2015 is coming to an end and for movie fans that can only mean one thing: looking back at the year and figuring out what the best films were.
As with every year, it had its ups and downs, its awesome movies and its atrocities against the art form itself. We’ll be covering the latter next week (watch this space!) but for now, here’s our top films of 2015.
You have to go right back to January to find what is, in my mind, the best film of the year. This blistering second film from writer-director Damien Chazelle is filmmaking at its absolute best, telling the story of a drumming protégé and his tough-as-nails teacher (J.K. Simmons in an Oscar-winning performance) in refreshingly bold, startling fashion with some of the best sound design in recent memory. As good as the rest of the year may have been, nothing reached this level.
Mad Max: Fury Road
No one was expecting this to be as good as it was, but the sequel/reboot to the franchise was quite simply one of the best action movies this millennium. Led by a brooding Tom Hardy and a heroine for the ages in Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, this was a relentless two hour long set-piece that was as brilliantly exhilarating as it was technically astonishing.
It turns out Pixar movies are like anything else in life: you wait for ages then two come along at once. The Good Dinosaur was a bit of a let-down but the same can’t be said for this beautiful tale of a little girl in unfamiliar surroundings: told from the perspective of the emotions inside her head. Gorgeously animated and full of all the heart, wit and emotional beats that made Pixar such a beloved brand, Inside Out is an instant classic.
I’m still mad that it beat out Boyhood (don’t… just don’t…), but the most recent recipient of the Best Picture Oscar is nevertheless a fantastic film in its own right. Michael Keaton played a not-so-thinly-veiled version of himself as an actor attempting to shake off his superhero persona for something greater. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s daring long takes and a scalpel sharp script made this a truly special film.
On the surface this biopic of the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. seems generic. But underneath was a thoughtful, complex and powerfully intimate portrait of a great man and his determination to attain civil rights via a daring march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama in 1965. Much of its power comes from former Scotcampus cover star David Oyelowo’s masterful, nuanced central performance that’s way more than just a cheap impression.
Fast & Furious 7
What’s the funny look for? Yes, the seventh film in the long-running car racing franchise was indeed a triumph of the year.The film achieved everything it set out to do and then some. Monumentally entertaining set-pieces and enjoyably over-the-top machismo abound in a film that also functioned as a perfect, emotional send-off for the late Paul Walker.
Saoirse Ronan gave arguably the finest performance of any actress this year in a exquisitely told story of a young Irish woman who moves to Brooklyn in the ‘50s for a new and better life. It’s old-fashioned without being old hat, gracefully exploring complex themes of newfound love, the uncertainty of living in a new place and achingly nostalgic bond people have for their homeland.
The Look of Silence
This follow-up to Joshua Oppenheimer’s gut-wrenching documentary The Act of Killing once again explores the horrific Indonesian death-squads who, in 1965-66, slaughtered half a million people. While the previous doc took a more politically expansive approach, this painted a much more intimate, though no less harrowing, view of the ordeal by having the brother of one of the victims visit the perpetrators: who show no real remorse. An extremely tough watch but an absolutely vital one.
This Western came and went without much fuss, but for my money it was definitely a cinematic highlight of the year. Kodi Smit-McPhee (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) played a young Scotsman travelling across the American outback in search of his lost love, teaming up with Michael Fassbender’s mysterious outlaw in the process. Swift and to the point, despite what the title suggests, it was a refreshingly off-kilter and visually stunning entry into a genre that’s all too rare these days.
Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network) turns his one-of-a-kind screenwriting skills to the story of the late Apple maestro Steve Jobs. The storytelling masterstroke of Danny Boyle’s energetically directed film was not giving a conventional biographical look at the man’s whole life, but instead focusing in on three key product launches and the behind-the-scenes verbal wars that took place. As we know, there are no true stories in Hollywood, and being liberal with the truth was a strength rather than a weakness here. A great cast including Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet and Seth Rogen rattled out Sorkin’s incomparably witty dialogue to exhilarating effect.
Although we already established that Ridley Scott is something of an underrated director, this was undoubtedly his best effort in decades. More “sci-fa” than sci-fi, it focused on astronaut Mark Watney (the ever-reliable Matt Damon) who found himself left behind on Mars by his crew and having to use his botany skills to grew enough food to survive until rescue arrived. Intelligent, thrilling and utterly compelling viewing that isn’t afraid to lighten up the mood to avoid sinking into a self-serious misery-fest.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The most anticipated film, well, ever thankfully delivers on all that built-up promise and anticipation. J.J. Abrams creates marvellous nostalgia for the fans but it also doesn’t leave any newcomers out in the coldness of space. Fantastic action, great new characters (heroes and villains alike) to add to the saga, satisfying depth and all done with a sly wink and genuine love and affection for that galaxy far, far away. Prequels? What prequels?!
Also, make sure to tune in next week for the other side of the coin: the worst films of the year!