As usual, there are still some awards-fodder movies and anticipated titles that haven’t opened in Wichita yet (such as “The Revenant,” “Room” and “The Hateful Eight”). That being said, here are my top 10 films of 2015.
1. “Mad Max: Fury Road” – This is essentially just one big car chase, but what a thrilling, adrenaline-fueled one it is. George Miller re-ignites his beloved franchise with a ferociously brooding Tom Hardy ably at the wheel and an equally implosive Charlize Theron at his side. The mythology behind it all is staggering, and Miller even injects commentary about the future of civilization. This is a new action classic.
2. “Creed” – The most surprisingly moving experience of the year, and a reverent tribute to the original “Rocky” movie and Sylvester Stallone. He turns in a career-defining, Oscar-worthy performance as the famed boxer who comes out of retirement to train the son of former opponent and friend Apollo Creed. But the film would be nothing without the solid core that is Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed, who every bit owns the role. Director Ryan Coogler gets extra points for those staggering, long-take boxing scenes.
3. “Spotlight” – A lesson in fine, straightforward storytelling is this gripping tale of the real-life Boston Globe reporters who uncovered a massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within their local Catholic archdiocese. The entire ensemble cast is superb, but Mark Ruffalo steps up for the showier role and nails it. Tautly directed by Tom McCarthy, the film is powerful and important.
4. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” – Call me a fan boy all you want, but this return to the “Star Wars” galaxy was a nostalgic and thrilling journey, and it was great to see old friends and meet new ones. Director J.J. Abrams pretty much pulled off the impossible and delivered a fun film that was above everything else satisfying. And that’s no small feat.
5. “The Martian” – Director Ridley Scott returns to fine form with an all-too-game Matt Damon as an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars. The film is affable, funny and thoroughly entertaining. And Damon has never seemed more comfortable on screen or with himself.
6. “Brooklyn” – Saoirse Ronan gives a beautifully nuanced performance in this sweetly romantic coming-of-age tale as an Irish immigrant in the 1950s who moves to Brooklyn and falls in love. The film is drenched in emotion, but it smartly never becomes sappy or sentimental.
7. “Tangerine” – One of the most original films of the year is this bold, audacious portrait of a fresh-from-jail transgender sex worker who goes in search of the pimp who cheated on her. She’s loud, crude and a searingly hot mess, but we just can’t take our eyes off of her. The film is outrageously funny, mostly because it just feels real. And the streets of downtown L.A. have never seemed so vibrant, so alive, thanks to the film’s pulsating soundtrack.
8. “Ex-Machina” – This smart, stunning sci-fi tale about a young programmer drafted to study a female artificial intelligence certainly keeps you guessing and doesn’t pander to its viewer. With stark visuals and a somber, cold tone, writer/director Alex Garland delivers a confident first feature that isn’t afraid to ask big questions.
9. “It Follows” – The creepiest thing about this tale of a teenager chased by a malevolent, shape-shifting evil – and there are many, many creepy things – is that it’s hard to pin down in exactly what year it takes place. But that makes it even more eerily unsettling. The film is absolutely terrifying, and doesn’t so much twist horror conventions as much as revel in them.
10. “Inside Out” – Animation giant Pixar is back in the game with this sweet tale of a young girl whose emotions try to help her deal with the stress of moving to a new town and going to a new school. It’s absolutely gorgeous, inventive and as tender as it is intelligent. And it teaches the lesson that sadness is a very important, integral part of life. It makes us stronger and, yes, helps us grow up.