Interlude – Top Ten Films of 2015

I like to talk about movies. So, from time to time, when I’m stuck by inspiration, I may update with an interlude post that isn’t directly related to my goal of seeing 100 2016 films in the theater. This is one of those interludes.

I originally posted this list – one movie at a time on Facebook. But, it fits here, as well.  This is a personal list of my favorite films of 2015, though many of them I also to consider to be among the best.  My number one of the year is both my favorite and the best.  This is long.  Read it all if you’re interested or feel free to come back later and to read it in parts.  Or skip it, entirely.  Whatevs.  It’s your life.

10.  Straight Outta Compton

Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
IMDB: 8.1

I walked out of the theater after seeing this one and thought, “Wow, that was actually pretty great!” I was half-expecting a propaganda piece . . . almost a call to arms, especially in light of the recent scandals surrounding police violence. Instead, what I saw was a very fair-minded piece of art that appeared to have genuinely attempted to present all parties as they were – both in their good moments and their bad.

Why it made the list:

Solid filmmaking all-around – including directing, performances, dialogue, and cinematography – but where it truly excelled for me was in the fact that it took a group of people with which I have virtually nothing in common and made them relatable and – even better – human. I was never into N.W.A.’s music as a kid (shocking!) but I remember them being around and being a constant source of controversy. It’s so easy to see them as an impenetrable idea – a symbol that either stands for everything you believe in or everything you don’t.

Director F. Gary Gray digs beneath that and helps the viewer to really understand them as people. How did they reach their status as figureheads? Why did they feel compelled to? What motivated them to do the things that they did that garnered them so much attention – both positive and negative? And would we have been any different in their place? All good questions with very complex – and never easy – answers. But they are presented as flawed, as well, with questionable judgement in some circumstances. And that’s what sets this film above – its honesty.

There’s also a pervasive energy throughout the entire film such that, when the credits roll, you might realize you need to take a deep breath and maybe relax with a cup of tea, or something.

Why it isn’t higher:

It probably could have been trimmed by 20 or 30 minutes without losing any relevant moments. There are several cameos by characters who are fun but ultimately unimportant to this particular story. A few bits here and there – particularly relating to the infighting – became a tad repetitious.

Bottom line:

Pre-ordered the blu-ray from Amazon. That’s a good enough bottom line.

9. The Big Short

Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
IMDb: 8.0

I shouldn’t have loved this movie. There are very few topics that I am potentially less interested in than the 2008 financial crisis. Yet, against all odds, I loved this movie. And that’s why it made my Top Ten.

Why it made the list:

Getting comedy guy Adam McKay to direct was a stroke of genius. This film was always going to be a hard sell. It’s one thing to release it as a book but to the general movie-going audience, it would take something extra to get people into theaters to see this when Star Wars is playing on the next screen (or eight) over.

Through amazingly clever comedy and an unrelentingly talented cast, a supremely entertaining film was created from the most boring subject matter I’ve ever seen covered in a movie. I laughed out loud against my own will multiple times. The cameos – and particularly the use *of* the cameos are genius. The second-best use of cameos in 2015 (sorry, but “Ted 2” has the greatest cameo in movie history).

And this movie would get my vote for best ensemble of the year. It was through their sheer talent and force of will that this movie worked. Without them, it fails, even with the same script. You need a cast that gets it and knows how to deliver every line, every word, in just the right way so that the audience stays with you. And never has that been more challenging than it was here. If even one of them had under-delivered, then the movie would have sunk.

The filmmakers know how nearly impenetrable the details of the financial crisis are for anyone who isn’t in banking or finance and they have you covered. The cameos are a huge part of this and are so hilariously executed, with tongue super-glued-in-cheek the whole time, that they made the final difference for me in giving this film the nod to be on thsi list. Everything else was great. The cameos put it over the top.

Why it isn’t higher:

It’s still a movie about banking. It’s as fun as a movie about banking will likely ever be but there was nothing for me to relate to or emotionally attach myself to. But that’s all personal preference. I wouldn’t begrudge anyone for having this movie higher – maybe even MUCH higher – on their list. Because it’s flawlessly executed.

Bottom line: Entertaining from start to finish and so funny that it just won Best Comedy at the Critics’ Choice Awards. It’s a thinking person’s film, for sure, so don’t expect to sit and zone out if you hope to get anything out of it. You drop out for one scene and that’s it. But the attention is worth it if for no other reason than to see what’s possible in filmmaking when people are allowed to think outside the box.

8. Spotlight

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
IMDb: 8.3

“Spotlight” is everything an Oscar-bait movie should be, It’s not only well-produced, intelligent, artistic, and gripping, but it’s also socially relevant and puts our blind-eye society under a harsh microscope. Or maybe a spotlight.

Why it made the list: Why wouldn’t it? It’s practically flawless. I gave my best ensemble nod to “The Big Short”, yesterday, and I stand by that, but “Spotlight” would have to be a close second. Mark Ruffalo ports the barely-contained rage that he brought to Bruce Banner over into this film and it’s a perfectly natural fit. After all, when you’re dealing with people in power who are abusing the helpless and their followers are turning a blind eye, who wouldn’t have a hard time containing their rage? Especially when you have the ability to possibly do something about it, but can’t quite seem to get the job done.

Or maybe you just can’t agree with your partners on the best *way* to get the job done. And that’s where Michael Keaton comes in. The complexity he brings to his role is not to be overlooked. I could never quite figure out where his character stood on the whole issue and I think that’s because the character, himself, wasn’t quite so sure. Keaton nailed that subtle touch and I’m glad to see him taking full advantage of his continued career resurgance.

To keep from droning on, I won’t specifically mention the rest of the cast but, while Ruffalo and Keaton are the standouts, everybody brings something extra to the table.

The social ramifications of the film’s subject matter are immense. And the implications aren’t limited to the topic at hand, either. Maybe these specific people were trying to handle sexual abuse being overlooked by the Catholic church and its followers. But that sort of overlooking happens regularly in many other arenas, as well. With increasing frequency, even. People excuse and justify their own harmful behavior or rhetoric or they exuse and justify that of others. And, eventually, it all unravels. In theory, at least. That’s the hope that is perpetrated by “Spotlight” and the message is sent delicately and intelligently through storytelling, rather than with a hammer to the head. It’s a joy to behold and is one of the two movies most likely to win Best Picture, next month at the Oscars. I won’t argue if it does.

Why it isn’t higher: Eh, mostly personal preference. This list is one part “Best Of” and one part “Favorite”, so when combining the two, subjectivity comes into play. There was a moment, here or there, where I felt the film lost a bit of its sense of urgency, but that might have just been me.

Bottom line: Nothing to complain about, here, really. There will ultimately be two movies on my list whose absence from any given Top Ten will immediately nullify the credibility of the entire list and this is the first of those two. See it. And marvel at it.

7. The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
IMDb: 7.6

I wanted this to be my number one. I really did. And, at the beginning of last year, I expected it to be. But, objectively speaking, it didn’t quite make it. Had it been at the same level of quality as the original, it would have been number one. But, it wasn’t. However, it still made the list, it still had plenty going for it, and it was still a terrific movie

Why it made the list: Nobody handles an ensemble like Joss Whedon. In fact, this completes my trifecta of Best Ensembles of the Year, along with “The Big Short” and “Spotlight”. With a cast this strong hitting on all cylinders, you can’t really go too wrong. In addition, the character work – another Joss trademark – is the backbone of the whole thing.

The subtext of these big-budget blockbusters often goes overlooked by the majority of the audiences, either because they don’t have any interest in finding it or having to admit that it’s there would lend credibility to a film that they don’t want to give any sort of positive affirmations to. And make no mistake, much of Hollywood resents Marvel Studios. How many actors have taken little potshots at them, recently? And why? Because Marvel is kicking their collective asses. They’re making quality films that dominate the box office worldwide. They’re having their cake and eating too and then taking other people’s cakes. And these aren’t just films with characters who are household names. They succeed with films that star Rocket Raccoon and Ant-Man. And it’s because of their character work (with an assist to their dialogue). It’s not the special effects. Dozens of special effects centerpieces bomb every year. People need more than effects. And Marvel gives us more.

But they don’t shove it in your face. You have to keep your brain turned on. They have a lot to accomplish in these movies and don’t have time for a bunch of long, drawn-out,, Tarantino-esque scenes of emotional discovery. Those discoveries happen. But they happen more subtly. And there’s an argument to be made that that makes these films even more artistic than your typical indie arthouse film. But now’s not the time for that argument (and I’m not even sure which side of it I would fall on, anyway).

But here we’ve got Tony Stark dealing with his own potential abuse of power, even in an effort to help mankind. Spider-Man lives by the creed of “With great power comes great responsibility”. Is anybody less responsible with their power than Tony Stark? And when he fully understands his mistakes, how does he deal and cope with it? (We’ll see more of this in May.)

Wanda Maximoff has an arc of discovery. Bruce Banner is coping with forgiveness of self. As is Natasha. Why do so many people say that the development between Bruce and Natasha made no sense? Because they turned their brains off. They have so much in common and none of the other characters can understand these two as well as the other can.

All the characters have something going on and bring an extra element to the film.

The special effects are outstanding, as expected, as are the action set pieces, in general. The Marvel humor is still there and this movie just comes through on every plane of movie existence that a film should come through on.

Why it isn’t higher: While it did everything well, it didn’t do everything to an *outstanding* degree. And part of it is honestly that it had a legendary original installment to live up to and that was realistically never going to happen. So, those expectations were unfair. But, for example, while the jokes were good, they weren’t typically laugh-out-loud hilarious. The action was great, but not especially think-outside-the-box creative. And there were few Moments (with a capital M). Little things that stood out. The first one had plenty. Most of them were character-based and not story-based. I truly think those Moments were what propelled the first Avengers movie to the heights that it achieved. Hulk/Loki. Hulk/Thor. “He’s adopted”. Iron Man’s repulsor blast reflecting off of Cap’s shield. All of those moments made the audiences I saw the film with react audibly. This movie lacked that.

As a result, it played more like an excellent blockbuster and less like an instant classic.

Bottom line: A fantastic movie that suffered more from unfair expectations (including unfair box office expectations) than anything else. Nothing was done wrong, here. Everything was done right. It just didn’t quite go above and beyond in a way that would give it the legacy that many were expecting and hoping for. See it. Enjoy it. But don’t expect your jaw to drop too often.

6. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
IMDb: 7.5

Forget Bond. Ethan Hunt is where it’s at. After a solid but divisive original film and then a largely underwhelming sequel, the M:I franchise had an uphill climb to win people over. The first two films made money but it was clear that a change needed to be made in order to prevent the Law of Diminishing Returns from coming into play. Enter (who else?) J.J. Abrams, who reinvigorated the franchise and delivered the best M:I movie to that point with “Mission:Impossible III”. And it’s been smooth sailing ever since. “Ghost Protocol” was nothing short of a blast and “Rogue Nation” picks up the momentum and carries it further.

Why it made the list: Because it’s pure fun from beginning to end? Not enough? Because the action set pieces are innovative, unique, and thrilling? Still need more? Because we get insight into the Ethan Hunt character that helps us to further understand who he is and why he does what he does? Still not enough? Okay, I’ll keep going. Because Rebecca Ferguson often steals the show and gives a performance that will result in her having no shortage of work for the next decade, if she wants it. Because the whole cast comes together to make sure the film doesn’t lose its momentum and entertainment value during the quieter moments (something the Bond films consistently struggle with). Because the film constantly remembers and acknowledges its past without overtly relying on it. Because the marketing department lulled us into thinking that we’d seen the film’s climactic action scene in the trailers only to be hit with it right as the film opens, instead, leaving us clueless as to what was coming for the remainder of the movie. Because Tom Cruise might be the only genuine action star left in Hollywood and he shows us why and makes it look easy. Because director Christopher McQuarrie never forgets that the goal of this film is to entertain and everything else is the proverbial icing on the cake. And because there’s plenty of icing, as detailed above.

Why it’s not higher: Lack of emotional resonance. That’s literally all I can come up with. I’m not saying there’s no character work or any deeper moments. I just mean that they didn’t resonate with me, personally, as much as films that will rank higher.

Bottom line: Stop being a snob and see this movie. Relax and go for the ride. Tom Cruise is awesome; stop hating him because he jumped on a couch once (celebrities aren’t allowed to be silly. Ever. STOP BEING HUMAN, ALL CELEBRITIES, OKAY, GOSH!) or because he subscribed to an unusual religious belief (aren’t they all unusual, really?). He never hurt anyone and none of that matters. Stop thinking you’re above big-budget action films. And stop thinking that a movie being expensive negates its worth. Art is subjective expression and there are lots of different methods to be used to express when it comes to film. Let “Mission: Impossible” express all over you.

5. Creed

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
IMDb: 8.0

There’s something that people forget. People forget that the original “Rocky” was not only nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, but it actually won the damn thing. People forget that it was written by Sylvester Stallone, himself, and that he’s actually hugely talented. They fall into the tired practice of mocking anyone who’s been around for a while or any franchise that’s has more than three entries and the legitimacy of their criticisms don’t even matter. In this current culture, when you make fun of something, people automatically go along with it because liking things isn’t cool Well, after seeing “Creed”, the world got a reminder that kewl millennial haterz are just immature children and Stallone is their master. And so is Ryan Coogler. And so is Michael B. Jordan.

Why it made the list: Intellectualism is great. I love it. It draws me in and engages me from start to finish. My favorite director, Christopher Nolan, is the master of intellectual filmmaking, with “Memento” being my personal pick for the greatest movie ever made. David Lynch’s ” Mulholland Drive“, another mind-bending masterpiece is my pick for number two. But, when it comes down to it, if I’m to be honest, filmmaking is art. And art is more about one thing over all else: feeling. And that’s where “Creed” delivers.

If you watch “Creed” and aren’t invested in all of the main characters’ story arcs, then let me know. I’ll search eBay and try to get you a soul for your birthday. Stallone again co-wrote the film with director Ryan Coogler and they carefully continued the story of Rocky Balboa (my favorite movie character of all time) and took him in a direction that makes sense and is relatable to us all. We all want to cling to our past – the good ol’ days – because the future is coming for us. And that’s scary. Rocky’s past and future collide in “Creed” and he’s torn between which to dedicate his energy to. We all hear that nobody should live in the past. Well, what if the past shows up and asks for your help? What if you get a chance to atone for one of your biggest regrets in life? And if you succeed at that, is your life complete? Or might there be more to accomplish, even when you look around and see nothing else? These are the questions that Rocky faces.

And then, of course, we have Michael B. Jordan playing the titular character of Adonis Creed, son of Apollo Creed. His is a story of a search for an identity. I imagine that almost every celebrity child deals with this throughout their lives. What an immense shadow to live in. Does he deny the connection and the name in order to establish an identity of his own? If he embraces his lineage, is he selling himself out? Or is it possible to assimilate with one’s past while simultaneously being an individual?

Towards the end of the film, I was almost literally jumping out of my seat with excitement. The climactic scene is absolutely exhilarating and recalls the emotions of the classic original, although with different stakes and motivations.

I wasn’t sure how that scene would play out. The Rocky franchise has never really been about who won and lost the boxing matches, but rather why those wins and losses mattered and how they affected our main cast. Nobody wins all the time. Ask Mike Tyson and Ronda Rousey. But sometimes, you can officially win while truly losing or vice versa. Over the years, the films have thoroughly explored these ideas and that continues with “Creed”.

Ryan Coogler was a perfect choice for director and writer. He balances spectacle with heart in such a way that this movie had equal appeal to both casual audiences and hardened film critics. That’s a tough tightrope to walk and he pulls it off beautifully – especially considering that this is only his second feature film after “Fruitville Station”. He was just hired by Marvel to direct “Black Panther” (starring Chadwick Boseman) and I suspect that it’s going to be outstanding.

Why it isn’t higher: Much like “Superman Returns” and “The Force Awakens”, the story is a deliberate throwback to an earlier tale in the series and mirrors the structure in a very similar way. I understand how and why this can happen in these types of movies and why a filmmaker would even do it deliberately. It doesn’t invalidate the story or characters. But it can leave you with a little bit of a feeling of having seen it, before, and I came out of “Creed” with a touch of that.

Bottom Line: Exciting, emotional, and even funny, you can’t go wrong, here. The cast delivers terrific performances (with Rocky’s role being the toughest to pull off due to his specific arc, which is why Stallone is getting nominations and Jordan is not) and the story feels complete enough to be satisfying if it ends there but open up to give us more if it doesn’t. Watch it when you can. And make sure you have a good corner person with you, to help you get up if it knocks you out.

4. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
IMDb: 8.4

I said before that, while I’m a Star Wars fan and enjoyed the previous films, I’m not the Star Wars maniac (I mean that in a good way) that so many others are. I had no predetermined affection for this movie, though I expected it would be pretty good when it was announced that J.J. Abrams was directing. He made me like Star Trek, which I had never cared about in any meaningful way, before. And then there was that whole “Lost” thing. So, I figured it was in great hands. What a huge understatement that turned out to be.

Why it made the list: Because it was frickin’ awesome, that’s why. And I mean that it was awesome in the ways that matter most. This film had to accomplish a few things. For one, it had to make a profit. It did. It won’t top Avatar as the highest-grossing film of all-time, and it might not even pass Titanic for the number two spot (it will be close), but it didn’t have to. Expecting it to do that was unrealistic and shows how little people really understand the box office. But, it did absurdly well and more than made its money back. Mission: accomplished.

Secondly, It had to reignite interest in the franchise. It hurts to hear this, I know, but . . . Star Wars is old. And the prequels didn’t leave the same pop culture footprint that the originals did. J.J. and crew had to come up with a film that would please and interest us old-timers while also appealing to newcomers. For the former, it had to feel connected to the original trilogy. But for the latter, it had to be accessible in case they hadn’t seen the originals (or had only seen them once, a long time ago). And, *then* both demographics had to finish the same movie at the same place – excited for the next chapter – even though they were coming from two completely different entry points. And Disney did it. They used classic characters to introduce and propel the arcs of the new characters and they did it in a way that felt completely balanced and left everyone satisfied. Mission number two: accomplished.

Lastly, the story had to be constructed in a way that would allow the new blood to take center stage moving forward. It can’t always be this balanced. The original cast is getting up there and these movies take a while to film. And they can’t handle the rigors of filming this physical kind of movie the way that they used to, anyway. There’s got to be a passing of the torch and that passing was initiated flawlessly. I’m already far more invested in Rey, Finn, and Kylo than I ever was in any of the original trilogy’s characters. I wouldn’t mind if the original cast didn’t even appear in future films, if the story as told so far didn’t require it. And I’m clearly not the only one who felt this way. Rey is far more popular than Disney had even anticipated and Episode VIII is being delayed until December of 2017, partially in order to rewrite the script with these characters’ sudden fan support in mind. (Also because December is the best time to release them. I was disappointed that they were planning on releasing Episode VIII in July. If they make it a December event, every year, it will just become a part of people’s holiday tradition. Automatic money. Moving it was the right call.) These characters are now the faces of the franchise. Well done. Mission 3: accomplished.

Why it isn’t higher: Much like Creed, there was a bit of a been-there-done-that feeling with regards to the structure of the film. It was a deliberate choice, and I understand that, but I’m looking forward to more of a feeling of freshness from future films. I also thought the action scenes could have been a little more innovative. They were beautifully executed, but nothing that felt all that different from what is typically seen in a big-budget blockbuster.

Bottom line: Star Wars is back in the biggest way. And for the first time in decades, we don’t know where the story is going. It was fun to see the prequels play out, but we all knew what they were building to. Being able to speculate about the direction of the new characters and the eventual fates of the old is a blast and probably the best Christmas present I could have asked for from Hollywood. And this film is the total package, with everything I look for in a movie, all present and nearly perfectly executed. I didn’t expect this to be so high on my list before I saw it, but it earns its spot and I hope the rest finish this high, as well.

3. Ex Machina

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
IMDb: 7.7

For all the talk about and controversy surrounding the Oscar nominations, this year, “Ex Machina” is the most overlooked film from 2015. It secured two nominations with Best Screenplay and Best Visual Effects (both appropriate) but it absolutely deserved a Best Picture nomination, Alex Garland deserved a Best Director nomination, and virtually every think piece I’ve seen written about the Oscars by someone who has seen all of the relevant films says that Alicia Vikander should have been nominated for this rather than “The Danish Girl”. “The Danish Girl” is one of the few major award nominees that I haven’t gotten to see, yet, so I can’t compare the two performances. (The film has also been included on more Top Ten lists that I’ve seen than not. Again, rightfully so.) I *can* say, however, that she made me forget that she was an actual human being who was only *playing* the part of an A.I. construct and not an actual robot. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. I have a designated spot for gushing and that spot is . . .

Why it made the list: Okay, so on top of Alicia’s performance, Oscar Isaac is here doing his thing, as well. He is one of those actors who completely reinvents himself for every role and I find him virtually unrecognizable as he moves from one film to the next. He single-handedly made an underwritten Poe Dameron in “The Force Awakens” interesting and fun to watch through a charismatic performance. He exudes that same charisma here, but channels it through a completely dichotomous character.

I don’t want to overlook Domhnall Gleeson, either. This film is a three-person show and he more than holds his own as an audience surrogate who mirrors our trains of thought at just the right times, always keeping the film one step ahead of us.

In fact, the script is genius. We’ve all seen cautionary tales in film about artificial intelligence. Things often go poorly at the largest scale imaginable. It happened in the Terminator films, the Matrix films, and “Avengers: Age of Ultron”. This is smaller-scale, along the size and scope of “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence”, ” 2001: A Space Odyssey“, and “Her”. This is about the discovery of A.I., what defines A.I., and, more so, this is about the ethical implications of A.I.. There’s a constant debate all across the world about when a fetus becomes life. What about A.I.? Is Siri a form of life? Is the Xbox One? Well, no, but how close to it are they? Think about it.

These ideas cast a beautiful shade of grey over the entire film. The two human leads are attracted to the very same ideas but are in strong conflict over how to interpret said ideas. Who’s right? Is it even possible to say for certain? Is there a villain in this story? A lesser film would have set out to distinctly establish an antagonist and though one of the two has an obliquely more callous and pugnacious personality than the other, that doesn’t make him a villain. He also has more at stake, which is important to keep in mind.

But this film isn’t about conflict. It’s about power and responsibility and our tendency to delve deeper into technology and away from real life while ironically simultaneously searching for it where it may not even actually exist.

In addition, as referenced earlier, the filmmakers know what you’re thinking and when you’re thinking it. They’re ahead of your paranoia and address all of your concerns, either lending them credence or contradiction. It’s very well thought out and plays almost terrifyingly real.

Why it isn’t higher: Well, number three is pretty good. But I would say only because the top two had the complexity and attributes of this one while also containing another added value element or two. Being number three is not a condemnation of this film as much as an affirmation of the two to follow. In another year, this could have been number one.

Bottom line: The most likely reason this isn’t up for more Academy Awards is probably because it was released so early in the year and people forgot about it. That’s why so many nominated movies are released towards the end of the year. That and a lot of competition are the causes for snubs and this movie quite frankly had very little in terms of competition when it comes to quality. This movie came out in April, immediately cracked my Top Ten and remained there for the rest of the year through an onslaught of huge summer blockbusters and Oscar-bait winter dramas. If it’s not going to get the award nominations it deserves, then the least it deserves is to be seen. So, see it.

2. Bridge of Spies

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
IMDb: 7.7

It takes one heck of a politically-themed movie for me to enjoy it. It takes an even better one for me to become emotionally invested in it. And it takes something special for it to make my Top Ten. And this one almost took my top spot. I expected it to be good, due to the talent involved, but I didn’t expect it to resonate with me in the way that it did.

Why it made the list: I’ll try to keep this relatively succinct. The most obvious asset this film has is the one-two punch of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. Spielberg deftly jumps from crowd-pleasing blockbuster to thoughtful drama and back with ease and he’s been doing it for decades. The fact that he’s so versatile and appreciative of all forms of this art is why he’s been so successful and it’s also why I respect him so much. He has no fear. “Bridge of Spies” is more along the lines of a thoughtful drama but has some smaller elements of a wide-appeal crowd pleaser. He knows just the right notes to hit and how hard to hit them in order to maximize the impact of his films and he once again puts that ability on display here.

Tom Hanks is the greatest actor of our time, if not of all time. Like Spielberg, his versatility is unmatched. He can fit effortlessly into any type of film and he’s built a trust with the audience that very few have, both on- and off-camera. He’s so personable in this film, becoming our anchor, even though – as joked about in the film – his character’s profession doesn’t automatically lend itself to that. But he has to be, otherwise the character wouldn’t have been tasked with the particular job with which he was given. As always, Hanks can tell a whole story without a single word of dialogue and his performance is so open and accessible, here, that it’s insulting that his name isn’t being thrown around as an Oscar snub. But they can’t all be nominated and the Academy has always shied away from giving any one person too many Oscars. Same with Spielberg. But that doesn’t take away from their work, here.

Most importantly, the premise of the film (centered around Cold War hostilities) takes something as large as world politics and makes it a personal story about two men. These men have nothing in common and are each told by their respective governments that the other is the enemy. The problem with that is that they’re both just people, like everyone else. People simply doing what is asked of them. Even though the setting of this film is not in modern day, it tells a story that is still depressingly relevant. It serves as a reminder and a cautionary tale regarding the modern xenophobia that currently grips nearly half of this country. Many are repeating mistakes of the past by not letting go of antiquated fears and “Spies” drives that point home beautifully.

Mark Rylance needs to be mentioned because he actually *did* secure an Oscar nomination. He absolutely deserves it. It was his performance that the film rested on and relied on to make its point and he carried the weight like Atlas. With all of this recent controversy around the nominees, I always ask, “If so-and-so should have been nominated, which of the actual nominees shouldn’t have been?” That’s subjective, of course, but I stand firm that if there’s an answer to that question, that answer is not “Mark Rylance”.

Why it isn’t higher: Tomorrow’s movie just had a little something extra. That’s all.

Bottom line: “Bridge of Spies” is not a war movie. It’s a movie that is set during and based around the fear of war. But it’s not a movie about war. It’s a movie about the human condition. About treating others with respect. About recognizing that we’re all in this together and hating someone without understanding and recognizing them as a unique individual is contributing to the problem. And the stubbornness around those views are virtually eliminating any possibility of a solution. The film makes its statement with a scalpel, not a hammer, but one would need to be willfully ignorant to not draw the modern day parallels. “Spies” is Spielberg’s plea to us to open our minds, hearts, and souls to each other. To stop fear mongering and take that first step towards healing society. My suggestion is to *not* watch “Bridge of Spies”. That’s not enough. If you want to truly experience the film, you need to listen to it.

1. Room

Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
IMDb: 8.3

There are films that you see that are enjoyable. There are films that you see that leave an impression. There are films that you see that are an experience. And, occasionally, there is a film that you see that is all of the above. And more. In 2015, that film was “Room”.

Why it made the list: Because quite frankly, it blew me away in every imaginable aspect. This is the second film on my list whose absence nullifies any other Top Ten of 2015 list. If it’s not on there, you didn’t truly make an effort to see the best films of the year. Regardless, I knew nothing about the movie before I sat down to watch it, other than that it was about a mother and her young son. That is by far the best way to see this film: completely ignorant of its content. Not that it can’t be enjoyed and appreciated if you have some foreknowledge. But if you want the true experience as it was designed, go in clueless.

Everything around it was crafted so perfectly. The marketing was appropriately secretive, yet alluring. The film itself plays out at a careful pace, keeping you in the moment with the characters and giving you just the right information at just the right time. It never gets hasty. You’ll know things when you need to know them. Events play out when they need to play out and always in a believable way at a believable time. A perfect time.

The characters are so real that this feels like a story ripped from the headlines. I don’t want to elaborate any more because I don’t want to tip the movie’s hand for those of you who haven’t seen it (which is probably WAY too many of you. Get out there and watch this!) but the complexity of them combined with the motivations all ring so honest and true. And that’s probably the single most important aspect of any story.

The cast delivers memorably haunting performances. Brie Larson will win Best Actress at the Oscars and that’s because she’s the only true choice. Her performance speaks for itself. Not only does she give the best performance of the year but she does it within the confines of the year’s most difficult role.

Jacob Tremblay delivers a performance that has firmly put him in the spotlight as *the* child actor to watch. He has just as much responsibility on his shoulders to help this film blur the line between reality and fiction and there were times when he made it feel more like real-life footage than a role. He sucks you in and makes you feel whatever he wants you to feel.

The film itself crosses genre barriers and refuses to be pigeonholed or defined by modern standards. The poster makes it look like a family drama. And it is. And it’s also a suspense thriller. And it’s also a study of society in a way that, again, I can’t get into without spoilers. But, incredibly, in addition to all of this – if you go in blind, as I’ve suggested – and if you’re the type to do so – this film may actually help you learn and face things about yourself. And it may help you learn to understand others in a richer way than you already do. That was enough for me to plant “Room” solidly at the top of my list for 2015. It juggles so much and it does so in such an elegant way that it transitions into more than a film. It becomes a learning experience.

Why it isn’t higher: Because 1 is the highest counting number with regards to lists and ranks. If I could put it higher, I would.

Bottom line: “Room” is a rarity. I actually felt like I came out of it a different person, having gone on this ride with these people and coming to intimately understand them, learn from them, and ultimately love (some of) them. Films like “Room” are the absolute pinnacle of the art of filmmaking and I know from reading the reactions of others that this film has touched so many people in such a personal way since its release.

Though its Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb scores are both tied with “Spotlight” as the highest of any on my list, sadly “Room” isn’t likely to win Best Picture, though it is nominated. This is probably due to its more limited scope and lack of transparent topicality, if I had to guess. But as a whole, this film will be far better and more fondly remembered than any of the other nominees and is that type of movie that, upon meeting someone new and discovering they love movies, you’ll almost immediately ask them, “Oh, have you seen ‘Room’?” If they haven’t, you’ll then show it to them and you’ll have made a friend for life. That’s the power of “Room” – the best – and my favorite – film of 2015.

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