I know we are deep into January at this very moment, but in amongst all the Christmas and new year festivities, no one thought to ask me what my top 10 films were of 2015. Whenever I brought it up with people, I would see a quiet look of dread appear on their face. The next thing I know, they are suddenly realising they have plans and would make up outlandish excuses of why they had to suddenly leave. One girl jumped off a boat when I started talking about the thing about Age of Ultron. I was talking to another dude about how I think Jennifer Lawrence can be a bit wooden when she’s in a movie she’s not invested in, but the guy straight up set his beard on fire and had to be taken to the ER room.
Rather than wallow in self pity, I thought I’d do the next best thing and write a blog piece. There needs to be some kind of order, you see. There can only be one best film of the year coupled with 9 other good ones that pave upwards towards number one like golden steps.
To iterate, I have not seen all the films released in 2015 – that would be insane – as a result, you clever person, this cannot be a totally accurate list. Instead, these are the kinds of films that left some lasting impression on me and are probably worth a go if you’re so inclined. I have not yet watched Steve Jobs, Sicario and Girlhood, all of which I heard tremendously good things about, so maybe check them out as well? I don’t rule your life.
But maybe I ought to…
10. Bridge of Spies
Perhaps it is because I’m a sucker for Spielberg, but I left the screening of Bridge of Spies with very little in the way of criticism. It is probably because it is too cosy, there is no one particularly bad in this movie, and although there is danger looming in the backdrop, it never particularly feels to threatening. Regardless, it’s Spielberg in historical story telling mode going back to the cold war and in particular the construction of the Berlin Wall in one of the film’s many standout scenes. Like Schindler’s List it is about the unassuming professional man going out of his way to save others in the name of kindness and a strong sense of moral obligation towards his fellow man. An ideal we would all likely adhere to, if we weren’t so absorbed by the media and whatever social media wankery is doing the rounds. Tom Hanks is ever watchable as the sanest man in an insane world a role he is becoming increasingly typecast in. Bridge of Spies is a very safe movie about unsafe times, pure Sunday Spielberg. Smartly made, well acted, warm hearted and impossible to resist.
9. The Martian
The Martian had the starriest cast of any movie released this year. After the high octane thrills of Gravity and the space dementia of Interstellar, The Martian was a refreshing take on the contemporary space disaster movie, a feel good thriller about one man defying impossible odds and working out a way to get back home with a little help from the world’s greatest scientific minds. It is a little silly in places, in some ways it is one big fish out of water comedy. It’s also the best film Ridley Scott has made in over a decade. I just hope he can hold on to that spirit for the next Prometheus movie and Bladerunner sequel… because they both sound like easy ideas to cock up completely.
8. Jurassic World
Yes. Jurassic Park is one of my favourite movies of all time. Yes, Jurassic World was in essence a big dumb remake of the original movie. Yes, Jurassic World was one of those 2015 films in which big franchises returned to get that nostalgia money from dough eyed man child fanboys like myself. Yes, I may have already wrote 5,000 words praising Jurassic World on this very blog. Yes, the whole plot point to train raptors is pants on head retarded. Yes, Chris Pratt riding motorcycle with his raptor pack was kind of amazing. Yes the death of Zara the assistant was needlessly drawn out and grim. Yes, the film’s most interesting idea about people inevitably becoming numb to the idea of living breathing dinosaurs was never really developed. Yes, I still cry a little when the T-Rex majestically enters the game via the Spinosaur skeleton. Yes, I cheered when Blue came running back into the fray accompanied by John Williams Lost World refrain. Yes all round.
Technically, Birdman came out in 2014, but it wasn’t released in the UK until 2015. It reaped all the awards at the start of the year, which kind of makes me dislike it even more. Of course Birdman is the kind of movie Hollywood actors and film makers like. It’s about a down on his luck, once successful actor, pursuing a vanity project that threatens to implode at seemingly every juncture. It’s about art and criticism, and the place of the artist in the world and in their own minds. It’s regularly funny, many times profound and mesmerising to watch with all those tracking shots weaving in and out of the bowels of a shabby Broadway theatre. I still don’t know if I have a firm grasp of what truly happened in the end but I still enjoy coming up with theories to explain it. It’s purgatory
6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
For the longest time, Star Wars had been stuck in the doldrums. With full Disney backing and Lucas out of the creative decision making, the franchise was suddenly going to be energised by a wealth of new film-making talent. Recapturing and rejuvenating the magic of Star Wars is essentially the story to the Force Awakens, and in this way it succeeds completely. Some have felt it doesn’t really offer anything new and just remixes tried and tested elements from the original trilogy. Some mad people have claimed the prequel trilogy is better and clearly need to be put down. I myself appreciated the new elements the film added, especially the new cast and the ways it plays on some of the old themes. I was also surprised by the humour of the movie and the fact that Harrison Ford actually stepped up his acting game to resemble an older Han Solo! Next to all the merchandising and one new Star Wars film to be released every year from now on, we’re likely to get sick of Star Wars over the next 5 years. But for now, I’m just happy to drink it all in from my BB8 themed sippy cup.
Just… no more death stars please…
From its ominous opening titles and accompanying soundtrack you’d be forgiven for thinking Carol was being set up as some kind of horror movie. I guess in some ways it is. It’s about a woman who falls in love with another woman, Carol (Cate Blanchett), during a time where woman were supposed to occupy domestic roles. As a result their romance can never really grow or develop. Carol is still under the thumb of her scorned husband threatens to prohibit her from seeing her children and believes that marriage is still possible between the two. It’s explosively understated and lingered in the mind long after viewing. Gold star. Plus Cate Blanchett is impossibly good looking. You could probably screen a still image of her face and people would still be happy.
4. Inside Out
A friend recently said, that every great movie attempts to make something that is usually big, scary and complex and make it simple and understandable. Never one to back down from the big themes of life, Inside Out is Pixar’s take on depression, and it is no more artfully played than the best films the studio has created over the last twenty years. The way it characterises and creates an understandable landscape depression within the character of sadness and the inner workings of the mind, next to the always sunny disposition of Joy is ingenius. Inside Out should be mandatory viewing for every person born on this planet. It’s framework could be adapted and expanded to provide a basis to understand where all other human beings are coming from, which is powerful movie magic man.
Bing Bong is creepy though.
3. Ex Machina
Going into Ex Machina, I was expecting nothing more than an intelligent dose of science fiction about the moral responsibility and philosophical discussion surrounding robots and mankind’s attempts to create artificial life. Like all robot movies for example. Alex Garland’s directorial debut goes into darker territory however, focusing on man’s attempt to not just build machines in their own image but their preferred image. Oscar Isaac is brilliant as the genius mastermind behind Ava the robot, but Domhall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander are also great in a movie that twists and turns within a claustrophobic environment.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
Furious 7 may have given us one of the greatest scenes of the year, but when it comes to automotive action there was only one movie to pay attention to this summer. In many ways Mad Max: Fury Road: was every way the antithesis of the Fast & Furious movies, set in a bleak frazzled uncaring world – there is no time for flabby sentimentality or notions of ‘family’ or Tyrese Gibson cracking wise all the time, only a tightly paced chase across a barren post apocalyptic desert with a shaved Charlize Theron with robot arm who has no time for men and their shit, least of all Mad Max who is involuntarily in for the ride, despite it being his own movie with his own name in the title. The stunts are spectacular and the visuals are mesmerising. Tom Hardy may not say much at all but the supporting cast really add some humanity into an otherwise non stop action movie.
This time last year, the Lego movie was my number one film of 2014. A film that preached so many wholesome values, about being special, believing in yourself and working with others to achieve a better tomorrow. Many films are ultimately founded on these ideals, it is an attempt to make audiences feel good about themselves after they’ve brushed away all the popcorn remnants upon leaving the cinema. But what if a film didn’t take this sentimental approach, what if instead it called the audience shit and expected nay demanded better. What if it told you that you were never going to make something of yourself without shedding sweat and blood and submitting yourself to the kind of pressures that turn a lump of coal into diamond? Whiplash is that movie.
Many have described Whiplash as a war movie, the role of JK Simmons as the demonic jazz conductor owes a lot to R. Lee Ermey from Full Metal Jacket. Taking Miles Teller’s Andrew by the throat and demanding he do better. Wanting to be good is not enough, it’s the will to be the best and at the end you have to wonder whether the thing you wanted at the start was worth it. At the same time you can question the methods of a man like Fletcher who is capable of destroying the thing you loved the most. I love how this movie doesn’t use sport or sales as the framework. It uses jazz drumming. And it equally applies to everything in life.
Whiplash is my favourite film of 2016, but in the mantra of the movie’s demonic conductor, directing such high praise towards it is probably doing it a disservice. Good job? Fuck you. Be better. Be better than best movie of 2016 on some internet blogger’s poor excuse of a website!
Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland bombed when it was released at the cinema, but it doesn’t deserve to stand among the likes of John Carter or The Lone Ranger – some of Disney’s other high profile box office duds. I admired the vision of Tomorrowland, it has some great action scenes and ideas, all kind of things happening on screen. Similar to Interstellar, it eludes to a world that has lost its adventurous progressive spirit and drive to make any real meaningful changes for the greater good. Tomorrowland is that place where mankind can create solutions to solve the worst of the world’s problem. There is a fantastic scene where Hugh Laurie’s character barks on about the state of today’s doom obsessed culture. The only problem is that the film has to find a way to wind things up and opts to throw the robot girl turned ticking time bomb from a great height to destroy the macguffin thought police orb thing that is absolutely making everything bad for everybody on the planet. In the end it’s a victim of its own worldly criticism.
A Girl Walks Home Alone.
There has been much praise directed towards this low budget black and white Iranian vampire flick. Whilst it certainly looks amazing in how it depicts silent night time streets and the unassuming bloodsucker who walks its streets, in the end, it all feels too similar to Let The Right One In, which is a better movie.
Slow West is a kind of slow burn ‘journey into manhood’ black comedy odyssey set across the American West, starring Michael Fassbender as a bounty hunter and Kodi Smit McPhee as a forlorn youth searching for his lost love. It’s beautifully shot and crushing in its handling of characters who may be too naive for their own good. Is that a spoiler? I think that’s a spoiler. It’s the journey man!