2015 has been yet another great year for cinephiles across the world. We have been treated to smart, fun and exciting blockbusters along with inventive and beautiful indie productions with a couple of animation masterpieces. This year has been the year for strong female leads with Cate Blanchett, Saoirse Ronan, Carey Mulligan and Emily Blunt flying the flag for actresses. Seasoned directors such as Todd Haynes and George Miller return with possibly the best work of their careers while relative newcomers Damien Chazelle and Alex Garland have produced two of the smartest films of the year. Here we will cover the years top 16 films released in the UK between the 1st January and the 31st December.
Sarah Gavron’s film chronicles the Suffragette movement in Britain. This is a truly inspiring story and one that should have been given the big screen treatment a long time ago. Carey Mulligan continues to prove that she is one of the best young actress’s working in the industry today with her incredible performance as an outsider who slowly becomes more influential in the Suffragette movement. While the filmmaking is somewhat unspectacular it allows the power of the narrative to shine through.
Maisie Williams proves here that she’s not going to be typecast as Arya Stark in this strange and captivating story. One of the most beguiling British films of recent years, Morley brilliantly leaves loose ends in the narrative, never giving the audience the answers they so crave. A film like this is refreshing in the current spoon-feeding era we find ourselves in. A film that respects its audience’s intelligence is rare.
Taxi Tehran won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival this year. Director Jafar Panahi was placed under house arrest and banned from filmmaking for 20 years in Iran for ‘political descent’. This is his third film that he has managed to sneak out of the country since his initial arrest in 2010. This film sees Panahi driving a taxi around his town of Tehran, encountering some weird, wonderful and terrible experiences along the way, this film is an existential act against the oppressive regime he finds himself under.
Last year saw Studio Ghibli’s genius filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki bow out of filmmaking with the wonderful The Wind Rises. Now, this year has seen probably the last film from fellow animation genius Isao Takahata. His film is a beautifully crafted piece of art while still having Takahata’s trademark underlying tragedy to it. With two of the masterminds behind Studio Ghibli retiring, it leaves a question over their future. The brilliance of Takahata and Miyazaki will be sorely missed in the output of Japanese animation.
One of the most captivating actors of his generation, Michael Fassbender, gives an unsettling and terrifying performance as the mad king, Macbeth. Justin Kurzel and his collaborating director of photography Adam Arkapaw create some of the most breathtaking scenery and set pieces you will see in this year. The only downside to this film is the treatment of Lady Macbeth in the script, she is criminally under utilised which is astonishing when you have Academy Award winning Marion Cotillard at your disposal.
Less than ten minutes into Bridge of Spies you relax back into your seat with the realisation that you are watching the work of a master of his craft. There is no debating Steven Spielberg’s importance to film but sometimes we don’t appreciate just how good he is. This film showcases the talent of Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance who Spielberg has been trying to get in his films for a couple of decades now.
Whiplash saw J.K. Simmons win his first Academy Award for his powerhouse performance as the incredibly intimidating music teacher, Fletcher. The fact that Miles Teller wasn’t handed a nomination is still a decision that baffles. However, there is no getting away from the fact that Whiplash is a breathtakingly intense piece of cinema with one of the best soundtracks you are likely to hear.
The most anticipated release of the decade was sure to be one of the most scrutinised films in recent memory. The general consensus for the film was a resounding success, burying the skeletons of the prequels and breathing new air into one of the most beloved franchises ever created. At the time of writing this, The Force Awakens has already reached $1 billion at the worldwide box office in record time. JJ Abrams has lovingly crafted a film that satisfies die-hard fans along with new audiences with an immensely entertaining blockbuster.
Asif Kapadia’s follow up to his mesmerising Oscar nominated documentary Senna is an even more impressive doc with its intimacy and interesting techniques on interviewing those who were close to his subject. The tragic story of Amy Winehouse is treated with a lot of care and admiration for one of the greatest singer-songwriters of her generation. While the film shows much admiration for Amy, Kapadia doesn’t gloss over the tougher moments in her life. The result is a wonderfully crafted documentary that is an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish.
The most adrenaline-fuelled film of the year came from veteran director George Miller in the form of Mad Max: Fury Road. Miller’s sequel/reinvention of the Mad Max franchise he created decades earlier is an ambitious, fast paced thrill ride from start to finish. Tom Hardy is great as Max but the film is stolen by Charlize Theron’s portrayal of Imperator Furiosa. It is refreshing to see a strong female character at the front of a high budget blockbuster; hopefully this will become more of a common occurrence.
Saoirse Ronan shines in John Crowley’s Brooklyn, proving herself to be one of the most talented up and coming actresses in the business. The camera continuously shows close ups of Ronan’s face allowing the audience to connect and relate to her emotions without relying on lines of dialogue describing her feelings. It seems Ronan can portray more emotion through her eyes than most can put across in 5 lines of dialogue. Ronan is the main reason to see this film, her performance may not be flashy enough for the Oscars but it is definitely one of the best performances of the year.
Ana Lily Amirpour’s Iranian film is a wonderfully constructed low budget film. Shot all in black and white, the film has a wonderful nostalgic feel to it. The leads are excellent in their performances, but the real talent here is the director. Amirpour has possibly crafted the best vampire film of the last two decades alongside 2014’s Only Lovers Left Alive. This is a wonderful piece of art cinema.
If you are looking for the film that contains the most likely winner of the best actress Oscar, then look no further than Todd Haynes’s Carol. Blanchett is astonishing here in a film about love and romance. Blanchett is supported brilliantly by Rooney Mara in possibly her best performance to date. Carol is Haynes’s most accessible film for a mainstream audience after years of work in British independent cinema.
After taking a year off in 2014, Pixar returned with a bang in 2015. Inside Out is a beautiful and important film that finally teaches children about how to deal with all of the emotions that humans deal with instead of just concentrating on happiness. The film is wonderfully voiced by the likes of Amy Poehler and Bill Hader and is possibly Pixar’s best ever film and that is not something to be sniffed at with their back catalogue including Toy Story, Up and Wall-E.
Ex Machina starred a trio of some of the best young talent working in film today with Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Glesson and Alicia Vikander on top form in Alex Garland’s first directorial film. His film is one of the most impressive films from a first time director in a long time. The inventive script, beautiful style and great performances make Ex Machina one of the most compelling and thought provoking films of the year.
Dennis Villeneuve burst onto the scene in 2010 with Incendies and then followed it up in 2013 with one of the most underrated releases of the year with Prisoners. Now, Villeneuve has bested his previous two films with the most tense and thrilling film of 2015. Sicario is on par in levels of tension to Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty in 2012. The beautiful landscaping shots of the American Mexican border contrasted with bursts of cartel violence and off the books American missions proves to be the recipe for a scintillating edge of your seat experience. Anchored by a powerhouse performance from Benicio Del Toro and a stripped back performance from the ever brilliant Emily Blunt will surely see Sicario nominated in the acting category’s come next years Academy Awards.
As ever, film criticism is a subjective medium. If you feel we have missed something off of our list please comment below.