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The Top Twenty Movies of 2015 — Part Four!

And so we arrive, at last, at my five favorite movies of 2015.  Click here for part one of my list, numbers twenty through sixteenClick here for part two of my list, numbers fifteen through elevenClick here for part three of my list, numbers ten through six.

And now, my five favorite movies of 2015!

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5. Inside Out Another triumph from Pixar, this hugely original film explores the inner workings of the mind of an eleven-year-old girl.  I am blown away by how magnificently well thought-out the film is, how carefully considered every detail is.  The film is a complete fantasy, and yet it’s a remarkably sophisticated presentation of the way the emotions inside a young girl might actually work!  This is genius-level filmmaking here, with brilliant philosophical ideas wrapped in a deeply moving adventure tale.  The film is elevated into the stratosphere by its magnificent casting, with the absolute perfect actor chosen to represent each of Riley’s five main emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), & Disgust (Mindy Kaling).  The film is very funny and also absolutely heart-breaking.  (Has the great Richard Kind ever been better than he is here is Bing-Bong?)  Inside Out is a master class in the how animation can be best utilized to tell a remarkable story, a story that couldn’t possibly be told any other way.  (Click here for my original review.)

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4. Avengers: Age of Ultron I can’t believe how under-rated and under-appreciated is Joss Whedon’s spectacular follow-up to the smash hit that was 2012’s The Avengers.  Yes, Age of Ultron doesn’t have the never-been-done-before thrill of that first huge super-hero crossover film, which was the culmination of Marvel Studios’ Phase One, bringing together all the characters from the proceeding individual films.  (This was something that had never, ever been done before, a fact easily forgotten now that Marvel’s model is being widely imitated by every studio in Hollywood.)  It’s incredible to me that now, only a few short years after The Avengers, the extraordinary achievement that is Age of Ultron is being dismissed as ho-hum.  Just look at pretty much any frame of this film and marvel (pun definitely intended) at how amazing is it how Joss Whedon and his team have brought all of these wonderful characters to life on film!  Who ever would have thought such a thing would happen?  Who ever would have thought we’d ever see the famous comic-book villain Ultron depicted on film (brought so brilliantly to life in the film by James Spader)?  Or The Vision???  (Paul Bettany’s performance combined with note-perfect make-up effects and CGI made it feel like the character had been pulled right out of the comic book pages, a remarkable achievement.)  Age of Ultron digs deeply into Marvel’s comic book lore, and the result is a super-hero extravaganza that tickled every single comic-book-loving, geeky fiber of my being.  Writer/director Joss Whedon demonstrates a keen insight into each one of the film’s many characters, creating a film that is stuffed-to-the-brim with characters and situations without ever losing control of the story.  This is a film with extraordinary action (from the phenomenal assault on the snow-covered Hydra base that opens the film to the crazy nation-wrecking fight with thousands of robotic Ultrons that closes it) that remains sharply focused on its main characters.  The film mines enormous wealth out of the way these characters bounce off of one another, when things are going well (is that party scene in Stark’s penthouse not one of the greatest sequences in any super-hero film ever?  Come on — Thor is drinking with Stan Lee!!  And the idea to have all the other Avengers playfully toy with trying to lift Thor’s hammer is absolute genius) and when things are going poorly.  The film is very funny, packed with witty Whedon one-liners, but it also has real emotional stakes for the characters.  Age of Ultron demonstrates how amazingly far we’ve come, more than ten films into Marvel Studio’s incredible experiment of creating an interlocking movie universe.  I can’t wait to see what’s next.  (Click here for my original review.)

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3. The Hateful Eight Once again Quentin Tarantino shows everybody else just how it’s done.  The Hateful Eight represents Mr. Tarantino at his most stripped down — the movie has neither the mind-bending, jumbled timelines of Pulp Fiction, nor the complex fight choreography of the Kill Bill films, nor the epic, location-hopping scale of Inglourious Basterds or Django Unchained.  For its entire three-hour run-time, the film basically takes place in only two locations, and it features an extraordinary ensemble of actors (a glorious mix of Tarantino all-stars and some wonderful newcomers) doing little more than talking.  (Until the violence comes in the final act — and when it comes, it comes big-time.)  The Hateful Eight is marvelous because of its pure, undistilled presentation of Quentin Tarantino’s extraordinary ability to create and explore characters, and also to create stomach-churning tension, through simple conversation.  But more than that, the film is a fiery, angry look at the racial problems that this country is struggling with today, problems whose origins can be traced back to unresolved issues during the time of Reconstruction when this film takes place.  In Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, Mr. Tarantino re-wrote history to allow the good guys to clearly triumph over the real-life villains.  But here in The Hateful Eight, Mr. Tarantino is forcing the audience to realize that we have come not nearly far enough from a place where a shockingly racist redneck can be made sheriff and where, as Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren says in the film: “the only time black folks are safe is when white folks are disarmed.”  This potent message is wrapped up in a film that is ridiculously entertaining, as Mr. Tarantino takes his sweet, sweet time allowing us to get to know this collection of scumbags and scoundrels while the tension builds and builds and builds.  I loved every minute of it.  (Click here for my original review.)

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2. The Martian Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, an astronaut presumed dead and left behind when his crew-mates abandon their mission to Mars after an accident.  Stranded all alone on an alien planet, Watney must use every iota of his scientific smarts and his good humor to stay alive for the years it will take for a rescue mission to reach him.  With The Martian, Ridley Scott finally hits another home-run, showing us what a masterful director he can be when working off a great script.  And whoo boy, is Drew Goddard’s script great — it’s a remarkably faithful adaptation of Andy Weir’s terrific novel.  The film is a wonderfully entertaining sci-fi adventure, one that emphasizes the importance of science and intelligence.  Like so many of the other films on this year’s list, The Martian is a fiercely entertaining film with an important message at its core.  What an extraordinary delight it is to watch a movie that champions science and intelligence and everything that human beings are capable of accomplishing.  This is an important movie in a culture that too often looks down on people of intelligence and learning.  Matt Damon is perfect as the main character, an “everyman” who is, at the same time, the best example of what a human being can be.  Supporting Mr. Damon is a phenomenally rich ensemble that gifts us with amazing work from: Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Donald Glover, and many more.  The film looks beautiful, its sci-fi story brought to gorgeous life by spectacular special effects.  Ridley Scott is a master at utilizing the most cutting-edge special-effects possible in pursuit of imagery that is both realistic and beautiful, and that skill is on display in every frame of this film.  Fun, funny, intense, gripping, and with an important message, The Martian came very close to being my number one choice for the year.  (Click here for my original review.)  But, instead, that honor goes to:

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1. Mad Max: Fury Road To say this movie blew my socks off is an enormous understatement.  There were a lot of movies that I was hugely anticipating in 2015, and while I was intrigued that George Miller was making another Mad Max movie, twenty years after the last one, Fury Road was nowhere near the top of my must-see list.  And so I was completely unprepared for what George Miller and his incredible team of madmen-and-women had created.  2015 gave us quite a number of franchise sequels that came many years (even decades) after the previous installment, and yet none of them came close to matching the incredible Fury Road.  Fury Road is a triumph, a guts-gripping thrill-ride filled to overflowing with extraordinary visual inventiveness, absolutely bonkers insane action, wonderfully compelling characters with rich emotional arcs, humor and horror and fun all wrapped up together in a breathtaking cinematic package.  I cannot believe that this film — one of the most ferociously energetic films I have seen in ages — was directed by a man, George Miller, who was seventy years old!!  Every frame of the film is filled with extraordinary imagery, brought to life in incredible detail by the astoundingly talented crafts-people who worked on this film.  Fury Road is also a remarkable achievement in perfect pacing.  The entire movie is basically one long chase sequence, and Mr. Miller is able to play the film like a beautiful instrument, knowing exactly how to build and release tension to keep the audience hooked tightly into the story being told without ever getting numbed or bored or overwhelmed.  But don’t mistake Fury Road for just an empty action movie.  No, this film is filled with rich characters and extraordinary world-building.  Fury Road is a case study in how to develop character through action.  The closest example I can think of would be Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Somehow, in the midst of the film’s nearly non-stop action, Mr. Miller was able to bring to life a group of rich, complex characters in whom the audience invests deeply.  There are so many great characters in the film, so many great performances, but is not Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa one of the most wonderful, complex, instantly iconic characters seen on screen in years?  The movie might be called Mad Max, and Tom Hardy does a great job filling Mel Gibson’s shoes, but the film belongs to Charlize Theron and Furiosa.  What an incredible surprise that in the middle of this very male, car-centric action movie is a story that is focused on strong female characters!  Fury Road is a sequel, but it stands totally on its own.  (In fact, because of George Miller’s playfully loose approach to continuity, it’s not even clear that this film’s story acknowledges the events of the previous three films!)  Fury Road grabbed me by the guts right from the wonderfully clever opening title cards (accompanied by the sound of a revving car engine).  By the time the end credits rolled, I was in love.  I still can’t quite believe that this movie exists.  This was by far the most remarkable film that I saw in a movie theatre this year, and it’s one I know I’ll be rewatching a LOT in the years to come.  (Click here for my original review.)

I hope you’ve all enjoyed this list!  I’ll be back next week with my Top Fifteen Episodes of TV in 2015 and my Top Fifteen Comic Book Series of 2015.  I’ll see you then!

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