The Best and Worst Movies of 2015


Another year has sped past us at the alarming rate of one day per day, 365 of them in a row, without cessation. Then, without warning, it stopped being one year and started being a different year. What do we do now? We look back on the movies we saw in the old year, that’s what.


1. “Mad Max: Fury Road”topten
It was a good year for the reinvigoration of ancient franchises, with strong showings in the “Star Wars” and “Rocky” categories. But no sequel, reboot, or reimagining was as energetic,entertaining, or flat-out bonkers as “Mad Max: Fury Road,” an action masterpiece with surprising layers to it. George Miller, who busied himself with children’s stories like “Babe” and “Happy Feet” in recent years, returned with fresh eyes to the post-apocalyptic mayhem that made him famous, and he brought a singular new heroine with him: Charlize Theron’s one-armed Imperator Furiosa. Long may she reign!


2. “Brooklyn”
This has emerged as my all-purpose recommendation, a film so charming and sweet that I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying it. (Well, that’s not totally true. A colleague known for his contrarian ways and general orneriness emerged from the screening muttering, “That was excruciating.” But nobody ever agrees with him.) With an endearing lead performance by Saoirse Ronan, “Brooklyn” is proof that a simple story with little drama and no flashiness can be every bit as engaging as an action spectacle.


3. “Spotlight”
Even allowing for a journalist’s tendency to like journalism movies, this procedural about the Boston Globe’s uncovering of the Catholic Church’s pedophile priest scandal is a cracking good drama. The ensemble cast works as a team — no weak links or showboaters — and each character has a job to do. Will they get the story right? Will they get it out in time? We already know the answers to those questions, but the film keeps us spellbound anyway.


4. “It Follows”
My favorite horror movie of the year has a fresh, original concept (a sort of supernatural STD), a killer soundtrack, and an unnerving sense of atmosphere. Scary movies don’t get much smarter or dread-inducing than this. Plus, I’m one of five critics to be featured on the DVD commentary, which means I’m practically obligated to put it on my top 10 list.


5. “What We Do in the Shadows”
This mockumentary about vampires sharing an apartment, “Real World”-style, premiered at Sundance in January 2014 — almost two years ago — and I’ve been waiting to put it on a top 10 list ever since. Inventive, clever, packed with jokes but never “jokey,” it’s easily the best comedy of 2015, and probably would have been the best comedy of 2014 if it had made it to theaters then. It gives new life to both vampire movies and fake documentaries.


6. “Carol”
Todd Haynes’ “Far from Heaven” was No. 2 on my 2002 list (behind “The Hours”), and it’s nice to see him return with another melodrama set in the 1950s, once again dealing with secret homosexuality (which I guess was the only kind back then). Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett give full-bodied performances, letting us see the world through the eyes of two very different women.


7. “Creed”
If you’d told me at the beginning of the year that a franchise’s seventh chapter was going to make my top 10 list, I’d have assumed it would be “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” not this continuation of the Rocky Balboa saga focused on the son of his old rival-turned-friend. But here we are, with Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone both doing great work in the best “Rocky” movie since the original. Consider the torch successfully passed.


8. “The Martian”
After a string of so-so efforts, Ridley Scott returned to our good graces with this upbeat, fleet-footed adaptation of the bestselling novel about an American astronaut stranded on Mars. Scott recruited Matt Damon to play the unlucky fellow, ensuring that the movie would be optimistic and funny, never wallowing in the poor guy’s desperate situation but instead focusing on how to fix it. Resourcefulness, positivity, logical problem-solving — these are attributes we admire, on Earth and on Mars, in movies and in real life.


9. “Anomalisa”
Charlie Kaufman, the brilliantly weird writer behind “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” returns to bend our brains with this melancholic story — told through life-like puppets and stop-motion animation — of a depressed businessman who meets his potential soulmate in a Cincinnati hotel. The painstaking nature of this type of filmmaking is noteworthy, but Kaufman’s soulful script would be just as effective as a radio play, capturing the emotions of a damaged, relatable middle-aged man.


10. “Chi-Raq”
Spike Lee has struggled for years to match the explosive anger and artistic excellence he showed in “Do the Right Thing,” often getting one or the other but not both. “Chi-Raq” hits the mark, a scathing satire (told mostly in rhyme!) that applies the “women try to end war by withholding sex” plot of “Lysistrata” to modern-day Chicago’s gang violence. It’s poetic, incendiary, occasionally overblown, and quite unforgettable.

Some More Movies That Are Really Good and You Should Watch Them

“45 Years”
“99 Homes”
“The Big Short”
“Bridge of Spies”
“Cop Car”
“Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon”
“The Duke of Burgundy”
“Goodnight Mommy”
“The Hateful Eight”
“Inside Out”
“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”
“Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation”
“Once I Was a Beehive”
“Son of Saul”
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
“Steve Jobs”
“The Voices”

Some Movies I Didn’t See That Are on Other Top 10 Lists, So Maybe They’d Be on Mine If I Had Seen Them, Who Knows?

“About Elly”
“Call Me Lucky”
“Clouds of Sils Maria”
“End of the Tour”
“The Look of Silence”
“Love & Mercy”



As I have the last few years, I skipped many of 2015’s likely contenders, so this list is not exhaustive. But here’s what I saw and hated, listed approximately in order of how much I hated them, starting with the most hated.

“Fifty Shades of Grey”
“Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2”
“The Gallows”
“Hot Pursuit”
“Seventh Son”
“Knock Knock”
“The Last Witch Hunter”



It’s late December. You know where to go if you want one of those “best movies of 2015” lists. (Anywhere. You can find them anywhere.) But what about the cold, fact facts — the data, the statistics, and the trends? Here is the random but essential trivia for the movies of 2015.

Total wide releases:


Sequels, prequels, and spin-offs:






Based on TV shows:


Featuring Liam Neeson:


Longest wide release:

“The Hateful Eight,” 182 minutes

Shortest wide release:

“Grandma,” 79 minutes

Longest wide release title:

(tie) “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water”; “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension”

Shortest wide release title:

(tie) “Pan,” “Max,” “Spy,” “Joy”

Movies in which a character played by Jennifer Jason Leigh is asked to sing a song by a man who hurts her:

“Anomalisa,” “The Hateful Eight”

Movies in which a room is divided geographically to prevent its occupants from fighting:

“Joy,” “The Hateful Eight”

Movies named after women (specific):

“Cinderella,” “Ricki and the Flash,” “Amy,” “He Named Me Malala,” “Jem and the Holograms,” “Iris,” “Carol,” “Kumiko the Treasure Hunter,” “Effie Gray,” “Gemma Bovery,” “Madame Bovary,” “Maggie,” “Serena,” “Lila & Eve,” “Eva,” “The Age of Adaline,” “Joy”

Movies named after women (non-specific):

“Grandma,” “Suffragette,” “Sisters,” “Mistress America,” “Woman in Gold,” “The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death,” “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” “The Second Mother”

Movies named after men (specific):

“Ted 2,” “Creed,” “Paddington,” “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2,” “Magic Mike XXL,” “Max,” “Pan,” “Steve Jobs,” “Mr. Holmes,” “Mortdecai,” “Victor Frankenstein,” “Z for Zachariah,” “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” “James White,” “Saving Mr. Wu,” “Mr. X,” “Trumbo,” “Danny Collins,” “Macbeth,” “David and Goliath”

Movies named after men (non-specific):

“The Perfect Guy,” “The Boy Next Door,” “Seventh Son,” “The Gunman,” “Man from Reno,” “Irrational Man,” “Deli Man”

Movies named after both, depending on which part of the movie you’re talking about:

“The Danish Girl”

Movies about abstract nouns:

“Joy,” “Youth,” “Truth,” “Love,” “Love & Mercy,” “Ardor,” “Home,” “Vacation,” “Focus,” “Spring”

Movies that could have swapped titles with one another:

“Run All Night,” “Hot Pursuit,” “No Escape,” “It Follows”

Movies that could have swapped titles with one another, part 2:

“Sinister 2,” “Insidious: Chapter 3”

Movies that could have swapped titles with one another, part 3:

“Hitman: Agent 47,” “The Assassin,” “Assassination,” “The Gunman,” “Sicario” (Spanish for “hitman”)

Movies about trainwrecks named Amy:

“Trainwreck,” “Amy”

Angry movies:

“Furious 7,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Hateful Eight”

Movies that teach you to count:

“Fantastic Four,” “5 Flights Up,” “Seventh Son,” “The Hateful Eight,” “The 33,” “Child 44,” “45 Years,” “Hitman: Agent 47,” “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “’71,” “99 Homes”

Dark movies:

“Black Mass,” “The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death,” “Black or White,” “Blackhat,” “Black Sea”

Nighttime movies:

“Run All Night,” “The Night Before,” “The Overnight,” “Goodnight Mommy,” “I’ll See You in My Dreams”

Maritime movies:

“Black Sea,” “By the Sea,” “In the Heart of the Sea”

American movies:

“American Ultra,” “Mistress America,” “My All-American”

Movies that begin with a married couple’s sexytimes being interrupted by their child:

“The Overnight,” “Knock Knock”

Movies in which a dog dies:

“The Lazarus Effect,” “Far from the Madding Crowd,” “The Age of Adaline,” “Pod,” “Chappie,” “Crimson Peak,” “The Gunman”

R-rated comedies with brief cameos by singers playing themselves:

“Get Hard” (John Mayer), “Spy” (50 Cent), “The Night Before” (Miley Cyrus)

R-rated comedies with cameos by both Liam Neeson and Tom Brady:

“Entourage,” “Ted 2”

Movies in which a straight man’s face gets uncomfortably close to another man’s penis:

“Unfinished Business,” “Get Hard,” “The Overnight,” “The Hateful Eight”

Movies in which a character’s large penis is the subject of much attention:

“Magic Mike XXL,” “The Overnight,” “Vacation”

Movies in which a stalker-ish male suitor gifts his book-loving beloved a first-edition novel:

“The Boy Next Door,” “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “The Age of Adaline”

Movies in which Mike Birbiglia shows up for a scene early on, tricking you into thinking the movie’s going to be really funny:

“Adult Beginners,” “Hot Pursuit”

Movies in which the Golden Gate Bridge is wrecked:

“San Andreas,” “Terminator: Genisys”

Movies in which someone is said to look like Gollum:

“Ted 2,” “Trainwreck”

Movies about twins:

“Sinister 2,” “Goodnight Mommy,” “Legend”

Movies in which the only narrative reason for the leading man to be ex-military is to explain his excellent fighting and weapons-handling skills:

“Jurassic World,” “Self/Less”

Movies in which a day-long drive to New York is stretched into an overnight trip for narratively unnecessary and logistically implausible reasons:

“Ted 2,” “Paper Towns”

Movies in which men drive cars across post-apocalyptic desert wastelands and are occasionally rescued by women:

“Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials”

Movies in which humans are pestered by bears:

“A Walk in the Woods,” “Once I Was a Beehive,” “The Revenant,” “Paddington”

Movies in which humans are pestered by dinosaurs:

“Jurassic World,” “The Good Dinosaur”

Movies with Paul Giamatti as a sketchy manager of a musical act:

“Love and Mercy,” “Straight Outta Compton”

Movies with Jeff Daniels as a weaselly authority figure:

“Steve Jobs,” “The Martian”

Movies with Jennifer Lawrence as a woman with good aim and a catatonic mother:

“Joy,” “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2”

Movies in which there’s gunfire during a rap concert:

“Chi-Raq,” “Straight Outta Compton”

Movies that begin with the main female character’s face in bandages, leaving some question over whether she looks the same as she used to:

“Phoenix,” “Goodnight Mommy”

Movies about the months-long, multinational efforts to rescue people trapped somewhere isolated:

“The Martian,” “The 33”

Movies in which someone uses an old-fashioned typewriter in an unusual place:

“Trumbo” (bathtub), “Goosebumps” (Ferris wheel)

Fact-based films that end with footage of the real people they’re about:

“Straight Outta Compton,” “The 33,” “Pawn Sacrifice,” “Suffragette,” “My All-American”

Movies in which there’s an announcement that something will take place in “Hall H,” presumably as a reference to San Diego Comic-Con:

“Victor Frankenstein,” “Minions”

Movies in which someone climbs inside a dead animal:

“The Revenant” (horse), “In the Heart of the Sea” (whale)

Movies in which a man desperate to survive catches a fish with his bare hands and takes a bite out of it while it’s still alive:

“The Revenant,” “In the Heart of the Sea”

Movies in which either Skype or FaceTime plays an important role:

“The Visit,” “Unfriended,” “Unfinished Business,” “Sisters”

Movies in which someone pretends Skype/FaceTime froze in order to end the call:

“Sisters,” “Unfinished Business”

Movies with climactic rock-climbing scenes:

“Sisters,” “Point Break”

Movies (that feature Christina Applegate) in which a man’s unstylish choice of rental car is played for laughs:

“Vacation,” “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip”

Movies that are the seventh entries in their franchises:

“Furious 7,” “Creed,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Movie that sounds like it is but isn’t:

“Seventh Son”