2015 Recap: Top 10 Best + 5 Worst Movies of the Year

Top10Movies2015

It’s THAT time of the year again… time for film bloggers to rake our brains to do the tricky-but-fun process of selecting the best films they’ve seen all year. I was going to post this on December 31 but due to my East Coast trip I had to delay it until I’m back home. Suffice to say I didn’t see any 2015 releases since I left on Dec 22, so the last 2015 film I saw at the cinema was The Force Awakens. As it wasn’t tough enough selecting only 10 films, it’s even tougher ranking them. But like the years before, once I decided on my top three, ranking the other seven was a bit easier to do. Btw, what constitutes a 2015 movie is based on US release, so even though it’d say 2014 on IMDb, if a film is released in 2015 in the US, I will include it here.

In case you’re wondering about the criteria of selecting these, well I always say that my ‘top movies’ it’s sort of a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so the criteria is that these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply moving, thought-provoking, and indelible. Re-watchability is also a factor here and I’d readily re-watch most of the films listed here, in fact, I have seen a few of them at least twice already.

Ok well, without further ado, I present you …

10 BEST FILMS OF 2015

10. Girlhood (Bande de filles)

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I saw this at MSP film fest last April and it really made an impression on me. It’s the only foreign language film on my list, which means I didn’t get to see as many foreign films this year. Bande de filles means gang of girls, and it’s set in a low-income suburbs of Paris, which offers the unglamorous part of the City of Light I rarely see in cinema. The female-centric drama was written AND directed by a female filmmaker, Céline Sciamma, and it centers on16-year-old girl Marime played by the mesmerizing Karidja Touré. Let’s just say she’s one of my two French actor discoveries I’m thankful for this year. The film is on Netflix and I highly recommend it if you’re in the mood for an off-the-beaten path French film that’s emotional and indelible. (full review)

9. 99 Homes

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For some reason this film flew under the radar and it’s really a shame. Based on the strength of the two actors alone, Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon, this film is well worth your time. The latter is especially electrifying in a role that really utilized Shannon’s inherently ominous quality, combined with his understated but powerful dramatic style. This is my first intro to Ramin Bahrani’s work and he’s made such a riveting drama about the housing crisis without resorting to sensationalizing to get the point across. A timely drama that will linger long after the closing credits. (full review)

8. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

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I LOVE how there are two franchise films that shift the film’s focus to be more female-driven and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is one of them. Yes of course we still have the venerable Tom Cruise back as super-spy Ethan Hunt, but Rebecca Ferguson‘s Ilsa Faust has an intriguing character arc. Miss Ferguson also belongs to my list of top 5 actors I’d love to see more of based on 2015 viewing. She is as bad ass as she is shrewd, pretty much Hunt’s equal, if not better. This is a film that prides itself in its preposterous action sequences and there’s chock full of those here to entertain even the most cynical moviegoers. There are SO many awesome sequences I could watch over and over, with the Vienna Opera House sequence being my absolute favorite. (full review)

7. Creed

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I LOVE it when a film I wasn’t really interested in initially ended up blowing me away. Well Creed is one of those films and it proves that not every reboot/spin-off is automatically bad. In fact, I’d consider this a gem of 2015 cinema that’d certainly please Rocky fans as well as win new ones. Michael B. Jordan hit gold once again with his second collaboration with writer/director Ryan Coogler, whose excellent direction makes for a dynamic as well as emotional film. Jordan is a charismatic lead, but it’s Sylvester Stallone who’s the scene-stealer, reprising his role he did forty years ago. As I mentioned in my awards musings post, it’d be cool to see him be nominated AND win an Oscar for the same role, as he absolutely deserved it. (full review)

6. The Big Short

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Films about the housing crisis have been the subject of many films as well as documentaries. I have to admit that the cast that include Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt piqued my interest. Well, those four actors were great, especially Bale and Carell who were the most memorable of the bunch. When I first saw the trailer and saw Adam McKay directing, I was a bit taken aback. I mean, this is the guy who did Anchorman and a bunch of comedies with Will Ferrell.  In a way, treating this dark and even upsetting subject matter in a comedic way works and it breaks the topic down to a level that’s easy to understand. The comedic style doesn’t mean it downplays the heartbreaking reality of the housing bubble crash however. There’s a similarities to 99 Homes and also Wolf of Wall Street in terms of its subject matter, but compared to Scorsese’s film I actually enjoyed this a lot more. It’s immensely entertaining from start to finish, so the bold-but-risky filmmaking style paid off here.

5. The Martian

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If you had told me that The Martian might end up on someone’s top 10 list earlier this year, I’d have laughed in their face. Somehow I just didn’t have any interest in seeing this given my disappointment with Ridley Scott’s movies lately, but I had to eat my own words as I ended up loving this. The comedic tone (as well as the disco music) was so unexpected but somehow worked beautifully for the film and Matt Damon is as likable as ever in the lead. For much of the film, it was mostly a one-man show with his character Mark Watney, but I remained engrossed throughout. The film also had a nice balance of his scenes in Mars and the scenes on earth with the rescue team at NASA. Jeff Daniels gave one of his two most memorable performances of the year (the other was in Steve Jobs), but kudos to Drew Goddard‘s sharp script and Mr. Scott for his return-to-form as a filmmaker. (full review)

4. Ex Machina

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This has been quite a year for Alicia Vikander. I hadn’t even heard of her before 2015, as I had just seen Anna Karenina earlier this year where she had a small part. Well, my intro to the Swedish actress was a memorable one. She played a beautiful female AI, as fetching and seductive even when her body looks very much like a machine. Alex Garland took an oft-told story of man vs. machine and somehow made it feel organic and even personal. Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac delivered excellent performances as well, especially the latter, as he continues to display amazing versatility as an actor. I saw this early in the year but I knew it’ll end up in my final top 10. It’s one of the best sci-fi films in recent memory, quite amazing what they achieved on a shoe-string budget of $15 million. (full review)

3. Brooklyn

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This was my favorite film I saw at TCFF this year and I knew this film would make my final Top 10. Brooklyn tells a simple yet very relatable and heartfelt story of an Irish immigrant and being an immigrant myself, I definitely relate to her in many ways. I’ve been a huge fan of Saoirse Ronan for some time and this is definitely her best work amongst her already illustrious career. She infused such gravitas into her role and able to convey the internal battle within her with just her eyes or a subtle smile. I also love Emory Cohen as one of her love interests, but the supporting cast are excellent overall. Sometimes a simple, no-frills story can make a great impact, and that’s the case with this one. Brilliant work from director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby, certainly one I’d appreciate for years to come. (full review)

2. Spotlight

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I just heard about this film a few months before its release and I’ve been anticipating it since. Well it did NOT disappoint and it ranks as one of the best ensemble cast AND journalism film ever. It’s the kind of good story-telling that I wish Hollywood would make more of. The captivating dialog grabs you right from the start and the pacing is just right that the film never drags despite not having much action. Powerful without being sensationalizing the story or emotionally-manipulative, at times it even felt like a documentary.

The fantastic cast brought the disturbing true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the Catholic Church’s child molestation and cover-up scandal to life. The investigative journalism scenes are riveting, but quiet scenes such as the meet-up between the Globe’s new editor and Cardinal Law was brimming with tension, and even occasional humor. I love that it subtly highlights the humanity of the journalists, more than just their reporting skills, without distracting from the main narrative.

The entire cast brought their A-game, especially those who made up the Spotlight investigative team: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo (who got the most screen time), Rachel McAdams, and Brian d’Arcy James. Also kudos to Stanley Tucci and Liev Schreiber, the latter had the least screen time but perhaps one of the most memorable scenes as the Globe’s editor, thanks to his understated but astute performance. Tom McCarthy‘s script (co-written with Josh Singer) and his astute direction made a solid drama that will certainly linger with you for days. Definitely not the most comfortable subject but I encourage everyone to see this. Guaranteed to stun and rile you up, but that’s what what a brilliant retelling such a grievous subject matter is supposed to do.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

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This is an easy pick for number 1. It’s one of the most unique and unusual films I’ve seen in a while, and the level of artistry that goes into it is off the charts. Technically it’s simply astounding, especially in terms of cinematography. Now, the first two sentences were from my #1 pick of 2014 (Birdman), but it also fits perfectly for George Miller‘s masterpiece. Yes I said the ‘m’ word and I don’t think it’s a hyperbole.

I wish I had seen this more than once on the big screen but I’ve seen re-watched it on Blu-ray twice and loved every minute of it. The visual effects is simply magnificent and awe-inspiring, which is more fun to watch over and over and you’d always something new to marvel at. Once you realize most of it is practical effects and not simply CGI it’d blow your mind away even more. But action alone, no matter how spectacular, doesn’t make a movie, and that’s what makes Fury Road so gratifying on every level. At the heart of the film is a compelling and heart-wrenching, female-driven story. I love stories of unlikely friendship and so is the pairing of fierce Furiosa and the drifter, Max Rockatansky. The partnership between the two lost souls is beautifully realized… nobody needed *saving* but their shared journey ended up bringing redemption to both of them. I sure hope Charlize Theron would get lots of nominations for Best Actress in the role as she’s absolutely astounding. Tom Hardy‘s as cool as ever as the strong, silent-type hero and I look forward to seeing more of him in this franchise.

What a rockin’ duo this proved out to be, oh and the music is equally rock-tastic [pardon the pun] and has become a staple in our car now. It’s tough to find films that are such an intense feast for the eyes (and ear) but also deeply emotional and moving, but Fury Road did that for me. It made me want to get up and cheer one moment and got me teary-eyed the next. Yes it’s an inherently bizarre film, but once it grabs you it’s impossible to turn away. What a ride, what a lovely ride! (full review).

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Some of these almost made my final top 10 so some of these are excellent and some have become personal faves that I’d love to watch again and again. I list this in order of personal favorites, I actually owned the Blu-ray of Cinderella and What We Do in the Shadows, so yeah, I absolutely adore those two!

  1. Cinderella

  2. What We Do in the Shadows

  3. Inside Out

  4. Bridge of Spies

  5. Clouds of Sils Maria

  6. Room

  7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

  8. Me and Earl and The Dying Girl

  9. Remember

  10. Mr. Holmes

  11. Cartel Land

  12. Kingsman: The Secret Service

  13. The End of the Tour

  14. Steve Jobs

  15. Spy

One film I’m surprised didn’t even make my top 25 is Macbeth, which I had been anticipating for some time. I don’t think I’ll be reviewing it but suffice it to say it didn’t quite make an impression to me, in fact I found it rather tedious. I was far more captivated watching Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus at the Donmar Theater on National Theatre Live. It may not be Shakespeare’s most famous play, but Hiddle’s performance was gripping from start to finish.

What I missed from 2015:

45 Years, Carol, The Danish Girl, The Lobster, Love & Mercy, Mustang, The Look of Silence, Tangerine, The Revenant, Sicario, Straight Outta Compton, etc.

I hope to catch these later this year.


5 Worst Movies of the Year

Now, some of these aren’t straight out horrible, there are some things I admire about Tomorrowland and Pan, I think both have interesting concepts but the execution didn’t quite work. I’d say those two still merit a rental, but I’d skip the rest. It really pains me to put Blackhat on here as I LOVE Michael Mann, but well, the movie was terrible! I wish Hollywood would realize there are other hunks besides Chris Hemsworth who can actually act! Self/Less and Jupiter Ascending are simply dreadful and a complete waste of time. In fact, the latter is just SO bad it still makes me cringe every time I see a photo of it, ugh. To this day I can’t understand the appeal of Channing Tatum and I probably never will.

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Now, I probably should’ve made a separate list for Most Disappointing Movies but I’d rather not waste my time. For sure Spectre and Jurassic World would make THAT list, as they’re not terrible film per se but it sure wasn’t nearly as good as I had expected.

Bullets Dodged:

Glad I missed some terrible ones like Terminator Genysis, Fantastic Four, The Seventh Son, The Cobler, Chappie, Aloha, etc. I have no interest in even renting these.


So that’s my top 10 list of 2015. Thoughts on my picks here? I’d love to hear it!

November Viewing Roundup + What I watched during my hiatus

NovRecapHello hello! Miss me? Well I’m not exactly back yet, I’m extending my hiatus probably until after Christmas. I’ve been diligently working on my script daily and I don’t want to lose momentum. I might still do a post here and there if I have time and feel like doing it, so don’t forget me 😉

Well, we’ve been watching a ton of great movies, both new releases and rewatches, thanks to the four-day Thanksgiving weekend. Here they are in alphabetical order…

New Releases

  • Disney Short Films Collection
    DisneyShorts
    Worth seeing if you love Disney and short films. It’s a pretty eclectic collection and some of them you might’ve seen. The Little Matchgirl one got me bawling, it’s such a heartbreaking story. I remember seeing a stage adaptation of that as a kid and even that stayed with me for years!
  • Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
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    This was one of the craziest press screenings ever with thousands of people, mostly teens, lining up for hours at a local IMAX theater. But the movie was so ho hum, I could barely remember anything about it now and it was so darn predictable. It just reinforced me what a terrible actor Liam Hemsworth truly is and honestly I’m bored at seeing Jennifer Lawrence‘s face, which was practically in every single scene. It still pains me to watch the late Philip Seymour Hoffman though.
  • Legend

    If I were to review this movie, it’d just be a collection of pictures of how Bond-like Tom Hardy looked in most of the scenes, well when he’s playing Reggie that is. Ron, not so much. But he’s really the reason to see it, otherwise it’s a pretty standard gangster flick.

  • Mr Holmes
    MrHolmes
  • Night Owls
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    A witty indie comedy/drama that takes place over a single night. The dialog is sometimes raunchy, but there’s a genuine chemistry between the two leads and the script is refreshingly honest and has a natural flow to it. Definitely worth a look. Stay tuned for my interview with writer/director Charles Hood on Wednesday!
  • Spectre
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  • Spotlight
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    This film about the uncovering of the sexual abuse scandal by Catholic priests in Massachusetts will certainly rile you up and stay with you for days. This fine ensemble cast certainly lives up to its stellar reviews. It’s a riveting, disturbing, and emotionally-gratifying from start to finish. Terrific script and top notch cast that’s thankfully NOT wasted. Definitely one of the best investigative journalism film of all time, right up there with All the President’s Men.
  • Trumbo
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    I LOVE films about Classic Hollywood and if you’re a fan of Bryan Cranston, then it’s an absolute must-see. He’s electrifying as Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood 10 screenwriters who were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs.

Theater

CoriolanusTomHiddleston

I had the pleasure of seeing Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus during a National Live Theater presentation at a local cinema last week. It was a powerful and mesmerizing performance from the Shakespearean actor. I wish I could’ve seen it live on stage, which would’ve been amazing to watch considering how intimate the Donmar Theatre was, it seats only 250!

TV Series

Man in the High Castle (season 1)

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I have to do a whole post on this series as I have a lot to say about this Philip K. Dick’s adaptation. But for sure Rufus Sewell is one of the highlights here, if only the producers realized that and give him more screen time in future seasons.

Rewatches

I rewatched a ton of movies this past month, which turns out to be quite an eclectic collection now that I think about it. Hey, I love the action stuff as much as the romantic love stories 😉

  • Anna Karenina
  • Batman Begins
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Cinderella
  • For Your Eyes Only
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Midnight in Paris
  • Not Another Happy Ending

 


Movie of the Month

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Well, that’s my November update. What about you, what’s your favorite film you saw last month?

Everybody’s Chattin + Question of the week: 7 films to see at TIFF 2015

EverybodysChattin

Happy Tuesday everyone! Well I’m still high from the pure adrenaline rush of watching Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Boy was than fun! I’ll post a full review but in the meantime, here’s my initial reaction:

Ok so about those links…

Michael reviewed a book on a topic I’ve been fascinated by lately, The Cartel by Don Winslow

Keith reviewed my new comedy favorite What We Do in the Shadows. My own review should be up later this week!

Margaret and Mark posted more favorable reviews on Ant-Man

I always look forward to Abbi’s mini reviews on Film Friday for recommendations and what to avoid

One of my fave blog series is The Many Faces Of by Nostra, this month he shone the spotlight on mo-cap maestro Andy Serkis

Last but not least, if you haven’t already, check out Jordan’s Philip Seymour Hoffman Blogathon to celebrate the phenomenal work of the late thespian

There are still so many of PSH’s films I need to see, one of them is Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, reviewed by Cindy


Time for question of the week!

TIFF15

I was gonna make this a separate post but y’know what, I don’t want to wait another day so I’ll just hit two birds with one stone w/ my community blogging series. The TIFF 2015 full lineup has just been released today, so in case you haven’t read the list, you can hit up The Film Stage or Variety to see what films have been selected.

Wish I could return to TIFF again, it’s been ten years since I visited Toronto in 2005, which was quite an experience. Now, obviously if I were there I’d try to see as many films as I could, but say you only had seven films you could get tickets for, which ones would you see? Here are my seven picks:

Demolition

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Naomi Watts

An investment banker, struggling to understand his emotional disconnect after the tragic death of his wife, begins to tear apart his life in an effort to see where he went wrong and is ultimately rescued by a woman he meets in a chance encounter.

Jake G. can’t do no wrong these days and the premise sounds really intriguing. I’m always intrigued by a human drama type of stories, something that could happen in real life, even people around you. Apparently the screenplay for this film was featured in the 2007 Blacklist; a list of the “most liked” unmade scripts of the year.

Eye in the Sky

Director: Gavin Hood
Cast:
Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi and Iain Glen

London-based military intelligence officer Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is remotely commanding a top secret drone operation to capture a group of dangerous terrorists at their safe-house in Nairobi, Kenya. The mission suddenly escalates from a capture to a kill operation, when Powell realizes that the terrorists are about to embark on a deadly suicide mission.

Anything with Dame Mirren is automatically in my must-see list, and this sounds like a really juicy role for her! Plus Alan Rickman AND Iain Glen? I’m SO there. Nice to see Captain Philips‘ Barkhad Abdi is still getting jobs in Hollywood.

LEGEND

Director: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Tom Hardy, Taron Egerton, Emily Browning


The true story of the rise and fall of London’s most notorious gangsters, brothers Reggie and Ron Kray, both portrayed by Tom Hardy in an amazing double performance. LEGEND is a classic crime thriller that takes audiences into the secret history of the 1960s and the extraordinary events that secured the infamy of the Kray twin.

One Tom Hardy is good enough, but TWO? A dual role is always intriguing and if there’s one actor who can pull it off it’s Tom. Plus I like Taron from the Kingsman movie.

Victoria

Director: Sebastian Schipper
Cast: Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski


A movie shot in a single take about Victoria, a runaway party girl, who’s asked by three friendly men to join them as they hit the town. Their wild night of partying turns into a bank robbery.

I actually just saw the trailer this weekend. Whoa, it looks like an intense and wild ride, I have no idea how they pulled off doing this in a single take!

Sicario

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro


In Spanish, Sicario means hitman. In the lawless border area stretching between the U.S. and Mexico, an idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by an elite government task force official to aid in the escalating war against drugs. Led by an enigmatic consultant with a questionable past, the team sets out on a clandestine journey forcing Kate to question everything that she believes in order to survive.

Miss Blunt is another actress I’d watch in practically anything, and the drug war has been on the news so much lately which adds to the intrigue.

Spotlight

Director: Tom McCarthy
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup.

The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.

Ruffalo AND Keaton in a film together? That alone is a reason to see this despite the icky subject matter. Great supporting cast too, Stanley Tucci is solid in everything he’s in.

The Dressmaker

Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse
Cast: Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving, Sarah Snook

A glamorous woman returns to her small town in rural Australia. With her sewing machine and haute couture style, she transforms the women and exacts sweet revenge on those who did her wrong.

Sarah Snook!! I immediately want to see this because of her as she impressed me so much in Predestination. It’s been ages since I saw Winslet in anything, and the premise intrigues me. LOVE Hugo Weaving too, but the casting of Liam Hemsworth worries me though. Yes he’s hunky but the pretty boy simply can’t act.

Other notable TIFF screenings:

I’m anticipating Cary Fukunaga’ Beasts of No Nation too, which I’ve mentioned here, but since it will premiere on Netflix I’d rather watch it at home. Starring Idris Elba in the role of Commandant, a warlord who takes in a child soldier and instructs him in the ways of war.

Here’s the trailer:

I also have to mention Brooklyn which screened at Sundance earlier this year. It stars Saoirse Ronan as Eilis Lacey, a young woman from Ireland sent across the sea to find a new life in the land of opportunity. My friend Iba saw it at Sundance and really liked it, check out her review.

 


So tell me, if you could only choose SEVEN films to see at TIFF this year, which films would you get?