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The Best Movies of 2015

January 31, 2016

By John Corrado

Inside Out PosterThe best indicator of how many good movies were released in 2015 is the amount of trouble I had putting this list together.  But after much deliberating, these are the ones I have finally chosen for my annual top ten list, followed by a whopping thirty honourable mentions, many of which it pained me to leave off the actual countdown.

Yes, I know we are already a month into 2016, but I’ve spent most of January playing catch up on films I missed, and deliberating over the order of this list.  But better later than never.  Although my top two choices have been all but decided since I first saw them in the summer, every single one of these films deserves recognition for their own reasons, and have stuck with me in ways that I have tried my best to illuminate.  Enjoy!

#10: Joy: The third collaboration between David O. Russell and Jennifer Lawrence, Joy is filled with the shared electricity of their collective work, offering another prime example of a director and star working together in perfect unison.  Backed up by a uniformly excellent ensemble cast, this biopic of highly successful entrepreneur and mop inventor Joy Mangano is an extremely entertaining and emotionally affective dramedy, that also works as a genuinely inspiring female empowerment fable.  At any given time, this spot could have gone to a number of great films like Anomalisa, The Big Short, The End of the TourMe and Earl and the Dying Girl, The Revenant or Straight Outta Compton, to name just a few of my honourable mentions.  But I finally decided to go with Joy, which might seem like a bit of an idiosyncratic choice, because it’s one of the best representations of my instincts as a viewer, and an example of a film that I just flat-out enjoyed watching.

#9: Steve Jobs: Michael Fassbender disappears into his role as the enigmatic title tech giant in Steve Jobs, offering a gripping character study that doubles as an exciting reinvention of the usual biopic formula.  Directed by Danny Boyle, from an incredibly sharp Aaron Sorkin screenplay, the film unfolds in three distinct acts and takes place mainly backstage, showing the Apple figurehead at some of the most crucial moments of his career, using different formats for each of the three sections to give them all the distinct look and feel of their time periods.  The directing, writing, editing, cinematography and acting of Steve Jobs all click together in perfect unison, adding up to a film that unfolds with the same attractive stealth as one of the Apple products at its centre.

#8: Sleeping Giant: A Canadian coming of age film shot in and around Thunder Bay, Sleeping Giant is simultaneously one of the smallest films on my list, and also one of the biggest in terms of its sheer impact.  Riley (Reece Moffett) and his cousin Nate (Nick Serino) are spending the summer in a small cottage community on Lake Superior, with the quiet and sensitive Adam (Jackson Martin) tagging along, leading the three restless teenagers to hang out and cause trouble in equal measure.  Beautifully filmed, brilliantly edited, and anchored by impressively naturalistic performances, this is a searing study of jealously, masculine rivalry and first crushes, with a few subtly handled hints of homoeroticism lingering beneath the surface.  It’s a film that works because it feels dangerous, perfectly capturing the youthful feeling that things are going to last forever, and the shocking moment when you realize that they’re not, building towards a dark and blindingly powerful crescendo.  This one hit me like a ton of bricks.

#7: The Martian: A remarkable return to form for director Ridley Scott, that is carried by one of Matt Damon’s best performances alongside a stellar and refreshingly diverse ensemble cast, The Martian is an example of blockbuster filmmaking at its finest.  This survival tale of an astronaut left stranded on the red planet prides itself on intelligence every step of the way, with a story that focuses on the importance of science, while also managing to be both inspiring and effervescently cool.  Thrilling, visually stunning and above all else extremely entertaining, this was one of the most purely fun big screen experiences of 2015.  Also, great soundtrack and perfect use of David Bowie.

#6: Paddington: When Paddington first came out at the beginning of last year, I knew that the film would be finding a spot on my top ten list.  Some people will inevitably think I’m crazy for saying this is one of the best things I saw in 2015, but that’s just because they haven’t experienced the magic for themselves yet.  This story of an impeccably mannered young bear (Ben Whishaw), who is sent to live in London, is a triumph of both storytelling and production design, that does justice to Michael Bond’s beloved series of children’s books.  As a lifelong fan of the marmalade loving bear, Paddington was one of the most charming films I had the pleasure of seeing last year, an entertaining and also surprisingly touching delight.  And it has added resonance now, at its heart being the story of a lonely, orphaned immigrant just trying to find their place in the world.

#5: Brooklyn: Here’s a film that made my heart soar.  The story of a young Irish immigrant (Saorise Ronan) who lands on the shores of America in the 1950s, where she is swept off her feet by a charming young Italian guy (Emory Cohen), there are just so many wonderful moments in Brooklyn, as the film powerfully conveys feelings of homesickness and the promise of falling in love.  This is simply one of the loveliest and most beautifully crafted films of last year, a luscious and deeply moving period romance and story of finding home, built around a radiant and deeply felt performance from Saoirse Ronan.  And us romantics will be left yearning for a simpler time when the dating process included real courtship, instead of just messages on Tinder.

#4: Room: Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay gave two of my favourite performances of 2015 in Room, beautifully portraying the undying bond between an abducted mother and her young son, who has spent his entire life locked up in the garden shed of their captor.  Adapted from Emma Donoghue’s bestselling novel, which was written entirely from the perspective of a five year old, Room perfectly translates the almost lyrical beauty of its source material to the big screen, capturing the magic of childhood through a heartbreaking and unforgettable lens.  This is a film that starts as devastating drama, becomes a pulse pounding escape thriller over one of the best extended sequences of any movie last year, and ends as something profoundly moving and unexpectedly life affirming.  It casts a unique spell that is almost hypnotizing to watch, and impossible to shake afterwards.

#3: Spotlight: The story of the Boston Globe’s investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, Spotlight is a gripping journalistic thriller that deserves comparisons to All the President’s Men.  With a razor sharp and highly literate screenplay co-written by director Tom McCarthy, and brilliant performances from every single member of the crackling ensemble cast, this is a fascinating and emotionally powerful film, densely packed with compelling details and infuriating revelations that are heartbreakingly revealed to be just the tip of a much larger iceberg.  And as someone who was raised Catholic, but has come to question the church because of the dark things that exist in their history, Spotlight also hit me hard on a personal level, especially Mark Ruffalo’s performance.

#2: Mad Max: Fury Road: Perhaps the most surprising thing about Mad Max: Fury Road, visionary director George Miller’s long awaited return to the post-apocalyptic desert of his original trilogy, is that this action epic is actually a kick-ass feminist allegory in disguise, intent on subverting and then totally destroying a patriarchal system.  Max (Tom Hardy) is a drifter who becomes the unlikely ally to our hero Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who is leading a group of five enslaved brides to safety in the back of an oil rig, away from their deranged captor Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne).  This is arguably the best action film ever made, featuring sequence after sequence of eye-popping mayhem, and unfolding like a non-stop car chase.  Equal parts brilliantly orchestrated action movie opera, and deliriously realized post-apocalyptic fever dream, Mad Max: Fury Road is an epic and visionary thrill ride, that runs like hell on blood and gasoline to race across the finish line.

#1: Inside Out: Back in June, I predicted that I wouldn’t see a better movie in 2015 than Inside Out, and I was absolutely right.  This story of the five emotions inside the mind of a young girl (Kaitlyn Dias), and what happens when Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) get lost and are forced to work together in order to get back to headquarters and restore balance, sees the geniuses at Pixar reaching new heights with their creativity.  This is a powerful example of the absolute best that animation has to offer, a beautifully visualized and profoundly moving study of memory and depression, seamlessly balancing moments of joy and sadness, while fearlessly proving that both of these emotions are equally important.

There are few movies that can legitimately be called life changing, but Inside Out is absolutely one of them, a film that has completely rewired the way I think about depression and what’s going on inside my own mind.  And no film made me cry more in 2015 than Inside Out, especially during that unforgettable sequence in the memory dump with the fading imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind), who is surely one of the greatest supporting characters ever put on screen.  This is a film that I feel very protective of, because of how it’s stuck with me in such a deeply personal way.  I simply couldn’t think of a better choice to pick as the crowning achievement of 2015.

Honourable Mentions:
99 Homes
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Ex Machina
The End of the Tour
The Good Dinosaur
I’ll See You in My Dreams
Infinitely Polar Bear
It Follows
James White
Jurassic World
Love & Mercy
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Mistress America
The Night Before
The Peanuts Movie
The Revenant
Shaun the Sheep Movie
Son of Saul
Straight Outta Compton
The Walk
While We’re Young

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