Top 25 Films | The Best of 2015

2015 will always be a special year for the Bit Players when it comes to film, not only because it was the year that the podcast actually began, but it was actually a great year for new movies. Childhood dreams were realized when we got more Star Wars, the character of Rocky Balboa was gloriously revitalized in Creed, Pixar delivered one of their finest and most impactful offerings to date, some of the obligatory novel adaptations were actually quite good, Mad Max redefined what it means to be an action movie, and a whole lot of characters horrifically died in gorgeous snowy settings. We predict that it was a year of films that, when we look back years later, will continue to offer some of our lifelong favorite watches, and our top 25 films of 2015 is the list that best embodies what was so great this year and will continue to be so for years to come.

2015 will always be a special year for the Bit Players when it comes to film, not only because it was the year that the podcast actually began, but it was actually a great year for new movies. Childhood dreams were realized when we got more Star Wars, the character of Rocky Balboa was gloriously revitalized in Creed, Pixar delivered one of their finest and most impactful offerings to date, some of the obligatory novel adaptations were actually quite good, Mad Max redefined what it means to be an action movie, and a whole lot of characters horrifically died in gorgeous snowy settings. We predict that it was a year of films that, when we look back years later, will continue to offer some of our lifelong favorite watches, and our top 25 films of 2015 is the list that best embodies what was so great this year and will continue to be so for years to come.

Chappie
25. Chappie
Director
Neill Blomkamp
Stars
Sharlto Copley
Dev Patel
Hugh Jackman
Chappie just oozes all the feels. Although I am beginning to wonder if all Neill Blomkamp movies share the same universe. Either way, his "lived-in" vision of the future always deserves a watch. In the case of Chappie, it deserves many watches because of the lovable characters and grounded futurism. – Clark Carmichael
Straight Outta Compton
24. Straight Outta Compton
Director
F. Gary Gray
Stars
O'Shea Jackson Jr.
Corey Hawkins
Jason Mitchell
I can vividly recall my first exposure to Eazy E. His ridiculous, and ridiculously awesome, "Gimme That Nut" was a constant source of laughter to my prepubescent boy-brain to the point where I almost regret that probably the lightest hearted thing associated with N.W.A. was my doorway into their world. Of course, a huge respect for their influence of hip-hop ideology grew as I did, and seeing their story play out in such glorious form as Straight Outta Compton was a delight. Not only did the film stay true to the riotous and urgent spirit that can be heard on record, F. Gary Gray's depiction brings to light the social issues from which they were born that still live on the face of today's America. In this sense, it's both biopic and call to action, acted beautifully by all involved, most particularly the uncanny O'Shea Jackson, Jr. playing his dad Ice Cube and the heart-wrenching portrayal of Eazy E by Jason Mitchell, whose performance brought a roundness to his subject by showing the other side of the pained soul that made me laugh so often as a kid listening to rap records in secret. – Jeff Pearson
The Man From UNCLE
23. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Director
Guy Ritchie
Stars
Henry Cavill
Armie Hammer
Alicia Vikander
What a great year for spy movies, and Man From U.N.C.L.E. is another great addition to this genre. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer have great chemistry as two spies from different countries forced to work together. But the real star of the movie is Alicia Vikander. She had an unbelievable breakout year this year and she is incredible in this, especially the scene between her and Hammer dancing in the hotel, one of the best scenes of the year. Another of the best scenes of the year is the marina rescue scene scored by a really cool Italian song that I won’t try to spell. The entire soundtrack of this movie is amazing. Guy Ritchie has still got it. – Anders Oster
Beasts of No Nation
22. Beasts of No Nation
Director
Cary Fukunaga
Stars
Abraham Attah
Idris Elba
Emmanuel Affadzi
When thinking about what I considered to be the best films of the year, a lot of factors came into play. There's of course the rewatchability factor, which speaks to what I presume to be a film's longevity in culture as well as my own life as an individual, but I think just as important is how impactful a film was in the moment in time of 2015. Beasts of No Nation certainly falls into the latter category. It's not a rewatchable film in the same way Schindler's List or Requiem for a Dream are not rewatchable films; but, like those films, it is to be celebrated for precisely that reason. Writer/director/cinematographer/probably caterer and shuttle driver Cary Fukunaga puts forth impossibly painful material and doesn't blink for a second, not allowing you to blink either, and this is precisely how this material should be handled. Young Abraham Attah delivers a soul-tearing performance as Igu while Idris Elba somehow gives humanity to the otherwise completely unsympathetic figure of warlord and leader of child soldiers in a film that, while you might not ever want to watch again, you won't soon forget. – JP
Avengers: Age of Ultron
21. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Director
Joss Whedon
Stars
Robert Downey Jr.
Chris Evans
Scarlett Johansson
Mark Ruffalo
Chris Hemsworth
Jeremy Renner
Avengers: Age of Ultron was a necessary stepping stone for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The action sequences were top notch and the greater implications of the creation of Vision are far reaching. The best thing going in movies in the 2010s is the MCU, and this movie is a part of that, making this movie the best thing going in 2015. It's only logical. – CC
Everest
20. Everest
Director
Baltasar Kormákur
Stars
Jason Clarke
Ang Phula Sherpa
Thomas M. Wright
Everest succeeded in the only way it could: by being the opposite of the modern Roland Emmerich disaster movie. It took all the time it needed to establish the rich characters played by some of Hollywood's best character actors and it didn't flinch in its macabre voyeurism of the true story of the climbers that lost their lives after achieving their massive goal of summiting the highest peak in the world. The film really does put you there with them and in that way really succeeds as a disaster flick as well as character drama. – CC
Joy
19. Joy
Director
David O. Russell
Stars
Jennifer Lawrence
Robert De Niro
Bradley Cooper
The first trailer for this movie was one of the best trailers of the year. This was one of the movies I was most excited to see considering all the people involved. David O. Russell directing, Jennifer Lawrence starring, and Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper supporting. However, I went into this movie with super low expectations after reading many mediocre reviews. After seeing the movie, I don’t understand where all the negativity comes from. Jennifer Lawrence crushes this role and creates a very sympathetic character. As a single mom living a very difficult home life, she risks everything with an invention she has and we watch her and her family struggle through the ups and downs of this process. This was one of the most empowering movies of the year. Joy did a great job of making you really feel for the characters in the moments of struggle, so the moments of triumph were that much more satisfying. – AO
Bridge of Spies
18. Bridge of Spies
Director
Steven Spielberg
Stars
Tom Hanks
Mark Rylance
Alan Alda
I went into this thinking that Spielberg and Hanks would be fresh out of ideas on how to make themselves compelling, and that this would be a sad, sappy show for these two. But Bridge of Spies is so good it’s making me wonder if The Terminal just went over my head. – BU
Brooklyn
17. Brooklyn
Director
John Crowley
Stars
Saoirse Ronan
Emory Cohen
Domhnall Gleeson
Saoirse Ronan will sweep you away in a stream of tears. Brooklyn is a heartwarming story for anyone that has ever been homesick or pined for their own identity in a crowded world. – Jarryd Baxter
Kingsman: Secret Service
16. Kingsman: Secret Service
Director
Matthew Vaughn
Stars
Colin Firth
Taron Egerton
Samuel L. Jackson
This movie is a treat from beginning to end. Matthew Vaughn continues his hot streak of making incredibly entertaining, outrageous, and beautifully made movies with this R-rated Bond style spy thriller. With a resume of Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men First Class, and now Kingsman, you’d be hard-pressed to find a director with a more impressive resume. Kingsman is a very well-made movie and it’s dripping with style. Taron Egerton has a breakout performance as the able lead of this hopeful franchise, Colin Firth asserts himself as one of the coolest and proficient spies in the history of the genre, Samuel L. Jackson is arguably the best and most unique villain of the year, and Mark Strong continues to elevate every movie he’s in with his presence. And don’t forget to listen to this very underrated and unique score. I’ll be rewatching this one for years. – AO
The Hateful Eight
15. The Hateful Eight
Director
Quentin Tarantino
Stars
Samuel L. Jackson
Kurt Russell
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Walton Goggins
The Hateful Eight is built for the grand stage. The theater experience felt like something more important than oneself, and perhaps more important than the movie, itself. Tarantino creates an event, taking us back to an era of overtures and intermissions. It’s a kind gesture for a grotesque movie. Great writing, performances, and of course, gratuitous violence complete the Tarantino trifecta. – JB
Spotlight
14. Spotlight
Director
Tom McCarthy
Stars
Mark Ruffalo
Michael Keaton
Rachel McAdams
Liev Schreiber
John Slattery
Spotlight is a movie of understated greatness. With the exception of an Oscar-baiting outburst from Mark Ruffalo, this movie handles its polemic topic with a quiet restraint. The search for truth and the discovery of its culpability make this movie the most important of the year. – JB
The Martian
13. The Martian
Director
Ridley Scott
Stars
Matt Damon
Jessica Chastain
Kristen Wiig
Jeff Daniels
Michael Peña
Kate Mara
Chiwetel Ejiofor
Watching Matt Damon solve problems in the deserted Martian landscape was an absolute joy in theaters. I had so much fun. For quite a while, this was my favorite movie of the year. It sometimes seems like a blindfolded Ridley Scott is just firing off rounds at random and only occasionally hitting the bullseye. He hit it on the nose with this one. While this easily could have been very depressing subject matter, it ended up being one of the most enjoyable and inspiring movies of the year. It had the coolest space ship in recent memory, a really unique score by Harry Gregson-Williams, an impressive ensemble, great special effects, and an awesome soundtrack with one of my favorite montage scenes of the year set to a Bowie song (RIP). This movie hit almost all of its comedic and emotional beats and is one of Ridley Scott’s best movies of all time. – AO
Room
12. Room
Director
Lenny Abrahamson
Stars
Brie Larson
Jacob Tremblay
No movie this year provided an emotional impact like Room. The simplicity of life and its maternal bonds are celebrated and cherished. Walking your dog and eating cereal with strangers have never seemed so poetic. – JB
Ex Machina
11. Ex Machina
Director
Alex Garland
Stars
Oscar Isaac
Domhnall Gleeson
Alicia Vikander
Ex Machina was one of the earliest standouts of the year, and as a testament to its unpredictable and quiet menace, continually stayed in the forefront of my mind all year long. Writer and director Alex Garland finally steps behind the camera to direct another science-fiction masterpiece, of which has been modestly cranking out for over a decade, leading a cast of three through psychological horror and existential decay. Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson feed off of one another through the entirety, with Isaac in particular using Nathan's character to deliver much of the unseen fear that comes to plague Caleb (Gleeson), but perhaps the real standout is Alicia Vikander as Ava, an A.I. that continually blurs the line of humanity and machinery for all involved, but most particularly Caleb, the subject of Nathan's Turing Test. Ava becomes the film's unlikely hero as she claims her own humanity by whatever means necessary in one of the more thrilling climaxes in recent memory. – JP
Sicario
10. Sicario
Director
Denis Villeneuve
Stars
Emily Blunt
Benecio Del Toro
Josh Brolin
Sicario was a surprise for most of us this year. An early release and a plot that seems to have been a mashup of 20 other drug war movies, The Bit Players were wholly surprised at this gem in the rough. Elevated by expert acting performances and pitch perfect direction, Sicario was truly a great movie from top to bottom. – CC
Crimson Peak
9. Crimson Peak
Director
Guillermo del Toro
Stars
Mia Wasikowska
Jessica Chastain
Tom Hiddleston
Charlie Hunnam
I don't think I could have been any more pumped up for Crimson Peak than I was when I made the short walk over to my local theatre on the Friday night it was released. The promotion was excellent, highlighting the incredible visual effects, cast, and, of course, Guillermo Del Toro's signature grandiosity and beauty. I was wrong. I'm certain I was even more pumped on the walk home, recounting the film's final chaotic and gruesome moments and the audience's reactions that made for a lively and entertaining cinema experience, and I'm still just as pumped to this day. Pumped simply because there is now a new movie that I can call a favorite for years to come, one that yields maximum rewatchability and beauty, and soul-stirring performances all around. Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska deliver on the passionate, though perhaps one-sided romance necessary for a Gothic tale to truly work, but it's Jessica Chastain that makes the tale come to life with her pulsating evil and rage constantly lurking beneath, and finally bursting through, the surface that cements Crimson Peak as a Gothic classic. – JP
The Big Short
8. The Big Short
Director
Adam McKay
Stars
Christian Bale
Steve Carell
Ryan Gosling
Brad Pitt
In a year full of fantastic ensembles, this one might be the best. It’s an acting clinic led by Christian Bale, Steve Carell (who continues to stretch himself), and Ryan Gosling. Adam McKay, who until recently has only directed strict comedies such as Anchorman, ventures into more dramatic territory. Still, The Big Short is chiefly a comedy and a very entertaining and fast-paced one. A charismatic and hilarious performance by Ryan Gosling is largely responsible for this. The ‘Jenga scene’ between Gosling and Carell is hilarious, informative, and engaging. This film shares much in common with The Wolf of Wall Street with the frequent breaking of the 4th wall and the serious subject matter presented as a comedy. As a person with very little knowledge of the housing market crash, The Big Short did a great job of dumbing down the details to make it easily understandable. In the end, the film makes its impact by entertaining you and making you laugh and then presenting you with the harsh consequences of this catastrophe, making you wonder what you were laughing at all along. – AO
Creed
7. Creed
Director
Ryan Coogler
Stars
Michael B. Jordan
Sylvester Stallone
Tessa Thompson
For me, this is the best movie of the year. Not only is this a technical feat, with Oscar-worthy acting, writing and direction, but it captures and supersedes everything that the original Rocky accomplished. Coogler and company breathe new life into a franchise that (along with its starring character) lost its direction long ago. – JB
Inside Out
6. Inside Out
Director
Pete Docter
Stars
Amy Poehler
Mindy Kaling
Lewis Black
Bill Hader
Phyllis Smith
Richard Kind
Sometimes Pixar movies make me nostalgic for my childhood, or flat out feel like a kid again. Their toys come to life. Their superheroes have jobs and families. Their robots feel love. Inside Out offers a harsh view of reality though and its vision is decidedly grown up. For Christ’s sake an imaginary friend SACRIFICES ITSELF! – BU
Mad Max: Fury Road
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
Director
George Miller
Stars
Tom Hardy
Charlize Theron
Nicholas Hoult
Mad Max: Fury Road is a car chase and no other movie this year could catch up. – BU
The Revenant
4. The Revenant
Director
Alejandro González Iñárritu
Stars
Leonardo DiCaprio
Tom Hardy
Domhnall Gleeson
Will Poulter
My earliest attempt to describe Alejandro González Iñárritu's meteoric rise to the upper echelon of filmmaking in this century was a convoluted comparison to '90s console game NBA Jam, in which he was "heating up" with Birdman and fully "on fire" after The Revenant. I realize that in describing this attempt, I have essentially still put forth the comparison and that in describing it this way was to both call attention to the longshot nature of the metaphor but still use it because, well, I just like NBA Jam. Dude's on fire, let's just go ahead and say it. To put forth two such stunning visual achievements as Birdman and The Revenant in consecutive years is unheard of in today's film culture, and for them to be such wildly different yet equally effective films is an achievement on top of achievement. Where Birdman was chaotically paced and claustrophobically shot to match the backstage atmosphere, The Revenant breathes the frigid air and surroundings in long visual soliloquies to match the seemingly helpless nature of one man in vast wilderness. Iñárritu explores the terrain right along with Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and contemplates the nature of his place in it through the survival and redemption story in a way that is both consistently captivating and endlessly terrifying. – JP
It Follows
3. It Follows
Director
David Robert Mitchell
Stars
Maika Monroe
Keir Gilchrist
Olivia Luccardi
It Follows is in a rare class of perfect films. It succeeds in every aspect from the visuals to audio to creative original storytelling and dialogue to exciting action and edge of your seat tension. Another one that The Bit Players have podcasted about, It Follows deserves to be seen by all serious movie watchers. – CC
Steve Jobs
2. Steve Jobs
Director
Danny Boyle
Stars
Michael Fassbender
Kate Winslet
Seth Rogen
Jeff Daniels
Katherine Waterston
Steve Jobs’ resting beats per minute is quite high. The movie hums. Every 40 minutes there is a new deadline, new product, new haircut, new suit, even a new accent in Kate Winslet’s case. Sorkin writes the perfectly paced prose to articulate the Steve Jobs clip. Not much nor many can keep up. There’s an amazing ensemble performance, but let’s be honest: We’ve seen the Steve Jobs story told before, where these same characters read another screenplay (2013 Jobs) and it sucked. Real bad. So I credit my love for Steve Jobs to Sorkin. – BU
Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
1. Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
Director
J.J. Abrams
Stars
Daisy Ridley
John Boyega
Adam Driver
Harrison Ford
Carrie Fischer
Oscar Isaac
Domhnall Gleeson
It was 1999, he had just turned 22, and the best years of his life were still ahead of him. Then, unexpectedly and sadly, while hanging out with some ‘new friends’ that his father, George had introduced him to, a Menace-ing series of events took place which left him in a coma and likely to stay that way. Years passed with no sign of improvement until Gene, an old friend of George’s told him about a mysterious miracle man by the name of J.J. who years ago magically lifted his son from an extended coma. George knew this was his only chance. After 16 long years of comatose hopelessness, the impossible had happened. The Force had awoken!

I saw The Force Awakens on opening night in an overstuffed theater in Seattle with fellow Bit Player, Brian Urrutia. My feelings about this movie can be summed up by my experience of the opening scene. In this scene, Kylo Ren freezes a laser beam in mid-air and calmly walks around it. I have been a Star Wars fan my entire life, yet in the first 2 minutes of the movie I sat and stared in awe as I realized that I still had much to learn about the power of The Force. The anchor of Force Awakens is without a doubt the cast of amazing new characters, however my personal MVP is Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. If a movie is only as good as its villain, it’s easy to see why TFA has been so successful. But there are several anchors for this film: The lovable new characters, the fresh but familiar story, the amazing special and practical effects, the beautiful sets and cinematography, and maybe most of all, the Jedi John Williams who scored each of this film’s innumerable moments of movie magic. If Star Wars is a boat, it is being held firmly in place for a long time to come. – AO

It’s the movie that everyone saw and most people loved. And it didn’t even come out during the holidays; it practically created its own. Every member of the family had a stake in The Force Awakens: parents chased after that feeling of when they saw A New Hope; kids excited to have a galactic baptism they could call their own, and pretty much everybody thankful that this didn’t go the way of the prequels, leaving us to explain to another generation of young fans that Star Wars does, in fact, deserve more movies. – BU

What is there to be said about this movie that has not been said already? It blossomed in an environment of unlimited expectations and unrelenting critical eyes, in an era of everything all the time media coverage and leaks coming from every moving part in productions of such magnitude. Director J.J. Abrams brought the life back into the franchise and re-sparked an international love affair with all things Force. It's a feat that deserves all the praise that can be thrown his way. – CC

I can’t recall a more highly anticipated movie than this. With the weight of the world upon his shoulders and its collective childhood at stake, J.J. Abrams reignited the fading candle in us all. The objective is complete: a new generation of Star Wars fans is born and the legend continues. – JB

There's not much I can say about The Force Awakens that hasn't already been said before: the experience of seeing the film in the theatres, unlike even that of each of the prequels, will forever be unrivaled. J.J. Abrams made me feel like a child again, and the worth that I put in that feat cannot be overstated. It's a film that will live on forever. – JP
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