This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Judging from the box-office figures, 2015 was the year moviegoers wanted to see bigger dinosaurs on "Jurassic World," watch Marvel's Avengers save the world again, ride one last time with Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, follow Katniss Everdeen as she finally defeated The Capitol and return to "a galaxy far, far away."
For all the adventures into the familiar, moviegoers also got the chance to see things that were new: a romp through a 12-year-old girl's head, a deep dig into wrongdoing in Boston's Catholic archdiocese, an insightful cab ride through modern Tehran and a 5-year-old's exploration of a suddenly much larger world.
Even some of the trips in old territory, from the postapocalyptic hellscape of The Road Warrior to the planets experiencing The Force, felt fresh in the hands of talented filmmakers.
With a mix of original stories and clever adaptations, here are my top 10 movies of 2015:
For Jack, age 5, the entire world rests within the confines of four walls, because he doesn't know what his Ma does: She was kidnapped at 17, and he is the product of her captor raping her. Love becomes a survival mechanism, both in the shed and when they are released and must conquer the challenges of a larger world. Heartbreaking performances by Brie Larson (as Ma) and newcomer Jacob Tremblay (as Jack) anchor this intense drama, sensitively handled by director Lenny Abrahamson and screenwriter Emma Donoghue (who adapted her own novel).
Barred from making movies in his home country of Iran, director Jafar Panahi now works as a cab driver. With cameras mounted on his dashboard, he captures his passengers talking about life in modern Tehran and delivers a pointed commentary on how dissent quietly teems under Iran's oppressive government. As star and director (and the only one allowed legally to put his name in the credits), Panahi turns making a movie into an act of courage.
3. "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Director George Miller returns to the oil-depleted world he created in his 1979 action classic "Mad Max" (and expanded in the 1981 global hit sequel, "The Road Warrior"). The twist isn't in the casting of Tom Hardy as the loner Max Rockatansky, but in how Max willingly plays second fiddle to the real hero: Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a truck driver on a mission of revenge and redemption. Easily the most intense, and weirdly creative, movie-length car chase you're likely to see.
Real journalism isn't flashy. It's a daily grind of unearthing documents, finding details others missed and getting the right people to talk. In director Tom McCarthy's masterful drama about The Boston Globe's efforts to reveal the Catholic Church's cover-up of priests committing sexual abuse, real journalism means having reporters (played by Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian D'Arcy James) ferret out the truth while their editors (played by Michael Keaton, John Slattery and Liev Schreiber) disrupt the cozy relationship among Boston's powerful institutions. The result is a riveting tale of seeking the truth, no matter the cost.
5. "Inside Out"
Disney's Pixar Animation Studios serves up its most inventive movie ever, a funny, exciting, colorful and moving trip through the emotions of a 12-year-old girl named Riley with the emotions themselves becoming characters. Director Pete Docter, Pixar's most conceptual of filmmakers (he also thought of the balloon house in "Up" and the denizens of "Monsters, Inc."), makes us laugh, cry and relate to Riley's jumble of conflicting feelings.
6. "The Tribe"
Sergei (Grigoriy Fesenko) is a new student at a boarding school for the deaf in Kiev, where he quickly discovers a secret crime syndicate that pimps out adult female students as prostitutes. When Sergei falls for one of them, Anya (Yana Novikova), he threatens to upend a rigidly controlled student hierarchy. Writer-director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky forces the audience to pay close attention, presenting all dialogue in Ukrainian sign language without subtitles, but the raw emotions and disturbing violence require no translation at all.
7. "The Martian"
Once again, much expense is given to saving Matt Damon. This time, he's botanist and astronaut Mark Watney, who must survive alone on Mars after his mission comrades mistakenly leave him for dead during a sandstorm. With a strong supporting cast (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Mackenzie Davis and Sean Bean on Earth; Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Kate Mara and Sebastian Stan in space), director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Drew Goddard in a smart adaptation of Andy Weir's web-vetted novel make the science sound plausible and exciting. But the real fun is Damon, in a performance that puts his Everyman charm to perfect use.
8. "The Hunting Ground"
It starts with the horrifying statistic that 1 in 5 women in college are sexually assaulted. The real anger sets in as director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering talk to dozens of victims and hear the same story repeated: college administrators trying to hush up accusations, blame victims, protect abusers and sweep the whole thing under the rug. Dick and Ziering target some repeat offenders namely the fraternity system and college athletics (with a special mention for now-NFL star Jameis Winston) in this shattering documentary, which ends with the hopeful rallying cry of victims organizing to change the system.
9. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"
From the opening title card, reminding us we are going "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away," director J.J. Abrams delivers exactly what millions of fans wanted and expected: a ripping space yarn with blasters and lightsabers, droids and creatures, fun and excitement and the cocked half-smile of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in the middle of it. Abrams also gives us a new generation of characters, well played by Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac. Sure, it borrows heavily from George Lucas' 1977 original but who thinks that's a bad thing?
10. "Steve Jobs"
It took three gifted artists screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, director Danny Boyle and actor Michael Fassbender to get under the skin of the Apple Computer co-founder and understand the foibles, phobias and idiosyncrasies that drove him to create gadgets people loved while pushing those closest to him away. Adapted from Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs and audaciously mounted as backstage conversations before three major product launches, the movie uses dialogue like fireworks that illuminate Jobs' prickly genius.
The second 10
The honorable mentions to my top 10 list: the rousing continuation to the "Rocky" saga, "Creed"; the gleefully droll animated "Shaun the Sheep Movie"; the devastating Holocaust drama from Hungary, "Son of Saul" (opening in Utah in February); the mind-bending robot thriller "Ex Machina"; the soulful immigrant tale "Brooklyn"; the genre-twisting horror thriller "It Follows"; the energetic N.W.A biopic "Straight Outta Compton"; the acidic feminist comedy "Grandma"; the riveting drug-war drama "Sicario"; and the sensitive and funny teen dramedy "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl."
The bottom 10
There are no rainbows without rain. These were the dreariest of the downpours:
1. "Love the Coopers" • Forced family frivolity traps a talented cast (Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Marisa Tomei among them) in a holiday from hell that not even the narrator dog (voiced by Steve Martin) could escape.
2. "Fantastic Four" • Hard to say which was worse: the muddled concept, the shoddy execution or the studio's panicked salvage efforts. Either way, a mess of superheroic proportions.
3. "Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Road Chip" • It's long since time to call the exterminator on these obnoxious rodents.
4. "Pan" • Giving Peter Pan an origin story was just one of a dozen bad ideas fighting for screen time in this special-effects overload.
5. "Unfinished Business" • Don't worry if you don't remember this snooze of a comedy. Vince Vaughn probably doesn't remember it, and he was the star.
6. "The Gallows" / "Cooties" / "The Lazarus Effect" • A trio of ill-conceived horror movies, with nary a good scare among them.
7. "Asthma" • Not even the incandescent Krysten Ritter (currently kicking butt on Marvel's "Jessica Jones") could save this inedible stew of indie-movie clichés.
8. "Get Hard" • If this Will Ferrell/Kevin Hart vehicle had tried as much to be funny as it tried to be offensive, it would have been the comedy hit of the year.
9. "Irrational Man" • Woody Allen runs his hyper-intellectual characters through the motions without a good reason why.
10. "Pixels" • Video-game nostalgia and cool visual effects can't save a movie from the laziness of star Adam Sandler and his cronies.