There have been years when trying to put together the 10 best movies of the past year was as difficult as trying to find 10 laughs in an Adam Sandler movie. Putting together the worst 10 has been a breeze. Thank you Adam Sandler.
The most difficult part about selecting the best films of this year was that narrowing the list down – there were just so many movies worthy of being on the list. It was not only a great year for dramas, there were some incredible action movies, wonderful animation and numerous documentaries that filled theaters.
Picking a top 10 list is always subjective. There are some who argue no movie topped “Furious 7” because of its amazing stunts, while others embraced “The Gallows” with its local connection. The selection process for me had to do with the impact the film made whether that be story or acting.
The list of worst 10 doesn’t include a lot of low-budget films, because they weren’t shown to critics. My worst list features movies that got more of a major release.
Here’s my list. Compare it to your best & worst picks of 2015.
1. “Spotlight”: Not since the Oscar-winning “All the President’s Men” in 1976 has a movie offered such a compelling, intriguing and important look at the world of journalism as “Spotlight.” This examination of the Boston Globe’s investigative team – known as Spotlight – uncovering the massive cover-up of the scandal of priests molesting children is one of the best pictures of the year.
2. “He Named me Malala”: Although it is a powerful story on political and historical levels, the failed assassination of Malala Yousafzai is only half the story. Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”), shows that this is also a story of a deep and powerful bond between a father and daughter. It is a tale of family and the family of man.
3. “Inside Out”: The view from a child’s level is an energetic tale of what happens when we can see inside the brain of Riley, an 11-year-old girl dealing with family issues. Smart writing and the deeper elements fill “Inside Out” with numerous emotional moments. This is particularly true when memories of the young girl as a child and her family are shown. It will evoke core memories for a lot of people.
4. “Carol”: Director Todd Haynes has created a magical look for his film that follows the love affair between a department store clerk (Rooney Mara) and one of her clients (Cate Blanchett) set in the 1950s. Both actors deliver touching and tender performances that play out with a sweetness and sadness that digs deep into the moviegoers soul. A visual and acting triumph.
5. “Sicario”: What makes this production from director Denis Villeneuve so horrifying is that the evil shown here isn’t a fictional character. The creatures that create such a deep, dark fear are part of the drug world that exists right outside our doors. Nothing creates a deeper sense of foreboding than being enveloped in reality. Taylor Sheridan’s script allows time for an assortment of views on how the war on drugs should be fought. Each argument rings true until the violent reality of this world raises its ugly head.
6. “Brooklyn”: John Crowley creates a hauntingly beautiful tale of love on two continents in his period film “Brooklyn.” Crowley allows the story to unfold through the beautiful landscapes of the Irish countryside and Brooklyn in the early 1950s, presenting each with details that bring them to life. Such lavish backgrounds demand players who will not get lost in the shadows.
7. “Youth”: In many ways, the film about the guests at a high-end spa defies the standard logic of moviemaking. Director Paolo Sorrentino has no qualms about dropping in tidbits of story lines and taking characters on non-linear journeys. There are times when the director seems so enthralled with the visuals that he forgets his players but quickly returns to the characters who are rich as Swiss chocolate.
8. “Room”: Lenny Abrahamson’s movie starts out as a moving tale of how far a woman (Brie Larson) will go to protect her child while the pair are being held captive. Equally as engaging is the story of the virtual prison the woman feels once she escapes her captors. Both Larson and young Jacob Tremblay are worthy of Oscar attention.
9. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”: Too often movies about the agony and ecstasy of growing up feature actors who are so young they seem like preschoolers or are so mature they come across like they’re getting social security checks. Neither gives a story the life it needs to rise above the ponderous of coming-of-age fluff. But director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has used the script by Jesse Andrews to pull engaging – and age appropriate – performances out of the cast. From the quirky home movies the best buddies make to dealing with death, the production is full of heart, hope and humor.
10. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”: No film blends strong characters and superb action as ell as this production. There is little that can be said about the story without giving away big spoilers. Be assured that everything from personal relations to the continuation of the “Star Wars” story line are done with great skill and detail. There are events that will spawn great debates, but that’s always been a plus of the better movies in this franchise.
Honorable mention: “Shaun the Sheep,” “It Follows,” “Amy,” “Tangerine,” “Cinderella,” “Theeb,” “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” “Dope,” “Far from the Madding Crowd,” “Jurassic World” and “Secret in their Eyes.”
1. “The Visit”: M. Night Shyamalan – who is redefining the schlock film genre with his idiotic plots and sloppy direction – has put together another poorly written offering that also has the visual inspiration of a blank piece of paper. Shyamalan has put so little effort into making this film he resorts to the “found footage” gimmick that went out of favor years ago.
2. “Vacation”: If there was a 10th circle in Dante’s vision of Hell it would be reserved for movies like “Vacation.” Not only does the film feature a script that has less life than roadkill, a pacing that makes Los Angeles traffic look like the Indy 500 and as much humor as the mass funeral of orphans, nuns and kittens, it smears the good name of the 1983 Chevy Chase comedy, “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”
3. “The Boy Next Door”: Jennifer Lopez’s movie, “The Boy Next Door,” is cheesier than a Chicago double topping deep dish pizza. From the profoundly absurd idea that anyone married to a woman who looks like Lopez would cheat on her to the teen-age Lothario who looks older than Lopez, this movie is the culmination of a cluster of idiotic ideas.
4. “Crimson Peak”: The film is less about scares and more of a watered down version of “Downton Abbey” meets “Game of Thrones.” The majority of the movie feels like the usual period piece about a pair of siblings who will go to any extreme to save their family home. Ghosts occasionally show up to point out clues.
5. “Fifty Shades of Grey”: No one said the masochism part of the story in “Fifty Shades of Grey” had to do with what the audience would be put through. There has never been a film so painful to watch, both because of how poorly it’s written, acted and shot, and for its disgustingly vulgar treatment of women. The movie would be painfully laughable if it wasn’t so horribly offensive.
6. “Hot Pursuit”: Sofia Vergara is like the painfully fiery Carolina Reaper pepper in “Hot Pursuit” — a little bit goes a long way. Couple that with a performance from Reese Witherspoon that has no heat at all, and this buddy cop movie turns criminally bad.
7. “Get Hard”: This isn’t merely a major disaster, it’s the Titanic of comedy movies. Weighed down by endless jokes about prison rape, relentless homophobia and a bevy of absurd stereotypes, this Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart film sinks into an abyss of failure.
8. “Jupiter Ascending”: It’s taken 15 years, but the bloated and pitiful “Battlefield Earth” no longer has to carry the mantle of being the worst big budget science-fiction film of all time. “Jupiter Ascending” is such a steaming pile of cinema, it’s almost beyond the realm of human thought to believe another film could be worse.
9. “The Lazarus Effect”: First-time feature director David Gelb tries to create lively scares out of the bringing-back-the-dead film genre. The best he gets are a few nervous twitches. His feature has little more substance than a cable sci-fi movie that starts with a decent idea but gets jumbled by so many predictable and worn out tropes — the evil of big business, the sins of playing God, the wackiness of quirky scientists, the danger of an evil canine — that by the time the closing credits come 83 minutes later (and it will seem much longer) the finale is a mangled mess so convoluted the only thing Gelb could do was just stop the film.
10. “Entourage”: Instead of capitalizing on what made the TV show interest — the guys’ friendship — the movie cranks up the special guests, tosses in some villains who look like Looney Tunes extras and spends too much time behind-the-scenes of the film world.
Dishonorable mention: “Ted 2,” “American Ultra,” “Addicted to Fresno,” “The Last Witch Hunter” and “Self/Less.”