Hundreds of movies came out in 2015. As of February 24th, 2016, I’ve seen 41 of them. And I liked a lot of them. Below is my ranking of all 41 of those films:
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Star Wars franchise is one of my favorite things ever. Because of that, I can’t really objectively rank this movie among the others I’ve seen this year. It could’ve been a piece of trash, and I still would have found a way to like it. I will say this though – I absolutely adore this movie. And I really can’t wait to see where they go with it from here on out. I think the future of Star Wars is in the right hands.
Best performance: Daisy Ridley
- Fantastic Four
What the hell happened? Seriously? Rumors abound about all the behind-the-scenes drama that occurred while “making” this movie, but I never in my wildest dreams thought it could be THIS bad. I will say this – the first half isn’t so terrible, but then there is a distinct moment where it all goes down hill. And once it gets to the bottom of that hill, it goes out of its way to find another hill to go down. This film is literally painful because of how much you’ll be cringing your body at the mess on screen.
With all that being said, I really do recommend hate-watching it at least once. Seriously. Bring friends.
Best Performance: The trailers, for making you believe this would be the Fantastic Four we were all waiting for.
- The Boy Next Door
This movie is bad, but it’s aware of that fact, and has some fun with it. Ryan Guzman and Jennifer Lopez unintentionally give two of the funniest performances of the year. Guzman is straight up hilarious as a psychotic stalker, and JLo is hilarious at trying to make us pretend she gives a shit. It’s awful, but it’s a fun watch. Bring your friends.
Best performance: Ryan Guzman. It’s hilarious, guys, seriously.
- Pitch Perfect 2
If you like the first Pitch Perfect, you’ll at the very least think this one is adequate.
Best Performance: I’m pretty sure Robin Roberts made a cameo, but I’m not 100% sure.
It pains me that I have to put this so low on the list. Coming into 2015, this was towards the top of my “most anticipated films of the year” list. I really am disappointed this didn’t deliver. There are positives – the acting is decent, the production design is beautiful, the message of optimism is nice for a change (even though they aren’t subtle about it at all) – but the fact that I can’t remember what happened at all in this movie bothers me. The script is all over the place, and you forget you saw it the day after. I love Brad Bird, but I can’t help but shake my head at the fact that he passed up Star Wars so he could make this.
Best Performance: Raffey Cassidy
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
It’s a shame the Mockingjay movies couldn’t live up to the promise of the first two Hunger Games movies. Part 1 hardly had a plot, and Part 2 just didn’t deliver in my opinion. There were some tense moments and some decent payoffs, but the conclusion just felt very hodge-podged to me. Like, what was up with Julianne Moore’s character? I get that book readers (I only read the first one) may have a better grasp on what went down and why, but I found myself thinking “…really?” a bunch while watching this.
Best performance: Jennifer Lawrence
Trumbo is essentially a Lifetime movie with really good acting. I’m not denying the importance of its message, but it all just seems so…simplified. There’s literally a scene where Trumbo explains what communism is and why it makes sense from an idealistic standpoint. We get it. The role is tailor made for Bryan Cranston though, and he knocks it out of the park (like everything else he does), solidifying only further that he’s one of the greatest actors alive.
Best performance: Bryan Cranston
- Kingsman: The Secret Service
Dumb and violent, but a lot of fun. I can’t stress the “fun” part enough.
Best performance: Taron Egerton
- Jurassic World
Dumb and violent, but a lot of fun. I can’t stress the “dumb” part enough.
Best performance: Chris Pratt
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
I had some high hopes going into this movie. Seeing the first Avengers for the first time remains one of my favorite movie-going memories. But 17 different plotlines later, I got tired of this movie. Even with a long runtime, the movie has nowhere enough breathing room to make anything feel like it matters. It’s just stuff happening, followed by more stuff happening, followed by more stuff happening. In a way, Age of Ultron represents the problems people have with the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole – it’s bloated, the consequences aren’t very important, and there’s never any resolution.
Best performance: Jeremy Renner
As a follow up to Skyfall, Spectre fails to deliver. As a fun Bond film though, Spectre really delivers.
Best performance: Daniel Craig
- Crimson Peak
Guillermo Del Toro is a master of creating a specific feel for a film through the use of a very unique and detailed production design. Everything you can look at in this film is beautiful. The story itself is kind of hollow, but watching this movie is equivalent to walking through a really cool art exhibit.
Best performance: Jessica Chastain
- Black Mass
Black Mass is a perfectly fine movie, but it’s not the modern-day Goodfellas people wanted it to be. Johnny Depp is creepy, but he’s so unhinged that you forget that he’s actually trying to play a real person. The real star is Joel Edgerton, who actually plays a realistic and believable character. There are some intense moments, but Depp’s lack of depth really holds the film back from making the impact a story like this could and should have.
Best performance: Joel Edgerton
- Bridge of Spies
Anchored by great direction from Spielberg, an all-in Tom Hanks, and a subtle Mark Rylance, and you have your dad’s favorite movie of 2015. Shave 20 minutes off, and I think you really could have had one of the best films of the year on your hands. Bridge of Spies is good, there’s no doubt about it, but it doesn’t quite pack the punch you’re hoping for.
Best performance: Mark Rylance
Judd Apatow + Amy Schumer = a comedy match made in heaven.
Best performance: Amy Schumer
I had no idea what to expect when I went to see Dope, but I was left very satisfied. Equally serious as it is hilarious, Dope is unlike anything else I saw this year. We need more films like it.
Best performance: Shameik Moore
- Cartel Land
Scariest movie of the year goes to a documentary.
- Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Second scariest movie of the year also goes to a documentary.
- Mississippi Grind
Ben Mendolsohn is inching closer and closer to some influential critic calling him “one of the greatest living actors of our time,” just mark my words. Between this film, where he plays a miserable gambling addict, and Bloodline, where he plays a miserable misfit, 2015 has been good to him. I can go on and on about how good he is, but I also need to mention that this is Ryan Reynolds best role I’ve ever seen him in. The two performances make for the best road trip movie of the year.
Best performance: Ben Mendolsohn
Carol is a really good movie. But I also think it’s a little overrated. Plenty of publications called it the best of the year, but I couldn’t quite see eye to eye with them. I think the problem lies in the fact that it’s overly melodramatic. It’s a borderline soap opera at some points – which is fine except for the fact that it’s not consistently one thing or another. The script is a little stiff, but Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett deliver, and do a great job with what they have to work with.
Best performance: Rooney Mara
- Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
I wish more people saw this hidden gem. This film has all the feels.
Best performance: Olivia Cooke
- Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Just like Ghost Protocol, this film is much better than it has to be. Five films in, this series only seems to get better and better with each chapter. Everything is so well staged, and the Opera Scene is one of the best sequences of the year.
Best performance: Rebecca Ferguson
- It Follows
I’m really not much of a horror film at all. I think the shit “horror movies” that are being pumped out constantly have cheapened the genre, so when something this fresh comes along, it’s a relief. It Follows is so well crafted – the score and cinematography really stand out to me. I’m very happy this movie exists.
Best performance: Maika Monroe
- Best of Enemies
A fantastic documentary not only about a very important rivalry, but how it has gone on to influence the world of television and politics since. A perfect watch for an election year.
Joy isn’t for everyone. It’s not as straight forward as David O. Russell’s hits American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook, but I give him huge props for trying something different with his muse, Jennifer Lawrence. Joy is a weird movie. It’s kind of dreamy. The scenes just kind of float from one to another. The supporting cast appears then disappears then reappears in chaotic ways. And yet, it’s gripping. You can’t take your eyes off it. Russell is a master of directing dizzying chaos and stress, and here his excellence shows.
Best performance: Jennifer Lawrence
- Inside Out
Pixar’s best film since Toy Story 3. As a neuroscience geek, I’m really impressed how the writers took complicated and abstract ideas and made them understandable to people of all ages. The voice cast is perfect. Pixar needs to make more films like this.
Best performance: Amy Poehler
The best documentary I saw this year is also one of the toughest films to sit through. Watching Amy Winehouse continue to spiral out of control, all along knowing the outcome, just makes you genuinely sad. The film highlights a side of her I never knew even existed, and tells a much broader story about the power of addiction.
A simple concept enacted beautifully. Saoirse Ronan gives such an incredible performance, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Best performance: Saoirse Ronan
An intense ride of a movie. Tensely shot by none other than Roger Deakins and incredibly acted (especially by Benicio Del Toro, who starts as subtle but gets unleashed in the third act), it gets the heart racing as you fall deeper and deeper into its madness. In some ways, Emily Blunt’s character is the viewer – we think we know what we’re getting into and that we can handle it – but we’re totally thrown for a loop as shit gets more and more crazier.
Best performance: Benicio Del Toro
- Ex Machina
Everything appears to be minimal in Ex Machina – small cast, short runtime, virtually one location – but the ideas it explores are huge. It all falls on the shoulders of the three leads, who handle the responsibility of conveying these big ideas magnificently. Ex Machina is a modern-day sci-fi classic.
Best performance: Oscar Issac
- The Martian
Ridley Scott, as revered as he is, is not always my cup of tea. But I walked away from The Martian very impressed. The recent resurgence of astronaut movies is awesome, and The Martian stands as one of the modern day greats alongside Interstellar and Gravity. And a happy ending never hurts anybody.
Best performance: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Who would’ve thought the seventh movie in the Rocky series is the only one that could really capture the magic of the original film? Consider this Ryan Coogler’s breakout movie – the man is going to go on to do great things. I’ve been a fan of Michael B. Jordan since his roles on The Wire and Friday Night Lights, so it’s great to finally see him getting the attention and exposure he so very much deserves. And Sylvester Stallone absolutely kills the role he made famous decades ago. Creed is a gem.
Best performance: Sylvester Stallone
- Beasts of No Nation
This is a one-and-done movie for me. I saw it once, I loved it, and I’ll be okay if I never see it again. It’s a tough watch. And as ugly as some of the happenings are, it’s such a beautiful film. Cary Joji Fukunaga impressed with Season 1 of True Detective, and with this now on his resume, he’s one of the most promising directors out there. Idris Elba and Abraham Attah are so convincing in their roles, you forget that you’re watching a fictional film.
Best performance: Abraham Attah
Room is a gut-punch of a film, a great movie anchored by two great performances. It’s a sin that Jacob Tremblay wasn’t nominated for an Oscar – I’d argue he gives a better performance than most of the people nominated this year. There’s a scene halfway through the movie that will get your heart pounding, and the feeling you’re left with when the movie is over is not one that you’ll forget anytime soon.
Best performance: Tie – Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay
- Steve Jobs
Aaron Sorkin’s name is thrown around as a joke now and then – and I’d say the jokes are warranted. His dialogue can be overindulgent, convoluted, and sometimes just so unrealistic that you have to laugh. But when Sorkin is on, he’s really on. And for Steve Jobs, he’s really on. And so is Danny Boyle, who handles the material so well. And so are Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet and the rest of the cast. Steve Jobs is an incredibly well choreographed film. Every part transitions to the next flawlessly, and it’s always moving forward, chugging along at an exciting pace. I really don’t understand why everyone seems to have forgotten this film.
Best performance: Michael Fassbender
- Straight Outta Compton
As someone who knows very little about the rise of N.W.A., I was thoroughly entertained by this movie. It stays away from a lot of the stereotypical biopic tropes with a clever and energetic screenplay (that also balances a number of storylines very well), and features some fantastic performances. At 2 and a half hours, the movie feels like an American epic, but it moves along so briskly that it keeps your attention for the entire time.
Best performance: Jason Mitchell
- The Revenant
There were two movies I saw this year where I left the theater thinking to myself “How’d they make that?” The Revenant is one of them. Emmanuel Lubezki is solidifying himself as one of the all time great cinematographers with every film he does, and Alejandro Inarritu is proving time and time again what a visionary he is. Inarritu trades dialogue for visual expression, and the payoff is spectacular. It’s a beautiful film. Leonardo DiCaprio has gotten most of the attention, deservedly so, for his performance, but the real scene stealer in my opinion is the gritty Tom Hardy.
Best performance: Tom Hardy
- The Big Short
The director of Step Brothers made a movie about the economic crash of 2008. And it’s equally as funny as it is awesome as it is scary as it is great.
Best performance: Christian Bale
- The Hateful Eight
Quentin Tarantino. You either love him, hate him, or you just like Django Unchained and refuse to watch the “artsy stuff.” I love him. Sure, maybe he deploys the same tricks again and again, but he’s a master at those tricks. He sticks to what he knows. The Hateful Eight is Tarantino sticking to what he knows, and it’s great. It’s kind of like Reservoir Dogs as a western. All the actors are so committed, and they are able to deliver his ridiculous dialogue so convincingly. And it’s beautifully shot on 70 mm. And the score is insanely good. Give it a couple years, and I guarantee critics will be calling The Hateful Eight one of Tarantino’s best (if they haven’t already).
Best performance: Walton Goggins
Please just see this movie.
Best performance: Mark Ruffalo
- Mad Max: Fury Road
I remember the first time I saw the trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road. I remember thinking, “That looks weird. And that looks awesome.” I never thought it would become my choice (and a lot of other people’s choice) for the best film of the year. But then I saw it. And it blew me away. And every time I’ve seen it since, I’m only reminded of how much of a masterpiece it is on so many levels. From a technical standpoint, it’s insane (this is the second movie I saw this year where I was left thinking “how’d they make that?”). In terms of plot, it seems so simple – it’s just a long chase, after all – but it carries such a heavy load of important topics and themes with it (classism, sexism, etc.). And I love the whole Charlize Theron-is-actually-the-main-character-bait-and-switch. Mad Max: Fury Road is kind of the perfect film because it works for so many audiences, uniting film fans everywhere. It works just as well for the fans who only seem to enjoy Fast and Furious movies as it does for serious film buffs.
Best performance: Charlize Theron