2015 has drawn to a close and as usual the internet is rife with peoples "best of the year" lists so why should I be any different?
Instead of compiling a simple, straightforward list I thought I would try and do something a little more unique as a way of highlighting what I thought were the stellar or standout films of the year that was 2015.
So please, bear with me and enjoy as I take a relaxed look back and wrap up my year in movies...
The Best Film of the Year that Everybody Agrees is The Best Film of the Year:
Mad Max: Fury Road
There's no surprise that this is featured in more top ten lists this year than any other film, simply because it deserves it. What George Miller created with this, a sequel made twenty years after the previous installment, is not only the best film in the series but stands out as one of the best action/adventure films in years. Visually astounding and using cinema as a storytelling medium in the way in which it was intended (show, don't tell), there truly wasn't a better film released this year than this one.
The Best Films That Everybody Knows Are Great But Haven't Seen Yet:
Me and Earl and The Dying Girl
It's a shame that this film was swept under the rug as a somewhat copycat of last years "The Fault in Our Stars" because by missing it audiences missed out on an opportunity to see a feature that is not only hilarious at times but also incredibly heartfelt and thought provoking. The cinematic flair with which the film is constructed is truly something to behold and begs for repeat watching as you pick up new nuances and flourishes with each subsequent viewing (take not that the last twenty minutes of the film contains no noise or dialogue spoken by a character on screen, it all plays out to Brian Eno's hypnotic score with minimal voice over). A great film that will no doubt earn status as a cult classic in years to come.
When you describe the basic premise of Room to people you can see by the look on their face that you are turning them off the film (it happened to me at least 4 times last week). However, if you're willing to sit down and watch a film that's all about a woman who has been kidnapped and held captive in a room with her small child over 8 years you will be treated to not a film that is bleak and depressing but instead one that that deals with hope and wonder. By focusing the films narrative from the perspective of young Jack (Jacob Tremblay), director Lenny Abrahamson has crafted a story that focuses on the magic and wonder of the outside world and the hope that the future brings while never lingering on the horrible ordeal that has befallen the characters. With Brie Larson giving an Oscar worthy performance as "Ma", providing the heart alongside Tremblay's soul of the piece, the film play perfectly as a quiet, understated masterpiece.
The Best Film that Nobody Saw Because of its Name:
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Creating a period piece on an independent film budget is no easy feat and not only has first time director Marielle Heller done this but she has also managed to create one of, if not the most, engaging film of the year. While it was marketed as a light, fun and somewhat controversial outing (which it definitely is at times), "Diary" plays more like a cross between "American Splendor" and "The Basketball Diaries" as it navigates the tonal and emotional shifts that encapsulate young Minnie's life as she falls further down the rabbit hole of sex and drugs in 1970s San Fransisco. Bel Powley's performances as the titular character is pitch-perfect as she creates a character that truly feels real and one whose pain and heartaches resonate with the audience. Heller's screenplay and direction is a perfect blend of comedy and pathos and a wholly unique experience that is unlike anything else to grace the cinema screens this year.
The Best James Bond Film of the Year:
Kingsman: The Secret Service
There were a handful of films this year that epitomized the cinema going experience for me and "Kingsman" was one of them. Nothing is better than feeling the air get sucked out of a cinema when the tension builds in a scene and the audience is either on board for what is happening or they've checked out. A moment like this occur a couple of times in "Kingsman" and I was damn near the only person in the cinema along for the ride. I'm not sure why but this made it an amazing experience, kind of like being in on a private joke that nobody else in the room seems to be getting. In a year that was rampant with spy movies ("Spectre" (a worth addition in Daniel Craig's Bond run despite what some say), "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation" (the Tom Cruise franchise that has finally evolved into what he always wanted it to be, a Bond film), "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." (a fun film that went for the period piece approach) and even the comedic outing "Spy"), "Kingsman" was the one true stand out that managed to hit all the right beats that a person wants/expects from a good, fun spy movie. There was intrigue, action, an over-the-top bad guy and, most importantly, it didn't take itself too seriously which is emphasized by the fact it ends on an anal sex joke.
The Best Film That Won't Be Nominated for Anything:
Oddly enough this was the film I found myself connecting with most this year. After seeing the trailer I was intrigued by the beautiful cinematography as well as having enjoyed Pablo Sorrentino's previous film "The Great Beauty", but what I was treated to here was an experience all unto itself. While the overall themes of "Youth" are not new ones (reflections on a life lived and loves lost, the idea of age affecting ones artistic output, making way for the new etc.) the sadness and beauty with which Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel express these themes are what make this film truly special. Never overusing artistic flourishes with his camerawork, the director lets his actors rule the frame and with minimal dialogue they are able to not only express what they're going through currently but also juxtapose that with their pasts, their friendship, their relationships and how all these things have molded them into the elderly, if not always wise, men they are today.
The Best Animated Film That Will Win Everything:
It's Pixar, and I'm talking old school, brilliant storytelling, compelling characters, tug at your heartstrings, fantastic filmmaking Pixar. After a bit of a slump in the past few years, just releasing sequels and not so great original pieces (...not the biggest fan of "Brave" here), it was such a treat to see Pixar return to what they are good at; making great films. The emotional connection you make with the characters (both human and otherwise) is among the strongest the studio have ever produced and the script stands as a high water mark not just for other animated film but all films in general
The Best Animated Film That Won't Win Anything:
The way in which Charlie Kaufman (and co-director Duke Johnson) have constructed his latest film is something special and a feat I only think a filmmaker like him could pull off. The first 3/4 of the film plays out like a standard, albeit engaging, depressed middle aged man doing some soul searching until he finds the wonderful quirky girl who can bring him out of his slump kind of movie that is in abundance in film landscape these days. However, we eventually arrive at this point in the film where the true genius that is Kaufman kicks in and, without going into spoiler territory, everything that has been set up in the universe of this film begins to pay off. It is without a doubt one of the most human and impactful films of the year and something that could only be achieved in the dazzling animated format in which it's produced.
The Best Western of the Year:
The Hateful Eight
I feel Tarantino works best when he isn't splicing genres, or at least heightening them, and as such I'm one of the few people who feels like "Django" is probably his weakest film to date. I've been aching for him to approach the western genre with sincerity and not the over the top, tongue in cheek attitude his last few films have been infused with. My wish has been granted with "The Hateful Eight" as Tarantino and Co. have produced not just a full blooded western but a nasty, mean spirited one that stands toe-to-toe with some of the great westerns of the 60s and 70s that is realized with some of the best performances of the cast members careers.
This is the western that nobody saw but everybody should see that can be described simply as "The Searchers" meets "Cannibal Holocaust". In a genius move that I can't believe hasn't happened more often, writer/director S. Craig Zahler takes the traditional tropes of the western genre, twisting them in his third act and instead of delivering the audience redemption and hope he gives them a horrific nightmare that is gorier than anything Eli Roth put out this year. Sublime cinematography is accentuated by intense performances from the cast, helping create a world that truly feels lived in and a frontier that is not only dangerous, but truly frightening.
The Best Survival Movie of the Year:
There were two movies released this year that focused on one man, on his own, facing unbeatable odds trying to survive against an environment. One of those dealt with hope and courage while the other focused on bleakness and revenge. While "The Revenant" is definitely a well made film (and will probably win DiCaprio his Oscar) it is not an enjoyable film, and yes before you say it I understand that was the intention of the piece but at the end of the day sometimes with movies you just want to be entertained. This is where "The Martian" comes in. Ridley Scott (directing here more like his late brother Tony) has made a film that not only chronicles one mans survival against all odds to make it home but also one that champions the human spirit and mankind's willingness to overcome adversity and band together for a greater good. You instantly connect with Matt Damon's character, Mark Whatney, and are invested in everybody's attempt to bring him home. Scott has made a wonderful film that brings hope that we may see more lighthearted science fiction films in the future instead of the dour ones we've gotten in the past few years (I'm looking at you "Interstellar"...), plus the movie is pretty damn funny which is a bonus (maybe not enough to be nominated for Best Comedy or Musical but we'll let that go for now...).
The Best Documentary That Made You Really Sad and Introverted:
The Russian Woodpecker/The Look of Silence
There were a lot of fantastic documentaries release this year, in particular ones that leaned on the viewers emotions to illicit either engagement or response ("Going Clear" and "Montage of Heck" being two examples). But of the heavy field of docos to come out this year only two managed to appear truly genuine in their storytelling, construction and raw emotion; "The Russian Woodpecker" and "The Look of Silence". Both of these films brilliantly deal with issues surrounding governments and their treatment of their people, corruption and overthrows of the system and how it leads to the death or incarceration of its citizens. I can't recommend either of these films higher, they are among the most important films of the year, if not the decade, and showcase the power and importance documentary filmmaking can have.
The Best Film That Overcame It's Production Gimmick:
When you first hear about "Tangerine" it ticks all the boxes of what a cliche film by a pretentious artist hoping to garner awards notice would be; a gritty, low budget film shot completely on iPhones about transsexual prostitutes. How wrong was I? Despite its premise and production the film plays more like "Little Miss Sunshine" than an exploitative film of the moment. This hilarious little film focuses in on its characters and their interaction, letting them truly live and breathe, to an end that makes this one of the most memorable and fun films of 2015.
The Best Sort-Of Biopic:
Similar to documentaries, there was a plethora of dramatic biopics in 2015, ones about musicians ("Love & Mercy", "Straight Outta Compton"), about writers ("Trumbo", "The End of the Tour") and ones about visionaries ("Steve Jobs"). Understandably so, the film focusing on the "visionary" is the one that is most visionary in its presentation. "Steve Jobs" is the perfect melding of the unique visual stylings of director Danny Boyle and the word porn writings of Aaron Sorkin. Playing out more like a play than a film, Boyle's creative flairs (his use of sound design and filmic techniques, including brilliant use of rear projection) not only compliment Sorkin's words but emphasizes the importance of them as they're spouted in astounding performances by an unbelievable cast that didn't get the praise they deserved upon the films initial release.
The Best WTF Am I Watching of the Year:
The Lobster/Turbo Kid/The Overnight
A hotel in a dystopian near future where you must find love or face being turn into an animal, a gory post-apocalyptic 1997 where BMX riding, comic reading do-gooders seek to return balance and justice to the wasteland and a play date that falls down a rabbit hole of butthole paintings, lowered inhibitions and a micro penis. I had the pleasure of seeing all of these things with sold out film festival audiences and they stand as some of the greatest cinema going experiences of 2015. If you can, see these with a group of friends and marvel at some of the weirdest and most wonderful filmmaking 2015 had to offer.
The Best Film from an A-List Talent That Nobody Saw:
Bridge of Spies
2015 was the highest grossing year in cinema of all time. It saw Star Wars 7, Terminator 5, Mission: Impossible 5, James Bond 24, Jurassic Park 4 as well as new and original films from cinematic luminaries like Guillermo del Toro and Steven Spielberg. However, it seems like nobody really cared about the latter. It used to mean something when a new Spielberg film came out but looking at the box office takings (as well as my own experience of seeing the film with only two other people in the cinema) those days seem to be long gone. This is a shame considering "Bridge of Spies" is one of the better films of the year. There seems to be at least one movie every year that caters to a discerning adult audience ("Philomena" being a perfect example from a few years back), a film that is excellently made, perfectly paced and acted and just an all round good time at the movies. Spielberg is the king of this kind of movie making and it's inexplicable to me why, especially given Hanks in the lead and a cracking script by the Coen brothers, "Bridge of Spies" flew so far under the radar that it was shot down and captured by the Soviets.
So there you have it, my look back at the year that was 2015 in film. I hope you enjoyed by makeshift awards and found a few films you may have missed in the year and will now seek out, appreciated and share with others.
Written by Chris Swan.