The Best Films of 2015

One of the hardest parts of watching and loving movies is the inevitable task of whittling them down into some sort of “best-of” list.

In an ideal world, films wouldn’t be judged by numbers or percentages, but by what they stir up, inspire, or accomplish. By the way they make us laugh, make us cry, make us think, keep us on the edge of our seats, or open our imaginations. By how well they include a Stan Lee cameo, or whether or not Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is in it (an automatic markdown).

Films are more than numbers on scales and placements on lists. Unfortunately that’s just the way we are forced to go about explaining why or how we connected with a film or not. Films are not always meant to be mathematically analyzed; they are meant to be felt.

2015 in Film:

Some notable omissions you might find glaring here include Spectre, Black Mass, Anomalisa, Spy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, and Mad Max: Fury Road.
Sorry, but they didn’t make the cut.
And then a few that very well could have if I had gotten a chance to see them include Straight Outta Compton, The Peanuts Movie, Legend, Youth, Cop Car, Z for Zachariah, Macbeth, and Slow West.

There could be plenty more said about why each of these moves below were so great but there’s only so much room on the interwebs. The best films are, at their core, about what it means to be human – with all the good, the bad, and the ugly. The best ones do it with wonderful stories to wrap our heads around, characters to care about, and epic sights to feast our eyes upon. These are the ones that did it best this year.


30) The Big Short
29) Meet the Patels
28) Trainwreck
27) Creed
26) Age of Adaline
25) Brooklyn
24) Ex Machina
23) Paddington
22) Sicario
21) The Gift


Dinosaurs. Motorcycles. Ripped Chris Pratt. Ron Howard’s daughter running through the jungle in high heels. A sequel-reboot-remake-something of a classic Stephen Spielberg movie. What more could you want?

Jurassic World is fun, fast-paced, and downright entertaining. A perfect summer blockbuster movie to shove some popcorn in your face to.

My Rating: 7/10  CGI Raptors

19 — JOY

Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro and Bradley Cooper do what they’ve never done before — team up for a David O. Russell movie.

Jennifer Lawrence is Jennifer Lawrence, so duh, she’s great. She makes a movie about a woman who invents a mop far more interesting than it has any right to be, transforming it into a emotional story about persevering in the face of increasing odds. And yeah Jennifer Lawrence is attractive, I guess.

My Rating: 4/5 Self-Wringing Mop Heads


This was a great year for Pixar — not only did they return to making original non-sequel movies, they gave us two of them. I’m not really sure why it’s called the “Good” Dinosaur though, there are plenty of other kind and good-hearted dinos here to be honest. Eh, it’s not their best but The Good Dinosaur is still a clever and delightful journey through an alternate universe where dinosaurs never went extinct (i.e. it’s better than ‘Brave’).

My Rating: 7 Good; 3 Bad/ 10 Dinosaurs


If you like Seth Rogen and his buddies’ laundry list of previous comedies — Pineapple Express, This is the End, The Interview — you’ll probably find yourself laughing at their take on Christmas. If not, then probably not. The Night Before is a ridiculous romp through a Christmas Eve full of ugly Christmas sweaters, fights with fake Santas, and secret Great Gatsby parties (read: not for kids). It’s over-the-top and stupidly funny.

My Rating: 2/3 James Franco cameos


A ‘documentary’ about a group of vampires who share a house together.

As they deal with the challenges that come with being creatures of the night in the modern world, the story goes from bizarre to beyond bizarre.

Just watch it.

My Rating: 3/4 incisors


This year’s best “indie darling.” Greg and Earl have built a friendship on filming short parody movies together (but never let anyone else watch them). When their classmate Rachel is diagnosed with cancer, the three form an unlikely friendship… Yeah, it sounds like a ton of other movies. But it’s great. And a charming coming-of-age story. And as emotionally-heart-wrenching as it is funny.

My Rating: 8/10 Awkward Teens


Leonardo DiCaprio sure does want that Oscar. The Revenant is basically a two-and-a-half hour showcase of Leo dragging himself across 1800’s wilderness, eating raw bison meat, braving blizzards, and sleeping inside dead animals. It’s overlong and it’s short on substance, but it sure is beautifully shot. It’s not DiCaprio’s best role — he should have won the Oscar way back for The Aviator — but he’s got the award on lock this year. And Tom Hardy is pretty great too, at least when you can understand what he’s saying.

My Rating: 9/12 Oscar Nominations


The Hateful Eight is a brutal, vulgar and violent Western from Quentin Tarantino. Either you really want to see it because of that description, or you’re not interested at all.

It is not Tarantino’s best film, but his trademark comedic dialogue and outrageous storytelling is on full force here. And Samuel L. Jackson gives the best performance of  his career.

My Rating: The Hateful 6/8


Look, I’m not even that big of a fan of the original Cinderella. But after a string of unsuccessful, boring, and ill-conceived attempts at converting their animated classics, Disney has finally mastered the live-action remake with this Cinderella. 

It perfectly balances honoring the spirit of the original with bringing a new and fresh take to one of the most famous fairy tales. It’s fun and sweet, and really that’s all you could want from a Disney movie. And honestly, it’s that much better because it finally puts to ease worries that Disney is going to destroy their animated canon of films with remakes. It can be done, and done well.

My Rating: 1.5/2 Evil Step-Sisters


Beside the fact that there were people in the theater legitimately asking if this was based on a true story, I found The Martian to be a wild and thrilling ride through space. Matt Damon brings a great touch of humanity to this sci-fi tale, and the movie’s surprisingly funny (not Golden-Globe-Award-for-Best-Comedy-funny, but whatever).

Like countless survival stories before it, The Martian is a powerful and inspiring tale of the human will to… blah blah blah. It’s a great movie. And the best part might be Sean Bean’s character’s limited knowledge of Lord of the Rings.

My Rating: 4/5 Planets from the Sun


A thrilling retelling of the 1996 disaster on the world’s tallest mountain, Everest is more than just a simple survival drama — it’s an emotional look at how the risks we take effect those we love.

What drives people to attempt such a dangerous endeavor? Pride? Adventure? Everyone seems to have a different answer, and often, they don’t come home because of it.

My Rating: 5/7 Sherpas


A criminally underrated movie, Little Boy is a sweet, charming, delightful, funny and emotional story about a boy who takes the Scriptures about “faith moving mountains” literally.

Little Boy is the best family film of the year. Some film critics may not prefer such simplistic and sentimental storytelling, but Little Boy is simple and sentimental storytelling at its best.

My Rating: 8/10 Mustard Seeds


Stephen Spielberg is the king of historical biopics, and his latest film with Tom Hanks is a dramatic Cold War tale of international spies, backdoor deals, military intrigue and moral ambiguity.

It’s a slow-burner (i.e. some people will think it’s boring), but it’s a powerful and inspiring story about a simple man who took the burdens of the world upon himself to try and do something right.

My Rating: 1.5/2 Coen Brothers


This should not have been as good of a movie as it is. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s French accent could use some fine-tuning, but The Walk is an endlessly fun true story about the tight-rope walker who strung a line and walked between the Twin Towers.

It’s a story too bizarre to be fiction, and the climax where Phillippe walks between the towers is breathlessly beautiful and worth the price of admission alone.

My Rating: 85% Chance of Survival


I’m not sure we can be friends if you don’t like blasting the Beach Boys with the windows rolled down every now and then.

Brian Wilson was one of the most brilliant and most tortured songwriters in modern history, and the story behind his rise and fall out of fame is an excellent blend of dramatic and delightful. And there’s tons of Beach Boys songs, so that’s fun, fun, fun.

My Rating: 9/10 California Girls


Spotlight is a story we’re all familiar with. But to see it onscreen is another thing entirely. Spotlight is not the most cinematic or the most fast-paced film. But it’s a film that simply aims to shine a light on a horrible atrocity. And it does that with great success.

Above all, Spotlight made me angry. How could an entire institution built on serving the less fortunate turn a blind eye on such widespread attempts to take advantage of the innocent? Spotlight is a tearjerker, and not in a good way.

My Rating: 8.5 Ruffalos


Haven’t we had enough of Steve Jobs movies by now? Thankfully, the answer was no. The Director of Slumdog Millionaire and writer of The Social Network team up with Michael Fassbender — forget Leo, Fassbender is our generation’s gem as far as I’m concerned — for a wildly inventive, thrilling, mile-a-minute drama about the deeply flawed man behind one of the most recognizable brands on the planet.

My Rating: iPhone 4s/iPhone 5


Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear may be on display here as well, but Joy is all I could feel during Pixar’s newest masterpiece.
Pete Docter’s follow-up to Up is emotionally complex (see what I did there), and nothing short of magical.

Try not to cry when Bing Bong slips forever into the Memory Dump. I dare you.

My Rating: 98% on Rotten Tomatoes


Oh, get over yourself. You’re not “cool” because you’re “over” Star Wars. Or don’t “get” the hype. Or “think Kylo Ren is an okay villain but nothing compared to Darth Vader, even though that’s the entire point of his character because he’s just a foolhardy young jedi living in the shadow of the Sith lord, man.”

Star Wars: Episode VII is a deliciously fun, smart, nostalgic, and gosh-darn cool movie. I’m not like a “Star Wars freak” who goes to conventions or wears Slave Leia costumes or buys comic books or anything, but if there was ever a franchise I felt a certain duty of protection over, it would be Star Wars. And what JJ Abrams brought us with The Force Awakens is everything I had hoped and more. Nitpick all you want, but this is an awesome movie. Plain and simple. And Daisy Ridley is my future wife, so lay off guys.

My Rating: 9/10 Scruffy-Looking Nerf Herders

1 —  ROOM

Room wrecked me. This is a brutal, beautiful movie and the best film of the year.

Brie Larson and nine-year-old (!) Jacob Tremblay give two of the year’s best performances, and there’s not really any jokes I can infuse into this. Because Room is harrowing and sad and happy and satisfying and haunting and joyful all wrapped into one. Please go see this movie. When people ask why Hollywood keeps pumping out crap, remember that it’s because this amazing film made about 1/10 of what Ride Along 2 did at the box office. 1/10th, guys. Ride Along 2… Ride Along 2.

My Rating: 10x Better than Ride Along 2


Who did it the best this year?

BEST ACTOR: Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

BEST ACTRESS: Brie Larson, Room

BEST DIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Emma Donoghue, Room
Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Steve Jobs
Inside Out

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant 




So that’s what I thought about 2015 at the movies! You don’t have to love my list; you don’t have to agree. So let me know what your favorite movies were this year! But first, if you excuse me, I think I’ll grab my popcorn bucket and head back to the theater. Time to start all over again!


© Matt Tory, 2016. 

All movie posters shown are used for non-commercial analysis and commentary purposes related to the films mentioned herein.

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