2015 Year-End Movie Review: Jason Zingale

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It seems like every December, someone laments how mediocre of a year it’s been for cinema, and while it’s hard to argue that point, the movies that were good were really freaking good. Though 2015 was arguably the year of the sequel, with “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Creed” and others performing well both critically and commercially, it was also the year of the book adaptation, several of which are featured on this list. But no one or nothing had a better year than Irish-born actor Domhnall Gleeson, who appeared in four movies in 2015, with three of them landing a spot in my Top 10. (For the record, the fourth fell just outside the bubble in my Honorable Mentions). It’s hard to say what that means, if anything, other than Domhnall Gleeson has really good taste in films.

Best Movies of 2015

1. “THE MARTIAN

Although it’s the third film in as many years about astronauts in distress, “The Martian” is a smart, captivating and humorous adaptation of Andy Weir’s bestselling novel that covers very different narrative and emotional territory than “Gravity” and “Interstellar.” For starters, it’s a lot more uplifting than most sci-fi fare, eschewing the usual doom-mongering for a story about the power of optimism and perseverance that also doubles as one heckuva recruitment video for NASA. (Who knew science and math could be this much fun?) Matt Damon is perfectly cast as the Everyman astronaut forced to “science the shit” out of his seemingly impossible predicament, while the supporting cast – including Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejifor and Jessica Chastain – is absolutely stacked with talent. This is hands down Ridley Scott’s best movie since “Gladiator,” and it owes a lot to Drew Goddard’s screenplay, which takes a lighthearted approach to the high-stakes drama in order to produce one of the most purely entertaining crowd-pleasers in years.

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2. “SICARIO

“Sicario” isn’t the first movie to tackle the illegal drug trade along the U.S.-Mexico border, but it’s easily one of the best, a relentlessly suspenseful crime thriller that offers a merciless look behind the curtain of the real War on Drugs. The film rarely takes its foot off the gas, continuing director Denis Villeneuve’s excellent form with a masterclass in building tension that will tie your stomach in knots. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is as stunning as ever, somehow finding the beauty in an ugly situation, but it’s the performances from the three leads that really elevate the material. Benicio Del Toro is especially good, delivering his best work in over a decade as the silent but deadly consultant – a veritable wolf in sheep’s clothing who eventually bares his teeth and claws in the explosive final act. Though a few missteps prevent “Sicario” from true greatness, it’s an outstanding, white-knuckle thriller that will leave you mentally and physically exhausted in the best possible way.

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3. “SPOTLIGHT

Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight” may be one of the most low-key awards contenders in quite some time, relying on top-notch acting and writing to recount the fascinating true story about a group of journalists who changed the way we looked at the Catholic Church forever. It’s just a really well-made movie, and the best one about investigative journalism since “All the President’s Men,” creating moments of suspense from the seemingly boring daily grind of searching through documents and chasing down leads. Although there aren’t any standout performances, every actor plays their part and plays it extremely well, working as an ensemble to serve the larger narrative. The same goes for McCarthy and Josh Singer’s disciplined script, which avoids the allure of sensationalizing events or being exploitative. “Spotlight” lets the story speak for itself, and while it’s one that needed to be told, the film is first and foremost a celebration of the journalistic process that made it possible for the courage of a few to be heard by the entire world.

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4. “STEVE JOBS

For a movie about one of the most innovative people of the past century, it’s fitting that “Steve Jobs” is as risky and unique as the man himself. Aaron Sorkin was the perfect screenwriter to tackle this material, crafting a sharp, funny and often unflattering look at Jobs that moves like a bullet train, despite the dense nature of its three-act structure. Director Danny Boyle stays out of the way for the most part, allowing Sorkin’s script to sing with few distractions, but he brings an electric immediacy to the story that’s reminiscent of live theater. Michael Fassbender is excellent as the title character, blurring the line between fiction and reality with his nuanced portrayal, while the rest of the cast shines in supporting roles. “Steve Jobs” will rub some people the wrong way with its prickly depiction of the Apple visionary, but it’s an endlessly fascinating film that’s more respectful of its subject than it appears on the surface.

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5. “MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

George Miller may be 70 years old, but that hasn’t stopped him from outclassing filmmakers half his age by making one of the craziest, most badass genre flicks in ages. Though “Fury Road” looks incredible, with John Seale’s stunning cinematography providing a painterly quality to the visuals, the real reason to see it is for the action. (Well, that and Charlize Theron as grease-smeared warrior Furiosa.) Conceived as one long car chase, the movie is packed with some of the most amazing sequences you’ll ever see, most of which were done practically. It’s a minor miracle no one died during the making of this film, because Miller’s high-adrenaline set pieces are so unbridled that you genuinely fear for the lives of the actors and stuntmen with each explosion, car flip and crash. Every minute of vehicular mayhem is pure cinematic magic – a jaw-dropping assault on the senses that gets weirder as it goes along – culminating in Miller’s best “Mad Max” yet.

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