2015 was a fantastic year for movies. Not only were there 22 movies competing for a spot on my Top Ten list, they were spread out over the course of the year. Usually, Hollywood saves the best films for the end of the year, trying to get the attention of the Academy. Not so here. Even back in February (January, if you want to count "Unbroken"), there were excellent movies coming out. It seems that no one liked "50 Shades of Grey," but while it didn't earn a spot on this list, I highly enjoyed it.
So many good movies has a downside. Moviegoers, especially those who don't go to the movies that often, will miss some. It's a shame. Still, for those who are looking for good movies, there were plenty of choices.
Narrowing the field was a challenge. Obviously, the four movies that earned a 4/4 were going to be on it and the top, so that left 16 movies for six slots. Tough choices had to be made. Then came ordering them, which proved to be even more difficult. Eventually, by going back and reading the reviews again, I settled on a list that I think reflects my views for the best films of 2010.
10. Ex Machina. The conflict here was easy to recognize: "Ex Machina" or "Chappie." Both are equally good movies that address the same material in different ways. "Chappie" is more expressive and action-oriented while "Ex-Machina" is more cerebral. It was a tough call, but I gave the honor to "Ex Machina" because I liked that it took the chance to be driven by its ideas and characters, rather than action. I enjoyed "Chappie" very much, but when push comes to shove, movies that take chances will always come out ahead.
9. The Martian. As can be evidenced by the success of "Chappie," "Ex Machina," "Jurassic World," "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," and "The Martian," 2015 was a good year for science-fiction. Perhaps because I am partial to the genre, but I find it a welcome change from fantasy movies. Because let's face it, apart from "The Lord of the Rings" and the "Harry Potter" movies, none of them overcame the genre's reputation of being the ugly stepchild of science-fiction. Like "Ex-Machina" and last year's "Interstellar," "The Martian" tries to be as realistic as possible. It asks questions and answers them with as much honesty as possible. I love "Star Wars," but in some ways movies like "The Martian" pack a bigger punch because they stick so close to reality. That, and the fact that it has an Oscar-worthy performance by Matt Damon.
8. San Andreas. Those who read my reviews know how tired I am of superhero movies. With each new release, my fear that the genre will never die grows deeper. Some of them, like Nolan's "Batman" trilogy have been great, but most of them were safe, cookie-cutter pictures that will only please the fans who are pre-disposed to liking it. On an artistic level, "San Andreas" is not a great movie. But for pure, mayhem-oriented entertainment, it was a blast. It was packed with adrenaline and eye-candy, and for once, the 3-D was an asset.
7. The Gift. Like "Ex Machina," "The Gift" was a movie for adults. Not just by the MPAA standards (everyone knows how I firmly believe that giving a movie an R rating simply for profanity is absurd), but in its content. This movie is about adults and made for those who can appreciate a movie that slowly builds to its climax. There's next to no violence in it, but the suspense is palpable. A trio of fine performances and a young director who understands the genre and how to play with it only sweetens the deal.
6. Trainwreck. Most romantic-comedies lean towards the latter category. After all, it's easier to find someone who can deliver a punchline and a reaction shot than two actors who "click." But "Trainwreck" plays both genres equally well, and that's what makes it so special. Amy Schumer and Bill Hader give terrific performances, but more importantly, they work well together. We wanted Amy and Aaron to end up together. It's so rare to find a romance that works, and when we do, it's worth singling out.
5. Spotlight. I'm getting tired of biopics like I am of superhero movies. Hollywood treats them the same way: as long as it has a "brand name," we'll take it. The one consolation is that they're usually great. "Spotlight" sets out to do two things, and it does them exceptionally well: tell a story that needs to be told and do so in a compelling way. It had an ensemble cast of great performances, and while the Golden Globes didn't single out anyone for a nomination, I have a feeling that the Academy won't make that mistake. Although not as raw as "The War Zone," it achieves some of the same power.
4. Scout's Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. I did not expect to like this movie. The reviews were bad and the studio did next to not marketing for the film. Not a good sign. To say that I was pleasantly surprised is to understate matters. This movie is funny, scary, touching, and subversive...often at the same time. More importantly, it's just great entertainment. I told my best friend to see it and he loved it so much that he went and saw it a second time. Zombies are in vogue right now, and I can't think of a better movie for a lover of the undead.
3. Brooklyn. A sense of balance is essential for every movie. Plot, character, dialogue, setting, pacing...they, and more, must hit the right notes on their own level and in comparison to the other parts of the film. So few movies can do this right, but John Crowley, whose movies get better and better with each new release, accomplishes this with ease. I can't wait to see what he does next.
2. In the Heart of the Sea. This movie never had a chance. For some boneheaded reason, the studio decided to release it a month before the new "Star Wars" movie. What were they thinking? Sure, it may not have lasted head to head on the same week as "The Hunger Games," but after a month the overrated teen franchse closer was on its last legs. Releasing it a week or two earlier would only have helped it, and brought it a significant box office return. There's no better marketing tool than word-of-mouth, but because of poor decision making on the part of Warner Bros., "In the Heart of the Sea" never got the chance to attract an audience.
1. American Sniper. A lot of people, most of them conservative, criticized the Academy for almost completely overlooking this film. While there's no denying that Hollywood tends to lean towards the left, it's not that simple. It was overlooked because, like with "In the Heart of the Sea," the studio botched the release date. They didn't think it could stand on its own legs against the heavy-hitters at Oscar-time, so they released it right before the cut-off. Although the film became insanely popular, it didn't do so before the nominations went out. I tend to lean towards the left politically as well, but I agree with them whole-heartedly. This film should have been a big contender at the Oscars, specifically for Best Picture and Best Actor. My vote would have gone to "Boyhood" but the idea that "Birdman" was a stronger contender than "American Sniper" (and "Boyhood," as it turns out), makes me want to gag. Regardless, there's no denying this film's power. I remember exiting silently through much of the film's end credits, and as I was walking out, I could hear people crying and reflecting on what they just saw. This is a stirring portrait of an American hero that succeeds because it holds nothing back and doesn't fall into the traps of Hollywood-ization or patriotic jingoism. It allows the story to speak for itself.