Greetings, Gentle Reader, and welcome to The Movie Snob’s annual “best of column.” 2015 was a bit of a slow year for me; I saw only 50 movies in the theater, plus four more on DVD. But, looking back over my notes, I still find it easy to identify lots of good and even great movies for your viewing pleasure. As always, every movie I saw in a theater last year is eligible for consideration, even if it was technically a 2014 release.
Best Movie of the Year. I think this is the first time I have ever picked a science-fiction movie as the top movie of the year. For me, The Martian was hands-down the best movie of 2015. It’s like a cross between Gravity and Robinson Crusoe. Matt Damon gives a fine performance as the marooned astronaut. I see the movie has gotten some love from the Golden Globes, so let’s hope the Academy follows suit.
Runner Up. Coming in a close second is a very different movie: Spotlight, about the newspaper investigation that finally exposed the Catholic clergy scandal in Boston back in 2002. It’s a low-key, just-the-facts kind of movie, but that didn’t make it any less effective. My guess is that Spotlight will win the best-picture Oscar™ this year.
Best Action/Adventure Flick. I can’t say I saw this coming. I had about given up on the James Bond franchise, when along comes Spectre. Sure, it’s a little goofy in parts, but I thought Spectre was a thoroughly enjoyable thrill ride regardless. I’m not sure where to put the drug-war epic Sicario, starring Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro, so I’ll put it in this category too. It has some explosions and shoot-outs, so I think it qualifies.
Best Animated Movie. It had very little competition this year, but no matter—Inside Out richly deserves the honor as best animated movie of the year.
Best Comedy. I usually have trouble coming up with a strong pick for best comedy, but not this time. Mistress America, directed by Noah Baumbach, was laugh-out-loud funny. It’s way quirky, and it’s apparently getting no attention from the award-givers, but I say ignore the critics and give it a try. Were any other 2015 comedies actually funny? Well, I’ll give three-quarters of a thumbs-up to Trainwreck. You gotta have a very high tolerance for vulgarity to enjoy it, but I can’t deny that it made me laugh. Some.
Best Documentary. I think Best of Enemies was the only documentary I saw in 2015. Happily, it was a good one. It’s a look at the televised “debates” between William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal during the 1968 nominating conventions, and I thought it was very interesting.
Best Quasi-Documentaries. Okay, I just made up this category because I just didn’t know what to do with two reality-based movies I saw last year: American Sniper and The Big Short. They’re both really, really good movies. I don’t want them to get lost in the “best action” or “best drama” categories, so I’m pulling them out and putting them here so you won’t forget to see them.
Best Drama. There are a few strong contenders in this category beyond the obvious choice of Spotlight. I think I’m going to go with Boyhood, even though I know it was a 2014 release. Any movie that can hold my attention for 2 hours and 45 minutes has something going on. Among 2015 releases, I will single out Mr. Holmes, with its excellent performance by Ian “Gandalf” McKellan, and Bridge of Spies, for keeping me on the edge of my seat even though we all know how the U-2 crisis ended. And, at some risk to my reputation as a tough-minded critic, I will also give a shout-out to Danny Collins, starring a scenery-chewing Al Pacino as a cheesy, washed-up rock singer.
Best Foreign Film. I think I saw four foreign films in 2015, and my pick for the best is the only foreign-language film in the bunch, the post-WWII film noir Phoenix. It’s a taut, twisty piece of work. I’ll also give a mention to the romantic little Irish movie Brooklyn, starring Saoirse Ronan.
Best Science-Fiction Film. Obviously it’s The Martian. But I also want to recommend another sci-fi flick from the past year, the suspenseful artificial-intelligence tale Ex Machina. Remember the cute little artificially intelligent robot boy from A.I.? Ex Machina’s Eve is pretty much nothing like him…
Honorable Mentions. It was a good year for sci-fi/action flicks. I gave thumbs-up to Mad Max: Fury Road (starring the awesome guy with the flame-throwing guitar), Jurassic World (starring the eminently likable Chris Pratt and a tightly wound Dallas Bryce Howard), and the amiable Ant-Man (starring the amiable Paul Rudd). For striking visuals, check out the family-friendly live-action Cinderella or the decidedly not family-friendly horror film Crimson Peak. For drama, I recommend the adultery tale 5 to 7. In the dramedy category, we have another film from director Noah Baumbach, While We’re Young. And although it’s a bit on the “after-school-special” side, I thought A Girl Like Her was a pretty effective little movie about teen bullying.
And a few oldies… Finally, I’ll tell you about a few classics that I saw for the first time this past year and really enjoyed. Witness for the Prosecution, being a legal drama, goes to the head of the class here on The Movie Court. I also saw and liked two Hitchcock movies I had never seen before, namely Rebecca and Strangers on a Train. The delightful Shirley Jones made for a delightful musical in The Music Man. And I got a kick out of the quirky old Veronica Lake vehicle I Married a Witch.
Will the Academy choose as wisely as I have? Only time will tell!