We’re approximately halfway through 2015, which means that it’s list time! 2015 hasn’t exactly been the best year for cinema thus far, but halfway through any year and the same type of statement can be said. The best movies typically come out later in the year, with only a few diamonds sprinkled throughout the earlier portion. It’s worth celebrating those diamonds, though, and as such, here are the best films from the first half of 2015. Next week, we’ll take a look at the worst movies from the first half of 2015.
#10: Pitch Perfect 2
Directed by Elizabeth Banks. Produced by Elizabeth Banks, Paul Brooks, Kay Cannon, Max Handelman, and Jeff Levine. Written by Kay Cannon. Release date: May 15, 2015.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the most important thing when it comes to comedies is the frequency with which you laugh. Pitch Perfect 2 is one of the funniest movies of the year. Yes, this is in spite of its plot being a repeat of the first film, its characters being thin stereotypes, and the style of humor not exactly being the kindest to some of its targets. I laughed a lot. I laughed from the opening scene to its conclusion. Mix in some great musical performances – both in terms of the singing and choreography – and you’ve got a real winner of a film.
#9: Magic Mike XXL
Directed by Gregory Jacobs. Produced by Reid Carolin, Gregory Jacobs, Channing Tatum, and Nick Wechsler. Written by Reid Carolin. Release date: July 1, 2015
Whenever someone challenges me and says that I shouldn’t watch a film that isn’t targeted for me – whether it be a “children’s” movie, or a rom-com, or what have you – I like to point to the Magic Mike films. On paper, Magic Mike and its sequel shouldn’t appeal to me at all – they’re movies about male strippers, after all – and yet they’re both really good. I’d argue the sequel is actually better, and something that most men should see. It’s funny, sure, but it showcases this rare thing called “treating people with respect.” Everyone in the movie is so kind, the performances are so good, the humor is so sharp, and the “dancing” scenes are actually really well-choreographed. I enjoyed Magic Mike XXL more than its predecessor, and that film is really good.
#8: Kingsman: The Secret Service
Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Produced by Adam Bohling, David Reid, and Matthew Vaughn. Written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn. Release date: February 13, 2015.
Since we’re not getting a Raid movie this year, it’s likely that one of the scenes in Kingsman: The Secret Service (you know the one if you’ve seen it) will wind up being the action scene of the year. Add in a lot of fantastic comedy, several other spectacular action scenes, strong acting, and a great sense of style, and you’ve got a fantastic action movie.
#7: The Voices
Directed by Marjane Satrapi. Produced by Matthew Rhodes, Adi Shankar, Roy Lee, and Spencer Silna. Written by Michael R. Perry. Release date: February 6, 2015.
It’s possible that you haven’t heard of The Voices, even though it has a relatively well-known cast. It sees Ryan Reynolds as a schizophrenic mass-murderer – and it’s a comedy. It’s a pitch-black comedy, one that made me laugh from start to finish. It’s a reminder that Ryan Reynolds can be a really good actor – here not only playing the live-action lead, but also providing several voices with different accents – and has one of the two most amazing out-of-place dance numbers of the year.
#6: Avengers: Age of Ultron
Directed and written by Joss Whedon. Produced by Kevin Feige. Release date: May 1, 2015.
Okay, go ahead and call me a “Marvel fanboy” if you want, but I really enjoyed Avengers: Age of Ultron. Sure, it’s not quite as good as the first team-up movie, but it’s still got a lot of great action, tons of laughs, and a surprising amount of depth. It’s not the best Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, but it’s tough to have more fun watching a movie, especially if you’re invested in this franchise.
#5: Clouds of Sils Maria
Directed and written by Olivier Assayas. Produced by Karl Baumgartner, Charles Gillibert, Thanassis Karathanos, Jean-Louis Porchet, and Gérard Ruey. Release date: April 10, 2015.
Perhaps the richest and most complex movie of the year so far, Clouds of Sils Maria tells the story of an actress and her personal assistant retreating to the mountains to practice a play. Along the way, the characters find themselves fulfilling the roles of characters in the play, as long as delivering to us a hilarious meta-narrative. Each scene is fantastic, each exchange of dialogue is rewarding, and the cinematography is gorgeous. That’s not even mentioning the acting, which sees Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloë Grace Moretz each turning in fantastic performances.
#4: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. Produced by Jeremy Dawson, Dan Fogelman, and Steven M. Rales. Written by Jesse Andrews. Release date: June 12, 2015.
When it comes to movies about somebody afflicted with cancer, it’s tough to make them both funny and heartfelt. The only one outside of 50/50 that I can think of off the top of my head is Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, a film so well-liked by audiences that it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. It’s a smart movie about teenagers that’s hilarious and devastating. It delivers a fresh take on the subject, subverts several clichés, and is a truly rewarding experience.
#3: Mad Max: Fury Road
Directed by George Miller. Produced by Doug Mitchell, George Miller, and P. J. Voeten. Written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nico Lathouris. Release date: May 15, 2015.
At one point, I thought that Kingsman would wind up being the best pure action movie of the year, mostly because I forgot that Mad Max: Fury Road was still to come. It’s essentially one long chase movie, but boy, oh boy, is it a blast to watch. And it’s not just the gleeful violence that makes it fun; it also gives us surprising character depth and world-building – and does it all while the action is ongoing. Tack on wonderful performances by Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron and you’ve got a fantastic movie.
#2: Inside Out
Directed by Pete Docter. Produced by Jonas Rivera. Written by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley. Release date: June 19, 2015.
Pixar. Is. Back. After a couple of substandard outings for the studio, Pixar delivers another gem with Inside Out, a movie with a creative premise, an incredible amount of intelligence, more laughs than you can count, fantastic voice work and animation, and something for all ages to take away. Animated movies often get unfairly bashed because they’re “children’s movies,” but movies like Inside Out exist to dissuade that notion. This is arguably Pixar’s best movie, which is definitely something coming from the studio that brought us Ratatouille, Up, and the Toy Story trilogy.
#1: Ex Machina
The best sci-fi movie in recent memory is the directorial debut of Alex Garland, Ex Machina. This is a smart, thrilling movie that is both exciting and thought-provoking from its beginning to its conclusion. Sometimes you walk away from movies and you struggle to remember what happened just an hour earlier; Ex Machina is a movie I thought about for weeks after it finished playing. It’s essentially perfect, as far as I’m concerned. It’s a masterpiece, and it’s something all sci-fi fans need to see. (It also features the other out-of-place dance scene of 2015, if that’s something you like to see in your movies.)
Check back next week for the worst movies of the year! (…so far)