I think my favorite part of the new year celebration are the endless lists that come out.  I’m a sucker for them. Top ten best hot dog recipes of 2015? Well of course I’d like to know that!

All kidding aside, I do have a real passion for movies and television, and thought it would be fun to share my top ten movies of 2015.  It has become a burgeoning tradition for me to write about stuff like this on TMTB – so check out my last entry about movies for 2014 here.

As was the case in 2014, the following ten movies are not necessarily the most critically acclaimed films, but they are a good cross section of what I felt represents the best of  Hollywood in 2015.  So, without further adieu, here are my top ten must see films of 2015…

10. Macbeth

Starring Michael Fassbender as Macbeth and Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth, this film is a feast for the eyes and ears. Literally.  It may very well be one of the most beautifully shot, expertly choreographed, exquisitely lighted movies upon which I have ever laid my eyes.  It truly is a masterpiece in terms of it’s technical achievements.  The battles are brutal, the slow mo cams are enchanting and Fassbender has never been better in performance.  But as with all things Shakespeare adaptation, the adaptation is very rarely as good (nevermind better) than it’s source material. Director Justin Kurzel is definitely the next big director Hollywood has to offer, but there is an argument to be made that his story choice of making Macbeth a bad news guy from the very beginning of the film may not have best represented what Shakespeare originally intended for the character.  Either way – the film was phenomenal and it will be a permanent fixture in my Blu Ray collection as SOON as it comes out.

9. Black Mass

Johnny Depp is finally back ladies and gents.  That is why you need to see this film.  After years of playing the likes of Captain Jack Sparrow, Mortdecai, the Mad Hatter, and all of the other nonsense he’s done, he got back to the gritty performance that made Johnny Depp who he is.  I would daresay that this was an even better performance than his go as Donnie Brasco back in 1997.   Depp was absolutely terrifying as Whitey Bulger and you couldn’t tell where Depp ended or where Bulger began.  Director Scott Cooper really knew how to capture the small town feel of South Boston in the 1970’s/80’s, but also the nuances that make Bulger one of the most reviled yet oddly popular criminals in American history. In fact, I would make the case that this is the best gangster film since 1995’s Casino.

8. The Martian

I went into this film really not knowing what to expect.  Director Ridley Scott has had more misfires than successes as of late, and I wasn’t sure about the casting of Matt Damon/ Jessica Chastain would work considering their last roles in a little movie called Interstellar.  But I am happy to report this movie effing rocks.  Some people have called it “Cast Away in space,” and while they aren’t totally wrong (which isn’t a bad thing either), I will say this movie separates itself in it’s humor and self awareness.  Considering his work in Good Will Hunting Damon is the perfect casting for Whatney (a man who is relatable, a genius, but also very funny), and Ridley Scott finally told a story that was tightly written, and briskly directed.  The scene scapes are breathtaking, and you really get the feeling you are stuck on Mars with Damon alone.  You feel his highs, and especially his downright lows.  But just as it becomes a little too much, Scott takes you back to earth to show what rescue plan will be like at the exact right moments. Another under appreciated aspect of this film? Disco.  That’s all I’ll say 🙂

7. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Oh my god – another Mission Impossible film? Really?!  Hell yes. This film is fan freakin’ tastic. No, not because of the amazing set pieces, the frenetic pacing, the steady and death defying Tom Cruise (see above picture – which he ACTUALLY did), all the call backs to the best of the franchise, good twists, and the superior direction of Christopher McQuarrie.  No, why this film needs to be seen is for one reason: Rebecca Ferguson. She was an absolute power house.  She wasn’t a damsel in distress, or a 2 dimensional female character that serves as a love interest.  She owned this film and it could be argued that she stole it from Cruise.  Not that she proved to be the next Ethan Hunt – that would be too trite.  But, Ferguson’s character, Isla Faust, proved that she is the equal to Cruise’s hunt.  This film subverts every expectation of a spy film and it works on every level.  From making the female character a complex and talented force, to showing the main stunt set piece a the beginning of the film, M.I:5 is the best M.I. to date. 

6. Sicario

I’ve come to expect a lot from director Denis Villeneuve – especially after his spectacular films Prisoners and Incendies. He’s not afraid to be gritty, complex, and show you want you need to see. Which is why he succeeds in his story about Drug Cartels, the drug wars, and what the U.S. is doing about it.  Emily Blunt (another strong female character) is relentless in this film, while Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin continue to keep us twisted as an audience.  It is an explosive and extremely engaging thrill ride. It’s intense, it’s sometimes gruesome, and it is certainly not a feel good movie.  Even the score of the film is unnerving. But, the story is expertly told and puts you in the nervous shoes of Blunt with impeccable taste.  It begs to ask – why are doing what we are doing? Does it work? Are we the bad guys? It also happens to be Del Toro’s best performance in many many years. In fact, I would say this is probably my favorite thriller since The Usual Suspects.

5. Creed

Like most, I thought this film was a bad idea.  I mean, a bad idea of the most epic proportions. We don’t need another Rocky Film. Rocky Balboa closed out that franchise with grace – why do we need to see that character on screen again? Listen, you may have become Rocky’d out over the years – I get it. But this movie is not just Rocky. It’s not even a sequel. It’s a story in the world that Rocky lives.  And trust me, I wanted to hate this movie.  But, it takes everything that the first Rocky ( winner of a best picture Oscar by the way) succeeded at, and transforms it to be a modern tale of Rocky’s old frenemy, Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis. Where it succeeds most is the love of the franchise before it, but it also includes the soul of Rocky that has since been lost in the outrageous sequels. Rocky, the film, was always about luck, destiny, love, and courage – that just happened to end in a boxing match. Creed is of the same ilk.  Of course Michael B. Jordan does perfectly as Adonis, but the director, Ryan Coogler, knew that if you’re going to make this film – you had to make Rocky the character evolve.  And he did just that.  So much so that Sly Stallone is possibly going up for a best supporting actor in the Oscar’s this year.

4. Spotlight

The resurgence of Michael Keaton continues and I couldn’t be happier about it. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have the all star cast surrounding him, but this movie proves why investigative journalism may be dying, but also why is absolutely necessary to our American culture. Director Tom McCarthy tells the story of how the Boston Globe broke the story about catholic priests molesting little children, which, in all honesty, is one of the most significant stories in the history of humanity. (Considering the wide reach of the faith and how long it has been around.) But where this movie is at it’s best (and where it thankfully stays) is when it sticks with the people and characters in the movie.  It refrains from being campy, full of bias, or victim to cliche.  It explores the nuts and bolts of the the reporters, the story, the real world implications, and what it means to be a journalist. And to be honest, the cast – from Keaton, to Ruffalo, to Slattery, Schrieber and McAdams all have moments to shine.  That’s why it works so well.

3. Mad Max: Fury Road

Director George Miller’s action masterpiece is exactly that: a masterpiece.  It’s also absolutely freakin’ bonkers.  I mean, I’ve never seen anything like it.  It’s so bonkers that it’s sometimes hard to tell if it’s total garbage, or if it’s one of the best action films I’ve ever seen.  Basically set as one GIANT car chase, Tom Hardy (as Mad Max) barely says even one word the entire film.  Charlize Theron plays another strong female character (am I sensing a theme this year?) and the film uses barely any CGI.  Honestly, I wish I had better word to describe this movie – but I lack the necessary vocabulary.  It’s violent, it’s smart, it’s fast paced, it’s edited perfectly, and it is just weird as hell.  Go see it.  Seriously.

2. Ex Machina

When someone tells me that Hollywood has run out of ideas (and they’re not entirely wrong either), I just point them to this film.  An indie flick that asks you to explore the meaning of life, artificial intelligence, love, sex, friendship, and the world of technology in which we live.  Starring Oscar Isaac (who is quickly becoming my favorite actor right now), Domnhall Gleeson, and the stupidly talented Alicia Vikander (also the next big thing in Hollywood), director Alex Garland tells a story of young tech genius man (shades of Mark Zuckerberg) who creates AI and puts it into the form of a beautiful woman.  He then asks an employee to come test the AI and things get weird.  That’s all I’m going to say. This was very nearly my top film of the year.  And, my god, that ending….

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Am I a fanboy? Yes.  Do I love director JJ Abrams a little too much? Most definitely yes.  But Abrams has crafted a movie that not only is funny, thoughtful, exciting, but it also most importantly FEELS like Star Wars.  He took everything that was great about the original trilogy, brought it back, but gave room to tell a fresh story. Gone is the wooden dialogue, the stiff writing, the bad acting, and we are even blessed with Harrison Ford’s best performance since The Fugitive.  And while it was great to see Han Solo and Chewie back on the deck of the Millennium Falcon, where this film works most adeptly is in the new cast.  Oscar Isaac (did I mention he nearly my favorite actor today), John Boyega, and Daisy Ridley are just perfect.  Even Adam Driver as the main villain is near perfection too.  But it’s Ridley, who plays Rey, that steals the show.  She is the female hero the entire Hollywood industry has waited for all these years. (yep, definitely a trend this year.)  She steals the show.  And like Mad Max, this movie is founded on mostly all practical effects.  I laughed, I cried, and I was reminded of the great years gone by.  Star Wars is back ladies and gents.  And if this film is any indication, it’s not going anywhere ANYTIME soon.

What’s your top 10? Did I miss a movie that you loved?