There are always far too many films out every year to make any kind of sweeping judgement on the perceived quality of the work released in that arbitrary period.
Yet as winter rolls around, out come the end-of-year lists to fit 2015 into a neatly-cut box and let everyone know just how great our tastes are. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, but this year I thought it might be fun to try something different.
Instead of listing my 10 favourite movies from 2015, I polled a number of friends, colleagues, filmmakers and critics for their top ten lists and compiled a Sight & Sound-esque “definitive” ranking from the results. You’ll see these after the jump, along with comments from some of the contributors and myself.
[A note for pedants: “films from 2015” in this instance means films that were released theatrically in the United Kingdom between 1 January and 31 December this year.]
This is a people’s vote, not a cinephile senate, which means that blockbuster fare ended up occupying more of the top spots than I anticipated. While there is some overlap with S&S‘s end-of-year list, it’s interesting to note that many of the films missing from ours will likely never be seen by some of the pollsters.
Myself? I want to see everything from the arthouse to Roadhouse – and I don’t believe that the final goal of a film should always be to entertain – but I can totally appreciate the populist escapism for which most audiences go to the movies, and I think the following list reflects that…
…While also managing to slip a couple of modern masterpieces in there.
One of the main reasons The Falling was my favourite film of 2015 is Tracey Thorn’s sublime soundtrack. Throughout the film there are strange songs that are somewhere between folk, pop and nursery rhymes. I was racking my brain trying to place them in the film and it was only afterwards that I learned they were composed for the film.
Haunting is an overused adjective in these circumstances, but the songs have indeed stayed with me and lingered in my mind and that’s very thematically appropriate for the film.
The film itself is about an epidemic of fainting spells at a girls’ school after the death of one of its students. It’s also about the weird side of love, trauma, friendship and, yes, being haunted by lingering memories. Maisie Williams is excellent as the lead. I was reminded of The Crucible and The Wicker Man, as it occupies that sweet spot where the peculiar becomes the sinister. A rewarding and memorable film.
10. Mistress America
A whip-smart riposte to Noah Baumbach’s other 2015 movie about millennials, While We’re Young, Mistress America‘s observations rang predictably truer and funnier to Millennial Mark.
The film stars Lola Kirke and Greta Gerwig as soon-to-be-stepsisters living in New York City who strike up a whirlwind friendship that’s by turns charming and alarming. An hysterical lesson in the folly of constructing your own identity from the misguided actions and quirks of others, Mistress America would have made my top ten if all it had done was introduce me to Lola Kirke, my new #1 screen crush. But it goes above and beyond to give us a glimpse of youth straining with ambition, mostly failing, and being okay with that.
Which is something we need a lot more of, frankly.
To quote Professor Matthew Campbell: ‘[This film] is untrue about teaching and untrue about music.’ Yet the younger Campbells loved Whiplash! I personally took a lot from J.K Simmon’s character and have really upped my abusive teacher game since seeing this movie.
8. Bridge of Spies
When watching Spielberg’s stately cold war epic, you can’t help but be impressed and entertained. Historical narrative seems so important to the 69-year-old that he takes on the release of downed U2 Pilot Francis Gary Powers from the Soviet Union in 1962, giving it a fantastic treatment.
Hanks is perfect as the reluctant hero, although true history shows that his lawyer character, James B. Donovan, was an experienced Assistant Justice during the Nuremberg trials, rather than merely an ‘insurance lawyer’ as the film suggests.
Historical inaccuracies aside, the Coen rothers’ script doesn’t miss a step, throughout. A must see that should have performed better at the box office.
7. Jurassic World
Jurassic World is bloody brilliant. When you hear the words “Jurassic Park” you know what you’re gonna get – big dinos, loads of action and some great lines. Raptors and humans on the same team, stupid tourists getting killed, hybrid dinosaurs, a massive T-Rex fight: what more could you want? 2 hours and 4 minutes of constant entertainment.
6. Ex Machina
Ex Machina is a real gem: an original piece of science fiction that also works as a close quarters paranoia drama between its three central characters.
Brilliantly acted with stunning yet simple cinematography, it’s hard to believe that this is Alex Garland’s directorial debut, but I look forward to seeing where he goes next.
5. It Follows
To me, there are few things better than a horror movie that commits to its high concept, and It Follows is an example of how to execute that perfectly.
The magnetic Maika Munroe plays Jay, a young woman being stalked by an unstoppable, shape-shifting entity after having sex with a boy. The world we see is an anachronistic one that fuses 20th- and 21st-century technology to dislocate us from time and allows the steady, relentless camera and chiptune score to plant us in a classic horror movie conceit, albeit one with a sinister eye, sympathetic teenage performances and unforgettable imagery.
As Jay and her friends navigate the sexual politics that brought about the curse (unaided by conspicuously absent parents), we’re given to wonder exactly what the ‘monster’ truly represents. Fittingly for a shape-shifter, many interpretations have been posited, and it’s a testament to It Follows’ compelling storytelling that I still find myself arguing over them.
4. Inside Out
No one was more surprised than I was with Inside Out. I’ve dreaded feel good animations ever since I watched Space Chimps 3 (arguably the worst animation ever made), yet I found Inside Out imaginative, funny and poignant.
The film depicts a young girl’s journey through a difficult period. We watch her emotions (literally, as characters) combat loss, fear and sadness. It’s a film that really kicked me in the emotional gonads. Go and see it, it’s great!
3. The Martian
Watching Matt Damon trot around Mars is a delight; the science is fun while not dumbed down, and Drew Goddard’s script is peppered with jokes and tension. The film’s optimism, with everyone coming together to Bring Him Home, stands out – a kid somewhere has been inspired into a career as a botanist or an astronaut, and isn’t that wonderful?
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
We were all hopeful that Mad Max: Fury Road would be able to come close to emulating the quality of the first two films in George Miller’s post-apocalyptic series. Clearly he had grander intentions in mind.
An explosion of sand, explosions, idiosyncratic ‘newspeak’-esque dialogue and assorted lunacy; as brilliant and endlessly enjoyable as Fury Road is, none of this is the true genius behind the movie. That would be how Miller managed to winkle $150 million out of Warner Bros to make this ridiculous film.
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
This has to be number one. It’s too fresh and I’m still too giddily excited to cast a properly critical eye over it but I laughed, cried and cheered throughout. It ruthlessly exploited nostalgia and hype but I honestly can’t remember the last time I was that energised in a cinema.
I didn’t even vote for The Force Awakens – maybe because I already knew it would pulverise any competition in a popular vote and wanted to give another film a fighting chance – but I can’t say I disagree with any of the above.
Nostalgia played a huge factor in the film landscape of 2015, clearly: The Force Awakens, Fury Road and Jurassic World are all sequels/reboots of long-established franchises, yet by most accounts succeed in injecting new life into their respective series.
However, they’re not the only films that are so focused on the past. Inside Out, arguably Pixar’s finest film in years (and certainly their finest film this year, though The Good Dinosaur is barely worth trifling with) features characters who are obsessed with maintaining life in Riley’s head the way they remember and are comfortable with, even at the expense of the young girl’s well-being.
A cynical critic might interpret this as Pixar’s commentary on the constant nostalgia machine that is modern Hollywood. However, it seems much more likely that the film’s creators are more concerned with relating to our individual desire to hold onto our fondest memories and keep bad feelings out, despite the mentally treacherous routes that can take us down.
Arguably, many of the other films are throwbacks: Mistress America descends into screwball comedy antics; Bridge of Spies is one more in a grand tradition of Cold War thrillers; It Follows owes a huge debt to John Carpenter and American horror of the 1980s; even Ex Machina, ostensibly a forward-thinking story, is reminiscent of an age where science fiction films could be about exploring a single, fascinating idea with a small cast and nary an explosion or weeping Matthew McConaughey in sight.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a good throwback; we all need to draw from somewhere, and all of the films listed have impeccable taste in influences.
So: what do you think of our list? Are there any films missing you think were essential viewing in 2015? Tell us about them in the comments. My individual top 20 list is on Letterboxd if you’re into that sort of thing. Here’s to a great year of cinema in 2016!