MY TOP 10 FILMS OF 2015
In a year populated by lots of big-bucks popular entertainment, it has often been the smaller, more under-the-radar films which have been impressive. I admit that there are many releases from 2015 which I have not yet seen, but after some deliberation, I’ve decided that this is a snapshot of the films of 2015 that I saw in 2015. It’s not been as strong a year as 2014, but it’s nevertheless had some great moments.
10) The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
This is a refreshingly breezy and charming action film based on the eponymous 1960s TV series. It doesn’t take itself seriously at all and is better for it – and is a welcome antidote to the bombast of the overrated new Star Wars film or the (personally) unmerited fanfare for Mad Max. At the same time, though, the Nina Simone song over the opening credits asks someone to ‘Take care of business for me’, and U.N.C.L.E. does that in fine style.
9) The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
This sequel about a group of pensioners becoming accustomed to life in India is unexpectedly philosophical and poignant, but nowhere near as good as its predecessor. The best part, however, is that the film manages to justify its existence as a worthwhile continuation of the geriatric crew’s adventures, and is not merely ‘the obligatory sequel they did because they could’. Maggie Smith steals the show yet again with a brilliant performance.
8) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
An incredibly dark yet powerful adaptation headed up by an impassioned Jennifer Lawrence, ably supported by Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Julianne Moore. It resonates strongly with the times in a number of ways with its focus on revolution, war and reconciliation. Great performances and a big emotional pull make this arguably one of the best populist blockbusters of the year, despite its pitch-black tone.
7) Slow West
An unknown little gem and a subtle blinder, this polished Western feels resolutely, comfortably old-fashioned and yet very modern too. It stars Michael Fassbender in a brooding but ultimately very soulful role as Silas, who reluctantly decides to help young Scotsman Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) on a desperate mission to find his lost lover in 1800s America. There are thrills and spills, plus a gut-wrenching twist and a heartfelt ending.
Birdman is a memorable voyage into art, fame, and what the two actually mean. However, though it is clever and innovative, it is also a little too pleased with its own cleverness to be a film you can love. This instead makes it a cocky yet admirable one (although personally, at least one of its Oscars should have gone to Boyhood). Nevertheless, Birdman pulls some great acting out of the bag, especially from supporting players Emma Stone and Edward Norton, and boasts an ending which brought a wry smile to my face.
The harrowing story of a young drummer at a prestigious music academy, and the terrifying teacher he comes up against, Whiplash is a great cinematic experience. I also cannot think of another film where I have felt every emotional blow along with the main character as keenly as I did watching this. A titanic clash of wills featuring brilliant performances from Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons (who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), it manages to be inspiring, triumphant and exhausting simultaneously. It all builds to a glorious ending and does so with great style.
Though undeniably light on plot when you really scrutinise it, this is still an enjoyable, action-packed, gap-bridging Bond film. It has some interesting moments and some stellar explosions, and Craig has never been more confident as Bond, but SPECTRE’s best decision is to not be so deadly serious in tone. It’s much more fun than Skyfall, and is sure to make you laugh at times. Annoyingly, though, the film never reveals what S.P.E.C.T.R.E. actually stands for.
3) The Theory of Everything
Featuring a fantastic performance from Eddie Redmayne and brilliant support from Felicity Jones, this biopic of Stephen Hawking nails a particular kind of Britishness, and has wit, humour and emotion in abundance, as well as some clever stylistic touches. Though one might have hoped that it had focussed slightly more on the science, in the end it doesn’t matter. The Theory of Everything only gains in intensity as it progresses, and moves to an incredibly powerful conclusion. A beautiful film.
2) The Martian
This action-packed tale of an astronaut stuck on Mars is wittier and lighter than Interstellar and less portentous than Gravity. Its feather-light touch regarding survival against the odds is a great asset, and it contains both the funniest and most nail-biting moments I experienced in the cinema last year. Matt Damon is on fine, charming form as stranded spaceman Mark Watney, and while the plot has some not-so-coded references about the need for better international relations, it is first and foremost an entertaining, fun adventure. I welcome its Oscar nominations.
1) Inside Out
This tale of the emotions jostling for attention inside young girl Riley’s head is a rollercoaster ride that may just make you blubber. Although its lack of instantly loveable characters like Dory or Mike and Sulley means that it just misses out on the pantheon of Pixar’s best, Inside Out remains a brilliant film in its own right, moving, original and endlessly inventive. A great achievement both artistically and emotionally, this hit the heights and nothing else in 2015 quite matched it, so it’s a real shame that the Academy neglected to nominate it for Best Picture.
NB: As mentioned, many 2015 releases are still to be seen by me, so a retrospective or review of this article (or of the past few years as a whole) may therefore be on the cards at some point.