Top 10 Films of 2015

Plus Nancy Myers' Bonus List of Quality Films

Editor’s Note: We’ve given up trying to regulate the creative geniuses who review films for Our critics here have selected anywhere from 4 to 10 films for their “Top 10 List”; some go in reverse countdown order, and we’ve retained their formats. The writers also give their reasons how they came up with the number of films they included! OH, AND SPOILER ALERT IN JERRY’S SHORT LIST!!

Finally, at the very end of this feature, we’re introducing a movie list from Nancy Myers. The films that made her list here all rate “5 stars” in her estimation. Nancy is Mennonite blogger over at The Practical Mystic and she keeps track of films she and her husband view (mostly by streaming them). What a great idea!

Gordon Houser’s Top 10 Films.
Even though I wasn’t able to see many films that might have made my list, I had difficulty narrowing it down to 10. I had to leave off some good films.

1. Spotlight. This outstanding film tells the story of the investigation by a team at the Boston Globe newspaper, beginning in 2001, of cases of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests in the Boston diocese. It gets so much right about journalism and shows the careful, persistent work it requires, especially in uncovering a story of such magnitude. The acting and writing are especially good.

2. Timbuktu. This French-Mauritanian film, which came out in 2014 but only arrived in the United States this year, takes its name from the cosmopolitan city in Mali that draws people from many places and where many languages are spoken. It takes place during an occupation of the city by Islamists bearing a jihadist black flag. It shows the complexity of its characters and is that rare film that is both disturbing and inspiring.

3. Carol. A gorgeous film telling the story of a young aspiring photographer and her relationship with an older woman going through a difficult divorce. While showing the prejudice of the early 1950s toward lesbian relationships, it generally avoids preaching a point of view. The performances of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are outstanding, and the cinematography perfectly fits the story.

4. Bridge of Spies. Thanks to fine acting and an excellent script, this film avoids some spy-thriller clichés. Set during the Cold War and based on the story of James B. Donovan, an American lawyer recruited first to defend an arrested Soviet spy, then to facilitate the exchange of the spy for Gary Powers, the Soviet-captured U2 spy plane pilot, it shows the moral tenacity of a man doing good in the face of public opposition.

5. Phoenix. A German film follows Nelly Lenz, a Holocaust survivor and former cabaret singer, who returns to Berlin after undergoing facial reconstruction surgery for damage caused by a bullet wound. She searches for her husband, who may have been the one to betray her to the Nazis. He’s working in a nightclub called Phoenix. He doesn’t recognize her but says she looks like his late wife. In order to obtain his wife’s inheritance, he asks Nelly to impersonate his wife. She goes along with his plan until a final revelation at the end. The film touches on important themes and combines a powerful mood and suspense.

6. Brooklyn. This poetic film tells the engaging story of a young woman who leaves her village in Ireland and goes to America in 1952. She meets an Italian plumber and falls in love. But her sister’s death draws her back to Ireland to visit. There she encounters another man and is tempted to stay. The period details are well done, and Saoirse Ronan, in the lead role, is outstanding. It is an emotionally and intellectually satisfying film.

7. The Martian. This funny, engaging film celebrates ingenuity and calmness under extreme circumstances. During a manned mission to Mars, astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm, and is left behind by his crew. But he is not dead. With only meager supplies, he must find a way to survive and signal to Earth that he is alive. Millions of miles away, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring “the Martian” home.

8. Mad Max: Fury Road. This is the best science-fiction thriller of the year. A woman rebels against a tyrannical ruler in post-apocalyptic Australia in search for her homeland with the help of a group of female prisoners, a psychotic worshiper, and a drifter named Max. The film’s violence will not be to everyone’s tastes, but its feminist themes are welcome. The cinematography is stunning—best of the year.

9. The Big Short. A freewheeling film telling how four outsiders in the world of high finance who predicted the collapse of the credit and housing bubble of the mid-2000s decide to take on the big banks for their lack of foresight and greed. The film uses humor and direct address to the audience to explain what happened. And it leaves you angry at Wall Street. It also leaves a hollow pit in your stomach that little can be done.

10. Inside Out. Yet another fine, animated Pixar film. It depicts five emotions (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, Anger) of a girl named Riley who moves with her parents from Minnesota to San Francisco. In the headquarters where these emotions work to help Riley, we also see places for new memories, core memories, and “islands” that represent Riley’s personality. The setup is simplistic but delightful—for young and older viewers, who will laugh at different places. The film also offers a nice lesson about being aware of our emotions and how they affect us.

Vic Thiessen’s Top 10 Films of 2015, counting down from 10.

10. Listen to Me Marlon. The best documentary I watched in 2015, this reflection on the life of Marlon Brando, one of the greatest actors in the history of film, is uniquely fascinating because Brando, who died in 2004, provides much of the narration himself (through audiotapes he left behind). Stevan Riley has done an amazing job of structuring this haunting insightful film.

9. Youth. Italian director Paolo Sorrentino continues to make gorgeous and thoughtful films, often, as in this case, having older men reflecting on the meaning of life (or the lack thereof). Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel are perfectly cast as the old men in question. Full of magical moments, Youth suggests that sometimes children can be wiser than people 70 years older.

8. Inside Out. Despite the unwelcome made-for-3D action scenes in the middle of the film, Pixar has another winner with Inside Out, which explores the inner workings of a child’s mind with intelligence, wisdom, and endless humor. This animated film was written and directed by Pete Doctor and Ronnie del Carman.

7. Carol. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are terrific as Carol and Therese, two women who fall in love with each other in 1951, a time when such relationships were scandalous and viewed as the product of serious psychological dysfunction. This gorgeous period drama about the struggle to be true to oneself was directed by Todd Haynes.

6. Spotlight. A great ensemble cast plays Boston Globe reporters in 2001 seeking to expose a major cover-up involving child abuse among Catholic priests. Directed (and cowritten) by Tom McCarthy, Spotlight handles the investigation and subject with such quiet intelligence and integrity that it makes the work of investigative journalism the inspiring and vital thing it should be.

5. Steve Jobs. Aaron Sorkin’s captivating and innovatively-structured screenplay and Oscar-worthy performances from Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet are what make Danny Boyle’s unique biopic about the man behind Apple so compelling.

4. Phoenix. This riveting German film from Christian Petzold stars Nina Hoss as a Jewish concentration-camp survivor who, after facial reconstruction surgery, returns to Berlin to look for her husband (who doesn’t recognize her). A haunting Hitchcockian period drama, Phoenix has layers of depth that can be discussed for hours.

3. Tangerines. An Estonian/Georgian collaboration directed by Zaza Urushadze, Tangerines is a profound but simple meditation on humanizing the enemy and the absurdity of war. This beautiful film takes place entirely on the property of two neighbors (one of whom grows tangerines while the other builds the crates to transport them) in the country of Georgia.

2. Victoria. The most intense and mesmerizing thrill ride of the year (forget Mad Max), Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria is an awesome filmmaking achievement. Its 140 minutes, shot in Berlin during the early hours of the morning, are not just filmed in real time—they are filmed in just one shot (including numerous action scenes) as they follow the story of a young Spanish woman whose life changes in a hurry after she leaves a bar one night and is accosted by a group of friendly young men.

1. Leviathan. The most passionate, profound and thought-provoking film of the year (technically from 2014, but not in general release until 2015), Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan presents a scathing indictment of all levels of Russian government and the Russian Orthodox Church through its bleak tale of a man who loses everything (like Job, who provides the inspiration for the film).

Jerry Holsopple’s Semi-Thoughtful (But Not Hateful) Eight.

I always feel like I don’t see enough films to warrant making a list. [Jerry very faithfully reviews the latest in music genres he enjoys hearing.] These are my thoughts:

1. The year of the female hero. From Star Wars: The Force Awakens to Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 to Carol to 45 Years.

2. Jennifer Lawrence. For excellent performances and refusing to meet the standards of body image for Hunger Games and asking why female leads get paid less than male ones.

3 & 4. Movies that expose and inform: Spotlight and The Big Short.

5. The year the Academy again reveals that it is stacked for white men.

6. At last a Star Wars movie I can stand to watch. Sorry to my colleagues who mourn the death of Hans Solo .

7. Eddie Redmayne. For another amazing character portrayal.

8. For the foreign-language films that sneak their way onto our screens.

Matthew Kauffman Smith’s Top 4.
My annual disclaimer: I haven’t seen most of the Academy Award nominees. While I did see enough movies to make a Top 10 list, I’m just sticking with four that I would rate 3.5/4 stars. (I saw critical darling and multiple Academy Award nominee Mad Max: Fury Road, but I stand by my 2.5 star review).

4. Ex Machina. A mixture of Her and Frankenstein, this chilling movie explores control, ownership of information, and privacy in an entertaining way.

3. Inside Out. A blockbuster, animated film about the importance of emotions in shaping who we are? Only Pixar can pull that off.

2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I enlisted the help of my daughters in choosing between Inside Out and the latest Star Wars installment. The latter won hands down, mainly because for girls 9 and 11, main character Rey is a breath of fresh air. She’s independent, resourceful, and plays nicely with droids.

1. Spotlight. This movie about the Boston Globe’s investigation of the Roman Catholic Church covering up its priests’ history of molestation tells an important story. But it’s every bit as entertaining as any film this year. It’s part thriller, part character study, and part sociological study. Plus, I’m a sucker for a good journalism underdog story.


Vic and Nancy Myers’ 5-Star Movie List of 47 films.


Vic and Nancy Myers

Vic and Nancy live near Buchanan, Michigan, and enjoy watching movies on video, DVD or streaming (these are not all recent movies). If you enjoy films, here’s a list to consider. Nancy blogs at

  1. Antarctica: A Year on Ice–About people more than penguins. Beautiful.
  2. The Time In Between–Spanish TV series, part war story, spy story, fashion show.
  3. Twinsters–Separated at birth. Really. Charming.
  4. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World–Poignant, sweet apocalypse.
  5. On the Way to School–Schoolchildren’s epic daily or weekly journeys in four corners of the world.
  6. Rosewater–Jon Stewart’s film of an Iranian journalist’s ordeal.
  7. Two Days, One Night–A young French mom tries to rally her coworkers to save her job.
  8. CitizenFour–Documentary about whistleblower Edward Snowden.
  9. Last Days in Vietnam–Rory Kennedy’s moving film of those chaotic days.
  10. Cake–Jennifer Anniston is great in an unusually deep role.
  11. 180° South–Patagonia!
  12. Dancing in Jaffa–Bringing Arab and Jewish kids together through ballroom dancing.
  13. The Wind Rises–Spectacular Japanese animation inspired by WW II fighter plane designer.
  14. The Green Prince–True-life drama about a Palestinian mole working for Israeli intelligence.
  15. Finding Vivian Maier–Discovery of extraordinary photographs by an eccentric nanny.
  16. Mile… Mile & a Half–Group of artists hike California’s John Muir Trail.
  17. Maleficent–Oh yes Angelina is magnificent.
  18. Gone Girl–Movie better than the book.
  19. You’re Not You–Hillary Swank. Debilitating illness. Moving, human.
  20. Life Itself–Roger Ebert living to the fullest as he wastes away.
  21. The Young Victoria–Forget the plump old queen and put Emily Blunt in her place.
  22. Life of a King–Cuba Gooding, Jr. as the ex-con who got kids off the streets and playing chess.
  23. Chef–Feel-good/family movie not to be watched on an empty stomach.
  24. Inside Out–Family movie about feelings worth watching with family.
  25. McFarland, USA–Feel-good coach movie with Kevin Costner. True, I guess.
  26. Woman in Gold–True-ish story of the Klimt masterpiece stolen by Nazis.
  27. Tangerines–Estonian tangerine farmers caught in Georgian-Abkhazian conflict of 1990s.
  28. Wild–Really good, though the book was better.
  29. Into the Woods–Keep getting this mixed up with Maleficent. Meryl is magnificent.
  30. Merchants of Doubt–Scientific experts paid to misinform.
  31. The Salt of the Earth–Stunning work of Brazilian photographer Salgado.
  32. Timbuktu–Gripping, difficult to watch but probably true-ish film about terror.
  33. Leviathan–Russian tragicomedy, evocative setting.
  34. Selma–King and the marchers.
  35. The Imitation Game–Biopic of Alan Turing, the genius who cracked Nazi code.
  36. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya–Another great Japanese animation, adultish.
  37. Boyhood–Much praise for this film, all merited.
  38. Jayne Mansfield’s Car–Alabama 1969. Great cast.
  39. Obvious Child–Funny if you don’t mind raunchy.
  40. Calvary–Yes this is sort of about crucifixion but really great storytelling. Irish.
  41. The Patience Stone–The trials of a modern-day Middle Eastern woman.
  42. Jodorovsky’s Dune–A beautifully imagined movie that was never made but influenced a genre.
  43. The Lunchbox–Sweet Indian movie about a near-romance.
  44. 20 Feet from Stardom–Backup singers. Fabulous!
  45. Tracks–Biopic about young woman crossing Australian desert alone.
  46. Virunga–Heroic Congolese rangers protect gorillas
  47. Living on One Dollar–A day. Four young Americans try it in Guatemala.