For the past three years, I’ve been ranking every film I see- just the new releases, from January 1st to December 31st. The rankings are subjective, based entirely on how much I enjoyed and/or connected with or appreciated the film rather than on some sort of objective artistic criteria. Basically, this is a list of 140 films released in 2015 ranked according to how much I liked them.
Read the Full 2015 List HERE.
… in which I rank Furious 7 above The Danish Girl and The Big Short.
This sci-fi fantasy adventure feels a little like a corporate synergy experiment like Battleship the movie was but, actually, the film was planned THEN named after a theme park ride rather than being inspired by the ride (and, in all fairness, that first Pirates of the Caribbean movie is a masterpiece so who are we to criticize the ride-to-film model?). It’s ultimately exactly what it is- a live action Brad Bird film: fun, well-paced, uplifting, optimistic, thematically ambitious and sporting a big heart. There’s also a gorgeous little girl named Raffey Cassidy who acts alongside arguably the biggest movie star in the world (a somewhat misplaced Clooney) and faces him down like the peer that he truly is. Cassidy is a badass and easily the film’s best actor; I can’t wait to see more from her.
42. Ant Man
Giant Lifesavers! Michael Pena! Briefcase Fight! Thomas the Tank Engine! I really enjoyed Ant Man, for all the reasons I just listed, mostly. It’s fun and absurd with a self-awareness I haven’t seen from Marvel since Iron Man 3 (my favourite film in the MCU; bring it, haters). That said, I can guarantee now that I won’t like Ant Man 2. Don’t make Ant Man 2!
43. Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead
The fact that National Lampoon is really (really really) not my style of humour got in the way of my enjoyment of this really well made documentary, just a little bit. If you don’t think someone is funny, it’s tricky to watch a documentary based entirely on an accepted premise of comic genius. That said, the cultural impact of the characters who figure prominently in this epic origin story is not a matter of taste and they’re therefore inherently fascinating creatures, especially volatile co-founder Doug Kenney whose mysterious death is the emotional centerpiece of the film (nobody likes Chevy Chase, but that handsome bastard has never been more human than when he’s talking about the best friend he lost decades ago). An interesting story and a well-paced, well-structured, well-informed doc, no matter what you think of the Lampoon.
44. Danny Collins
This remorseful bad-dad dramedy is nothing special most of the time. Al Pacino as an ageing crooner gets by on his personal gravitas more than anything and Diane Keaton does the charming no-guff bit she has down to a science. 100% of the magic here is Bobby Cannavale who plays Pacino’s wounded good guy son with heartbreaking sincerity.
45. Furious 7
Most of this insane action thriller sped by me like one of its beloved vehicles- fast, furious and fairly frivolous. Tyrese Gibson brings it with some of the best comic relief of the year and the stunts are unparalleled (“cars can’t fly!” Brian yells as he and Dom make the jump from highrise to highrise in one of the film’s coolest sequences). Letty’s miraculous amnesia recovery and Dom’s accompanying miraculous death recovery were corny as hell but mere moments later I found myself literally bawling my eyes out over the incredibly beautiful, tactful and flat out clever treatment of Paul Walker’s exit from the series after the actor’s death. That fork in the road just about killed me, then the final blow came when, instead of the expected “In loving memory of Paul Walker”, the epic franchise that’s always made a big hullaballoo about being “a family”, led by Vin Diesel who literally named his baby daughter after his late co-star, ended the star’s final film simply with an intimate, familiar “For Paul”. Weeping.
46. The Danish Girl
So, obviously, the acting here is superb. Inarguable. Eddie Redmayne continues to be at the top of his game but rising superstar Alicia Vikander runs circles around him as the complicated, tragic, wonderful woman who loves her husband more fully than anyone has ever loved. I wanted more of Amber Heard’s delightful ballerina Ulla and Matthias Schoenaerts delivers the best and most restrained of his many dashing romantic heroes this year. I couldn’t even begin to critique Ben Whishaw’s performance because his ridiculous beret was all I could see. I didn’t even really mind Tom Hooper’s direction, with the exception of the final scene, which is undoubtedly one of the cheesiest things I’ve seen all year. I didn’t, however, love Lucinda Coxon’s script that presents Lili’s experience as a trans woman as something quite offensively akin to dissociative personality disorder. Redmayne beautifully captures Lili’s heart but Coxon is too black and white in her representation of her struggle.
This was an interesting one. On one hand you have Amy Schumer, a beloved comedian renowned for her fresh modernity. On the other hand, you have this film, a formulaic rom-com complete with so many tropes that it could be called a parody (They Came Together-style) if it weren’t so charmingly earnest. In assessing the film’s quality, it’s hard to separate Trainwreck from the film it was expected to be (a truly progressive, refreshing, female-empowering, sex-positive laugher) because it is somewhat glaringly not that. This film could have easily been made in 2003, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. It’s really good. It’s funny and sweet and sentimental but never overly sentimental. Schumer and her delightfully unexpected leading man Bill Hader have great chemistry and relatable (if predictable) problems and, as a real rom-com fan, it’s a really enjoyable movie. I just think we all somehow convinced ourselves to expect something different. But I’m not sure I would have preferred what I was expecting. I’m fine with the formula as long as it’s well-executed and the success of Trainwreck as a solid rom-com can’t be argued with when you look at Bill Hader looking at Amy Schumer.
48. The Big Short
I feel like I should have liked this film more than I did. I liked its ambition and, for the most part, its pacing. I liked the use of major stars to help differentiate a too-big ensemble of interchangeable white men, the tongue-in-cheek music choices, and the conceit of using gimmicks like Selena Gomez at the blackjack table and Anthony Bourdain making soup to explain complex concepts. I liked the general tone of comical despair and reality as hijinks, the fourth wall breakage and the overall strength of the cast. I liked Hamish Linklater; I always like Hamish Linklater. But ultimately I only sort of liked this film. I found it dizzying but not in an affecting way, more in the sense that a few key concepts get glanced over too quickly in keeping with the cavalier tone and the handheld camera work and quick cuts literally made me dizzy. I found the vast array of characters hard to distinguish and even more difficult to care about (I briefly was rooting for Finn Wittrock, so I guess he’s the winner here). And, while there’s plenty of comedy that works, the dialogue in the dramatic scenes is atrocious, particularly the two “personal backstory” exposition dumps between Marisa Tomei and Steve Carell, those might have been the two worst scenes of 2015. Slow it down just a tad, lay a stronger foundation of key knowledge, cut the Carell backstory completely and give me more Linklater and this could be a top 5 film for me.
49. The Good Dinosaur
This second-tier Pixar movie is a little bit dull but completely sweet. The dinosaurs (particularly the baby ones) are some of the cutest creatures to ever come from the CGI mavens and there’s a scene near the end of this fairly simple “find your way home” story that is simply heartbreaking. The conceit (what if the asteroid missed earth and dinosaurs evolved to learn language, start farming and have Neanderthals as pets?) is a little silly and potentially a great annoyance to elementary school science teachers but it’s a cute film.
50. I Smile Back
I’m tired of stories that can be summed up by “so and so has demons” but at least this devastating version of that story is excellently told by the dreamier-every-year Josh Charles, the brilliant Thomas Sadoski (though he’s playing a slimebag again; I wish casting directors would stop doing that to him) and Sarah Silverman in an against-type turn for the ages.