TOP 10 FILMS OF 2015
It’s been a slow year for movies this year, a lot of big films fell short of becoming a masterpiece. Some of the critically acclaimed films of the year such as The Martian and Anomalisa didn’t resonate with me. This is my final list for 2015 as I have now seen all of the films released in 2015 minus Son of Saul which will have to be included as a 2016 film for me.
10. ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL
Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
This film came as a pleasent surprise to me and it was had an eclectic range of influences inside the film itself. The film felt very indie from the beginning and comparing it on a emotional scale i’d say it matched Short Term 12 in its portrayal of teenage emotions. I saw shades of Wes Anderson in the editing, the intro and the claymation scenes. The characters of Greg and Earl reminded me of Jack Black and Yasiin Bay in Be Kind Rewind, especially with the fact they remade classics films. Now even though I have mentioned various influences towards this film I see this film as an original adaption of these influences. The film never feels parodic or unoriginal in its themes and it handles teenage cancer better than other films such as The Fault in the Stars. The star of the show was the dying girl and she became the central character even though she had less lines and screen time than Gregg. She was played by Olivia Cooke who gave a memorable performance and handled every emotion from the teenage confusion towards cancer to the anger and sadness experienced by cancer victims. In a year of blockbusters and high end oscar bait coming out, this small film is a nice addition into the genre surrounding cancer and it handles this theme better than most other films do.
Directed by : Lenny Abrahamson
A solid Indie hit has been created because Room’s tightly adapted script and amazing performances make this a film to remember. Brie Larson takes the role of Ma and in my opinion it is the best performance she’s given on screen before. She’s been an up and coming actress in the indie film community with an excellent performance in Short Term 12 under her belt. However, this performance will be the one she is remembered for as its the best I’ve seen all year, topping the female performances I saw in Carol. Come awards season I can see Larson becoming a top contender for that Best Actress Academy Award. Acting alongside Larson was Jacob Tremblay as Jack, a 9-year-old in a breakthrough performance of his own. That being said he played the lost child not knowing reality and at the same time he played the imaginative child we see all the time. His childlike wonder and trauma played hand in hand and he managed to blend both of these aspects into his character of Jack. It’s a long shot but his performance should be up there with the best supporting actor performances of 2015. These two performances carried the film even further than the script enabled them to and the final result is a film so close to being a masterpiece. Little aspects such as an unmemorable score (apart from the closing piece of music) and the lack of any substantial cinematography ruin its chances. Room remains an Indie film but it had the chance of being bigger than that, however, Abrahamson plays its safe. The final result we get is one of the years best films, but it isn’t the best of the year when it could have been.
Directed by: Deniz Gamze Erguven
Mustang reminded me of many films, in terms of capturing the social nature of Islamic countries it made me think of A Separation. At the same time it was easy to see that Mustang was inspired by The Virgin Suicides quite heavily. The story starts off with a fairly slow introduction, but what I didn’t notice at first was how important this slow introduction was. This showed me the difference between the Western and Eastern nation. A simple game between friends on the beach, with the girls sitting on the shoulders of the boys was seen as a sexual act. This event sparked a chain of trouble in the lives of these sisters. I am not sure how modern day Turkey is and if this is a true representation of small town Turkey but from what I saw on screen, I was in awe. Their world is so similar to ours but at the same time they are shackled by the sanctions of religion. The purity of chastity is a theme that is drilled in throughout the film and this also connects with the Islamic themes in the story. What Mustang showcases is the ever changing modernisation of Eastern countries such as Turkey. Where half the country is tied down by old rules and traditions whilst the other half tries to adapt to a new western civilisation. Mustang is a very small film, its my favourite foreign film of the year and one of my favourites of 2015 over all.
7. KNIGHTS OF CUP
Directed by: Terrance Malick
Knight of Cups becomes quite personal and can relate to people who have experienced many of the films themes such as death and heartbreak. A lot of people have experienced what Malick displays on screen but only a few will emotionally connect to the films imagery. If you’re a Malick fan you will enjoy his form of storytelling but at the same time I can see how this film can be hated or perceived as pretentious. To understand the film you have to understand Malick, his analogies of his own life through film and the loosely based nature of everything he touches. This film again is another part of Malick’s soul and I feel as if the more he gets older the more he starts to project his own life into these images. The whole film can easily polarise because it’s Malick regurgitating the thoughts in his mind onto film. Knight of Cups is very dense and hard to review, especially after a first viewing. However, this is one of 2015’s surprises and almost a return to form for Malick. The raw emotion in Rick’s mind haunted me while watching the film; I was equally emotional and equally questioned my own existence whilst watching Knight of Cups. Terrance Malick makes some experimental decisions that let the film down while he tries to gracefully reconstruct modernity. The go-pro footage and the modern music became distracting but his major problem becomes his script. It’s a simple plot with such overbearing symbolic themes that over power the simple structure Malick creates. However, this is still a return to form for one of the auteurs of cinema regardless of how inaccessible it can be.
Directed by: Todd Haynes
The story itself was very poetic, it looked into the lives of those restricted from homosexuality during this post war era. Carol gives us an insight into the people who were forced to believe that their homosexuality was a psychological condition. The film featured various scenarios and conversations which showcased this world where homosexuality was seen as a disease. This results in an accurate portrayal of a society that once existed, a society that began brainwashing homosexuals themselves. However, the film did not once force feed this message to the audience, it subtly hinted on situations but concentrated more on its impact regarding these two central characters. Cate Blanchett played Carol, this strong minded elegant woman who was trapped in a marriage she didn’t want to be in. The only force keeping their marriage together was their young daughter and this added a complexity into this simple storyline. It showcased a bigger picture away from Carol and Therese , resulting in another moment where the cinematography matched the story; in its isolated yet wide field of view. I think both Mara and Blanchett will be definite awards contenders for their respective roles. Especially because of the chemistry they created between each other whilst acting through minimal dialogue, relying heavily on body language. They aided Todd Hayne’s direction to create such a platonic and realistic relationship on screen. Carol is one the years best films and even with this fact I still think it could have been better. I expected something more powerful but Carol relies on its subtly and the film does make you feel like you are watching this forbidden love. It almost becomes voyeuristic as we look in on someones personal life by following them at their most vulnerable moments. Carol’s biggest flaw was its slow pace but the end result was worth it. Through each careful created frame I could see the effort put in to creating this film and it’s message.
Directed by: Justin Kurzel
We all know the story of Justin Kurzel, who is known for his cult film The Snowtown Murders returns with a complete different tale and a different sense of direction for Macbeth. My two favourite actors took the lead in this film with Michael Fassbender playing Macbeth and Marion Cotillard playing his wife. This becomes a once in a life time acting role for both actors and a unique viewing experience for the audiences. One major thing you notice from the opening scenes is the use of Scotland as a prominent feature in its cinematography. The highlands and the general landscapes chosen set the mood for Scotland in 1057. Adam Arkapaw was Macbeth’s cinematographer and I haven’t really paid attention to him before this film. If I’m honest I haven’t seen cinematography this unique and visually aesthetic since Emmanuel Lubezki did Tree of Life. The use of grading and colour is a clever touch with the film slowly turning redder until the films final culmination. Arkapaw captures the highlands and uses a lot of smoke to create a mist like atmosphere around every shot. This mixed in with the excessive use of slow motion, especially during the battle sequences creates a unique atmosphere and you are left with a very beautiful film. This isn’t the Shakespeare that will be shown in schools because of how dark it is but this is the tone that I imagined when reading the classic play. This becomes one of the years best films which features some of the best cinematography in years and a career defining performance from Michael Fassbender. It’s not for everyone but if you understand the story this could become a very unique viewing experience.
Directed by: Asif Kapdia
After surprising everyone with Senna, Asif Kapadia returns with a documentary that surpasses even Senna itself. Amy becomes this years Life Itself but from the musical aspect, involving a more tragic story. Kapadia retains his original style of film making and builds his film up of interview voice footage and stock video footage. The interviews i think would have worked better face to face to bring more emotion to an emotional story. In all of his documentaries I find that Kapadia’s downfall is his lack of structure. However, the story of Amy Winehouse was the subject that brought more attention than his film making. A truly tragic story of fame plaguing a persons life and generally a film about the results of drugs. The film starts off with an unknown Amy, the Amy Winehouse that the media never got to see. Before the time of her drug and alcohol abuse, a time when she was simple youngster with a love for music. This shapes her character as the everyday youth we see around us, then throughout the progress of the film you see her slowly lose innocence. Amy’s entry into fame is seen to be the factor in her going from this innocent bubbly teenager into a brooding alcoholic, drug abusing adult. Amy is a film that showcases why she became a legend and why she was different to any singer who has come before or after her. This documentary cracks into my favourite films of 2015 so far and becomes one of the favourite musical documentaries of all time.
3. THE HATEFUL EIGHT
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
The Hateful Eight almost feels like it moves in real time and 90% of the film is based inside the one room all the characters are residing in. This makes the film Tarantino’s least accessible out of his filmography. If you don’t like the lengthy conversations in Tarantino films then The Hateful Eight is definitely not for you. Because for me this was the Tarantino film with the least action and the most substance. It’s not his finest film but it definitely becomes the best screenplay he has written before. The whole film relies on these deep intuitive conversations and its full of the great Tarantino wit and humour we love. Working with cinematography Robert Richardson once again, Tarantino creates an immersive classic piece of cinema through his choice of using Ultra Panavision 70mm. A classic format that has been long lost in the days of digital film making. However, Tarantino (who is an avid fan of recording on film) brings back a classic format for a film with the classic vibe. Adding more vibrant detail and a natural stock of grain that made this film feel like the old spaghetti westerns. The Hateful Eight is an amazing ensemble piece which contains perfect performances from all its cast. This isn’t Tarantino’s finest but again it becomes a unique and special film. Its a three hour long bloody journey of paranoia, an aspect that Tarantino captures like a Hitchcock film. The Hateful Eight is a hard watch but once you concentrate on the film you begin to see its beauty. From the opening introduction to the films final closure, I was captivated. This is Tarantino at his maturest and The Hateful Eight is a classic that captures the eccense of cinematic history.
2. MAD MAX : FURY ROAD
Directed by: George Miller
George Miller’s script is small, it plays like a comic full of action with just enough dialogue to make sense of its surroundings. He mastered the post-apocalyptic atmosphere with the previous Mad Max trilogy along with other films such as Blade Runner. In Fury Road he goes the extra mile by utilising the Namibian Desert to showcase his new-found cinematography with new digital technology. This desert ridden landscape becomes a world through its opening shots and you find yourself immersed in a thrill ride from start to finish. The storm is barely calm and the film is always continuously involved in action, especially as the film is one continuous car chase. The stunt choreography is amazing and features car chase’s that put the Fast and Furious franchise to shame. The opening scenes with Max’s attempted escape from imprisonment brought me into this creepy like landscape with its erratic editing. This made the screen feel tense and agitated along with the camera. Another thing that stood out for me was Junkie XL’s score that captured each emotion just as Miller captured it through the camera. Everything to do with the production of the environment was perfect, even costume design stood out as a landmark in this action film. Fury Road keeps the adrenaline running but its attention to detail is what makes it more than just your usual action movie. This film is a visual experience and landmark film that I did not see coming, Mad Max : Fury Road is the biggest summer blockbuster to be more than a summer blockbuster. George Miller spent 30 years away from Mad Max before he created his new vision and can honestly see Fury Road as his lifetimes achievement.
1. THE REVENANT
Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Fresh off Birdman, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu returns with another teaming with my favourite cinematography Emmanuel Lubezki. The visuals are the Revenants best friend and Emmanuel Lubezki captures nature whilst showcasing this derelict isolated preconolised America. This goes hand in hand with the perfect locations chosen by Inarritu and Lubezki. From the drab muddy woods to the snowy peaks of the mountains, its all captured perfectly as part of the movie. Working alongside them was Ryuichi Sakamoto, who finally makes his return to Hollywood cinema as the composer of the score. He captures the perfect relation between audio and visuals with a haunting soundtrack that follows each of the films emotions. It is quite an unusual and uncomfortable score but it follows The Revenant through its turbulent storyline whilst capturing every step of the journey. Personally, even though i adored Birdman I still found The Revenant a better film. There was much more going on and it seemed less pretentious than Birdman. Even the famous bear scene impressed me and lived up to the hype. I felt every bit of pain and emotion Glass felt and Inarritu captured the essence of cinema, which was connecting the audience and the character. Watching the film, regardless of its mistakes, I could still see the effort that went into The Revenants creation. From Lubezki’s cinematography using natural lighting and Inarritu’s famous single take tracking shots. Its a collective effort from everyone behind the film and Inarritu manages to create a whole new genre of film through this revenge film. The basic symbolism and the films overindulgent shots let the film down because of pacing issues. However, there is no denying that The Revenant is so close to being a masterpiece. Frame by frame I was captivated by its narrative and visual storytelling, a collective feat I rarely see in cinema. The Revenant is one of the best films of the year and honestly it lives up to the hype behind it.
Honorable Mentions (in order)
Bridge of Spies
Beasts of No Nation
The Big Short
Straight Outta Compton
Best Director of 2015 : GEORGE MILLER – MAD MAX : FURY ROAD
Alejandro González Iñárritu – The Revenant
Justin Kurzel – Macbeth
Quentin Tarantino – The Hateful Eight
Todd Haynes – Carol
Best Cinematography : EMMANUEL LUBEZKI – THE REVENANT
Adam Arkapaw – Macbeth
John Seale – Mad Max: Fury Road
Robert Richardson – The Hateful Eight
Edward Lachman – Carol
Best Actor In A Leading Role : LEONARDO DICAPRIO – THE REVENANT
Michael Fassbender– Macbeth/ Steve Jobs
Samuel L. Jackson – The Hateful Eight
Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl
Bryan Cranston – Trumbo
Best Actress In A Leading Role : BRIE LARSON – ROOM
Saoirise Ronan – Brooklyn
Emily Blunt – Sicario
Cate Blanchett – Carol
Jennifer Lawrence – Joy
Best Actor In a Supporting Role : TOM HARDY – THE REVENANT
Idris Elba – Beasts of No Nation
Benicio Del Toro – Sicario
Kurt Russell – The Hateful Eight
Sylvester Stallone – Creed
Best Actress In a Supporting Role : MARION COTILLARD – MACBETH
Rooney Mara – Carol
Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
Helen Mirrin – Trumbo
Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl/ Ex Machina