2015 Ten Best List

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     With the return of the “Star Wars” franchise, the 8th film from Quentin Tarantino, and several important films which explored powerful and thought provoking subject matter, 2015 proved to be a banner year both for overall film quality, as well as the box office. The offerings ranged from great independent films to some of the biggest blockbusters in history, with each leaving its own fingerprints on a landscape culled together by some of the brightest and most creative minds in the industry. Narrowing down the 89 films I reviewed in the past year to a short list is always a difficult task, but here I present the 10 Best Films of 2015.

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     Together, we cheered the return of the “Rocky” franchise to the big screen with the seventh and perhaps most emotional installment, “Creed”, a film which successfully passed the torch from Stallone’s beloved character to a new breed, led by actor Michael P. Jordan and director Ryan Coogler.  With immigration a hot topic in the upcoming presidential election, director John Crowley created a film reminding us all what America stands for and how important it is for our nation to continue to be a place where people come to follow their dreams with “Brooklyn”, a beautifully shot love story about an Irish immigrant played by Saoirse Ronan who must choose between her life in Ireland and a young Italian man she falls in love with while in 1950s New York.  Leonardo DiCaprio gave what may be the performance of his career with his portrayl of frontiersman Hugh Glass in the Alejandro Inarritu film “The Revenant”, a harrowing survival story depicting the dangers of the fur trade in the 1820s.  Just those three films alone could satisfy the cravings of most movie goers for the entire year, but 2015 was special, featuring the return of the most influencial franchise in modern film history, along with the latest creation from a writer/director who seemingly can’t miss.

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     Quentin Tarantino  returned to the big screen with his 8th film “The Hateful Eight”, providing what was easily the most entertaining film of the year.  For over 3 hours, during the exclusive 70mm Ultra Panavision presentation I viewed, Tarantino’s characters come alive in brutal take no prisoners fashion, spitting out his signature dialogue like a machine gun until each arrives at their last dying breath.  I’m still amazed at how consistent Tarantino remains some 25 years after the premiere of his first film “Reservoir Dogs”. Shortly after  the purchase of Lucasfilm by Disney in 2012, director J.J. Abrams was given the reigns to write and direct what would become the biggest film in 2015 by far.  “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is one of those rare films that actually surpasses the hype and succeeds in creating a new standard for the films that follow in the classic series.  Abrams found the right combination of nostalgia by featuring actors from the Original Trilogy, while also laying the foundation for three new characters who will be central to the story in future installments.  He also made one of the best films of the year.  

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     Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay anchor Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room” with two of the year’s best performances as the duo must fight to survive after being kidnapped and secluded in a backyard garden shed for more than five years.  Like “Brooklyn”, “Room” is the kind of film that invokes several key emotions from the audience by way of characters whose situations will inspire in the manner in which they exist, cope, and overcome.  Anger may be the overriding emotion one has after viewing “The Big Short”, which is surprising considering “Anchorman” director Adam McKay is at the helm and the cast includes funnyman Steve Carell in a lead role.  “The Big Short” tells the story of a handful of hedge fund managers and investors who sought to bet against the housing market just prior to the recession in 2008.  And while the Oscar winning documentary “Inside Job” sufficiently layed out the facts behind the mess that was the housing bubble, McKay’s film does so in a more human fashion with witty and comedic banter between characters played by actors such as Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt.

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     A scandal which had been covered up for decades is brought to light in resounding fashion in Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight”, the story of the Boston Globe investigative team whose 2002 report brought to light the massive problem with child molestation within the  Catholic Church.  The ensemble, which includes Oscar worthy performances from Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Liev Schreiber, displays marvelous chemistry and has the benefit of an outstanding script by McCarthy and Josh Singer.  The power of this true story is reflected in every meeting, interview, and confrontation this group endures as they strive to uncover the truth before more irreparable damage is done.  The most intense film of 2015, the kind where you find yourself on the edge of your seat throughout, is director Denis Villeneuve’s “Sicario”, a brutal look at the current status of the War on Drugs and how the United States fights the war behind enemy lines.  Featuring a tour de force performance by Benicio Del Toro as a shadowy consultant on the Mexican Cartel and Emily Blunt as a more than capable hard nosed FBI Agent, “Sicario” centers around the hunt for a notorious Cartel kingpin known to have a violent grip on the drug trade south of the border.  An action centerpiece in which the group convoys into Juarez, Mexico to extradite a Cartel underboss back to the U.S. is a master’s work in both nail biting suspense and glorious imagery courtesy of cinematographer Roger Deakins.

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     During a career spanning well over 40 years and a filmography including the likes of “Alien”, “Blade Runner”, and “Gladiator”, Ridley Scott has earned a reputation as a filmmaker with an unmatched visual flair and a gift for epic storytelling.  “The Martian” is yet another example of his ability to leave audiences in awe with stunning imagery and taut direction, while leading an all star cast that includes Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejoifor, Jeff Daniels, and Kristen Wiig.  “The Martian” is the best film of 2015 and will stand the test of time as a true classic, both within the genre and as a genuine crowd pleaser.  Drew Goddard’s script, based on the book by Andy Weir, features Damon (Mark Watney) on screen alone for much of the time, but counters this with supremely funny dialogue and an inspiring effort by the character to survive even when the odds are stacked against him.  Scott perfectly melds together the characters both at home and on the space ship that accidentally stranded him with Damon and the various subplots surrounding his scientific will to live.  The characters are immersed within several impressive set designs, most notably the temporary structures Watney must live in for over a year before a rescue mission can arrive.  There are only a handful of filmmakers with the skill and bravado capable of creating such a complex and epic film.  It’s no surprise Ridley Scott has done so yet again.

THE TOP TEN FILMS OF 2015 BY JASON HARNEY

10.  CREED     My Review

9.    BROOKLYN     My Review

8.    THE REVENANT     My Review

7.    THE HATEFUL EIGHT     My Review

6.    STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS     My Review

5.    ROOM     My Review

4.    THE BIG SHORT     My Review

3.    SPOTLIGHT     My Review

2.    SICARIO     My Review

1.    THE MARTIAN     My Review