When I started making this list I was very down on 2015 but I was wrong. I was delighted to relive all of these films; 2015 was a fantastic year.
Honorable Mention: Get Hard – Get Hard is not a movie I reviewed for this site or even one I saw theatrically but rather on an airplane. The marketing for Get Hard was so unappealing to me, but I laughed harder while watching it than I did at any other movie this year. It had all of the uncomfortable moments where this or that rape joke or borderline racist moment happens but it’s overpowered by better jokes and a better attitude. I’m not much for movie quotes anymore but I have found myself saying “You are a disappointment to your parents, who I fucked” a few too many times for polite conversation and that’s got to be worth something.
- Furious 7/The Big Short – These are the movies that are probably not good enough to be on this list that I just couldn’t bring myself to cut. In their individual ways these films were both made for me. Furious 7 is not as good as Fast Five or Fast & Furious 6 but the goodwill from those sublime pieces of action cinema is too strong in me. I can’t dislike that movie even if the action sequences might be finally tipping over the edge of my suspension of disbelief and even if the characters might be getting a little too cartoony I love it too much. The touching tribute to Paul Walker is just icing on the cake.Similarly as a economics major who now works as a film critic I’m not sure any film has ever been aimed quite so squarely at me than The Big Short. Explaining the 2008 financial collapse in an understandable way is a herculean task and they accomplish it with no lack of gusto. The acting and the directing are also fantastic, but they feel a little too much like they’re aiming for awards to rate higher on this list. I don’t go to baseball games to see the players swing for the fences with every at bat, and I would appreciate a little more subtlety in my cinema as well.
- Inside Out – The real brilliance of Inside Out is in the simplicity of the idea. Of course our emotions are different people inside our heads just like of course our toys come to life when we aren’t looking. It just makes an intrinsic amount of sense. Inside Out is a simple story told very well with dizzying highs and devastating emotional lows and that kind of journey is rare in any movie and even more so in movies intended for children. That Pixar has made this kind of filmmaking so routine is a testament to their sublime artistry and I’m so happy to have them around.
- Straight Outta Compton – It’s been a long time coming for a serious filmmaker to make a movie about the dawn of hip-hop in a way that respects its audience, acknowledges the political reality that was urban America in the mid-80s, and respects the artistry the same way the endless parade of rock biopics have done over the years. Straight Outta Compton fulfils that promise and more. I hate when people describe actors as “channeling” a real person when they portray them on film but I feel myself reaching for that word when I want to describe how uncanny the acting performances were in this film. The icing on the cake is how relevant the struggles with the police feel even 30 years later because of the myriad ways nothing has really changed.