We count down ten of the best flicks from the year that was.
It usually isn’t this hard to pick a top ten movie list. We’re typically left with a few entertaining titles in a sea of disappointments, but 2015 was an altogether different beast. Whether it be mega-budget blockbusters or awards-bait, there were few outright shockers (the likes of Terminator Genisys were thankfully few and far between). 2015 was a doozie, and here’s why…
DISCLAIMER: Oh, and technically The Revenant, The Hateful Eight and/or Creed should be on this list and would squeeze out some of the choices below, but as they have yet to see a UK release, you can count their omissions as 11, 12 and 13. As ever, this is my list, so please strike back with your own picks below.
I’m gonna get so much shit for this…
Perhaps it was unwise to start a top ten with a film the majority fell over themselves to crap on, but what can I say? Ant-Man did it for me as the year’s best Marvel Studios joint that wasn’t Daredevil. So what if Edgar Wright didn’t make it? It bummed me out, too, but judging a finished product solely on who didn’t produce it is a ludicrous stance, especially in the face of history. Go through your favourite blockbusters and you might find greater talents were originally attached to those, too. (I still can’t help but wonder how much better a David Fincher-directed Batman trilogy would be.)
Peyton Reed had a difficult task here, but he could more than handle the character-heavy screenplay still co-credited to Wright and Joe Cornish. And that’s why I loved it; for perhaps the first time since 2008’s brilliant Iron Man, we got a superhero origin movie that lived and breathed on its personalities. I appreciated the seasoned presence of Michael Douglas as Hank Pym and the dynamic he had with his daughter, the scintillating Evangeline Lily in a pre-Wasp origin of her very own. And Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang was just about the most agreeable casting choice we could have had for a protagonist as self-consciously silly as this. The unique, shrunken action sequences (hello, Thomas the Tank Engine) were just icing on a very underrated cake for me. Wake up and smell the childish joy, yeah?
9. Straight Outta Compton
I don’t really like rap and hip-hop, but F. Gary Gray’s biopic made me appreciate it as a once-transgressive artform. The travails of Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) and the rest are so outlandish that you’d swear the filmmakers made up the entire story, but truth is certainly stranger than fiction, giving Gray a tale about passion, talent, success, fame, controversy, and cursing. Lots and lots of cursing. Ultimately, though, it’s a story about how you should, um, respect yourself. Biopics are usually as entertaining as a hour on Wikipedia, but Straight Outta Compton bucked the trend superbly.
8. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Boy, was this a surprise! Guy Ritchie’s period translation of the 60s spy show didn’t set the box office alight and doesn’t seem set to spark a franchise, but it is, for my money, one of the most entertaining of 2015’s tentpoles. Henry Cavill makes a passionate plea to play Bond one day as Napoleon Solo, and Armie Hammer is just as good as his Russian comrade Illya Kuryakin. This is best described as an origin story for U.N.C.L.E., and the chalk-and-cheese nature of the characters provides an ample dose of unexpected laughter amidst the standard espionage hijinks. Really, the spot-on 60s detail is only an appreciated backing to the delightful interplay between our two heroes, who must put aside their differences to work together. It isn’t original, but damn if it isn’t a whole lot of fun.
7. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
There were four big spy movies released this year. Out of those, you would expect James Bond’s Spectre to be high on the list, right? You know, that long-running staple of British culture that, apparently, we have to love regardless of how terrible his films usually are? Sorry, but Ethan Hunt and a couple of others on this list bettered 007’s latest adventure in just about every way. Tom Cruise’s fifth outing as the IMF agent is not only proof of how dependable the Mission: Impossible franchise has become with time, but proof that you can still make outlandish, fun, globe-trotting spy stories and also make them smart without being pretentious. Rogue Nation had a terrifically-twisty narrative that didn’t fall victim to a million-and-one plot holes, a game cast playing these roles to a tee, a succession of amazing and often practical set-pieces, and a sense of childlike fun that recognised how ridiculous it all is. Really, these guys do Bond better than Bond now.
6. The Martian
Holy crap, Ridley Scott has made a great film again! The master craftsman has somehow realised that his best films usually rely on solid foundations, i.e. a good script. Here, there’s a lot more to savour than his typically fantastic visuals, keeping the more discerning among us awake (hello, Robin Hood). Drew Goddard’s sterling adaptation of The Martian is by turns exciting, dramatic, tear-jerking, thought-provoking, and stunning. And yes, Scott proves why he’s so beloved with a searing technical competence that makes this one of the best sci-fi movies of the decade. The man’s need for aesthetics over substance isn’t in evidence here, buoyed by Matt Damon in an urgent and funny performance that adds the cherry on top. Chris Nolan, this is how you do thoughtful science fiction.
Ever since the powerful and underrated Prisoners (which made my best of 2013 list), I’ve been watching the career of director Denis Villeneuve very closely. His follow-up, Enemy, was a strange and beguiling project that I still haven’t wrapped my head around, but Sicario is another first-rate crime story bolstered by top-drawer actors in Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro. Tense from the beginning frame to the last, this seedy tale of the war on drugs in Mexico is both unsettling and thrilling. I mean it – there’s a scene set at the border that gets my vote as the year’s best armchair-clencher! If all that wasn’t enough, it also boasts photography by the otherworldly genius that is Roger Deakins, so what more do you need to know?
4. Ex Machina
Robots are bad news. We should know this by now, but they make for such great science fiction! Alex Garland finally made his directorial debut with this cybernetic cautionary tale, and it only makes you wonder why he didn’t pick up the megaphone sooner. Like the best genre tales, this is really just a social commentary wrapped up in shiny packaging, but when you have the likes of Star Wars castmates Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac acting it out, unsubtle commentary matters not. This film has future cult classic written all over it, and I wouldn’t wish to spoil any of it with my ramblings. Check it out… and then check it out again.
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
I really thought this was going to be number one.
George Miller’s orgasmic return to the franchise he created all the way back in 1979 is a glorious tear through post-apocalyptic Australia. With a near-limitless budget (by this series’ standards), the elder statesman of Ozploitation has crafted one of the 21st Century’s greatest action movies; an adrenaline and nitro-fuelled motherfucker that tries its very best to leave you breathless. Nevermind that repeat viewings have, for me, dimmed some of its initial impact as this is a genre classic that we’ll be talking about long after the world goes up in a mushroom cloud. Probably.
2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
J.J., you did it! The haters need to wake up and smell the prequels – this was the return that Star Wars needed.
Force Awakens was a literal catharsis for me, wiping away those bitter years with two of the most joyous hours of cinema in quite some time. Blame it on nostalgia or the simple fact it obliterated Episodes I-III if you want, but I was swept away as soon as that familiar blue lettering appeared on-screen. Escapism doesn’t get much better than this, kids. Did it take elements from the other films we supposedly love? Yes. Did it deter from my enjoyment? Not one iota. In fact, time might make me appreciate this more than A New Hope and Return of the Jedi – two supposedly great movies that have more flaws than this one. We had a brand new cast of characters good enough to stand alongside old favourites and launch stories of their own, truly peerless effects both practical and digital, and acting that put many predecessors to shame. This was the Star Wars we knew and the Star Wars we’ll have again.
Abrams has reinvigorated a franchise I grew to despise and reminded many of us why we fell in love with it in the first place. Now… we can move on. What a great feeling.
1. Kingsman: The Secret Service
Wow, my two favourites of the year both feature Mark Hamill. Miracles do happen.
Matthew Vaughn’s stonkingly good adaptation of Mark Millar’s cult comic is the greatest Bond spoof of all time. But a spoof so achingly in love with its target that it deserves to sit on the shelf alongside the famous spy’s greatest entries. Seriously. Kingsman: The Secret Service has one of the most badass “gentleman agents” ever in Colin Firth; a performance so sly and efficiently-designed that you’d swear he’s been making action movies for years. And newcomer Taron Egerton does full justice to Millar’s conceit – chavvy underachiever becomes well-tailoured hero – by perfectly mapping his development. It’s genuinely hard to believe that the “Eggsy” we see bedding Swedish princesses in the final act is the one we saw legging it around council estates at the start. How often can you say an arc was delivered to full effect in a film like this?
There’s also the matter of several insanely well-choreographed action sequences that best anything in Spectre, a very game Samuel L. Jackson providing the most likeable megoloamanaic ever (even if he talks kinda funny), and a genuine passion and verve that made this my absolute favourite release of 2015. Sometimes, even the most throwaway of material can be pulled off with such elan that it puts the stuffy Oscar contenders to shame.
Oh, and there’s also that scene in the church…