Every year there seems to be a batch of movies that people want to remember as the movies of that year. It happens each time there's a new release. We drop too much money, and when the experience justifies the expense, we breathlessly declare, "That was it! That was the best movie this year!"
Lately though, those movies fall more along the lines cautionary tales in tempering expectations with monster box office numbers.
More often than not, the biggest movies of the year are later remembered somberly as the biggest flops of the year; cinematic missteps we want to erase from our collective memories immediately.
As it happens, those movies leave our memories almost as quickly as we'd like. (Seriously, when did Avengers Episode 83: The After-Re-Birth of Hulkamania come out again?)
It took a while for us to get here, with many of the year's best movies releasing in November and December, but we've nailed down (in no particular order) the 10 best movies of 2015. Much of the year's success was built around rescuing franchises from the depths of failure and obscurity.
Now, these might not necessarily be the absolute best movies of 2015, critically speaking. There are movies that are near-perfect but just didn't have any particular draw after the experience, and there are also movies that straight murdered the box office that were also very good movies.
Jurassic World was awesome, but there were too many issues with story, plot, character, and campiness to make it, and Carol, while a beautiful movie with two stunning performances from Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett, is one of those movies you leave saying, "Yeah, that was great. We'll see them again at the Oscars, but whatever."
There's nothing wrong with those movies (same goes for an exceptional performance from Saoirse Ronan in, Brooklyn), but they don't define the year.
Read on to see what the best films of 2015 are. If they're on this list, it's worthwhile to catch them in theaters if you can. If not, well, RedBox. Also, no spoilers. You're welcome.
This is quite possibly the best movie of the year. We're not ranking these movies, but it's damn good. Emily Blunt is great, Josh Brolin is one of those great characters you feel uncomfortable laughing with because he's pretty dark, and Benicio del Toro should get an Oscar nod for, well, being Benicio.
Now, the story doesn't always feel as unique as it actually is. It's cartel stuff, sure, but it's an engaging and interesting story to follow all the way through.
The direction is spectacular. Dennis Villenueve delivers a story with the incredible punch that we really missed from Prisoners (which is still an awesome movie). But Sicario is thrilling. It's gritty. It's brilliantly acted. It's agonizing. Check it out.
2. Inside Out
If you didn't see this absolutely hilarious Pixar juggernaut, you missed out. It was inventive. It was incredibly smart. It was beautiful without actually offering anything particularly groundbreaking to their stellar resumè of inventive CGI.
It was also incredibly sad. If you cried during Toy Story 3 like many college kids that had grown up with Woody and Buzz did, you more than likely bawled during Inside Out.
Pixar is really great at churning out films that are both highly entertaining for kids, and painfully relevant to their parents. Inside Out is one of their greatest successes in that regard.
3. The Hateful Eight
Tarantino fans were blown away by this film, but will also readily acknowledge how hard it might be for the rest of the world to sit through it. We couldn't agree more.
Tarantino's script, like any other of his, is brilliant. This might be one of the best stories he's ever told. It's not without controversy, though. It really is hard to watch Jennifer Jason Leigh get the sh*t beaten out of her for three hours, and that's a challenge many audiences just can't wrap their head around.
We won't launch into a diatribe on cinematic violence. Instead, let's talk about how the casting is pitch perfect in every line, the cinematography is the highest refinement of Tarantinoism we might ever see, and the moral of the story (if there is one) is one we've never been confronted with: stop looking for a hero.
If you can bear it, see it twice. Once you get past the hard-to-watch aspects of the first viewing, you'll recognize the greater elements at play: the complexity of his characters, cinematography, the commentary Tarantino doesn't so flagrantly bash you in the face with. QT's in rare form with The Hateful Eight. It's incredible.
4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Hello, J.J. Abrams, and sayonara, George Lucas. This film was hyped to the max, and it delivered in every possible way you could have hoped for.
It's really hard to talk about this movie without engaging in spoilers, but this movie succeeds in discovery (perfect for new audiences), both subtle and extravagant fan service (so many blatant but beautiful easter eggs and recycled tropes), likable characters, and mystery.
Not only is it the coolest possible way a new Star Wars movie could have looked, but it felt like a compilation of the best things the universe we already knew, paired nicely with a new story we're excited to learn more about.
Also, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, and Daisy Ridley are the most welcome faces in the galaxy.
Now, it's not without its problems. There are recycled plot twists that bash you in the face with groan-worthy familiarity, and while we're not here to spoil, it must be said that there are a couple of things we really could have done without.
The most prominent criticism is that the movie is essentially plagiarism were it not for Disney having the rights to do so. While the narrative structure is painfully similar, it's more corrective than anything, and the similarities do little to ruin the experience itself. See it twice if you can.
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
Maybe it should have been called Furiosa's Road because this isn't exactly Max's movie, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Charlize Theron does a better job of leading this film than any other film she's starred in the last decade.
The cinematography is brilliant. There are insane, beautiful, "Holy Hell, How Did He Do That?" shots. The story, while not incredibly complicated, is succinct and satisfying. Much like Star Wars, it's the coolest way a Mad Max movie could have looked and felt in 2015.
Does it open the door for more? In a way, yes. But it's one of those rare films (like Creed) that reemerge triumphantly without ever requiring more. This is a fine addition to the canon, but it stands alone as one of the coolest movies of 2015.,
We were really worried about this movie. The trailer made it look dumb. It looked like another Rocky movie that just didn't need to be made. Even if the premise was one of those fan-fiction, roundtable, dream scenario, "What-If's," it still looked like something we didn't need.
Wrong. Michael B. Jordan is the son of Apollo Creed we hoped existed in the world. Not only that, but where we might have been concerned that Stallone would have found an over-involved way to muck it all up, he takes a seat and still delivers the best performance he's given apart from the first Rocky.
It also has a nice sense of place that was either abandoned in the sequels or simply never needed to exist as strongly after the first. Philadelphia is as gray and gritty as it's ever looked, and Ryan Coogler has a really great eye for both the city and Jordan.
If those names don't ring a bell, well, check out Fruitvale Station. Jordan should have won an Oscar, Coogler should have gotten some kind of love and recognition for it, and despite all of that underrated notoriety, they got together and made what we didn't think would ever happen: a good Rocky movie.
Not high on the list of cheery movies, this re-telling of the 2001-2002 exposure of Boston's institutionalized child molestation run rampant through the Catholic church is right behind Sicario as the year's best film.
Its ensemble is incredible: Michael Keaton (Oscar nod?), Liev Schrieber (Oscar snub likely), Mark Ruffalo, John Slattery, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci, and Billy Crudup, to name the most recognizable. They're all absolutely perfect.
More than that, there's also a handful of nobody's that do everything right. It's star-studded, but not star-cluttered to the point that they get either get it wrong or overspend on a recognizable face that detracts from the gravity of the story.
The story, while depressing at heart, is perfectly told: nobody's really a hero. It's about exposing the truth without anybody taking a personal stance or ownership of getting this story out. There's no diatribe of, "I have to tell this story!"
It's simply about correcting the mistakes of the past, and even then, nobody's like, "I have to get this right!" It's about a collective journalistic responsibility more than anything else, and that's refreshing in itself.
8. Ex Machina
This movie seems to have snuck under the radar. It's easy to forget this one with everything else that's going on at the movie theater now, but it's incredibly cool, very well-written, directed in an engaging and suspenseful (borderline terrifying) way, and the acting is on point.
It's also a very interesting entry into a beat-to-death sci-fi trope: interactions between man and machine; artificial intelligence vs. whatever else in the world there actually is.
Oscar Isaac is great, Alicia Vikander is excellent, Domhnall Gleeson (also in Star Wars alongside Oscar Isaac) is surprisingly good at carrying the movie, and this might be one of the better directorial debuts in a long time by Alex Garland (who wrote Sunshine and 28 Days Later).
It's not out in theaters anymore, so find it where you can.
A far cry from the best movie of 2015, Chi-Raq is far and away one of the most important films of 2015. It's a modern day telling of the ancient Greek play, Lysistrata, but set in the oft-ignored, desperately violent city of Chicago.
For the sake of informing those who don't know/ignore what's been going on in Chicago, Greek literature, or what Spike Lee even does anymore, Chi-Raq is about a movement of women abstaining from sex until their men stop the senseless violence that (again, not fictional) has taken the lives of thousands in the city of Chicago.
It's preachy, it's messy, it's sad, it's desperate, it's topical-- all of which describe anything Spike Lee's ever done --but it works. Even if it gets tangled up in tears, the human drama (or melodrama to many critics ignoring the purpose of the Greek play itself) is rooted in heartbreaking reality.
Of course, it won't really make you like Nick Cannon again, but it will definitely restore the lost confidence in Spike Lee. And yes, for any fan of good movies, that's a very good thing.
10. It Follows
This is one of the most successful horror plots of the last... who the hell knows? It works. It's the film they should show in high school health classes if they still want to teach abstinence.
It Follows came out in March, so while we're not concerned with spoilers (statute of limitations and such), we'll simply say: Homegirl has sex with dude, dude tells her something is after her because of it, and she must either pass "It" on to someone else, or "It" will kill her.
The score is sick. The cinematography is solid. The idea is awesome and perfectly executed, and there really isn't anything about the movie that undermines any of what truly works.
Even if it's not the most terrifying horror movie in the world, it's definitely up there with the freshly-minted, "I'll enjoy watching this every Halloween," successes that the long-stale Paranormal Activity franchise has yet to produce.
Honorable Mentions: You definitely need to see Dope, The Martian, Love & Mercy, Ant Man, Room (only because Brie Larson is the underrated BAE of the world), and we haven't seen The Revenant yet, so apologies to anybody who truly believes it got seriously snubbed from this list.[Feature Image Courtesy Vox]