Films of the Year – 2015
December 30, 2015 2 Comments
Admittedly, I didn’t see quite as many films as usual at the cinema this year, as I was forced to prioritise the films I actually wanted to see over those that I might otherwise have taken a chance on. Carol, Southpaw and Tangerine might well have been masterpieces (as might Man from U.N.C.L.E., Ricki and the Flash and Hot Pursuit), but I wouldn’t know. Of the films I did see, however, a few stood out from the crowd. Here are the ten films that made the biggest impression.
10. While We’re Young
There seem to be two Noah Baumbachs at work these days: one who specialises in Greta Gerwig vehicles aimed squarely at the art-house crowd and another who surprised everyone in 2012 by writing a thoroughly enjoyable Madagascar movie. While We’re Young rather splits the difference, combining well-observed human drama with the sort of larger-than-life characters that might potentially appeal to wider audiences. Heck, it even stars Alex the lion, aka Ben Stiller.
09. Mad Max: Fury Road
There were those who went nuts for this movie, by anyone’s standards besides perhaps George Miller’s, but overall I found Mad Max: Fury Road about as exhausting as I did entertaining. There’s no denying that it’s a thrilling ride, or that it runs circles around most other action movies, but it is not without flaws of its own. Whether viewed as one long chase sequence or a succession of smaller ones there is no room for escalation, or progression. It could just as easily have been a short.
I first saw Theeb at the Glasgow Film Festival in February, though I revisited it on release when invited to write the programme note for Glasgow Film Theatre in August, whereupon I realised that my love of it hadn’t diminished at all. Shorter and less convoluted than Lawrence of Arabia, but with the same sense of adventure and scenes of Jordanian spectacle, Theeb is the latest in a series of Middle Easterns to recontextualise one of the oldest conflicts in cinema. As brutal as it is beautiful, this is a film that will take your breath away, by turns leaving you awed and winded.
07. Song of the Sea
Although Inside Out found the larger audience, it’s Song of the Sea that arguably deserves the most attention. From Cartoon Saloon, the studio behind 2010’s The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea stands out as bold and unique, even in today’s increasingly diverse cinematic landscape. The story is a simple one, but the artistry is so strong that Will Collins and Tomm Moore feel no need to target their adult and child audiences individually, but to let the fairy tale speak for itself. After all, the legend of the selkie has got this far without stunt casting or show tunes…
Like Richard Kelly before him, Neill Blomkamp seems destined to be remembered as a one hit wonder, with any follow-up to District 9 dismissed off the bat. The truth, however, is that Blomkamp is actually getting more interesting with every project, whether he’s still making films that audiences want to watch or not. A number of 2015’s other releases have dealt with artificial intelligence, from Ex_Machina to Avengers: Age of Ultron, but only CHAPPiE really explores the ghost in the machine. Recast as a good guy for once, Sharlto Copley plays the titular drone as a scared child, delivering one of the best motion capture performances not to come from Andy Serkis.
05. Jurassic World
With Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens so fresh in the public consciousness, its not surprising that Jurassic World has been somewhat overlooked as critics publish their best of year lists…but it is sad. The films have a lot in common, not least their faithfulness to previous movies in their respective franchises. While J. J. Abrams appears beholden to what came before (but not all of it, apparently), Colin Treverrow revisits old locations with a cast made up almost exclusively with new faces. The result is a film that feels familiar rather than repetitive, and which augments that which came before instead of simply aping it.
Hopefully a sign of things to come, 2015 was awash with female leads giving their male co-stars a run for their money. Charlize Theron stole Mad Max from Tom Hardy to the confused consternation of misogynists everywhere, while both Star Wars and Terminator: Genysis had women front and centre. Really the only action film to do this without making a song and dance about it, however, was Sicario, a gritty thriller from Denis Villeneuve that had Emily Blunt on the trail of a Mexican drug cartel. A real tour de force, the film took its audience on one hell of a ride, leaving them almost as confused and compromised as its protagonist.
03. The Interview
It’s hard to explain, but every so often a film comes along that seems aimed squarely at you. Reviewed not so much as a film but a near international incident, The Interview was such a victim of its own success (in terms of offending Kim Jong Un, at least) that it didn’t stop making headlines until it was finally released, by which point South Korea, Sony and media commentators were presumably glad to be rid of it. A shame, really, because the film is an absolute joy, and all in all the most fun I have had in the cinema this year. Certainly, it’s the best political satire I’ve seen since Team America: World Police, and was only topped by Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s subsequent musical, The Book of Mormon, which I saw earlier this month at the theatre.
02. It Follows
Big screen horror has become terribly predictable, with small screen shows such as American Horror Story and Scream Queens doing more to explore the current state of the genre than any film in recent years. For throwbacks, however, cinema is still the place to be, and its unlikely that any film will do a better job of invoking the ghosts and ghouls of yesteryear than It Follows. Quite simply one of the most imaginitive and iconic monster movies of the 21st Century, it is also one of the most chilling, as a curse that can only be passed on through sexual contact leaves teens haunted by a creature that only they can see. I’m honestly shuddering just thinking about it.
01. The Martian
As funny as The Interview might have been, and as scary as It Follows still proves to be, there was only one film this year that truly married the visceral with the cerebral, and that was Ridley Scott’s The Martian. Yes, you read that right, Ridley Scott, the much maligned director of Prometheus and The Councellor. Starring Matt Damon as an astro-biologist stranded on Mars, the film is pure sci-fi, in that it is almost equal parts science and fiction. In an age of superheroes and supernatural romance, it is amazing how unusual it is to hear explanation rather than exposition, in which a problem is reasoned out and not just glossed over with lights and noise. It’s not just smart either, it’s as warm, witty and awe-inspiring as any film this year.
11. Whiplash, 12. Slow West, 13. Birdman, 14. Inside Out, 15. Steve Jobs, 16. Ant-Man, 17. Top Five, 18. Bridge of Spies, 19. Unfriended, 20. Wild