Top/Favorite Movies of 2015

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on December 31, 2015 @

Much of 2015 was a lackluster year at the movies. As has become the routine marketing strategy, most of the best films were held for release and awards consideration until November or later.

One of the prevailing themes of the films of 2015 was the revelation of the fallible power and abuse by institutions. Concussion went after the NFL, The Big Short went after the banking industry (sort of), Spotlight investigated the Catholic Church, Trumbo exposed the government, and even Star Wars: The Force Awakens faced The First Order.

Many of the best film directors didn't have any releases in 2015. Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Clint Eastwood, and the Coen Brothers were absent.

There were few films in 2015 that have any chance to be classics. Perhaps The Hateful Eight does, because of Quentin Tarantino's dazzling oeuvre.

In general, 2015 was not a memorable year at the movies.

As an interpretative critic, I hope for films that will challenge me to go beneath their surface to discover, explore, and understand.

The following ten films gave me some of my best experiences in the theater.

  1. Spotlight

    Tom McCarthy is one of my favorite directors. He's at the top of the list of humanists making movies today. The Station Agent (2003) probably still is my favorite McCarthy film, because of the great personalities of his characters in it, but Spotlight is by far McCarthy's most important film.

    Spotlight had the best ensemble of the year. Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo brought their infectious, vibrant energy to their roles of the journalists for the The Boston Globe who doggedly revealed the cover-up of priests' abuse of children in Boston and beyond. Rachel McAdams also was memorable as one of the four-person Spotlight investigative team.

    Liev Schreiber brought quiet gravitas as the new editor of the paper. Stanley Tucci as a maverick lawyer, Michael Cyril Creighton as a shaken victim, Len Cariou as Cardinal Law, John Slattery as the son of Ben Bradlee of The Washington Post, and Billy Crudup and Jamey Sheridan as lawyers for the Church all made distinct contributions.

    Cinematographer Mananobu Takayanagi creates an extra-bright look as though the film is putting events under the glare of investigation. Howard Shore has composed music that promotes a feeling of activity. And Tom McArdle -- who has edited all five of McCarthy's features -- gives pace to the dogged action.

    Spotlight delivered.

  2. Carol

    Carol may be the film that carried out its conception most perfectly.

    With an artful screenplay, by Phyllis Nagy, based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, it is a romantic escalator. It's a lush, evocative romance. Between two women.

    Todd Haynes's direction is impeccable. And the performances of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are ideal.

    This is a film that rewards going beneath the surface. Haynes's use of hands is telling and exquisite.

    Carol is a ballet of hands and hearts.

  3. Creed

    The latest installment of Rocky takes Sly Stallone out of the director's chair and out of the lead, and it pays off. Stallone gives one of his best performances -- totally lacking in ego -- as the trainer of the son of Apollo Creed, who is committed to finding his identity in the ring.

    It's ironic that Stallone is the same age as Burgess Meredith was in the original Rocky (1976), when he too played a trainer.

    Directed and written by Ryan Coogler and starring Michael B. Jordan, Creed is the 2015 version of the Philly fairytale.

  4. Brooklyn

    Featuring an incandescent performance by Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn, set in the 1950s, is the tale of an Irish lass, who goes from Ireland to America to find herself and her future. Fate takes her back to Ireland, where she has to decide who she is and where she belongs.

    Director John Crowley juggles the spirit, and ultimately it soars. Charm wins out.

  5. The Hateful Eight

    Quentin Tarantino is back with a vengeance.

    The Hateful Eight is among the most self-indulgent films of the year, but Tarantino's self-indulgence is a creative force. It will take a while for this film to come down to earth.

    Tarantino brings Samuel L. Jackson back to acting credibility. He surrounds him with a talented cast, a spate of insults, vulgarity, vomit, and blood.

    Quentin, Quentin, Quentin. Wherefore art thou, Quentin?

  6. Love & Mercy

    Love & Mercy is about creativity -- and its costs. John Cusack and Paul Dano both portray Brian Wilson, the hyper-dynamo of the Beach Boys. When Brian is in the studio with the Wrecking Crew -- masterly studio musicians -- it's intoxicating creativity.

    When Elizabeth Banks comes on screen as Brian's potential salvation, she provides grounding for a film that threatens to lose its way. She's marvelous. Director Bill Pohlad and three writers do uneven work.

    But in Love & Mercy, the good vibrations transcend the mediocre.

  7. Legend

    Tom Hardy gives an underrated performance as the Krays -- actual twin brothers who became fabled gangsters in England in the 1960s. It's a brilliant rendering. First-time director Brian Helgeland lets Hardy nibble, gnaw, and spit out the scenery in a galvanic tour de force.

    Two Hardys for the price of one is a hell of a deal.

  8. Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation

    Each year I try to find a film I can recommend with confidence to almost everybody. This year it was Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation.

    Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie -- who did the clever screenplay for The Usual Suspects (1995) -- acquits himself admirably as writer/director of the latest Mission: Impossible. He provides flair and various surprises.

    Tom Cruise is entertaining as always. And Rebecca Ferguson adds intrigue and humanity.

    This is an action film that knows how to take advantage of its action. It's not overblown; it's a fresh mission.

  9. Inside Out

    Pixar has done it again. Inside Out is animated Joy. Actually Amy Poehler is the voice of Joy. Any film that has Lewis Black as the voice of Anger is joyous anger.

    Co-directors Pete Doctor and Ronnie de Carmen have compiled a movie teeming with movie references.

    Inside Out is fun with and at the movies.

  10. Lambert & Stamp

    Recent years have been blessed with a bevy of documentaries about musicians and their worlds. These are enlightening films that enrich our knowledge and memories.

    This year Lambert & Stamp introduces us to Kit Lambert and Christopher Stamp, who managed The Who. They discovered a group of raucous misfits and fashioned them into The Who, a group that became iconic. Roger Daltrey said Kit and Chris were, "the 5th and 6th members of the band." Who knew?

    The vintage images from a time long past are like a newly discovered album of hits.

    My Generation lives forever.

I guess 2015 wasn't a bad year after all.

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