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Top 10 Films of 2015

By Jude D. Russo

The Crimson Arts Board evaluates the top 10 films of 2015, as decided by our annual survey.

10. Spectre

James Bond returns in cheery formulaic glory, ready to save the world from yet another nefarious organization. This time, though, director Sam Mendes strikes a new and successful balance between tonal registers: “Spectre” retains the sophistication of the most recent Bond movies while evoking the campy fun of the earlier classics. For every scene of angst, Mendes produces a pithy one-liner, a shot-down helicopter, or a conveniently-placed couch, and the result is a nicely pitched piece of entertainment. The acting remains good, too, which is to say that Daniel Craig still has piercing eyes and a perfectly chiseled jaw. —Charlotte L.R. Anrig

9. Cinderella

Remakes often feel unoriginal in their execution or too dismissive of their original source material, but Disney avoids such pitfalls with its live-action adaptation of “Cinderella.” Director Kenneth Branagh fills every frame with stunning visuals, and he is sincere in his exploration of the story’s deeper themes such as perseverance and growth. Strong performances from the cast, particularly Cate Blanchett in her role as stepmother Lady Tremaine, and a colorfully striking costume and set design only enhance the film. “Cinderella” might be a modern remake of a classic tale, but it manages to maintain the romantic charm and sentimental magic that made its predecessors so beloved.Ha D.H. Le

8. Straight Outta Compton

The latest, and by critical consensus greatest, work to date by director Felix Gary Gray, "Straight Outta Compton" dramatizes rap band N.W.A.’s rise to success in the mid 1980s and 1990s. Gray depicts collaborating founders Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr), and Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) as quiet, raging heroes who battle not only for recognition as artists, but also against the injustice of the American police system—a timely topic. For such a contemporary subject—N.W.A. revolutionized modern music through their work in rap and hip-hop—the meditative camerawork imparts an unexpected sense of classical monumentality . “Straight Outta Compton” has fine actor performances all around, despite a conventional script. Beyond that, its dynamic, demanding, Byronic soundtrack is the real pièce de résistance. —Victoria Zhuang

7. It Follows

Permeated by an omnipresent atmosphere of teenage malaise and supernatural dread, David Robert Mitchell’s modern-day masterpiece “It Follows” has already earned a rightful position alongside other canonical horror films such as “The Shining” and “The Exorcist.” Mitchell’s script simultaneously taps into and subverts classic tropes of adolescence: Protagonist Jay (Maika Monroe) struggles to define and reclaim her sexual agency throughout the movie while battling a relentless monster that haunts her as the result of a sex curse. A booming electronic score by Disasterpeace aptly complements Mitchell’s throwback ’80s visuals, and questions of spectrophilia are not the only ones left to the audience by film’s end.Alan R. Xie

5. Ex Machina

Director Alex Garland tackles man’s omnipresent fear of entities more intelligent than himself head-on with “Ex Machina”: the smart, chilling sci-fi answer to 2013’s more heartwarming and comedic “Her.” With rising Swedish star Alicia Vikander in the lead as the humanoid robot Ava, the film calls into question the same issues of sentience and autonomy for which Alan Turing laid the foundation with his famous eponymous test of artificial intelligence in 1950—a test that protagonist Caleb is dispatched to perform on Ava. “Ex Machina” is a Promethean tale for the modern generation. At its core a story of a man who dared to play both with fire and with God, it’s vague in all the right ways, never black or white in its morality but every shade of ambiguous grey in between. —Victoria Lin

5. Selma

Half a century after the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches, “Selma,” directed by Ava DuVernay, retells the story of this crucial moment during Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership of the civil rights movement. David Oyelowo leads the cast with a powerful and convincing performance as King, and DuVernay brings to the screen both a sense of the march as a mass movement and compelling glimpses of the private struggles of its key protagonists. The film also offers a meaningful reflection on its medium and the power of images on screen—such as the televised footage of civil rights protestors facing violence from Alabama police—to appeal to the national conscience and promote social change. —Elizabeth C. Keto

4. Trainwreck

From her critically acclaimed show “Inside Amy Schumer” to her HBO comedy special “Amy Schumer: Live at the Apollo,” it’s safe to that Amy Schumer has established herself as a comic juggernaut this year. Her film “Trainwreck,” which she wrote and stars in, is no exception to her recent success. Directed by Judd Apatow, the film displays all of the hallmarks of a raunchy rom-com as Amy drunkenly, crassly, and hilariously hooks up with the men of New York while struggling to avoid romantically committing to surgeon Aaron (Bill Hader). Is the movie life-changing? No. But if you’re looking for a good laugh, look no further. —Abby L. Noyes

3. The Martian

Many science fiction films are essentially fantasy with a palette swap, but “The Martian” returns to the genre’s more grounded roots. Building on a novel by Andy Weir, director Ridley Scott has put together a masterpiece of serious science fiction. Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, a botanist stranded on Mars, who survives by that most unlikely of things in modern science fiction: actual scientific knowledge. Damon’s acting is devoid of cheap tricks and histrionics. His performance is calm, believable, and stunningly relatable. He is also supported by an extensive all-star cast playing the rest of the NASA team, all of whom do a spectacular job portraying a set of characters that remain distinctive without becoming lifeless caricatures. There are no villains in “The Martian,” no easy screenwriting conventions. “The Martian” is the first—and hopefully not the last—movie to show us that Mars is a real place too. —J. Thomas Westbrook

2. Mad Max: Fury Road

Singlehandedly, “Mad Max: Fury Road” has redeemed the action genre. George Miller embraces the stereotypes of action films with his movie’s bizarrely souped-up vehicles, improbable physical feats, and stomach-churning camera maneuvers; simultaneously, he accomplishes feats of artistry in both visuals and storytelling. This is a film that functions on every conceivable level and can satisfy any craving: It is cinematographically stunning, unrelentingly engaging, narratively compelling, impeccably acted. And, perhaps most importantly, though a film in a traditionally male-focused genre continuing the tale of one of action’s most well-known men, it may in fact be one of the most feminist films of the past year. Tom Hardy’s Max Rockatansky takes a literal and metaphorical passenger seat to Charlize Theron’s fierce, compelling Imperator Furiosa, whose struggle to return to her female-dominated place of birth in a post-apocalyptic wasteland could easily sustain its own decade-spanning epic series. —Grace E. Huckins

1. Inside Out

Emotion and memory are two aspects of human existence that can be hard to capture on the big screen, especially without slipping into cliché. However, Disney Pixar’s “Inside Out” manages to brilliantly explore both, offering a deep examination of what it means to grow up without getting bogged down by its own subject matter. Led by an all-star cast that includes Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, and Mindy Kaling, among many others, the film expertly moves from moments of absolute hilarity to scenes of tear-rendering gravity. While it may have been marketed at a younger crowd, its story is ageless. —Abby L. Noyes

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