Thursday, 7 January 2016

Top 20 Best Films Of 2015

Well, after spending the last few posts wallowing in my own misery, time to shake off that bad mojo for good as I look at the Top 20 best films that I had the pleasure to see last year. While, in comparison, it wasn’t as good as 2014 as a whole, it still produced some truly amazing works of cinema that deserve to be watched and re-watched. I know that I mentioned a disdain for honourable mentions before, but then again, I’ve used honourable mentions myself in last year’s lists so hypocrisy shouldn’t be anything new. That said, I still want to give a special shout-out to Hitman: Agent 47, the Best Worst Film of the year. This is the film that was just so awful that it actually reached entertainment from the other end, thanks to its terrible acting, writing and special effects. Now for the official, legitimately good picks of the litter.

You’d be hard-pressed to find something that will make me more hyped for a new release than a film about hip-hop. Given that, this more than met my expectations. The performances are fantastic, especially O’Shea Jackson Jr. as a dead-on Ice Cube, the writing manages to portray a lot of important events from NWA’s history without feeling too bloated, and the soundtrack not only showcases some contemporary stand-outs of the genre but also the important tracks that influenced those very tunes. Hell to the yeah.

Screw popular consensus, this film is awesome. Beyond its amazing animation, its Pixar-level voice acting and its ability to properly tell a story visually, this film makes the list because of how surprisingly dark it is. With very little effort, this stops being a cute coming-of-age story involving dinosaurs and suddenly becomes a violent and gritty Western in disguise. I have a lot of respect for filmmakers who are willing to push boundaries in any way, and considering how this managed to slip cannibalism and religious fanaticism under the radar, it more than deserves its place as one of the best of the year.

I don’t care about Superman. Outside of Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman, the character has never struck as someone I should actively want to see, especially on film. So, what does it say that this film is infinitely fascinating to me? Whether it’s a feeling of tragedy that this didn’t get made instead of that horri-shit Man Of Steel movie, or just seeing how much an unfinished film can still influence the landscape of cinema thereafter, this is a great look into not just the filmmaking process but also into the Superman mythos.

#17: Truth

Ignoring how dated the story itself is, as anything involving the Bushes is almost instantly out-of-place nowadays, this is a great portrayal of investigative journalism. James Vanderbilt’s scripting is as engaging and whip-smart as ever, and his first foray into direction yielded some amazing performances, particularly from Cate Blanchett who delivers one of the most gut-punching lines of the year when she is brought before an inquisition for her actions. The real-life morality and efficacy of these people’s actions can be debated until doomsday but, as a depiction of a story that the rest of the world has dismissed as error, it is staggering to watch.

#16: Sicario

Denis Villeneuve is now officially on my list of favourite directors after this one. This is an oppressively dark film, carried by great performances from Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin, a script that revels in asking unsettling questions about the United States’ methods and how they may actually be justified and cinematography from industry legend Roger Deakins that is among some of the best of the last few years. It takes something special to have a different camera filter add so damn much to a scene, but that’s the kind of brilliance we’re dealing with here.

If a film is capable of making Nicole Kidman not only look good, but be a crucial part in one of the best cinematic moments of the year, then it more than deserves to be recognized as one of 2015’s best. Aside from Kidman managing to deliver for the first time in… ever, really, he is bolstered by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Julia Roberts both giving A-grade performances as well. Add to this a script full of subtle little touches that warrant repeat viewings and Billy Ray’s direction that is concrete-thick with tension, and even the lukewarm romantic sub-plot is palatable to get to the good bits.

#14: X+Y

"I’m so smart, woe is me" is an extremely difficult notion to convey, which is what makes this film feel even better when it succeeds. Its look at the preconceptions and pressures concerning those whom have above-average intelligence, filtered through the teenaged experience with some of the most surprising character redemption I’ve seen in a long time, cut deep for me personally. I’m not expecting everyone to associate as closely with a film like this as myself, but then again there’s a reason why these are my Top 20 films of the year.

After leaving the theatre for the screening of this film, I ran into the director in the foyer. Over the next few minutes, I gushed over how great this was, he hugged me, gave me his business card and I took a photo with him. More so than just being an amazing experience of a film, this was also that crowning moment where my thousand hours crystallised into something new and this suddenly stopped being just a silly hobby of mine. As for the movie itself, it’s a phenomenally gripping thriller that uses atmosphere and the cinematic language to full effect; considering its budget and its means, this is probably the biggest surprise in terms of just how good it is.

It may not have been the Oscars, but this was still a damn good horror flick. Its approach is shockingly original, especially in today’s day and age, it makes commentary on the horror genre and its sexualised roots without feeling like it’s just re-hashing so many other ‘self-aware’ films of late and it made excellent use of its budget even with its SuperImposed Inc.-brand television sets. Or, if all of that doesn’t interest, this is actually scary.

This is an incredibly strange film. However, even with how eerily direct it gets, it is also extremely intelligent in its approach to society’s attitudes to relationships and how it can affect individuals. This is also one of the few times when emotionless acting is not only excusable but an asset to a film, as the cast here embody the kind of discomfort and disconnection that fits the story and commentary perfectly.

The sequel to the 7th best film of last year, it’s even better… and it only made #10 on this list. On second thought, maybe 2015 was a better year for film than I gave it credit for. Its action scenes, its writing, its acting; all of it builds on the previous instalments to create a more-than-satisfying conclusion to the series. It may not reach the point of genius like Part 1, but overall it made for an immensely well-oiled machine of a film. I can only hope that they don’t try and add onto this series beyond this film because, quite frankly, even with the cheesy epilogue, this is still a close-to-perfect way to conclude this story.

This film definitely has its issues, especially with the primary school-style narration atop the Statue of Liberty, but this makes it to #9 on the list purely because it managed to completely transport me into the film’s world. I wasn’t watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt act out a scene in strangely natural French accent; I was watching Phillippe Petit plan out one of the most daring feats of performance art, something strengthened by just how transcendent the climactic scene is in how it’s portrayed. Robert Zemeckis continues his track record of absolutely incredible feats of filmmaking.

For the love of all that is good, Joel Edgerton, keep making movies! Even if they’re only half as good as this, I will still happily pay to see them. Rather than be an incredibly deep and layered film in terms of script, this film succeeds solely out of just how well it is executed. Edgerton is creepy as fuck, Bateman gives probably the best performance of his career which I can only hope the sign of more dramatic turns to come and the production is downright determined to make you shiver in your seat. Oh, and that ending… Holy shit, that ending…

Easily the least Burton-y of Tim Burton’s filmography, he wisely steps back from his own cinematic norms to deliver a really effective tragic story about an artist whose work essentially gets stolen from her. Amy Adams delivers every emotional note perfectly and Christoph Waltz is at once creepy and charming in that way that only Waltz can manage when it comes to villains. Still doesn’t explain Spectre, but never mind. Also, anything that flips the bird to artistic elitism gets bonus points in these parts.

It’s sci-fi scriptsploitation at its finest, utilising top-notch acting from our three mains, absolutely jaw-dropping effects work and upper-tier dialogue to create an incredibly smooth delivery of confronting ideas concerning A.I. Rather than going into warm and emotional areas with its queries like with last year’s Her, this is more cold and analytical, even getting into thriller territory in places.  Probably this film’s best quality is how it makes the characters curious and want to ask questions, leading to what might be the most effectively self-aware film I’ve seen in quite some time; it’s a god-send for anyone who has a thing for nit-picking films.

#5: Wild

If this list was in any way objective, this film would probably be at #1. This is a genuinely impressive show of technicality, combining Reese Witherspoon’s amazing performance, the soundtrack, the editing, the camera work and Nick Hornby’s living and breathing script to create a head trip unlike most others. It channels that feeling of isolation and need for social interaction that comes with trekking out on one’s own, resulting in a film that is universally relatable in a way that very few are.

#4: Birdman

The only film on this list that, at the time of writing, I have seen more than once. It more than deserves to be watched multiple times, as it is an amazingly well-executed character study that deals with human ego and the modern state of both film and theatre. The acting is outstanding, particularly from Keaton and Norton, the soundtrack is jazz drum goodness and the filmmakers treat the events like a stage play, all shot in what appears to be one continuous take. Even for a production gimmick, this is very well done and gives a trance-like quality to what is already a great film. This also ranks high with me because I can actively point to this film as something that made me want to become a better critic, something I sincerely hope has happened at least partially since I first watched it.

Without a doubt, the most fun I had going to a film all year, this gleefully violent tribute to the spy genre is everything and more than I wanted out of a film from someone like Matthew Vaughn. Its approach to action is insanely kinetic and engaging, its acting drips cool from every pore, and its writing pays homage to the classics while paving out its own niche in extremely violent, funny and clever filmmaking. An excellent triumph of style over substance.

An exercise in cinematic optimism, delivered by one of the foremost family-friendly filmmakers working today. Brad Bird continues to show a command of the live-action realm, creating a monument to the power of human creativity and imagination, applauding human ingenuity while also highlighting what our apathy and pessimism are also capable of. The acting is stellar, with Raffey Cassidy hopefully starting a promising career thanks to her performance here… yeah, I said the exact same thing last year with Sarah Snook, but in keeping with this film’s message of informed optimism, I still hope that she goes on to bigger and better things from here.

I could highlight this film’s mastery of comedy balanced with melancholy, pointing out how this is easily one of the best casted films I’ve ever seen full stop. Or I could bring up how, even with how kid-friendly the animation is, it still fits with the child-like innocence of the story itself and where most of it takes place. Instead, I’m going to isolate how surprisingly adept this film is when it comes to understanding emotions, both on their own and how they can affect people. Not only is this a brilliant depiction of the changes that come about through puberty, it is also one of the most painfully accurate depictions of clinical depression that I’ve come across in any media. For its ability to induce gut-busters and punch me in the gut with its sadder moments with equal intensity, combined with portraying something that is very near to my heart in a way that is easily digestible, this without a doubt makes for the best film of the year.

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