2015 was a great year for film; at least it was if you live in the UK. In the US and various other regions more than one of the movies on this list would be classified as a 2014 film, which would definitely lower the standard. However, as far as I’m concerned a film belongs to 2015 if it was released during that year in my country, so “John Wick”, “Birdman”, etc., are fair game.
I’m sure that plenty of people will disagree with this list and its order, which is fine, but unless you’ve spent many hours developing your opinions and are willing to tell me why I’m wrong with pages of A4, please accept that our tastes differ. I just didn’t love movies like “Ex Machina”, “Spectre”, “The Martian”, or “Sicario”, so they won’t appear on this list.
Also, it goes without saying, but I haven’t seen every film that was released over the course of the past year. If I’ve left something off the list that you think was worthy of a place then it might just be that I didn’t see it, either because there were problems in my life that got in the way, or because I simply didn’t want to; “Crimson Peak”, “The Walk”, “Inside Out”, and “Bridge of Spies” are prime examples of films that I wanted to see and might’ve really enjoyed, but just couldn’t find the time for. I’m doing this list now because it feels appropriate and because by this time next year nobody will care what happened in 2015, but it should be clear that if I’d have waited till then the list would be different; “Calvary” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” would definitely be on my 2014 list had I wrote it today rather than at the end of that year, which goes to show that things can change.
“Macbeth” is a bit of an outlier on this list, which is perhaps why I enjoyed it as much as I did. In a movie landscape populated by grandiose blockbusters, sequels, prequels, and superhero flicks, this film was a refreshing change. “Macbeth” sets itself apart by telling an age old tale written by Shakespeare himself in a beautiful modern way, and it does this whilst still preserving the heart of the original work. It’s a wonderful merging of careful cinematography, terrific acting, and perfect casting, which allows both fans of classic literature and mainstream audiences to appreciate the brilliance of a story which most are already familiar with. “Macbeth” could easily appear right at the top of this list because of how flawlessly it was executed and how relevant its themes still are today, but personally I connected with other films that little bit more in 2015.
- John Wick
From “MacBeth” to “John Wick”… maybe I’m losing it in my old age. It speaks volumes of the weird and wonderful world of cinema that those two films can be so different yet so good, and that one person can enjoy both of them regardless of how dissimilar they are.
“John Wick” doesn’t contain the complexity or duplicity that “MacBeth’s” story can boast, nor does it have a single performance as good as Michael Fassbender’s or Marion Cotillard’s as Macbeth and Lady MacBeth respectively. However, what it does have is gun-fu, ridiculous action sequences which are wonderfully choreographed, and a revenge tale that every animal lover can get behind.
When assessing “John Wick” it’s easy to get lost in whether or not what it’s doing is as worthy of praise as other films on this list, after all, it isn’t telling a Shakespearean story of tragedy and the trappings of the human condition. But, in my opinion, what matters is how well the filmmakers pull off their intentions, rather than whether or not those intentions are in some way more worthwhile or ‘better’. “John Wick” is an action movie in the mould of some of our most treasured films; “Die Hard”, “Commando”, and even “Terminator” are beloved because they tell the story of one person triumphing against all the odds, and that’s what we see here. It’s just a film that is utterly enjoyable to watch, and that’s why it deserves a place on my list.
- The Gift
“The Gift” was a real surprise for me this year; after seeing the trailer I wasn’t excited at all to see it, but my brother persuaded me that it was worth watching so I gave it the benefit of the doubt – I’m glad that I did. What impressed me the most about “The Gift” was how smart and considered it was; the story was formulated in such a way that as a viewer I was never quite sure what exactly was going on, which in turn led to various different theories flying around in my mind. At the start I got the feeling that Gordo (played by Joel Edgerton) really was a weirdo, as the trailer suggested, but as the film went on that feeling was challenged multiple times – the intrigue that this created, along with Simon’s (Jason Bateman) strange behaviour towards him, made for an incredibly immersive and interesting experience.
None of this would matter if the movie’s ending didn’t provide a satisfying pay-off, but thankfully it really does. You can take it in whichever way you like, and you can come to your own conclusions about the truth, but no matter what you will feel both disturbed and strangely gratified when the end credits roll. “The Gift” is a slow burn, but it’s constantly entertaining and engaging, with three terrific lead performances and layered characters.
- The Theory of Everything
When I saw “The Theory of Everything” I really liked it; I thought it was a brilliantly executed movie and that the performances were outstanding. Stephen Hawking’s life story is such a wonderful example of how one person can overcome incredibly difficult circumstances and succeed in the face of adversity, which is conveyed perfectly through the power of Eddie Redmayne’s performance.
However, the reason why I liked it as much as I did originally was that it moved me emotionally given the place that I was at in my life – I’m not in that place anymore, so it doesn’t hit me in the same way. I still appreciate “The Theory of Everything” for its execution and the beauty of the story that it tells, and obviously I value the reaction that I had to it initially, but I feel a lot less enthused by it now. It’s great and has a solid place on this list, but the reason that it isn’t higher is that I’m not the person who saw the film back in January anymore, so the way I feel about it is importantly different.
- Big Hero 6
“Big Hero 6” was my favourite animated film of 2015. Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit) is such a memorable and loveable character, and the art style behind the whole film is really striking. There’s a lot to like about “Big Hero 6”, from the setting to the story, and it’s a film which both adults and children can enjoy. Great characters, excellent animation, and a well-told story make it a fantastic film worthy of the Oscar that it won in February.
Music has the power to influence people and make them feel a certain way, and so does “Whiplash”. I’m not a musician, I’m not a fan of jazz, and I definitely can’t play the drums, yet this movie made me feel like those three things were the most important things in the world. I left the theatre after seeing “Whiplash” feeling upbeat, excited, and triumphant, and I walked back to the bus stop with a skip in my step. I loved the way that Andrew (Miles Teller) placed success above everything else in his life, and how his ambition drove him towards self-destruction. I loved how Terence (J. K. Simmons) unashamedly tried to get the best out of his students and how he put this ahead of their emotional and even physical well-being. I just enjoyed everything about the movie, and personally I liked both of the leading characters for their ruthlessness and their drive.
I’ll admit that my feelings towards “Whiplash” are probably a bit over the top, because it isn’t the most grand movie in terms of spectacle, and it isn’t particularly surprising in how it tells its story, but there’s just something great about it. If I see the DVD when I’m out shopping it makes me smile, and when I think back to seeing it at the cinema I remember just how much I enjoyed it. I loved it, I connected with it, and it was utterly memorable.
“Birdman” is flawless in basically every way. If this list was designed to state the ‘best’ films of 2015 then I suppose it would have to be at the top for its technical achievements. Nevertheless, I don’t think that writing a list like that would actually be a fair reflection of my opinions, or be useful in any way. I have no authority to decide which films should be seen as the best; I don’t know what the best film of the past year was outright because, at the end of the day, I haven’t seen everything! It isn’t up to me to decide what makes a movie objectively better than hundreds of others, so that isn’t the purpose of my writing this list.
Even if “Birdman” is the best film of 2015, I can say with confidence that it isn’t my favourite. I liked it a lot and I found it very enjoyable to watch, which is why it’s so high on this list, but I loved the three movies I’ve placed above it substantially more. The social commentary that “Birdman” presents is at times hilarious, and when you couple that with fantastic performances from Edward Norton and Michael Keaton it’s hard not to admire the film, but I didn’t have as good a time watching it as I did my top three.
- Star Wars : The Force Awakens
The last film I saw in 2015 also happens to be one of my favourites. As a starting point I should say that I’m not actually a massive “Star Wars” fan, so my feelings towards this film aren’t the result of bias. I like the series, I appreciate its influence on pop culture, but for me there’s nothing about “Star Wars” that makes me feel the sense of wonder that I do when I think about something like “The Lord of the Rings”. However, I loved “The Force Awakens”, and I thought it had a sense of fun that’s rare to find in modern cinema.
The way that J. J. Abrams managed to tell a new story whilst keeping a sense of familiarity was admirable to say the least, and on top of that the characters that we’re going to see again moving forward such as BB-8, Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac) were all instantly memorable and likeable. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) was also suitably detestable as the villain of the piece, and I’m looking forward to seeing his evolution as a character in the next film.
The only thing that perhaps lets “The Force Awakens” down is the fact that for me it was slightly too influenced by Disney, in that at certain points the action felt cartoonish and characters didn’t seem as though they could possibly be in genuine danger. Still, that’s not really something new for “Star Wars”, and it’s not as if the stakes weren’t raised at important junctures. All in all, I thought this movie was an excellent way to keep existing fans happy whilst also bringing a new generation of movie-goers to the party, which is exactly what the doctor ordered.
- Straight Outta Compton
“Straight Outta Compton” is as visceral and pulsating as the music that inspired it. The film begins with the members of N.W.A struggling to deal with life in Compton, mixed up in violence and dealing with police brutality, and this informs the events which follow. Starting in this way allows the audience to empathise with the characters and understand their actions, and it made every word that the group uttered whilst on stage feel that bit more meaningful; when the group performed ‘Fuck Tha Police’ I could understand the reason why it was written in the first place, and this gave me as an audience member an emotional connection to the song’s lyrics.
One of the major issues with “Straight Outta Compton” is that it leaves out certain significant moments in its character’s lives, such as Dr. Dre’s altercation with Dee Barnes, but for me this wasn’t really a problem. History is told by winners, and at the end of the day this film was funded by Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and a few others. It isn’t their priority to show themselves in a damaging light; they’re businessmen and they want to promote both themselves and their music, past and present. The best way to do that is with a movie which glorifies their lives. I personally don’t have an issue with that because “Straight Outta Compton” is just a movie; it’s designed to entertain and to explore a certain narrative, it isn’t a documentary.
With that said, I think this is most definitely one of the most entertaining movies of 2015, and I also think that the performances from the entire cast were excellent. There’s very little to dislike, and despite the fact that it’s quite excessive in length, I didn’t want it to end.
- It Follows
“It Follows” isn’t perfect, I want to make that clear. The story and even its basic premise can be scrutinised given enough thought; the creature which plagues the protagonists is meant to walk towards them relentlessly, and it seems as though that’s all it can do, or else it would just kill its targets as quickly as possible. However, at many points in the film the creature demonstrates that it can actually do a variety of things – it appears on a roof, it crawls, and it shows that it’s physically strong. Still, there’s a reason that the creature spends most of its time ‘following’ the heroes of the piece, and it’s this reason, along with the sheer brilliance of the idea behind the film and a wonderful score, which makes “It Follows” my favourite movie of 2015.
I know that a lot of people take issue with this film because they want answers – they want to know what the creature is, what its motivations are, and how Jay (Maika Monroe) could possibly defeat it. I get that. Nonetheless, bringing up that very issue is in itself missing what is so bloody awesome about this movie! There are no answers in “It Follows”, not for the audience and not for the characters. They’re constantly being chased by something that they will never understand, something which is completely unknown to them. They’ll try to avoid it, and at various junctures they’ll succeed, but ultimately it will catch up and they will lose. That’s life, and that in my eyes is exactly what this film is really about (well, that and sexual vulnerability, but we aren’t in film class and I don’t plan on writing an essay here).
No one can cheat death, and it is always there behind us, no matter what we do. The creature in this movie is much the same; it lurks in the background as our protagonists try to live their lives, and no matter where they go or what they do it will always be there. It won’t do anything spectacular to catch them, at least not on a regular basis, but when they slip up it will appear. That’s why this movie is so goddamn scary, and it’s why I couldn’t stop thinking about it after seeing it at the cinema.
“It Follows” really has stuck with me, and I think it always will; it’s probably my favourite horror movie of all time, which is saying something because I really do love a good horror film. Not only that, but I play the game that Jay and Hugh (Jake Weary) play at the beginning of the movie in my head all the time; I survey a crowd and think which person I would like to be, and then the thought of the horrible creature pops into my head and I feel nervous. I even look around when I’m walking around town and think what it would be like if there really was someone following me, glassy eyed, creeping ever closer. I’m not looking around in fear, nor do I actually expect to see someone there doing anything creepy, it’s just that because of how much this film affected me I feel the need to look.
I just love “It Follows”, and I’d defend it to the death despite its inconsistencies. Last year when I wrote my list of favourite films I knew that in my mind “Gone Girl” had to be at the top, and I was comfortable with making a case for it, but I didn’t feel passionate about it. With this movie I really do, and although I know that there are people who live in the same house as me that think that it’s utter crap, it doesn’t change my opinion. If you haven’t seen it then I would recommend that you give it a chance, but make sure to leave the light on and lock your door afterwards!