Top 10 Films of 2015

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

The Force Awakens

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

Creed

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

Steve Jobs

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

The Hateful Eight

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

Spotlight

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

Ex Machina

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

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

Inside Out

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

Mad Max Fury Road

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

Carol

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 SpiesBrooklyn, Far from the Madding CrowdMacbethThe Martian, The RevenantStraight Outta ComptonThe WalkYouth

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.

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Top 10 Superhero Films

After watching Avengers: Age of Ultron and three episodes of Daredevil I’ve found myself in a superhero mood and thought I’d compile this list. The superhero genre has scaled to such incredible heights over the last decade and a half that it is almost hard to believe there was once a time when these kinds of films were not held in high regard. There was actually a time when any film with a superhero was considered a joke and box-office poison. Now superhero films are everywhere. Today the superhero genre is one that audiences are taking seriously and that has seen a lot of success and praise. These films are now being made by talented filmmakers who actually care about the source material and who put in the work and the effort to ensure that the result does them justice. What follows is a list of my 10 personal favourite films within this genre.

 

 10. Watchmen (2009)

Watchmen film

A vastly underrated film in my opinion, I think that the main trouble with Watchmen is that it didn’t really find its audience. Those who had read Alan Moore’s seminal book about an alternate history where superheroes are a driving force in the Cold War were unsure whether it could even be translated to film while those who hadn’t were perhaps put off by their unfamiliarity with the story and the lack of star-power. As someone who has read the book, I think that the film Snyder gave us is the best that any of us could have ever hoped for. I’m scratching my head trying to work out what he could possibly have done differently. His faithfulness to the source material is unquestionable as can be seen in his painstaking recreations of Gibbons’ visuals, the film is in keeping with Moore’s dark and gritty tone and the translation of the story and characters to the big screen is simply astonishing.

 9. X-Men: First Class (2011)

X-Men First Class film

This was a tough call and I’m sure there are a lot of people who prefer X2 or Days of Future Past to this one, but I had to go with First Class. It actually kind of annoys me that this is my favourite of the X-Men films because it barely has any of my favourite X-Men in it. However I had to go with it because it is such a good film. McAvoy and Fassbender are perfectly cast as the younger versions of Professor X and Magneto and the story of their shared past is such a compelling one. In addition it has a great story, the characters who are in it are well-used and the 1960s setting is fantastic. At a time when the X-Men series was struggling, following its two prior failures, Vaughn’s decision to reinvent the franchise by going right back to the beginning was a bold one and it worked out brilliantly. It was smart, it was fun and it saved the franchise. It also has one of the best cameos in any film ever.

8. Batman (1989)

Batman film

This one is a classic. Breaking away from the campy tone that defined the Adam West era, this film was a dark and serious take on the Caped Crusader that depicted him as a conflicted, unhinged vigilante. Michael Keaton’s excellent portrayal of Batman is overshadowed only by Jack Nicholson’s crazed performance as the Joker, by the marvellous production design and by the dark, brooding atmosphere that only Tim Burton could bring. This is the film that transcended superhero films beyond the action genre by providing a psychological insight into one of pop culture’s most famous characters.

7. Unbreakable (2000)

Unbreakable film

The only film on this list not based on a comic book or a graphic novel. Made back before Shyamalan became, well… Shyamalan, Unbreakable is a dark, enthralling film that provides an insightful commentary into this genre. It brought a philosophical element into the discussion on the superhero mythology by asking whether becoming a superhero is a matter of choice or of destiny. It questions what it really means to be a superhero and the sort of implications and ramifications that come with such an idea. Unbreakable provides an intelligent deconstruction of the superhero genre and shows that superheroes films aren’t all about action and thrills.

6. V for Vendetta (2005)

V for Vendetta film

I was surprised to find that this isn’t a film often featured on lists of superhero films. Maybe this is because a lot of people don’t consider V to be a superhero (although if Batman and Daredevil count, surely he counts as well). In any case V for Vendetta is an awesome film about a vigilante who, rather than fighting against a bad guy, chooses to fight against an idea as he takes a stance against an Orwellian totalitarian regime in the name of freedom. Hugo Weaving is impeccably cast as the theatrical, morally ambiguous V in a film that provides a unique portrayal of a superhero whose real power is that of an idea. It is well worth watching, even if it does take a lot of divergences from the original graphic novel.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy film

More of a sci-fi film than a superhero film but still counts regardless. Guardians of the Galaxy was a risky move on Marvel’s part, considering that only devoted comic book fans were at all familiar with these heroes or the world that they inhabit, and so its monumental success is a testament to the characters that made this film as great as it was. There is not a single weak link amongst the five leads as we see them working with and off each other to make what is an incredibly fun and entertaining film. Groot alone makes this film worth watching. (Incidentally it is now my dream to one day see Rocket Raccoon and Tony Stark meet).

4. Superman (1978)

Superman film

Even though I actually like Man of Steel, this film remains far and away my favourite Superman film and Christopher Reeve remains the quintessential Superman. Back before superhero films showed that they could be intelligent, dark, complex and thought provoking, Superman was a fun, uplifting and exciting film that made us all believe that a man could really fly. This film didn’t need to be dark or gritty to be effective, all it needed was spirit and imagination. The iconic hero, the inspirational John Williams score and the thrilling action have ensured that this film remains a classic that still holds up today.

3. Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Spider-Man 2 film

Back when films like Spider-Man, ­X-Men and Blade were bringing the superhero genre back to the big screen and were still experimenting with the format, this was the film that finally perfected it. It has everything that a fun, exciting superhero film needs. It has an iconic hero, an entertaining villain, excellent action, a great sense of humour, and groundbreaking visual effects. Even though I preferred Marc Webb’s take on Spider-Man to Sam Raimi’s and felt that Andrew Garfield was a better Spider-Man than Tobey Maguire, this film nevertheless remains the best Spider-Man film to date and without question one of the best superhero films ever made.

2. The Avengers (2012)

The Avengers film

This was the film that changed everything. After five films over the course of four years building up to this momentous occasion, The Avengers was the film that finally brought these heroes from their different franchises together for the first time. It marked an important step in the evolution of the superhero genre and it was executed to perfection. Not only did these characters work together incredibly well and complement each other perfectly, but The Avengers is also an excellently scripted, well-directed, action-packed film that pitted the Avengers against a villain who remains the best baddie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whatever doubts the audience may have had about the idea of a shared universe, this was the film that put an end to them once and for all.

1. The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight film

I know that picking this film for the number 1 spot may be a bit of a cliché, but that’s how amazing this film really is. Batman is hands-down my favourite superhero and Christian Bale remains my favourite portrayal of him. Heath Ledger’s Joker is not only the best incarnation of that character, he is one of the greatest film villains of all time. Under Nolan’s direction, The Dark Knight is an intelligent film that explores the nature of chaos and provides an insight into the twisted relationship between Batman and the Joker. It is a thrilling film that gets the blood pumping with its intense action and its dark tone. The Dark Knight is one of those rare films that actually lived up to every single expectation that the audience had and is still just as exhilarating to watch today.