Sunday 31 January 2016

Best Films of 2015

Good lord, what a great year for movies! I keep hearing people moan about the decline of cinema, but as far as I'm concerned we're going through a golden age. 

The only problem is cutting down my long list of outstanding films (39 titles) down to a reasonable size. Last year — in 2014 — I listed 14 movies, this year I think I shall allow myself the luxury of 15. This tendency could get us into serious trouble by 2099 when I'm a brain sloshing around in a jar of nutrient solution with internet access. And so are you.

So let's start by dropping the movies that just aren't going to make the cut: Max is a dog — no, not a bad film, a film about a dog. Traumatised army dog from Iraq busts a blackmarket weapons ring. Old fashioned, sentimental and soppy. I loved it. But if I included it, goodbye street cred. 

Also being dropped: Age of Adaline: It shouldn’t be good, but it is. Beautiful photography. Harrison Ford is great. Blake Lively is phenomenal. But her romantic lead… I mean WTF? The Gambler: Lovely music, terrific pace. But look at the competition!

Self/Less: Ben Kingsley becomes Ryan Reynolds. Distinctly a cut above. Excellent science fiction thriller. Just not quite...  Seventh Son: Excellent sword & sorcery thriller with a script by Steven Knight. Even Jeff Bridges’s silly accent doesn’t sink it. Great Marco Beltrami score. But see note above about street cred... Unfriended: Genuinely gripping and innovative. A really clever low budget horror movie. Some of the killings are stupid — face in blender — but it still triumphs.

Diary of a Teenage Girl: Funny and surprisingly moving. The animation was excellent.
Mortdecai: An adaptation of Kyril Bonfiglioli's classic Charlie Mortdecai novels which comes close to pulling it off. Surprisingly fine fun. Johnny Depp is on the rampage in Terry-Thomas mode, but Paul Bettany is magnificent as Jock.

Tomorrow Land: Very enjoyable and clever, way better than the trailer would lead you to believe. The Visit: A startling return to form by M. Night Shyamalan. Its great virtue is that it’s funny. Focus: I really enjoyed this con-man caper. Margot Robbie is spectacular. John Wick: Another dog-centric film. A fantastic Keanu Reeves revenge thriller. Splendid ending.  

Spy: In a great year for spy movies this rollicking comedy was a near miss. Really good, really funny, and with a proper serviceable spy story as its foundation. The Last Witch Hunter: This was genuinely high quality. I was amazed. Vin Diesel, all is forgiven. Or at least some things. But, as with Max and Seventh Son, I couldn't show my face in this town again if this was one of my films of the year. Plus, there are 23 titles to ruthlessly drop. So, onwards... 

The Gift: Originally (and more accurately) titled 'Weirdo', this was written and directed by and starred Joel Edgerton. Nerd-revenge suspense movie. Goes a bit off the rails towards the end, but very gripping.

Okay, we are now definitely in it-hurts-to-lose-them territory. Paddington: A kids movie, but splendid in every regard. Birdman: Baffling yet terrific. A lot of people will be annoyed that this doesn't make the list... But a man has to do what a man has to do... Ricki and the Flash: Excellent, affecting family comedy-drama beautifully directed by Jonathan Demme. Great script by Diablo Cody — I’m ready to forgive her for Jennifer’s Body. At last. I think.

 Macbeth: Visually striking version of Shakespeare's tragedy. This one almost makes it into the top list purely on the strength of Marion Cotillard's performance. She is stunning as Lady M. If I was handing out awards for best actress, she'd win hands-down. Legend: Another landmark lead performance with a terrific Tom Hardy as both Kray twins.  Ant-Man: Very funny, zany and inventive. The leaden Marvel continuity stuff was the only dull aspect. 

Far from the Madding Crowd: Very effective remake. Carey Mulligan is truly splendid. And Matthias Schoenaerts, who played the psychotic hood in The Drop last year (another dog movie!) is again excellent. Spectre: the new Bond just misses out because it wasn't quite as good as Skyfall.

All right, wake up at the back of the classroom, we finally arrive at the top-films-of-the-year list... 

No Escape: Under this anodyne title lurks a modern classic. Owen Wilson's family is caught up in a terrorist uprising in South East Asia. Utterly gripping, incredibly suspenseful and entirely effective. Piers Brosnan is tremendous, though he’s given a rather clunky speech near the end.

Woman in Gold: Concerning the recovery of the Klimt painting stolen by the Nazis, this is really engrossing. Helen Mirren is terrific. Ryan Reynolds, so often bland, is startlingly good. Produced by Kris Thykier. 

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation: Hands down the best film in the franchise so far. But for one rubber-mask reveal, it would have been perfect in its own Mission: Impossible way. It also has the finest soundtrack music of the year, thanks to the immensely talented Joe Kraemer.

A Most Violent Year: A tense and suspenseful Sidney Lumet-style crime pic set in 1970s New York. The awe-inspiring Oscar Isaac strikes again. Survivor: A gem of a movie: a first class, nail-biting spy thriller set in London — and vastly better than Spooks, a similar tale which came out at the same time.

The Martian has to be included because it's Ridley Scott's finest movie since his wonderful, early days. A worthy adaptation of Andy Weir's masterpiece of a novel.

Kingsman: Like I said, a great year for spy movies. This is rude, intensely violent, hilarious, and exhilarating. Knock Knock: Keanu again, as a married man victimised by hotties. Terribly powerful and distressing. Black Hat: Excellent and criminally under-rated computer-hacker thriller. Wei Tang is very touching. I loved the sequences of electrons scurrying along a microchip like rats under the floorboards.

Okay, folks, we're heading for the Top Five. But just before we get there, a tip of the hat to Bridge of Spies: Absolutely wonderful. Great script. And it's Spielberg’s best since Schindler’s List.

Right, into the Top Five we go, with The Salvation: A fabulous Danish Spaghetti Western shot in South Africa. Mads Mikkelsen is perfect as a Spaghetti Western hero. The photography is perhaps the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. A classic. Man from UNCLE: I loved it — one of the finest films of the year. I loved every moment of it, except for Solo’s sandwich. The bread wasn’t convincing.

Very near the top is the welcome return of the Road Warrior in  Mad Max: Fury Road: Absolutely dazzling. Charlize Theron with a shaved head, Brendan McCarthy's car designs, ravishing photography, breathtaking stunts. What's not to love?

Top Three time. Is the suspense killing you? Okay, at Number Three we have Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Apart from the rather dud title (a tradition through most of the series) this was simply majestic. I loved every minute of it.

It was a hard-fought battle for the top spot. I was seriously tempted to give the honour to Steve Jobs with its exquisite Aaron Sorkin script, fine direction from Danny Boyle and a riveting performance (in a top ensemble) by Michael Fassbender. The other day I had to chose between seeing Brooklyn for the first time and Steve Jobs for the fifth time. Guess which won?

But in the end, the title of Film of the Year goes to Sicario with its fascinating and impressive script by Taylor Sheridan, bruising, brilliant direction by Denis Villeneuve, a menacing and moody score by Jóhann Jóhannsson and a stellar cast led by the unsurpassable Emily Blunt. And fine behind-the-scenes interviews by Celeste Bronfman-Nadas. If you haven't seen Sicario, go and see it. Now.

(Image credits: all the posters are from Imp Awards.)

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