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Best Films of 2015

Scott, it’s that time of year again: time to review our picks for the best films of 2015.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Without further ado — and without going into exactly what a “doo” is — let’s get right to it.

My top 10 were films that took me out of my comfort zone and transported me to a different place. A dangerous place that I could live in for 2 hours from the safety of my theater seat.

10. Steve Jobs
9. Inside Out
8. Creed
7. Mad Max: Fury Road
6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
5. Straight Outta Compton
4. Bridge of Spies
3. Room
2. The Revenant
1. The Martian

Here are my top movies in 2015. These were finely-crafted movies featuring memorable characters who took big risks and forever changed themselves or the world.

10. Spotlight
9. Creed
8. Steve Jobs
7. Joy
6. Woman in Gold
5. Inside Out
4. The Martian
3. Room
2. Bridge of Spies
1. The Revenant


It looks like we have several movies in common, Scott. Let’s get right to it and talk about our top five. My number 5 pick was Straight Outta Compton. It’s a biopic about the founders of the rap group NWA. I was uncertain about this film going in because I personally have so little in common with the lead characters. But I was pulled into their world and came to understand the amazing challenges the three leads had to overcome to get “outta the hood.” It’s a great three-way buddy hero story as well as a great rags to riches story.

Greg, Straight Outta Compton didn’t make my top 10 list, but I did enjoy its story about a group of underdogs overcoming the institution of racism. This film is also about human relations – how those relations form, how they evolve, how they unravel, and how we clean up the mess. Compton makes you think about the ways that human beings treat each other, in the good sense but mostly in the destructive sense. This film was well-made and quite interesting.

My number 5 pick was Inside Out, a movie that especially grabbed my attention because it portrays the conflicting psychological makeup of the average human being. We are presented with five conflicting emotional states that compete with long-term memories, imaginary friends, dream states, trains of thought, and executive functioning. The visual depictions of all these mental processes are innovative and amusing. Moreover, the resolution of Riley’s internal conflict is deeply moving and reveals some fundamental truths about how we deal with life’s ups and downs.

I also liked Inside Out, but not as much as you did. It got high marks from me for excellent storytelling. I was very concerned that a story about emotions would be very fluffy and abstract. But writer/director Pete Docter really hammered out a story worthy of Pixar. I laughed, and I cried. But mostly I sat in admiration of a story that clearly reached adults as readily as it reached children.


My number 4 pick was Bridge of Spies. You can hardly go wrong with the best director of the century (Steven Spielberg) and America’s favorite leading man (Tom Hanks). Bridge is a period piece that reminds us of how things haven’t really changed much. Americans of the 1960s feared the Russians with an irrational paranoia so great that they forgot the meaning of the Constitution. The film echoed a similar paranoia of Muslims today. Everything about this movie was excellent. Even the extras put in stellar performances.

Bridge of Spies was my number 2 pick. This movie shines in every way that a movie can shine. First and foremost, Donovan is a hero with moral courage. His character taps into an important hero archetype that describes a man who does the right thing even when it is very unpopular. When you combine a fabulous screenplay with arguably the best male actor of our times (Tom Hanks), you are destined to produce something magical.

My number 4 movie in 2015 was The Martian. This film offers an extraordinary hero story, perhaps the best I’ve seen on the big screen in several years. The movie itself is almost as strong as the hero’s journey; it explodes off the screen, seizing our attention and lifting our hearts for the entire 2 hours and 21 minutes. We have the complete package here: a riveting screenplay, a terrific cast, astounding CGI effects, and a gritty hero worthy of our greatest admiration.

Yes, The Martian was my favorite film of the year. I was transfixed by three separate but intertwined plotlines. We had Watney’s fight to stay alive on the inhospitable planet Mars. And the crew’s journey back to Earth after having left their comrade behind. And finally, the story of the team on Earth at Mission Control trying to find a way to bring Watney home and not lose the entire space agency in the process. It was a thrilling ride from beginning to end.


That brings us to a film we both rated number 3 in our lists: Room. This was an atypical hero’s journey. The “ordinary world” for young Jack is a 10×10 shed where he’s lived his entire life. His only exposure to the outside world is what he’s seen on television. Then, when he’s thrust into the ‘real’ world, he is overwhelmed the the hugeness of it. Brie Larson plays the mother and really has to carry the whole of the first half of the film herself. She does a splendid job and convinces me that she’s been an abductee for seven years. It’s a brilliant movie.

As you mention, Greg, Room is also my 3rd favorite movie of 2015. Brie Larson turns in an Oscar-worthy performance as a young woman who must overcome horrific circumstances to survive, and if that weren’t enough, she must help her young son overcome those same horrific circumstances. I was riveted by their dual journeys and deeply felt their every triumph and every setback. One could argue that the movie represents a wonderful metaphor for how we all must break out of our prisons, help others along the way, and overcome our personal demons. This movie grabbed me in many ways and deserves all the accolades it receives.


That brings us to The Revenant, which you ranked as #2 and I rated as the top movie of the year 2015. This film is a sweeping, majestic, tour de force, a feast for the eyes and a marvelous example of movie-making at its finest. Although clocking in at 2 hours and 40 minutes, the time flew by. All the elements of good storytelling came together to perfection with this film, and when you combine a great tale with astounding visuals, you’ve got a movie for the ages.


I have to agree. There is a certain similarity between The Revenant and The Martian. Both lead characters are in an unforgiving landscape trying to survive. But in The Revenant the hero is out for revenge. Ultimately it becomes a showdown between the hero and the villain. I rated The Revenant slightly behind The Martian because the latter was a more complicated film – both technically and in terms of plot. But I still think The Revenant was one of the finest movies of the year.

So there you have it. Our top 10 lists overlap somewhat but there are some key differences, too. Overall, I would give the movies of 2015 a rating of 3 and a half Reels out of 5. The quality of films started out poorly but finished fairly strong. You may recall that I gave the movies of 2013 a rating of 4 Reels out of 5. Last year also received a rating of 3 and a half Reels. You can read our reviews of the films of 2013 in our first book: Reel Heroes: Volume 1, and our reviews of the movies in 2014 in our latest book, Reel Heroes & Villains.

I think we actually had a better crop of movies this year than last. As you point out, we got a lot of really good films at the end of the year. There were some excellent offerings over the summer, too. If I had to score 2015 I think I’d give it 4 Reels out of 5. We had a bonus with reboots of Mad Max and Star Wars, not to mention the final installment of The Hunger Games franchise. I’m looking forward to what is coming in 2016 including the next Star Trek film. I’m also looking forward to reviewing 2016’s heroes and our next project – the Mentor. See you at the movies, Scott!

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