Back in May, I shared my top 10 movies of 2015 as of January through May. This included movies that came out over the winter and spring, including early summer hits like Avengers: Age of Ultron, Mad Max, and other well-liked films I’ve already highlighted.
Well, we’re about 35 weeks into 2015, and we still have a lot of potentially great movies to look forward to as the year continues, including a new James Bond movie made by Sam Mendes (Spectre). We have a spy thriller coming out that’s directed by Steven Spielberg, written by the Coen brothers, and starring Tom Hanks.
And of course, there’s a new Star Wars movie due in December, as well as a new Tarantino movie, a Matt Damon movie that doesn’t look terrible, Bradley Cooper as a chef in Burnt, Tom Hardy playing two roles in one movie, and Leonardo DiCaprio in a role that might finally get him an Oscar.
But let’s pause and reflect over the movies we already saw this summer. I’m of course sharing my own top 10 movies, but feel free to share your own list in the comments, especially if you’ve seen something I haven’t.
So let’s get started. Keep in mind that this list doesn’t include any movies from May. That means great films like Mad Max: Fury Road are in my previous top list for the first third of the year. Enjoy!
#10 The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
This is the only movie on my list that I gave a B minus, but I’m still happy to recommend it to anyone looking for a thrilling spy adventure with a soundtrack better than the actual film. This is also a good watch for anyone curious to see how Henry Cavill performs during the post-Man of Steel era in anticipation for next year’s big-budget superhero fusion, Dawn of Justice.
But I’m more excited to point out how much I liked Armie Hammer in this, especially since this was his chance to shine post-Lone Ranger. And then there’s Alicia Vikander, who has nothing to prove (yet) thanks to her brilliant role in Ex Machina, and we still have a slew of other films she’s set to star in this year alone.
That said, U.N.C.L.E. suffers from a pretty generic plot, but its good characters, memorable scenes, and commitment to 60s era spy themes is well-worth a watch on DVD. Even though I’ve ranked other movies better than this one, like The Diary of a Teenage Girl, I can’t help but recommend this one as a flawed, but fun, escape.
#9 Straight Outta Compton
This is another recent hit and one of Universal’s biggest as the summer comes to a close (even compared to Minions and Jurassic World). And it makes my list for managing to capture my interest in a true story that I didn’t care much about before watching the film.
The story of N.W.A. gave me an appreciation for a cultural era and art form I never paid much attention to growing up, and it was a powerful piece of storytelling. Looking back, I still remember the dynamic performances (notably including O’Shea Jackson) and excellent visuals that captured the world of this racially charged rags-to-riches story.
I only scored it a B, mostly because while the first half is certainly A material, the last hour and a half tends to meander and lose focus. Weirdly, this is apparently intentional, as it illustrates the slow, downward spiral of some N.W.A. rappers contrasting with the successful ones. Still, that doesn’t excuse pacing issues and the film coming off as imbalanced.
What was a middle-of-the-road and cliched boxing movie to some ended up being one of my favorite boxing films in years. This is despite plenty of problems that hold Southpaw back from showcasing what’s truly great about Jake Gyllenhaal as an actor and instead reminding us that this is the director who gave us Olympus has Fallen (another mediocre movie I still managed to enjoy).
Southpaw borrows a lot of its good material plot points from classic boxing films, especially Rocky 3 and 4. But Gyllenhaal’s transformation in the role and the filmmaker’s ability to translate his bleak downfall through powerful images and humbling atmospheres added something new and interesting to the genre. It really felt like a modern boxing movie, unlike modern takes on older stories, like The Fighter.
I greatly enjoyed the melodrama and powerful imagery Southpaw managed to pull off, and the performances by some of the side characters, including the daughter played by Oona Lawrence, more than carried the film to some greatness.
#7 Digging for Fire
Joe Swanberg can be a polarizing director, but I’ve always found an energetic sincerity in his work, especially with recent films like Drinking Buddies, Happy Christmas, and All the Light in the Sky.
This year, Swanberg once again teamed up with New Girl‘s Jake Johnson to cowrite Digging for Fire, a scavenger hunt movie that digs deep into the psyche behind a frustrated marriage, told from the perspectives of both partners.
Rosemarie Dewitt plays the wife in this marriage, and Jude Swanberg (the director’s child) plays their young son. Throughout, there are multiple surprise appearances from great actors, including some I won’t spoil. Part of the fun in Digging for Fire, aside from its unapologetic ad-lib dialogue, is waiting to see who will show up next. It’s a quirky drama that I happily recommend.
I didn’t like Ant-Man more than Avengers: Age of Ultron. In fact, I wouldn’t put it above most Marvel movies, yet for whatever reason, people seem to really like this movie more than it probably deserves.
It’s humorous, fun to watch, and manages to be a refreshing take on a well-respected (if not horribly popular) Marvel superhero. And it features some good ideas courtesy of Edgar Wright. But it’s certainly not as deep and impactful as one of the ensemble movies, and I include last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy when I say that.
Ant-Man is one of my favorite movies of the summer, and it’s a can’t-miss for Marvel fans and even Paul Rudd fans. This is mostly because Ant-Man is weird and funny enough to stand on its own, despite borrowing some of its charm and surprises from the greater Marvel continuity. And that’s fine, at least for now.
#5 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Of all the spy movies (and there’s a lot) that came out this year, the aging veteran, Mission: Impossible still shines as one of the best. Once again, Tom Cruise stars as Ethan Hunt, and you pretty much know what you’re going to get at this point if you’re into Mission: Impossible movies.
But unlike other action franchises like Fast and Furious, this one continues to deliver something new with every installment, aside from just raising the stakes. The stunts, actually, are a huge part of what draws audiences, and the creative set pieces are far more interesting than everything I forgot in other action movies like Furious 7.
There was a lot of tension, a good amount of drama, and even some laughs here and there courtesy of Jeremy Renner. Rogue Nation also benefitted from the genius casting of Rebecca Ferguson and bringing back Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg for another round of saving the world with gadgets that don’t always work and a leading man who’ll do whatever it takes to finish the mission. Kind of like Tom Cruise himself.
#4 Jurassic World
I don’t want to come off like I’m overpraising this movie, though that’s inevitable considering how high I’ve put it on this list. But despite everything about Jurassic World that is frankly…stupid…I absolutely loved it.
Yes, it’s a little silly, and it’s certainly not as good as Jurassic Park. But so much of Jurassic World just works as a movie on its own, so I didn’t have a hard time judging it by its own merits, instead of comparing it to the original.
Jurassic World is a unique follow up in that it’s hard to notice its flaws unless you’re looking for them. It was easy for me to get lost in the world they created, making this an excellent movie that you might get a little more cynical about the more you watch it. Unless you’re like me and enjoy its absurdity with every viewing.
#3 The Stanford Prison Experiment
Not everyone is going to walk away glad that they watched The Stanford Prison Experiment (unless they despise Ezra Miller as much as I do). But it’s still the most gripping and tense movie I’ve seen all year, complete with a script that continues to haunt me when I dare think about it late at night.
In case you haven’t seen it, the movie is based on a true story about a group of college students who are hired by a psychology department to act out a prison simulation. Some of the students are guards, and the others are prisoners. As you can imagine, things get a little out of hand.
It’s a hard movie to watch, because as you watch it, you know that it’s sticking with you. This is thanks to director Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s knack for moving you through a compact scene and keeping you there for what feels like hours. He lets the camerawork and tight corners tell the story almost as much as the actions of the characters.
To be fair, the movie is riddled with inaccuracies and missed opportunities with the true events that inspired it. But if you walk in accepting that this is a very loose adaptation, you’ll still find that it more or less captures the same, raw emotions that provoked so much shock from the people who learned about it in the 70s.
#2 Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
If you liked Fault in Our Stars but sort of wished it had more likable characters, then do yourself a favor and check out Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. I strongly considered making it my #1, and it’s obviously up there in my top 10 of the entire year. And for good reason.
This is one of those smaller films that just oozes charm and relatable characters. Everyone in this movie is easy to like and get invested in. The story itself is more than just original — it’s inventive. I truly wish that more movies would take the creative chances that Dying Girl treats as minuscule risks.
That said, it’s still a movie on a small scale. While I loved the movie, it didn’t really cause any introspection, despite its emotionally charged script. This is because the wit and humor is a lot more present in this movie over what’s dramatic, so not every moment that was supposed to make me feel something managed to pay that off.
But that’s just nitpicking, because Dying Girl is still a wonderful story that will hopefully last the test of time. I hold it up there with The Way Way Back as compact films I can watch a thousand times.
#1 Inside Out
Yeah, yeah, big surprise. A lot of you may look at this decision and shrug because you know how much I love Pixar movies and frequently talk about them on this site. But please believe me when I say that my overwhelming bias for Pixar’s brand of storytelling had nothing to do with the overwhelming bias I have for this film.
Because in all honesty, Inside Out is one of Pixar’s best films since The Incredibles and Finding Nemo, and it manages to rival Up as a nearly perfect Pixar movie.
I love how they took a recognizable premise that other movies and shows like Osmosis Jones and Herman’s Head failed to make an impact. They took a great concept and made it spectacular. Everything about this world Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera created feels like they spent countless hours developing. And the writing is so sharp, you’ll discover new and clever jokes every time you watch it.
The characters are well-written and the animation is gorgeous. Every joke manages to work without being too cheesy. And it does all of this without creating world-changing stakes — just the emotional future of a young girl we can all relate with.
When I first reviewed the movie, I tried hard not to overpraise it in case my immediate love for it would wear of. But Inside Out only gets better the more you watch it, and it will rightfully be considered as one of Pixar’s very best for years to come.
What about the worst movies?
This one’s harder for me to spend time on because I purposefully avoided some of the poorly received movies that came out this summer, though I’ll probably still get around to them. But I’m still up for pointing out movies I did see that fell way, way, short of the mark.
Hitman: Agent 47 was the worst one I saw this summer, as I gave it an F (the only other “F” movie I scored this year was Strange Magic). There were some other movies that I tried hard to like but ended up despising, like Trainwreck, Spy, and Aloha.
There were some bad movies I liked, including The Gallows and Ted 2, despite critics not loving them as much. Movies I hoped would be “A” material, like Paper Towns and Dope, ended up only being decent.
And then there are the movies I purposefully avoided, like Pixels, Vacation, Terminator: Genisys, Self/less, and Minions. I don’t plan on seeing these movies any time soon. That just leaves Fantastic Four, which was less than decent, but not a bad experience overall for me.
Finally, there are the potentially great movies I haven’t seen yet but plan on seeing pretty soon. These include, The End of the Tour, It Follows, The Gift, Grandma, Love and Mercy, Mistress America and Shaun the Sheep.
Welcome to my first-ever power rankings for a year in film! This list is essentially a snapshot of 2015’s entire year in film, ranked with letter grades.
The first list below includes only the movies that I’ve personally viewed and graded. There’s a second list that combines my rankings with the opinions of several other critics I’ve chosen, giving you a full breadth of movies that were released this year. These “third party” reviews are colored gray.
I update these rankings weekly, so you can check back once in a while to see what’s new. I’ve already updated rankings for films I missed and managed to catch up with. Be sure to let me know if I missed something. Enjoy!
2015 Movies I’ve Seen, Ranked
The Good Dinosaur (November 25th) | A+
It Follows (March 27th) | A+
Mad Max: Fury Road (May 15th) | A+
The Hateful Eight 70mm Roadshow(December 25th) | A
Summer is about to kickoff, so I thought it would be fun to look back on the best films of Winter and Spring 2015. There are a few films I haven’t seen this year (yet) that may sway this list, and I’ll list them at the bottom.
I’ve made a stronger effort to watch more new movies this year, and it’s certainly paid off. For the first time in my life, I actually feel equipped to evaluate which movies are worth highlighting 6 months into the year. And we’ve gotten quite a few highlights. Starting with…
# 1 Mad Max: Fury Road
This shouldn’t surprise too many people. From its opening scene, George Miller had me hooked on his crazy, post-apocalyptic nightmare made reality.
With some of the best action scenes in years, combined with furious performances from Charlize Theron (get it?) and Tom Hardy, Mad Max: Fury Road has so far made the top of my list of must-watch films in 2015.
OK, this is certainly a departure from the #1 spot, and I’m sure many of you are rolling your eyes at the fact that I’m elevating this family friendly movie all the way to #2, but hear me out.
Paddington is a kid movie done right, amidst scores of cheap remakes and strange misfires disguised as high-level (I’m looking at you, Spongebob). Simply put, Paddington has the charm, wit, and effortless script that most movies this year have chosen to skip.
#3 Ex Machina
I usually hate feeling uncomfortable during a movie, especially when it has CGI Paul Walker involved (too soon?) But Ex Machina subverts what we expect in an eery movie about artificial intelligence without insulting our intelligence.
It’s not a horror movie. It’s not a thriller. And it’s certainly not just a commentary, if at all. The mystery of what makes this movie…what it is…only makes me love it even more.
#4 What We Do In The Shadows
Technically, this superb “mockumentary” about the lives of vampires living in New Zealand came out last year, but it’s wider release didn’t kick off until January. That means I get to share the delight of this monster movie homage with all of you who haven’t managed to see it yet. Seriously though, get on that.
#5 Kingsman: The Secret Service
Speaking of homages, I wasn’t too surprised to see that this James Bond action successor ended up being one of the most fun adventures of the year. Yes, even moreso than another certain superhero flick…
I can still remember the best moments of the film, including the controversial church scene that was shot in just one take (if you can believe that). While I’m not necessarily itching for a sequel, though it would be nice, Kingsman still reigns as one of the year’s most interesting escapes.
History is my weak spot. Take me to any colonial town and tell me that guy is really a smith from 1776 and you have my money. But historical biopics from any era tend to rank low on my attention span. Why watch a movie about that bridge in Selma when I can just go there?
Well, it turns out, Selma does a brilliant job of revitalizing this subject matter with faithful storytelling, a chilling script, and yes, David Oyelowo. And that’s not even mentioning the soundtrack.
#7 Avengers: Age of Ultron
It’s not as groundbreaking as the first film, but it’s still groundbreaking. Leave it to Marvel. 2015 has not yet hit us with a lot of comic book movie adventures, as Fox has saved its movie for the summer and Sony is conspicuously absent.
But even without competition, Age of Ultron is a triumph of patient buildup, electric characters, and an excellent effects budget. It’s not the dark story many of us expected and hoped for, but it had plenty of memorable moments to make it standout, even if it is just a trailer for even more exciting events to come.
#8 While We’re Young
I’ll admit I’m easily charmed by Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts (despite finding Birdman a bit meh for her). So pairing these veterans with relative newcomers Adam Driver (of future Star Wars fame) and Amanda Seyfried (OK, not a newcomer, but still untested for the most part) was almost overkill.
Specifically, every scene combining these characters or a mixing and matching them was pulled off brilliantly, and it helps that the script had something pretty meaningful to say about my generation, your generation, and their generation.
Do you believe in miracles? Unfriended was a made-for-tv movie destined for MTV reruns and live-tweets. But it ended up being transformed into a perfectly timed film that did something pretty novel and refreshing with the horror genre, while also preaching a sermon on cyber-bullying that didn’t come off as forced. Well, maybe a little.
Yeah, I might get a little heat for this one. Though Tomorrowland certainly isn’t amazing overall, it happens to be one of the riskiest, gutsiest movies of the year. And a lackluster ending doesn’t do enough to eviscerate an inventive and entertaining first two acts.
Possibly great films I haven’t gotten around to yet:
I’d love to add to this list, but alas, there are just some 2015 films I haven’t had a chance to see for myself yet. Here are a few ranking high on my list of must-see:
A Most Violent Year
I also want to point out my biggest disappointment of the year (so far): Chappie. Oh, what could have been.
If you something to add to this list, feel free to let me know in the comment discussions below. See you in another 6 months.
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