Best Movies of 2015: 'Far from the Madding Crowd', 'Water Diviner', 'Southpaw' & more!

2015 was an interesting year for movies and when it came to selecting the best and brightest, most of the top choices made themselves known pretty early in the year. There are just over 25 titles mentioned below, each categorized to hone in on exactly what they succeeded at.

So without further ado, these are Eclectic Pop's picks for the best movies of 2015. We begin with the #1 movie of the year...

Best Movie: Far from the Madding Crowd

This sensational adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel of the same name is a sweeping example of phenomenal film-making at every level. Released in late April, “Far from the Madding Crowd” fought off all of the year’s subsequent contenders to remain the perennial favorite.

Director Thomas Vinterberg brings Victorian-era England into ravishing life with an eye to the exquisite beauty of rural living. Tapping into the rarely conjured majesty of farming, Vinterberg transforms a harsh occupation into the ultimate working locale for dreamy romance and in the process delivers the most romantic movie to hit the silver screen, since Ron Howard took viewers “Far and Away” in 1992.

Carey Mulligan stars as the headstrong Bathsheba Everdeen, a spirited lass who upon inheriting her uncle’s estate, finds herself at the center of a diverse quadrangle. Vying for her hand is steadfast sheep farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), dashing Sergeant Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge) and forlorn farmer William Boldwood (Michael Sheen). The film’s strength rests in how it plays each suitor with uniformed viability, keeping the mystery surrounding who Bathsheba will ultimately choose in constant suspense.

Mulligan gives an impressive performance as the movie's flawed fem lead and forges believable chemistry with all of her co-stars; though it’s her spark with Matthias Schoenaerts that shines the brightest. In a cinematic climate where chemistry between leads is practically non-existent, theirs is staggeringly eventful: easy, natural and lively.

While Mulligan is crucial as the movie's heroine, the film equally hinges on Schoenaerts’ top notch turn as the loyal Oak. It's been a long time since a romantic drama has cast an actor of Schoenaerts' skill in a lead role and the positive impact he makes is exponential.

David Nicholls’ screenplay condenses Hardy’s sprawling source material into a streamlined accounting of its vital components, whilst Craig Armstrong’s inspired original score rounds out the experience, tying the visuals together in gorgeous harmony. A stunner with no equal, “Far from the Madding Crowd” was 2015’s absolute best - by far.

Best Action Adventure: The Water Diviner

Russell Crowe stars in and directs this poignant drama about an Australian father who travels to Turkey to find his three missing-in-action sons. There is not a single genre that goes unrepresented in this divine blend of drama, comedy, romance, action and adventure.

As a war film focused on the psychological carnage endured by soldiers' loved ones; “Water Diviner” digs into a deep well of emotion. Crowe’s astonishing first attempt at directing never hits a false note; enrapturing from its opening moments until its very last.

Best Foreign Film: Suburra

While this movie might sound foreign to you now, don’t expect that to remain the case by the time 2017 rolls around. Netflix has already greenlit a series based on this Italian crime thriller and after seeing this extraordinary film, there’s no question as to why. Provocatively arresting in a mesmeric fashion seldom found in the recent cache of gangster dramas, “Suburra” is a film for the ages.

Best Sci-Fi Flick: Ex Machina

If you strip away the sci-fi context of Alex Garland’s brilliant directorial debut, what you have is a story that explores the fascinatingly human, cerebral dance between men and women. An exhibition of the raw power female persuasion can possess, “Ex Machina” goes full throttle into the notion that even the smartest man can find himself succumbing to it; even as his mind calls for him to regain his intellectual composure.

The defining splendor of "Ex Machina" comes in the vastness of its philosophical interpretations and the conversations it affords its audience, which are as organically probing as the ones shared by its lead characters.

Best Sports Drama: Southpaw

Jake Gyllenhaal gave one of the most criminally underrated performances of the year in this boxing drama. Magnificently directed by Antoine Farqua, thrillingly scripted by Kurt Sutter and featuring spectacular supporting turns by Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams and breakout youngster Oona Laurence; “Southpaw” packed a knockout punch.

Centering on a high stakes game of redemption, Gyllenhaal’s broken down boxer Billy Hope is forced to rise from the ashes to reclaim his daughter, his career and his dignity. Gripping from beginning to end, “Southpaw” stands head and shoulders as one of the year’s best.

Best Feel Good Movie: Danny Collins

As the title of its commendation suggests, “Danny Collins” is an invigorating whirlwind of the feel good variety. While so many movies in 2015 provoked its audience to think, fewer can say they provoked them to feel and rarer yet, good. That’s where this Al Pacino starrer hits the mark; never missing a beat between comedy, drama and a strangely sublime combination of both.

Best Mystery: Strangerland

Kim Farrant’s directorial debut takes a sweltering glimpse into the private life of an Australian family, whose fraught dynamic is brought to its knees by a rebellious teenage daughter. Having disappeared into the ether alongside her younger brother; their parents (an excellent Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes) are left to grapple with local gossip and the specter of an invasive police investigation. Powerfully elusive and enthralling; “Strangerland” leaves a lot of room for audience speculation and heated debate.

Best Guilty Pleasure: The Boy Next Door

Yes, this scenario has played out in countless Lifetime movies and that’s part of why this Jennifer Lopez starrer is so exciting. Steamy, adult-centric thrillers have become an endangered species as far as theatrical releases are concerned.

“Boy Next Door” unabashedly endorses its predecessors by giving a tip of the hat to 90's maestros Adrian Lyne and Zalman King. This gender swapping take on the infamous “Fatal Attraction” storyline is a harmless way to be entertained for a breezy hour and a half. No harm, no foul.
 

Best Historical Costume Drama: A Little Chaos

Alan Rickman’s second directorial effort centered on the construction of the Gardens of Versailles, as commissioned by King Louis XIV of France (Rickman). 

To its major credit, the movie informs viewers from the outset that it is a fictionalized account of historical events; offering some breathing room to the halted breath usually caused by period pieces that blur the line between fact and fiction without giving its audience any proper heads up.

Besides the depiction of a burgeoning garden, “A Little Chaos” also nurtures the themes of the time’s gender politics and the negative effect they had on both men and women, thanks to a neatly realized romance between the film's leads (Kate Winslet and Matthias Schoenaerts).

Best Romantic Comedy: Love, Rosie

Anchored by the beyond charming performance of Lily Collins; “Love, Rosie” is a beguiling tale that follows a young woman’s unexpected journey into single motherhood and her complicated relationship with her best friend (Sam Claflin).

Collins is a revelation as the movie’s heroine, proving to be equally adept at both comedy and drama. Romantic comedies are another dwindling breed and if others can make an entry of this caliber, observers could see that tide turn.

Best Critically Drubbed Film: Self/less

Tarsem Singh’s engaging thriller about a man (Ben Kingsley) who gets a new lease on life and learns it was not what he signed up for, is not the action packed extravaganza one might’ve expected. What it offers instead is something more substantive; a meditative thriller which tackles the moral, ethical and redemptive semantics of immortality in a refreshingly inventive manner. The double meaning of its title only serves to tease the tip of its philosophical minefield and it’s a complicated one.

Best Blockbuster: San Andreas

Disaster movies are a tricky genre. To be decent, they must visually convey the awesome power of nature’s uncontrollable wrath. To be good, they must find a human element amidst the on slot of chaos. To be great, they must sufficiently balance both.

“San Andreas” fantastically accomplished the lastly mentioned feat. Most of the credit for the human part of the story being so wonderfully expressed was the always spot on work of Dwayne Johnson as action star and actor and Alexandra Daddario’s plucky performance as his daughter. Unpredictable, exciting and fun; “San Andreas” was the year’s best blockbuster.

Best Thriller: The Gift

Writer, director and star Joel Edgerton slices through the detrimental old saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” by proving its falsehood with this searingly rendered indictment.

Best Indie Thriller: The Barber

Scott Glenn gives a rousing performance as a kindly man living in a quiet small town when a stranger (Chris Coy) disrupts everything with a grave accusation and chilling proposal. The best cat-and-mouse thriller of the year succeeds in keeping viewers guessing until the very last second.

Best Political Thriller: Zipper

Patrick Wilson stars as an aspiring politician whose fixation on women who aren’t his wife, may cost him everything. Written and directed with tremendous intensity by Mora Stephens; “Zipper” offers a steep peek into a man’s downward spiral with a sincerity that avoids shock value; relaying a considerate narrative on an intimate inner struggle in its stead.

Best Sequel: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

It’s practically unheard of for a movie that revolves around normal people, to get a sequel. Stranger yet is when said sequel manages to recapture the overall vibe of its original venture. Its ending notwithstanding, “Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” managed to do just that, evoking its predecessor’s soaring joy and sparkling spirit to gratifying results.

Best Horror Movie: It Follows

Haunted by a sexually transmitted apparition; the young cast of “It Follows” spends an entire movie running from the inescapable ripple effect of one of their peer’s unwitting decision. David Robert Mitchell’s sleeper hit speaks right to its target audience with a terrifying metaphorical premise that resounds with greater impact than any PSA.

Best Comedy: Spy

Melissa McCarthy is the reigning queen of comedy and “Spy” showcases every reason why. She is fearless with a whip smart whit that can crack even the thinnest setup for comedy.

Writer/director Paul Feig re-teamed with McCarthy for the third time in this spoof of the spy genre, which aimed at harpooning the James Bond franchise in particular. While McCarthy is expectantly glorious as the movie’s heroine, “Spy’s” biggest surprise came in the adeptness of Jason Statham’s comedic chops. Here’s to countless sequels.

Best Reboot: Terminator Genysis

In a year where reboots like “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Transporter Refueled” reintroduced audiences to such extremely weakened versions of their title characters it might have made newcomers wonder how they ever earned a franchise in the first place, “Terminator Genysis” managed to show respect to its original incarnations and their fans by offering a highly entertaining, sentimentally satisfying return.

One particularly heartfelt scene between Pops (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Sarah (Emilia Clarke) towards the end was an especially moving throwback moment; none of 2015’s other reboots can say they had.

Best Biopic: The Danish Girl

Divisively received by critics, it’s hard to understand the reasons why after seeing Tom Hooper’s biopic of the love story between transgender pioneer Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne) and painter Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander). It is compellingly directed, terrifically acted and inescapably thought-provoking.  

Biggest Surprise: Fifty Shades of Grey

Facing the anticipation of fans and battling back from a troubled start to production, expectations that “Fifty Shades” could deliver on any of its buzz were low. So imagine the surprise when director Sam Taylor-Johnson brought the pages of EL James’ controversial novel to life with aesthetic perfection and Dakota Johnson delivered a pitch perfect performance as the awkward Ana. 

With the novel properly envisioned, the difficult task of matching the undefined sound of its source came into play and Danny Elfman’s original score accomplished just that. The movie’s soundtrack continued the streak with the inclusion of The Weeknd’s Oscar nominated “Earned It” and Ellie Goulding’s addictive listen “Love Me Like You Do”, among others. Read Full Review here

Most Underrated Thriller: The Loft

Another year, another early release met with critical derision and box office apathy. Did Erik Van Looy’s English-language adaptation deserve its response? Not particularly. While the movie did not possess characters worth caring about, neither did last year's similarly infidelity-themed thriller “Gone Girl” and it received major acclaim. Unlike “Gone Girl”, the unexpected twists and turns of "The Loft's" central mystery more than made up for it. Read Full Review here 

Most Evocatively Filmed Movie: Sicario

Every camera movement in “Sicario” breathes with an unmistakable charge of electricity, thanks to another master collaboration between director Dennis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins. Read Full Review here  

Most Important Movie You Might’ve Missed: Child 44

It was one of those blink and you missed it, beginning of the year releases. Due to a mix of tepid box office and indifferent critical reaction, this Tom Hardy starrer was quickly pulled from theaters. 

It was a frustrating response for a film depicting such a significantly dark period in history: the Stalin-controlled Soviet Union. Daniel Espinosa’s direction was haphazard and the subject matter is incredibly grim, but this is one of those movies you have to see for educational purposes.

Best Action Movie: Redeemer

The first half of director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza’s action thriller is downright superb, equally balancing its protagonist’s (Marko Zaror) mysterious origin story with the intrigue of his current day predicament. 

The mythos was unique, the action sequences astounding and the overall execution positively enrapturing. Hopefully this is only the beginning of the saga.

Best Hidden Gem: Hidden

A family of three stuck in a fallout shelter must mentally and physically fight to survive a mysterious above ground dystopia. Directors Matt and Ross Duffer prove all you need to make a movie work is the kernel of a strong story and a collection of great performances from its cast. Alexander Skarsgard, Andrea Riseborough and Emily Alyn Lind manage that last task, remarkably.

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