Another year has come and gone and as such, it is time for me to count down what I personally believe to be the top ten best films of the year.
I have been making a year end movie list in one form or another for what will be five years, and this year was by far the most difficult list to narrow down. A lot of movies that I really enjoyed, and still more I find worthy of high praise had to be left off the list.
Ultimately, I am satisfied with the end result, but I acknowledge that not everyone is going to agree. Just know that, as with last year, this list is based less on the overall quality of the films (though that is a major factor) and more so on how much I enjoyed the experience of the film overall. So, without further delay, on with the countdown.
This film was an absolute nostalgic delight for anyone who grew up with Charlie Brown and Snoopy. I enjoyed every second of it.
You all know the classic Peanuts formula: Charlie Brown, our put-upon hero, tries to impress the Little Red-Haired Girl but is constantly hindered by his own wishy-washiness as well as forces beyond his control. Yes, I’ll admit, the plot is pretty thin, and with any other series, that would bother me, but in this case, the plot is not the main draw here.
What makes this film as great as it is can be attributed to the fact that these are timeless characters that even 65 years after their creation have still managed to remain relevant and endearing and is able to do so without the need for any cringe-worthy modernizations (save for one or two harmless pop songs here and there).
The animation is incredible. I don’t even know if my description can to it justice. While keeping the timeless designs of the characters intact, the visual style is upgraded with modern technology making the characters look better than they ever have.
While Charlie Brown’s story is the primary focus, all your favorite Peanuts characters are still well represented, including Lucy, Linus, Peppermint Patty, Pig Pen and my personal favorite, Schroeder. However, the real show stealer in this movie is everyone’s favorite cartoon canine, Snoopy.
Every second that Snoopy is on screen is a guaranteed laugh, whether he’s acting as Charlie Brown’s wingman or imagining himself as the World War I Flying Ace. Without giving spoilers, there’s one hysterical scene that I can only describe as “Metal Gear Snoopy.”
If you grew up with these characters like I did, then I can guarantee you will enjoy this movie
You might think that this made the list for similar reasons to the previous entry, but truth be told, before seeing this movie, I only had a passing familiarity with the show Entourage. I knew the basic idea: a group of guys trying to make it in Hollywood with the help of their agent played by Jeremy Piven, but I had never actually seen the show before. However, upon seeing this movie, I now hope to start watching the show.
The film finds actor Vinnie Chase and his, well… entourage, E, Drama and Turtle, finally living the good life as a Hollywood actor when his old agent, now a studio head, Ari Gold, calls to offer him a role. Vinnie accepts, but only if he gets to direct. Ari reluctantly agrees, but soon ends up regretting it when the movie goes way over budget, causing the film’s financier and his idiot redneck to come after Ari to see the results of their investment. Meanwhile, the stress lands Ari in Anger Management, E has to deal with the impending birth of his son, Drama finds that a sex tape of himself has leaked and Turtle tries to win the heart of UFC Fighter Ronda Rousey, preferably without getting any broken bones in the process.
This movie is solid laughs and witty humor from start to finish. So much so that even someone unfamiliar with the show like myself can appreciate it. Jeremy Piven’s comedic timing is simply unrivaled. If the movie is any indication, I think I’m going to love the show once I start watching it.
8. Ex Machina
One of the more unique as well as overlooked films released this year, Ex Machina is a fascinating watch.
Caleb, a code writer for a search engine, wins a contest at work to spend a week at the private compound of the company’s founder, Nathan. Even though Nathan seems like the type, he’s got more in store for Caleb than a week of playing pool, drinking beer and partying.
After forcing Caleb signing a non-disclosure agreement, Nathan reveals that he has created a fully functional female android and has brought in Caleb to assist in conducting a Turing test to see if she’s a true artificial intelligence. The Android, Ava, seems very life like and even begins flirting with Caleb, but when her creator isn’t watching, she gives cryptic warnings that Nathan is not to be trusted.
This movie is just beautiful in its simplicity. Despite essentially having only three characters and a limited number of locations, this film manages to do so much with what little it has.
The scenes with Ava are incredible and bring up deep philosophical questions about what it means to be human. But more than that, the film is excellent at building tension and suspense. Until the very end we are left guessing if Nathan is is truly untrustworthy or if Ava is simply manipulating Caleb for her own reasons, all leading to an incredible ending that no one expects.
However, the time has now come to cover the movie that features both Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac that people are actually talking about.
7. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
I’m sure to catch a lot of crap for putting the most anticipated, highest grossing and arguably most well received film of the year so low on the list. And I’ve made it no secret that I was considerably less excited than most for the release of this film. My defense of this: I loved the film, but it has the unfortunate disadvantage of having come out far too late in the year to really appreciate in my consciousness. That having been said, after having seen this movie and despite my caution in going into it, I can safely say that after all these years, the good name of Star Wars has been redeemed.
Several years have passed since the fall of the Galactic Empire and a new threat known as The First Order has formed from its remnants. The Order, led by the mysterious Dark Jedi, Kylo Ren and the resistance, led by their general, the former Princess Leia, are racing to find the missing Luke Skywalker. Meanwhile Finn, a Stormtrooper who has defected from the order saves the life of Poe, the Resistance’s ace pilot and together with Rey, an orphan scavenger with hidden force abilities, BB-8 a droid carrying a vital clue to Luke’s location and of course, the greatest smuggler in the galaxy and his lovable Wookiee co-pilot, Han Solo and Chewbacca they set out to find the resistance. Along the way, they learn of a weapon even greater than the Death Star and must stop it at any cost.
After the much maligned prequel trilogy, this movie was a breath of fresh air. The characters, both new and old, are all fantastic. Rey is a strong female protagonist that this series badly needed. She fits the mold of Luke and Anakin before her while still feeling like her own unique character.
Finn is something new that we’ve never seen before and his character arc of renouncing the First Order is natural and well explored. Kylo Ren is also very interesting character. Far from being the fully realized Sith Lord that Vader was, Kylo is still torn between the darkness and the light. As an aside, I actually really liked his lightsaber. Yes the to tiny cross beams on either side still look silly, but they came into play when he fought so I let that slide. However, what caught my attention was how, unlike your typical lightsaber, the energy it was made of was chaotic and unstable, almost like it was literally made of fire, perhaps symbolizing his struggle between darkness and light.
Finally there’s Han Solo. I can’t say too much about him without giving away major spoilers, but I can say that this movie brings Han Solo’s character arc to a satisfying yet tragic conclusion. Suffice to say, this was the only movie I saw all year that genuinely brought tears to my eyes.
A common criticism of this film is that it’s a carbon copy of A New Hope. It is true, there are numerous similarities, but I believe that to be intentional. The good name of Star Wars has been dragged through the mud for the better part of the last decade, so we needed a reminder that this story can still be great. A reminder, why we were fans in the first place. A reminder why Star Wars was and still is one of the most enduring cultural phenomena of all time.
6. Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection of F
Last year, I gave Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods the number 10 spot on this list and even though I stand by that, there was nonetheless a nagging voice in the back of my head telling me that there were a few movies that came out that year that were probably more deserving. This year on the other hand, I feel no such regret giving a spot to its direct sequel, even despite the fact that I placed it higher than Star Wars. Let me just say this. I see the majority of my movies in the theatre at my local mall and I have never seen the theatre so crowded in my entire life than it was the night I saw this film.
Goku and the gang are back, and this time, an old enemy has returned to seek revenge. The remnants of Frieza army have come to Earth and gathered the Dragon Balls to resurrect their evil Master. Frieza, having endured years of torture in hell (which turns out to be full of happy fairies and dancing teddy bears), is fixated on vengeance against Goku. However, knowing that Goku has gotten stronger since their encounter on Namek, Frieza follows suit and trains until his power rivals that of his nemesis. When he’s ready, Frieza launches a full-scale invasion of Planet Earth and the only ones strong enough to stop him are Goku and Vegeta.
While many may disagree, I feel that this movie was a superior production to Battle of Gods. While Battle of Gods gave the fans something that had never been seen in Dragon Ball before, Resurrection F showed us that the old formula could still be kept fresh and exciting, not unlike what was done with The Force Awakens. And what better way to show this than by reviving the most iconic villain in the entire franchise in Frieza. Speaking of, Frieza in this movie is more intimidating than he’s ever been, thanks in no small part to his new voice actor who plays him with the perfect mix of confidence, arrogance and rage.
Your other DBZ favorites get to shine here as well. The film throws in many character moments such as Gohan not having kept up with his training due to being a father, Krillin having become a police officer or the introduction of the hilarious new character, Jaco the space cop.
And finally, there’s the best part of any Dragon Ball Z production, the fight scenes, which in this movie, are some of the best in the series’ history. The standout is the battle between the Z Fighters and Frieza’s forces. Gohan, Krillin, Roshi, Tien, Piccolo and Jaco stand alone against the might of Frieza’s seemingly infinite army all to buy Goku and Vegeta enough time to arrive on Earth, and what follows is on of the most beautiful and entertaining fight scenes I’ve ever seen.
And when Goku finally does arrive, the ensuing fight with Frieza doesn’t disappoint either. It’s filled with moment that made the audience cheer like crazy, including goku and Vegeta bickering over whose turn it is to fight, Frieza’s apparent terror of the arrival of Lord Beerus, the villain from the last movie, and the reveal of Goku and Vegeta’s new Super Saiyan God forms.
I saw many movies this year, and while there are still five that I’d consider to have been better, this is the film that I cheered the loudest for in the theatre.
5. Black Mass
I think if any movie on this list has a chance of winning some Oscars, it’s probably this one. At the very least, it must be considered one of the front-runners for best actor.
This film focuses on the life and ultimate downfall of legendary Boston gangster, James “Whitey” Bolger, played excellently by Johnny Depp. The film focuses primarily on Bolger becoming an FBI informant and manipulating the bureau to his own ends in order to eliminate his competition. The film depicts Bolger as the monster he truly was, but still shows us how he was charismatic enough to get people to follow and respect him. Even his FBI contact was someone from his old neighborhood who looked up to him when they were kids. Honestly, there’s not a whole lot to say about this movies plot, which suits me just fine because my reasons for putting this on the list is due entirely to Depp’s incredible and captivating performance.
Every moment he’s on screen staring daggers into your soul with his cold blue eyes, you feel unsettled, and every word out of his mouth sends chills down your spine. This is best demonstrated in the infamous “Steak Scene.” In which Depp is able put the entire audience on edge just by asking for a steak recipe.
This movie puts Johnny Depp as one of the front runners for the Oscars and I loved every second of the performance and the film.
4. Straight Outta Compton
If last year’s Jersey Boys and Get On Up taught me anything it’s that musical biopics are fun and this movie is no exception.
Detailing the rise and fall of the influential rap group, N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton focuses on the group’s three principal members, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Easy E. What follows is a strong film that doesn’t pull it’s punches with the reality of the group’s history or the history of the country at the time.
As up and coming rappers and producers, the group, (along with other members of N.W.A., MC Ren and DJ Yella) looking to escape the harsh environment that is Compton L.A. in the late 80’s and early 90’s, form N.W.A. with the aide of their scumbag agent Jerry Heller, played excellently by Paul Giamatti, quickly rise to both great fame and great controversy.
Nothing is sugar coated in this film, which could partially be due to both Ice Cube and Dr. Dre being executive producers. No characters are presented as being overly good or overly bad (with a couple of exceptions which we’ll get to) but rather presented as human beings, flawed, and at times even reprehensible, but not without redeeming qualities. That is, expect for two instances, both of which are completely understandable given the history of these events.
The first are the Compton Police. Let’s just say, the song “F*ck Tha Police,” which is arguably the most controversial song in the band’s discography, was written for a very good reason. The other is infamous music producer and homicidal madman Suge Knight, who is depicted as nothing less than the monster that he was and still very much is. (In fact, while this movie was being filmed, the real Suge Knight actually ran one of the production workers over with a truck). R. Marcos Taylor‘s portrayal of Knight is spot on.
That actually brings me to another strong point, the film’s cast. With the exception of Giamatti, the cast is filled with mostly relative unknowns, all of whom play they’re characters as if they were channeling their real life counterparts. Special praise goes to the actor playing Ice Cube, none other than Cube’s own son, O’Shea Jackson Jr. who does his father proud with every scene, and even helped get a “Bye Felicia” scene put into the film.
Even if you’re not a fan of N.W.A., this is still an incredibly fun watch, and a excellent movie.
Star Wars wasn’t the only major film franchise to make its triumphant return to the silver screen this year. As a long time Stallone fan and as someone who absolutely loves the Rocky series, this was a film I’d been waiting for all year and my goodness did it deliver in a spectacular way.
The film focuses on a new character, the son of Apollo Creed, Adonis “Donnie” Johnson, who, despite never having known his father, decides to nonetheless follow in his footsteps and pursue a career in boxing. To that end, Donnie travels to Philadelphia to seek out his father’s friend and legendary rival, The Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa. After some convincing, Rocky agrees to train Donnie, all the while learning from one another what it means to be a fighter. Donnie learns how to fight as well as not to be ashamed of his family name, and Rocky learns how that his life is still worth living as he struggles against cancer.
This is bar none the feel good movie of the year. In quality, it contends with the original Rocky for the title of best film in the franchise and possibly even surpasses it.
Michael B. Jordan does a great job as Adonis. It’s made clear that he is very much his own character both in the fictional world, and the real one. In universe, he takes painstaking measures not to look like someone who’s only riding the coattails of his father’s legacy, which is one of the reasons why he doesn’t box under the Creed name. In reality, it’s shown that this film is not just a retelling of the original Rocky, despite some obvious similarities. Donnie is very much his own character with his own story to tell, and I for one hope that it’s not a story that’s done being told.
But, let us not forget, this is still a Rocky movie, and even though Stallone has stepped aside to allow his younger co-star to have the majority of the spotlight, the man still gets to shine brighter than he ever has. As a man primarily known for action films and an often-mocked speech impediment, it’s easy to forget that Stallone actually does have some acting chops and this movie is easily his strongest performance.
Rocky is a character who has been allowed to develop over the course of six films, so finally seeing him truly pass the torch to another knowing that the legacy of this great cinematic hero will be continued by a worthy successor is a great feeling indeed.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
As I said in the intro, this will be my fifth year of making lists such as this, and in those five years, the number one and number two entries tend to follow a certain pattern. While number one is usually a movie I’ve been looking forward to for a long time that delivers on it’s own hype, the number two usually ends up being a movie that ends up taking me by surprise with how good it really is. This year was certainly no exception, but it seems that I was not the only one caught off guard by the sheer awesomeness of Mad Max: Fury Road.
Taking place in the post-apocalyptic desert world of Mad Max, our hero, played by Tom Hardy finds himself the captive of a desert cult run by a brutal megalomaniac who calls himself Immortan Joe. Meanwhile, Joe’s imperator, the incredibly badass Furiosa, played by the very beautiful and incredibly talented Charlize Theron, steals a war rig to smuggle the women that Immortan Joe keeps captive as his breeding stock to safety. And from there, the chase is on, with Max getting caught in the middle of it all.
The phrase “you’ve never seen anything like it” gets thrown around a lot when it comes to films, and sometimes it’s true. This year, I don’t think any film fits that description moreso than Mad Max: Fury Road. Essentially the film is a two hour car chase, but those two hours are so jam packed with so much adrenaline, so much insanity, and so much action that it hooks everyone within the first few minutes. Whether it’s cancer ridden soldiers spraying their mouths with silver paint to sacrifice themselves as they scream, “Witness,” the man with clothes and teeth made of bullets firing blindly in all directions ranting like a madman while operatic music plays in the background, or everyone’s favorite, a monster truck covered in amplifiers with a masked man standing on top playing his guitar that doubles as a flamethrower, this movie has some epic and original scenes.
More than the crazy, yet beautiful imagery of the film, there’s still more to this production that makes it worthy of the number two spot. Every once in a great while, there comes a movie with true staying power, a movie that will last forever in the collective sub-conscious of the audience. Movies like Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Dark Knight and many others can be said to fit this description, and now I can say that Mad Max: Fury Road looks to be joining them. All I can say is, what a film, what a lovely film.
Before we get to our number one, here’s a brief list of honorable mentions that just missed the cut.
Daniel Craig’s Bond is back and this time they’ve reinvented one of his most iconic foes as Christoph Waltz takes on the role of Blofeld. While not quite up to the standard of it’s predecessors like Skyfall or Casino Royale, it is still a fun and very welcome entry in the Bond series.
Run All Night
Liam Neeson, a scumbag enforcer for a crime boss, turns on his employer in order to keep his family safe. Liam Neeson rarely disappoints, and this film was a fun way to spend St. Patrick’s Day.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
The long awaited sequel to the incredibly popular Avengers film, this film ups the ante from the first in a big way. The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues it’s streak of phenomenal films which appear to be in danger of breaking anytime soon.
A genuinely terrifying film that sets a new standard for modern horror. If you want to know more, be sure to check out my article on the subject from last month.
And now, the number one movie of the year 2015…
1. Kingsman: The Secret Service
From the moment I saw the first trailer, I knew this movie was going to kick ass, but I don’t think anything could have prepared me for just how amazing this movie was going to be. Just to give you an idea of how much I loved this movie: when I first saw it, I mistakenly believed that my friend had bought my ticket while I was buying popcorn, and walked into the movie without having paid. I could have easily gotten away with it as I hadn’t even realized I’d done so until we were half way home. However, I found this movie to be so incredible, so amazing, so worth ever dollar, that I actually drove back to the theatre, confessed, paid for the ticket, and then proceeded to see the movie two more times. But I’ve set the stage long enough, let’s talk about the film itself.
Paying homage to the James Bond films of old, our film focuses on the Kingsman organization, a secret group of gentlemen spies. Any time a Kingsman agent dies, each of the surviving members choose an applicant and those applicants are put through tests to determine the next Kingsman. Harry Hart, a Kingsman agent played by Colin Firth, chooses Eggsy Unwin, an unrefined street kid with a great deal of untapped potential who happens to be the son of a man who once saved Harry’s life.
Meanwhile, an eccentric billionare computer genius named Valentine, played by the always awesome Samuel L. Jackson, is systematically kidnapping celebrities and political figures all over the world and either convinces them to go along with his plan to cull the population of the human race and create a new Utopia, or holds them captive by force. Sooner or later, the Kingsmen get wind of Valentine’s evil scheme and find that it is up to Eggsy to save the world.
Every single second of this movie is incredible. Every line is amazing, every joke is hilarious and every action scene had me on the edge of my seat. Be it, Samuel L. Jackson’s hilarious character of Valentine complete with an obnoxious lisp, Colin Firth killing an entire church congregation filled with southern racists while Freebird plays, Valentine’s operative Gazelle, a female henchmen with swords for legs, a cameo appearance by Mark Hamill, and of course, the now immortal line,
“I’m a Catholic whore, currently engaged in congress out of wedlock with my black, Jewish boyfriend, so hail Satan and have a lovely afternoon.”
This movie has something for everyone. It is one of the most fun theatre experiences I have had in my entire life, and I cannot recommend the film enough. If you’re a fan of the old school Bond movies and are looking for something that both pays homage to, and pokes fun at that genre, then this is the movie for you, and I cannot imagine it putting it anywhere other than at the top of my list.
And that’s the end of our list. I hope you enjoyed it. Now we look to the future in the hopes that next year’s list will be even better.