Ten Movies You Have To See. Have To.

ZF Best Films of 2015 logo WebI don’t really watch that many movies. Well, to your average Joe who has kids and a wife and job where they wear a tie to the office and yell at people to get someone on the phone, I probably watch a lot. But compared to other film critics, I don’t watch hardly anything. I’ve barely seen any of the Marvel movies, for instance. And I keep telling people I mean to, but that’s kind of a lie. I don’t really plan on it. And occasionally I’ll see another trailer for a new Marvel movie, and I’ll get that feeling I also have when I know I should watch Mad Men because apparently the last 30 seconds of the series is the greatest thing to ever have been filmed, but then realize there’s like hours and hours and hours to get through for it. And that sounds exhausting.

I’m pretty selective about what I watch. I screen films pretty well. I know what I love (indie films and horror) and what I tend not to like (action and comedy, the two things every girl tells me they like 5 minutes into all of my dates, thus causing me to realize that talking about how the brutal mutilation of female genitalia in Lars Von Triers films is actually feminism may not be the best conversation piece.)

The reason I’m opening with this is for three reasons. Firstly, I haven’t seen as many movies as other critics. Just so you know. So when you don’t see Inside OutThe MartianBridge of Spies or Trainwreck on my list, it’s because I haven’t seen them. However, when you don’t see Room on my list, it’s because the last hour of that movie made me feel like I was trapped in a room.

Secondly, is to say thank you to the real critics. At ZekeFilm, especially Jim Tudor and Erik Yates, who sit through hours of garbage so I don’t have to. I’m a reader as much a writer. I also tend to skim from the top of each form of entertainment. If there’s no movie I really want to see, there’s always a novel I’m in the middle of or a new album I want to give a spin.

And thirdly, it’s to point out how important criticism is. Film criticism especially. As films become cheaper and cheaper to make, as the market gets more and more saturated and as studios get better and better and making their trailers look good, when the film is far from that, you need critics to help you make those decisions. You don’t have to blindly follow them, as people who trash critics say, as they blindly follow some slicked up trailer cut together by someone who didn’t actually make the film. Rather they are just there to start the conversation, and your decision is the end of that conversation.

So with that said, to start a new conversation, here are my top ten films of the year with one honorable mention that was so good I needed to write about it.

Honorable Mention: The Gift


The fantastic directorial debut of Joel Edgerton and a fine turn by Jason Bateman in the lead, who plays a family man trying to protect his wife and a bully who never really let go of his High School years. A movie full of tension and when you realize what the title refers to, get ready for a cinematic gut punch


10. The Look of Silence 


The sequel to The Act of Killing, and in some ways the superior film. The subject matter is as gravely personal and as other critics have pointed out, this may be the best example of gotcha journalism ever concocted.


9. Star Wars: The Force Awakens


The perfect film to get the series back on the tracks, even if it is only that. JJ Abrams does exactly what he is supposed to do, and I’m not even a Star Wars fan. It’s definitely a safe film, which it gets knocked some for. But that’s not a bad thing and now that the directorial duty is being handed over to Rian Johnson, get ready for the film to shed its safety cloak for what should be the Star Wars film that will rival Empire.


8. Slow West


A western with a soul and an angry performance from Michael Fassbender that the film happily matches. A sad story about a young man in America from New Zealand trying to find a woman he is madly in love with who barely remembers him. It’s not the most violent film, but when violence happens, it’s assaulting. In the most beautiful way possible.


7. Wild Tales


Several insane vignettes all tied together in ways that are not so obvious that they take you out of the film. The film is insane in the best way possible and feels like the love child of Tarantino and Almodovar (who produced it). And even though it was technically released last year in many cities, as it was nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars, I did not see it until it was released early this year in St. Louis, so hence the inclusion.


6. Creed

Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone in CREED.

Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone in CREED.

Creed is about Boxing as much as Rocky was about boxing, not much. This time it is about fatherhood. In this case, the absence of one. When Hollywood makes a movie about fatherhood, it often is about how to be a father. But many, many people are dealing with that absence, and yet films hardly address that. Adonis Creed doesn’t want anything to do with his father’s legacy, though it’s obvious he is following in his father’s footsteps for a reason. The underlying thing here “acceptance”. From Rocky (the closest he may get to his deceased father), from his opponents and from society.


5. Hateful Eight

hateful eight

Hateful Eight is my favorite Tarantino movie since Jackie Brown. People knock the film for the reasons I love. There was a technical proficiency he fell into with Kill Bill, Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, but Hateful Eight is different. It’s insane. It’s angry. Rules-breakingly angry. And an homage to not only westerns, but also horror films like The Thing and Evil Dead. The best part, it has a fever to it. A cabin fever in the film that not only hits the characters, but feels like it’s an insane fever that hit everyone involved in making it. The film feels fevered. And the second half may not hold the tension in the way the first half did, but is saved by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who is essentially a punching bag in the first half. Her performance really shines in the second half.


4. The Big Short

The Big Short

I love the honesty of this movie. It doesn’t hide its motives, its message or even the explanation of financial terms we layman don’t understand. No heavy exposition conversations two characters are supposed to have to make us understand. No we get models in hot tubs, world famous chefs, and teeny bop stars breaking the fourth wall. That kind of honesty and message can feel like a hammer over the head if not done by a comedian. If you are funny, you can say anything you want. And Adam McKay pulls that off. Steve Carrell needs to be considered one of the best actors today. And the film has the best line of the year for me, “Just don’t dance.”


3. It Follows


It Follows is the best horror movie in years. Probably since Let the Right One In. You can tell it’s great because it’s getting the lazy “disappointing” and  “overrated” tags applied to it. I have a theory with horror that the better it is, the more people try to rebel against it. I’ve had people explain to me The Exorcist is “not good” and “laughable”, even though it is empirically one of the greatest films of all time. In the last 20 years, we have something I call “The Blair Witch Syndrome”, where a horror movie works so well you automatically try to turn against it. I see that happening to It Follows. Don’t let it deter you if you have yet to see it. This film is a masterpiece.


2. Ex Machina

Ex Machina


This movie is plain and simply bad-ass (sorry for bad word). Brilliant, intoxicating and filled with paranoia. Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac are a heck of a combination. Almost makes you wish they shared screen time in Star Wars. And Alicia Vikander as Eve. A perfect performance. She needs to be recognized this Oscar season.


1. Phoenix


The best movie of the year. A film filled with tension and mystery. Hitchcockian in the greatest way and a powerful story of coming back from the dead and seeing something a lot of us will never know, where we really stand with the people we love. Nina Hoss gives an outstanding performance and gets very much out of having to do very little. And then the ending. That…ending…



More ZekeFilm’s Individual 2015 Year-End Lists:

Jim Tudor

Erik Yates

Sharon Autenrieth

Rob Gabe

Krystal Lyon

David Strugar

And for something completely different, don’t miss Justin Mory’s A Century of Mid-Decade Favorites!”