Ranking movies is a fool’s game. I make these silly lists, partly because it’s fun and partly because I like to compare my picks to those of film critics and other movie nerds. But how does one really decide where a movie “ranks” – especially when movies are so different from each other, trying to do so many different things? Ultimately this is all a very arbitrary process, and influenced by irrelevant factors like when a movie came out or what kind of mood I was in when I saw it. I’m always questioning myself – like “would I have ranked Timbuktu higher if I hadn’t watched it on an eight hour airplane trip with a toddler kicking the back of my seat the whole time?”.
That said, there’s something irresistible about making these lists. You should try it! Even if you only saw five movies this year, put ’em in order and save it on the ol’ hard drive. In twenty years you can look back and laugh at how shitty your taste was.
On to my list! Usual disclaimer: I have no idea what I’m doing and no one should take my opinions seriously. Click titles for trailers.
- Mad Max: Fury Road. I have zero nostalgia for the original Mad Max movies from the eighties (although I do like to quote “two men enter, one man leaves!” when hosting my local fight club). I generally hate GenX nostalgia and reboots in general. So I would not have believed you if you had told me a year ago that not only would a new Mad Max movie be the critical consensus for best film of the year but also my favorite film of the year as well. This was the perfect action movie: visual spectacle, amazing action sequences seamlessly blending practical effects and CGI, great humor, and powerful emotional moments. Unforgettable.
- Spotlight. This film about a team of journalists investigating sex abuse allegations in the Catholic church belongs to one of my favorite sub-genres of cinema: movies depicting competent professionals doing their jobs. This movie could have gone big with the melodrama inherent in its subject matter, but instead chose to carefully parcel out the emotion in between riveting sequences showing how real journalism works and why its so important. Bizarrely, director Tom McCarthy also made one of the worst movies of the year – the Adam Sandler vehicle The Cobbler.
- Inside Out. I’m not normally a Pixar fan or a big enjoyer of children’s films in general. But I thought they knocked it out of the park with this revelatory exploration of human emotion. I’ve said before that I love films that make me feel something or make me think something – here’s a film that made me think about feeling and feel about thinking. RIP Bing Bong.
- The Martian. Here’s another one that tickles that part of my brain that loves watching competent people solve problems. The Martian is a film about problem-solving, a celebration of science and human ingenuity. It’s a wonderful antidote to the mysticism of movies like Interstellar and a reminder that we all have an amazing capacity to overcome adversity through determination and rationality.
- Spring. The films above are mainstays of critic top ten lists and will probably get at least some consideration at the Oscars. But I think I’m on my own with my love of Spring – a movie that no one has heard of and received zero votes in the Village Voice critics poll. It’s about an American guy travelling in Italy who falls in love with a beautiful girl who may or may not be some kind of alien or monster. It straddles the line between comedy, science fiction, and horror, while also being surprisingly romantic. I’m a sucker for a good love story, especially if it has a high body count.
- Sicario. This is a film that (for me at least) is about powerlessness – and the way violence tends to perpetuate itself despite the best intentions of well-meaning people. In some ways it’s the antithesis to The Martian but both films contain some truth. Sicario turns all of the “hero” tropes of movies like this and shows that in a chaotic world, sometimes being a hero doesn’t get you anywhere. Also, I’m a big Emily Blunt fan so her movies almost always get a ranking boost automatically.
- Steve Jobs. Many critics hated this but I’m a sucker for Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue (excepting The Newsroom). Danny Boyle is a director who I normally dislike, but here he seems like a good match for Sorkin’s acidic prose. The “three product launch” structure is genius, allowing the film to avoid the kind of biographical overload that makes most movies about real-life famous people feel like reading a long Wikipedia article. Plus you can’t stop the FASSBENDER.
- The Duke of Burgundy. Who knew the world needed a bedroom bondage drama about two lesbian lepidopterists, filmed in the style of 1970s European erotica? This movie feels like it came from some kind of parallel universe, but under its strange exterior it’s surprisingly relatable. Anyone who’s ever been in a relationship and struggled to please their partner will find something familiar in this movie. Love requires us to assume roles that may not always be . . . comfortable.
- Phoenix. It’s funny how sometimes you can be a little bored watching a movie and checking your phone and then one scene just knocks you so hard in the gut that you can’t even breathe.
- Magic Mike XXL. OK, I know that I’m going to take some shit over this one and have my sexuality questioned, but y’all have to trust me on this – Magic Mike XXL is terrific. It put a smile on my face that didn’t fade until the next day. You don’t have to like male strippers (if it helps, Amber Heard is crazy hot in this movie), you don’t have to like Channing Tatum, you don’t have to like the first Magic Mike (which was a very different type of movie). This is just a joyous celebration of performance, similar to Pitch Perfect or The Blues Brothers in its “put the band together and put on a show” kind of story. Put your squeamishness about the subject matter aside and just watch it.
The next five: Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, Clouds of Sils Maria, It Follows, Youth, Creed.
Deserving of the inevitable Oscar nominations: Carol, The Big Short, Room, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn.
Interesting indies: Maps to the Stars, Tangerine, ’71, Appropriate Behavior, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Beasts of No Nation, Faults, Experimenter, Ex Machina, The Voices.
Foreign finds: Timbuktu, Goodnight Mommy. (This is a tough category for me because I usually catch up with foreign films after the new year).
Competent comedies: What We Do in the Shadows, Spy, Trainwreck, Pitch Perfect 2.
Long live big budget franchise movies! Avengers: Something or Other, The Hunger Games: Something or Other, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Ant-Man, Mission Impossible: Something or Other, Fast & Furious 7.
Death to big budget franchise movies! Terminator: Something or Other, Jurassic World, Spectre, Tomorrowland, Star Wars: Something or Other (sorry everyone).
The western lives! The Hateful Eight, Slow West.
Bad but also kind of interesting: Child 44, Aloha, Blackhat, Jupiter Ascending, Focus.
Worst of 2015: Minions. OK, I haven’t actually seen Minions. But it has to be the worst, right?
I still need to see: Anomalisa, The Revenant, Joy, Son of Saul, 45 Years, Diary of a Teenage Girl, The Assassin, James White, Heaven Knows What, The Tribe, Court, a bunch of other stuff I’m probably blanking on.