With 2016 on the horizon, it’s time to sit back and bask in the glory that was 2015. You’re here to fawn over all of the glad tidings that cinema brought our way over the last 12 months. In reality, every year is a good year for cinema. Sure, some years you have to wriggle your way through mountains of turgid mainstream crap in order to find a gem of a film that you can then show off to your friends about. But, this year wasn’t actually like that. This year was different.
This year Hollywood’s biggest films were some of its best. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, The Martian, Spectre, Ant-Man, and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation were all bombastically entertaining, while at the other end of the spectrum Room, The Danish Girl, 45 Years, and Carol were tender and heart-breaking. Yet, they all still transpired not to make my list. But which films did? Well, without further ado, here are my top 10 movies of 2015. Enjoy. Despise. Just let me know what you think in the comments section.
10. Furious 7Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the pure joy that action films can bring to an audience. That’s because in order to reach its fast, furious, and death-defying scenes, we normally have to sit through hackneyed characters uttering awful lines of dialogue from a script riddled with problems. Sure, Furious 7 has these issues, too. But when it came to delivering thrilling action scenes that left you gripping onto your seat in euphoria, nothing came close to matching its two biggest and best scenes; and that includes number 7 on my list.
The mountain top car chase – which saw cars inexplicably being dropped out of a plane in order to catch their target – and the Abu Dhabi tower extravaganza that disregarded everything we’ve ever come to know and love about gravity were over-the-top, ridiculous, and everything that’s great about cinema. As long as you didn’t think about them too much. Because of these scenes, watching Furious 7 was one of the most enjoyable times I had in a cinema all year. And don’t get me started on the Paul Walker tribute.
9. SpotlightLast year, The Theory Of Everything and The Imitation Game, despite their sublime performance, were still dramatically lightweight. Their drama was presented in an overwrought fashion, with a swelling of emotional music accompanying a prolonged shot of a pained expression all just to prove how serious they were. The dramatic neediness was a real turn off. With that in mind, Spotlight is the prime example of how to tell a real-life story. Sure there are explosions of emotional drama, but the humanity of the characters and those afflicted was always, subtly, at the fore. It’s also a stunning cinematic depiction of journalism; with every scene the equivalent of a jigsaw piece as the film slowly builds together to unveil a truly horrifying picture of abuse and cover-ups. Everyone is at fault, no-one is glorified, and even the heroes come out of the story in disgrace.
Spotlight is not only ensemble cinema at its finest. It also shows that Birdman was just that the start of an exciting new stage of Michael Keaton’s career, reminds you just how great and composed a filmmaker Tom McCarthy is, and, most importantly, proves that the world needs these kinds of films just like it needs Spotlight's team of journalists.
8. PaddingtonTrue story: I decided to watch Paddington in the middle of the summer when I had an unseasonable bout of the flu. It had been recommended to me months earlier, and I was looking for something to fall asleep to as I contemplated my last hours alive. But, instead, Paddington indomitably lifted my spirits. Why? Because it’s delightful. Paddington is the sort of film that you go into with low expectations, only to find yourself charmed within the first five minutes, and then utterly captivated by the time it comes to an end. In fact, chances are, you’ll have a smile plastered to your face throughout its entire running time.
Writer and director Paul King, as well as its co-writer Hamish McColl, give the film a playful energy that makes Paddington restless and cheeky, and it's filled with equal delights for younger and older audience. Meanwhile Ben Whishaw’s loveable performance, its stylish but safe middle-class ambiance, and uplifting message means that it constantly engages. Good natured, Paddington is family fun that should be roundly celebrated for being just that.
7. Mad Max: Fury RoadStop The Pigeon on speed – just without the killer theme song - Mad Max: Fury Road was the jolt in the arm that the action genre has needed for years. It is also the ultimate proof that the genre should be better. It should be full of unique, artistic spectacle with eye-catching designs, beguiling eccentric supporting characters, and painstakingly choreographed set pieces, all of which leave you agog, rather than the tired, rehashed scenes that we’ve become accustomed to.
It speaks wonders of George Miller’s gloriously hectic bombast that it’s probably easier to explain why it’s so far down my list than why it managed to reach number 7. For me it was just a little too relentless and a bit one note. There I said it. The thing is, since that’s exactly what George Miller set out to achieve, that’s hardly a criticism. In fact, it’s probably a compliment. Jaw-dropping brilliance has never been so visionary, ridiculous, and over-the-top.
6. Slow WestFirst-time directors aren’t supposed to be so distinctive, astute, and inventive with a genre that most people consider as dead as the dodo. But in Slow West, John M. Maclean – who in a previous life was a member of the Scottish indie-rock outfit The Beta Band – not only breathes fresh life into the American Western with his shimmering yet beautiful visuals, but he does so by shooting only in New Zealand and Scotland, too. It also helped John M. Maclean’s cause that he had three of the best actors in Hollywood to assist him on his adventure, with Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, and Ben Mendelsohn each given the on-screen freedom to be unhinged in a terrifying, hilarious and rather absurd fashion.
Slow West is a fantastic addition to a dying genre, and while its $230,000 box office return proves just how far the western has fallen, it’s still evidence that films of this ilk deserve to be created.
5. SicarioProbably the most tense cinematic experience of the year, Sicario has a great director working alongside a luminary cinematographer to inspire a group of fantastic actors. Basically it’s a big fuck you to the Auteur theory. The end result is the sort of thriller that most filmmakers aspire to create at the outset, but which are ultimately diluted down by the creative process.
Sicario is shot with a harsh lens that makes everything seem taut, real, and haunting, but it still explodes with precise and brutal action sequences that have been meticulously orchestrated beforehand and build in an almost Hitchcockian fashion. The complex world that’s created is one of paranoia and ruthless murder, where vengeance is part and parcel of the drug cartel’s business. Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro are particularly revelatory as the two agents investigating a case for very different reasons, and Josh Brolin is also in delicious supporting form. All of which merge together to make Sicario utterly riveting as it tantalizingly unfolds.
4. The End Of The TourThe End Of The Tour is a film about friendship. A budding, but brief, friendship between two like-minded, creative individuals, with varying social skills, who only have a handful of days together. But it’s also about journalism. About intelligence. About rivalry. About legacy. About good conversation. About life. Essentially, it is about being a human being. All of which is presented to us with the spectre of death, specifically a suicide, hanging over it.
The fact that James Ponsoldt -- whose incisive and subtly powerful direction excels -- and screenwriter Donald Marguiles never overly focus on one particular thread and instead allows them to merge and hang there in the way that they do in real life is what makes The End Of The Tour so compelling to watch. Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel are superb in the dual leading roles, making each and every word of dialogue uttered integral and loaded. You just wish that the conversation would never come to an end.
3. The Hateful EightThe Hateful Eight finds Quentin Tarantino toying with his audience in a manner that only he could. It’s gruesome, gory, and overly violent, but it unfolds in a patient and slowly engrossing style that is packed to the brim with surprises and red herrings. It’s basically Agatha Christie meet Sam Peckinpah, and it’s just as awesome as that sounds.
Some might find The Hateful Eight needlessly meandering. But, if you allow it to, The Hateful Eight becomes more and more enjoyable as its three hour and seven minute time runs along. Especially if you see it on the 70mm print that Quentin Tarantino wants you to view it on, with the punctuating overture and intermission only adding to the experience, and giving it an old school elegance. While Quentin Tarantino has never had a problem being exhilarating, The Hateful Eight has a sturdier structural than both Django and Inglorious, and, as a result, it means it’s his best film since Pulp Fiction.
2. BrooklynNever has falling in love seemed so integral and complicated. Whether it’s the burgeoning love for a new beau, the love for the home you’ve left behind that’s now over 3,000 miles away, the love for your family and the responsibilities that come in tow, the love for the new life that you’ve built, or the slightly arrogant love of the person that you’ve become. Brooklyn celebrates all of this love, and the complications that come because of them, in an intimate style that expands into an epic because of the conflicts that inevitably arise.
Saoirse Ronan is towering in the leading role as Eilis Lacey. You can see her growing in confidence as her character does, becoming tougher, funnier, and more at ease as she becomes used to her Brooklyn surroundings. But it's Brooklyn’s heart and spirit that really resonates. It’s tender, loving, and poignant, all of which results in Brooklyn being the most uplifting and life-affirming film of the year.
1. Inside OutBefore he died, baseball legend Buck O’Neill insisted that he’d only ever heard a baseball being struck by a bat at its purest on three separate occasions. Watching Inside Out evoked the same feeling, because cinema has never looked so easy and been so enthralling. Writer and director Pete Docter created a glorious, unique world inside Riley’s head, where Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust then run amok. But he did so in a way that people of all ages could resonate. Every scene builds upon the last all the way to its gripping conclusion, while along the way, as you’d expect from Pixar, the journey is fraught with humour and emotion. I'm never going to be able to look at candy floss the same way again.
Inside Out’s only issue is that it doesn’t last long enough. But think about that: when was the last time you left a film wishing that it was longer? Which proves just how utterly spellbinding it was, and means that a potential Inside Out 2 wouldn’t be greeted with the usual trepidation reserved for sequels, but is now instead a necessity.