This year, blockbusters actually delivered, inventive dramas, whirlwind thrillers, intelligent sci-fi and a couple of amazing film oddities–2015 had it all.
But 2015 was an exemplary year for the silver screen, and not just in terms of the ginormous Box Office money that was made. This was also a resoundingly memorable year for cinema in terms of technical craft, narrative power, and acting finesse. The following list is a collection what I consider to be the best movies of the past 12 months; the ones that made me laugh, shed a tear or two, pump my fists in the air, and haunt my dreams long after I had made my way towards the exit. A number of them will almost certainly prove to be triumphant during awards season, which is already in full swing and will reach a climactic crescendo at the Oscars next month.
- The Big Short
You’ll ROFL, you’ll shed tears, and you’ll cringe in discomfort – all simultaneously. Director Adam McKay has helmed this ship like a champion sailor. He has done the impossible by explaining the genesis of the 2008 financial meltdown, but in a highly entertaining and stimulating way that doesn’t make you feel like you’re fighting back the yawns in a lecture hall. It’s funny as fuck, but like some of the best comedies – think Spinal Tap and Dr. Strangelove – it’s underpinned by razor-sharp satire that fully understands the subjects of its fury.
- Me, and Earl and the Dying Girl
Funny, sweet, heart-breaking and unlike any other “death movie” I have ever seen, including last year’s The Fault in Our Stars. Pitch-perfect performances and amazing chemistry between the three leads go a long way toward enhancing the movie’s gravitas, but it’s the powerful storytelling and sharp dialogue that cement the film’s place in this year’s Top 10. A rare coming of age film that dispenses with mawkish sentimentality and syrupy schmaltz.
- Mad Max: Fury Road
Detractors emphatically note that there’s barely any story in this movie, and no one can objectively contest that argument. The plot was, however, never the raison d’être of this road movie. Fury Road is cast from the strongest titanium and forged in apocalyptic hellfire. It kicks in with such high-octane kinetic velocity that it’s hard to breathe—even from the comfort of your theatre seat. Remember that iconic scene in “Spinal Tap” where the guitarist reveals his amp’s settings surpass the standard ‘10’ to go all the way to ‘11’? Well, this movie is the visual apotheosis of that 11. It’ll make you feel like you’ve been beaten over the head with a ten-ton hammer, and you’ll giddily savour the pain. If you like your rushes spiked with an industrial dose of speed and adrenaline, there simply wasn’t a better action movie in 2015.
Director Ryan Coogler and actor Michael B. Jordan injects Creed with confidence, compassion, visceral energy, and amazing grace in this equally inspired and inspiring reboot of the timeless Rocky franchise. Sylvester Stallone gives the best performance in years (which rightly earned him a 2016 Golden Globe for best supporting actor). Michael B. Jordan, as Adonis Johnson, Rocky’s protégé (and the illegitimate son of his one-time rival and long-lost friend, Apollo Creed), he continues his ascendancy as one of the vital young actors of the Zeitgeist, a bona fide superstar.
- The Revenant
The Revenant is a raw, overwhelming force of nature that everyone needs to see at least once. Quite a few movie critics have pointed out that they probably would not watch it a second time, and I belong in this camp. This isn’t the kind of movie that exhilarates you, but it is undeniably the product of master craftsmen at the height of their powers. Leonardo Di Caprio’s modus operandi in terms of his method acting in the lead role has now become the stuff of legend, and he is already the favourite to win the coveted Oscar next month, even though I think his co-star; Tom Hardy, is superior.
- The Martian
This stranded-in-Mars adventure was marketed as a gloomy survival story, like Gravity from 2014, but it instead turned out to be glorious, life-affirming, and fun. This being partly because it was infused with a good dose of clever, irreverent humor, but also because the strength of Matt Damon’s growing likeability and charisma held aloft the movie with poise and irresistible joie de vivre.
Sicario is a severe and unyielding cinematic experience dealing with the War on Drugs along the US/Mexico border elevated by an incredible script and two absolutely sublime performances (Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro). Like The Revenant, this is far removed from the category of ‘light entertainment’. But unlike The Revenant, which at times has a snail-like pace, Sicario pushes forward with feverish, breakneck momentum. Emily Johan Johannsson’s music ranks among the best electronic-tinged score of the year. Roger Deakins’s cinematography is awards-worthy. Director Denis Villeneuve made a major breakthrough with this movie, his latest, underlining why he’s been tapped for the upcoming Blade Runner sequel.
- Beasts of No Nation
Special shout out to Netflix! Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation is a spectacular, horrifying, and ultimately uplifting adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s acclaimed 2006 novel. The story centers around a “good boy from a good family” who is recruited as a child soldier in an unnamed African nation. The film is an emotionally and spiritually punishing experience, and there’s no doubt it needs Idris Elba’s industrial strength, magnetism, and charisma to firmly anchor it. Vile as the Commandant may be, he’s a strong showcase for the actor’s prodigious talents: we know he can do both subtle and grandiose in his sleep, but it’s hard to think of his other roles, other than perhaps DCI John Luther, that meshes those two divergent moods with so much authority. Make this man James Bond already!
A silver screen homage to old-school investigative journalism, Spotlight is a hypnotic look at the often soul-crushing peeling away of dirty cover-ups and the evil that exists at the end of the maze of secrets. The narrative here deals with the Boston Globe’s award-winning 2001 investigation of rampant sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Directed with understated assurance by Tom McCarthy and featuring stunning performances from Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Brian d’Arcy James and Rachel McAdams (the finest acting ensemble of 2015), Spotlight is a chilling and immensely cathartic experience. You’ll remember it for weeks once you talk out of the theatre.
And my undisputed No. 1 movie of 2015 is….
- The Hateful Eight
The Hateful Eight has shown itself to be extremely polarizing but that’s expected, the people who despise Tarantino are for most the most part, dyed-in-the-wool haters, they will never like any of his output unless he drastically revamps his trademark style and approach, which is highly unlikely. For me, tinsel town’s premier enfant terrible has created another breathtakingly stylish and clever film. It is a Jacobean Western, being both intimate and yet weirdly colossal. Once again releasing his own kind of unwholesome uber violent crazy funny shit storm nitrous oxide into the cinema auditorium for us all to inhale. Even the mighty Mad Max: Fury Road didn’t leave me feeling this energized and pumped this year, nothing else came close.
In other yearly trends, we also saw an interesting move towards women ruling comedy (Trainwreck, Spy); a major push back against CGI and special effects (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian); ‘girl power’ feminist themes in summer blockbusters (Magic Mike XXL, Mad Max: Fury Road); and spy spoofs (Spy, Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, most of Spectre). What will 2016 bring? Hopefully more character-driven energetic pieces, I know I’ll be watching.