It has been such a solid and varied year for movies, which makes compiling an end of year list even more difficult. All of the following have seen UK releases in 2015. While they may say 2014, or even 2013 in some instances on IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes, these have had a general and/or limited release in the UK, in 2015 (according to filmdates.co.uk) – this is the criteria. There is no point making a list including festival releases, or films that aren’t even released here yet.
Most of the below are now available either on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Prime, Vimeo or still being shown in a variety of cinemas like Curzon, Picturehouse, Vue, Everyman, Odeon etc in the build up to the Oscars. There were many that didn’t make the cut, try not to be offended if one of your favourite films wasn’t as high as you would like it to be.
Also, I’m going to caveat this list by saying that I am still yet to see Still Alice, Carol, Clouds of Sils Maria, Blind, Star Wars, Black Mass, Spring and Mistress America – all potential films that could have ended up on this list. There simply isn’t enough time in the year to do what I wanted to do, and cross off all these films. Having seen some 180 odd films this year, it’s pretty understandable.
On a final note, documentaries are not included below, they warranted their own list for sheer quantity of fantastic documentaries on offer this year. Look out for this in the next few days.
Without any further delay, here are my top 30 films of 2015.
A widowed single mother, raising her violent son alone, finds new hope when a mysterious neighbor inserts herself into their household.
Xavier Dolan is back with another mother themed film, following on from his imposing feature I Killed My Mother, he uses Mommy to explore the rift that can occur when parental responsibility and accountability is tested to the extremes. Realistic performances across the board leave you with a sense that this is less of a film, but more of a window into their lives, which makes the film even harder to swallow at times. Fierce, violent, yet full of love and warmth, it is a challenging film not only for the odd choice of the square aspect ratio. An exciting director, and this stands as another step in the right direction.
29. Big Hero 6
The special bond that develops between plus-sized inflatable robot Baymax, and prodigy Hiro Hamada, who team up with a group of friends to form a band of high-tech heroes.
This film is not short of accolades; winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and receiving nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Feature Film, and the BAFTA Award for Best Animated Film, it is no wonder it took in excess of $650m at the box office. Graphically, it is up there with the likes of Up, Bolt, Monsters Inc and The Incredibles. Sharp, crisp, creative, colourful and vibrant, it is everything you expect it to be and more. Focussing on the blank, expressionless face of Baymax the robot, it comes filled with the expected Disney features as they deal with the very human, emotional challenges in what appears to us as a very non-human, unfamiliar world. Fun for all ages.
28. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Ethan and team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate – an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF.
My expectation heading into this film was for something completely and utterly mindless, filled with double-crosses, stunts and nonsense. Above all else, it had to possess the slightest elements of realism, but be so ridiculous that every scene becomes an internal struggle between laughing and genuine awe. With the audible disappointment of James Bond still lingering, and the last Bourne installment failing to live up to expectation, I can safely say that Mission Impossible has successfully stepped in to fill this void.It is every bit as ridiculous and nonsensical as I had hoped for, and it showed no signs of slowing down right until the end. Those looking for a break from the bleak world of today, one where the good guys actually stand a chance of winning, then look no further than Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.
27. Beasts of No Nation
A drama based on the experiences of Agu, a child soldier fighting in the civil war of an unnamed African country.
There was something deeply sickening about Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Netflix released Beasts of No Nation. Much in the same way that many films set in reality are these days, the reality is often not all that pretty. The end result in this instance is a seemingly endless display of gunfire, bloodshed and torment for anyone and everyone within this civil war. It felt a little unnecessary at times as it lost its focus on the main story, like a better produced, better acted, better looking Rambo. However, given the subject matter you can look past that and see the film for what it is; a stark and honest portrayal of events that are taking place on a daily basis all over Africa. With a solid cast, a surprisingly good lead in Abraham Attah and stirring cinematography, there is beauty within Beasts of No Nation; an odd contrast to see, and a film worth seeing.
26. I Am Yours
Mina is a young single mother living in Oslo with her 6 year old son Felix. She is of Norwegian Pakistani descent with a troubled family relationship. Constantly looking for love, Mina seeks affections from the men she hooks up with.
Originally released in 2013, this only found its way to UK shores in 2015. Holding 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, and the Norwegian Oscar Submission in 2013, I am surprised at the lack of recognition among UK audiences. I Am Yours is brutally honest, and this debut feature from Iram Haq based on her own experiences has successfully conveyed an interesting and memorable story into a smart, great looking film. It not only manages to capture part of Iram Haq’s life so well, but highlights the fragility and vulnerability of relationships. It is one of life’s situations that can leave you feeling both immensely secure but equally exposed. Amrita Acharia (Irri from Game of Thrones) commands the screen with an impressive lead performance, one that completely elevates the film to a whole other level.
25. Love is Strange
After Ben and George get married, George is fired from his teaching post, forcing them to stay with friends separately while they sell their place and look for cheaper housing — a situation that weighs heavily on all involved.
A slow and simple film depicting the strength you can find in a relationship when life throws obstacles at you, and the difficulties faced in gaining perspective and understanding while making small but necessary sacrifices for family. The film is crisply shot, lots of long and artistic cinematic shots, set to a tinkering piano backdrop in lower Manhattan – it is a very mature affair and a breath of fresh air. It is a tender yet bittersweet tale, an expertly told story regarding the importance of family, the trials and tribulations of marriage and above all else, how nice it is to find ‘true love’. This is not your typical romantic drama, nor is there anything ‘strange’ about it.
Life changes for Malcolm, a geek who’s surviving life in a tough neighborhood, after a chance invitation to an underground party leads him and his friends into a Los Angeles adventure.
What has often tended to be a bleak, controversial and sympathetic affair with respect to inner-city coming of age stories, is instead turned on its head and has presented the audience with a fun little caper. Cinematographer Rachel Morrison has given the film a bright energy, paired with a great soundtrack and a talented cast, which results in this incredible blend of humour and nostalgia in Rick Famuyiwa’s surreal and manic world. It’s films like this that give me confidence in the fact that we will continue to get original and exciting cinema on our screens. Dope reminds us that films don’t always have to be depressing and serious.
A working girl tears through Tinseltown on Christmas Eve searching for the pimp who broke her heart.
Off the back of the highly-recommended Starlet, Writer/Director Sean Baker showcases his newest film Tangerine, one that broke all sorts of preconceived expectations, notions of usual practice and wowed Sundance audiences. Shooting the entire film on iPhone 5’s, albeit filtered later in post-production, the film has a neon like tint, a dizzying yet exciting vibe to it. Casting Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and May Taylor, two transgender actresses who had never acted before, this tumultuous comedy set within the confines of a single day provides one of the more unique films experiences you will see. Original, raw and emotional, this is a truly brilliant film.
22. Catch Me Daddy
Laila, a girl on the run from her family is hiding out in West Yorkshire with her drifter boyfriend Aaron. When her brother arrives in town with a gang of thugs in tow, she is forced to flee for her life and faces her darkest night.
Catch Me Daddy is an unsettling work of art. A realistic thriller that will surely satisfy those who look for the brooding, minimalist films. While it takes its time at certain points, it doesn’t take long before you are thrust back into the intense unknown. It steers clear from making any strong political or religious judgement on the individuals involved, and rather presents it as a sequence of events for you to inject your own feelings into. This is carried right until the final scene, in an ending that will surely divide opinion, but should leave you absolutely speechless. A standout performance for Sameena Jabeen Ahmed, incredible cinematography from Robbie Ryan and an eerie soundtrack, this is a film that has everything going for it.
An Irish immigrant lands in 1950s Brooklyn, where she quickly falls into a new romance. When her past catches up with her, however, she must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within.
A truly heart-warming film, made unique by the fact that there isn’t a bad person within it. Torn between a situational and emotional choice, Saoirse Ronan gives an outstanding performance in the lead role, taking part in essentially every scene. This period romantic drama is the perfect film for the entire family to enjoy, filled with lighthearted humour, emotional depth that surpassed my expectations for a film of this type. It is not my usual go-to film, but the subtlety displayed in this romance drew me in when compared to the dross pumped out in the usual over-the-top soap opera styled films.
20. Straight Outta Compton
The group NWA emerges from the mean streets of Compton in Los Angeles, California, in the mid-1980s and revolutionizes Hip Hop culture with their music and tales about life in the hood.
Another musical biopic released last year was Straight Outta Compton, centred around NWA’s rise to the top in an ever-increasingly volatile period of race relations in the US. With an outstanding cast, a fantastic soundtrack, and the action packed intensity to carry this film the full 147 minute running time, I was still left wanting more. It was not without its controversies though, and this film for the most part does gloss over some of the more questionable moments in this groups career. That being said, it can’t detract from the undeniable brilliance of their careers – whether you love hip hop or not, this film deserves to be seen. I’m off to seek out the directors cut.
A cattle herder and his family who reside in the dunes of Timbuktu find their quiet lives — which are typically free of the Jihadists determined to control their faith — abruptly disturbed.
A slow paced film, made up of many individual stories that come together with one overriding and timely theme, and that is the theme of oppression in the name of religion. Sickening, infuriating and above all else, haunting, this depicting of Muslims under the rule of other Muslims is a message that cannot be taken lightly. Outstanding cinematography and understated performances allows for a truthful representation of these real life scenarios, presented in a methodical and convincing way at the hands of director Abderrahmane Sissako. Perhaps too quiet and slow for some, but one that is worth sticking with until the end.
18. Me Earl & The Dying Girl
High schooler Greg, who spends most of his time making parodies of classic movies with his co-worker Earl, finds his outlook forever altered after befriending a classmate who has just been diagnosed with cancer.
The danger with these types of films is that it can become so formulaic and predictable, yet this goes out of its way to ensure that it doesn’t happen. A fresh-faced cast, and an ending that although (somewhat controversially) given away at the beginning of the film, it still manages to move you. There is nothing artificial about the characters in this film, nobody comes out smelling of roses, and it is this raw feeling with original messaging means that I could emotionally invest in the characters. Judging by the box office takings, this film has been hugely underrated and deserves to be seen by a wider audience. Mismatched friendships, how to deal with a terminal illness and the struggles of surviving high-school are all tackled in a distinctive way, and it’s one of my favourite films of the year.
17. John Wick
An ex-hitman comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that took everything from him.
Keanu utters so few words in this stylish, violent, revenge movie that the less said the better. Rarely has an action film captivated me the way John Wick has done. Clocking in at just over the 90 minute mark, this is a film that is as accurate and concise as John Wick’s shooting. No need for anything too extravagant, no need for a huge budget – just give the guy a gun and shoot the bad guys. The kill count in this film deserves to singled out, as this infographic cleverly illustrates, John Wick does not miss a beat. Now I am not one for glamourising and/or promoting violence, but this film shows you what a dangerous person looks like. With all the sophistication and nonchalance of James Bond, but with the lethal eye for a kill like Statham and Neeson’s typecast roles, this is a middle-aged man with a score to settle.
An idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by a government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.
This is director Denis Villeneuve’s second appearance on this list, but I won’t spoil where he appears next, however others may remember him from 2014’s incredible film Prisoners. In what is a predominantly English-speaking film, the film actually has minimal dialogue, and instead as a series of covert and subsequent explosive operations, much of the emotion is conveyed through a single glance. As a result, Sicario is gracing top 10 lists around the world, predominantly due to the immense work by Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro in the two lead roles. It is an intense thriller, with occasional moments of brutality, culminating in a final act that will have you on the edge of your seat.
15. Inside Out
After young Riley is uprooted from her Midwest life and moved to San Francisco, her emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness – conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house, and school.
It what is arguably Pixar’s most challenging film to date, they attempt to depict the goings-on of a child’s mind through characterisation of her emotions. It is far more intelligent than it first might seem, offering up relatable references and explanations to things such as memory and subconscious, but most importantly for the child in all of us, imagination. This is a true Pixar classic for all the right reasons, taking on what can be perceived to be quite a mature subject matter in comparison to their other films, and transforming it into a fun, emotionally engaging, entertaining film for all ages.
14. It Follows
After a young girl gets involved in a sexual confrontation, she is followed by an unknown force.
It Follows received a lot of praise upon release, but also a lot of stick. People labelling this horror as “shit” because there were no “jump scares” angered me to the extent of writing an article on The Subjectivity of Fear and how the notion of being universally scared is practically impossible to achieve. It Follows is not a scary film, at least to me, and I’ve explained why, but that doesn’t make it shit. An impressive score, excellent cinematography and some funny but convincing performances meant that It Follows was able to do what very few other films have done to me, and that’s just do enough to unsettle me. It’s unique take on sex within horror, using it as a catalyst for impending unstoppable dread was chilling at times, overwhelmingly uncomfortable at others – overall, it lingered over me long after I got home. You won’t have seen a film like it for a while, but go in with an open mind and see if you enjoy it… and if you don’t, perhaps that’s the point.
13. The Theory of Everything
This is the extraordinary story of one of the world’s greatest living minds, the renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who falls deeply in love with fellow Cambridge student Jane Wilde.
There was and still is a bit of controversy about this film. Did it gloss over Stephens horrible treatment of his wife, and should Eddie Redmayne have “cripped up” for the role? I’d prefer not to get into it, but the awards speak for themselves regarding Eddie’s performance, and as for the truth, well you can seek out the memoir it was based on and form your own opinion. As it stands though, this biopic serves as a fantastic portrayal of an extraordinary love story with two great performances.
12. Force Majeure
A family on a ski holiday in the French Alps find themselves staring down an avalanche during lunch one day; in the aftermath, their dynamic has been shaken to its core, with a question mark hanging over their patriarch in particular.
“Force Majeure“, takes all the sheer awkwardness of that shit-eating grin from Ben Affleck in Gone Girl, and drags it out to nearly two hours in an unflinching yet realistic portrayal of the relationship dynamic on holiday. It is a film that makes you question yourself. What would you do in that situation? The realism is further emphasised by the performances across the board in this beautiful film, all seemingly natural and relatable, which results in a very humanistic approach. However it still manages to maintain a darkly comical undercurrent, resulting in what is ultimately an uncomfortable watch. There is a little bit of all of us on-screen here, whether we like to admit it or not.
11. Love & Mercy
In the 1960s, Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson struggles with emerging psychosis as he attempts to craft his avant-garde pop masterpiece. In the 1980s, he is a broken, confused man under the 24-hour watch of shady therapist Dr. Eugene Landy.
Great performances (in particular from Paul Dano), direction and screenwriting make Love & Mercy a real joy to watch, but still remain ultimately chilling at many points. That being said, Brian Wilson’s story could have easily been exploited for cheap sympathy, but instead it appears as an ambitious insertion into the musician biopic genre. It shows the true genius of an inspiring and talented individual, set against a carefully selected soundtrack of his greatest musical works, but more importantly, shows us how he got to make them.
10. Wild Tales
Six short stories that explore the extremities of human behavior involving people in distress.
Wild Tales is an anthology like no other. 6 short stories, with no connection, apart from the reoccurring theme of insanity from what at first appears to be innocent and mundane situation. A wedding, a chance encounter, a meal in a restaurant or having your car towed, each on their own sound relatively normal – not in Damian Szifron’s world, where these are escalated to unpredictable and outright ridiculous heights. Shocking, yes, but also immensely funny.
9. The New Girlfriend
A young woman makes a surprising discovery about the husband of her late best friend.
It is a suspenseful drama, if not slightly ridiculous at times, but incredibly intimate, fun and clever. The New Girlfriend plays with the audience throughout the entire film, and it only adds to its charm. As the story progresses, we are tested in our perceptions of gender, sexuality, grief, relationships and identity. It does not remain with a single theme, a single character or a single issue – this is a complicated situation for all involved and it is handled delicately, with great care and understanding. A remarkable film by François Ozon, with a fantastic lead performance by Romain Duris.
8. The Duke of Burgundy
A woman who studies butterflies and moths tests the limits of her relationship with her lesbian lover.
The Duke of Burgundy was painted to the masses via Time Out and The Evening Standard as an S&M film, however those in attendance at the premiere were quick to point out, that is certainly not ’50 Shades of Grey’. They went on to say, “50 Shades of Grey is Ann Summers, The Duke of Burgundy is Agent Provocateur“, much to a loud scoff of laughter from the audience. This is a decadent piece of alternative erotica, following a short time period of two women, both butterfly and moth enthusiasts, who explore their sensual, emotional and physical desires through a series of S&M role-plays. This mysterious film doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s impeccably shot and the performances were some of the best of the year. I urge you to seek this one out.
A man seeks out his exact look-alike after spotting him in a movie.
Originally released in 2013, it finally found it’s way to UK cinemas this year. Based on José Saramago’s 2002 novel “The Double”, we see the pairing of Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Incedies) and Jake Gyllenhaal shot before, but released after, their highly successful film “Prisoners”. It’s difficult to describe this film without giving too much away, the ambiguity leaves this entirely to your own interpretation – even Villeneuve has made no comment as to what the shocking ending means.
A washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.
Another film that did extremely well at the awards in 2015, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest film, is simply in a league of it’s own compared to the likes of his previous outings Babel and Amores Perros. Both of those are worth watching in their own right with their fragmented, overlapping story lines, equally bleak and depressing. But Birdman is an altogether different beast, and takes on a completely different style. Addressing celebrity status, the rise of social media, the role of the film critic, the superhero franchises, the desire to be loved and many more aspects; it was the complete package, and a career revival for Michael Keaton.
5. Ex Machina
A young programmer is selected to participate in a groundbreaking experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I.
Sci-fi is a genre I’ve slowly been warming to over the last few years, but every now and then a film stands out for all the right reasons. Director/Screenwriter Alex Garland’s has an impressive back-catalogue, with such films as 28 Days Later, Dredd and Never Let Me Go to his name, and now proud to stand among them is the eerily captivating Ex Machina. With an excellent cast in Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson, a fantastically spooky score and a tweaky idea not so far removed from the realms of possibility, it’s a real gem of a film that took me by surprise.
A promising young drummer enrolls at a cut-throat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by an instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student’s potential.
This was a film that I caught at last years London Film Festival, and while it appeared on many lists last year, it only reached UK cinemas nationwide in 2015. Scooping up several awards as predicted, this is a truly stunning film and is fully deserved of the praise it received. A standing ovation on the night at the London Film Festival, and winner of the Grand Jury Prize at this years Sundance Film Festival, there really isn’t another film like Whiplash.
3. White God
Thirteen-year-old Lili fights to protect her dog Hagen. She is devastated when her father eventually sets Hagen free on the streets. Still innocently believing love can conquer any difficulty, Lili sets out to find her dog and save him.
Kornél Mundruczó’s Budapest set thriller, White God, is simply jaw-dropping. A strange cross between Homeward Bound and Hitchcock’s The Birds, it uses 274 dogs in total (most of which were found in animal shelters) to convey absolute disorder and mayhem as a dog called “Hagen” attempts to reunite itself with his owner. It is brash, different and a truly unique viewing experience, with a powerful socio-political metaphor at its core. It took me all year to watch it, and now currently available on Netflix, there’s no excuse not to give these dogs their day.
2. Mad Max
A woman rebels against a tyrannical ruler in post apocalyptic Australia in search for her homeland with the help of a group of female prisoners, a psychotic worshiper, and a drifter named Max.
I haven’t seen, and still haven’t seen the original Mad Max films. It partly explains why I waited so long to watch this film, having only managed to get round to viewing this in December after seeing it crop up on so many end of year lists. Quite rightly so, and as I was found once again asking myself, why the hell did I wait so long to watch this? George Miller’s adaptation/interpretation of the insanity that is Mad Max can barely be justified in a few words. It completely changes the game in terms of the action genre, the sheer size of it all is underpinned by an immense level of intricate detail and it never stops amazing you. Charleze Theron is flawless, Tom Hardy is essentially speechless and you are left breathless.
JOINT 1st: The Lobster
In a dystopian near future, single people, according to the laws of The City, are taken to The Hotel, where they are obliged to find a romantic partner in forty-five days or are transformed into beasts and sent off into The Woods.
A clearly divisive film, judging by the reaction of comments on many other critics end of year lists, this film didn’t always hit home like it was supposed to. Perhaps they were unfamiliar with the work of the director before, went in expecting something completely different, or maybe it was just too absurd. I however, believe it is a sharp analysis of the way relationships are perceived now, even if it is utterly absurd. It may appear at times depressing, and at others you won’t be able to stop laughing, but there was no doubt in my mind, that this was my favourite film of the year.
JOINT 1ST: World of Tomorrow
A little girl is taken on a mind-bending tour of her distant future.
In joint first place, this 15 minute short film won’t take up much room, but it is fully deserving of the top spot. I can’t seem to shake this film from my mind. It’s invaded my dreams, as is usually the case for Don Hertzfeldt’s uniquely entertaining take on life. Off the back of the recent Simpsons couch gag and his feature-length cartoon “It’s Such A Beautiful Day” from 2012, Hertzfeldt comprises his past year of work which was initially a foray into testing his boundaries of digital animation, into a futuristic short tale detailing what life is like in some 237 years time from now. Available on Vimeo to stream for a small cost, you won’t have seen anything quite like this before.