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The Best 10 Films of 2015

Firstly I know its nearly been a year but life has been busy and I've been occupied with other pursuits. Not so much a New Year's resolution and more to recommence an outlet I haven't been involved with actively for the last 12 months, I will make a concerted effort to update the blog more frequently going forwards.

Now with that out of the way, get ready to read my Best 10 films of 2015.

Cinema has had an interesting year with some huge films as well as independent pictures that not only took me by surprise but were a firm reminder why the medium is a fantastic way to entertain and deeply connect with audiences.

Let's run down the list for 2015...

10. It Follows

The first in the list is a film that not only channels the off-kilter mood and feel of the likes of John Carpenter straight of the 1980s but is as ambiguous as it is horrifying.

It Follows tells the story of late-teenage female protagonist Jay (played by the promising and upcoming actress Maika Monroe) who makes love with her boyfriend for the first time. Unbeknowst to her, rather than as a mere act of love, the boyfriend has more selfish intentions at heart with his main purpose being to remove a curse that causes its bearer to be constantly pursued (albeit always at a steady walking pace) by the 'creature' in the film.

Taken as a straight up B-movie horror tale or a compelling message about the risks of unsafe sex (how the creature is perceived or what it actually is trying to do is down to the viewer), It Follows is a smart take on the genre's conventions. The supporting cast are mostly young and do a reasonable job and the film's score is a great throwback to the slightly off yet highly effective mood-setting music common of the likes of John Carpenter's best filmography (the film is shot quite interestingly to boot).

Definitely one to watch if you want to become heightened to the prospect that the stranger you pass in the street could be something more.

9. Jurassic World

This film needs no introduction. A continuation of the beloved franchise first helmed by renowned director Stephen Spielberg, Jurassic World sees its predecessor (Jurassic Park III) outright ignored in attempts to carry on the original idea Richard Attenborough's John Hammond from the original Jurassic Park had in that film; a high-scale resort and dinosaur park for people around that world to enjoy.

Jurassic World does in many ways feel like a worthy successor to one of the most revered franchises in all of cinema history and mostly meets fans' expectations. The setting for the film is well realised, Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are well cast as gamekeeper Owen who has a knack for communicating with raptors under his care and the park's chief of staff, Claire.

The dinosaurs are no slouch either with the familiar raptors returning (and an interesting appearance of an old favourite) as well as new dinosaurs both timid and fierce. It wouldn't be a Jurassic Park film without a king of the lizards though and JW is no exception. The aptly titled Indominus Rex is both fierce and intelligent in equal measure, an excellent hunter and addition to the fierce Tyranosaurs Rex and other fearsome reptilian menaces that cane before it in this popular franchise.

Director Colin Trevorrow managed to capture many pleasing elements that make Jurassic World highly watchable and despite a couple of negatives (the story of the two children in the film (Claire's nephews) and some of the supporting cast) shows that the film is great not because it made impressive bank at the box office but because it was able to have the audience on the edge of our seats once more as we see dinosaurs terrorise the human race once again.

8. Avengers: Age of Ultron

Perhaps one of my most anticipated films of last year, Age of Ultron was the follow-up to what could be the greatest Marvel team-up movie to date, The Avengers. This was always going to be a hard act to follow and although AoU achieves greatness on many levels, it is not without its failings.

The film goes for bombastic from the outset as we see the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye taking on the remnants of evil organisation Hydra (events from Marvel's Phase 2 series of films will help viewers to further understand the state of play for our heroes). Its mostly great and rarely do any of the numerous action scenes look poor, blurry or hard to follow. The main concern with AoU is that of familiarity, that viewers have been here before (and they were with the first Avengers film).

Retreading old ground aside, director Joss Whedon and team once again does a great job of introducing new characters in the 'enhanced' twins (as the film refers to them) Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch , protagonist and sharp (metal?) tongued care-program turned world-destroying sentient robot Ultron and the firmly-neutral and highly-powered (and probably highly just) android/human, Vision.

Asding these to an impressive cast could so easily fall apart in the wrong hands but Whedon shows his capability by giving each character their moments to shine whilst providing additional character development as the film progresses (the less super-powered members of The Avengers actually get the most substantial growth in the film).

AoU gets much right with this viewer's major concerns being that it possibly retreads the main beats of the first film too closely with the film's conclusion opting for something similar rather than opt for a unique conclusion. The Avengers team have also gained the ability to wisecrack on command a la Tony Stark which takes away from his unique personality somewhat.

Criticisms aside, one would hope come this year (or next) we begin to see some of Marvel's future output go darker and heavier than what we've seen until now (the trailer for Captain America: Civil War could show promising signs of this direction but the upcoming films will show if we can still marvel at them or have reached the point of superhero movie fatigue).

7.  Ex-Machina

How regularly do we see great sci-fi films these days? Not enough if current cinema trends are anything to go by with superheroes and young adult novel adaptations everywhere. It is therefore with some relief that Ex-Machina (released earlier this year) makes the list for being a thoroughly great piece of sci-fi cinema.

Starring the likes of Domnhall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac (possibly the member of the cast who's star has risen the most substantially since two pretty big films last year and upcoming in 2016) the film explores the well-covered concepts of A.I and humanity in ways that provoke genuine discussion post-film.

The debates between the film's characters of Gleeson's Caleb and CEO of the film's aptly named technology giant Bluebook, Isaac's Nathan, considers a variety of theories and dilemmas that arise when two brilliant minds compete over the sheer possibility of self-conscious A.I. It provided some interesting points of discussion for this viewer among friends afterwards.

Ex-Machina is more than just a round-table on the possibilities of A.I however with first-time director and seasoned writer Alex Garland and his team creating a film that is as much an effective thriller throughout most if its runtime as it does explore the themes of humanity, evolution, ethics and more. The secluded private retreat of company CEO Nathan provides the ideal setting for the purposely tense tone in the picture and the film's inclusion in this list would be incomplete without mention of Vikander's brilliant depiction of android Ava, a character who runs the risk of possessing more humanity than her human creators (or is it just a super intelligent A.I at work after all?)

The film thankfully allows audiences to decide by showing rather than spelling out any of the characters' motivations outright and this viewer appreciates a film that treats its audience with that much respect.

6. Big Hero 6

This entry on the list is admittedly quite a guilty pleasure. The latest CGI-animated film from Disney, Big Hero 6 sees teenage engineering genius Hiro befriend a personal healthcare robot know as Baymax, after which the two go on a citywide adventure as they investigate who stole Hiro's unique technological creation, the mind-controlled nanobots.

Although a Disney film at its core (meaning gorgeous animation as expected, pleasing character designs and a captivating setting in the film's aptly named San Francisokyo), Big Hero 6 is surprisingly mature in dealing with familial loss, grief, what it means to become a hero and doing the right thing over taking revenge (well the last point is true of many a Disney film if I'm honest).

That said, the characters are well realised with Hiro showing his teenage and technological smarts throughout the movie, his brother Tadashi (possibly a play on the Japanese word for 'right') being the ever supportive older brother to Hiro as well as the likes of fellow engineering institute geeks Wasabi, Honey Lemon, tough girl Gogo and superhero fandom geek Fred. They're all voiced excellently by their respective actors who thankfully commit rather than phone it in. Big Hero 6 also presents a great fusion of East and Western cultures through the movie and thematically has more in common with the likes of Toy Story and The Incredibles than that of Frozen.

Definitely one to watch for anyone that imagined at any point in their childhood they wanted to become a superhero.

5. Whiplash

This was the film that took me by surprise this year. Having heard great things about it, I finally got to catch this movie that tells of jazz drumming student, Andrew (played by Miles Teller) as he is selected by J.K Simmons' 'no tolerance nor bullshit' attitude-carrying music teacher, Terrence Fletcher, to play in his jazz band at the Schaeffer Music Institute in New York.

To say the film embodies the meaning of the word intensity is an understatement. It is simpler to watch the performances of the two main actors in Whiplash for yourself and decide how much it adds to the film's dramatic elements and the heightened energy present throughout the majority of the film's runtime.

The soundtrack to the film is equally as impressive and compliments the film's tone as Andrew pushes himself to become 'one of the greats' as he so nicely puts it. The film's climax is also a brilliant culmination of all that has come before it and Whiplash does a great job of making the viewers feel they have earned that final closure by the film's end credits. Perhaps the most tense film since 2013's Gravity (and that is no joke).

4. Birdman

To explain what Birdman is about is no easy task. Through its narrative of former superhero action film star Riggan (played by Michael Keaton) who in attempts to show his harshests critics he has depth as a performer, the film covers a variety of themes such as theatre actors vs. mainstream acting, nostalgia for an actor's former glory days, superheroism, the worlds of acting and theatre, professional criticism and more.

This is however the tip of the iceberg for this highly original film which came out at the start of 2015. Through the film's continuous sweeping take from the film's beginning (actually smartly created in the editing room) the story of the stage play's production woes and the extent to which Riggan is willing to go to be taken seriously by his harshest critics is as intriguing as it is painful to watch at times.

The other actors are cast well with Zach Galafenakis playing Riggan's stage manager and long-time friend, Edward Norton playing the self-centred but highly capable professional stage actor Mike Shiner and Emma Stone as Riggan's 'troubled' and drug-taking daughter, Sam.

The dialogue is rich and like a great stage play draws in the audience with many of the greatest scenes belonging to characters talking to each other about a variety of subjects. These sound dull but are actually highly captivating and are a great achievement on the scriptwriter's part for sure.

Birdman makes the list not only because it is highly enjoyable to watch and has an ending that is entirely down to the audience's interpretation but also because it could be one of 2015's most original films (something of a rareity in cinema in recent times).

The same director's next film, The Revenant, comes out this January and this writer will be interested to see if he can repeat the appeal of his earlier work in that film too.

3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

To not have this film in my top 10 would be most unusual as although not a die-hard fan of the franchise, Star Wars has given me as much pleasure as it has pain over the years. That said, the weight of expectation on the shoulders of J.J Abrams' Episode VII: The Force Awakens was to be nothing less than monumental.

It is therefore with pleasure I can write that Abrams and his team were able to meet the majority of said expectations, albeit without a few stumbling points.

TFA continues 30 years after the end of Return of the Jedi as we are told from the film's opening script that Luke has gone into hiding far away, Han abs Leia head the Republic in their efforts to keep The First Order at bay (the group that rose from the ashes of the Empire) and this is essentially where the film's story picks up from.

The new characters of desert planet Jaccu scavenger Rey, stormtrooper who actually has a conscience and realises he'd rather do good, Finn, and the Republic 's best X-wing pilot and all around happy go lucky guy, Poe Dameron fit nicely into the story and feel like they'e always been part of the Star Wars world. The villain is no slouch either as the aptly named Kylo Ren carries out his deepest desires of the dark side and his own words to the remains of Vader's helmet "will finish what you started". He is equal parts menacing abs broken, a knight of the dark side still in training who still has much to learn but shows off his abilities with the force in impressive ways in TFA.

The returning cast is thankfully welcome rather than a burden and feel like they've barely been away from the franchise for the last 32 years (there is a special appearance by a certain sometime but you'll have to watch the film to find out). The acting, locations and set pieces are all impressive and flashy in equal measure and although valid criticisms have been raised that the film's main plot points closely follow those of A New Hope, for old and new fans alike you really can't go far wrong with The Force Awakens. It has dogfights, the light and dark side and a great lightsaber duel.

The film provides a good jumping off point for where the characters and story can go in the upcoming Episodes VIII and IX by the film's end that's at least something many a Star Wars can only hope for when we get a new entry in their favorite franchise.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road

To undertake the fourth in a franchise and avoid the fatigue that befalls other franchises whilst making such an exhilarating, outstanding and vibrant film is no easy achievement. That the director of the original Mad Max, George Miller, returns to his well-known post-apocalyptic franchise and shows pretty much everyone how you make a great action film, Mad Max: Fury Road was a sheer joy to catch in the cinema (and that's the two times I watched it at the local theatre).

Fury Road continues Max's journey along the boundless desert landscape of the wasteland, meeting a variety of freaks such as the film's antagonist Immorton Joe and his War Boys who will at a moment's notice becone ecstatic at the idea of sacrificing themselves to Valhalla in his name. He also meets allies during the movie, especially the likes of the prosthetic-limbed and tough as nails road warrior herself, Imperator Furiosa. Charlize Theron's character could be considered the film's main character as she bravely attempts to help the numerous young (slave) wives of Immorton Joe escape from his grasp and give them a chance at having new lives.

The landscapes, costumes and visuals in the film are fantastic and give the audience the idea of a barren, desert-laden world where the corrupt rule and the just are waiting to die. It is at its utmost one of 2015 most exhilarating pictures from beginning to end and should definitely be caught at the cinema (or on the biggest home display possible). Heavy use of practical effects over CGI makes the wasteland of Fury Road even more believable and real.

Fury Road is the movie where so much happens and things are always on the move within the film's 2 hour run-time, you'll feel that so much more time has passed by the film's end and that is a wonderful achievement all of the film's own. Highly recommended.

1. Kingsmen: The Secret Service

I'm sure this choice will raise some eyebrows but after taking time to consider the films leading up to this point, I can't help but put Kingsmen: The Secret Service at the top of my list.

As more of a love letter to gentleman spy films rather than outright mocking them, director Matthew Vaughan's adaptation of Mark Miller's comic The Secret Service is a great experience throughout. There are marks of the genre such as the characteristic villain, the weaponised henchman (or in this film's case, henchwoman), the well-mannered gentleman spy, gadgets, secret societies and more.

Underneath it all is a well written story that is as much social commentary as it makes for a cool spy action story (i.e is what Valentine trying to do in the film actually that evil? Do the Kingsmen actually exist for the greater good? Would free mobile internet for everyone be good or a curse for the world?) The film throws up many questions that you can choose to ignore if you just want to enjoy the entertainment on-screen or contemplate Instead. Take or leave it, it's entirely up to the viewer.

The film is well cast with familiar faces such as Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Caine making appearances and Colin Firth proving he is ever the versatile talent playing the role of gentleman spy and Kingsman Lancelot, showing with panache he was born for such a role. Kingsmen's action is no slouch either and as expected of a Matthew Vaughan film that doesn't have to hold back, it is equal parts visceral, exhilerating and has to be seen to be believed (one or two sequences in particular are mesmerising to watch).

As much a social commentary on how easily compliant we could be to a new world order as it was a thoroughly enjoyable film, for me Kingsmen: The Secret Service is the greatest film of 2015.


The list would not be complete without a few honourable mentions. These are films that very nearly made the list but given its a Top 10, that's how it goes (maybe next year I should do a Top 20).

The Martian - Decent film from Ridley Scott that tells of an abandoned astronaut and his optimistic personality that keeps him upbeat against impossible odds as he survives on Mars awaiting rescue.

Ant-Man - A smaller Marvel that rememberss superhero films can be fun as well as thrilling. Good use of 3D throughout too.

Foxcatcher - Documentary-style film that tells of professional wrestling brothers who were recruited by the immensely rich and very peculiar John Du Pont to his Foxcatcher team. A film with great performances based on a real life story with an unfortunate end.

Crimson Peak - Guillermo Del Toro's latest with amazing looking costumes and sets and although the story leaves something to be desired tells the story of a girl who can see the undead and her sinister (albeit) charming foreign guests from ye olde England. Also highly visceral as expected of Del Toro.




Too long for a Bond film, got bored at some points (something that should never happen whilst watching a Bond movie). You do not threaten me Christopher Waltz as a villain when you are wearing yacht shoes without socks (props however to David Bautista's Mr. Hinx for being highly menacing without saying anything the whole film. His return would be most welcome).

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