Articles

The Reel Spirituality Top 10 Films of 2015
With The Reel Spirituality Community on February 01, 2016

I enjoy comparing the list that our Reel Spirituality community compiles of the top films of a given year with the lists from other groups around the country. As you can see in this year’s list and in last year’s, we tend toward mainstream fare. Though all of our community members don’t live in Pasadena, Fuller Seminary’s main campus is located “on the doorstep of Hollywood,” after all, and many of our friends are Hollywood producers, directors, editors, writers, actors, sound technicians, animators, and other filmmakers. More importantly, our community’s interest in cinema is an aspect of our eagerness to engage with the wider culture as well, so we pay special attention to the movies that everyone is watching. (I don’t include this as an apologetic but rather as a bit of cultural exegesis.)

Fortunately, 2015 was a banner year for mainstream cinema. Critics across the country didn’t need to look to obscure films to fill out their top ten ballots. The best of the best played in our multiplexes, and most people could and did see those films. That’s not to say that there weren’t gems to be found in the most out-of-the-way corners of the cinematic landscape. in 2015, the arthouse was as lively a place as ever if you were looking for wonderful, less-seen films. Thanks to the continued expansion of video-on-demand services, you could see those films even if you don’t live in a city with an arthouse cinema.

But any year where films as idiosyncratic as Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant top many lists suggests that either arthouse films are now drawing multiplex-sized audiences or that the arthouse and the multiplex are combining into one. Is cinema culture expanding or narrowing as more people are exposed to more films? Are more films being seen, or are more slipping through the cracks? Is the cream rising to the top sweeter? Is there just more of it? Or does it only seem that way because there are also more paltry films competing for our attention? Perhaps all of the above are true.

In any case, our community’s voting this year was very tight. The top two films were clearly our favorites, but nos. 3 though 5 and nos. 7 through 10 were separated by only three points. The final placings weren’t settled until the final votes were counted. We have three ties in the 4th, 7th, and 9th positions. (To compare, though our top two films of 2014 were tightly contested, the rest of lat year’s list separated nicely.)

Our method: we asked participants to provide a ranked list of their top ten films of 2015. We awarded ten points for a top placement, nine points for a secondary placement, and so on down to one point for films listed tenth. We added up the points. The film with the most points is our number one film of 2015, second most is number two, etc. We did not allow participants to place more than one film in a single place (no ties).

As before, we see this list not as establishing some standard of cinematic quality, but rather as a testament to our shared community with one another as we work together toward our common goal of bearing witness to what God is doing in our lives through cinema and to what God is doing in the world of cinema itself. We’re comfortable disagreeing with one another, because we value conversation more than consensus. The movies are important, but the love we share for them and for each other is more important still. Put another way, the time we spend together talking about movies is more important than the movies themselves.

As with our community’s choice of Calvary last year, our top film of the year, The Revenant, is a particularly “Fuller-y” choice, though for different reasons than Calvary. Spiritually-preoccupied, aesthetically-oriented, headline-grabbing, and conspicuously “Hollywood,” The Revenant checks a lot of our community’s boxes. It’s not a film we agree with entirely, but we appreciate the questions it asks about vengeance, mercy, and God’s place in it all. It is also essential to read the film through a cross-cultural lens, as it is the story of a man, Hugh Glass, who crossed cultures being told by a filmmaker, Alejandro González Iñárritu, who has crossed cultures. A proper appreciation of the film requires the kind of intercultural dialogue Fuller Seminary encourages and supports. 

Below, you’ll find our list along with a brief comment from one participant for each of out top ten films. In the case of a tie, we preference the film that received more votes or more higher placed votes than the other. Below those ten, you will find the other 55 films without comment that at least one of us voted for along with their respective number of votes and points. Below that list, you’ll find each person’s individual list along with any comments they wanted included about their choices. 

We hope you enjoy it all. We hope you check out a film or two (or forty) that you haven’t seen yet. We hope you’ll let us know what you think. Thank you for reading and listening and talking with us. We hope this next year of cinema is as full of beauty as the last one. - Elijah Davidson

The Reel Spirituality Top 10 Films of 2015
 

1. The Revenant (12/88)

The Revenant is a survival story but, more than that, it's a story brimming with life. For all its posturing as a tough man revenge drama, there is an ethereal, even spiritual dimension to the movie (made all the more palpable by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki's always awe-inspiring camera work). In a world where eternal beauty pervades the frames of the unforgiving northwestern landscape, and, indeed, where loved ones believed long dead float in the air around us, does a quest for revenge even make sense? The Revenant may not answer this question to everyone's satisfaction but it does have the courage to wrestle with it honestly. DiCaprio's performance is magnificent for its raw humanity, Hardy shines even as he continues to play the chameleon, and Iñárritu perfects his long-take style from Birdman, using it to put us in the middle of situations we long to escape. But the film won't let us off so easy, its technical bravado grips us throughout the movie's long run time and the film itself promises to hold onto us even longer. - Matthew Aughtry

2. Inside Out (12/82)

How do we talk about the jumble of feelings we often experience in our day to day lives, or do we just cover up the "negative" ones with a happy face? When one of our dear friends died this past fall, we were rocked with emotions – why do "the good die young?” At the memorial service the preacher reminded our friend’s kids, 12 and 16, about their viewing of Inside Out. They immediately nodded and grinned. This film, another Pixar masterpiece, creatively and sensitively reminds us all that happiness and sadness reside within us and sometimes simultaneously. Plus, we get to enjoy all the other endearing Pixar qualities, with the studio’s commitment to creative and excellent story-telling and craft at center stage. Like the wisdom literature of Ecclesiastes, Inside Out ushers the viewer into a world where we are all wondrously fashioned, life is a gift, and we shouldn't be afraid to bring the whole of our humanity into the Light. - Catherine Barsotti

3. Mad Max: Fury Road (9/65)

In the words of Variety’s Chief Film Critic Justin Chang, Mad Max: Fury Road is "two hours of ferocious, unfettered B-movie bliss." Your jaw will literally be on the floor as you stare in flabbergasted awe at George Miller's everything-including-the-kitchen-sink-and-a-flamethrower-guitar-for-good-measure-style insanity that is so completely mad (read: psychopathic) he must be brilliant (read: genius). This is expertly choreographed and controlled chaos conducted within an inch of the lives of both cast and crew by a cinematic maestro whose name should henceforth be the very definition of visionary auteur. Miller’s work reminds me of the power of the LORD of Hosts that Isaiah and the prophets of old encountered in the punishing heat and endless sand of the desert: the “God-of-the-Angel-Armies" whose arrival was announced "with thunderclaps, earthquakes, and earsplitting noise, backed up by hurricanes, tornadoes, and lightning strikes” (Isaiah 29:6).

Mad Max’s blood splattered warrior imagery may be more closely aligned with the actions of God and God's people in the tribal context of the Old Testament, but the gender politics could not be more 21st century. In George Miller’s post-apocalyptic world, not only are the female protagonists given agency, but they are also endowed with the strength and fierceness to fight and overcome the male antagonists who would seek to oppress and exploit them. These are not damsels in distress waiting on a man to save them. No sir. They can rescue themselves and even come to the aid of the titular hero when he’s got his back to the wall, thankyouverymuch. I see revealed in this film what Pope John Paul II described as the inherent “dignity of the ‘daughters of Abraham,'" particularly in Charlize Theron's knockout performance as Imperator Furiosa. Miller's feminist-leaning action epic celebrates this "dignity belonging to women from the very ‘beginning’ on an equal footing with men," while recognizing the beautiful "originality which distinguishes women from men, all the richness lavished upon women in the mystery of creation.” - Jonathan Stoner

4. Tie - Spotlight (10/62 - four first place votes) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (10/62)

Spotlight

It’s this decade's All the President's Men (1976). Like the earlier film, the movie's documentary style about a journalistic investigation of a defining social issue—child, sexual abuse in the church and its cover-up—allows for both a strong narrative arch and a scathing moral critique. The acting is first rate, the script carefully crafted, the historical veracity high, and the tone pitch-perfect. While you know the outcome, the retelling still carries with it both suspense and ethical weight. Here is a critique of the church that focuses on Roman Catholics, but which is also a Protestant problem. The story chronicles one main reason the Christian church has lost influence and respect in the larger society. - Rob Johnston

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars is one of the most significant modern mythologies in our culture. As the latest chapter in that mythology, The Force Awakens hits all the notes that we expect in a Star Wars film. It succeeds in satisfying the nostalgic needs of viewers while still laying the foundation for new stories about a new generation of characters “in a galaxy far, far away.” Many of the significant themes explored through this film include: living in the shadow of one's parents, discovering one's talents and purpose, a subversion of gender roles and stereotypes, and there’s even a villain torn between the dark and the light. On top of that, stunning visual effects and an iconic score from John Williams make The Force Awakens one of the best films of the year (and my personal favorite). - Gary Ingle

6. Room (9/53)

In Christian circles, we talk so much about separating ourselves from "the world," but this film allows a young boy to dream of the wonder and mystery within "the world." A harrowingly beautiful tale about a mother and son kidnapped and trapped for years in a garden shed, Room captures the horror of entrapment but still manages to revel in the beauty and complexity that freedom can bring. The challenges of adulthood become even more complicated in the midst of the trauma both inside and outside of Room. Yet, the performances of Brie Larsen and Jacob Tremblay have the kind of emotional pull that will make you thankful for the world, for life itself, and remind you how much we need each other in order to survive. - Avril Speaks

7. Tie - Ex Machina (8/35) and The Martian (7/35)

Ex Machina

Ex Machina is a rich and engaging film, both cinematically and theologically. All its technical elements have been woven together to form a cohesive, artistic work. Cinematography, score, sound, art direction, and acting are strategically developed throughout the narrative and greatly enhance the tone of the film. As a product of our contemporary culture, Ex Machina reflects our society’s deep aspirations, doubts, and dissatisfactions about human relationships, our interactions with technology, and whether or not there is a guiding morality to it all. A lot of the film’s issues point to more theological questions as well, such as “What does it means to be human?” and, more importantly, “What does it mean to be made in the image of God?” There is so much in the Imago Dei that artificial intelligence falls short of, for as we see in the end of the film, intelligence alone is not enough. - Roslyn Hernandez

The Martian

What’s not to love about Ridley Scott’s The Martian? It is humorous, suspenseful, and visually-imaginative, albeit a touch predictable. While the plot may be simplistic and its characters one-dimensional, the devotion Scott gives to creating his Mars and space is a spectacle worth our time. I appreciated this film because it’s a great example of how spectacle art—that which overpowers us solely by its sound and color—can be done well as an engaging piece of art. (And this was accomplished without overloading the story with superfluous action sequences!)

The film’s popularity also demonstrates our age-old fascination with humanity’s survival and altruistic instincts. In an age where technology and ideologies buffer our lives from the opposing forces of nature, it’s easy to forget how fortunate we are to have ample opportunity to flourish and why the lives of those around us are worth sacrificing ourselves for. The Martian creates the voyeuristic experience to appreciate the gift of life and see the preciousness of life in others. While the film doesn’t necessarily seek to explore the reason for why we should sacrifice our resources and lives for others, the film suggests that it’s something we all can intuit. The attractiveness of this story touches on the simple scriptural truth: “There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends.” John 15.13. - Chris Lopez

9. Tie - The Big Short (6/32) and Sicario (4/32)

The Big Short

The Big Short is the haunting true story of big banks, greed, corruption, and the handful of Wall Street mavericks who profited off the economic collapse of 2008. Book author Michael Lewis (Moneyball) and film director Adam McKay (Anchorman), with the help of innovative celebrity cameos, simplify the complex recession with perfect clarity. Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Steve Carell deliver exceptional performances that make the film fun to watch, even with its depressing narrative. One of the most socially important films of 2015, The Big Short has you rooting for its main characters to subvert the predatory finance system, but then it reminds you that on our contemporary Wall Street, there are no winners, only losers. - Matt Walker

Sicario

Sicario is set in the bleak world created by the United States government and Mexican drug cartels as they war with each other. As beautiful as it is unsettling (thanks to Roger Deakin’s cinematography), the film shows the result of decades of violence building on violence. The film provides no hope for a solution to these cycles of violence. Rather it forces the view to consider their own complicity in the continued violence of the world. - Steve Vredenburgh

The Rest of the List

11. Creed (5/26)

12. Straight Outta Compton (4/21)

13. Tie: The Assassin (4/20) and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (4/20)

15. What We Do In The Shadows (3/18)

16. Tie - Brooklyn (4/16) and Tangerine (2/16)

18. Tie - Love & Mercy (4/15) and It Follows (2/15)

20. Metalhead (3/14)

21. Grandma (2/12)

22. Tie - Bridge of Spies (3/11) and Carol (2/11) and Crimson Peak (2/11)

25. Tie - Phoenix (2/10) and The Danish Girl (1/10) and Gett: The Trial of Vivienne Anselm (1/10) and Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter (1/10)

29. Tie - Mustang (2/9) and The Look of Silence (1/9) and Timbuktu (1/9) and Trumbo (1/9)

33. Tie - Anomalisa (2/8) and Buzzard (1/8) and Experimenter (1/8)

36. Tie - About Elly (1/7) and Predestination (1/7)

38. Tie - Slow West (2/6) and While We’re Young (2/6) and Concussion (1/6) and Ixcanul (1/6) and The Mend (1/6) and Steve Jobs (1/6)

43. Tie - Furious 7 (2/5) and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 (2/5) and The Brand New Testament (1/5) and Chi-Raq (1/5) and Run Free: The True Story of Caballo Blanco (1/5) and Z for Zachariah (1/5)

49. Tie - The End of the Tour (1/4) and In Jackson Heights (1/4)

51. Tie - 99 Homes (1/3) and Ant-Man (1/3) and The Avengers: Age of Ultron (1/3) and Freehold (1/3) and Home (1/3) and The Walk (1/3)

57. Tie - Amy (1/2) and By the Sea (1/2) and Mistress America (1/2)

60. Tie - The Gift (1/1) and He Named Me Malala (1/1) and Joy (1/1) and La Sapienza (1/1) and Shaun the Sheep Movie (1/1) and Spy (1/1)

Our Individual Lists
 

Matthew Aughtry

Here's my snapshot of the moment top 10. I still haven't seen a lot of the end of the year releases. Interestingly, my favorite film of last year changed afterwards to the one this group chose (Calvary), so perhaps that will be the case again! After all, this is all about community anyways.

1. The Revenant
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
3. Creed
4. The Big Short
5. Straight Outta Compton
6. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
7. The Martian
8. Inside Out
9. Ex Machina
10. Furious 7

Dr. Catherine Barsotti

1.The Revenant - my favorite director of the tres amigos and of all directors - this is his magnum opus, though his others are stunning also
2. Room - it was so special to have this one and The Revenant at Fuller
3. Inside Out - should be nominated for best film, as well as best animated
4. The Assassin - stunning and counter genre/cultural!
5. The Martian - amazing design and performance
6. The Brand New Testament - you've got to see this one!
7. Mustang - breaks your heart
8. Brooklyn - so poignantly pure and lovely
9. The Big Short - great ensemble work - better than Spotlight's ensemble
10. Ex Machina - pushed to ponder

And I wish I could include: City of Gold, Dheepan, Fly Away Solo (Massan),  and I'll See You in my Dreams. Alas, there’s so little time, only 10 slots, and so many films.

Elijah Davidson

1. Tangerine
2. Timbuktu
3. The Revenant
4. Anomalisa
5. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
6. Run Free: The True Story of Caballo Blanco
7. Crimson Peak
8. 99 Homes
9. Spotlight
10. Bridge of Spies

Roslyn Hernandez

From what I saw, here is what I loved.

1. The Revenant
2. Ex-Machina
3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
4. Crimson Peak
5. Metalhead
6. While We're Young
7. Room
8. Home
9. By The Sea
10. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2

Gary Ingle

I've long said that I'm the biggest Star Wars fan I know, therefore:

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
2. Inside Out
3. Buzzard
4. Predestination
5. Creed
6. Spotlight
7. Mad Max: Fury Road
8. Metalhead
9. Room
10. While We're Young

Dr. Robert K. Johnston

1. Inside Out
2. Room
3. The Revenant
4. Spotlight
5. The Martian
6. Mustang
7. Brooklyn
8. Love & Mercy
9. The Big Short
10. The Assassin

Jessi Knippel

I haven't seen as many films as I would have liked this year!

1. The Danish Girl - this by far is one of the most beautiful films I have seen in a long time
2. Grandma
3. Star Wars
4. Straight Outta Compton
5. Steve Jobs
6. The Revenant (my partner, Leland's pick)
7. Love & Mercy
8. Freehold
9. Amy
10. He Named Me Malala

Christopher Lopez

I’m very honored to be a part of this community.

1. Inside Out
2. Room
3.The Revenant
4.The Big Short
5. Spotlight
6. The Martian
7. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2
8. Ant-Man
9. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
10. Joy

A.C. Neel

1. Spotlight
2. What We Do in the Shadows
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
4. The Revenant
5. Tangerine
6. Inside Out
7. The Big Short
8. Grandma
9. The Assassin
10. Ex Machina

Kevin Nye

1. Spotlight

There were a lot of great movies this year about social/political issues and how we deal with them. (Sicario/Chi-Raq/The Big Short). While some were more in-your-face as social indictments, others more rallying as calls to action, none was more affective as a film than Spotlight. With a brilliant ensemble cast and superb writing, a movie about investigative journalism from 20 years ago had the stakes and the edge-of-your-seat tension of a car chase. The film’s epilogue, though, made me physically gasp. This is an important movie, for the church and for the world, to come to terms with.

2. Sicario

A rather unpopular pick to be this high on my list, I was blown away by Sicario and find myself still struck by the world of moral ambiguity it created. Maybe it’s because I grew up next door to Mesa, Arizona, where the devastating opening scene takes place. (I could point to that neighborhood on a map.) Maybe it’s because my wife is a Spanish teacher who spent a lot of her undergrad studying the covert and unethical actions of the U.S. government in Central and South America during the last 50 years. But above all of those things, Sicario is actually just an excellent film, I think, about a serious issue that affects our past, present, and future, and features stellar performances from Emily Blunt and Benecio Del Toro to highlight the film’s themes and to carry a tense, surprising plot. 

3. The Revenant

The Revenant is a powerhouse of a film that manages to be a lot of things: a survival movie, a revenge story, a period-piece; and yet, it seems to hold all of those things in moderation to serve something else. What that something else is can be hard to pinpoint – there is a pervasive spiritual realism that saturates the film and allows it to transcend its plot, its characters, and even its world. It becomes a disservice, then, to call The Revenant any one of those things – I would simply call it an experience; one in which writing, directing, acting, and photography have all become more than the sum of their parts. 

4. It Follows

Before I saw this movie, I saw a Christian on my newsfeed denounce this movie’s plot, saying, “How can any Christian justify seeing this movie? Seriously?” And at first glance, a plot about a killer-specter that is transferred from one person to another via sex does seem like an exploitive, unnecessary film. However, from the earliest trailers, it was clear that this was not what the movie had up its sleeve. Rather, It Follows turns out to be a thoughtful, quiet meditation on mortality, innocence, youth, and fear… that just happens to have a monster in it. The film had recurring images and symbols that were open to interpretation. (I spent 45 minutes after seeing it discussing the significance of “water” with my movie-friend.) And it never exploited sex or violence, but meditated on them rather mournfully. The movie used the horror device and genre to drive a truly human story about losing innocence in youth, or even having it taken from you, and the inability to ever go back. It’s a film that haunts you, not because of its horror, but because of its honesty.  

5. Ex Machina

In a year full of robots-becoming-self-aware (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Chappie, to name a few), Ex Machina was the only film to execute the idea at all well. And thanks to stunning performance from Alicia Vikander, and great performaces from Oscar Isaac and Donmhall Gleeson, the film is a psychological thriller from the first frame that peels back layers of mystery and suspense before the final gut-punch. It’s a movie you can’t wait to watch again, now that you know all of its secrets, and it rewards that second view especially by showing you just how well the actors’ performances kept you guessing while withholding the truth all along.  

6. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

If you follow the Reel Spirituality podcast, you might have guessed this would make my list. The first Mission: Impossible was the first PG-13 movie I ever watched, and I’ve loved the series ever since. On the podcast, though, Elijah and I both agreed that this fifth installment, Rogue Nation, is the best of the 20 year series. All that is great about the series - high octane action sequences, identity switches, double-crosses, mind-games, all with Cruise’s charm and the ensemble cast to surround it – is at its best here, with a charming addition. Rebecca Ferguson becomes the series’ first compelling, three-dimensional female character, and the series desperately needed one. All in all, I haven’t seen a better American action/spy film since The Bourne Ultimatum, and that earns it a high spot on my list. 

7. Inside Out

After a few rough years, when we were ready to pronounce the end mof an era, Pixar finally hit another home-run with Inside Out. Pixar is at its best when it creates a world, (think Toy Story or Monsters Inc.), that has never existed before, has a bunch of rules that govern it, and then inhabits it seamlessly, like we should all just get with the program. Movies like Inception have a harder time accomplishing this task because they have to also film it. Pixar, though, has the harder job of creating the world visually, too, but when it manages both, it makes something special. It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s cathartic – and most importantly, it delivers a healthy, psychological truth that most of us need to hear – that joy and sadness can live in the same person at the same time, in harmony and peace. 

8. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

Admit it – when the words “Star Wars” came on the screen with that blaring first note, you were a little giddy. I saw some people in the theatre crying just because they were getting to see another Star Wars movie. This is such a testament to what film can be and do culturally, and reminds me why going to the movies as a society can be so powerful. And I’m happy to say that this feeling didn’t really go away while watching the movie. Was it incredibly reminiscent of A New Hope? Yes, but isn’t that the point? The world goes on, but the struggle between good and evil always endures, and calls new people to fight the good fight. (To be clear, I don’t necessarily endorse this view of the world, but it is how the world of Star Wars has always worked.) I’m a big Abrams fan and love the work he did here at harnessing nostalgia but using it as a springboard for something new. I think that Episode VIII will vindicate this film from all of its remaining criticism, and the fact that none of us can wait for it is a testament to the work done here, against the most powerful enemy the galaxy has ever seen: fan expectations.

9. Room

Responsible for more cries and feels than any other movie this year, Room highlights the immense talent of Brie Larson, who got supremely overlooked two years ago for her performance in Short Term 12. She has already won the Golden Globe for Room, and I hope she will take the Oscar as well. Room is an overwhelming emotional journey of survival and recovery, viewed mostly through the eyes of a child who has to learn that he is a victim, overcome it, and then adapt to an entirely new world - with all of the courage and strength it would normally take a lifetime to learn. It’s an amazing story brought to life through amazing performances and thoughtful writing and direction. 

10. Anomalisa

As of writing this, I only saw Anomalisa last night, and it’s not the type of movie you want to make a snap-judgment on – especially when it comes to squeezing into the last place on your list, knowing there’s at least five other movies you want to make the cut but just aren’t sure if you can. Anomalisa earns the spot, though, for being outrageously human, honest, and simple. Charlie Kauffman, known for cerebral, layered stories, gives us a human, personal story about loneliness, told through a world of stop-motion puppets. It’s not for everyone – there are certainly a lot of uncomfortable moments and R-rated happenings, but it provoked in me some of the most honest thought, and later honest conversation, about loneliness, depression, and how we make it in this world. The movie doesn’t itself offer hope, but it offers an honest look into the emptiness inside of all of us. The rest is up to us. 

Runners-Up

The Big Short – a comedy about the real life economic collapse, from the director of Anchorman? It shouldn’t work, but it does, and it breaks down a hard to swallow subject into bite-sized little bits – even if it reminds you that the thing you’re being forced to eat is the bullshit of corporate corruption and greed.

Steve Jobs – the ultimate in theatrical biography, Aaron Sorkin has written something of a masterpiece that captures a character at stages of his life, rather than from start to finish, and manages to paint a full picture still. 

Creed – the Rocky franchise gets new life with a totally fresh sense of direction, a new heir-to-the-throne that doesn’t feel forced, and real-world stakes. This movie fought and fought to make my list, but ultimately fell short. 

Chi-Raq – a totally wild and bold movie about race, violence, and gender that ultimately bit off a little more than it could chew. Minus one element, though, this movie was one of the best of the year, and was the only movie about a social issue that had the audacity to end with hope that we might actually have a better tomorrow.

Phoenix – a blink-and-you-miss-it Polish film set in the 1950’s about love, betrayal, and mistaken identity after WWII. The acting is superb, the plot is unique, and the ending will take your breath away. 

Notable Movies I Missed: The Assassin, Tangerine, Carol, Beasts of No Nation, Mustang, Love & Mercy.

Avril Speaks

1. Spotlight

I couldn't get this film out of my mind for days because it was about a group of people who took great risks to maintain integrity in their line of work. I think we underestimate the value of good investigative reporting and I think we do lose a valuable part of society and intellectualism when we lose this kind of dedication to breaking a story. 

2. Trumbo

Such a well-written screenplay! And how sad that the rhetoric around anti-communist sentiments in the '40s feels like it was pulled from today's headlines. 

3. Room

Amazing script and direction. Visually, I love the fact that the first half of the film takes place all in one room, but as soon as we break out of that room, it's the stuff good movies are made of -- beauty,  suspense, and moments that take your breath away. 

4. Creed

Because if you're going to reboot a franchise, this is how you do it. I also loved it because director Ryan Coogler did a fantastic job adding a vibe to the series that was a youthful, fresh, and diverse perspective. 

5. Ixcanul

As Guatemala's first Academy Award entry, this film was heart warming and gut wrenching at the same time. As a young Mayan woman tries to reconcile her unwanted pregnancy, this film will make you rethink the privilege that comes with women even having the option of personal agency. 

6. Straight Outta Compton

Despite its omission of certain storylines (for example, Dr. Dre's abuse of his ex-wife and journalist Dee Barnes), this was a very interesting story about how money and fame can give young black men an incredible amount of power that makes them feel as though they own the world. 

7. The Revenant

I could vote for this film for the cinematography and the sheer beauty of its wide shots alone. Or I could vote for its incredible score and sound design. Or for the lighting. Or for Leonardo DiCaprio's acting. You choose.

8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I mean, I can't have a Top 10 list without this film and still call myself a proper 80's girl. It was fun, it was nostalgic. And yeah, the women ruled. 

9. Love and Mercy

Great story, and informative for me since I wasn't very familiar with Brian Wilson's story. Paul Dano and John Cusack gave amazing performances as well. 

10. The Gift

Well written thriller, plus I'm a fan of Jason Bateman. This film was a surprise treat for me that left me thinking a lot about the boundaries of forgiveness. 

Honorable Mentions - Inside Out (watching it a second time, parts of it didn't hold up for me, but it was still enjoyable and I still cry when Bing Bong floats away); What Happened, Miss Nina Simone? (chilling Netflix documentary on the iconic singer and her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement); Nightingale (David Oyelowo alone in a house for two hours. Sheer brilliance); Beasts of No Nation (Idris Elba's acting was a big highlight of the film).  

Jonathan Stoner

So far!

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

With pedal tearing into the metal, Mad Max blazed furiously, ripping right past the other summer blockbuster competition - peace out Furious 7 - to Certified Fresh status, a war rig's worth of well-deserved Oscar nominations, and the very top of my RS Top Ten list. Variety Chief Critic Justin Chang called it "two hours of ferocious, unfettered B-movie bliss." Well, fasten your seat belts folks because he's right. This is one batshit crazy cinematic extravaganza that belongs alongside the best action movies of all time. You've never seen anything like this at the movie theater and it is jaw-dropping. I mean consistently jaw-dropping. Your jaw will literally be on the floor as you stare in flabbergasted awe at George Miller's everything-including-the-kitchen-sink-and-a-flamethrower-guitar-for-good-measure-style insanity that is so completely mad (read: psychopathic) he must be brilliant (read: genius). He appears to have haphazardly thrown all the mind-blowing ingredients of this film at the screen like spaghetti to see what would stick. Miraculously, it all does. That's how easy he makes it look. But in fact this is expertly choreographed and controlled chaos conducted to within an inch of the lives of both cast and crew by a cinematic maestro whose name should henceforth be the very definition of visionary auteur. The real standout though is Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa who completely steals the show from the titular hero as the most kickass action heroine since Sigourney Weaver's Ripley in the Alien franchise.

2. Sicario

This was a strong contender for my favorite film of this year. Brutal, unrelentingly tense, fascinating characters with enigmatic motives, stunning cinematography, an unnerving score that makes you feel like you're descending into the bowels of hell - or in this case Juárez. It's the Zero Dark Thirty of the war on drugs movie genre.

3. It Follows

A bittersweet coming of age story cleverly packaged as a horror movie with a dreamlike 80s vibe that's right up there with DriveThe Guest, House of the Devil, and other recent genre throwbacks.

4. Brooklyn

They just don't make 'em like this anymore. One of the most achingly sweet love stories I've seen in ages. Classical, understated filmmaking at it's finest. Saoirse Ronan is a revelation.

5. The Revenant

So good! Birdman doesn't hold a candle to this movie as far as I'm concerned. Then again I didn't really like Birdman, as many of you know. For me, Birdman was but a walking shadow, a poor player that strutted and fretted his hour upon the stage and then was heard and thought about no more. It was an empty tale about a preening, self-obsessed idiot. Talk about an ADHD nightmare. It was a film was full of percussive and incessant sound, movement, and fury that in the end signified nothing. The Revenant is a completely different story. Imagine if Terrence Malick made Apocalypto and you have a good idea what you're in for. It's a harrowing, heart-wrenching ride of exquisite beauty and bone crunching brutality. Leonardo DiCaprio owns this movie. He provides the soulfulness, the naked emotions and the intense physicality that doesn't rely on words to anchor this unbelievable survival story in a an embodied reality that you can latch onto, believe in, and vicariously experience through him and what he goes through on screen and in real life in conditions that were a living hell.

6. Inside Out

Brought to vivid life the heartbreaking experience of growing up which involves going through the the painful but unavoidable interior process of saying goodbye to the sweet innocence and ignorant bliss of childhood. Made me want to call my parents and tell them that I love them and am so thankful for their love and support through all the ups and downs of life.

7. Ex Machina

"One day the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa. An upright ape living in dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction." You know those films that get your heart pumping and your neurons firing? Those films that remind you of the pleasures that are unique to cinematic storytelling to engage your senses and not only transport you into another world but to alter the way you see your own? Ex Machina is one of those rare films. Here is a science-fiction film for the ages that puts ideas and characters at the fore and is all the more interesting, exciting and terrifying because of it. Writer-director Alex Garland has crafted a prescient film that wrestles with some of the most essential questions about humanity and our evolving relationship to increasingly advanced technology that has the power to transform how we live our lives and to redefine our conception of what it means to be human. Honestly, it would make a perfect pairing with Spike Jonze's masterful Her. Go see it and then let's go down the rabbit hole or through the looking glass together and have an in-depth discussion about it. I still have so many burning thoughts and unanswered questions that I'm dying to delve into with others who have seen the film.

8. Creed

LOVED IT!!! Every second. That's how you do a reboot! The mantle has been passed to the next generation and it looks like the franchise is in very capable hands. If Michael B. Jordan wasn't already a star he sure as hell is one now. Stallone for Best Supporting Actor at this year's Academy wards. I called it right after seeing the film the week it came out. The training scene with Adonis running on the streets of Philadelphia with the biker boys popping wheelies behind him was as iconic as the Philly steps sequence in the first movie. Ryan Coogler, Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, and Sly Stallone came together to make movie magic and I am not ashamed to admit that I had tears of joy in my eyes and a lump in my throat pretty much from the first scene of the movie right on through to the end. By the final fight I felt like chanting CREED!, CREED!, CREED! in our crowded theater.

9. Carol

I found it intoxicating. This is a slow burn picture that will fill the darkened corners of your heart with waves of nostalgia like billowing clouds of sweet smelling cigarette smoke long after the house lights have come up and you've gone back to your normal existence in the 21st century. Watching these two lonely women navigating the experience of falling in love during the height of Eisenhower era repression was fascinating and incredibly sad. The way director Todd Haynes, the DP, the set decorators and the costume designers evoked the 1950s milieu and the exhilaratingly disorienting experience of falling in love was absolutely mesmerizing! It took me there. I loved the framing device of always keeping the leads separated visually by a wall or a curtain or something else obstructing our view of the other person in the frame with them emphasizing how trapped they felt as well as possibly symbolizing the forces trying to separate them or even their own loneliness and isolation, even when they were with others. Just an extremely lovely and well-crafted film!

10. Spotlight

The widespread and decades long coverup by the Catholic Church is enraging to me personally as a lapsed Catholic who still has a great deal of affection for Catholic ritual, liturgy and theology as well as the current Pope. I think more people in the faith community need to see the film and have their eyes opened to the fact that this is a fallible human institution that is just as broken as our political system. The system that protected thousands of deviant priests across the globe who used their influential positions in their communities prey on children is NOT worth protecting, most especially if those costs involve sacrificing the lives of innocent children on the altar of preserving Mother Church at all costs. Spotlight shows what happens when devout men and women fueled by religious zeal are so blinded by their belief in the unassailable righteousness and purity of their religion that they will choose unquestioned allegiance to the human representatives of their religious institutions over and above protecting the most vulnerable people that the institution supposedly exists to protect. The fact that the Boston Globe reporters had to force the Church's hand into doing right by the victims of clergy sexual abuse is a lasting stain that will forever tarnish the Church, not to mention the Gospel message that the Church has been tasked with proclaiming. The subsequent public apologies from Catholic higher ups mean nothing when popes, cardinals, bishops and priests were turning a blind eye to the abuse happening right under their noses. These men of the cloth covered up for their brothers for countless years because "people need the Church more than ever right now," as one of the power players tasked with protecting the church’s reputation makes abundantly clear in the film. What a travesty! The righteous anger Mark Ruffalo's character expresses in a climactic confrontation in the newsroom towards the end of the film is something we should feel the weight of for years to come so that we will never let this happen again in a church or any other manmade institution: "They knew and they let it happen! To kids! Okay? It could have been you, it could have been me, it could have been any of us. We gotta nail these scumbags! We gotta show people that nobody can get away with this. Not a priest, or a cardinal or a freaking pope!" Oh, that we would all be able to feel such deep sorrow and express such righteous anger that would lead to action on behalf of "the least of these" when we hear the stories of precious little lambs being exploited by the spiritual shepherds entrusted with their care. Lord have mercy on our apathetic hearts.

Andy Singleterry

Apologies to the deserving films I haven't seen yet - I'm almost certain that The Revenant and Anomalisa would be on this list, but I haven't been able to see them yet.  With that proviso, here are my top 10 films of 2015:

1. Spotlight
2. Ex Machina
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
4. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
5. Inside Out
6. Sicario
7. The Martian
8. Straight Outta Compton
9. Bridge of Spies
10. Slow West

Colin Stacy

1. Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem
2. Carol
3. Experimenter
4. About Elly
5. The Mend
6. Chi-Raq
7. In Jackson Heights
8. Mad Max: Fury Road
9. Mistress America
10. La Sapienza

A great year for cinema.

Eugene Suen

Based on what I've seen, here's my (rather intuitive) list for 2015:

1. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan)
2. The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer, Denmark)
3. Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg, US)
4. Mission Impossible: Rouge Nation (Christopher McQuarrie, US)
5. Inside Out (Pete Docter, US)
6. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, US/Australia)
7. Phoenix (Christian Petzold, Germany)
8. The Walk (Robert Zemeckis, US)
9. Brooklyn (John Crowley, Ireland/UK)
10. Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, US) 

Steve Vredenburgh

Here's my list as it stands today. I was surprised that Kumiko made it as high as it did. While We're Young might have been higher if I'd had more time to processes it. Kingsmen is mentioned only because it has my favorite scene of the year: exploding heads to the tune of pomp and circumstance. 

1. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
2. Sicario
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
4. Inside Out
5. Phoenix
6. Slow west
7. End of the Tour
8. The Martian
9. What We Do In the Shadows
10. Room
11. While We're Young
12. Spy
13. The Kingsmen

Matt Walker

Inside Out had me tearing up within 15 minutes!

1. The Big Short
2. Inside Out
3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
4. The Martian
5. Concussion
6. Z for Zachariah
7. Furious 7
8. The Avengers: Age of Ultron
9. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
10. Spy

Kent Webber

Here's a list of films that I loved in order from my favorite on down. Although, it was really hard to compare these films, I loved them all.  

1. Mad Max: Fury Road
2. Room
3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
4. What We Do In The Shadows
5. Love & Mercy
6. Metalhead
7. The Revenant
8. Ex-Machina
9. Creed
10. Shaun the Sheep Movie

I'm thankful that Reel Spirituality even exists, and even more thankful that I'm a small part of it.

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