The Best Movies of 2015: Staff Picks

By  · Published on December 23rd, 2015

As we bring our Best of 2015 feature to a close, it’s time to unveil the Top Ten lists of our staff and contributors. You’ve already seen the big list from our chief critic Rob Hunter. But while we do have one chief critic who sees and reviews the bulk of movies throughout the year, we believe that every single contributor to our site is important. Which is why we have our Staff Picks. Not only does this shed some light on the favorite films of all your favorite FSR contributors, it also affords us the opportunity to create a cumulative list of the best movies of 2015. This is created by combining and weighing each individual list, then ranking them. And as it’s been in past years, the results are very interesting.

Mad Max: Fury Road won by a healthy margin, appearing on all but two of our lists. It finished in the top 3 of four of our eight staff lists. Similarly, Ex Machina was an across-the-board favorite. A little bit of horror snuck into our list (It Follows and What We Do In The Shadows), as did plenty of sci-fi (The Martian, Ex Machina) and several awards season favorites (Spotlight, Room and The Look of Silence) and indie darlings (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and The Diary of a Teenage Girl). There was no shortage of good movies, big and small.

Check out our final list below, then scroll down to see everyone’s individual lists and thoughts as we finish up our look back at 2015.

Our Cumulative List, The Best Movies of 2015:

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. Ex Machina
  3. Spotlight
  4. Creed
  5. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
  6. The Martian
  7. It Follows
  8. Room
  9. Sicario
  10. Straight Outta Compton
  11. The Look of Silence
  12. What We Do in The Shadows
  13. The Big Short
  14. Youth
  15. The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Neil Miller

  1. Ex Machina
  2. Mad Max: Fury Road
  3. The Martian
  4. The Hateful Eight
  5. Creed
  6. Me and Earl and The Dying Girl
  7. What We Do In The Shadows
  8. Kingsman: The Secret Service
  9. The Diary of a Teenage Girl
  10. People, Places, Things

This is where I would go on to make a joke about how my man-crush on Jemaine Clement influenced my list, clearly. How Brooklyn would have made the list if there were 11 spots (and how The Force Awakens was a very solid #12). And perhaps some thoughts about how it was a great year for the appropriation of decades-old styles and legacyquels. I could also talk about how there is such a thing as love at first sight when it comes to movies, which was the case with Ex Machina. I knew that it would end up at the top of my list the moment I walked out of the theater at SXSW. But in the end, this is all I want to say: I had a great time at the movies in 2015. I saw some of the best science fiction and action I’ve seen in many recent years. And even though a lot of it was familiar territory, it was great fun all the way.

Nathan Adams

  1. Room
  2. Spotlight
  3. It Follows
  4. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
  5. Slow West
  6. Ex Machina
  7. Mistress America
  8. About Elly
  9. Manson Family Vacation
  10. Creed

2015 was all about huge disappointments when watching the studios’ pathetic attempts at making the sort of big franchise pictures that play in the multiplexes and a wealth of delights and surprises when watching the smaller, weirder stuff that gets released in the art houses. The movies I loved this year all had real human drama, sharp scripts, and transcendent performances from great actors doing some of their best work, which was enough to make them hugely satisfying experiences, even though they might have lacked a bit in spectacle. And, hey, Creed slipped in there at the bottom of my list, so the year wasn’t a total loss when it comes to established properties. You might have heard there was a Star Wars movie that got released recently as well, and I’d call that one an honorable mention. Hopefully the late year comeback of solid franchise films points to a 2016 where we’ll have a better mix of good movies big and small.

Jack Giroux

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. The Diary of a Teenage Girl
  3. Sicario
  4. Steve Jobs
  5. Mistress America
  6. The Big Short
  7. Youth
  8. Slow West
  9. Bridge of Spies
  10. The Mend

Half of the films that made my list, surprisingly, are major releases. Not to say we don’t often see great movies come out of the studio system, but this was a fine year for wide releases. Even excellent films that played (or will play) on around 3,000 screens – Creed and The Hateful Eight, being the prime examples – didn’t make the list. Writing a top 10 is never easy, but these are the films that keep coming back to me, and in most cases, it’s because they move me. Youth, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Steve Jobs, Bridge of Spies, and The Mend, in particular, are such thoughtful, human stories about relationships, whether it’s the ones we make with our enemies, friends, families, or our products.

Matthew Monagle

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. Carol
  3. Spotlight
  4. Bone Tomahawk
  5. It Follows
  6. Brooklyn
  7. Tangerines
  8. Ex Machina
  9. Tangerine
  10. Crimson Peak

As always, there are films in 2015 that I haven’t quite gotten around to (The Room is on my holiday shortlist, and The Hateful Eight and The Revenant will likely be in the mix as well), but I’ve never had a problem with incomplete lists as long as the author indicates which movies he or she hasn’t seen yet. More spots always means more opportunities for movies you might have missed. The inclusion of Bone Tomahawk means that I’ll be harangued endlessly by Neil and Rob, but it’s Tangerines – the Estonian film nominated for the 2015 Academy Award for Best Foreign FIlm – that has me bending the rules to work it in. Since it was released in the United States in 2015, and since I saw it this year, I’m happy to include it, giving me 100% more tangerine-related movie titles than most year-end lists. Yay! In the end, just like we drew up before the year started, it was a fight between Mad Max and Carol. I predict that both movies will become mainstays around the holidays for very, very different reasons.

Allison Loring

  1. Straight Outta Compton
  2. Creed
  3. The Big Short
  4. Inside Out
  5. Room
  6. Mad Max: Fury Road
  7. Southpaw
  8. Amy
  9. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
  10. Furious 7

Despite not being a boxing fan, two films about the subject (Creed and Southpaw) are the ones that stuck with me all year. Michael B. Jordan and Jake Gyllenhaal delivered knock out (pardon my pun) performances and each film gave me an unexpected emotional gut punch (in a good way). Looking back on the year, it was the movies with compelling characters who created emotional connections that really resonated with me. In a year of remakes, reboots, and sequels – it was the characters that mattered most, regardless of whether they were in the continuation of a series (Creed, Mad Max: Fury Road), a closer look at real people or situations (Straight Outta Compton, Amy, The Big Short), or a book (Room). It was how these films brought these characters and people to life is what defined 2015 to me.

Alisha Grauso

  1. Ex Machina
  2. Mad Max: Fury Road
  3. Creed
  4. Kingsman: The Secret Service
  5. The Martian
  6. Straight Outta Compton
  7. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
  8. It Follows
  9. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  10. The Danish Girl

While there were a ton of big-budget flops this year, upon looking over this list, it occurs to me that this was also the year that Hollywood managed to marry entertaining popcorn movies with true filmmaking artistry – just take a look at movies like Creed, Mad Max: Fury Road and Kingsman: The Secret Service (somewhere, I just know there’s a keyboard warrior preparing to give me crap for that last one). And apparently, I was all about kickass ladies and the triumph of the human spirit in 2015. In our current state of grimdark-n-gritty and celebrating bad people doing bad things, it was nice that so many times this year, I walked out of the theater feeling uplifted by good people doing brave things (The Martian, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and The Danish Girl, among others), by underdogs with no quit in them, and by good old-fashioned human ingenuity and perseverance. If 2016 continues in the same vein, I can’t help but feel hopeful about the state of storytelling in Hollywood.

Christopher Campbell

  1. The Look of Silence
  2. What We Do in the Shadows
  3. Approaching the Elephant
  4. Shaun the Sheep Movie
  5. In Jackson Heights
  6. Anomalisa
  7. The Russian Woodpecker
  8. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
  9. Stray Dog
  10. Tangerine

Once again, I’ve alternated my picks between documentaries and fiction, but this year my choices in the latter category include a documentary-style comedy (What We Do in the Shadows) and a drama shot on an iPhone (Tangerine) that has a very documentary feel, outside of the unrealistic acting. Then there are two animated films, one of them being thanks to my having little kids and discovering one of the best features of the year among the family friendly offerings they can also enjoy (Shaun the Sheep Movie) – the other (Anamolisa), though, is very much not for kids, and not just because it involves stop-motion puppet sex. Of the docs, the first (The Look of Silence) is miles above the rest on my list in terms of quality and importance, while two debut films (Approaching the Elephant and The Russian Woodpecker) offer up the greatest of new nonfiction perspectives. Meanwhile, I still haven’t seen the new Quentin Tarantino, who normally features in my top 10s, so consider all of this temporary.

We’ve shown you ours, now you show us yours: Jump into the comments below and give us your Top Ten of 2015.

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