Friday, January 1, 2016


Just so you know where I’m coming from, my yearly top ten lists are built on the backs of movies that either entertain or move me – movies I’d be willing to visit over and over (for a variety of reasons).  These ten below made me smile, cheer, think, sob and even stress (which doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?!).

All the awards season pistons don’t need to be firing for me to find greatness in any one entry – and so I give you my favorite flicks of 2015.  Movies that did exactly what they needed to work perfectly for me…

10. Straight Outta Compton
With this flick you’ll witness the strength and influence of street knowledge in Director F. Gary Gray’s masterful and fascinatingly raw depiction of N.W.A. and their meteoric and legacy-leaving rise to stardom.  It’s a thought-provoking and head-bopping origins story of urban legends – an intricately and compellingly woven tale of forged friendships, brotherly bonds, societal acceptance and freedom of speech – all with heart, humor and a great deal of hip-hop hubris.

9. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Another mission worth accepting, Rogue Nation is the meatiest action spy flick in a year chock full of solid action spy flicks (see Man from UNCLE and Kingsmen: The Secret Service).  With a dash of the subtle heist mentality of the original, some of the showy recklessness of II, a touch of the political and personal intrigue of III and the go-for-broke, adrenaline-soaked action of Ghost Protocol (IV), this outing plays like a fuse-lit, cinematic love child.  Its action is stylistically slick, its humor relaxingly disarming and its suspense boils over with all the fervor of an unwatched, $150 million-budgeted pot.  Let the haters hate, Tom Cruise and company once again deliver the goods!

8. Sicario
Boiling over with potent, drug-trade, cartelian relevancy, Sicario is one of the most intense movies of the year.  Its relevancy and undeniable tension are a testament to brilliant filmmakers working at the top of their game (directing, acting, cinematography, score, etc).  Director Denis Villeneuve efficiently drops Emily Blunt, as well as the audience, down an efficiently gritty rabbit hole of power struggles, crooked lies and governmental agency deceit.  Both Josh Brolin and Benecio Del Toro brilliantly play separate sides of the good-guy-bad-guy coin and make this a heart-thumping, at-what-cost journey you’ll be glad you took…  You might need a shower afterward, but you’ll be glad nonetheless.

7. Brooklyn
Sentimental, poignant and humorous, Brooklyn follows the difficult and occasionally simple choices that must be made as a young Irish immigrant navigates her way through 1950’s Brooklyn.  The approach is refreshingly straight forward and showcases a terrific performance from Saoirse Ronan. She virtually floats through this film on the expertly balanced wings of innocence and strength.  Full of heart, light and hope, Brooklyn is simply exquisite.

6. Bridge of Spies
This fish-out-of-water, Capra-esque potboiler may purposely lack the flash of past Spielberg/Hanks projects, but still stands dutifully tall alongside box office brethren like Saving Private Ryan and Catch Me If You Can.  Both stoic and intimately humble, Bridge of Spies is an engrossingly chatty, confidently patient and quirkily commanding Cold War-by-way-of-courtroom caper! 

5. Room
I’m not gonna give you much story because going in cold is the best way to view this (trust me), but Room is a beautifully acted (Brie Lasron, in particular, needs awards for her efforts here), gorgeously moving and rigorously emotional journey of mother and child.  It’s about bonding, creating inner worlds and exploring the one right outside your door. As a parent, Room had my heart racing, my gut churning and my tears flowing.  This movie may not fall under the ‘super fun’ or ‘crazily visceral’ or ‘crowd pleasing’ monikers – but it’s one I imagine will stick with me for years to come…

4. Creed
The seventh installment of the Rocky series is a thrillingly unabashed, crowd pleasing sports drama fueled on vim, vigor and vehemently passionate performances from both Jordan and Stallone (arguably some of the latter’s best work – ever).  Creed is a pulse-pounding tale that briskly bobs-and-weaves like a bantamweight independent film and yet hits with the emotional and motivational, star-powered ferocity of a box office heavyweight.  Ultimately, the winning hook is in director Ryan Coogler’s vision as he assembles an engagingly energized and serendipitously soulful sequel that feels fresh even though it’s rooted in palpable doses of rah-rah nostalgia. 

3. The Martian
With its ample amounts of head smarts, heart and humor, The Martian, proves to be one of 2015’s big screen, popcorn-munching delights.  It’s an accessible, deep space, MacGyver-on-Mars offering that incorporates upbeat and refreshingly sincere themes on perseverance, ingenuity, communications, problem-solving and teamwork.  Matt Damon effortlessly handles the Red Planet while a great supporting cast rigorously navigates the compelling tides of NASA’s terra firma-bound bureaucratic soup.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road
One of the gutsiest, full-throttle, bat-out-of-hell blockbusters of our time, maniacal director George Miller adds an aggressively glorious installment of hope, rebirth and redemption to his legendary Mad Max trilogy.  Relying heavily on its pride for practical effects (as supposed to the computer-generated kind), this is a gorgeously choreographed demolition derby of masterful, go-for-broke direction, vibrant cinematography, audacious production design and A-level acting...  It's a gritty, intense and rampantly raw road rage rodeo of kinetic action and gloriously graphic vehicular carnage.  Visceral, fully immersive - this flick flat out rocks.

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
As phenomenal as Mad Max: Fury Road is, I had to be honest with myself here…  THIS is the flick that entertained me the most in 2015.  It most definitely tapped in to my childhood and ultimately answered questions, offered surprises and teased at more greatness to come.  I’ve enjoyed this with my family and can envision a world where – in the distant future – I get to share this with my grandchildren.  Simply put, this flick ain’t going away because it’s that good.  Director J.J. Abrams masterfully answers the galactic call to deliver a sequel that’s better than the lethargically limp-noodled installments that proceeded it (Episodes I, II and III).  It’s a spirited sci-fi fantasy powder keg of laughs, thrills, chills and wonderment that seamlessly hands the torch of old to the terrifically acted and compelling charismatic crew of new.  Simply put, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is an exhilarating, heart-and-humor-laced, crowd-pleasing thrill-ride that takes this series to refreshingly new yet comfortably familiar heights. Easily the most fun I’ve had at the movies in years…

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