2015 then. How best to sum the year up? Jurassic World chomped its way through the global box office with enough bite to break the Marvel mould (defeating those pesky Avengers in the process). Jurassic World was also part of a popular franchise revitalisation scheme, one that included fellow big hitters Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The latter, of course, is currently challenging Avatar for the highest-grossing movie of all time crown.
Heroines took centre stage: the battle-hardened Furiosa; the admirably persistent Kate Macer; the multi-skilled Rey; the emotionally resilient Riley. Critics hailed everything from smart sci-fi to nifty nostalgia while maintaining a sense of analytical balance by dealing stinging verbal blows to the likes of Entourage (full disclosure: I still haven’t seen it). Adam Sandler evaded baying cinema audiences though, opting instead to take his claptrap to Netflix’s smaller screen.
But there was plenty of good stuff too. Lots. So much, in fact, that gems such as It Follows, A Most Violent Year, Carol, Spectre, Macbeth, Ant-Man, and Whiplash haven’t even made it onto my list of top films. Cinema, as is always the case, is ending the year in pretty good hands. Here are 10 reasons why.
Sentimental love stories are a tough thing to get right. You can overdo the romance and end up with a gallon of unappetising sap, or you might underserve the tender connection and leave audiences cold. John Crowley avoids both traps and instead tells an immigrant tale that blossoms with the aid of a genuine, lovely screenplay. Saoirse Ronan unveils a career-best performance as an Irish lass caught up in a turnstile of emotion; she is helped through the barrier by Emory Cohen, oozing 1950s appeal, and a poignantly plagued Fiona Glascott.
9. Ex Machina
Alex Garland, whose screenwriting portfolio includes Danny Boyle’s sci-fi masterstroke Sunshine, paves his own directorial path with another, smaller science fiction spectacle. The scale might have changed but, like Sunshine, Ex Machina thrives on simmering tension and ambiguous characterisation. Domhnall Gleeson plays an employee who’s afforded the opportunity to spend a week with his innovative boss, Oscar Isaac. The catch? Alicia Vikander’s uncannily human-like android. It is a glossily realised melting pot of intellect and deception.
Emily Blunt takes the lead as a gutsy FBI agent in Denis Villeneuve’s latest English-language film. Those that preceded — Enemy and Prisoners — focused on weighty themes and this is no different: Juárez, Mexico is the volatile setting and drug cartels are the violent subject. Roger Deakins’ cinematography transports us to a place we’d rather not be, juxtaposing coarse imagery with oddly beautiful landscapes. There’s also one of the scenes of the year: a traffic jam imbued with unadulterated anxiety. The ensuing beads of sweat could fill a river basin.
7. Inside Out
Pete Docter heads up an instant Pixar classic, another one of those ‘for all the family’ rarities. Inside Out has that vital energy and colourful exuberance youngsters cherish, but its beauty lies in its multi-collaborative screenplay that sends adults on a moving analytical journey. It examines social growth, mental strength (or lack thereof) and even the importance of parenthood. Admirably, the piece never shirks away from tough subject matters which means the rewards are plentiful.
From one human drama to another, Girlhood follows the exploits of a teenager flirting on the fringes of adult life. A sister at heart to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, Céline Sciamma’s touching tale tackles everything from commercial idealism, to economic division, to the richness of human interaction. Newcomer Karidja Touré is exceptional as the adolescent at the centre of proceedings, matching innocence to dissent with a natural flair beyond her years of experience.
5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Force Awakens was either doomed to fail or destined to thrive. Either way, J.J. Abrams had an enormous task on his hands: without relying too heavily on fan service, the former Lost aficionado had to reclaim the magic of the original trilogy while also paving the way for future intergalactic adventures. We should hardly have worried given Abrams’ reboot track record (see Star Trek). His film is packed full of affecting nostalgia and is arguably the funniest instalment to date. Perhaps most importantly, the Class of Episode VII are as fresh and exciting here as their iconic ancestors were back then.
Laughs aren’t quite as forthcoming in Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller’s tragic sports-drama based on true events. It follows the Olympic-driven efforts of amateur wresting siblings Mark and Dave Schultz, played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo respectively, and their increasingly noxious relationship with trainer John du Pont. Steve Carell has the showiest role as du Pont, both terrifying and disturbing, however all three actors are equally effective. It is not an easy film to sit through, but it is a tremendously well-constructed piece of macabre cinema.
3. Bridge of Spies
Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks team up for a fourth feature outing, their latest effort an absorbing masterclass in classic filmmaking. Set at the height of the Cold War — Janusz Kamiński’s cinematography is crisp throughout, especially when we reach Germany — it sees Hanks in his typical everyman getup as a principled lawyer out to defend a potential Soviet spy. Mark Rylance’s grounded mannerisms humanise a would-be enemy (there are no real enemies on display, only opposing pawns) while Thomas Newman’s exquisite score mixes patriotic brass with a touching piano melody.
2. The Martian
Being stranded on Mars for close to a thousand Sols eventually proved to be quite the grating experience for Mark Watney (Matt Damon), but spending a couple of hours at the cinema with the botanist was a complete joy. Ridley Scott brings more than just visual spectacle to screenwriter Drew Goddard’s fantastically witty take on Red Planet isolation. Damon is very funny throughout, and his moments of emotional weakness are wonderfully played too. The Martian must also boast the most impressive cast of 2015.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
George Miller borrows from his own barnstorming back catalogue in order to rewrite the rules of action. Working within a genre that seemed destined to bow before digital effects for the foreseeable future, the director shot most of Fury Road using practical stunts and real life locales. Tom Hardy excels as Max, but the true lead is Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, a rampant survivor hell-bent on outmuscling tyranny and redressing social equality (yes, really). If any film managed to tap into the year’s cultural zeitgeist, it was this — and with absolute style.
Images credit: Collider
Images copyright (©): A24, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Universal Studios, Lionsgate, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Pyramide Distribution, Sony Pictures Classics, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros. Pictures
19 thoughts on “Top 10 Films of 2015”
Great list 🙂 Your last three films feature stringly in my list as well 😉
Thanks! Three different, wonderful films.
There are a few I have to see but I’d be surprised if Mad Max Fury Road wasn’t high up my top 10 of 2015. I really enjoyed that one.
There are a lot of familiar films here that I’ve seen on other end-of-year top 10s with Sicario being the one I feel I really need to see. Interesting to see Bridge of Spies here – another I haven’t seen yet but one that hasn’t appeared on many 2015 top 10s.
Fury Road certainly appears to be the critical darling of 2015. If you get the chance do check out Bridge of Spies, especially if you’re a fan of Hanks, Spielberg or even the Coen brothers (who contribute some nifty comedic touches script-wise).
An excellent list here. Five of your films made my top 10 too. It’s really nice to see someone show appreciation for Foxcatcher. In my opinion it is one of the most underrated films of the year, as it’s power begins to be unlocked after the credits, since that is the moment when the penny drops at just exactly who the Jon Du Pont character really is. It was a film that haunted me all year, but other than mine, yours is the only list I have seen it featured on. Here is my list. https://darrenmoverley81.wordpress.com/2016/01/02/the-top-10-films-of-2015/
Certain images from Foxcatcher are still lingering in my mind, even after 12 months! Glad you’re also a fan. Thanks for stopping by, I’ll give yours a read.
Adam, a fine list! Good for you for including “Girlhood”. An underrated film, for sure!
Thanks Cindy. I haven’t come across it on too many other top 10 features, which is a bit of a shame. All the best for 2016!
Good list! Still have to catch a lot of these, including Brooklyn and Sicario. Definitely enjoyed all those on your list that I have seen!
Thanks Sean. Two films at the opposite end of the spectrum, but both equally involving.
Some really strong films Adam. LOVE seeing Sicario, Brooklyn, and of course Mad Max. We definitely shared some favorites this year.
Great to hear Keith. I actually found myself with quite a lot to pick from; it was a good year!
Awesome list!! LOVE that you have Brooklyn AND Girlhood on your list, I haven’t seen many top 10 list that put Girlhood in it so I’m thrilled!! Haven’t seen Sicario but have heard great things about it. Foxcatcher made my Honorable Mention list last year, it’s a film I appreciate but not love. I’m happy to see we share a #1 too, Adam, cheers mate!
I haven’t seen Girlhood around much either, which is a bit of a shame. Great minds think alike Ruth! 😉 Thanks for stopping by. Here’s to another great 2016 in cinema!
Great list mate!! I agree with all of them except Star Wars and The Martian, and I didn’t catch Girlhood. Good to see Mad Max at number one! What a film!
Not a fan of The Force Awakens? I’m a big sci-fi fan therefore perhaps it’s not so surprising that TFA and The Martian made my list. Thanks Jordan!
I love sci-fi myself too, but I think I’m much more a fan of serious sci-fi like 2001, 12 Monkeys, Blade Runner etc And I have a dark sense of humour too so I’m a bit picky about that as well…
The light-hearted tone of The Martian I guess caught me off guard so I didn’t really enjoy it. It would be interesting to watch it again to see how I react, which I probs will at some point.
As for The Force Awakens, I thoroughly enjoyed myself I gotta say but it felt a bit… convenient at times, and heaps similar to the first one. But that’s just me rambling 🙂 I’m glad so many people have enjoyed it so much, and its certainly a massive set-up from the prequels! I am definitely looking forward to how the story continues. Hamill looked bad-ass as an older Jedi!
I’m with you, big fan of the more gritty, hardened stuff too, like Ex Machina. But I also love some light-hearted goodness. Yeah, the familiarity seems to be the main complaint about The Force Awakens. It actually endeared me more to the film, but I think now we need something different — I’ve got high hopes for the next instalment!
yes I am looking forward to the next installment indeed. But yeah I’m much more a fan of stuff like Ex-Machina, Star Wars is I kinda sci-fi/fantasy.. at least that is how I see it. Not a bad thing at all but I prefer the more reality-based, thought provoking sci-fi stuff.