My Top 10 Films of 2015

top 2015 movies

2015 will be known as the year that westerns took on space operas again, and the year that audiences clamoring for more LGBT dramas want better LGBT dramas. It was the year that practical effects and 70mm film started popping up more in the conversation, dictating some of the biggest hits of the box office.

It was a great year for movies, and one I was happy to participate in as a critic. Of the 80 films I saw in 2015, I’ve curated a list of my “top” favorites. This list differs from my 2015 Movie Power Rankings, in that it isn’t dictated by grade. I’m selecting movies that I personally loved, even if they have some notable flaws holding them back.

And this list comes with a significant caveat, in that I’ve been away for the holidays. I’ve missed several new releases, like The Hateful EightThe RevenantAnomalisa, and Son of Saul. For that reason, they didn’t make the list, even though one or two of them certainly had the potential.

That said, let’s take a look at some of the best movies 2015 had to offer us, starting with:

#10 Creed

Though I was charmed by Southpaw, the other mainstream boxing movie of 2015 that starred Jake Gyllenhaal, Creed worked harder to land its punches. Starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, this mashup of an unprivileged kid turned privileged, then unprivileged again, ended up being my favorite origin story of the year.

Director Ryan Coogler could have easily defaulted to many of the same beats that have carried previous installments in the Rocky universe, but his decision to keep Stallone out of the writing room and to place more emphasis on brand new themes (like an inventive soundtrack that still manages to pay homage to the original) push Creed to incredible heights as a franchise starter.

#9 Paddington

Movies made specifically for children have a tendency to forget the rest of their audience, including the older versions of the children who love these movies in the first place. Paddington makes no such compromises, infusing a charming script with equally charming characters.

If you had to fault Paddington for anything, it would have to be the absence of any real risks. But the true achievement of this kid-friendly adventure in London is how well it sets the standard for accessible adaptations of children’s classics.

#8 Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

It’s easy to pick fun at Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, a film that’s deftly aware of its indie status with showy camerawork and a parade of film references that will manufacture old Hollywood nostalgia. But it’s also easy to look past its genius, as a movie that centers around a concept most coming-of-age films never get right: detachment.

This quirky summer film harkens back to The Way Way Back, another somewhat flawed movie that floored me emotionally. If you’re seeking heart mixed in with an original concept and even more original characters, then this is a must-see.

#7 Star Wars: The Force Awakens

For all of its controversy for being a mimic of past Star Wars films, you have to admit that The Force Awakens is certainly the most interesting movie of the year. It’s a film with such rich appeal and complexity, fans and haters alike are still at each other’s throats over whether or not it’s actually good.

Of course, it’s a great movie that cancels out its many flaws with even more moments of awe and spectacle during an age when practical effects and real film were on the way out. But what makes the hype around TFA worth it the most is its lovable characters we can’t wait to see more of.

Is it shameless in its premise that it doesn’t work fully as a standalone movie? Absolutely. But as Hollywood makes this fascinating transition into an industry of franchises, not movies, TFA is at least a glowing example of how to do it well.

#6 Spotlight

My favorite ensemble of the year comes from this team up of Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, John Slattery, Lieve Schrieber, and others as they uncover the massive sex abuse scandal within the high ranks of the Catholic Church.

Spotlight gets you invested within the first few minutes of its interactions between journalists at the Boston Globe. Its recency in events keeps the story harrowing to think about, but it’ll stand the test of time for its adherence to the real culture behind spotlight journalism. It will hopefully inspire (and de-inspire) future journalists for years to come.

#5 Room 

Lenny Abrahamson’s film adaption of the popular novel by Emma Donoghue, Room, is one of the boldest movies of the year, and one of the most emotionally gripping, thanks to incredible performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Imagine a film in which the main character, someone who is the victim of a horrible crime, is shamed for her imperfections throughout?

Room doesn’t sugarcoat the messiness of life. People are sick, terrible, and (sometimes) good. Watching their lives play out in one of the most horrible ways possible should make you uncomfortable, but only because the connection you’ve made with the characters onscreen is genuine and hard to forget.

#4 Mad Max: Fury Road

Technology finally caught up to the insane vision of George Miller, and audiences had the privilege of seeing this post-apocalyptic masterpiece unfold in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Designed to be something worthy of the big screen, I’m unsure of how well Fury Road will translate on a tablet or flatscreen TV. But the impressive visuals, captivating lore, and truly spectacular effects will keep fans like me re-watching this future classic for years.

#3 Inside Out 

Inside Out is one of those rare movies with such an attention to detail, it’s hard to find any real flaws (CinemaSins notwithstanding). Its storytelling is actually superior to its good story, its side characters transcend the main ones, and the comedy is even more fun than some of the more emotional moments expected from a Pixar film.

In other words, Inside Out is full of surprises, a compliment I wish I could give to more films this year, animated or otherwise. It’s spirited, original, and isn’t asking for a sequel to make it relevant.

#2 It Follows

I truly wish we could have more horror films like It Follows, which trades glossy production for an earthy feel that mixes nicely with a jarring soundtrack you have to hear to believe. Though simple in its premise, It Follows can take a while to dissect, as a film about a group of teenagers in the Detroit suburbs trying to foil a persistent, shapeshifting demon.

What makes the film superb, however, is its ability to twist its own flaws into elements of the film itself. Of course these kids are morons. That’s the point. Of course that’s a plot hole. These kids are morons. As far as horror films go, It Follows is a true standout.

#1 The Good Dinosaur

For me, The Good Dinosaur will always be one of the most fascinating films of 2015. It’s a film that feels wholly imperfect in conception, but nearly perfect in execution. For that reason, I think most moviegoers gave up on the film before they could experience it in action.

The energy of this film, which is absolutely my favorite movie of 2015, comes from its harmony between story, effects, music, animation, and characters. Everything is crafted to fit, so if you don’t like one aspect of the recipe that makes up The Good Dinosaur, then there’s a chance you won’t enjoy the meal.

But more than that, The Good Dinosaur pulls off what Pixar hasn’t tried to do in ages: something completely new. As much as I love Inside Out, it ends up feeling like a standard Pixar movie. The Good Dinosaur, while clearly paying homage to many westerns, doesn’t feel like something made by Pixar, and that’s an exciting thing in and of itself. But it’s the movie’s ability to transcend its own makers that makes The Good Dinosaur my #1 pick of the year.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Ex Machina
  • The Intern
  • The Martian
  • Beasts of No Nation
  • Bridge of Spies
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service
  • The Gift
  • Still Alice
  • Love and Mercy

Have something to add or discuss? Sound off in the comments below.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

28 thoughts on “My Top 10 Films of 2015

    • So, it doesn’t “deserve” to be on Jon’s “my favorite movies” list? Geez, you need to relax.

  1. I agree. But the rest of the list is pretty much what I would pick, with a few slight switches.

  2. I hate what the group-think did to Good Dinosaur. For me, it’s #2 behind Anomalisa, as both are easily the most beautiful movies of the year.

  3. I didn’t like Earl and Dying Girl for the reasons you pointed out, but I can see why you liked it. Maybe I just need to see it again, along with It Follows, which I got bored with. I’m STOKED you added Creed and Spotlight, two of my favorites.

  4. We just saw The Good Dinosaur on a whim over the holidays as we were in a small town with one cinema and it was a choice between that, The Force Awakens (which our kids are a bit too young to deal with) and a Chipmunks movie (blergh). I’m so glad we went into it not having read or heard anything about it. We found it utterly delightful! I couldn’t agree more with your assessment here.

  5. Strange you haven’t mentioned Sicario here; not that I liked the movie much, but many people were kind of crazy about that one, and it made top 10 lists of some of the other bloggers as well. But I am relieved that some people do not have it in their list, and I am not at fault for not liking the movie.

    • Sicario is a great movie, but it’s not one of my favorites. Yes, Deakins’ cinematography is worth the ticket price alone, and Del Toro’s performance is incredible. But the heart of the movie, what makes it entertaining to watch, was very weak save for a few key moments. I even left it off my honorable mentions because I honestly don’t like recommending it, despite all of the praise it’s getting.

      • I agree with you so much. I thought I couldn’t understand something in the movie that others did. Now I am not feeling bad about not liking it.

  6. I am a very big Pixar fan (buy all my tickets early for their films) and for some reason The Good Dinosaur just didn’t connect with me on the same level as Inside Out. Yes, The Good Dinosaur was a very good movie, with great voice acting, visuals, and music, but I feel that the story wasn’t quite up to snuff with other Pixar works. I really enjoyed The Good Dinosaur but it’s not one of my favorites. It is very out of the box for Pixar, though, and it makes me excited to see what they will do in the future.

  7. You know, I didn’t enjoy Inside Out all that match, I actually felt a bit disappointed by it. Here’s why:

    1) I know that HISHE’s been there, but why couldn’t they have sent up the core memories when they met the Forgetters??
    2) As much as I like Joy’s final plan to get back to headquarters with Sadness, I do think that having all the boyfriends she was standing on speaking and going ‘wwwwhoa’ undermined it a bit. But then again, it’s a humorous film. I just felt that that was a bit out of place. I think that they should have changed that bit slightly.
    3) The degeneration of Riley’s mind is a little too destructive, though I understand they have to raise the stakes.
    4) Riley needed more landing time at the end. It would be great to see how she’s doing at school, though I guess that it’s kind of implied that she’s doing well by Joy. I’d have also liked to see her bedroom. It was foreshadowed earlier and yet we had to wait until Riley’s First Date to see it – even then, not that extensively. It would have showed us that the moving van had finally arrived as well. More landing time for Riley would make the whole thing more believable for kids, who are an important part of the film’s audience. It would sort out all kinds of loose ends including some that have been foreshadowed.

    But most importantly:

    I think that they set up Riley as a bit of a ‘robotic’ character. She’s controlled entirely by her emotions. I’d preferred it if Riley left the bus because she decided to control her emotions, not because she’s controlled by them. At the same time, however, I like the point they make with sadness being integral to her wellbeing.

    Paddington – a really great movie, and it really deserves its place on this list.
    Shaun the Sheep Movie – WATCH IT. A great movie as well. Have you seen Wallace & Gromit?
    Star Wars – SPOILER ALERT: A stormtrooper dies.

    • Great arguments. I’ll do my best to counter.

      1) Joy wouldn’t have trusted any of the other emotions to touch the core memories. If she had sent them up, who would have made sure they return to the shelf? Joy is too much of a control freak to let anyone else save the day at that point.

      2) I agree with you on this. It seems they didn’t have a good plan in mind for this part of the resolution, but I wouldn’t say it’s a big enough flaw for me to feel disappointed.

      3) It’s symbolic of how rapidly our childhood personalities crumble when we come of age. I would argue it’s the perfect demonstration of what’s going on outside of Riley’s mind.

      4) The heart of the movie, though, was Riley coming to terms with the big move and her relationship with Mom and Dad. Everything going on at school and with the van was just secondary, so I think it was preferable for the movie to focus on how Riley is acclimating with the things that believably go well for her, like hockey and life with her parents. If the movie had made her life seem so perfect and resolved at this point, then that would have been unbelievable. Loose ends are OK because in the end, Riley did lose a lot of what she loved, and in real life, we don’t get all those things back.

      Last) Her emotions are Riley. That’s sort of the point. We just watched a dramatic illustration of Riley’s choices, which is what the filmmakers intended. Though fair point that it can be hard for all audiences to grasp this point, which could be a fault of the direction, and perhaps a lack of narrative connecting these ideas. I would challenge you to rewatch the film to see if that helps your perspective, focusing on everything that happens outside of the emotions.

      Glad you liked the list!

      • Thanks for replying! You make some great points.

        On 3 and 4), I would argue that Riley hasn’t quite come of age yet. The ‘puberty’ button is still a relatively unknown feature, for example. As I would argue, and tiring this may be, it’s a question of who the ‘core audience’ is – I’m probably in the slightly higher end of that. The whole ‘core audience’ thing is a bit of a moot point, so I’ll leave that for now.

        As for ‘loose ends’, I wasn’t really suggesting a ‘perfect ending’, though it would have been nice to see her room or something. They do add in the bit with Jordan though, which is great in that it shows that Riley has become more confident and independent. It does feel like there’s been a character progression since the start of the movie (Minnesota Riley).

        Just to make it clear, it did like the movie, I was just a little disappointed. (SPOILERS!) I loved the very beginning (you do get a magical feeling when the logos come on), the memory dump scene, the ending where Riley returns, and the animation. It was also a funny, witty film – there are some great bits, such as ‘dèja vu’ and ‘facts and opinions’ as well as stuff like ‘triple dent gum’ and Fear’s reaction to the dream sequence. I also particularly liked the score, I think it’s Pixar’s BEST YET. The animation was brilliant too. So it is a good movie, but for me needed a bit more work.

        I’d quite like to reiterate how good Shaun the Sheep is, Aardman in general are very good and The StS Movie is not just funny but also heartwarming. There’s a particularly good scene where… I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s a movie that I’d really recommend.

        The Good Dinosaur – I haven’t actually seen it yet! (shock! horror!) I’ll probably wait for the DVD, didn’t get a chance to see it over the Christmas period.

        • Also, if her emotions are Riley, what about everything else? Surely it’s a bit depressing if she’s controlled only by how she feels and that she doesn’t have anything she’s aiming at in life, any aspirations? Otherwise, that leaves her life in a very volatile state – anything could happen to it if Anger or Disgust’s in control.

  8. Very nice list 🙂 We share some in our top ten! The Good Dinosaur as first? That’s interesting, I thought Inside Out didn’t feel like a Pixar movie though, and I loved Anomalisa too. If you have the time, check out my blog 🙂

  9. When I watch Creed, I expected it to have many qualities from the Rocky movies. Like the legendary soundtrack and motivation you can get from Rocky. I’m not satisfied with Creed because I thought Creed as Rocky 7. I think that when making a movie that’s connected to another movie, the fans of the connected movie already knows what to expect. And if the movie doesn’t come out as expected or beyond expected, it could let the audience down. So, yeah. What do you think?

    • Actually, I loved it a lot more than most critics. I gave it a solid B+ grade, but it still wasn’t in my top 10. Certainly top 20.

      • Fair enough, 🙂 I think I am just bias because I have loved Jurassic Park all my life! ^-^

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