2014 was a pretty lackluster year for movies, which made it that much more exciting to have so many cancel-plans-and-get-straight-to-the-theater weekends in 2015. The blockbusters blockbusted harder, the indies cut deeper, the sequels kept up with—and in many cases defeated—their predecessors. Here’s the Fuse.tv staff’s 20 must-see picks from the year (listed, not ranked).
Not released in time for consideration: The Hateful Eight, Concussion, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, Sisters, Joy, The Revenant, The Big Short, In the Heart of the Sea.
If you went to see Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015, you can attest to the fact that this movie kicks ass! It had been 30 years since the last Mad Max film (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, 1985), and Fury Road was well worth the wait. Straight from George Miller, the creator/writer/director of the previous three installments, Fury Road hits on all cylinders (pun intended). The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, the set design is stunning and the action sequences that seem to go on forever keep you on the edge of your seat every step of the way. It’s everything a Mad Max fan could ever want and then some. So good, in fact, that the the next entry in the franchise is already in the works, with George Miller set to return. –Juan Cadavid
How can you not love this movie? Let's start with the obvious: Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Lewis Black, and Bill Hader as Joy, Disgust, Anger, and Fear. Then there’s the less obvious but extra magnificent Phyllis Smith (from The Office) as Sadness, who steals the show. "Crying helps me slow down and obsess over the weight of life’s problems,” she groans. Me too!
This has to be one of the best Pixar works ever, inspired by the inner workings of the mind and emotions of an 11 year-old girl, Riley, whose happy hockey-playing life in Minnesota goes to hell when her family moves to San Francisco. No more hockey, no more friends, new kids who don’t seem to like her very much, and yet her parents just keep expecting her to act happy about everything. The voices inside her head can’t quite keep up. (I think there’s a 12-year-old girl inside everybody, frankly.)
I have no idea why it took so long to make a movie about the complexities of the emotional inner life of a supercool adolescent girl. Gorgeous bright colors, excellent casting, quotable dialogue (“Congratulations San Francisco, you've ruined pizza!”) and an ending that'll make you cry your eyes out. Perfection.
It Follows is a minimalistic horror piece that starts out innocent and turns your senses on their sides. The characters are the standard teen archetypes thrown into a psychological thriller set in present day Midwest. If the depressed environment wasn’t dull or sad enough, watching Jay try to survive unforeseen manifestations of evil is extremely terrifying. The film overall is a nod to the classics of horror when it comes to sound and editing, but It Follows ushers in a new type of sub-genre that is surprisingly refreshing.
Director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) and rising star Michael B. Jordan team up once again for the highly anticipated return of the Rocky franchise. Injecting an indie aesthetic to the blockbuster boxing saga, Coogler and famed French cinematographer Maryse Alberti stunningly tell the story of Adonis Creed, giving both old- and new-generation Rocky fans a serious Oscars underdog contender. The OG Sylvester Stallone doesn't disappoint, either, as the return of Balboa to Philly's streets unexpectedly tugs on your heartstrings. Throw in a bomb ass soundtrack and you've got the perfect sports drama package. –Tina Xu
Writer/director Alex Garland and his tiny cast—just Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander for the majority of the time—create something completely new and crushingly human in sci-fi's well-worn artificial intelligence corner. The suspense builds masterfully, the performances deepen steadily and the conclusion stuns like few others this year. –Zach Dionne
It doesn't matter if you've seen the first one. It doesn't matter if you need a basket of man candy in your life. All that matters is that you like to have fun, because you'll find more of it in Magic Mike XXL than possibly any other piece of culture in 2015. And no, Channing Tatum's hot streak isn't even close to cooling.
Straight Outta Compton was the best movie of 2015! Seriously, it made you laugh, cry, dance and get inspired all in one film. It’s not about gangster rap. It’s about brotherhood. It humanized some of the most iconic rappers ever, meaning we got to see Dr. Dre as Andre Young. It also emphasized how raw and ugly the rap game can be with menacing figures like Suge Knight.
Due to the fact that the stars portrayed were involved in the creative process, some very big and not so pretty moments of the real lives of N.W.A were left out of the flick. However, it still felt like a full body of work. I watched it three times in the theaters and still can’t wait to get the Blu-ray! –Esteban Serrano
“There will be tears.” This is all I kept hearing before seeing this movie, and it truly cannot be stressed enough. Room tells the story of a kidnapped woman who must raise a child from birth to age five in the shed of a captor. "Room"—spoken by both mother and son like a proper noun—isn’t just where they live; it is their entire world. The film is a deeply emotional and incredibly intense work of art, a must-see for anyone who needs a reminder about the potential of humanity and the strength the human spirit can muster in the face of unquestionable evil. People can do unconscionably rotten things to each other—Room exhibits how powerful the resistance to that can be.
Brie Larson and the young Jack Tremblay both deliver award-worthy, unforgettable performances. But it cannot be stated enough—Room will push you to your emotional limit. There will definitely be tears.
Ant-Man is the latest superhero to get his own movie in the Marvel cinematic universe. Although it was released the same year as the second Avengers, Age of Ultron, it definitely stood out on its own as a fantastic origin story to kickstart the new series. Paul Rudd leads the ensemble cast including Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly and rapper T.I. The film does a terrific job introducing one of the lesser known founding members of the Avengers in Ant-Man, and does so with a lot of fun and creativity, especially in scenes showing off what the Pym Particles suit can do. Paul Rudd shines, showing off his range as an actor, making you laugh as per usual, getting your heart melting in the scenes with his onscreen daughter. Marvel Studios is still on a roll. –Juan Cadavid
It doesn’t matter how obvious it is where this movie’s headed in the first five minutes, because hell yeah, it’s still fun watching dinosaurs stomp around scaring the crap out of everyone. They look terrifyingly real, they’re ginormous, and some of them actually seem to love that Chris Pratt. And who can blame them?
Best death scene (spoiler alert!): Pteranodons tossing around Bryce Dallas Howard’s well-intentioned assistant Zara like a plaything, then getting swallowed by a dino sea-monster.
Silliest distraction: Bryce Dallas Howard’s spiked heels, which she runs around in no matter what the terrain.
Most prophetic line: “You just went and made a new dinosaur? Probably not a good idea...” –Laurie Ulster
The release and surprising $30.2 million opening weekend of Trainwreck cemented Amy Schumer’s household-name status. The comedian’s star had already been rocketing from her popular Comedy Central sketch show Inside Amy Schumer, but Trainwreck let loyal and new fans see her in a fresh light. The film, directed by Judd Apatow and written by Schumer, focuses on a fictional character whose parents’ divorce in her youth jump-starts her adult fear of monogamy. While Trainwreck is definitely a comedy, there’s a darker, dramatic edge to it that Schumer pulls off convincingly. Her comedy making me literally LOL, and think, isn’t new, but it wasn’t until her performance made me cry in a movie theater, during a comedy, that I realized this woman’s more than just a comedian. LeBron James’ unexpected and hilarious supporting role (as himself) is another highlight. And a fun fact: Before landing her Comedy Central series, Schumer was a Fuse co-host on our Mark Hoppus-hosted music talk show, Hoppus On Music. –Mark Sundstrom
Al Pacino as Rod Stewart in a heartwarming comedy? Somehow, it works. Danny Collins finds the Oscar-winner portraying an aging crooner making the standard late-life crisis moves—trying to reconnect with his family, shaking up his fossilized career, wooing Annette Bening. Yet the movements always ring true, the supporting cast (Jennifer Garner, Christopher Plummer, Bobby Canavale) commits to the sentiment and the final scene is fantastic. Still, it keeps coming back to Pacino, who’s more sprightly here than he has been in years. It’s a showy role, but Pacino never goes schlocky. –Jason Lipshutz
When I was a kid, I wished all movies were just like Tomorrowland. Best parts:
–Britt Robertson’s Casey Newton finding a pin that transports her to the middle of a field whenever she touches it, with a futuristic-looking city in the distance
–Wacky chases from lethal pursuers in George Clooney’s booby-trapped house, which includes...an escape bathtub
–Finding out there’s a rocket hidden inside the Eiffel Tower
–A fight with evil robots in the nerdiest, most wonderful comic book/sci-fi nostalgia store ever
–Hugh Laurie’s futuristic tailored outfit and deadpan delivery
Remember I said I used to wish all movies were like Tomorrowland? I think I still do. –Laurie Ulster
Full disclosure: I have only ever seen the first Mission: Impossible movie, back in junior high, on VHS, and I was only half paying attention. I didn’t actually get into the series until 2011’s Ghost Protocol and it was freakin’ awesome. So when this year’s Rogue Nation released, I was hype. I am nobody’s Tom Cruise fan, but damn does he make me forget that when he’s on screen as the charming, cunning Ethan Hunt. There was nothing out of the ordinary for an M:I filmin Rogue Nation, but that doesn’t mean it was any less of an edge-of-your-seat joyride, or that the gorgeous, shot-on-location globetrotting was any less alluring. Sure, action flicks can be pure popcorn movies, but for a franchise about to shoot its sixth installment, there’s always something that keeps the results exciting and fresh. –Mark Sundstrom
From the first look at its poster, Spy looked like it was destined to continue the roles Melissa McCarthy showed in Bridesmaids and Tammy as the ridiculous, overweight woman who acted more like a punchline than any type of heroine. Spy changed all that by McCarthy's character transforming from the punchline to a kick-ass secret agent who isn't afraid to admit that her feet are killing her after saving the world. It was a game-changer for McCarthy, but more importantly embraced an unconventional, real-life hero tale with an awesome message more Hollywood action movies need to embrace. –Jeff Benjamin
For the first time in its 20-year history, Pixar dropped two joints in a year. While Inside Out is among the studio's very best, The Good Dinosaur falls squarely in the fat patch of Very Great Computer-Animated Family Movies. The premise? Dinosaurs never went extinct, putting them emotionally and intellectually ahead of humans, allowing an apatosaurus—excuse me, a farmer apatosaurus—to take on a feral human as his sidekick in a quest to find his lost home. As always, tears poured like rain. –Zach Dionne
Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss Everdeen, the girl on fire, for the final chapter of The Hunger Games. She teams up with familiar faces Gale and Finnick to continue her journey as the leader of the rebellion to liberate the citizens of war torn Panem, as well as to assassinate President Snow. Not quite as much action as prior entries, but still loaded with tons of heart-racing moments that will leave you at the edge of your seat. Lawrence again puts forth another phenomenal performance, as well as Donald Sutherland, who portrays every bit of evil that President Snow truly is. Mockingjay – Part 2 is an unmissable film, and a fitting finale to Katniss’ saga. –Steve LoRocco
Sometime they make sequels to movies with nothing more than a plan to squeeze the last dollar out of a franchise, whether the story calls for it or not. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the opposite. It’s a sequel made because there was another great story to tell, and a handful of intriguing, clever characters to play with, and more of India to see. No superheroes, no aliens, just Maggie Smith, Dev Patel (of Slumdog Millionaire fame), Judi Dench, and the Best Exotic Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful. It gets even better when you add in a Bollywood-style wedding and throw in Richard Gere.
As Maggie Smith’s hotel co-owner Muriel Donnelly says, “There's no such thing as an ending, just a place where you leave the story.” Sign me up for the next one, too. –Laurie Ulster
The Avengers assembled once again this year, this time to take on their most ambitious foe yet, Ultron. In Age of Ultron, the team most stop an AI sentinel (Ultron) from eradicating all of humanity. All Avengers members (and their respective actors) returned for the sequel, with new additions Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Once again Joss Whedon directed an incredibly fun and exciting superhero movie featuring amazing battles sequences (Hulkbuster, anyone?) and jaw-dropping set pieces. Watching the Avengers fight alongside each other is still a rush whether you are a nerd (like myself) or of the casual variety. It’s no secret the Avengers franchise is Marvel’ studio’s biggest draw, evident in Age of Ultron earning $459 million in America and $1.4 million worldwide. –Juan Cadavid
Andy Weir's convincing, Michael Crichton–esque novel about an astronaut stranded on Mars for a nightmarishly long time got a successfully science-y adaptation from Ridley Scott. Having just returned to space with 2012’s Prometheus, the man who gave us Blade Runner and Alien built something harrowing and purely entertaining—and Matt Damon brought his A-game to finesse the film to home base. –Zach Dionne