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OptimusSolo’s Top 20 Films of 2015

This year I have the honor of carrying on the tradition at the site of MovieRevolt Dan and presenting the best movies of the year post.  I watched about 120 movies that were released in 2015 and narrowing those films down to the traditional Top 10 proved too much for me. So, instead I have put together the Top 20 Films of 2015.

Why expand it to 20 instead of the traditional 10? For me after the pretty lackluster year in film that 2014 was, 2015 absolutely blew me away. In fact, if I broke it down, I would probably put every single film in this year’s Top 20 ahead of films I put in last year’s Top 10. This year was simply that good! We had a resurgence in the Western genre, a huge push by leading ladies, an all-time record for both a single film and for a year overall at the box-office, great blockbusters, great indie films, and the emergence of Netflix as a vehicle for major film releases. There was a little something for everyone in 2015 and the following 20 films, I believe stood above the rest.

 

#20. Bridge of Spies

Director: Steven Spielberg

Written By: Matt Charman, Ethan & Joel Coen

Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda

SynopsisDuring the Cold War, an American lawyer is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers.

Quick Take: I had Bridge of Spies as one of my most anticipated films of 2015 simply thanks to the combination of Spielberg and Tom Hanks. I was glad that this film did not disappoint. It may have come in here at the lower end of the countdown but I applaud the simplicity that is delivered here and as most have noted, Mark Rylance gives a supporting performance that is no doubt award worthy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#19. Sicario

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Written By: Taylor Sheridan

Starring: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Daniel Kaluuya

SynopsisAn idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by a government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.

Quick Take: I know a lot of people would have this film higher, a testament once again to how fantastic this year was in film. Benicio Del-Toro steals the show here in a film that does as excellent job of asking a lot of very complex and important questions but not shoving a single answer down our throat. It paints the world as it is, many shades of gray and leaves you on the edge of your seat the entire time, eagerly awaiting each subsequent brush stroke.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#18. Kingsman: The Secret Service

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Written By: Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn

Starring: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Sofia Boutella, Michael Caine

SynopsisA spy organization recruits an unrefined, but promising street kid into the agency’s ultra-competitive training program, just as a global threat emerges from a twisted tech genius.

Quick Take2015 was a great year for straight up fun films and this is one of the best examples. Kingsman completely caught me off guard and somehow became the best comic book film of the year. pulling off humor, fun, adventure and action better than the Marvel films, which is a feat not easily achieved. Taron Egerton proved he is not to be overlooked, Sofia Boutella provided a villain for the ages and Colin Firth carried the film with expertise. The rewatchability on this one is through the roof.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#17. Love & Mercy

Director: Bill Pohlad

Written By: Oren Moverman & Michael Lerner

Starring: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti

Synopsis: In the 1960s, Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson struggles with emerging psychosis as he attempts to craft his avant-garde pop masterpiece. In the 1980s, he is a broken, confused man under the 24-hour watch of shady therapist Dr. Eugene Landy.

Quick Take: Perhaps somewhat of a biased pick here for me as I grew up transfixed on the work of the Beach Boys, Love and Mercy gives us a biopic that avoids the trappings so often seen in these types of films. Cusack and Dano are amazing as the different versions of Brian Wilson and although Giamatti may walk the edge of over-the-top and unbelievable it’s not enough to take away from this gorgeous piece of cinema.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#16. Slow West

Director: John Maclean

Written By: John Maclean

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Mendelsohn

Synopsis: A young Scottish man travels across America in pursuit of the woman he loves, attracting the attention of an outlaw who is willing to serve as a guide.

Quick Take: As I said in the opening, this year saw a handful of really great westerns with Bone Tomahawk, The Revenant, The Hateful Eight and my #16 pick, Slow West. No film captured the heart of a western more than Slow West which craftily constructed a film with just the right amount of tension, humor, drama and action. Michael Fassbender was amazing as usual and Smit-McPhee announced himself to the world in quite a nice way. Did I mention Ben Mendelsohn plays a ‘bad guy’ in this one…we all know how well that usually works!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#15. Inside Out

Director: Pete Doctor

Written By: Pete Doctor

Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias

Synopsis: After young Riley is uprooted from her Midwest life and moved to San Francisco, her emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness – conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house, and school.

Quick Take:  Although at first I was put-off by this film and had a major emotional disconnect from it, over time I had to come to terms with the fact that that had more to do with my emotional upbringing and life events and it wasn’t fair to judge the movie based on that. What Pixar gave us here was an intelligent animated film that touches on ideas that are more important that most probably know. I’m still not convinced many kids will see the true messages in this one right away, luckily Pixar provides an entertaining and humorous film for them to enjoy while they grow to a point where maybe they can understand it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#14. The Martian

Director: Ridley Scott

Written By: Drew Goddard & Andy Weir

Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Synopsis: During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.

Quick Take:  Ridley Scott has returned!!!! No film probably had more people predicting a total flop than The Martian did. Thank god, we were finally wrong. Matt Damon was an absolutely perfect casting for this film as he proves once again that he doesn’t need anyone else to play off of to give us a performance for the ages. Finally, a science fiction film that is universally applauded for giving us a smart yet fun and entertaining journey like the films of old.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#13. Mr. Holmes

Director: Bill Condon

Written By: Mitch Cullin & Jeffrey Hatcher

Starring: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker

Synopsis: An aged, retired Sherlock Holmes deals with early dementia as he tries to remember both his final case and a mysterious woman whose memory haunts him. He also befriends a fan, the young son of his housekeeper, who wants him to work again.

Quick Take: Perhaps slightly higher than most would have this film, but then again most people probably either don’t know the film exists, or haven’t seen it yet. It’s Ian McKellen playing an older version of Sherlock Holmes…what is there not to like about this, seriously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#12. Danny Collins

Director: Dan Fogelman

Written By: Dan Fogelman

Starring: Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner, Bobby Cannavale, Christopher Plummer

Synopsis: An aging rock star decides to change his life when he discovers a 40-year-old letter written to him by John Lennon.

Quick Take: One of the biggest surprises of the year was when we stumbled upon Danny Collins. Such a well put together film with fantastic performances across the board including a performance by Al Pacino that we haven’t seen for what seems like forever! A great dose of humor as well as the ‘feels’ Danny Collins gives us a fun film that you can recommend to anyone and feel safe that they will enjoy it. It also had one of my personal favorite endings for the entire year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#11. Room

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Written By: Emma Donoghue

Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers, Joan Allen

Synopsis: After five-year-old Jack and his mother escape from the enclosed surroundings that Jack has known his entire life, the boy makes a thrilling discovery.

Quick Take: I was very late to the party on Room, so I had already heard more praise thrown at it then most would be able to stomach. That being said, I was very pleased when even with those high expectations it was still able to deliver. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are incredible and for someone who never gets emotional during films there was at least 4-5 times where I could start to feel the emotions building up. This is a must watch for any film lover for 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#10. What We Do in the Shadows

Director: Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi

Written By: Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi

Starring: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonny Brugh, Cori-Gonzalez-Macuer, Stu Rutherford

Synopsis: Viago, Deacon, and Vladislav are vampires who are finding that modern life has them struggling with the mundane – like paying rent, keeping up with the chore wheel, trying to get into nightclubs, and overcoming flatmate conflicts.

Quick Take: No film made me laugh more in 2015 than What We Do In the Shadows. Jemaine Clement proves once again that he is one of the funniest and most talented people in the business. For someone who doesn’t care much for the supernatural/undead genre overall I absolutely loved this film. It had me laughing from beginning to end. It may not be for everyone but if you are enjoying it 10-15 minutes in, you will most likely find this every bit as amazing as I did at the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#9. Brooklyn

Director: John Crowley

Written By: Nick Hornby & Colm Toibin

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Julie Walters

Synopsis: An Irish immigrant lands in 1950s Brooklyn, where she quickly falls into a romance with a local. When her past catches up with her, however, she must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within.

Quick Take:  Simplicity at it’s finest Brooklyn gives us a film that is not reliant on fireworks, or hollywood’s interventions. A period piece that isn’t afraid to let itself breath and simply present us with the story of one immigrant’s life and the tough choices she, like so many of us, face in the formidable years of our lives. It also for me had the bonus effect of showing how wrapped up in the moment humans can become and how sometimes it takes a jarring blow to open our eyes to the world around us and what is really going on. Finally, it also tackles the idea of embarking into the unknown and how intimidating that can be and how difficult it can be to abandon the comfort of the life we know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#8. Infinitely Polar Bear

Director: Maya Forbes

Written By: Maya Forbes

Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Imogene Wolodarsky, Ashely Aufderheide

Synopsis: A manic-depressive mess of a father tries to win back his wife by attempting to take full responsibility of their two young, spirited daughters, who don’t make the overwhelming task any easier.

Quick Take: Another complete surprise for us this year was Infinitely Polar Bear. I had been wanting to catch up with this one for quite sometime and thankfully finally had the opportunity to. Mark Ruffalo is quietly becoming one of the best actors working today and too many people are sleeping on what a phenomenal year this man had in 2015. The only film that could rival how much I laughed in What We Do in the Shadows is this one and it probably wasn’t entirely intentional. This film is so authentic that you can’t help but appreciate the intimate look we get into this man’s life and the mental state that he is forced to deal with on a daily basis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#7. Mad Max: Fury Road

Director: George Miller

Written By: George Miller

Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Zoe Kravitz|

Synopsis: A woman rebels against a tyrannical ruler in postapocalyptic Australia in search for her home-land with the help of a group of female prisoners, a psychotic worshipper, and a drifter named Max.

Quick Take: The film that is topping so many lists out there for 2015, comes in at number 7 here. Perhaps its simply a statement of being seen much earlier in the year than so many of the other films listed here but there is no denying how epic and action-packed Mad Max: Fury Road is. Not only does George Miller give us a fantastic addition to his iconic franchise but does so while also providing a slap in the face to all the ‘young whipper snappers’ who try to provide us with action blockbusters year by year. The ideas he has and the way he executes them and brings them to the big screen is awe inspiring. Mad Max: Fury Road may go down as one of the most influential films of the year when all is said and done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#6. The Hateful Eight

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Written ByQuentin Tarantino

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern

SynopsisIn the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter and his prisoner find shelter in a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters.

Quick Take: People can hate on this film (pun intended) all they want but I simply can’t buy the criticisms that I have heard thrown at this film this year. This is Tarantino through and through and although it may not reach the peaks of Pulp Fiction or Inglourious Basterds it is no where near the worst film he has ever done as some are even as bold to say. The dialogue is fantastic, the play setting is magical, and the performances by this ensemble, especially Samuel L. Jackson make this a film that helps define this year. I’m not sure what people were wanting here, but I got exactly what I wanted, another fantastic addition to the Tarantino filmography.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#5. Spotlight

Director: Tom McCarthy

Written ByTom McCarthy & Josh Singer

Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci

SynopsisThe true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.

Quick Take: No film this year probably tackled a more controversial and appalling subject than Spotlight did. Like Brooklyn, the strength of this film was in its simplicity. It did not try to mold our conclusions on what we were seeing, it didn’t try to dress any of it up in fancy clothes or manufacture some epic confrontation that in reality never happened. It gives us real life characters, played so expertly, especially by Mark Ruffalo, making real life decisions and working through real life incidents. Authentic and jaw-dropping, Spotlight should be required viewing for anyone who loves films in 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Director: J.J. Abrams

Written By: J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Arndt

Starring: Harrison Ford, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson

SynopsisThree decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a ragtag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.

Quick Take: Perhaps the biggest Star Wars fan at the Geekcast Radio Network it should be no surprise that The Force Awakens shows up on my list here. This film did what we all only dreamed that the prequels would have done, put us back into that epic Star Wars world with the perfect combination of the ideas, moments, and characters we had grown to love carried by a new generation of characters we can’t wait to get to know more of. This film is what every blockbuster should aspire to be. Not just the biggest money make in film history, but a fun adventure the whole family can go on and talk about for decades to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#3. Z for Zachariah

Director: Craig Zobel

Written By: Nissar Modi, Robert C. O’Brien

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Chris Pine, Margot Robbie

Synopsis: In the wake of a disaster that wipes out most of civilization, two men and a young woman find themselves in an emotionally charged love triangle as the last known survivors.

Quick Take: I know for a fact that I am the biggest Z for Zachariah fan on the internet today as I have only seen it make two other Top 10 lists so far for the entire year. I simply love films that dial back on all the noise and artistry and give us a limited number of characters that allows us to fully engage on every action, every thought and every emotion. It allows us the opportunity to dissect every decision each character makes and debate things with others in a way that most films simply can’t provide for us. Z for Zachariah is a film that could easily be used in film school or other institutions to allow students practice on breaking down and developing characters that for all intents and purposes seems like a lost art these days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#2. Ex Machina

Director: Alex Garland

Written By: Alex Garland

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac

Synopsis: A young programmer is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in synthetic intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breath-taking humanoid A.I.

Quick Take: Ex Machina was my #1 film for a good part of the year, it was everything I loved about the film Her, just wrapped up in a slightly different package. It tackles ideas that are far more important and relevant than most would like to admit. It also gives us, like Z for Zachariah a film with limited characters that we can really sink our teeth into.  Then, as if it needed anything more, it allows those characters to be played so expertly by Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, and the award worthy, Alicia Vikander. This is a film that is not going away any time soon folks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#1. Beasts of No Nation

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Written By: Cary Joji Fukunaga & Uzodinma Iweala

Starring: Idris Elba, Abraham Attah

Synopsis: A drama based on the experiences of Agu, a child soldier fighting in the civil war of an unnamed African country.

Quick Take: I haven’t seen this film come in at #1 for any other film critic that I interact with on a regular basis, in fact many have left it off of their Top 10 or 20 lists entirely, which is utterly mind boggling for me. I realize some like to view films as an escape from reality and there may be no more “REAL” movie this year than what we saw with Beasts of No Nation, however this is exactly the type of film and the type of story that we should not simply turn away from just because it’s too hard to watch or too much to deal with. No, this is a subject matter that needs everyone’s attention and its a story that we cannot afford to turn away from. Also, from a cinematic side, Idris Elba and Abraham Attah give us two performances that are not getting nearly enough attention from the award circuit. I don’t think anyone want’s the award shows to pander and simply nominate a different person from every creed and ethnicity just to fill a quota, but Idris Elba would have been much more than a pandering nomination, he was every bit as worthy as the eventual winner will be.

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