An Aggregated Final List Of The Best Films We Saw Last Year

ZF Best Films of 2015 logo Web2015 proved to be a rip-roaring, crowd-pleasing, intellectually stimulating year for movies.

Yes, it was all of those things – albeit, not always at the same time.  But as a collective grouping of individual films, each movie crafted for its own distinct purpose and audience, it was ultimately a satisfying platter of figurative celluloid.  And hey! Sometimes the celluloid was actually real!  Among other noteworthy aspects, 2015 was also the year that film itself made a much-needed comeback, spurred by several titles on this very list.

Speaking of this list, here’s the deal.  We arrived at these results by assigning a numeric point value to each title based upon the individual rankings of each title featured on the seven year-end lists that were submitted by various ZekeFilm contributors.  The participating contributors were Erik Yates, Jim Tudor, Sharon Autenrieth, Paul Hibbard, Krystal LyonRob Gabe, and David Strugar.  Each has their individual list posted here at ZekeFilm, so by all means take the time to seek them out.  In the meantime, here’s what we collectively loved at the movies last year:


1. Ex MachinaEx Machina

Any way you run the numbers, Alex Garland’s remarkable directorial debut Ex Machina is our top film of 2015.  An especially curious topper, considering that it was no one’s individual #1 pick.  But, clearly we loved it regardless!  This intimate sci-fi/thriller/noir isn’t afraid to ask big questions about technology, how we view women, and how we treat one another.  And it does so with restrained gusto, amid some of the best production design you’ll see last year or this year.  Although it earns its R-rating with a final volley into what some may consider cinema exploitation territory, mature audiences should agree that all provocations and twists are thoroughly, thematically earned.  Plus, as our own Paul Hibbard attests, it’s got “the best dance scene ever“.  With a cast that is 2/3 Star Wars: The Force Awakens key players (Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson), and the other 1/3 being the stunning debut of Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina plugs into our top spot quite nicely.


2. Mad Max: Fury Road

Fury Road

The gushing, over the top review that I wrote for Mad Max: Fury Road took on a brief life of its own  upon the film’s release, something I’m proud of, if still a little pleasantly perplexed by.  Did I really give viewers permission to never see any more movies following a screening of this one?  Perhaps it read that way, but the intent was to say that, 70 year old filmmaker George Miller’s action masterpiece would be an ideal final film to see, an epic grand finale for anyone’s personal viewing filmography.  The reason is simple – Mad Max: Fury Road is an apocalyptic action car chase for the ages, brimming with female liberation, class warfare, and anti-despotic commentary.  It’s smart AND loud.  It’s the kind of movie you don’t just see, you feel.  And you don’t soon forget.


3. Inside Out

©2014 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

An ode to Joy…  If there are themes to be parsed out of the 2015 movie year, one such theme must be joy.  The emotions is so difficult to portray in a non cheesy way.  This year there were at least three overt references to joy in prominent films.  David O Russell’s Joy, Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, and Pixar’s Inside Out.  In all three, the lead characters are females named Joy.  These films were made completely independently of one another, yet they share this curious connection.  Of the three, only Inside Out, in all its immaculate imagination and rendering, actualizes its Joy.  Voiced by Amy Poehler, Joy is the lead character among several other emotions that reside inside the head of a typical eleven year old American girl, Riley.  Animation buffs, professional counselors and children alike (in that order) are quick to embrace this colorful quest film as one of 2015’s all-around best movies.  Inside Out has the power to leave even the most hardened filmgoers emotionally wrecked – in the best way possible.


4. The MartianMartian

Simply put, The Martian is that movie that rare piece of mass entertainment that does everything right, and nothing wrong.  Audiences love it, and so do cinephiles.  Screenwriter Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods) found a way to turn a novel that’s touted as “hard science” into one of the most approachable movies of the year.  It is realized with verve and flair by Ridley Scott, doing his best work since Black Hawk Down.  Matt Damon, witty and engaging as stranded astronaut Mark Watney, is the third effective key to this red planet triumvirate.  His attempt at survival on Mars, and NASA’s attempt to rescue him are the blissfully simple core aspects of The Martian, one of the year’s greatest cinema surprises.


5. Roomroom

ZekeFilm contributor Robert Hornak and his wife share their thoughts on the engaging thriller and character drama, Room – our number five movie of 2015!


6.(T.I.E.) Star Wars: The Force AwakensStar Wars 7

The first Star Wars film since 1983 to feature the beloved core cast members Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill in their iconic roles has been correctly considered a box office Death Star since its announcement in late 2012.  The burden has been on new Lucasfilm owners The Walt Disney Company and director JJ Abrams to craft a new Star Wars that is as great as it needs to be. And, although there are nits to be picked, The Force Awakens defies the odds, and soars into hyperspace as one of the artistically best films of 2015 – even as it was made by committee.  (“I am not a committee!!”)  The new cast and their characters, Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren, and company, are all instant saga favorites, well worth revisiting.  With a new Star Wars movie set to drop roughly one per year for the foreseeable future, the electric anticipation for this film may mark the most excited the world will ever be for a new film in the series.  Enjoy it on the biggest screen you can!


6.(tie) The RevenantRevenant

ZekeFilm contributor Krystal Lyon is a true admirer of Leonardo DiCaprio’s risk-taking filmography.  In this short video, she shares her enthusiasm for this bold project:


8. SpotlightSpotlight

Spotlight joins the pantheon of great newspaper films, telling the true story of how the Boston Globe’s special reporting unit, branded “Spotlight”, uncovered the mind-bogglingly deep and suprressed sexual abuse history of the Catholic church.  Our own Sharon Autenrieth, who’s named the film as her #1 of the year, cites it as a must-see for any clergy workers.  Director Tom McCarthy embraces a straight forward approach in his meticulous depiction of the journalistic process, circa 2001.  In this era of instantaneous internet click-bait sensationalism, the notion of a team of devoted pros taking their time to make sure the story is as fleshed out as it needs to be seems sadly unprecedented.  Much credit goes to the film’s tight cast, including Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Mark Ruffalo.


9. The Hateful Eighthateful eight

As the latest film from Quentin Tarantino (his 8th, if you’re keeping count like he is) settles into his filmography, fans of the director/writer are debating the merits of the talky first half versus the bloody violent second half.  Being that The Hateful Eight comes with a built-in intermission (part of it’s deliberately old school presentation), the division is altogether logical.  The dialogue is some of the filmmaker’s best (“Keeping you at a disadvantage is an advantage I intend to keep!”), and the violent is some of his most unforgettable.  But beyond those virtues, The Hateful Eight will be remembered for it’s pitch-perfect cast, period detail, and it’s creator’s forcing the issue of cinema’s past grandeur with its lavish 70mm production and limited distribution.  (And yes, there is a difference between experiencing this movie digitally vs. on celluloid.)


10. Love & Mercy

Love and Mercy

The story of Beach Boys’ musical innovator Brian Wilson is a delightful and refreshingly unexpected inclusion in our group Top Ten.  It’s been told on film before (a few made for TV attempts, having left a lot to be desired), but this time, producer-turned-director Bill Pohlad saw fit to shake things up by casting two different actors, Paul Dano and John Cusack, as the central character.  Dano plays Wilson in his 1960s Beach Boys heyday, and Cusack is Wilson circa the mid 1980s when his therapist, Dr. Eugene Landy, was taking terrible advantage of his client’s fame and fortune.  The very title of Love & Mercy is proof that this production was headed in the right direction from the start.  It’s great to see it catch a wave here, even as the Oscars and other film awards have surfed on passed it.  With more to say, here’s our own Oscar Jackson:

ZekeFilm’s Individual 2015 Year-End Lists:

Jim Tudor

Erik Yates

Sharon Autenrieth

Paul Hibbard

Rob Gabe

Krystal Lyon

David Strugar

And for something completely different, don’t miss Justin Mory’s A Century of Mid-Decade Favorites!”