So here we go, my Top 10 Films of 2015!
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo
It was always going to be a struggle to top the remarkable juggling act that was 2012’s The Avengers (AKA Avengers Assemble). All they could do was to ‘go bigger’ and even Joss Whedon has felt the strain, having not only sworn off doing these big comic book movies for life, but even quitting twitter due to some unsavoury fan backlash.
Still, the film is a ton of fun, if a little overcrowded and undercooked. It doesn't skimp on action sequences and spectacle - but still feels a little slave to what Marvel Studios has planned for their grander ‘cinematic universe’ plans for the future.
Ultron himself was interesting enough as a villain, but never really felt like much of a threat despite having potential; and once again having a city in peril for the climax of the movie seemed a touch unimaginative. Not as fresh as the first Avengers but it still amazes me how they manage to pull something like this off with so many stars involved.
Favourite Bit: The Hulkbuster fight. Every fanboy’s dream coming true right up on the big screen.
You can read my earlier review of Avengers: Age of Ultron HERE.
Directed by: Justin Kurzel
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine
Eschewing the more flamboyant and theatrical versions of Macbeth that have graced our screens previously, director Kurzel (perhaps most known for his grim debut feature Snowtown) goes for a more downbeat approach. Aesthetically it channels a bloodier and muddier Game of Thrones aesthetic – yet there is no fantasy here: even the witches are just mysterious villagers who appear and disappear into the mist (rather than cackling hags stirring boiling cauldrons) and end up being all the more creepy for it.
Fassbender is exceptional in tackling the bard as the tragic king and although Cotillard’s French lilt may throw you off a little (it can actually be explained away historically) she is equally up to the challenge – although it’s an interesting choice to make her less of a villainous instigator than she normally appears to be in most adaptations of ‘the Scottish play’.
Special mention also goes to Sean Harris (one of my favourite character actors) who plays the vengeful Macduff with an animal ferocity.
What's more, the cinematography is breathtakingly beautiful – capturing the misty highlands of Scotland in all their wild and cruel beauty. If you can hack a bit of old English (none of this modernised nonsense) then this and Cumberbatch’s stage version of Hamlet are undoubtedly the best of this year.
With Fassbender and Kurzel reuniting for Assassin’s Creed, could this herald the arrival of a half decent videogame adaptation? Quite possibly so.
Favourite Bit: The moment when Macduff finds out about the fate of his family.
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro
Following on from the excellent (and thoroughly bleak) Prisoners, Villeneuve loves to explore morally ambiguous characters and an exploration of gray areas that encompasses almost every character in the film - something you don't often see. Emily Blunt is the perfect choice to play the tough-but-not-quite-tough-enough FBI agent acting as the wide-eyed cipher for the audience, totally unprepared for the extent of lawlessness that awaits her as she is unwittingly dragged further into the criminal underworld of Mexican drug cartels.
Further great performances come from Josh Brolin as the flip-flop wearing CIA cowboy and Benicio Del Toro as the mysterious ‘consultant’.
Once again, the stunning cinematography of this film elevates it to being one of my favourite films of the year. Long overhead shots of the desert make parts of Mexico look like a strange and terrifying unknown alien landscape; and the silhouettes of soldiers over the backdrop of a multicoloured sunset are among the breathtaking highlights. Perhaps this will be the one with which Roger Deakins finally bags an Oscar?
Accompanied by the ominous booming of the score, rarely has a movie felt so tense and foreboding for what’s to come, just because its direction is so unknown. The less you know about this going in, the better.
Favourite Bit: Perhaps the most tense traffic jam ever captured on film?
7. It Follows
Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Jake Weary
There will always be horror movies. They are relatively cheap to produce and there is always a market for them. However, rarely do they stick in the mind as It Follows does. Described by some critics as ‘horror mumblecore’, this indie effort has a concept so simple and yet so open to interpretation it gets you in a way that other horror movies just don't; and keeps you pondering long after the fact. Basically: some unknown entity is following you, it can take the shape of anyone and nothing can stop it. Well, there is one way…
Is it a warning about sexual promiscuity? A metaphor for the slow and steady march of time that will eventually catch up to all? The fear of being alone and needing someone to share the burden of existence?
Featuring a cast of unknowns (save for the lead Maika Monroe – seen in last year’s excellent The Guest), the inventiveness of the scares, the beautiful cinematography and the brooding electronic score (at times reminiscent of 80s slasher films) all contribute to a tense and almost suffocating atmosphere that never really lets up.
Favourite Bit: Plenty of great creepy moments, but the wheelchair scene toward the beginning of the film is so unique and full of dread of what’s to come that it definitely deserves a mention.
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist
Whiplash features tour de force performances from its two leads. Firstly, Miles Teller drumming himself bloody (fate unknown after the horrendous flop of the recent ill-fated Fantastic Four reboot). We root so much for this guy, even though he occasionally makes the wrong decisions we have to admire his dedication and resolve in the face of his constantly taking punishment. Especially when up against J.K. Simmons – deserving of his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor – who explodes so suddenly with rage at his pupils he makes his J. Jonah Jamison seem like a timid mouse in comparison.
Even if you are not a fan of Jazz, the musical sequences will grasp you not only with their intensity and marvellous musicianship – but also because of their contribution to the narrative.
Intense and with plenty of great reversals that keep you surprised throughout, Whiplash comes highly recommended.
Favourite Bit: The initial class in which Fletcher’s reign of terror is witnessed for the first time is a shockingly good highlight, but the final sequence of the movie is where the real gold lies – ending the film on an intense high.
You can read my earlier review of Whiplash HERE.
Directed by: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly
Well, don't we have just love an underdog?
On the face if it, this film was meant to fail at every turn. A character that no one (outside of keen comic book fans) really knows, let alone one that many people even like; and the original director (Edgar Wright) departing over creative differences during preproduction – it didn't bode well.
But against all odds, Ant-Man turned out to be rather good. Paul Rudd is perfectly cast as he embodies the weary, beaten down underdog that has enough charm to have us keep rooting for him. Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lily are also great here as foils to him, although admittedly the villain (as per usual in recent Marvel offerings) is a bit weak in terms of motivation, seemingly only there to propel the plot forward and to provide some creative fight scenes.
Rather than the grand scale (as most comic movies do), Ant-Man instead focuses on the small (pun intended) and does so with great aplomb. It’s mostly just a heist movie with a great focus on themes of family and redemption. There is a great Avenger cameo, plenty of gags (Michael Pena steals the show) and the shrunken fight sequences are creative and fun with a use of 3D that (gasp!) actually enhances rather than detracts from the film.
Favourite Bit: Michael Pena’s ‘storytelling’ scenes always garner a chuckle, but it's the creative and humorous dig at the city-wide destruction climax of nearly every other superhero movie, that make the final showdown of this film so good.
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac
Firstly, you have to applaud J.J Abrams and Disney for not screwing this up. That in itself is kind of a big deal and a huge relief to fans worldwide. Eschewing the reinvention of the formula like in Lucas did in his prequels, The Force Awakens aims for familiarity, even mirroring the original 1977 film almost beat for beat.
Does it rely too much on nostalgia and retreading the original’s story? Perhaps. But it does so with a great modern sheen and with plenty of gusto. It comes off as the world’s most expensive fan film – and that's pretty much what it is.
Let’s be honest, it’s not going to blow your mind – but it's a pretty decent stab that gets more right than its does wrong – and for that reason alone it’s very important for the Star Wars franchise.
It’s great to see some of the old players back – making a smooth transition to be replaced by the fresh-faced new cast – all of whom are generally great at their job. John Boyega in particular is excellent (a confident performance from this young lad from Peckham with really only Attack the Block to his name), and Oscar Isaac’s will surely now get the star recognition that he deserves from his super cool pilot Poe Dameron.
The Force Awakens also manages to be funny in parts – and not in a ‘Jar Jar talks funny and steps in poo’ kind of way. The dialogue is often smart, characters bounce off of each other and the whole thing feels ironically less Disney-fied than say, The Phantom Menace did – something fans may have previously feared.
The special effects are great and there are plenty of decent action sequences; and although a lot of questions are left unanswered (notably concerning the story gaps between episodes VI and VII), there is hope that now that the set up is out of the way (and having played it relatively safe whilst doing so), the franchise is now free to move off into all sorts of new and exciting directions.
I still think the talents of the guys from The Raid were criminally wasted though…
Favourite Bit: The thrill of seeing the Millennium Falcon swooping back into action and engaging in a dogfight with a couple of TIE fighters is guaranteed to give you chills.
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson
Another unexpected hit of the year (severely undersold by its neutered trailers), Matthew Vaughn once again proves he is an exceptional talent – giving the Hollywood big boys a run for their money even with considerably less of a budget.
Taron Egerton is a born star as leading man, Sam Jackson has fun playing against type and Colin firth riffs well on his gentlemen persona to great aplomb.
It’s funny, rude and violent - and where extreme gore could have become a potential problem, instead it is censored in creative and humorous ways to great effect.
Kingsman is not so much a parody of the spy genre so much as it is a great (if irreverent) love letter to it. Whilst the majority of film studios seem keen on reinventing everything as ‘gritty and realistic’ these days, this celebrates the ‘classic Bond’ gentleman spy ethos, whilst also hammering home the message that it’s about character and style, not just about privilege and social class.
Favourite Bit: The church scene, hands down. Has to be seen to be believed.
Directed by: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone
There is too much to mention here in depth of why you should see this film.
But to be brief: a sharp script with excellent dialogue, great characters that interact terrifically with each other, a fascinating look at the behind the scenes of a putting on a Broadway show, perceptions of fame, the ego, delusion, possible mental illness, deconstructing the superhero genre, a discussion of art, the effect of social media, irreverent humour, meta jokes about some actors playing characters that poke fun at their real life personas, the mind boggling long takes and ‘one continuous take’ nature of the cinematography…
… and that’s just off the top of my head.
Although I’m rarely concerned with The Academy’s decisions, Birdman walked off with Best Film, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography and deservedly so.
On the strength of this, we can look forward to something special in Inarritu’s soon to be released The Revenant.
Favourite Bit: It’s all gold in my opinion, but if I had to pick one it would be Riggan’s first meeting (and impromptu script read) with Ed Norton’s Mike Shiner. It’s actors giving a performance about giving a performance – executed all in one continuous take. Sublime.
You can read my earlier review of Birdman HERE.
Directed by: George Miller
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
This movie blew me away and continues to do so every time I see it. Yes, the plot may be simple (essentially it’s just an hour and a half chase film) but this works to the film’s advantage: allows for an easy setup and vivid world-building. We learn so much about the hierarchy, society, religion, oppression, values of this story just through inference and without having everything overly explained to us. The simplicity of the story and the focus on action – it’s always moving forward - is what gives this film a sense of purity. It’s barley even reliant on having watched the previous Mad Max films (the Interceptor hardly gets a look in) so much so that there is debate over whether or not this is even the same Max Rockatansky. The thing is – it doesn't even matter!
Some have criticized the fact that Tom Hardy doesn’t get much to do in it. But that's kind of the point – it’s never really been that much about Max – he’s just a (ahem) vehicle through which we get to witness this crazy post apocalyptic world. The real star of the show is actually Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa – an incredible performance – destined to become one of the most memorable roles of her career.
George Miller’s schools most others directors in the genre – particularly when it comes to shooting the action sequences. To have something simultaneously ugly, dirty and beautiful all at once is sublime. It’s tense, loud and inventive and nothing has come close this year to the visceral thrill of witnessing it up on the big screen.
Terrific design work and imagination permeate every aspect of this, there is an abundance of great practical effects and stunt work as well as decent CG for the most part. It’s mindboggling to think how much time they must have spent in the baking desert in order to film all of this – often at breakneck speed.
To top it off there is an awesome score from dance music producer Junkie XL. The most complete vision in a film I have seen this year.
Favourite Bit: The sandstorm sequence is a perfect amalgamation of action, drama, cinematography, special effects and music.
You can read my earlier review of Mad Max: Fury Road HERE.
These are films that didn't quite make the Top 10 or would have been had they been released this year.
In no particular order these are:
Bone Tomahawk – A horror/thriller/drama western with a great cast. If you can stomach some moments of extreme gore this is worth tracking down.
Ex Machina – Interesting, but ultimately a little derivative and not as clever as it thinks it is. Impressive CG though and it’s all about that dance sequence!
Foxcatcher – Great performances in this eerie slow burner, based on a true story. The transformation of both leads Steve Carrell and Channing Tatum is astounding, but Mark Ruffalo also shines.
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson back on his classic quirky form, with great visuals and Ralph Fiennes is great.
John Wick – Basically Keanu Reeves killing LOTS of people in this revenge movie. Some great action choreography - It’s fun!
Straight Outta Compton – As good a biography as you could hope for really. Hard to please everyone (fans/cinemagoers/music aficionados) but it did okay in striking a balance between fact and entertainment.
Well, that’s it for my Top 10. Agree? Disagree? Let me hear your opinions!
Stay tuned for The Alternative Awards for 2015 films – coming soon!
You can also check out Top 10 film lists for 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 by clicking the relevant date!
2nd Jan 2016