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Laramie Movie Scope:
Top, bottom films, etc. of 2015

Best, worst and ruminations on 2015 films

[Strip of film rule]
by Robert Roten, Film Critic
[Strip of film rule]

January 30, 2015 -- Here is my list of the best and worst films, best actors, etc. from the year of 2015, with the usual caveats. There are a few top films, such as “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” “Timbuktu,” and “Jafar Panahi's Taxi” that I have not seen for various reasons, and I have definitely missed (on purpose) most of the year's worst films. My picks for the best and worst films I have seen, and many other categories, such as best actor, director, etc. are listed below.

There were a lot of good films this year, particularly in the field of documentary films, so I have split documentaries off to make a separate top 10 list for those. This list of top films is longer than usual this year. You may notice the absence of some films usually included in most top 10 lists, such as “Inside Out,” “Brooklyn,” “Anomalisa” and “The Duke of Burgundy” and a few others that I saw, but did not like as much as others did. You will some films that others think highly of in the Overrated movies section below.

Below the list of top films is a list of documentary films, honorable mentions, followed by lists of my picks for top director, top actor, top foreign film, etc. Those lists are followed by lists of the worst films, overrated films, funniest, saddest, most romantic, etc. I've added a couple of Dubious Distinction awards as a satirical comment on certain awards that seem to be based on factors that are literally skin deep. My top 10 lists include more comedy and films starring black actors, two varieties of movies absent from most top 10 lists. Drama is easy, but comedy is tough to get right.

Page navigation: Honorable mention Best of by category Funniest movie,   Best Love Stories  Saddest movies Scariest villain Overrated movies,   Best movies you haven't heard of,   Worst movies,   Dubious Distinctions.

Best 10 films of 2015

1. Spotlight[4 stars]

This is the best film about journalism since “All the President's Men.” I'm a journalist myself, so I am biased in favor of this, otherwise “Room” would probably be my top pick, but this is a great film, too, well-written, well-acted and well-directed, too. I had to drive over 100 miles to see this, and it was worth it.

2. Room[4 stars]

In a year where there were so many remakes and sequels, this film stands out as an unusual and orginal film. Most of the story takes place in a very small room where a woman and her child have been held prisoner for years. The story is told through the eyes of a child. If Brie Larson doesn't win the best actress Oscar for her performance, it will be a total injustice. I had to drive over 60 miles to see this, and it was worth it.

3. Bridge of Spies[4 stars]

Based on a true story, you know how it will turn out, but it is suspenseful anyway. Great performances by Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance. They both deserve Oscars, but everybody takes Tom Hanks for granted, and Rylance is so good as the Soviet spy, it seems like a natural and effotless performance. Director Steve Spielberg deserves an Oscar, but people take him for granted too, or are just plain jealous of his talent.

4. Creed[4 stars]

This is a great movie about boxing, with great performances by Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, who reprises his role as Rocky Balboa from the Rocky films. Writer-director Ryan Coogler stages great fight scenes in this movie. Both Jordan and Coogler deserved some recognition in the form of Oscar nominations, but they are black and Stallone is white. Stallone got the film's only nomination (and he did deserve it) an indication of the Academy's diversity problem.

5. Southpaw[4 stars]

Yet another great boxing movie, with more great boxing scenes, and more great performances from Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker and Rachel McAdams. I think Gyllenhaal may be the best actor in Hollywood right now, but he isn't getting much recognition. Maybe people just can't spell his name, so they don't try to put him on ballots. Another fine job by director Antoine Fuqua, another black director overlooked by the Academy.

6. Beasts of No Nation[4 stars]

This powerful drama about child soldiers in an African civil war seems so real it looks like a documentary at times. Child actors Abraham Attah and Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye give powerful, heartbreaking performances. Idris Elba's great supporting performance is the one most often cited as an indication of the Academy's lack of diversity, although the writer and director, Cary Joji Fukunaga, has a strong case, too.

7. Phoenix[4 stars]

This German film about a woman who survives the Halocaust, only to return to Berlin and find out some disturbing rumors about her husband, is one of the most original and unusual stories I've seen in films in recent years. In this film, the woman, Nelly Lenz (played by Nina Hoss) impersonates herself to see if her husband betrayed her, resulting in her being sent to a concentration camp.

8. The Revenant[3.5 stars]

Ordinarily, this would not be in my top 10, more like honorable mention, but it is here because I subtracted all the documentary films from the top 10 list this year. This is a really great looking film with some amazing, “how did they do that” scenes. I think this will probably win the Best Picture Oscar next month and Leonardo DiCaprio will probably win the best actor Oscar, and Emmanuel Lubezki will probably win the cinematography award.

9. Trumbo[3.5 stars]

This is another honorable mention film moved up a bit because of my moving documentaries to a new category. This film has a great performance by Bryan Cranston as blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. It is a great film about Trumbo, but also a great film about the Hollywood Blacklist, a shameful period of American history that should not be forgotten. Strong supporting performance by John Goodman, too.

10. The Dead Lands[3.5 stars]

This is the most foreign of all foreign films I saw this year, and one of the very best. This is a film from a different place, a different time and a very different culture than what is seen in most films. It features a tremendous supporting performance by Lawrence Makoare as a demon warrior from a lost Maori tribe in ancient New Zealand. There is a lot of action in the film, but it is more of a character study.

Honorable Mention

The End of the Tour[3.5 stars]

This is a very talky road movie. Most of the film takes place during the last five days of a book tour. Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel give great performances and the dialog is dense, thoughtful and meaningful.

Mad Max: Fury Road[3.5 stars]

This, the year's best science fiction film, has action scenes that are just insane. While the film doesn't make much sense and isn't believable at all, it does have interesting characters, despite almost non-stop action, with real old school practical effects (not CGI).

Ex Machina[3.5 stars]

This is a science fiction film for deep thinkers. It explores robotics and artificial intelligence in a very toughtful way, with interesting discussions between smart characters.

Furious 7[3.5 stars]

This is the second best action film of the year, featuring some outrageous scenes, like cars with parachutes driving right out of a flying airplane. There is also an emotional tribute to Paul Walker, one of the stars of this series, who died while this was being filmed.

Sicario[3.5 stars]

This intense action drama about the drug wars along the southern Mexico border is nearly flawless until it goes a bit crazy at the end.

About Elly[3.5 stars]

This is one of the best foreign films I saw all year. It is an intense drama that gets all tangled up with issues surrounding the suffocating limits placed on women in Islamic societies.

Best Documentary Feature

Ordinarily I would put some of these into my top 10 and honorable mention lists, but there were too many good documentary films this year, so I am including them in a separate category of the top 10 list. This year, I may have fallen into the trap of rating films higher than I should have, just because they are factual.

The Look of Silence[4 stars]

This is another great documentary by Joshua Oppenheimer, the same director who made the best documentary of 2013, “The Act of Killing.” While the subject, the American-backed Indonesian genocide, is the same, the method of directly confronting the killers is less imaginative, and much more emotionally powerful, this time.

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine[4 stars]

This documentary film by Alex Gibney is the best one I've ever seen on this subject. It attempts to explain the enigmatic leader of Apple Inc. by delving into the question of why so many Apple customers feel a personal connection to the products, and to Steve Jobs himself.

Meru[4 stars]

This documentary about mountain climbers attempting to scale one of the most difficult and dangerous mountains in the world has a lot more going for it than just amazing images and death-defying adventures, although it has plenty of those. We also get a look at the intriguing personal lives and motivations of the three key climbers in this movie, Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Renan Ozturk.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief[4 stars]

This is another great documentary feature by Alex Gibney. It reveals some shocking details about scientology, including some interesting facts about L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology.

Sunshine Superman[4 stars]

This is a film about a fascinating man and his equally fascinating wife. Carl Boenish was the founder of the sport of BASE jumping. Exuberant, enthusiastic, and a born leader. He was very different from his wife, Jean, who looks more like a librarian, but she is equally brave, and is also a skilled BASE jumper.

Best of Enemies[4 stars]

This film looks at the fierce rivalry between two noted intellectuals, and their epic televised debates, conservative icon William F. Buckley and liberal author Gore Vidal. Their fiery debates set the stage for today's junk news showdowns.

Listen to Me Marlon[4 stars]

This documentary film consists of archival film footage and a newly-released collection of audio recordings made by the great actor himself, Marlon Brando. The new material offers a glimpse into the mind of one of the greatest actors in history.

Seymour: An Introduction[4 stars]

This documentary directed by Ethan Hawke gives us a look at the life of a fascinating man, musician Seymour Bernstein, a concert pianist who gave up that high pressure life long ago to become a teacher and live life on his own terms.

Citizenfour[4 stars]

This is actually a 2014 film, but it got a very limited release in the U.S. late that year, so it was first seen by most of us in 2015, the same year it won the Academy Award for best documentary film. It is about Edward Snowden.

Patrick Ivers' favorite 2015 films

(In alphabetical order)
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
A Brilliant Young Mind
The End of the Tour
Ex Machina
Irrational Man
The Martian
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Pawn Sacrifice
The Revenant

More lists below

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Links to reviews of all the films below are indexed in the following web pages:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through L
M through Q   R through S   T through Z

Best director

1. Lenny Abrahamson — Room
2. Tom McCarthy — Spotlight
3. Steven Spielberg — Bridge of Spies
4. Ryan Coogler — Creed
5. Antoine Fuqua — Southpaw

Best actor

1. Jake Gyllenhaal — Southpaw
2. Tom Hanks — Bridge of Spies
3. Leonardo DiCaprio — The Revenant
4. Eddie Redmayne — The Danish Girl
5. Will Smith — Concussion

Best actress

1. Brie Larson — Room
2. Jennifer Lawrence — Joy
3. Nina Hoss — Phoenix
4. Charlotte Rampling — 45 Years
5. Carey Mulligan — Far From the Madding Crowd

Best supporting actor

1. Mark Rylance — Bridge of Spies
2. Lawrence Makoare — The Dead Lands
3. Sylvester Stallone — Creed
4. Idris Elba — Beasts of No Nation
5. Albert Brooks — Concussion

Best supporting actress

1. Greta Gerwig — Mistress America
2. Cate Blanchette — Carol
3. Golshifteh Farahani — About Elly
4. Jane Fonda — Youth
5. Kristen Stewart — Clouds of Sils Maria

Best child actor

1. Jacob Tremblay — Room

Best adapted screenplay

1. Room — Phyllis Nagy
2. Creed — Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington
3. Beasts of No Nation — Cary Joji Fukunaga
4. Phoenix — Christian Petzold and Harun Farocki
5. The Revenant — Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Mark L. Smith

Best original screenplay

1. Spotlight — Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer
2. Bridge of Spies — Matt Charman, Joel and Ethan Coen
3. Southpaw — Kurt Sutter
4. Ex Machina — Alex Garland
5. Sicario — Taylor Sheridan

Best documentary feature

1. The Look of Silence
2. Meru
3. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
4. Seymour: An Introduction
5. Listen to Me Marlon

Best animated feature

1. Inside Out
2. Shaun the Sheep Movie
3. The Peanuts Movie
4. Anomalisa

Best foreign language film

1. Phoenix
2. The Dead Lands
3. About Elly
4. Mustang
5. Duke of Burgundy

Best cinematography

1. Mad Max: Fury Road
2. Room
3. Far From the Madding Crowd
4. Brooklyn
5. Macbeth

Best editing

1. Creed
2. Southpaw
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
4. Furious 7
5. The Revenant

Best music

1. Straight Outta Compton
2. Bridge of Spies
3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
4. Sicario
5. Cinderella

Best makeup effects

1. The Revenant
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
3. The Avengers: Age of Ultron
4. Tomorrowland
5. Ant-Man

Links to reviews of all films on this site are indexed below:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through L
M through Q   R through S   T through Z

Funniest films of the year

Results[3 stars]

Trainwreck[3 stars]

Saddest films of the year

Anomalisa[3 stars]
Entertainment[2 stars]

Best love stories

Carol[3 stars]
Brooklyn[3 stars]

Scariest villain of the year

Wirepa (played by Te Kohe Tuhaka) in The Dead Lands[3.5 stars]

The year's most overrated films

All of these films have won awards or have been highly rated by some critics groups, or have won praise at some film festivals, or are just rated higher than they ought to be. These are listed alphabetically. Some of these are films in which not much happens at a snail's pace. The Assassin looks great, but appears to be poorly edited, or maybe it has English subtitle problems, but it makes little sense. Some of these films only made sense if you had tons of background information at your disposal, or had seen earlier films in the series. I liked Inside Out. It is the best animated film of the year (there is very little competition in that category) but it isn't a top 10 film overall. Brooklyn is a nice love story, but it needed a rewrite to make that last part believable (the part about a good Irish Catholic married woman in the 1950s intentionally living a lie, and hurting people, by pretending not to be married).
The Assassin[2 stars]
Brooklyn[3 stars]
Horse Money (Cavalo Dinheiro)[2 stars]
Inside Out[3 stars]
Jauja[2 stars]
A Pigeon Sat on A Branch Reflecting on Existence[2 stars]
The Princess of France[2 stars]

The year's best films you've never heard of (listed alphabetically)

45 Years[3 stars]
99 Homes[3 stars]
About Elly[3.5 stars]
The Armor of Light[3 stars]
Best of Enemies[4 stars]
The End of the Tour[3.5 stars]
Experimenter[3 stars]
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief[4 stars]
Learning to Drive[3 stars]
Legend[3 stars]
Listen to Me Marlon[4 stars]
The Look of Silence[4 stars]
Meru[4 stars]
Mistress America[3 stars]
Phoenix[4 stars]
Racing Extinction[3 stars]
Results[3 stars]
Room[4 stars]
Seymour: An Introduction[4 stars]
The Stanford Prison Experiment[3 stars]
Spotlight[4 stars]
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine[4 stars]
Sunshine Superman[4 stars]
Tangerine[3 stars]
Trumbo[3.5 stars]
What Happened, Miss Simone?[3 stars]
White God[3 stars]
Winter on Fire[3 stars]

The Worst Films of 2015

While I saw most of the best films of the year, I purposefully missed nearly all of the reportedly bad films, including Pixels, 50 Shades of Grey, Fantastic Four, Burnt, The Cobbler, Hot Pursuit, Vacation, The Wedding Ringer, Hitman: Agent 47, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 and Entourage, among many others. Those are all wide release films which made it to most cities and towns in the U.S. I also missed most of the limited release bad films, among many others, so this is not in any way a list of the worst of the worst films, just the worst of the films I saw. I did see A Walk in the Woods and Minions, which are among the year's worst films, according to Time magazine, but I didn't think they were that bad.

Jupiter Ascending[2 stars]

This was a very disappointing film because I had hoped it would be better. It was ambitious and it was directed by the Wachowski siblings, who created “The Matrix” movies. It was an epic failure.

Horse Money (Cavalo Dinheiro)[2 stars]

It took me two tries to get through this very slow-moving movie about some very sad people. I couldn't make much sense of the story, but I did learn about Portugal, the Carnation Revolution and Cape Verde. I didn't learn this by watching the movie because it doesn't explain these things. I learned it by doing research to try to understand what the movie was about. Watching this is like doing an unpleasant homework assignment.

Jauja[2 stars]

This is kind of a western set in Argentina, filmed in Argentina and Denmark. It looks great, but lacks a consistent story, characters or geography. It is an “art film” that moves at a glacial pace, and won lots of awards, but it is a real chore to watch.

Dubious Distinctions

The honorary Roman Polanski Juicy Jail Bait Award, also known as the “Breakthrough Actor” award or the “Best Young Actress” award, or the “Newcomer” award (insert Beavis and Butthead snickering here).

The jail bait award is usually won by very attractive, very young women, or girls, some of whom are pre pubescent, or at who least look like they might be, and who get high praise from critics for reasons perhaps not entirely based on their performances. Why is this you ask? Because most film critics are men and most men (especially older men) have trouble remembering actors at the end of the year for awards purposes unless they are very young and pretty. O.K., so they are dirty old men.

Past winners are Saoirse Ronan for Atonement, Anna Paquin for The Piano, Ziyi Zhang for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, of course Polanski's old flame, Natasha Kinski for Tess, and the stars of Thirteen.

This year's Jail Bait Award goes to Zsófia Psotta who plays a young teenage girl in the Hungarian film White God. She is not quite sexually exploited in this film, but there is more than a hint in this film about the sexual availability of this 13 year old girl.

Links to all my reviews are indexed below:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through I
J through L   M through N   O through Q   R through S   T through Z

Page navigation: Honorable mention Best of by category Funniest movie,   Best Love Stories  Saddest movie Scariest villain Overrated movies,   Best movies you haven't heard of,   Worst movies,   Dubious Distinctions.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2016 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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