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The Top 15 Movies of 2015: A year-end retrospective

December 30, 2015Ben MK

From intergalactic villains to colorfully costumed superheroes, hard-hitting dramas to laugh-out-loud comedies, 2015 had something to suit the tastes of all moviegoers. Now, with 2016 just around the corner, the time has come for me to reveal my list of the year's best movies. Of the 125 titles I reviewed this year, here are my top 15.

#1 — Mad Max: Fury Road

A non-stop multi-vehicle chase told primarily through insane visuals and a headbanging soundtrack, Mad Max: Fury Road plunges moviegoers back into the down-and-dirty post-apocalyptic future first brought to the screen in 1979's Mad Max. This time, road warrior Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) finds himself caught up in a feud between the demonic-looking Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his top lieutenant, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), with explosive results. (Full Review)

#2 — Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Set 30 years after Return of the Jedi, Star Wars: The Force Awakens reunites moviegoers with their favorite classic trilogy characters, while introducing audiences to a new group of galactic heroes. In doing so, it resoundingly succeeds in recapturing the feeling of the first three Star Wars films. Not only does The Force Awakens harken back to beats from the originals, but it also draws a strong emotional through line in the sand, one that links both the old characters and the new. (Full Review)

#3 — Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

The fifth and latest installment in the Mission: Impossible series may not deviate from the franchise's tried-and-true formula, but that doesn't mean it isn't a helluva lot of fun. Packed with insane stunts, hi-tech hijinks and all of the international intrigue viewers have come to expect from the M:I films, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is the quintessential summer blockbuster, and proof that a franchise can remain deliriously entertaining even four sequels in. (Full Review)

#4 — Ex Machina

Screenwriter Alex Garland's directorial debut is a small film about big ideas, revolving around a computer programmer named Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), his reclusive boss, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), and Nathan's state-of-the-art robotic creation, Ava (Alicia Vikander). Ex Machina's mysteries are both numerous and unsettling, but what defines the film are its performances. Blending sex, science fiction and horror, the result is an electrifying modern day Frankenstein tale that shouldn't be missed. (Full Review)

#5 — When Marnie Was There

Based on the novel by author Joan G. Robinson, When Marnie Was There is both a tender story of friendship and a ghostly tale. It's a movie that takes its time unfolding, but the emotional payoff is well worth the wait. Unlike many of Studio Ghibli's most beloved films, the fantasy elements are kept to a minimum. Still, this is a perfect example of just what makes Ghibli's films so wonderfully unique. It's beautiful to look at, and as touching as anything else they've released. (Full Review)

#6 — The Hateful Eight

The spirit of classic cinema is alive in Quentin Tarantino's eighth feature, aptly titled The Hateful Eight. Magnificently shot in gorgeous 70mm, The Hateful Eight also features mesmerizing performances from the likes of Samuel L. Jackson and Walton Goggins, not to mention a bloody climax that rivals even that of Tarantino's previous film, 2012's Django Unchained. Yes, nobody makes a movie quite like Quentin Tarantino, and The Hateful Eight is his pièce de résistance. (Full Review)

#7 — Inside Out

Quite possibly Pixar's most imaginative film yet, Inside Out envisions the world within the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley. Both hilarious and heartwarming, Inside Out is classic Pixar through and through, a movie underpinned with genuine emotion and brilliantly sly psychological metaphors, all culminating in a poignant life lesson about growing up and discovering where we belong. As touching as it is visionary, Inside Out is one of Pixar's finest works. (Full Review)

#8 — Ant-Man

Another bona fide win for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man eschews the typically massive scope of superhero films in favor of more self-contained storytelling. But while director Peyton Reed exercises admirable restraint for the pint-sized hero's first big screen outing, you can be sure that even bigger and better things lie ahead. Avengers: Age of Ultron may be the more bombastic of the two Marvel films released this year, but Ant-Man definitely has more heart. (Full Review)

#9 — Trainwreck

In some ways, Trainwreck is just like every other romantic comedy you've ever seen. And yet, in others, it's totally different, thanks to the movie's brilliant and hilarious reversal of gender roles. Otherwise, Trainwreck delivers exactly what you might expect from a Judd Apatow production. It has a ton of laugh-out-loud moments, a smattering of gross-out jokes, and plenty of heart. (Full Review)

#10 — Kingsman: The Secret Service

Based on the Miles Millar and Dave Gibbons comic, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a madcap, over-the-top violent and downright delirious take on the spy genre, one that does for superspies what the 2010's Kick-Ass did for superheroes. Just don't think of Kingsman: The Secret Service as another Austin Powers. Because while the movie does have its tongue planted firmly in its cheek, it isn't spoofing the genre, but merely injecting some of the fun back into it. (Full Review)

#11 — Jurassic World

Story-wise, Jurassic World is nothing special. But with bigger and better special effects, a refreshingly self-aware sense of humor, and shockingly visceral action set-pieces, fans of the Jurassic Park series should still be pleased. Despite its egregious overabundance of one-liners and utterly implausible romantic subplot, sequel number four in the franchise still manages to captivate. And considering that we're over two decades removed from the movie that started it all, that's saying a lot. (Full Review)

#12 — Spotlight

Drawn from actual events, Spotlight is both a news drama and a compelling examination of faith. It's also a terrific ensemble effort, with a knockout cast that includes Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Stanley Tucci. Together, these actors make Spotlight — a film that centers on the extremely hard-to-watch topic of child abuse — extremely watchable. That's not to say that the movie sugarcoats its subject matter. It is, however, a testament to the talents of the filmmakers behind it. (Full Review)

#13 — Joy

Jennifer Lawrence delivers another knockout performance in this fictionalized account of the life of Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano, a movie that plays like a modern-day fairytale but which also feels tailor-made to play to Lawrence's strengths as an actress. Although the narrative has a tendency to come across as ridiculously outlandish, Lawrence is always there to anchor things. And ultimately, that makes Joy a film that's more than just the sum of its parts. (Full Review)

#14 — Good Kill

Grounded in the reality of America's War on Terror, Good Kill tackles the topic of drone warfare, casting Ethan Hawke as an F-16-pilot-turned-drone-operator who finds himself at a moral crossroads with his latest assignment. Yet, the film is more than just a story about one man, or about the broader suffering that plagues soldiers with PTSD. Good Kill may be set in the year 2010, but the questions it raises remain just as topical today — if not more so. (Full Review)

#15 — A Most Violent Year

Writer/director J.C. Chandor's latest film is a compelling throwback to the crime dramas of a bygone era — a timeless allegory about the pursuit of the American dream, steeped in noir chic and bolstered by intense performances from Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain. The only caveat goes to those moviegoers looking for more action, who may be left wanting. Otherwise, A Most Violent Year is most entertaining indeed. (Full Review)

Honorable Mentions
(Movies that weren't reviewed, have yet to be reviewed, or aren't yet in wide release)
The Witch (Toronto International Film Festival)
Shut In (Toronto After Dark Film Festival)
The Revenant (Review Coming January 8th, 2016)
The Martian (Review Not Available)
The Big Short (Review Not Available)

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