A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!
In a year that feels to have passed by within the blink of an eye, we have been incredibly lucky when it came to what was on offer throughout 2015.
To be presented with a modernised vision of George Miller’s Mad Max, releases from legendary directors such as Steven Spielberg, Danny Boyle, Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino and Ridley Scott, new chapters in the franchises of 007, Jurassic Park, Terminator, Mission Impossible, a new and fan-approved Star Wars and last, but not least, nothing directed by Michael Bay, 2015 has truly been a great year for movie fans!
Not only has the year presented us with some new additions to old properties, plenty of original and fascinating ideas have made their way on to the big screen, proving Hollywood is not purely a sequel-oriented machine.
As with every year, I have tried my darnedest to see as many films as I could, but regrettably have missed out on a few of the ‘must-sees’ of the year due to various reasons. However, I have written 25 more articles than 2014, so I count that as an improvement!
The way I’ve decided to choose my Top 10 of 2015 is in relation to their American release dates. As a way of avoiding confusion come January 2017 when I’m announcing my favourites from 2016, I see The Oscars as the end of the cinematic year.
Living in Australia, we have the joy of receiving films late in the game, often just weeks or even days before the Oscars ceremony, so even though I’d be seeing certain pictures in 2016, they’d still count as 2015 releases if they came out earlier in America.
Before the list is revealed, please take the time to observe the following honourable mentions that did not quite make the final top 10.
These are films that impressed me in a whole manner of ways and are ones I would still recommend seeking out.
The vast list honourable mentions is made up of the following:
Confined, subtle, mature and expertly crafted, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is a sleek and sexy science fiction thriller that tackles the seemingly overdone topic of A.I. without fault.
Three central performances carry the self-contained unsettling experience along, offering differing dynamics that create an uncomfortable atmosphere almost from the word go. The pressure builds, the tension mounts and the consequences erupt in spectacular fashion – this is a must-see!
What works so well within the picture is the unnerving sense of isolation and solitude and how that effects somebody psychologically. This is just as much about the human consciousness and psyche as it is about the development of artificial intelligence.
The dialogue is slickly written to unearth some genuine existential concerns we all share, whilst celebrating the accomplishments and capabilities of human beings, particularly in the modern age.
A classic sci-fi that deserves immense recognition, Ex Machina is my favourite film of 2015!
There hasn’t been a film quite like this in some time.
Explosive, pulsating, barraging, unrelenting and unforgiving, George Miller’s intense return to the post-apocalyptic wasteland not only shows that at 70 years of age he still has what it takes to match it with the best action directors on the planet, it also shows that belated sequels can match, or even in this this case, exceed the levels of greatness set by the originals.
This is quintessential cinematic action! From the opening rev of an engine to the pulsating finale, Mad Max: Fury Road, winner of 6 Oscars, was not just an action film, it was an experience; a two-hour assault on the senses that left me utterly speechless.
Even if the plot simply involves a lunatic caught in the wrong place at the wrong time who proceeds to team up with a rogue heroine on an epic car chase that basically consists of one enormous left turn to come full circle, the ride is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.
It has restored my faith in action cinema for countless reasons, so my hat goes off to you, George Miller and everyone involved in putting Australia back on the cinematic map!
Heartbreaking and deeply moving, Room is not just a film with arguably the best performance from a child actor in the last two decades, it’s a film that solidifies Lenny Abrahamson as one of the best directors working today.
It’s obvious how much care and attention has been put into making the picture seem as lifelike and believable as possible, however the additional imaginative and blissfully ignorant, innocent touches from the perspective of a child are to be admired for their execution.
Working with children is difficult, but when you’re gifted the likes of Jacob Tremblay who delivers a Best Actor-worthy performance, you milk that for all it’s worth because they don’t come around that often!
This is an important film for every single demographic. A fantastic achievement from the powerhouse pair of Disney and Pixar, their first film of 2015 catapulted into the pantheon of their best works.
Emotionally driven in every sense imaginable, the approach to the subject matter of what makes everybody unique but connected all the same is the work of pure genius . There are important lessons and messages to be taken from Inside Out, and it’s imperative that audiences both young and old experience the magic and individually take something out of it.
As expected, it hits you on every emotional level, all the while staying focused on what it is and not deviating in the slightest; it’s a charming, delightful and incredible work of Disney Pixar imagination.
With an ensemble that gels perfectly, Tom McCarthy’s Best Picture-winning Spotlight is a deeply impactful discovery tale of biblical proportions.
Slow paced and masterfully written, the film unthreads the submerged and undiscovered narrative like a loose string in a ball of yarn. We know it’s there, but as we pull and pull, we are shocked by how large the build-up of the ball truly is.
Interactions between not only the reporters themselves but those directly effected by the issue at hand only escalate in tension, making the film a deeply immersive experience.
Like a shocking documentary that uncovers some unspeakable, unthinkable truths, Spotlight, which is based on actual events, has a similar effect.
It doesn’t feel like a stylish, glossy and fictitious Hollywood narrative with A-list stars wherever you look. The performances are grounded, as is the production design and screenplay. There is a raw sense of urgency and authenticity to the picture, and the way it concludes is powerful beyond compare.
Friends of mine will know just how much I adored this film – I apologise about how much I harp on about it.
A beautifully character-driven narrative that is the perfect observation between two contrasting classes in light of the recent American housing market crash, 99 Homes is a tense story about what some hard working individuals had to endure to support their family.
A fantastic contrast between those who were effected and those who capitalised on the crash, the film focuses on an unscrupulous foreclosure agent and a blue collar labourer who is one of many thousands of victims to lose their home.
As a way of earning enough money to support his beloved family, the film shows an honest, hard-working man cross over to the dark side when he is a his lowest point and begin working for the devil himself. How he is enveloped but conflicted by these choices makes for some thought provoking, immersive viewing.
This international co-production is companion piece to 2012’s The Act of Killing, also directed by Joshua Oppenheimer.
Following the silent, calm and harmless Adi Rukin, the documentary observes him both watching footage shot by Oppenheimer back near the turn of the century that involves two elderly gentlemen reminiscing and reenacting horrific and unspeakable acts of genocide in Indonesia back in the mid 1960’s and interviewing them in the flesh.
A qualified optician, Adi is seen examining the elderly men before confronting them with questions about their acts of utter inhumanity. Adi’s connection to the genocide is very close; his brother, an innocent man, was brutally murdered by these men, and he is looking for answers.
This is not a revenge tale, he is not aggressively confronting these men, rather, looking for answers and perhaps even the admittance of fault.
What is so powerful about the film is the way in which it is crafted. It’s slow, unsettling, uncomfortable and deafeningly quiet, but profoundly affecting above all else.
I am yet to see The Act of Killing, but after watching The Look of Silence, I’m very keen to. I’ll have to give myself some time to cool off first.
With a gruelling production for a harrowing odyssey of retribution, The Revenant is the followup to Alejandro Iñárritu’s Best Picture-winning Birdman from 2014 and is anything but comparable.
Devastatingly bleak, grim and hopeless, The Revenant may be simplistic in plot, but it says a lot about the period in which it was set and the lengths one had to go to survive.
An inspired Leonardo DiCaprio crawls, gasps, moans and agonisingly screams his way through the near-three hour epic and emerges the other side with a long-awaited Best Actor statuette as a result, while Tom Hardy (who in my opinion was the better performer) demonstrates exactly why he is one of the most in-favour talents at the moment.
A film that has proven increasingly divisive among audiences, The Revenant with all it’s style, thematic undertakings and atmosphere simply worked for me.
It left me speechless upon first viewing and remained in my mind for quite some time afterwards.
The bear scene that has become the stuff of legend had me thinking about the technical approaches and just how they were able to achieve such an amazing feet.
I’ll unashamedly admit it even woke me in the middle of the night in shock just thinking about it. If that’s not indicative of a powerful experience at the movies, I don’t know what is.
Arguably the most original concept on the list, The Lobster is not everybody’s cup of tea.
The Greek/Irish collaboration is an absurdist’s dream, while more conventional audiences will be disturbed, bemused, confused and unsettled by the plodding nature of the deadpan, awkward and uncomfortable dystopia Yorgos Lanthimos has created.
Niche and entirely unique, The Lobster is reasonably star-studded but helmed superbly by Colin Farrell, whose efforts demonstrate a pure understanding of this world, this approach and this comedic style.
Prepare yourself for long pauses, whacky dialogue, strange animals walking across screen and a concept only conceivable by that of a madman.
In the news due to it including one of the bigger subs of 2015, Beasts Of No Nation, the first feature film exclusively distributed to Netflix was a powerful, harrowing affair that puts a great deal into perspective.
A similar approach to that of Room, the perspective is through the child protagonist, adding to the devastatingly harsh truths of the world they are born into.
Impoverished, war-torn communities dominate the landscapes, and the crushing interactions between the impressionable and naive central protagonist, Agu, and the manipulative Commandant played by Idris Elba provide some of the most devastating scenes and revelations of the picture.
This isn’t one to Netflix and chill with… trust me.
There you have it. These are my top 10 favourite films of the year.
Thanks so much for your support throughout 2015 and I look forward to doing it all again in 2016!