So it’s that time again where everyone takes a look back at the year that was and comes up with their favourites. Although it had its fair share of crap, as ever, for the most part this was a pretty damn good year for film in my eyes, from small films that broke out to become big hits to massive blockbusters that surprised with depth and wit.
Now before I get to the cream of the crop, I just wanna go over some of the films that didn’t quite make the list but I loved/liked a lot nonetheless:
There was Todd Haynes’ Carol, a sumptuous and achingly romantic film about forbidden love in the 1950s; Snowtown and Assassin’s Creed director Justin Kurzel put his definitive, haunting mark on Macbeth; and Charlotte Rampling devastated with her stunning performance in the understated yet powerful 45 Years.
The comedy genre was bolstered this year by a triple whammy of films. There was Spy, the hilarious and surprisingly action-packed hit in which The Stath supremely stole the show in self-mocking fashion; Trainwreck saw Amy Schumer prove she can do comedy just as well on the big-screen as on stage and on TV; and finally The Lady in the Van, the thoroughly British story of an essentially homeless woman who stayed in Alan Bennett’s driveway for a decade and half – Dame Maggie Smith has rarely been better.
One of the more underrated films of the past 12 months for me was A Most Violent Year. It was dismissed by some as too serious and like so many other New York-set crime movies but there was a lot of very interesting things going on in that film about the corruption of power and where that leaves someone trying to do good while also providing a couple of the year’s tensest sequences. Keeping the underrated and crime line going, I thought The Voices was a wickedly dark and very funny little movie with Ryan Reynolds on top form, proving he’s much better in this sort of role rather than being tied to the glossy A-list stuff his good looks suggest.
Going down the more oddball route there was A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, a bizarre segmented film that featured sequences about travelling joke prop salesman and a monkey being scientifically tested in shackles, among others – a surreal Monty Python-esque treat. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night took the vampire horror subgenre and turned it on its head with something that was deeply unnerving and visually striking in its other-worldliness. And Tangerine proved that it doesn’t matter if you have a multi-million dollar camera or an iPhone, as long as you’ve got talented actors and a sharp sense of wit you can make something special.
There were others that impressed me this year including Studio Ghibli’s gorgeous A Tale of Princess Kaguya, Kenneth Branagh’s pleasingly theatrical Cinderella and the sweetly acerbic Grandma, with an irrestistable performance by the great Lily Tomlin. The list could go on for days but I think that’ll do for the runners up…
So without much further ado, here’s my top 20 films of 2015.
Note: As always the list adheres to the UK release schedule so films that may have been 2014 for many were early 2015 for us. Also, that means films like Spotlight, The Danish Girl, Joy, Creed, and Room aren’t included at all because they’re not out until early 2016 here.
We’ve seen this sort of Mexican drug cartel thriller before but director Denis Villeneuve took that familiar set-up and turned into one of the tensest, most dread-filled and most unpredictable films of the year with Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro on top form.
I’m not exactly a great fan of Amy Winehouse’s music, nor do I know anything about her life beyond the obvious tabloid stuff, but I found this to be an insightful, complex and empathetic portrait of her. FULL REVIEW HERE
18. Straight Outta Compton
Rap music is really not my thing so colour me surprised how much I enjoyed this biopic. A bold film with a ferocious sensibility and absolutely brimming with energy. It contains some of the best music performance scenes in recent memory.
17. Beasts of No Nation
Cary Fukunaga takes a brave, no holds barred approach to telling a powerful story, admirably never skimping on the brutal details of what really happens. Idris Elba is great but newcomer Abraham Attah is a revelation.
16. The Martian
Matt Damon is great in an intelligent, thrilling and surprisingly funny film that’s more “sci-fa” than sci-fi and one that has all the hallmarks of a modern classic. Ridley Scott’s best film in years, no question.
15. While We’re Young
I’m a big fan of Noah Baumbach anyway but this might be his finest effort for me. It’s breezily enjoyable, filled with wonderfully drawn characters, but has some very meaningful things to say about getting older and acting your age. FULL REVIEW HERE
14. Love & Mercy
Paul Dano and John Cusack wonderfully play two sides of the same coin that is Brian Wilson in a multi-layered film full of heart, tenderness and a genuine reverence for The Beach Boys music that it presents. FULL REVIEW HERE
Saoirse Ronan gives perhaps the finest performance of any actress this year in an affectionate, poignant, endearing, effortlessly enjoyable film that so brilliantly hits on the nerve of nostalgic longing people have for their homeland.
12. Slow West
Westerns are to be treasured these days and boy was this a cracker. It’s a visually gorgeous, surprisingly swift (despite the title) and pleasingly off-kilter story of one young man’s journey to reunite with his lost love.
11. It Follows
David Robert Mitchell’s masterful horror brings together a whole load of influences – from A Nightmare on Elm Street to The Thing – to create a new, deeply unnerving story of an evil presence that just won’t stop.
10. Ex Machina
Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Dredd) turns director in sublime fashion with this slick, complex, thought-provoking piece of modern sci-fi that’s chalk full of ideas and a palpable sense of dread. Alicia Vikander, in one of approximately 9765 roles this year, was astonishing as the lifelike A.I. used to test just exactly what it means to be human. FULL REVIEW HERE
9. The Look of Silence
As if The Act of Killing wasn’t devastating enough, Joshua Oppenheimer followed it up with this arguably even more powerful continued exploration of the brutal 1965/66 Indonesian “death squad” killings. Not exactly an easy watch but an important gut-punch of one nonetheless.
8. Steve Jobs
It may have disappointed some looking for a more straightforward birth-to-death biopic but I loved this unashamedly wordy, supremely economical film. It’s a nigh on perfect marriage of Aaron Sorkin’s verbally complex written approach and Danny Boyle’s playful directorial style, making epic action sequences out of what is essentially people arguing in back rooms.
Just another biopic, you say? Wrong. Ave DuVernay does a magnificent job of exploring a very specific and important point in Martin Luther King’s life in a way that felt both historic and utterly relevant to today’s world, all of which is anchored by David Oyelowo’s stunning central performance.
6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
I didn’t grow up loving Star Wars so no one was more surprised how much I loved this. Terrific action, depth of character and a fantastic mix of respecting the old while introducing the new; it all just worked so brilliantly. It was also that rarest of things: a massively anticipated and built-up blockbuster that actually lived up to the hype. Consider me a convert to the franchise. FULL REVIEW HERE
5. Fast & Furious 7
Call me crazy but for me this was one of the most purely enjoyable cinematic experiences of the year. Sure, subtlety isn’t exactly atop the list of priorities but it did what it set out to do and then some, with at least half a dozen spectacularly entertaining set-pieces. It also managed to be a surprisingly emotional and fitting send-off for the late Paul Walker. There was something in my eye at the end, I swear…
My annoyance over it beating Boyhood to Best Picture aside, I loved Alejandro González Iñárritu’s bold and confident exploration of the business of acting and what it means to try to be taken seriously. Michael Keaton gave an all-or-nothing kind of performance at the centre of a film that may have been gimmicky in its “one continual shot” conceit but, man, what a gimmick it was.
3. Inside Out
It turns out Pixar movies are like anything else in life: you wait for ages then two come along at once. The Good Dinosaur was a bit of a let-down but the same can’t be said for this beautiful tale of a little girl in unfamiliar surroundings: told from the perspective of the emotions inside her head. Gorgeously animated and full of all the heart, wit and emotional beats that made Pixar such a beloved brand. An instant classic. FULL REVIEW HERE
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
Nope, it’s not number 1!…
No one was expecting this to be as good as it was, but the sequel/reboot to the franchise was quite simply one of the best action movies this millennium. Led by a brooding Tom Hardy and a heroine for the ages in Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, this was a relentless two hour long set-piece that was as brilliantly exhilarating as it was technically astonishing. FULL REVIEW HERE
You have to go right back to January to find what is, in my mind, the best film of the year. This blistering second film from writer-director Damien Chazelle is filmmaking at its absolute best, telling the story of a drumming protégé and his tough-as-nails teacher (J.K. Simmons in an Oscar-winning performance) in refreshingly bold, startling fashion with some of the best sound design in recent memory and a finale that grabs you by the throat and make sure you won’t forget the film in a hurry. As good as the rest of the year may have been, nothing reached this level in my eyes.
Note: Some of this content was previously published on Scotcampus. Head over there for more in-depth thoughts on some of the films.
Well that’s it for my list, what’s yours? Be sure to leave it in the comments below!