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Top 50 Films of 2015

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Hello movie lovers! 2015 came and went and somewhere in between I watched 600+ movies. About one third of them were first viewings of new releases and while the year started out slow, it really picked up in the end with a lot of great stuff. Since Top 10 lists are for slackers, I’ve compiled my Top 50 Films of 2015 with rankings for the Top 30 and the reasons they deserve to be on the list.

What does ‘Top’ mean anyways? Are these the best movies or my favorites? Yes and yes, something in the middle. I viewed most of them multiple times accounting for artistic merit, entertainment value, and technical achievement. It’s silly to rank movies and in the end it’s all subjective, but it’s fun to look back on the year and give props to the films that inspired us to cheer and moved us to tears. Some will be forgotten and some will be visited time and time again to recapture the magic of that initial viewing. Well now, I’m waxing poetical, aren’t I? Let’s get to it. I loved a lot of movies this year and after much deliberation, these are the ones that deserve to be on the list. Disagree? Make your own list!

I used the same qualifications as my nominations for the Houston Film Critics Society. To qualify, films had to be released theatrically in Houston in 2015, or I must have received a screener or screening link from the studio. All 50 fit that criteria. Still haven’t seen Bridge of Spies. Documentaries are not included and will get their own list.

#50-31
(in alphabetical order):

99 Homes
Amira and Sam
Clouds of Sils Maria
Crimson Peak
The End of the Tour
Far from the Madding Crowd
The Good Dinosaur
It Follows
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Macbeth
Mr. Holmes
The Little Death
Love & Mercy
Son of Saul
Spectre
Spy
Tangerine
Trainwreck
What We Do In The Shadows
Youth

30. Dope– Director Rick Famuyiwa (The Wood) hits the right notes with this fresh concoction of unique characters and 90s hip-hop nostalgia. The soundtrack is a mix of classics like “The World Is Yours” and “Hip Hop Hooray” and original songs like “Don’t Get Deleted” by the punk band Awreeoh, made up of the the three main characters and portrayed endearingly by Shameik Moore, Kiersey Clemons, and Tony Revolori.


29. The Walk– Joseph Gordon-Levitt successfully channels charismatic high-wire artist Philippe Petit and Robert Zemeckis directs with flair. The 3D visuals lend a unique perspective to the fascinating story, based on true events.


28. Anomalisa– Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion animation film follows a regular guy with a mundane life on a routine business trip to Cincinnati. It’s funny, tender, human, and brutally honest; full-on Kaufman.


27. I’ll See You In My Dreams– Perennial supporting actress Blythe Danner steps into her first leading role and turns in an excellent performance as a longtime widow shaking up her routine. Martin Starr and Sam Elliott shine as the new men in her life. Charming, sweet, and a little sad, the movie feels real and it’s got heart.


26. Mistress America– Real life darlings and frequent collaborators Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig co-wrote the script and it’s some of their best work yet. He directs and she stars as Brooke, a confident, glorious, mess of a character that consistently had me shaking my head and cracking up. Lola Kirke is a suitable counterpart.


25. Shaun the Sheep MovieAnomalisa is more insightful, but Shaun the Sheep Movie is my favorite stop-motion animated feature of the year because it’s downright old-fashioned good-natured fun. Aardman’s animation is a technical feat with a plethora of moving parts. The story follows a gang of rowdy sheep who embark on a mission to the city in order to save their beloved amnesiac farmer. It’s completely void of speech and is universally appealing.


24. Beasts of No Nation– This poignant, powerful, original film from Netflix features intense, devastating performances from Abraham Attah and Idris Elba, and harrowingly depicts the effects of civil war on the villagers of an unnamed West African country.


23. Bone Tomahawk– S. Craig Zahler’s “Cannibal Western” is a sizzler of a film that pits Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins, Patrick Wilson, and Matthew Fox up against a gang of flesh-eating troglodytes. Jenkins is hilarious, Russell’s in fine form, and it has a startling kill scene that is utterly gruesome and equally awesome.


22. Mississippi Grind– Ryan Reynolds holds his own and Ben Mendelsohn is terrific as usual in this effortlessly cool film about a couple of ramblin’ gamblin’ men. It’s has a nice bluesy soundtrack and oozes stripped-down Southern style.


21. Straight Outta Compton– F. Gary Gray’s first-rate biopic chronicles the formation and careers of hip-hop legends and pioneers N.W.A. It’s bursting with raw energy and features a breakout performance by Jason Mitchell as the incomparable Eazy-E. O’Shea Jackson Jr. convincingly plays his father (Ice Cube), Corey Hawkins is Dr. Dre, and Paul Giamatti is their manager, Jerry Heller. Great casting and veteran direction puts the young actors in a position to successfully portray the iconic characters without feeling generic. Dope soundtrack.


20. Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens– It came and it conquered. Episode VII entertained the masses and surpassed high expectations by leaning heavily on original trilogy nostalgia and delivering a rollicking adventure. Classic characters like Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) join exciting new ones like Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and of course, the lovable BB-8. Can’t wait for Episode VIII.


19. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter– The Zellner brothers’ quirky adventure story creates an air of mystery as it follows Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) on her bizarre quest. The Octopus Project’s score is serenely resplendent.


18. The Assassin– Folks looking for buckets of blood and guts need not apply. Director Hou Hsiao-Hsien slows things down and savors every moment of this lush, contemplative, exquisitely shot Wuxia film. Shu Qui shines in the lead role.


17. Brooklyn– Saoirse Ronan’s dazzling performance is the highlight of an all-around solid film with a strong ensemble including Julie Walters, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, and Jim Broadbent. Fine traditional filmmaking.


16. The Hateful Eight– QT’s latest isn’t just a movie, it’s an experience. The 70mm Roadshow Edition is complete with a badass overture, old-school intermission, and souvenir program. The movie sports a vintage Sam Jackson performance and a great turn from Jennifer Jason Leigh. Ennio Morricone’s score is the best of the year.

Turn the page for the Top 15 films of 2015.

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Salty Winters once said, "Everything I learned I learned from the movies." He was quoting Audrey Hepburn.