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.
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.
“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.