reckless young New Yorker struggling to come to terms with his mother’s terminal illness. The climatic scenes between Abbott and the amazing Cynthia Nixon (who richly deserves a best supporting actress Oscar nod) are riveting stuff.

9. Room

When you watch as many films as I do, it’s easy to get jaded. I see most theatrical releases, and with my festival coverage and regular duties at JoBlo.com, I see quite a big chunk of non-theatrical releases as well. That’s why films rarely hit me on a primal level unless they’re incredibly effective and Lenny Abrahamson’s ROOM was one of those films. I remember seething my way through the TIFF press screening as I was so disturbed by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay’s on-screen predicament, to the point I was violently fantasizing about doing-away with the man who holds them captive. In essence, I forgot I was watching a film, which is highly unusual for me. Many have complained that ROOM’s second half doesn’t live up to the first, but for me it provided a much needed catharsis, and even in a second viewing the film held up tremendously.

10. Bone Tomahawk

One of two Kurt Russell westerns on this list, BONE TOMAHAWK is certainly the most unique. While that film aims to recapture the magic of Spaghetti Western directors like Sergio Leone, BONE TOMAHAWK director Craig S. Zahler has made something more in-line with the classic American-styled western courtesy of people like Howard Hawks, John Ford and Anthony Mann, albeit with an unexpected horror twist in the third act that provided the audiences with some of the most gruesome, unsettling images of the year. It’s a real shame Zahler’s well-regarded film didn’t get more theatrical play, with him demonstrating some arresting scope visuals despite a reportedly low $1.5 million budget. Luckily, the film has picked up plenty of fans, including Quentin Tarantino and author/Podcast host Bret Easton Ellis.

The performances are uniformly excellent, with Patrick Wilson making an ideal everyman hero, the James Stewart to Kurt Russell’s iconic John Wayne/Gary Cooper-style Sherriff. Matthew Fox gives his best performance since Lost as an enigmatic, racist gunman with murky motivations; while Richard Jenkins steals every scene as the old Walter Brennan-style coot sidekick for Russell (it was nice to see him get an Indie Spirit nomination). BONE TOMAHAWK also features fine work in the smaller parts, from Banshee’s Lili Simmons as a far-from-stereotypical damsel in distress to vets like James Tolkan, Sean Young, Michael Paré, Sig Haig and David Arquette in colorful bit parts. There’s no doubt in my mind Zahler’s the most intriguing new voice to emerge from American cinema this year and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Runners-up

Like I wrote in my introduction, 2015 was a great year and while these movies didn’t make my top ten, all of them were pretty great on their own right.

EX-MACHINA: One of the summer’s sleeper hits, EX MACHINA put writer Alex Garland on the map in a big way as a creator of innovative, cerebral, adult sci-fi fare. It’s a visually striking ride, with excellent performances by rising stars Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, and Oscar Isaac.

KINGSMEN: THE SECRET SERVICE: I’m a little disturbed by the fact that Matthew Vaughn’s Bond-spoof KINGSMEN wound up being a better action film than the real thing this year (SPECTRE) but the fact remains, very few films were as much fun to watch as this. With a star-making turn by Taron Egerton and a bad-ass, career reinventing turn for Colin Firth (who could become the next Liam Neeson if he wanted to) KINGSMAN was a blast and a half, with the “Freebird” church scene being the action sequence of the year.

MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION: Speaking of Bond-clones being better than the real thing, Tom Cruise once again pushed the envelope with ROGUE NATION emerging as the M:I franchise’s best entry to date, with Christopher McQuarrie using his daredevil star to good effect in several jaw-dropping sequences. While it peters-out a bit in the last third, overall this was one hell of an action flick, and also introduced one of the year’s hottest new stars in the guise of Rebecca Ferguson.

STAR WARS – THE FORCE AWAKENS: While it didn’t make my Top 10, at its best THE FORCE AWAKENS made me feel like a kid again watching Harrison Ford (in his best performance in years) strap on a blaster as an older (but thankfully not wiser) Han Solo, teaching new kids Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) just exactly what it takes to have an adventure in a galaxy far, far away. This franchise is going to be a monster, and Boyega and Ridley are well on their way to icon-status.

Steve Jobs: While everyone’s buzzing about what a financial flop Danny Boyle’s STEVE JOBS biopic wound-up being, the fact remains it’s one of the most unconventional and enjoyable biopics to emerge in a long-time. Michael Fassbender is excellent as the cold, often unknowable Jobs, effortlessly spouting off Aaron Sorkin’s inimitable, literate dialogue. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s well worth checking out.

Other highlights: BEASTS OF NO NATION, THE MARTIAN, SHOW ME A HERO (TV Miniseries), CAROL, BROOKLYN.

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