The Top 11 Movies of 2015

best of 2015 pic

by Jason Koenigsberg

Now that the smoke has cleared, 2015 emerged as a year with a lot of very good movies, but no truly great movies. On average 2015 was a better year for movies than the previous year, but it lacked the one-two punch of 2014’s Boyhood and Birdman, masterpieces which had a once-in-a-decade type of quality. Instead we were given the best Pixar movie in years, a realistic and claustrophobic science-fiction film that felt like a blood relative to The Twilight Zone, a post-apocalyptic extravaganza that was the best moviegoing experience of the year, a throwback to intelligent adult dramas from the ’70’s and the best rap biopic of all time. 

Without any further ado, here is Pan and Slam’s Top 11 Movies of 2015, remember I like to give my readers one more than most critics. 

The Top 11 Movies of 2015:

11. Spectre (directed by Sam Mendes)


Boy did this movie get a bad rep for no reason. It was exactly what I wanted, the perfect Bond movie picking up where Skyfall (2012) left off. Spectre delivers all of the franchise staples the audience expects. Unlike more recent Bonds, this celebrates the history and traditions and utilizes them well in the story.


10. The Hateful Eight (directed by Quentin Tarantino)


The Hateful Eight is a loving tribute to cinema in virtually every frame. Felt like a throwback to an earlier time and features some of the best performances of the year especially Kurt Russell as a grizzly bounty hunter, Jennifer Jason Leigh as his prisoner and Samuel L. Jackson as a northerner who may or may not be the moral compass of this motley crew. Outstanding cinematography and a great music score by Ennio Morricone compliment the performances beautifully. 


9. The Revenant (directed by Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu)


The best film Terrence Malick never made. A beautifully shot man vs. nature wilderness adventure with great acting from its leading men Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. Both deliver Oscar caliber performances and elevate this picture into a breathtaking tale of survival and vengeance. 


8. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (directed by Alex Gibney)


In a  year with some very strong documentaries, this one made by HBO really stood out as the best. It was one of the most provocative and intriguing movies of the year as it dove deep into an American-made religion popularized by Hollywood superstars yet shrouded in mystery to all outsiders. Poignant, important, enlightening and most all, one of the most undeniably entertaining movies of the year. 


7. Bridge of Spies (directed by Steven Spielberg)


A movie that I kept going back and thinking fondly of after I first saw it. It is pretty much perfect other than the last ten minutes. I wish Spielberg knew when to end it instead of an unnecessary epilogue. Other than the ending, this is a superb film in every way, especially how it mirrors global conflicts of the past with current political rhetoric. A riveting history lesson that parallels the politics of today.


6. Carol (directed by Todd Haynes)

carol poster

The most subtly beautiful romance of the year. It does not matter that it is about a same-sex couple even though the norms of society are unable to accept them. This is a love story in the purest form. It’s excellence can be found in the sum of its parts. So many gorgeous small moments like the color of a scarf, a car driving through a tunnel, an eye looking through a window, all add up to making Carol a sumptuous experience. The best film Todd Haynes has directed since Far From Heaven (2002) and outstanding performances from Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara and Kyle Chandler.


5. Inside Out (directed by Pete Docter and Renaldo Del Carmen)

The little voices inside our head (from left to right) Anger, Disgust, Joy, Fear and Sadness
The little voices inside our head (from left to right) Anger, Disgust, Joy, Fear and Sadness

The best Pixar movie since Up (2009) and a film that could be a revelation in terms of inner conflict resolution if more children, and adults for that matter, see this movie and think about the characters and how they relate to their own emotions in their daily life. It touches on every emotion and is never patronizing. A wonderful story for people of all ages and one that can help children and adults understand themselves. 


4. Ex Machina (directed by Alex Garland)

Alicia Vikander as Ava
Alicia Vikander as Ava

A powerful film that on the surface is a cautionary story about the dangers of technology but this is also a smart and riveting film about ideas and how far mankind can take them. The strongest theme of Ex Machina was not even about technology, but about humanity as it ultimately provides a dark allegory of love. This is like a distant black sheep cousin to Spike Jonze’s Her (2013). It examines what loves mean to us as humans, how much we need it and how far people will go for love.


3. Mad Max: Fury Road (directed by George Miller)


The first (and probably not last) time I made a mistake with a review on Pan and Slam. My mistake was not with the review itself, the words I wrote about Mad Mad: Fury Road I still stand by, it was with my star rating. I gave it three stars but my description of the film is more worthy of a four star review. This really is that impressive of a film that it truly deserves the highest rating possible. Mad Max: Fury Road is without a doubt one of the best movies of the year, or any year for that matter. The best pure cinematic experience of 2015. 


2. Spotlight (directed by Tom McCarthy)

Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, and Mark Ruffalo in 'Spotlight'
Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, and Mark Ruffalo in ‘Spotlight’

The most gripping film of the year that never takes the easy way out and succumbs to melodramatic cliches. A smart and compelling investigative journalism story on par with All the President’s Men (1976). Every single actor delivers a great performance and the fantastic screenplay tackles the issue perfectly summarized with the great quote “It takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to abuse one”. This film is not only an attack on the shameful cover-ups by the Catholic Church but it is a smart commentary about Boston’s small town mentality.


1. Straight Outta Compton (directed by F. Gary Gray)


A brilliant biopic and the most entertaining and culturally relevant movie of 2015. It succeeds triumphantly in capturing the essence of what NWA’s rap music stood for. Even more powerful is the fact that their music and this movie are just as socially important today as it was nearly thirty years ago. This was the most entertaining and emotionally moving film of 2015. 


I also greatly valued the adult fantasy-fable Chir-Raq, Spike Lee’s best film in almost a decade. The Netflix original film Beasts of No Nation which featured Idris Elba’s most menacing performance thus far, and I really enjoyed Guillermo del Toro’s gothic mystery Crimson Peak. Special commendation should also be given to Room for giving us two of the best performances of the year from its leads. 

Creed may have been the most unexpected pleasant surprise of the year with a career crowning performance from the legendary Sylvester Stallone. Star Wars: The Force Awakens lived up to the hype and was the best film of the franchise since the original trilogy. 

This was also a year of some great documentaries including one made up of Marlon Brando’s own voice on audiotape in Listen to Me Marlon, as if the late actor was speaking to us from the grave. I also cherished Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau, also featuring real footage of Marlon Brando on a nightmare film set plagued with every problem imaginable. Plus, the Kurt Cobain documentary Montage of Heck really captured the man that launched an era in music that is every bit as important as the ones launched by Elvis and The Beatles. 

1 Comment »

  1. You write some great succinct reviews here. All an infrequent movie viewer but longtime lover of the art needs to know to pick and choose. Thanks!

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