The New Year always brings in a wealth of 'best of' lists, so in keeping with tradition, Blueprint: Review's writers are getting in on the action.
Personally I think it's been a pretty decent year. My top few picks feel set to be titles I'll be happy to revisit again and again. I have to go pretty far down my full lists of new releases watched before I find anything I really didn't like and even some right at the bottom had their moments. Maybe I'm being more picky with what I watch or less critical in my old age, but I had a lot of fun at the cinema this year.
If you're interested in what I saw in 2015 and beyond, I keep tabs of everything I watch, new or otherwise, at Letterboxd if anyone fancies following me. It's a cool site if you're not aware of it, offering a social network for film geeks and a place to track the films you've seen or want to see.
But anyway, on with the lists. Here are the top 10's from a handful of our contributors. As always let us know your thoughts in the comments section and feel free to include your own top 10.
9. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence - It's definitely an acquired taste and felt a bit too long, but the direction is masterful and the offbeat, dark and philosophically-tinged humour is a delight to behold.
8. The Lobster - It has its flaws (it's too long and Rachel Weisz' voiceover grates), but it makes up for these through its unique concept, warped sense of humour and powerful finale.
7. The Martian - This was the surprise of the year for me. I'd just about given up on Ridley Scott, but he delivered one of the most entertaining films of the year. Who'd have thought watching someone 'science the shit out of' an unfortunate predicament could be so funny?
6. Birdman - This just about came out in 2015 in the UK (January 1st I think) and I was late in watching it, so it made this year's list. It's crammed with comments and ideas on celebrity, the performance process and parenthood, to name but a few, yet manages to juggle them with ease. Maybe it tries to bite off a little more than it can chew and it's debatable how necessary the 'one shot' technique is. Nevertheless it's a joy to watch and showcases some amazing performances and technical prowess.
5. Song of the Sea - This is a beautiful animated film in every way. Not only does it look drop dead gorgeous with its unique and detailed art design, the story is also profoundly touching. It's a true family classic that deserves more recognition. It got an Oscar nomination last year, but no one seems to talk about it, despite it being better than most animated films of the last few years.
4. The Wolfpack - I saw a number of decent documentaries this year (Chuck Norris Vs. Communism, Red Army, Electric Boogaloo), but this is the only one to make my top 10 because it offered so much. Not only is the subject matter fascinating (5 brothers and their sister are locked away from the outside world by their over-bearing father), but the doc itself is moving, funny and becomes a surprising testament to the power of film.
3. Mad Max: Fury Road - Who'd have thought a 70 year old director could successfully resurrect a long dead franchise and inject it with enough rocket fuel to produce the best American action movie in years, if not decades. It's exhaustingly exciting, visually gobsmacking and the stunts are largely done for real which makes them so much more effective than most set pieces in the digitally washed out world of the current blockbuster.
2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Yes it's a retread of Episode IV and skims through its plot so swiftly that you can poke holes in it if you want. However, it's immensely entertaining, hugely re-watchable (I've already seen it 3 times) and exactly what the Star Wars franchise was originally all about - escapist entertainment of the highest order. Add to this some strong new central characters, including a decent female lead, and you're onto a winner.
1. Inside Out - I kept umming and ahhing about the order of my top 3 as I loved them all, but this ended up top because it's pretty much flawless in my eyes. I adore this film. It's emotionally powerful, very funny and manages to take some pretty deep and complex ideas and tie them together perfectly without getting drowned in explanation or exposition (Inception, ahem...). I loved every second of it and it had me in tears on numerous occasions, both times I watched it.
5. Mission Impossible Rogue Nation
3. Mad Max
2. Inside Out
1. Star Wars The Force Awakens
10. Black Coal, Thin Ice - Following as it did 2014’s wealth of incredible UK cinematic releases, this year was always going to be a struggle for me. Nothing on this top 10 will come close to matching my love for Inside Llewyn Davis and Her. Add to them The Grand Budapest Hotel, 12 Years a Slave, Only Lovers Left Alive, Goodbye to Language, Snowpiercer and We Are the Best, and 2015’s offerings felt rather meagre by comparison. That said, there were some great films to see, and it was still a struggle to decide what made the final cut, with Force Majeure and Ex Machina being the last two to miss out to this Chinese noir. I only saw Black Coal, Thin Ice recently, but I will be returning to it soon enough.
9. Clouds of Sils Maria - Having reviewed this earlier in the year I wasn’t wholly convinced, but when Clouds of Sils Maria is good (which it often is) it’s very good – a fantastic study on acting, the relationship between art and life and how the passage of time affects identity. See it at the very least for the fine performances from Kristen Stewart and Juliette Binoche.
8. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night - Its description as an Iranian vampire western had me intrigued, and the clear influence of David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch and James Dean made this a must see for me. Writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour has said that any meaning derived from the film is down to each individual viewer, but for me it’s one of the best feminist films of 2015 (along with Ex Machina).
7. Selma - The subject matter and performances make Selma an important movie, but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s lacking something as a film that slightly undercuts that importance. However, this is still a powerful and moving film that is sadly still incredibly timely and relevant.
6. Mistress America - While Noah Baumbach’s latest doesn’t hit the heights of Frances Ha or The Squid and the Whale, it’s still a big step up from his other release this year, While We’re Young. Lola Kirke is a delight and Greta Gerwig is, well, she’s Greta Gerwig. She’s awesome.
5. Mommy - Like Selma, there’s something a little uncinematic about Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, but it’s more suited to this intimate tale of a single mother struggling to look after her troubled 15-year-old son. Great use of pop music on the soundtrack too, particularly Lana Del Rey’s ‘Born to Die’ and ‘Young and Beautiful’ and a joyous scene set to one of Celine Dion’s French-language tunes. Didn’t think I’d ever enjoy anything Celine Dion-based – the power of cinema, eh?
4. Listen Up, Philip - While this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, a tale of arrogant literary arseholes and the people whose lives they ruin was certainly mine. Kudos to Jonathan Pryce, Jason Schwartzmann and Kristen Ritter, but it was Elisabeth Moss whose performance stole my heart. Another great showing from a female actor this past year, which I realise, as I write this, was absolutely littered with them.
3. Carol - On that note, ladies and gentlemen, may I present Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett. Almost every shot of Todd Haynes’ film is beautiful. I can’t remember how many times I thought a frame would look incredible as a still image. Again, having only seen Carol once I’m looking forward to repeat viewings, I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years time it’s moved up to the top spot on my best of 2015 list.
2. Timbuktu - Reviewing Timbuktu I called it a song of defiance, and an achingly human tapestry of hope and despair. It still holds that same power over me now. Whatever Selma was missing that didn’t quite do its subject matter justice, Timbuktu is lacking nothing. This film genuinely changed my outlook for the better, making a tiny bit more sense of today’s world.
1. Inherent Vice - This was probably always going to be my film of the year. Paul Thomas Anderson is one of my favourite filmmakers, and his previous two films, There Will Be Blood and The Master, would almost certainly make my all time top 10. Inherent Vice isn’t in that category, but it’s still good enough to take my top spot in 2015. Pynchon’s novel looks at the end of things, and this adaptation perfectly captures the death of an era in America with style, wit and an underlying sadness.
10. Jurassic World
9. John Wick
8. Kingsman: The Secret Service
5. The Voices
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
2. The Martian
I’m going to split these into two sections – those I saw at the cinema and those I saw on DVD/Blu-ray etc…
10. Furious 7
9. Terminator Genisys – Yet another sequel that turned out to be much better than expected, and it was great to see Arnie strutting his cyborg stuff for most of the film rather than it being just another extended cameo role.
8. Ant Man – This was really well done and tons more fun than it had any right to be, and was a far more satisfying superhero film than, say, the overly bloated Avengers: Age of Ultron.
7. Jurassic World – I wasn’t really expecting this to be any good, but it paid homage to the first movie, but with extra dinosaurs and came out a Prehistoric winner.
6. Inside Out – Another excellent animation film, this time from Pixar. Probably better suited for adults than for kids as there’s so much emotional depth here.
5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Much better than I’d anticipated, although it’s basically a reworking of Episode IV with a female scavenger instead of a male farmer as the lead…
4. Big Hero 6 – An excellent animated film that combines classic Japanese manga with classic digitised American animation.
3. John Wick – And talking of kicking arse – Keanu Reeves is excellent here as super retired assassin John Wick, out for revenge against those nasty guys who killed his…err, dog!
2. Kingsman: The Secret Service – I wasn’t really expecting much from this, but it turned out to be a lot of fun and Colin Firth really kicks arse. Whatever next? Woody Allen does ‘The Matrix’?
1. Mad Max: Fury Road – This was definitely the best surprise of the year with great action sequences and fantastic photography; pure honest to goodness cinema; a real treat.
Other mentions go to: Spy and Spectre, which looked amazing – just a shame about the weak script.
* In no particular order
The Revenant – I saw this as a hooky screener copy, but I was very impressed by the film – I’d recommend you definitely go and see this at the cinema – the photography is ‘to die for’.
It Follows – My horror film of the year – this really gets under your skin and is brilliantly acted by an excellent young cast. Check out my full review.
Ninja 2 – Scott Adkins is back, taking names and kicking ass and we love him for it. This is just great action/martial arts filled entertainment. Check out David's review.
Clown – My second favourite horror film of the year, and is another that comes with its own fresh mythology – recommended. Check out my review.
Electric Boogaloo – A very entertaining film-related documentary, one that casts a bright light into the history of Cannon Films. It’s just a pity that it’s so one-sided. Check out Dave’s review.
Night of the Wolf - Late Phases – Another cool horror film – this time dealing with OAPs and werewolves – an obvious match-up! Check out my full review elsewhere on this site.
The Imitation Game – A wonderful Oscar botherer concerning the work that Alan Turing and his team did during the Second World War; heart-warming and saddening, all at the same time.
Run All Night – Liam Neeson is on excellent form once again in this crime-laden drama, which also features the ever awesome Ed Harris.
The Gunman – Sean Penn proves he can ‘man-up’ for an action role with the best of them in this politically driven action-thriller flick that was way better than I’d expected it to be.
Tomorrowland: A World Beyond – A fun family movie that looks amazing and has a lot of fun with its off-kilter premise, although it doesn’t stand up to too much scrutiny.
Other mentions must go to:
Seventh Son – a fun fantasy film – not sure why this was so badly panned by the critics. Kung-Fu Killer – Donnie Yen knocks lots of bad guys ‘out of the park’ again in this very satisfying martial arts romp. Man-up and Get Hard – both silly American comedies, but decent enough time-wasters. ABCs of Death 2 – A better horror short compilation than the first one, with some genuine ‘out-there’ moments. Check out my review.
The Babadook – A great Australian horror; genuinely creepy too. Oculus – Another cool horror. I’d seen the short that this feature was an extended version of sometime ago and this was a really good longer version of that excellent short film. The Borrower – Great Sci-fi comedy horror from the director of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. The Mutations – Fun vintage horror from the early 70s, featuring Donald Pleasance and Tom Baker (Dr Who) in a weird tale of plant/human hybrids! Rings of Fear – Fabio Testi’s disturbing giallo, which is basically the unofficial third part of a ‘school girls in peril’ trilogy that started with What Have They Done to Solange? and continued with What have they done to your daughters? Knife for the Ladies – Larry Spangler’s horror western, which plays out like Jack the Ripper in the Wild West with interesting results, although I could see the twist ending coming a mile off! Blood Glacier – A fun European version of The Thing, which I sincerely hope they do a follow-up film to. Check out Bill’s review for more information. Dead Heat – A fun zombie cop film with Treat Williams and a wheelbarrow full of added cheese.
10. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
8. Mad Max: Fury Road
7. Force Majeure
6. Inherent Vice
4. Diary of a Teenage Girl
3. Cartel Land
1. The Duke of Burgundy
(Calculated by placement, so 10 points for 1st, 9 for 2nd etc. Plus 'no particular order' top 10 listings got 5 per film)
9 - The Duke of Burgundy/John Wick (joint with 10 points)
8 - Kingsman: The Secret Service (12)
7 - The Martian (13)
5 - Birdman/Inherent Vice (joint with 15 points)
4 - Whiplash (19)
3 - Inside Out (24)
2 - Star Wars: The Force Awakens (25)
1 - Mad Max: Fury Road (37)
So Blueprint: Review's overall favourite film of 2015 was Mad Max, by a fair margin. I can't say I can argue with that, even though it wasn't my number one. Hopefully the Academy have the guts to give it the attention it deserves come Oscar night.
So that's it for another year. I hope you've all watched some great films and are looking forward to another year of movie watching. Darren and I might get off our lazy arses and record an end of year podcast, but it might be a waste of time now our lists are up. I'd like to say that we'll be better at recording episodes this year, but with a second baby on the way, I'm unlikely to have much free time. Keep an eye out though as I'm sure we'll squeeze a few in here and there.
Happy New Year!