Last year, in my Best Movies of 2014 article, I commented on how weak a year we’d had. If only I’d known what 2015 would be like!
For the first time since I launched The Apple Box in 2011, I don’t have 25 movies to strongly recommend. I’ve always said the only movies that deserve to be on a “Best of the Year” list are 4½- and 5-star films, and standing by that, that leaves me with 17. Just 17 movies last year, out of the nearly 150 that I saw, were good enough to write home about.
There were far more average or mediocre movies compared to great ones last year, but that doesn’t mean 2015 was a wash, by any means. These 17 movies, in fact, feel all the more special by being surrounded by weaker fare than usual. These films reminded us all that no matter how bad a year’s cinematic crop, there will always be brilliant movies.
17. THE AVENGERS:
AGE OF ULTRON
The second Avengers movie was better than the first. As controversial as it is to say, with how quickly people leap to defend the first movie (which I named one of the Best of 2012), the sequel amped up everything that needed it — namely, by disposing of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s weakest villain and creating its most formidable yet — while fleshing out the relationships that made “secondary” superheroes like Hawkeye and Black Widow so two-dimensional in earlier movies. Age of Ultron isn’t quite the very best Marvel movie — that title still belongs to Captain America: The Winter Soldier – but it’s a testament to how unfairly strong a year it was for blockbusters that the second-best film of the whole MCU was the only ninth-best action movie of 2015.
(Read my full review here.)
In a year when most of the best movies were big, there was still room for charming gems like Grandma. Starring the incomparable Lily Tomlin in her first lead role in 27 years, Grandma centers on the irascible Elle, a broke, septuagenarian poet still getting over the recent death of her love of thirty years, when her already tumultuous world is interrupted by her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) showing up at her house one morning and asking for $600 for an abortion. (Elle, being a true artist, doesn’t have six hundred bucks to her name to give her.) The resulting day follows Elle and Sage going through town and calling in favours (and, in Elle’s case, issuing some threats) from a cavalcade of interesting characters. It’s heartfelt, it’s intimate, and it’s the most important thing independent comedy should be: caustically hysterical.
15. MOCKINGJAY, PART 2
Every franchise post-Harry Potter has felt the need to split its climax in two, but the Hunger Games series is the first in five years that has deserved to have its ultimate chapter halved. Not only does the narrative maintain a sense of non-stop-climax by leaving all the chaff behind in Mockingjay, Part 1, it largely repeals the biggest change between the movies and Suzanne Collins’ books: the majority of Mockingjay, Part 2 depicts solely what Katniss witnesses and nothing else. For the bulk of the film, there’s no Snow, no Coin, no District 13 — and the movie is much stronger for it, dragging you along as fast as you can run and not letting up for even five minutes. By framing the infiltration of the Capital as the true, final Hunger Games and showing how large a price even the winners pay for war, Mockingjay, Part 2 emerges the strongest film in the series.
(Read my full review here.)
The fourth Bond movie of any actor has always been one of their worst. Thunderball was bloated, Moonraker was ridiculous, and Die Another Day… well, I actually think that one’s underrated, but let’s call at least call it deeply polarizing. On top of that, 007’s latest is a victim of the “Avengers effect,” wherein franchises now try to build an umbrella picture that ties separate films together (with Spectre unifying all of Daniel Craig’s entries). What makes the movie so solid is the return of Skyfall’s director, Sam Mendes, as well as its team of writers. While a turn in the plot in the final act does shift the perfect balance of the film a bit and prevent it from reaching quite the same apogee as Skyfall, the fact it’s as remarkably good as it is, despite all that’s going against it, makes Spectre all the more impressive.
(Read my full review here.)
13. WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE
Studio Ghibli, the animation studio of anime pioneer Hayao Miyazaki, announced it was indefinitely shutting down after his retirement in 2013. The last film they had in production was When Marnie was There, which marks what could be the last in a line of animated masterworks that include My Neighbour Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away. If that becomes the case, When Marnie was There is a more-than-worthy coda, ultimately being one of the best to come out of the studio. Based on Joan G. Robinson’s beloved book, When Marnie was There is not only a beautiful example of how the best family movies tend to tackle such complex, “adult” emotions as fear, anger, or regret, but is also a powerfully conclusive argument for why the world still needs traditionally animated films.
One thought on “SPECIAL: The Best Movies of 2015”
You had me until the Revenent. This for me was the most overrated movie of the year. Although DiCaprio has deserved an Oscar for many of his roles to date, this isn’t one of them. The film itself had to many anochromisms to be believable and the many death defying stunt are tedious!