Each year, Punchnel’s asks our friends, staff, and contributors to offer up their picks for the year’s best albums, books, and movies. Today’s list: the best movies of 2015.

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Mad Max: Fury Road.
Nick Honeywell

It was a two-horse race this year between Fury Road and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Both were unforgivably kinetic action-adventure romps. But George Miller’s brazen Fury Road balanced style and substance with such utter perfection that Michael Bay should be required to watch it 500 times before he’s allowed to make another movie.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Jen Bingham

I mean, I only saw about two new movies in 2015, so I can’t speak to anything that is actually highbrow and shit. This movie is tons of fun despite the clunking performances of all our old favorites. The new folks are rocking it hard, the plot is full of holes and delightful, and you should probably go see it before you hear the spoilers.

Inside Out
Jackie Lutzke

Maybe Star Wars is the heavy hitter for this year’s Beloved Film but what about that other heavy hitter? You know: the one that punched us in our emotions and made us weep for Lost Innocence while our children looked on in bemusement and pity? They’ll understand someday…

True Story
Dan Grossman

Last night, I watched True Story, starring James Franco and Jonah Hill. Hill plays a New York Times reporter fired for fudging the facts; Franco plays a man who killed his family and then went on the lam. Through telling the killer’s story, the reporter achieves redemption, but at a price.

Prophet’s Prey
Jason Roemer

Following writers/investigators Jon Krakauer and Sam Brower on a man-hunt through the barren landscape of the American West, director Amy Berg paints a horrifying picture of a monster among us, and the chilling truth that makes us all vulnerable to unspeakable evil. The Nick Cave narration is an eerie bonus.

Champs
Jason Roemer

What does it take to become a champion of the world? This hard-hitting documentary focuses on a broken system that churns out dramatic success stories and inevitable (often shameful) falls from grace for a fanbase who pays handsomely for the privilege to watch these tragedies unfold from the comfort of their pay-per-view seats.

Love and Mercy
Robin Beery

Love and Mercy, the Brian Wilson biopic, was the best movie I saw in the theater without kids. Splitting the role between Paul Dano and John Cusack somehow felt seamless, Paul Giamatti was deliciously creepy as Wilson’s therapist, and the scenes with the Wrecking Crew in the studio were fascinating.

Mad Max: Fury Road
Will Bain

Mad Max: Fury Road is not essential cinema, but it is excellent cinema. The action is intense and serves to present the characters with choices. Instead of trying to revisit more of Max’s past or force some him into some contrived transformation, George Miller wisely uses his title character to propel other characters and stories that enrich his apocalyptic world. It’s a lesson I wish other franchises would learn.

Inside Out
Will Bain

Not only does Inside Out look beautiful, but it continues Pixar’s remarkable run of movies that treat the audience as intelligent, thoughtful, and complex. I appreciate how Inside Out treats sadness as important and healthy rather than as a weakness that must always be overcome. Sure, it made me and my kids cry, but we laughed a lot too, and in the end, the movie served to celebrate the richness of emotional experience rather than reduce it to a few simple beats.

Tangerine
Missy Wilkinson

Tangerine is a morality tale (“Shit floats to the top!”) and homage to female friendship candy-coated with West Hollywood pimp-and-ho drama. Trans sex worker Sin-Dee finds out her pimp boyfriend cheated on her while she was locked up, and she goes on a quest with her friend Alexandra to punish him and his new bottom bitch. There’s also a conflicted cab driver/john who gives head to Alexandra in a lushly cinematic car wash scene. The film was shot on an iPhone, so that’s neat.


Ex Machina

Alex Mattingly

From the ancient myth of Pygmalion to Spike Jonze’s Her, it’s pretty clear that mankind’s message to artificial intelligence is this: If we give you the gift of life, we’re going to try and bang you. So finally, thank god, a movie came along in which things end badly for those ol’ horn-dog humans. If you watched the end of Her and thought, “Joaquin, I’ll GIVE you something to cry about,” then Ex Machina is probably right for you.