2015, you whizzed by like the Millenium Falcon, but I’m thankful to you for making that reference timely again. Apart from giving a new hope to fans of a 38-year old franchise, the past year marks another milestone in churning out incredible feats on the big screen. We are now in the century where production houses stand in line to cash in on the classics of yesteryear: something that can only be accepted since the box office does not run on ideas. However, 2015 reassured audiences disappointed by Minions and Terminator: Genisys of the possibilities in sequels by breathing fresh life into old franchises through films like Creed and The Force Awakens. While Pixar, Tarantino and Spielberg proved yet again why classic formulas are called so, we also received films like Ex Machina proving that new ideas are far from dead. And with the news headlines as tragic across the board as they were last year, it is necessary to be thankful for these escapes from reality.
If you had asked me sometime around September last year, I would have said with regret that the best of the year list wouldn’t be hard to make, considering the scarcity of impressive films. But as always, and a little more than previous years, the fag end rewarded us with creative brilliance, gorgeous visuals and thought-provoking ideas. And while I would have put Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance on this list back in September – since I only saw it this year – there are more than enough new ones that deserve the attention that last year’s race received. But it would only be unfair of me to not mention Alejandro Inarritu’s creative masterpiece, and hence the shout-out. I do not claim by any means for this to be the definitive best of the year that was, and I certainly have not watched every film released this year (a task humanly impossible in this day and age). Most definitely a subjective list, these are the films that I personally found impressive that did their part to be called milestones.
Without much ado, let’s begin with the honourable mentions (in no particular order):
Direction: Joel Edgerton
Watch it for: Joel Edgerton
Do not be deceived by the forgettable B-movie vibe given off by the posters and promotional images for this film: The Gift is every bit true to its title, an intricately crafted suspense thriller. Joel Edgerton surprises us all with his turn donning three caps – that of director, writer and actor – in this dark story about the past coming back to haunt us. An unexpected visit from an old but familiar face begins to turn Simon’s (Jason Bateman) picket-fence family life upside down, as secrets from the past are uncovered with each neatly wrapped present. In a film that makes you rethink your own actions, Edgerton’s character Gordo is easily the creepiest performance since Jake Gyllenhaal’s in Nightcrawler.
Direction: Sam Esmail
Watch it for: Justin Long, Emmy Rossum and the witty screenplay
A strange love story broken up and scattered across time, the story of Dell (Justin Long) and Kimberly (Emmy Rossum) is a painting with no beginning, middle or end. Sam Esmail brings us the most unique story of romance and relationships, and its survival through the inevitable ebbs and flows. This is a film that deserves to be watched if not for its gorgeous dream-like visuals or its surprisingly witty script, for shattering the cynic’s belief that romantic comedies cannot break free of cliché.
Direction: Brett Morgen
Watch it for: The animation
Documentaries tend to be a turn off for many, and the aversion is usually intensified when it is also a biopic of a person whose story was around for the times of television and media. It is exactly those people who ought to watch Brett Morgen’s piece on the last rock God of our times, a visual delight that will compel you to listen to Nirvana again. Spliced with real footage, animated montages and all the while returning to a messy, blotted notebook, Montage of Heck perfectly captures the troubled mind and equally troubled music of Cobain: raw, uncensored and above all, tragic.
Direction: M Night Shyamalan
Watch it for: Peter McRobbie and Deanna Dunagan as the grandparents
Ever since The Last Airbender, M Night Shyamalan’s name hasn’t been brought up for positive discussion, and The Visit is a sign of his return to form. Making full and – for the first time – proper use of the handheld camera genre, this is a chilling addition to the horror genre that will make your heart skip a beat and your mouth guffaw in the same breath. A unique blend of horror and comedy, this story reminiscent of Hansel and Gretel is one to be experienced.
Direction: Robert Zemeckis
Watch it for: Joseph Gordon Levitt and the amazing visuals
Joseph Gordon-Levitt strikes again in this true story of a man with a singular dream: to tie a rope between the towers of the World Trade Centre and walk on it. Spectacularly hilarious and with the feel-good charm that only Robert Zemeckis can bring, this high-energy sort-of-heist film is visually arresting and moving at the same time. And if you haven’t had a fear of heights so far, The Walk might just give you one.
Now, the TOP FIFTEEN films of 2015, counting down:
Direction: Olivier Assayas
Watch it for: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and the breathtaking Alps
In a year filled with major blockbusters and thrill rides with all stops removed such as 2015, it is easy for many smaller indie films to get lost in the rumble. This is one of those, a beautiful piece of cinema harking back to what many still consider to be a purer art: theatre. What this elegantly meditative piece offers its viewers is a bridge between the old and the new, and teaches us the unforgettable lesson that the contemporary cannot come into the picture without shadowing the yesteryear. Featuring incredibly subtle performances from both Kristen Stewart and Juliette Binoche, this is perfect for those evenings where you want to curl up with a cup of piping contemplation.
Direction: Ryan Coogler
Watch it for: Sylvester Stallone, Michael B Jordan
Ryan Coogler brings us in Creed the worthiest sequel to the original Rocky, and that is something almost never said about the seventh film in any franchise. If the fact that this film bears the same heart that made Sylvester Stallone Rocky Balboa and is at par with the original doesn’t sell you on watching it, then Michael B Jordan’s brilliantly evocative turn as Apollo’s illegitimate son is sure to. Taking on a different kind of struggle to the top, Creed is about legacies and the worth of carrying the name of a legend. Featuring some of the best camerawork of the year, Coogler shows a side of Philly – so familiar to fans of the franchise – that is new to all, every frame screaming with unique vision. Add to that the most subtle performance Sly has ever given us, and you’ve got a champion.
- INSIDE OUT
Direction: Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen
Watch it for: The voice acting and the heart
After steering into uninspired tales and reheated leftovers in the sequel territory, Pixar is back with its best work since Toy Story 3. This film takes it audience on a perfect journey deconstructing puberty and emotional growth within the mind of an 11-year old girl, at the same time not forgetting to be laugh-out-loud hilarious. With the five feelings of joy (Amy Poehler), sadness (Phyllis Smith), anger (Lewis Black), fear (Bill Hader) and disgust (Mindy Kaling) taking the lead, Inside Out imagines a whimsical world within our heads where our memories are stored, making us the person we are. It brings back to our hearts the essence which Pixar stands for: a moving tale of self-discovery unafraid to pull at the most core human emotions, making sure to leave no one behind – adult or child. If that wasn’t reason enough to see this film, have you not read the cast yet?
Direction: George Miller
Watch it for: Charlize Theron and the adrenaline
And here we have the second sequel in this list: Fury Road sees the resurrection of George Miller who gave us the amazingly ‘80s dystopian trilogy back in the day, refuelling the franchise with more guzzoline than ever. Distinctly more far out than both the originals and anything else on screens today, this exorbitantly loud and fast-paced action piece is a visual treat that packs a punch. Featuring very little dialogue or plot – the latter the only reason this isn’t higher up on the list – Fury Road rebels against all convention, to the point of reducing its titular character (Tom Hardy) to a sidekick to make way for the clear standout in Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Featuring the most outrageous practical stunts and an imagination run wild, the film builds a world of dust and chrome that is just one big adrenaline rush.
Direction: Ridley Scott
Watch it for: Matt Damon, Jeff Daniels and Mars
Space science fiction is usually restricted in tone to the uber-serious as we have seen time and time again in films such as Interstellar and Blade Runner. Ridley Scott – who gave us the latter – is finally back after the terrible mistakes that were The Counselor and Exodus with the adaptation of the acclaimed Andy Weir novel of the same name. Taking the premise of Castaway and surrounding it with the beautifully desolate sands of Mars, this film finds itself with a protagonist whose high spirits cannot be killed by any predicaments the red planet throws at him. Driven by the witty voice of Matt Damon, this story of survival against all odds tackles both the astronaut’s struggle on the deserted planet as well as the troubles back at home with the red tape of sending a rescue mission. Truly its own thing, The Martian marks Scott’s return to form with a well-rounded and immensely satisfying epic.
Direction: Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Watch it for: Michael Angarano, Ezra Miller and the disturbia
Getting around to the top 10, this dramatization of the most notorious psychological experiment in history is disturbing to the core, and as a consequence, engrossing as all hell. A handful of Stanford students were offered a few bucks to volunteer for a prison simulation study where they were divided as guards and prisoners. Overseen by the professor and researchers, the mentally transforming experiment begins to include as its subjects everyone around it, including the audience watching this film. Posed with the difficult question of the potential for evil in any person like you or me, the film succeeds in visually arresting its audience to their seats in disbelief at the very deprave and more importantly, true events unfolding on screen. Featuring some of the most realistic performances all around – with special mention to Ezra Miller and Michael Angarano – this is a cinematic experience that not only makes you question your perception of human nature, but is sure to haunt you for weeks afterward.
Direction: Steven Spielberg
Watch it for: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance and the Spielberg charm
Moving onto more hopeful themes, Bridge of Spies proved to us yet again why the Spielberg-Hanks combo works every time. Handling the heavy theme of suspicion and bonds in the midst of the Cold War, this film inspired by a true story is one that reaffirms our faith in humanity against all odds. The story of an expert insurance lawyer who is asked to step up to defend the man that everyone in the United States wants to see killed, this powerful drama speaks strongly about public perceptions in a time when war was fought with information. In the middle of all the political turmoil and hushed-up international deals, it portrays the more emotional and even more unlikely bond between Jim Donovan (Tom Hanks) and Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), as the former stands up against every other loyalty for what he thinks right – the justice that every human deserves.
Direction: Ava DuVernay
Watch it for: David Oyelowo
Yet another true story, but a far more heart-breaking one, Ava DuVernay gives us a small yet significant slice of the battle fought by Martin Luther King, Jr. Marking an important milestone in the struggle against racial discrimination, the story of Selma is as much a period piece as it is a powerful visualization of a most heartrending chapter in American history. Helmed by David Oyelowo in an outstanding performance – deserving at the very least a nomination at the Oscars – that carries with it the charm and enigma of the man that was King, DuVernay’s film is executed with finesse and perfectly captures the gravity of the events it portrays. Paying equal time and careful attention to King’s life at home, his relatives and friends as to his public call for civil disobedience, Selma teaches all filmmakers that it is possible for a biopic to be more than just a remake of A Beautiful Mind.
Direction: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
Watch it for: The twins
Easily the film that packed the most chills and creepy moments this year, Goodnight Mommy is a German-Austrian film that capitalizes on the inherently unsettling nature of twins to take advantage of its audiences. An incredibly atmospheric film that serves little dialogue, most of the uncertain incidents of the film are presented through pure images told through the eyes of an unreliable narrator. Although the trailer – promoted as the scariest trailer for a film ever – failed to live up to its tagline, the disturbing package delivered by the film is a whole different ballgame. Playing with the most primal and seemingly secure of bonds – that between a mother and her children – this horror masterpiece invades the most personal of territories and holds enough intrigue to make up for some of its obvious secrets. It is a film that is guaranteed to take you on a tense nightmare ride, resounding with eerie silence: something infinitely more effective than screams.
Direction: Quentin Tarantino
Watch it for: Kurt Russel, Samuel Jackson, and the Tarantino of it all
Can you ever really go wrong with a Tarantino film? Bringing that same audacious, smarmy and above all, unique vision that the director is famous for, The Hateful Eight is another homerun which stylishly blends action, comedy and really, really interesting dialogue with an impressive cast of actors all drawing out top-notch performances. This time venturing out into the post-Civil War American countryside, Tarantino pays homage to cinema’s love of westerns and mysteries. Displaying the most glorious wide shots of the sprawling wintry landscape as well as the cosy interiors of the cabin where the eponymous eight spend their night, the movie cashes in on distrust and the ‘whodunnit’ waiting to reveal itself. Featuring some of the best performances of the year from Samuel Jackson (at his best since Jules in Pulp Fiction) and Kurt Russel as bounty hunters, the film plays out like a twisted hybrid of Clue and John Carpenter’s The Thing; each distinct character from that of Walton Goggins to Michael Madsen engrossed in their roles and the tension sharpening between each of them. And if that wasn’t enough, this is all set to the classic notes of Ennio Morricone, who basically birthed the music of the Wild West.
Direction: JJ Abrams
Watch it for: Harrison Ford, Daisy Ripley, Adam Driver and the feels
If there was one film that no one was going to miss this year – as already showing on the box office – it was the long-awaited sequel to the space-fantasy-epic trilogy birthed by George Lucas, and which in turn spawned a new class of blockbuster cinema and the largest cinematic fan-base to ever exist. The Force Awakens continues the story we left at Return of the Jedi – from screens, but never from our hearts or wallets – with the dawn of a new saga, where the Empire has been replaced by the First Order and which sees the arrival of a whole new set of heroes and warriors of the Force to root for in this new trilogy. Creating a perfect bridge to transition the old to the new, JJ Abrams has succeeded in the enormously pressured task he took on by giving all of us an action-filled space opera that carries the heart of the original Star Wars. Filled with gorgeous set-pieces and another glorious score from John Williams, it is a visual feast that will surely bring tears to the eyes of all fans – old and new – as it pays respect to the past while firmly paving the way for the future.
Direction: Damian Szifron
Watch it for: Ricardo Darin, and the tales themselves
While most anthology films tend to link each individual story with the overarching plot, Wild Tales tells six tales distinctly unconnected in story, but all joined in the poignant theme of the extremities of human emotion. The most successful Argentinian film to date, this elegant piece of devious humour comes from Damian Szifron who displays his chops across the table in creative storytelling and execution as the tales come at us, each more startling than the last. It is a rather odd collection of stories reminiscent of several master short-story authors, with every wild tale building its tension carefully and constantly until reaching its completely unexpected end. Portraying humans as rather strange characters reacting in a seemingly peculiar manner when placed in ordinary situations, Wild Tales is the story of each of us, and how situations can cause chain reactions completely unprecedented.
Direction: James Ponsoldt
Watch it for: Jason Segel, and what the film has to say
In a year filled with films of romance, heartbreak and love, the most touching story came in the form of the dramatic realization of a road trip interview of the author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) by Rolling Stone reporter Dave Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg). While the premise might sound incredibly dull, the substance is anything but: what this film brings us is much more than the essence of Wallace’s writing; it is the philosophy of fame and glory, and what any of what we are chasing really means. A more introspective and darkly personal film than Almost Famous, the film is about admirers and delusions, with a beautifully sombre outlook on the meaning of life and dreams. As much the story of the reporter affected by the author as that of a brilliant mind torn by the troubles of the world, The End of the Tour is the only watch on this list that I can guarantee will change your outlook on life itself – a most personal catharsis.
Direction: Alex Garland
Watch it for: Alicia Wikander, Oscar Isaac, Domnhall Gleeson
Let’s hope we keep having as many brilliant achievements in cerebral science fiction as we have for the past two years, for Ex Machina does what Under the Skin did last year. Director Alex Garland (previously known for the scripts of Sunshine, 28 Days Later) presents us an expertly conceived and artistically executed piece on what it means to be human, through the tool of Artificial Intelligence. The first of the great films of 2015, Ex Machina does something most science fiction films never dare to do: restrict itself to a confined and eerily monotonous location, keeping it small as the incredibly thought-provoking Turing Test is given the spotlight. Driven by eerily subtle performances from Oscar Isaac, Domnhall Gleeson and Alicia Wikander (as the A.I. named Ava), the films will lure you into a visually exquisite trance from which there is no escape.
Direction: Yorgos Lanthimos
Watch it for: Colin Farrell and the inventive ideas
And now, for my favourite and most impressive film of 2015, no other film deserves this pedestal other than Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ English language debut in the wonderfully original The Lobster. A hilarious and yet horrific satire of modern society which revolves around the coupling of humans, this brave, artistic masterpiece thrives in the most strange and yet familiar world it has built for itself, where the very purpose of human existence is to mate, and singles are shunned and done away with like the plague. Following his divorce, David (Colin Farrell) is sent to a hotel-like establishment where singles are groomed during the day to find compatible mates based on identifying characteristics. During the night, they are sent out into the woods to hunt down the renegade tribe of loners who strictly abandon social convention. Executed with the most creative deadpan humour, Lanthimos’ latest has proven yet again that his mind is a strange place where odd and completely original ideas are born.
You will find reviews for all the above, as well as the remaining films I have seen this year in the archive titled ‘Movie Reviews’. Or you can just click on the titles of the films in this article.