1) Mad Max: Fury Road
The year’s most pleasant surprise is also the year’s best. A visual feast that exposes just how bland effects-driven Hollywood movies have been for years now, while also managing to invest genuine emotional resonance in its characters and storytelling despite the breathless pace. Basically, this is the cinematic equivalent of a mic drop.
2) The Hateful Eight

This may not be one of Tarantino’s best, but still proves that he’s in another league compared with most other moviemakers. Like most of his films, it’s definitely not for everyone, but no one else makes movies with such joy and unapologetic panache and judging from this movie, he’s still in his prime.

3) Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Is calling this movie better than all the prequels too faint of praise? Is asserting that this movie revived the Star Wars franchise too high of praise? Few movies have had as much going for it and against it as this movie in terms of expectations, so the fact that it turned out to simply be darn good is quite an accomplishment.

4) Inside Out

Not only can Pixar still give you the feels, they can now animate your feels as well. This movie had both my Joy and Sadness feelings on the edge of my seat, with Disgust and Anger kept at bay except when needed, while Fear watched calmly with feigned dispassion.

5) Ex Machina

A worthy science fiction thriller that has familiar themes about the philosophical and ethical quandaries we could face upon discovering true artificial intelligence, but is fresh and exciting in the way it portrays a future that seems closer and more plausible than ever.

6) The Martian

While most other sci-fi films that take the science as seriously as this film does tend to be dark and cerebral (Ex Machina, for example) this one is instead a fun, feel-good romp of an adventure movie, with Matt Damon ably carrying the movie despite rarely interacting with the also very good supporting cast.

7) Who Took Johnny

A deeply disturbing but gripping documentary about a long forgotten media storm surrounding the mysterious 1982 abduction of 12-year old Johnny Gosch. Goes a long way towards explaining the current helicopter parent culture while also offering insights for current issues ranging from law enforcement limitations, political corruption and the still largely invisible human trafficking ring.

8) Frame By Frame

Did you know that the Taliban banned both taking and possessing photographs until being thrown out of power? Neither did I until seeing this documentary about brave Afghani photojournalists, struggling to tell the story of their homeland, which many Americans still know very little about, even after so many years of warfare there.

9) Straight Outta Compton

An entertaining and often thought provoking musical biopic that feels particularly relevant today in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, though it is somewhat limited by seeming to be tacitly more interested in contextualizing today’s issues rather than going for a more deep and nuanced exploration of the real-life people and their particular time and place.
10) Black Mass

Johnny Depp has developed such a shtick that we’ve almost forgotten how good of an actor he can be. Here Depp’s willingness for self-transformation is used perfectly to portray Whitey Bulger, crafting one of the most menacing performances in years.