LaFlow Reviews’ 20 Best (& 5 Worst) Films of 2015


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There were many great films to come out this year and while not all the major films have been viewed for consideration yet (The Big Short and The Revenant in particular), there is still a solid basis here to select the 20 best films of the year.

First off though, without much explanation needed as this post is more worried about the good of the year, the five worst films of 2015 were:

5. Jurassic World

4. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

3. Jupiter Ascending

2. Avengers: Age of Ultron

1. Hot Tub Time Machine 2

 

Now for the actual films that deserve some recognition, the best 20 films of the year are:

20.  The Martian

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Director: Ridley Scott     Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels

The latest from director Ridley Scott is one of the director’s best in a while with a great leading performance from Matt Damon.  It’s a simple space film that wouldn’t have worked as well without Damon’s strong performance.  The supporting cast as well does a great job and might be a little underused just because of how much of the story is a one-man journey.  As shown with Prometheus as well, Scott continues to effectively use 3D and remains one of the better directors with the technology.  The Oscar recognition it has earned is also well deserved.

19. Sleeping with Other People

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Director: Leslye Headland     Starring: Jason Sudekis, Alison Brie, Adam Scott

Alison Brie and Jason Sudekis share a natural comedic chemistry in their latest comedy, one of the best comedies of the year.  The film begins as Brie and Sudekis have a one night stand in college and nearly a decade later run into each other and begin to become friends as they, as the title says, sleep with other people.  Sudekis continues to meet random women as Brie is involved with her former college TA Matthew (played hilariously by Adam Scott) who is currently married.  This comedy definitely has plenty of laughs to fill its condensed run time and brings out some of the best from its popular cast which also includes Jason Mantzoukas and Amanda Peet.

18. Kingsman: The Secret Service

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Director: Matthew Vaughn     Starring: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson

An early surprise to start the year off, Kingsman is the action film that doesn’t hold back its craziness and let’s you just enjoy the ride without feeling like the film is overdoing the antics.  Colin Firth breaks the usual persona he has on screen and has fun with the antics while Taron Egerton does a great job in his first blockbuster role.  If anything, this film shows that director Matthew Vaughn is one of the few directors who can consistently put out a very entertaining blockbuster and continues to show promise as his career continues.

17. Ex Machina

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Director: Alex Garland     Starring: Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson

The film that began to expose American audiences to Alicia Vikander would jump start her major year in the States.  Vikander’s performance as the A.I. Ava is mighty impressive as she maintains the character’s mystery all the way until the end with ease.  Despite Vikander’s strengths here, the male performers beside her are just as strong.  Oscar Isaac continued to show here he is becoming one of Hollywood’s best actors in the business while Domhnall Gleeson’s easily manipulated character performance shows he too is still showing lots of promise in the industry.  A very intellectual sci-fi film, Ex Machina easily finds its way into the Top 20 this year and is a great starting vehicle for Alex Garland as director.

16. Testament of Youth

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Director: James Kent     Starring: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harrington, Taron Egerton

Vikander continued to have a successful 2015 with her portrayal of Vera Brittain, the voluntary nurse during World War I whose memoir of the same name as the film would become a bestseller.  Vikander gives a natural performance as Brittain sees all the perils of the war, particularly as it directly affects her in more than just one way personally.  The supporting cast is also great as the story goes through many of its tragic scenarios.  The film is one of the more beautiful to look at from a cinematography and art direction perspective (though the best film for that this year may be Macbeth which just missed the list).

15. The Walk

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Director: Robert Zemeckis     Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Kingsley

Though the film seems to only be getting most of its praise from the last act (which is mighty impressive visually and in performance), the latest from Robert Zemeckis does a great job through its entire run time.  Zemeckis definitely takes a bit of a breather to have some fun with this film after the major drama in his previous film Flight.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a lot of fun as high-wire artist Philippe Petit in 1970s America.  Though the actor’s accent takes a minute to get used to, he masters the oddity and free-spirit of Petit quite well.  The film is a fun heist film for the first two thirds with the final third showing the famous walk which is definitely one of the top visual treats of 2015.  This film is also a great introduction for American audiences to Charlotte Le Bon who works great off of Gordon-Levitt.  In terms of his recent productions, The Walk is one of Zemeckis’ best in a while.

14. Paddington

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Director: Paul King     Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters

The popular British children’s character made his way over to America this year in this delightful family film.  This film definitely does a lot of the light-hearted nonsense a lot of family films try to pull, but its the heart of the film and playing with those tropes in a new way that makes the film an easily accessible one to all ages.  Ben Whishaw does a delightful job as the voice of the orphaned talking bear while the supporting cast on hand all have fun with the script provided.  Not often do live-action family films really achieve what they set out for but Paddington is the exception and it will be great if the proposed sequel goes through and the bear can shine again.

13. The DUFF

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Director: Ari Sandel     Starring: Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne

The DUFF is really better than it should be.  The latest high school based comedy really shines because of the hilarious performances from its two leads, Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell.  Though way past the age to play high school students, then again these films always face this problem, the two elevate the film to make the at times cliched humor work.  For a genre that’s been churning out the same product for years its nice to see The DUFF actually be a bit different and actually funny at the same time.

12. Brooklyn

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Director: John Crowley     Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson

Rightfully getting an Oscar nomination for her performance, Saoirse Ronan gives her best performance so far in one of the nominees this year for Best Picture.  Ronan’s performance as her character transitions to America while still remaining unsure where to call home is a natural one.  Though the film is a little bit predictable in where it is going particularly after Ronan’s character returns home to Ireland, it is still a very strong script from Nick Hornby.  The supporting cast is also very good here particularly Emory Cohen and Jim Broadbent.

11. Far from the Madding Crowd

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Director: Thomas Vinterberg     Starring: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen

Carey Mulligan continues to show she is one of the best actresses in Hollywood today in her lead performance based off the popular novel by Thomas Hardy.  Mulligan perfectly falls into the character of Bathsheba Everdene who, after coming into quite some wealth, becomes the interest of three different suitors.  All three actors who portray said suitors do a great job also with Matthias Schnoenaerts pulling off the best performance out of the three as he continues to grow his presence stateside (he is also fantastic in The Danish Girl which just misses the list).  Mulligan seems to be taking over the role Keira Knightley once held in terms of taking on Hollywood’s period pieces (which Knightley did a fine job at) which she should have no problem mastering.  This telling of the story is also another top one for the year in terms of production design and cinematography.

10. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

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Director: Christopher McQuarrie     Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner

The Mission: Impossible series returned to audiences this summer in perhaps the best entry so far in the franchise, inching just ahead of the third and fourth entries respectively.  Tom Cruise continues to not let down his guard in the role of Ethan Hunt and the usual entertainment he provides to the series goes up even higher this time around.  The true star of the film though is Rebecca Ferguson who does a phenomenal job in her first big blockbuster performance.  The mystery to her character along with the amount of action she brings to the able makes her performance one of the better female performances of the year.  It will not only be interesting to see where her career goes next but also what she’ll bring to the next entry in this still very popular franchise.

9. Inside Out

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Director: Pete Docter     Starring (the voices of): Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Phyllis Smith

Pixar returns with one of its best with the very entertaining Inside Out.  The voice cast, led by Amy Poehler, perfectly fits into the nature of their character with Lewis Black probably being the best as Anger.  Pixar continues to maintain simplicity in its storytelling while tackling its subject in a way both children and adults can relate to.  The film definitely takes some powerful turns, which could cause a tear or two to shed, and shows just how much of a grip Pixar still has on its audience 20 years later.

8. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

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Director: Guy Ritchie     Starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander

It’s a shame The Man from U.N.C.L.E. didn’t break out at the box office because it’s the start to what could have been a really entertaining action franchise.  Henry Cavill proves he can lead a film just fine outside of the DC Comics Universe and gets to show his perfect comedic timing as well with this performance.  Cavill and Armie Hammer work great off each other and Alicia Vikander fits in just as well with the two leading men.  The score by Daniel Pemberton is easily one of the best of the year and contributes to the immense fun the film provides.

7. Irrational Man

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Director: Woody Allen     Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey

The latest from director Woody Allen, his 45th feature, is one of his best recent films.  Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone share great chemistry in the film that sees Phoenix’s alcoholic crazed philosophy professor character feel a rush after (nearly) pulling off the perfect murder.  He keeps this secret with him as he dates one of his students (Stone).  Sure the story shares some similarities with Allen’s previous films (though they were bound to at some point with so many films behind him), but the script and the performances together make this a very funny and intriguing murder mystery love story.  Stone in particular shows how she is one of the few actresses today who can work naturally in a Woody Allen film.  She does a better job here than her previous solid performance in Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight.

6. Dope

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Director: Rick Famuyiwa     Starring: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons

One of the funniest films of the year features a cast of relative unknown actors but after the film’s success hopefully we will be seeing much more of them.  Shameik Moore gives a great leading performance as a high-achieving high school student whose backpack gets filled with quite a lot of dope which him and his best friends find a way to profit off of with their own smarts.  The film never holds back on its humor firing on all cylinders pretty much consistently throughout the run time.  Rapper A$AP Rocky also gives a surprisingly strong supporting performance which is becoming a bit more rare for musicians trying their hand at acting.  Hopefully more smaller productions such as these find their way to screens over the next few years.

5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Director: J.J. Abrams     Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford

Star Wars returned in great fashion this holiday season with an entry in the franchise that is sure to maintain the momentum the series once had for years to come.  With so much of the plot being kept under wraps, it was a delight to go into a film not knowing too much of what was to come and quickly dive into the joy of finding out where this series is going next.  Everyone new to the franchise is great but Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are definitely Hollywood stars in the making with these performances.  Visually, storywise, acting wise, or the direction from Abrams himself, The Force Awakens truly delivered as it promised.

4. Spotlight

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Director: Tom McCarthy     Starring: Michael Keaton, Marh Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams

It’s hard to pinpoint someone truly outshining the other in Spotlight because the ensemble is just that strong in this Best Picture nominee based off the Boston Globe breaking the Boston Catholic church scandal in the early 2000s.  The performances here while all great are as such even though there aren’t many major dramatic moments to showcase a wide range of acting skills.  The actors merely perform what the script asks of them naturally and do a very good job.  Though the story of the breaking discovery is now well known, the film still pulls its punches with how dramatic the events were as all the pieces came together.  Currently the film is pegged to still be a strong contender to win the big prize come Oscar night and it will be a well deserving winner if it does.

3. Room

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Director: Lenny Abrahamson     Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen

Brie Larson has had her own share of praise before especially with solid performances in films such as Short Term 12.  Room though got her the awards recognition she has deserved and what a performance for her to get recognized for.  Larson is fantastic in her role as a woman held captive for more than five years and raising a child on her own in a small shed during that time.  It’s a role that asks the most of its actor and honestly its hard to think of many others besides Larson being able to pull it off.  Despite how strong she is here, the true star of the film is Jacob Tremblay as Jack.  Usually child performances that are considered great get a little overblown but Tremblay’s performance deserves all the praise it has gotten.  It will be great to see where his career goes from here though it is quite saddening he didn’t get nominated for his performance here.

2. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

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Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon     Starring: Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke

Considered a Sundance favorite, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a comedy with a lot of heart and a lot of great performances.  After giving one of the least favorite performances a few years back in Project X, Thomas Mann gives a fine lead performance here as the outcast high school student who begins developing a friendship with a girl who was recently diagnosed with cancer.  Olivia Cooke truly shines here giving one of the best female performances of the year as said “Dying Girl”.  After pulling off alright performances in a slew of horror-related productions it is nice to see Cooke pull in a performance like this one.  She definitely has plenty of productions lined up including leading Steven Spielberg’s next, Ready Player One.  RJ Cyler is also naturally funny as the final part of the film’s trio.  The film has a lot of fun with its film perspective as well as its take on high school life.  In the end though the film is all that comedy mixed with a lot of heart and as such deserves its spot as the second best film of 2015.

1. It Follows

 

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Director: David Robert Mitchell     Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Lili Sepe

Good horror films that don’t fall under the usual cliches of the genre are harder to find but there usually is at least one good horror film every year (recent examples being 2012 with The Cabin in the Woods and 2014 with Oculus).  It Follows is in its own league not only being one of the best horror films in a long time but being good enough to be the best of 2015.  The film doesn’t rely on easy scares to define its haunting plot but uses suspense and curiosity to drive it all.  When a horror film can master this element, it definitely has the promise of being something special for the genre.  As such, the film goes by with such a breeze but never loses its entertainment value.  The timelessness of the film, as shown through certain set pieces, allows the film to fit in any modern period.  The score as well also brings back memories of horror films from the past and helps elevate the film’s drive.  Maika Monroes is a great horror lead who didn’t need to fall under the “scream queen” persona in order to give a great performance.  Director David Robert Mitchell has brought something truly unique to the horror genre here and it will be great to see what he brings next.

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