I didn’t see everything that came out in 2015, so it is entirely possible that in a year’s time when I eventually get caught up this list would be completely changed. But that’s my problem, not yours.
1) Mad Max Fury Road: Fury Road tells a story with glances and actions. It might be the best film in the genre, maybe even the best of all time. I’ve seen it twice and both times I felt like I was watching some kind of miracle. Charlize Theron says it all with her eyes, Tom Hardy says it with “It’s not my blood.”
2) Magic Mike XXL: A tale of a bunch of friends going on a road trip and having the best time as they meet people, have parties, and try to be their best selves. Channing Tatum is in his natural element, being charming and dancing. The workshop dance to “Pony” is an obvious tip of the hat to Fred Astaire, and the final sequence at the convention is one of the great finales, with an incredible build and payoff. Magic Mike XXL is more fun than we deserve.
3) Furious 7:
It could have all gone wrong but it all went so right. Despite all the setbacks and tragedy, Furious 7 is a wonder to behold, incredible action cinema, and it has Jason Statham fighting The Rock AND Vin Diesel. The franchise peak, at least until the next one.
4) The Hateful Eight: I liked how everyone is actually, truly, totally hateful in a real awful, genuine way. I had a friend message me just disgusted by the Sam Jackson sequence involving the son of the old Confederate soldier and he was kinda right, it is a little homophobic and cruel. But that is the point! Up to that moment in the film, we have no reason to dislike Jackson’s character, but then there we are, confronted with the terrible ugliness. And it only gets worse.
5) Creed: Rocky Balboa’s Philadelphia is a vivid and real place, established over 6 films spanning over 30 years. Creed inserts itself effortlessly into this world, knows the rhythms and the people and just exists, like a stunning slice of life piece as well as a boxing movie. This one plays in such a way that I could be convinced that these characters are actually out there, living their lives and having this human adventures right now. The training montage ending with the street bikes is an all timer.
6) It Follows: The creepiness of this film is unmatched. Arguments about whether it follows it’s own rules seems like it is beside the point, since I am all in on the mood. The panning shots of nothing that might not be nothing but maybe they’re nothing and I’m just paranoid, that is the type of thing you can’t fake.
7) The Martian: No, it’s true, this movie is hilarious.
8) Knock Knock: McCarty and I love Keanu Reeves more than most people, maybe all people, besides his parents and close friends. But this one looked like an MRA fantasy come to life. And it kinda is! But it’s also Eli Roth’s best movie, with actual tension from frame one, through the “chess match” sequence, culminating in probably the best single scene of Keanu Reeves’ career. If you’re a Keanuhead, this is a must see.
9) Blackhat: I recently showed Blackhat to my wife, and she kept saying “This is so Michael Mann.” And it is. Michael Mann has reached a point, probably since Miami Vice in 06, where he isn’t interested in anything except gleaming surfaces, serious men, and his take on “realism”. The behind the scenes feature on the Blu ray has actors talking about reams of backstory and multiple takes on neck stabs to make sure they’re done right. Mann is so concerned about the details because somebody better be.
10) Unfriended: This movie is stunning. Creating tension from being unable to delete a .avi file? The unease of a blinking cursor? This movie does it. I go to the movies to see things I’ve never seen before, and I had never seen anything like this. We’ll be talking about Unfriended for a long time.
11) Chi-raq: I think Spike Lee doesn’t have filter and he just goes for broke and it can be particularly polarizing. But this worked for me, as allegory and as a simple tone poem.
12) The Diary of a Teenage Girl: This level of honesty and truth in film isn’t normally allowed so for most of this film it felt like a miracle. Obviously, everyone should see it.
13) Bone Tomahawk: Kill of the year.
14) Wild Card: Jason Statham plays a compulsive gambler and tough guy investigator that people know can be trusted to help them out in a jam. He can also kill a group of people with just a spoon. The big spoon kill finale is of course superb but the gambling breakdown sequence shows that Statham has more range than people give him credit for.
15) Ex Machina: Oscar Isaac is a gift to cinema and he’s never been bad in anything. He literally elevates this whole movie to essential viewing.
16) Mission Impossible Rogue Nation: LOOK AT THAT SCREEN SHOT!
17) Kingsman: The Secret Service: Church sequence obviously, but Colin Firth needs extra notice for not slumming it up and actually giving a shit in this wacky comic book movie. But yeah, that church sequence fucked the game up.
18) The Gift: The ending is so cruel and awful. Who knew you could still drop something like this in the summertime? Jason Bateman finally achieves his scumbag calling.
19) What We Do In The Shadows: Werewolves not swearwolves, the hypnotized police officers finding safety violations, the lovable Stu. And other funny parts that are better just being experienced.
20) Clouds of Sils Maria: Kristen Stewart is great in this, because she actually holds her own against Juliette Binoche. The Primal Scream “Vanishing Point” sequence is very visceral and true.
Jupiter Ascending: A folly on a scale rarely seen. Miscast and overwrought to the point of tedium. Gets pretty much everything wrong. Eddie Redmayne is one of the worst to ever do it. Of course he has an Oscar.
Jurassic World: Pandering horseshit. Dull and derivative, probably the most pointless sequel ever made…
Terminator Genisys: Except for this one. Tries to not only ripoff the original films but also retcon them out of of existence. Just another in the long list of crimes committed by Jai Courtney.
The Revenant: For all of it’s flaws as an adventure tale: too boring, too clean looking, the overshadowing Leo torture narrative, the final shot of this film is what truly sinks it for me. Only a director like Iñárritu would indulge an actor’s ego like that. It’ll probably pay off too. A shame.
Future Film that Time Forgot
We Are Your Friends: Zac Efron’s instantly dated and woe-begotten EDM film doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be, jumping from bro-down farce to romantic drama back around to message movie on Life Right Now, with a music making montage that doesn’t tell us much about how electronic music is really made. Somewhere there is an interminable 3 hour cut where Efron’s bro posse gets the full subplot they demand(but don’t need) and Wes Bentley’s alcoholic guru either gets help or a proper comeuppance. At least it has the decency to end with the characters basically back where they started, as failed actors, wanna be door men, and in Emily Ratajkowski’s case, late for school on the first day of class. Girl, you’re never gonna get that degree.