It’s the end of January now so I thought I should finally get round to compiling by obligatory Top Ten list of the year. The reason I’ve waited a month to do this rather than make one at the end of 2015 is (partly) because I’ve fallen behind on my reviews and have been trying to catch up with them all month while also working on my dissertation which is due in two weeks. Another reason though is because I live in the UK which means that many of the American movies that turn out to be the biggest awards contenders don’t get a general release here until January and February so I wanted to give myself a chance to see some of them. I’m glad that I have now because a good number of them have ended up making my list. Overall 2015 was an exciting year. It was a year where franchises were reinvented, old hands came back and showed that they’ve still got it, and where the best films of the year were able to distinguish themselves by their sheer diversity. Regrettably there are always going to be a few films that I’ve missed or that haven’t reached the UK yet but I’m content with the list I’ve put together. Here are my ten favourite (and five least favourite) films of the year.
10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – J.J. Abrams
Probably my most highly anticipated film of the year, I am so incredibly pleased that this film turned out to be as great as it did. Returning to this universe was like seeing an old friend again and it pleases me to know that the magic is still there. Seeing the old faces was a real treat but what really sold me on this film was the new characters. Rey, Finn, BB-8, Poe Dameron and Kylo Ren were all names that I enjoyed becoming acquainted with and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better in the sequels. The starship fights and lightsaber duels were as exhilarating as they’ve ever been and were executed to stunning effect. The sets and the landscapes were spectacular and blended well with this universe, feeling both new and familiar at the same time. Everything about this movie looks and feels like a Star Wars film and it is good to have this franchise back on top form once again. Review here.
9. Creed – Ryan Coogler
Definitely one of the biggest surprises of the year, this is a franchise reboot of a very different kind. What I liked about Creed though was how barebones it was. It wasn’t trying to outdo any of the Rocky films nor did it try to exploit the franchise’s success. Instead it tries to tell its own story with its own character in its own way. Adonis is a compelling character in his journey to prove that he has what it takes to be a great fighter and to do so on his own terms. Tessa Thompson is a welcome addition as a character who does not begin and end as a love interest. She is her own character with her own story and her own life to live. Sylvester Stallone’s return as the iconic Rocky Balboa is a triumph as he delivers the strongest performance of his entire career. Creed is a dynamic film packed with astounding character moments and stupendously choreographed fight scenes. Review here.
8. Steve Jobs – Danny Boyle
For me this was the single most compelling character study of the entire year. The film’s format allowed for a thorough examination of this tortured genius’ psyche by showing him at work and interacting with others at three different stages of his life. The entire ensemble shines in this film but Fassbender is still able to stand out as the tyrannical, egotistical mastermind at the centre of it all. As Jobs he commands an extraordinary on-screen presence and drives the entire film with an intensely bombastic performance throughout. Sorkin’s dialogue is fast, sharp and incredibly intelligent, allowing each character to interact on a highly creative and intellectual level and to keep this film moving forward with each second. This is a film that never stops moving and that commands your immediate attention from beginning to end. Review here.
7. The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino
This film is a Tarantino blend of John Carpenter and Agatha Christie set in the West with eight fascinatingly nefarious characters driving it. What’s not to love? The interactions between these characters are wildly entertaining and utterly compelling as they face a tense and unnerving situation together in their own twisted and aggressive ways. Character is king as Tarantino allows this situation to simply play out with each exchange of dialogue and each monologue until things finally come to a head. Every part is perfectly cast as each actor completely inhabits their character and employs a fluid command of Tarantino’s stylised dialogue. This film runs for three hours and at no point did I ever feel bored or wearied. I was completely invested and thoroughly entertained through it all and wouldn’t change a single scene. Review here.
6. Spotlight – Tom McCarthy
In terms of plot alone this was perhaps the most compelling film of the year. The uncovering of a conspiracy by the Catholic Church to cover up widespread instances of child molestation in Boston makes for a complex, challenging and significant story and not a single second is wasted in its telling. There is an intricacy and a methodicalness to the shaping of this film as each scene carries it forward with a purpose. Not one step is glossed over and not one element is overlooked. The audience is able to become invested in this story through the characters who are confounded and challenged by what it is they discover. Each character is fully rounded and is portrayed with a naturalism and authenticity that keeps the film grounded. The drama in this film is never overplayed or exaggerated but instead remains firmly genuine and honest. Thus every single moment of drama this film conveys is completely real and completely earned. Review here.
5. Ex Machina – Alex Garland
A stimulating film that raises fascinating questions about the human consciousness. This film depicts a man who crosses paths with a being who looks, sounds, feels, moves and behaves like a human being. He knows that she (or rather it) is a machine but cannot deny or ignore the feelings he has developed for her (it). With those feelings comes the uncertainty and the inevitable questions. Is this being capable of real thought and emotion? How does one tell if those thoughts and emotions are real or artificial? Is there a difference? Does this being understand the difference? The questions and themes are discussed and debated throughout this film in an intelligent and captivating way as the mystery surrounding this character subtly unfolds. The character itself is astonishingly designed, utilising some of the best us of CGI on a single character in any film, and is portrayed superbly by Alicia Vikander. Definitely one of the most absorbing and thought-provoking films of the year. Review here.
4. Room – Lenny Abrahamson
Room is an emotionally profound film that manages to turn something dark and twisted into something moving and beautiful. Told and seen from a child’s perspective, there is an innocence and a heart to this film that both warms and breaks your heart. Tremblay could very well be the greatest surprise of the year with a stunning performance that beggars belief. The journey his character embarks upon is an extraordinary one and it is his performance that carries the entire film. The way that this film managed to place its characters in such a despairing situation but to then focus instead on the positive and hopeful part of their lives without diminishing their confinement cannot be understated. This film is a remarkable achievement in its portrayal of the human condition and is one of the most touching and poignant films of the year. Review here.
3. Inside Out – Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen
Films like this are the reason why we should never underestimate children’s films. Through ingenious storytelling, amazing characters and superb animation Pixar has constructed one of the most intelligent, entertaining and profound films of the entire year. The film’s exploration of the emotional spectrum is able to be clever and creative while still being simple enough for children and adults to follow. The themes of growing up and of being in touch with one’s emotions are universal and are presented with astonishing insight and maturity. This is a film that challenges its audience without alienating them and is able to make the viewer laugh as soon as it makes them cry. There are grown-up films that wish they could be as smart, as enjoyable and as emotional as Inside Out, a children’s masterpiece. Review here.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road – George Miller
The most intense, action-packed, exhilarating film of the year, hands down! Going to see Fury Road in the cinema was more than a viewing, it was an experience that left me out of breath by the time the credits rolled. What makes this film so intriguing however is that there is actually a compelling story taking place beneath all the carnage that goes largely unspoken. It is a story of survival and about retaining or even regaining one’s humanity. It’s also a surprisingly feminist film that has cleverly disguised itself as a Man Movie. Each character is given a personality and a distinctive story-arc. Furiosa in particular has distinguished herself as the heroine of the year, proving herself to be just as compelling and as badass (if not more so) as any other action hero. The car chase however is what makes this film as it boasts of some of the most incredible action ever put on screen. Fury Road is a perfect action movie and that is not a declaration I make lightly. Review here.
1. Carol – Todd Haynes
The most beautiful, stunning, immaculately crafted film that I’ve seen this year. Of all the films I’ve seen in 2015 Carol is my favourite for two reasons. Firstly is the artistry that went into its creation. Every single frame of this film looks like a photograph and everything, from the angles to the colours to the lighting, is employed to create a tranquil mood and to enhance the story. Secondly is the relationship between Carol and Therese which is portrayed with such passion and tenderness that you cannot help but be drawn in. There is a transcendent beauty to the love they share but also a deep sorrow to the circumstances keeping them apart. This film is perfectly written, acted, designed and directed to tell an intimate and passionate tale of love and no other film this year has moved me in the way Carol has. It is a marvellous achievement in art, romance and cinema and it is my favourite film of 2015. Review here.
Honourable Mentions: The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Far from the Madding Crowd, Macbeth, The Martian, The Revenant, Straight Outta Compton, The Walk, Youth
Now here are my five least favourite films of 2015.
5. Fifty Shades of Grey – A stupid story based on a trashy book that tried to turn itself into a serious romance. This film never had a chance due to the dull protagonist, the silly writing and the lack of anything resembling a compelling romance. Review here.
4. Pan – A film that has fundamentally misunderstood the story upon which it is based and failed to capture any semblance of the magic. This film is a cliché-ridden misadventure with some truly bizarre ideas thrown in. Review here.
3. Boy Next Door – This film has absolutely no reason to exist. It is a tired story with tired characters relying on tired clichés that fails to offer anything of actual substance. Review here.
2. Jupiter Ascending – A space opera that offers drab exposition, pointless action and sci-fi rip-offs in place of character, spectacle and emotion. The film’s only redeeming feature is that much of it is laughable. Review here (although I should note that my thoughts on the film have since become much more negative).
1. Terminator Genisys – I hate everything about this film from its butchering of the iconic characters to the grossly nonsensical story to the utterly diluted tone and action. This is so much more than a bad film, this is an insultingly bad film. Review here.