Before we celebrate the greatest films of 2015, let us celebrate the flops. The Gift was Jason Bateman at his worst, and featured a monkey-suited maniac leering over a passed-out wife; Pixels continued Adam Sandler’s descent into the ninth level of movie hell, and dragged Peter Dinklage down with it; and let us not speak of Fifty Shades of Grey.

Away from the bombs of the season, though, writers, actors and directors both known and unknown flourished. It was a good year in film overall, especially in genres that have stagnated in the past: rebooted action flicks (Mad Max and Star Wars), animated kid’s flicks (Inside Out), immigrant love stories (Brooklyn), and horror (It Follows). Not to mention triumphant returns of the big names, like Tarantino, with more powerful arsenals — like 70mm film. And that’s just a taste of the best. Our 15 favorite movies of 2015 (plus five runners up) prove cinema is headed in the right direction, despite Adam Sandler’s worst.

Additional contribution by J. Travis Smith.
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Mad Max: Fury Road


A New Standard in Fast Action: Possibly the best reboot ever created, Fury Road preserves the gritty, survivalist core of the 1979 original and adds a 2015 facelift. Scores of extras, massive car chases, slow-mo action and center framing make for incredible action that’s balanced by fine acting.

Director: George Miller
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
Premiered: May 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens


A Beautiful Reboot: The record-breaking latest addition to the Star Wars franchise doesn’t have the most original plot, but instead serves to set the standard for visual affects and introduce the new cast while paying homage to the old.

Director: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac
Premiered: December 2015

The Hateful Eight


Most Claustrophobic Western: Tarantino debuted The Hateful Eight at a 2014 staged reading in Los Angeles; it was so well received he decided to turn it into his eighth film. In the film, the tension of the dialogue of 12 Angry Men merges with the claustrophobia of a small cabin in blizzard-struck Wyoming in a whodunit that isn’t Tarantino’s most ambitious film, but is beautiful, insulated and smart.

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jaso
Premiered: December 2015

The Revenant


“Aguirre, the Wrath of God” Meets Iñárritu: This movie almost killed DiCaprio, and watching the film quickly shifts the answer of “why?” to, “when?” Filming the bear scene? Going over the cliff? Floating in frigid water? The single-shot filming that made Iñárritu’s Birdman immersive returns in intense battle scenes and wide, claustrophobic shots that make this story of survival very personal, even if the plot and dialogue are kept out of the way of great visuals.

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter
Released: December 2015

Inside Out


The Most Adult Pixar Film: There isn’t much doubt this will take home the Oscar for Best Animated Picture. The adult discussion of mood, in which sadness has many necessary qualities, contrasts sharply to the whitewashed happiness of most children’s films. It is the colorful story of the inner workings of a child’s brain, and in its intracranial struggles, kids and adults learn more about their own thoughts and feelings.

Director: Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen
Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith
Released: June 2015

Ex Machina


The Best Turing Test: Garland brings an amazing near-future sci-fi film in which a hyper-intelligent and successful Isaac, an underestimated Gleeson, and Vikander, an artificial intelligent robot, all try to outsmart each other. It’s simple, suspenseful and beautiful.

Director: Alex Garland
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac
Released: April 24, 2015

It Follows


New Horror, Throwback Style: The trope is the same as always: having sex in a horror movie is bad news. What’s new is the director, David Robert Mitchell, and the success with which he navigates the campy waters of the slasher genre. There are issues, some of them major (including a grisly sexual end at the hands of a demon disguised as one character’s mother) — but there are also slow-building scenes that’ll make your skin crawl. The cherry on the blood-soaked cake is the soundtrack, which is as loaded with synths as an ’80s classic, and every bit as unnerving.

Directed By: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi
Released: March 2015



Best Love Story: Kate Blanchett (nominated for a Best Leading Actress Oscar) and Rooney Mara (nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar) power this screenplay, based on a flagship novel in the LGBT community written in 1949 by Patricia Highsmith.

Directed By: Todd Haynes
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler
Released: November 2015



Best Untold Story: In Spotlight, a group of journalists at the Boston Globe uncovered a massive sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church; Tom McCarthy’s film does their Herculean undertaking true justice with a range of excellent acting. It’s a visceral tale of the hunt for truth.

Directed By: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams
Released: November 2015

James White


Coming of Age: If Millennials are struggling to grow up as many people claim, Josh Mond’s James White speaks to the generation like no other. But with its sweeping look at how time and tide wait for no man — in this case illustrated by a partying youngster who’s forced to grow up after caring for his ill mother — the movie speaks to a much larger audience than twentysomethings. Winner of the Audience Award at Sundance.

Directed By: Josh Mond
Starring: Christopher Abbott
Released: November 2015



Stop-Motion Reality: Charlie Kaufman’s screenplays stand as greats — Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich, for example — but his second and best take as a director has given his writing a chance to blossom into its most wonderfully humanistic form yet. Ironic, considering it’s a stop-motion film. The puppetry isn’t fantastical, it’s dark, and even morose; the protagonist’s struggles as a lonely executive and his relationship with a younger woman are what drive the film’s magic.

Directed By: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan
Released: January 2015



Stuck Between Two Worlds: Based on the award-winning novel by Colm Tóibín (adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby), Brooklyn is at its best both a period piece and a showcase for actress Saoirse Ronan as Eilis, who experiences the classic immigrant’s tale, with a twist: after coming to America from Ireland and falling in love, she returns to her homeland, with all its entanglements.

Directed By: John Crowley
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson
Released: November 2015

45 Years


Portrait of Marriage: The nuances that 45 years of marriage create between lovers and best friends is an appealing enough canvas for two excellent actors and a solid director (this one, interestingly enough, directed Gladiator). And that’s without the plot twist: finding the body of a tragically deceased ex-lover from another lifetime. Intrigued?

Directed By: Andrew Haigh
Starring: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay
Released: December 2015

Love & Mercy


Two Eras of Brian Wilson: The lead singer of The Beach Boys (played by Paul Dano) struggles with fame and psychosis in the 1960s — which in the 1980s (played by John Cusack) has become full-on mental illness. Paul Giamatti as Wilson’s conniving (and terrifying) caretaker, and Elizabeth Banks as Wilson’s love-interest-turned-rescuer, round out a great set of performances in a relatively untold story.

Directed By: Bill Pohlad
Starring: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks
Released: June 2015



Story of Survival: What happens to a young life when it goes out into the world? This question is magnified in Room, in which Brie Larson plays an abducted mother, who with her son escapes seven years of imprisonment and emerges into a world that the child didn’t know existed.

Directed By: Lenny Abrahamson
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers
Released: November 2015