As 2015 draws to a close, let’s look back on the year that was: a new benchmark for event cinema was set (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), the unlikeliest underdogs became potential awards contenders (Mad Max: Fury Road), and some incredible dramas and documentaries sneaked in to become some of the best cinema of recent years (45 Years, Amy). Without further ado, here are Flickreel’s Top 10 Films of 2015.
10. Straight Outta Compton
Many people would argue that gangsta rap isn’t a serious form of music. Some probably don’t even consider rap itself to be real music. Behind their angry and profane lyrics, however, N.W.A. really said something about serious issues that are still holding us back as a society. Straight Outta Compton is a gripping account of the prejudice and controversy the group endured, from their rise to fame to their eventual falling out. After watching it, you just might see and hear hip-hop in a new light.
Straight Outta Compton touches base on numerous themes that we’ve seen in other music biopics, like greed, fame, ego, and betrayal. The film never feels like it’s just rehashing old clichés, however; the dead-on performances and screenplay do a genuine job at portraying the friendship our protagonists share. You can tell in every frame of the movie that director F. Gary Gray has passion and respect for these performers and their work. He tells a compelling story concerning African-Americans through wisdom, culture, and music. Furthermore, it’s a powerful biopic about artists expressing how they see the world.
- 45 Years
After Weekend – a striking debut by filmmaker Andrew Haigh – there was much anticipation for his sophomore endeavour, and with 45 Years, he’s managed to surpass expectations. This pensive drama is most noteworthy for bringing out two powerhouse performances from the lead stars, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, both turning in extremely subtle and nuanced displays. What transpires is a raw, emotional piece that simply cannot fail to move and compel the viewer.
The film thrives in simplicity, chronicling a marriage during a tempestuous time in the build-up to the couple’s 45th anniversary, and they’re set to hold a party. But there’s so few dramatic sequences; instead, this film revels in the subtext, the glances, the curious looks – and it’s beautiful to watch. So while Haigh depicted spontaneous love at its earliest stages so remarkably in his debut, he’s managed to do much of the same thing this time around too, except from the opposite end of the spectrum. Whatever he does next could not come soon enough.
- Steve Jobs
Michael Fassbender is arguably too good in the title role to be entirely convincing as the arrogant yet brilliant genius we all know. The dialogue he is given is too rhythmic and precise to be realistic, and the direction too clever to convince. These are, of course, bizarre complaints for any film to be attacked with; yes, the story of Steve Jobs told here is utter fiction. Three conveniently timed product launches act as the backdrop as everyone of importance just so happens to drop in and out of the drama as it unfolds.
If you want to learn about Steve Jobs, read his Wikipedia page. If you want to watch a crafty plot, executed to perfection with zinging dialogue and a barnstorming leading man at his best, then watch this movie.
Singer, songwriter, tabloid magnet, drug addict; there are many lenses to view Amy Winehouse through. Much of your opinion on the 27 club’s latest member will be formed by your own preconceptions, and shaped by the media in a million ways. Director Asif Kapadia cuts through all that white noise and delivers a documentary that will stand the test of time alongside its subject, and serve as a reminder to look past the second-hand opinions, and focus on what sits at the middle of Winehouse’s pop singularity; a fragile girl, making poor decisions, but with that crucial spark of life and talent that we all can recognise.
Much like Kapadia’s last film, Senna, thanks to the decision to use only archival footage and keep the talking heads to voiceover-only interviews, we are fully sucked into a remarkable inner life, whose protective bubble reveals an isolated existence; buoyed by various substances, and coasting on global success. Amy – singer, songwriter, girl – was a misunderstood soul who would tear herself apart if the world wouldn’t first. Amy – film, documentary, masterpiece – is a beautiful, harrowing, heartbreaking testament to that girl, and to our own misconceptions.
- The Martian
Ridley Scott is one of the most iconic directors in the business, but he’s had somewhat of a recent dip with the likes of Exodus: Gods and Kings and The Counsellor, which in particularly was a shambles of a movie. But Scott’s latest endeavour, The Martian, was a real return to form and spent much of the year at the top of the box office. The story follows astronaut Mark Watney played by Matt Damon who finds himself stranded on Mars, and must find a way to survive and return back to earth.
You may struggle to understand all the scientific references, but you will still find yourself absorbed in the story. The script is strong with gripping action scenes and emotion that doesn’t contrive to the clichéd Hollywood way. It instantly feels like a film that will receive classic status over the years and therefore quite rightly deserves its place on our list.
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens
J.J. Abrams and company have made a Star Wars movie that’s about as perfect as it gets. From its familiar opening text, The Force Awakens gives you chills all over and keeps you hooked until the credits roll. The filmmakers revisit many beats from previous Star Wars movies, but somehow, they make it feel like you’re hearing this story for the first time with clever dialogue, strong atmosphere, and unforgettable characters. There are great performances across the board form newcomers and Star Wars veterans alike, but it’s Harrison Ford as Han Solo who deserves Oscar consideration.
Everything about The Force Awakens feels like the Star Wars we know and love, while also feeling like the beginning of a new golden age. Watching the movie, you don’t see the filmmakers trying to recapture the magic of the glory days. You see movie magic unfolding. In addition to the force being awakened, the film will also awaken something within any fan that grew up with Star Wars: the sense of being a kid again. Only time can tell if The Force Awakens will rank up there with A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. For now, though, it’s everything one could ask for and, in some regards, even more. The Force is strong with this one – very strong.
There’s a strong case for John Crowley’s Brooklyn to win big at the 88th Academy Awards, and we certainly wouldn’t dispute it. Set in the 1950s, the film follows an Irish immigrant played by the superb Saoirse Ronan, who moves to Brooklyn where she finds romance. But when her past catches up with her, she has some difficult decisions to make about love and where her future belongs.
It’s a story we can all relate to, the feelings of loneliness and being far away from home which lead to an emotional challenge to overcome these obstacles. Ronan puts in a sparkling performance as we see her journey from a naive young girl into a strong independent woman. Brooklyn deserves the recognition it has received and if you haven’t seen the film yet, then do so. And when you do, make sure you have a tissue or two at the ready, because the tears will stream.
- Inside Out
While the entire world became passionately engulfed in the Star Wars franchise, with the familiar title sequence causing the hairs on the backs of millions of necks to abruptly stand up – for some (very few) of us – there is a title card that generates even more excitement, and it’s that of the white table lamp jumping up and down on the letter “I” to mark the start of a brand new Pixar endeavour. That set-up is ineffably exciting, and Inside Out has a pay-off of epic proportions.
It’s another example of an animation studio who treats their audience with respect. Wall-E had barely a line of dialogue in the opening act, nor did Up, and this is another innovative, intelligent piece that offers as much to the parents in the audience as it does the children. The balance between comedy and pathos is perfect, too, as it will have you in stitches in parts and weeping in others. Most of that is down to Bing Bong, one of Pixar’s most endearing of creations. You almost want to cry just thinking about him. Just take be sure to take Riley to the moon, Joy.
- Ex Machina
It was a huge year for movies, but none of them were quite as atmospheric and timely as Ex Machina. Alex Garland’s directorial debut is a sublime look at a very possible near-future, where the consequences that come with playing God are not taken into account, and technology that was once used to connect the world is grossly perverted by cold, morally ambiguous minds. Oscar Isaac shines as the hard-living genius, Nathan Bateman, and rising star Domhnall Gleeson — who plays a ‘good kid’ way out of his element — matches him in a tense on-screen game of wits, deceit and discovery.
Both men become ant-sized when their wildest dreams come true, their technological aspirations realized: Artificial Intelligence with true sentience, indistinguishable from human life. Nathan and Caleb’s human drama is all but dismissed at the arrival of circuited, inorganic nightmare fuel: Ava (Alicia Vikander portrays her enigmatically, grasping a range of emotions that keeps us guessing) has infiltrated society as frozen, calculating, flawless opposition. It is the beginning of the end, where Gods among mankind must hand over the key to life. Expertly directed with graceful digital effects and a moody soundtrack, Ex Machina is the most important film of the year.
- Mad Max: Fury Road
On the surface, Mad Max: Fury Road is nothing more than one long chase movie. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll find… one long chase movie!
The difference is the breathtaking bravado, scintillating action, sumptuous cinematography and mind-boggling practical effects. It’s like nothing we’ve seen before; take the scene when we are properly introduced to the scantily-clad Brides, a gaggle of young, attractive females who are hosing themselves down in dreamy soft-focus and through a sexy heat haze. It’s like something out of a Fast and Furious film, but director George Miller deliberately catches the audience off-guard and quickly reminds us that it is the fearsome Furiosa (A superb Charlize Theron) who is really the star of the show. In a year where female characters have been rightly celebrated, Mad Max boasts the best one of the lot; if it means that Tom Hardy takes a back seat for the majority of the runtime, we’re okay with that.