A Look at the Movies of 2015

December 18, 2015

I love going to the movies. The big screen, the buttery popcorn, the annoying guy sitting behind me on his cell phone. The problem is finding the time to actually go to the theater. I wait with great anticipation for movies like Steve Jobs to open, only to look back three weeks after it opens and say to myself, “How did I miss that?” I like to think I see more movies than the average middle-aged guy, but I’ve only seen a handful of those released in 2015.

I’m not saying these are the best movies of the year, but I do believe they’re ones that are worth your time. If they show up on Netflix, add them to your queue. Of course, the movie studios save their best stuff for the end of the year, so we still have much to look forward to during the holiday season.

What follows is a list of the best films I’ve seen this year. It covers a pretty broad variety of genres.

Ex Machina
A disturbing sci-fi movie that asks questions about our relationship with machines. The storyline challenges everything you’ve seen on the big screen regarding artificial intelligence. You may have seen sci-fi movies that have artificial intelligence as their focus, but I doubt you’ve seen one quite like this. It will keep you guessing throughout.

Well, this was actually released at the end of 2014, but it didn’t get widely released until 2015 so I’m including it as one to see. This Martin Luther King drama has themes about racial inequality that are depressingly still relevant. Even without the real life events around it, Selma was seriously engaging.

McFarland USA
This one was a really pleasant surprise. An inspirational true story about a cross-country team seems like a stretch as a premise for a movie, but it hits all the right notes. If you’re looking for a feel-good drama to rent, check this one out. I must admit I tend to like Kevin Costner in almost anything, even though he’s a little wooden as an actor. Sure, it’s got some of the formulaic sports movie cliches, but trust me on this one – you’ll like it.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to have a thrilling time at the movies. This blockbuster lived up to the theme song and it’s one of the few franchises that has managed to keep its smart action swagger. I’m pretty confident this movie was the best of the summer action films.

Inside Out
I am a self-proclaimed Pixar junkie, and once again they didn’t disappoint. It’s a movie that takes place inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl and depicts her emotions as characters. It turns out that the relationship between joy and sadness is at the heart of things. The ability of the folks at Pixar to tell a story in such an amazingly creative way makes me scratch my head and say, “How’d they do that?” Another Pixar wonder that can be enjoyed by young and old alike.

Love & Mercy
This movie tells the story of two distinct and very different portions in the life of Beach Boys legend, Brian Wilson. First as the 1960s leader of the Beach Boys, Wilson struggles with emerging psychosis as he attempts to create his avant-garde pop masterpiece. The second piece is the 1980s Wilson, a broken, confused man under the 24-hour watch of shady therapist Dr. Eugene Landy. It’s a fascinating look into the life of a true musical genius and one of the year’s best films of redemption. Wilson’s 1960s life is played by actor Paul Dano, and his troubled 1980s life is played by John Cusack. A masterful job of film editing makes it compelling to watch unfold.

Bridge of Spies
Steven Spielberg has effortlessly transported us to so many eras in history throughout his career. This time it’s the Cold War; an American lawyer is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet-captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers. An amazing story scripted by two of my favorites, brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, keeps things interesting while the meticulous attention to the period gets everything just right. Tom Hanks adds to his list of roles as our modern-day Jimmy Stewart and it all adds up to the best reasons to go to the movies.

Yes, this is the seventh in the storied Rocky franchise but it just might be the best one since the 1976 original Rocky. If you’re a fan of Rocky, you’re in for a treat. Skillful direction by Ryan Coogler combined with a script that doesn’t always go in a predictable direction elevate Creed above the ordinary. And yes, Sylvester Stallone is terrific.

I look back on 2015 and see all the movies that slipped past me. Movies I really wanted to see, but I just didn’t find the time for. Jurassic World, Mad Max: Fury Road, Spectre… the list goes on and on. But as I write this the holiday movie trailers lure me in and I’m hopeful for another film I’ll fall in love with. Will the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens live up to the hype? Will the new Tarentino western be as good as Django? And in the meantime, I will wait expectantly until June to see Pixar’s Finding Nemo sequel, Finding Dory.

About the Author
  • John E. Vander Stelt is an artist whose studio is in the small town of Maurice, Iowa. He is also the Creative Director for Pizza Ranch restaurants. Follow his work at http://johnvanderstelt.blogspot.com/

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