YEAR OF THE MONEY- The Top 10 Films of 2015

| December 31, 2015


Picture if you will the year 1939. It has been reported by many historians throughout the film industry’s existence as the most successful year in the picture business. It was the year of STAGECOACH, NINOTCHKA, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, and of course GONE WITH THE WIND.

Rather than look at the quality, the key in the success in 1939 is measured in dollars. It was , on the whole, Hollywoods most profitable year. If one is to stretch their line of thinking in terms of inflation and look at the numbers, it would be hard until this year to truly find a successor.

This is all a glorified way of pointing out the billions that Hollywood has made in the year 2015 from not one but many films that crossed the billion dollar mark. Whether it was the fast zooming “vroom, vroom” led by Vin Diesel, the combined efforts of 4 super heroes, or the roar of a dinosaur in Starlords face; one cannot deny the impact films have had in our lives this year. And in the end, it culminated in the still progressing momentum of the return to a galaxy far far away.

Everything in filmmaking is cyclical. It was only a matter of time before we circled back to 1939

If nothing else, 2015 may be remembered as the year where James Cameron was dethroned at the box office. It may also be the year that box offices stopped printing thick paper tickets and instead reduce these memory vouchers to a receipt with your popcorn. Hopefully though, it will be remembered for being a diversified valley, where not all the shining stars were polished, but emerge gloriously out of the dusty wild wild west that is “Theater/VOD release” in such a way that puts that term to credibility where it belongs.

Or more importantly: maybe it is the year that we fell in love with going to the movies again.

With that, I give you my meager perspective on the films that stood out in my mind…. these are just 10 of the many films that were released in the new 1939.

Runners Up (11-20):

Straight Outta Compton
The Danish Girl
Road Hard
The Green Inferno
Inside Out
Ex Machina
Steve Jobs
and Black Mass

and now, the “illustrious 10”


What does one get when you cross Spielberg with a script re-written by Joel and Ethan Coen? They are treated to a fond throwback both visually and tonally to pre-Bond espionage that exceeds its mandate as a simple historical piece. The plot ignites a game of international chess where a slow but exciting match takes place on its board. Tom Hanks reminds us what he can do best, and it is wonderful to see him speaking Joel and Ethan’s words again (you can easily tell where those moments lie) and Mark Rylance gives a supremely understated performance that just delights. Furthermore, it is the first Spielberg film in a long while to feel fresh and daring in its visual acumen.


Bryan Cranston gives a true tour de force as Blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo (who gave us the films THE BRAVE ONE, ROMAN HOLIDAY, and SPARTACUS) in this Jay Roach helmed film. This film accomplishes the notion of reaching the quality of a film like ED WOOD with its underdog triumphant arc without losing what makes it so much as a spiritual sequel to THE FRONT. More importantly, it shows the way Jay Roach has matured as a director. In a scene with the eternally amazing Michael Stuhlbarg, he shows how hard it is to walk along the edge of a knife with the noblest intent that demands to be seen.


Hooray, Robert Zemekis is back! Yessir, while FLIGHT found me none too keen, THE WALK reminded me why Zemekis is a wonderful cinematic voice to listen to. Joseph Gordon Levitt charmingly portrays (and delightfully narrates as) Phillip Petit, the man who walked a tightrope across the World Trade Center. While ostensibly a dramatized version of the documentary MAN ON WIRE, THE WALK is a delightful and uplifting film that both raises your spirits and will reduce you to tears. For what is at the heart of this story is thankfully used sparingly until the exact moment it is required, not too mention the visual splendor in the final act that 3D or no 3D will have your heart skipping a beat and breath swept away.


Alex Gibney’s haunting look at Scientology is played out like the most suspenseful of thrillers. It manages to keep you gripping the edge of your seat. Much cannot be said as you must see it to believe it, and anything I say further would be to un fairly write a plot synopsis for something that demands an audience.


Sentimentality!!!!! This film has a personal resonance with me; but even if it did not, it is a version of Sherlock Holmes that deserves great praise. Following Ian McKellan as the aging Sherlock Holmes, director Bill Condon proves once again that he is adept at following the horrors and advancement of old age while also bringing about its beauty and redemption. And for the Holmes historian in all us, he has splendidly recalled Holmes pop cultural influence in a spectacular scene where the master detective sees himself portrayed in a movie by an actor. It is a moment that I loved, and it is a moment my late grandfather Peter Ottaviano would have absolutely loved. This pick is for him.


REEL NERDS host Brad Haag said it best, “It’s two wonderful hours of metal blowing up.” Yes, and to elaborate, Mad Max’s practical effects are superb. It recalls not just the exploitation era of which it was born, it also tells a solid story of good vs evil set against the strangest of backdrops. Like a grand epic, it is both intimate and yet so very large. In short: WHAT A LOVELY MOVIE, WHAT A LOVELY LOVELY MOVIE!!!!


Call me sheeple, but I loved THE FORCE AWAKENS in a big bad way. 5 viewings in and I still cannot get enough. JJ Abrams managed to create not only a loving homage in arc structure to A NEW HOPE, he also managed to establish a bright new bunch of characters for me and fellow nerds to fawn over for years to come. He also grabs the finest Harrison Ford performance in recent memory, so much so that I want an Oscar on the man’s shelf immediately for two of the coolest scenes of 2015.


Adam McKay has been fooling us all for years, and THE BIG SHORT is his masterful way of revealing his artistry. His biting and visually spectacular look at the men who benefited from the economic fall out of 2008 is a frustrating yet absolutely dazzling painting of societies distractions and the consequences of not peeking behind the curtain. The style of this film is reminiscent of a jarring reality that both frightens and entertains at the same time. Like the upcoming two films in the list, it demands a Criterion treatment down the line, if not immediate admittance into the National Film Registry.


If you want a gut punch to your morality, STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT is the film for you. It is honestly one of the most challenging films of the year, recounting, in a hauntingly accurate way, the events surrounding a University experiment that turned into a psychological nightmare. It features a breakthrough performance by Michael Angarano as one of the “cops” in the experiment, and Billy Crudup shows his best hand as the professor at the helm of the experiment. By the end of the film, you will walk out not only haunted by Angaranos last lines, but by the questions it raises. This film is a must see in the way of Zodiac or There Will Blood. Bleak, but beautiful.


Tarantino is truly too good and too talented for us mere mortals. In his film he masterfully blends social commentary, 50’s style presentation, 70’s style grit, and supreme acting on a grand scale to create the best Western in recent memory. Following the exploits of 8 strangers through a clever Agatha Cristie style mystery, Tarantino reminds us why these 8 (plus an amazing surprise guest) are some of the greatest actors the world will ever know. And visually, this is the most mature work he has concocted in is career, utilizing the 70mm format as if he had been working with it for years. The film is a claustrophobic affair that demands your full attention in the most delightful of ways, with only a breath for an intermission that reminds us what an event going to the movies used to be. If you cannot see it in the intended roadshow format, you will be sorely missing out on the best experience of 2015 cinema.

And now we come to 2016: Dawn of Batfleck!

About the Author:

Zach Eastman is the filmmaker responsible for films such as TWOMBLEY (Starz Film Festival 2012 Official Selection) and THE BOY WHO STARES. He is also the producer of Matty O Connor's film GUNS DRUGS AND SYNERGY, Adam Jewels award winning film THE ZONE, and Tony Grosz's TWO YEARS SINCE FRIDAY. He has been a frequent guest on REEL NERDS PODCAST and now is one of their contributors.
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