10. The Revenant
Emmanuel Lubezki is one of the greatest cinematic artists that has ever lived. The Mexican cinematographer makes his stellar work (in which he found a way to use natural lighting from the beginning all the way to the very end of the intense shoot) look easy on The Revenant. The film is just absolutely gorgeous and with a strong revenge arc portrayed admirably by Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy it is more than able to overcome its shortcomings.
I don’t think it’s possible to reinvigorate a franchise better than Creed does with the Rocky series. Ryan Coogler’s directing is a surge of energy for the film (the one-take fight sequence is easily the best sequence in the entire franchise), and Michael B. Jordan brings a breath of fresh air to a franchise that couldn’t survive on just Sylvester Stallone for much longer. Yet Stallone delivers the best performance of his career in a film that feels like it doesn’t want to carry on the Rocky banner early on but ends up making what would be a perfect finale for one of cinema’s most iconic characters.
8. Crimson Peak
Guillermo del Toro has always been a master of world building, but he has never completely gotten characters or storylines to work within his beautiful and wonderful worlds. That is until now. Crimson Peak is a gorgeous film that has an interesting and intense mystery. It also helps when you have an interesting lead in Edith and a memorable performance from Jessica Chastain as Lady Sharpe.
7. Bridge of Spies
You may complain that this film is just Steven Spielberg directing in his comfort zone, but when you are as good as Spielberg is at what he does why not just stick with the usual shtick. Bridge of Spies is classic Spielberg in all the right ways. Visually compelling, audience friendly and a powerful cast (Hanks and Rylance do great work) are sure signs that Bridge of Spies is Spielberg firing on all cylinders.
6. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
After Ghost Protocol ended up being the best action film that I have ever seen, Rogue Nation had a lot to live up to. However, with director and writer Christopher McQuarrie finding a way to recapture the magic that made him break onto the Hollywood scene with his The Usual Suspects script, Rogue Nation did more than live up to his predecessor. This film established Mission: Impossible as one of the premiere franchises in Hollywood today. It also helps to keep the audience engaged when you have a knockout performance on display courtesy of Rebecca Ferguson.
5. Kingsman: The Secret Service
Matthew Vaughn has rather quietly become one of the greatest action directors (if not the best) of his generation, and Kingsman is just another example of this. The manic energy Vaughn puts into this film is just a joy to watch. The action scenes are jaw dropping and Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson and newcomer Taron Egerton all deliver memorable performances.
4. The Martian
Sometimes films have the ability to uplift you. The Martian certainly does that and will have you feeling that NASA is one of the greatest organizations in the history of mankind (which actually isn’t that far from the truth). This is a wonderful, ensemble-driven film that will have you wincing in fear in one moment and then have you laughing in the very next scene. It’s an extremely balanced film, and director Ridley Scott makes it look easy.
3. Jurassic World
Jurassic World may be a sloppier reinvigoration of a film series than Creed, but where it has that film beat is in pure cinematic marvel. Seeing the eponymous amusement park for the first time was a moment of cinematic bliss that had me feeling like a kid again and director Colin Trevorrow found a way to capture that magic numerous times throughout this film’s runtime. Jurassic World is a summer blockbuster, and it isn’t afraid to be called that.
Into Thin Air is one of the greatest pieces of writing ever made. While this film isn’t exactly based on Jon Krakauer’s dark but thrilling tale of an Everest expedition gone wrong, it is based off of the same events. This film is technically amazing (the sound is top notch, the cinematography majestic, and makeup and costumes surprisingly realistic), it has an all-star cast living up to their name recognition, and isn’t afraid to touch on (even if it doesn’t fully explore) the more controversial elements of the real life event.
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
In the early days of December I was astounded to see so many paid critics release their top 10 lists when they still hadn’t seen what was the cinematic event of the year (maybe even decade). Seriously, shame on them. If you are getting paid to do a job as inconsequential as film criticism, you might as well do it right. I’m sure many just had to meet deadlines, but I’m also sure there were many who just labeled Star Wars as blockbuster material unworthy of their recognition. Well, The Force Awakens did a lot more than many if not all films that were released this year did. It not only met but exceeded the expectations of a rabid and very particular audience, and it did so with visuals galore, a cast picked to perfection (Harrison Ford is on the top of his game and newcomer Daisy Ridley is the first great lead of a Star Wars film) and stoic direction from J.J. Abrams that delivered exactly what he promised. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is one of the only films that we will be talking about from 2015 a decade or more from now. Argue all you want about the reasons why but that is the truth.