Angie Han's Top 10 Movies Of 2015

It doesn't matter how many resolutions I make: the next New Year always arrives before I'm ready to close the book on the previous year's movies. There are too many movies I still haven't seen (maybe next year, Paddington), or movies that probably deserve a rewatch (sorry, Carol), or movies I'm still not quite sure how to process (yeah, I'm still mulling over The Hateful Eight). But we've gotta wrap up 2015 sometime, and the first week of 2016 seems as good a point as any to stop and look back.

As always, I'd like to stress that these are not the "best" films of the year. They're simply my favorites — the films that made me just a little bit happier, a little bit smarter, a little bit better at being a person in this weird wide world. After the jump, join me in counting down my top 10 movies of 2015. 

Honorable Mentions

In no particular order...

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

No movie this year came with as much pressure to deliver as Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That it actually lived up to the hype is a minor miracle. Sure, we can quibble over some of the details, but it's great where it counts. I'd follow Rey, Finn, and Poe anywhere in the galaxy.

eddie-redmayne-jupiter-ascending-1

Jupiter Ascending

If 2015 was the year of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jupiter Ascending felt like its weirdo cousin — the one who drinks too much, laughs too loudly, and has a tendency to go off on odd tangents, but emerges as the most fascinating person at the party anyway.

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Magic Mike XXL

Many of the year's best films aimed for profundity, or emotionality, or originality. Magic Mike XXL just wanted to have a good time, and to show the audience a good time, too. It's a puff pastry of a movie: no substance, just sweet pleasure. Nothing wrong with that.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

Rather than mythologize a man who hardly needs further mythologizing, Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin go in the complete opposite direction, laying bare the bleeding, beating heart behind Apple's clean white curves.

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Creed

Rocky Balboa is on his last legs, both as a character and as a franchise, so Creed refreshes his legacy for the modern age. Michael B. Jordan establishes himself as a bonafide movie star, and Sylvester Stallone reminds us that there's still greatness in him.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl trailer

Films I Never Got Around to Watching, and Feel Really Bad About

Son of Saul

45 Years

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

Phoenix

10. Cinderella

Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella doesn't try to reinvent its source material. Instead, it makes the centuries-old fairy tale feel vital again by going back to all the reasons it's stuck around so long in the first place. Branagh emphasizes its timeless moral — "have courage and be kind" — by framing Cinderella's goodness as a choice, not an innate quality, and doubles down on the fantasy by serving up sumptuous textures, vivid colors, and a genuinely lovable prince (played by the former King in the North, Richard Madden). Cinderella feels simultaneously old and new, which is to say, timeless.

The Martian review

9. The Martian

After some recent stumbles, Ridley Scott returned to form with this surprisingly upbeat survival drama. (Not comedy, no matter what the HFPA says or how many disco tunes are on the soundtrack.) The Martian is as terrifying as it needs to be, but it's really more interested in boosting your spirits than depressing them. The story of a single astronaut (Matt Damon at his most endearingly Matt Damon-y) stranded hundreds of miles from home becomes a paean to the resilience of the human spirit, and a pep rally for the importance of science.

Jessica Chastain Crimson Peak

8. Crimson Peak

Okay, so Crimson Peak wasn't exactly the haunted house horror movie we were promised. You know what it was, though? Guillermo del Toro's take on a Brontë-style Gothic romance, complete with a crumbling mansion, a dwindling fortune, a mysterious suitor, a scandalous family secret, and the best portrait of monstrous femininity this side of Gone Girl's Amy Dunne. The chameleonic Jessica Chastain disappears into her most extravagant role yet, methodically breaking down Lucille's brittle exterior to unearth the demons within.

Anomalisa

7. Anomalisa

In contrast to the grand scale and meandering trajectory of his last film, Synecdoche, New YorkAnomalisa is straightforward and small — literally small, even, since Charlie Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson have opted to use puppets. But it's unmistakably a Kaufman film. It literalizes what we have trouble articulating, and metaphorizes what we've stopped noticing. Anomalisa isn't a cheery movie by any means, but its bleak outlook paradoxically make this cold world feel a little bit warmer. After all, it means you're not the only one hurting.

Slow West

6. Slow West

Some movies romanticize the Wild West as a mythical land of possibility, where heroes duke it out with villains. Others zero in on the unrelenting brutality of the environment, and the steeliness of the people who live there. Slow West unfolds at the crossroads, following a young man (Kodi Smit-McPhee) whose idealized visions — of love, of courage, of the New World — are continually punctured by unwelcome truths. It'd be bleak if it weren't so funny, and goofy if it weren't so insistently grounded.

Ex Machina

5. Ex Machina

After writing scripts for Danny Boyle and Mark Romanek, Alex Garland finally made the transition to directing, and knocked it out of the park in his first try. Ex Machina is as sharp and slippery as its three central subjects, who are played to perfection by the biggest rising stars of 2015: Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson and The Danish Girl's Alicia Vikander. It starts out as a fairy tale for the digital age, evolves into a cautionary tale for the artificial intelligence age, and then finally reveals itself as an origin myth for the future.

What We Do in the Shadows

4. What We Do in the Shadows

The specific details might vary from era to era, but what vampires basically all have in common are a dark allure. They're creatures of the night, cloaked in shadows and fueled by fear and desire. But what's left when you take away that mystique? What happens when you get up close and personal – really up close and personal, not just sexytimes up close and personal — with these bloodsuckers? Well, for starters, you might wind up in an airborne hiss-off over whose turn it is to wash the blood off the dishes. Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement do for vampires what This Is Spinal Tap or Clement's own Flight of the Conchords did for rock stars, puncturing their aura of glamour to get to the hilariously mundane "reality" underneath.

spotlight

3. Spotlight

There are heroes in Spotlight and there are villains, but the vast majority of the people in this movie aren't quite either, and that's the best thing about it. Spotlight digs past the shock of the Catholic child abuse scandal to break down how it happened. Director Tom McCarthy paints a picture of the bystanders who, unwilling or unable to notice the unpleasantness within their community, allow a vile disease to fester – and the bystanders who were finally forced, kicking and screaming in some cases, to wake up and do something about it. Spotlight may be a movie about the Church, but it's not a story about God. It's a story about human nature, in all its imperfection.

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn

2. Brooklyn

Brooklyn snuck up on me this year. Like its protagonist, it's deceptively simple and unassuming; also like its protagonist, it turns out to have a warmth and an intelligence that are hard to shake. Eilis' immigrant tale feels all the more universal for being so specific, all the more significant for being so ordinary, and all the more romantic for being so steadfastly clear-eyed. The lead role makes better use of Saorise Ronan's innate grit and sly wit than perhaps anything else we've seen her in — and she's had some pretty great roles, including AtonementHanna, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. But the bigger surprise might be Emory Cohen as Tony, a Marlon Brando type who disarms Eilis, and us, with his puppy-dog vulnerability.

Mad Max Fury Road - Coma the Doof Warrior

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

I'm almost tired of talking about how dazzled I was by Mad Max: Fury Road, but here goes: In a year that delivered genetically enhanced dinosaurs, an A-list star dangling off a moving airplane, and our first trip to a galaxy far, far away in a decade, Mad Max: Fury Road was still the most thrilling experience at the movies this year. Nothing about this movie played it safe. Nothing about this movie should have worked. But George Miller used every cinematic tool at his disposal to deliver an experience that no other medium could, in a way no other artist could. The death-defying action, pulse-pounding score, and larger-than-life performances combine into a shot of pure adrenaline. But its visceral charms are just the beginning. Mad Max: Fury Road kept me in its thrall long after the buzz had worn off, thanks to its richly developed world and characters and sharp social commentary.