Cinema had a wide-ranging scope in 2015. Mad Max: Fury Road proved there was still room for high-concept, big-budget spectacle. And then you had films like Tangerine, filmed on an iPhone, to tell the intimate story of a transgender sex worker. 2015 proved filmmakers haven’t run out of ideas yet as long as you know where to look.
This blog is part of StudioBinder’s ongoing series to look at the best films of the 2010s. I’ve critically examined and analyzed what I believe to be the best movies of 2015 so that all you filmmakers can see what you missed and watch them immediately. This is the best of the best 2015 had to offer.
TOP MOVIES 2015
20. The Martian
The Martian manages to flow effortlessly from funny comedy to tense thriller. Astronaut Mark Watney is left behind on Mars, forcing NASA to come up with a rescue plan to bring him home. It may not be entirely scientifically accurate, but when you can have this much fun with a simple premise, who cares?As cheesy as it may sound, The Martian both entertains and inspires. It goes to show what is possible with human ingenuity as well as the determination to stay alive. It feels like the kind of movie that could inspire a generation to pursue careers that set out to explore the stars. And that’s worth something.
BEST FILMS OF 2015
After making two revenge films, Quentin Tarantino gets back to his roots by making The Hateful Eight, a movie that puts a bunch of colorful, violent characters in a single room and lets them run wild. The film is a perfect distillation of the kind of stories Tarantino wants to tell and why he’s such a master at his craft. The dialogue, cinematography, and twisty screenwriting all make for an engaging experience unlike anything else you got out of 2015.
The film is loaded with political, sexual, and racial implications. You may not agree with everything Tarantino wants to say, but at least it makes for a movie-going experience where you’re not a passive participant. After the film, you’ll have some kind of opinion one way or the other. No one ever claimed Tarantino of being boring.
BEST MOVIES OF 2015
Straight Outta Compton falls in the same vein as earlier biopics like Ray and Walk the Line. However, it feels like it will age far better thanks to electrifying performances and themes that feel just as relevant today as they did in the 80s and 90s. The music of N.W.A. remains vital, and to see the group’s beginnings and rise to fame is quite the sight to see.Many biopics feel like a textbook on the subject. Straight Outta Compton excels past those films and insteads maintains its focus on the situations that would lead a group of young black men to make the kind of music they did. Context is provided in bringing up the L.A. riots, and showing how such events impacted our characters. It does deviate to provide a greatest hits of N.W.A.’s later works and inspirations, but it never ceases to be riveting.
GREAT MOVIES 2015
17. The Big Short
A movie about the 2007/2008 financial crisis could (and likely should) have been an absolute bore. It’s such a dry subject, and most people won’t even understand the correct terminology. Enter The Big Short, which takes a complicated subject matter and injects it with a healthy dose of black humor. At the end of the film, you may not fully understand how the Great Recession transpired, but you will at least gain a modicum of insight and have some fun along the way.The Great Recession and the economic anxieties it came with would go on to influence numerous films throughout the 2010s. While films like Inside Job would try to explain this subject to laymen, The Big Short turns a catastrophe into pure entertainment. You’ll laugh throughout the film, but once the credits roll, you’ll sit there pissed off at everything you just learned and what’s liking happening on Wall Street right this second.
POPULAR MOVIES 2015
Creed is a rare sports movie that feels familiar and new all at once. It plays much like the original Rocky, where Adonis Creed seeks out the tutelage of a retired Rocky Balboa so that he can follow in his father’s footsteps and become a professional boxer. With this film, Ryan Coogler proved to be one of the most exciting directors of the modern day. He never loses focus of the emotional component of the story, much in the same way as Fruitvale Station, but he also shows he knows how to direct the hell of a fight scene, which would surely influence his later work on Black Panther.Having a message coming down to “Never stop fighting” may seem simplistic, perhaps even schmaltzy. But when you have every character fighting for something, from Rocky to Bianca, it hits home harder than you would think. It takes what worked in previous Rocky films but infuses it with enough modernity to provide a refreshing update that is not just another sequel. It is the natural next step in this story.
MUST SEE MOVIES 2015
Sicario follows an idealistic FBI agent who is enlisted in a government task force to battle the war against drugs at the U.S./Mexico border. The film deals in a world of grays rather than blacks and whites. The cops display behavior one may typically associate with drug dealers and vice versa. It all ultimately leads to the question: Who here is the good guy?The cinematography of the film is outstanding. Never has the southern border of the United States looked so pristine yet simultaneously foreboding. It is a modern day Heart of Darkness where allegiances are questioned, and you’re left feeling sickened in your seat. You’ll want to turn away but can’t. Sicario is an amazing thriller and one that should not be forgotten.
MOVIES TO WATCH 2015
14. It Follows
At the time of its release, It Follows was a bit of a rare animal. It was a horror film that combined elements of both suspense and terror to create something that wasn’t seen often in cinemas anymore. The film is about a girl cursed via sex to have a monster follow her around until she either passes the curse onto someone else or the monster kills her.
What makes the film such a breath of fresh air is how intently it focuses on the monster at hand. There are no sequences of them trying to figure out the monster’s identity. It has no weak spots they can decipher. It simply exists. And as the end of the film suggests, they may have to live with this monster for the rest of their lives, no matter how short they may be.
TOP RATED MOVIES 2015
13. Inside Out
Pixar had a bit of slow-going in the early 2010s. It’s not that they made necessarily bad films, but when you have a history of making some of the best-animated and emotionally resonant films of all time, you have a legacy to live up to. Inside Out proved Pixar was still the best in the game by offering a gorgeously animated testament to the need to feel sad.Inside Out does everything a great children’s film should. It will make you laugh regardless of your age. It will make you cry… more than once. And it’s message is surprisingly poignant and something you won’t find from other kids’ films. Inside Out raised the bar for what you could do with an animated film, and it deserves to be ranked among animated classics like Toy Story and Finding Nemo.
MOST POPULAR AND BEST MOVIES OF 2015
Yes, The Force Awakens follows many of the same plot beats as A New Hope. However, to condense this film to such simplistic terms is to ignore everything it does new. It ignores the renewed energy the film brought to a dormant franchise. It utilizes nostalgia just enough while bringing new characters to the forefront, showing this is a franchise that can continue with unique stories for decades to come.The film does a lot where the original trilogy fell short. Kylo Ren is a more fleshed out villain than even Darth Vader was in A New Hope. The new heroes of Rey, Finn, and Poe have just enough character development to make you root for them while leaving the doors open for greater arcs in future installments. The Force Awakens was hands-down the best movie-going experience I had in 2015. These films are the reason many people even go to the movies, and with The Force Awakens, it proved to fans they could have their popcorn entertainment with a touch of philosophy on the side.
LIST OF THE BEST FILMS OF 2015
Spotlight is an incredible film for what it chooses not to do. It does not sensationalize the actions conducted by the Boston Globe as they investigated abuse within the Catholic Church. Instead, it portrays journalism for what it actually is: old-fashioned, monotonous work.
However, the film never feels boring. It moves along at a brisk pace and include brilliant cinematography work to pull you into the world of the journalists. It also never resorts to exploiting the tragedy of the victims. Everything is handled by-the-books. The film lives up to its name by shining a spotlight on this critical event that should not be overlooked. The journalists are not superheroes willing to cross a line for a lead, which has been the case for so many movies about journalism in the past. These are regular people, doing their best to help educate the world.
TOP 10 MOVIES 2015
Forget your run-of-the-mill romantic comedies. Carol is the most romantic film of 2015. It tells the story of a department store clerk and older woman who fall in love. It’s about Carol finding the strength to leave her husband to a relationship with Therese and how her husband uses her homosexuality against her when it comes to a nasty custody battle over their children. Carol is sometimes exhilarating and sometimes heartbreaking. It is a uniquely gay story that presents intimacy as an uphill battle.The performances are some of the best of the entire year. The subtle glances and gestures Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara make toward one another will have you entranced, wanting to see how this relationship will ever work out. Ultimately, Carol is a film about love in all its forms and with thematic messages all couples can learn from.
RANKING MUST SEE MOVIES 2015
Room is one of the most visceral movies in recent memory. It doesn’t rely on ultra violence or a monster lurking in the shadows, it’s just about a mother and her son’s attempt to escape a 10 ft. x 10 ft. room. The film half of the film is as intense of a thriller as you can get as Ma and Jack orchestrate their escape effort. The second half doesn’t lose any steam as the duo tries to acclimate to the new world even though Jack believed that room to be the only thing in the world.
While there are many hefty elements at play, the film never comes across as melodramatic. Instead, it’s an incredibly human story about overcoming extreme adversity and trying to make an entirely new life for oneself.
BEST MOVIES TO WATCH 2015
8. The Revenant
It’s hard to think of another film that was so ambitious in scope as The Revenant. Filmed in chronological order and only using natural lighting, it offers an uncompromising look into the American outback over a century ago and provides an all-time great performance out of Leonardo DiCaprio.
With brilliant camera work, the film transports you into its world, which is a dark, bleak place. Death runs rampant, but ultimately, it’s a film about life and the struggle to attain some form of satisfaction out of it. It’s simultaneously beautiful and grotesque. It never compromises on its vision and the story it wants to tell, and if you can stomach the journey, then you can enjoy a richly rewarding cinematic experience.
THE BEST MOVIES OF 2015, RANKED
Tangerine may just be one of the most important movies to come out of 2015 for what it represents for aspiring filmmakers. The film was shot on three iPhone 5S smartphones. No expensive cameras or CGI was necessary to tell the human story of a transgender sex worker who sets out to find her pimp who had been cheating on her. It goes to some dark places, but it never loses its sense of humor, making it a film anyone can relate to.In this instance, the use of filming on smartphones is not merely a gimmick or a result of a lack of resources. It gives the film a more down-to-earth aesthetic. It’s filmed largely on the streets of Los Angeles, and it looks like the type of film are destitute characters might choose to film themselves. Tangerine shows just what you can do with a few iPhones and an eye for enrapturing cinema.
RANKING MUST SEE MOVIES 2015
Anomalisa proves animated films have something to offer adult audiences. It’s very much a film about adults as it follows a man who is disillusioned with life to the point where everyone around him looks and sounds the same. The only exception is a woman he falls in love with, but over time, she too starts to conform to everyone else.
There are gags, but they serve to enhance the overall theme of isolation and loneliness. Michael Stone gives his son a Japanese animatronic sex doll to his son for his birthday, showing the disconnect between him and the people he’s supposed to love. They may be clay puppets, but Michael Stone is among some of the most fully-realized and human characters of the 2010s.
EXCELLENT MOVIES TO WATCH 2015
5. Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs portrays three vital moments in the Apple founder’s life. While the behind-the-scenes drama at each of the presentations may be fabricated, all of the information presented within is real. The relationships all ring true to life, and what you’re left with is a biopic that doesn’t hold any punches and refuses to blindly revere its subject.Steve Jobs excels in how it redefines the biopic. Instead of opting for cradle to the grave framing, the movie tells you everything you need to know about Jobs to understand why he did what he did in life. Coupled with an electrifying script from Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs is a masterclass in writing dialogue and creating compelling cinema when all the characters are trying to do is sell a computer.
RANKING GREAT MOVIES 2015
4. Son of Saul
Son of Saul is a brutal film. It doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to portraying the Holocaust. The sound design and cinematography all work to create a nightmarish hellscape in the concentration camps. Where other films pull back to create a more palatable experience, Son of Saul never compromises on making the audience uncomfortable and make them recognize the Holocaust for what it truly was.Son of Saul is unforgettable. It sticks with you, burning its way onto your psyche. It’s an essential viewing experience for the modern age.
ANALYZING THE BEST MOVIES OF 2015
Phoenix manages to be an enlightening portrayal of post-World War II regeneration as well as a tense thriller centered around mistaken identity. A concentration camp survivor returns to Germany disfigured, only wanting to reunite with a husband who doesn’t recognize her.
The plot is already rich enough on its own, but it takes on a whole new meaning when viewing it as an allegory for Germany trying to develop a new reputation for itself in the aftermath of two World Wars. It’s a haunting film with a finale that will leave you reeling for hours.
LIST OF TOP MOVIES 2015
2. Ex Machina
A man goes into the woods to meet with a reclusive genius who wants him to test his new AI system. Ex Machina is a sci-fi thriller that’s become in increasingly short supply. It’s not the first film to question what would happen if artificial intelligence came to fruition, but it goes so far beyond its sci-fi premise.And yet, it’s also a film about gender dynamics. Making the AI a beautiful woman was no mistake on behalf of Alex Garland. The men believe they can control the AI, and it’s no stretch of the imagination to see the film as modern gender imbalance allegory. Humanity and sexuality intertwine in the film, leaving to a brilliant ending. Ex Machina is science-fiction pulp that reaches greater heights than it had any right to attain.
THE BEST MOVIE OF 2015
A Mad Max film being the best film of 2015, and one of the greatest cinematic works ever achieved, would sound bizarre to a time travel coming from the 80s. But what George Miller achieved is nothing short of extraordinary. It has the best action sequences ever put to film. It deals with weighty philosophy regarding gender dynamics. It has incredible performances from its two leads where they convey all the information they need with minimal dialogue.Mad Max: Fury Road is the best kind of film. It’s proof positive you can make an entertaining spectacle that will leave the audience discussing it long after it ends. As simplistic as it is to say, this film is awesome. It’s a statement to every other filmmaker out there to try harder. Don’t just rest on your laurels to make something that’s been done before. Make something that will blow every other summer blockbuster out of the water.
The Best Movies of 2016
Will another action blockbuster earn the top spot for 2016? Don’t get your hopes up. But you will find plenty of crowd pleasers like Deadpool and 10 Cloverfield Lane. Continue reading through StudioBinder’s “Best of the 2010s” series to see what you need to watch next.