TOP TWENTY BEST FILMS OF 2015
20. THE MARTIAN
The battle for 20th spot on this list came down between Lenny Abrahamson's emotionally devastating “Room” or Ridley Scott's lost in space epic “The Martian”. Both are equally fantastic films but what tipped me over to choosing “The Martian” was a memory during my screening when I thought to myself “Man, this is amazing. This could be a new modern classic”. I went into this film thinking it was going to be the most boring thing in the world and was only convinced to see it when it was greeted with almost universal praise. For the first half of the film I was just glued to my seat, just mesmerised watching Mark Whatney on his own, working out how to survive life on Mars and tackling each problem that he came across, one at a time. Something that I also was not expecting was the film to have such a sense of humour to it. Numerous times I found myself laughing out loud whilst falling in love with this character. It was during these scenes that I started actively thinking just how great it was and if it kept this pace it was destined to be an outright classic. However, once Mark makes contact with NASA, for me the film started to become a little formulaic and I was quite disappointed in the whole rescue mission, which came across as very Hollywood, with everything going wrong to increase the dramatic tension, which I felt was so over done and was not needed. Ridley Scott does a great job at directing this film however and even makes the smart decision to pare back his usual stunning visuals so the story can actually breathe and live on its own right, instead of competing against the pretty pictures on screen. Do not get me wrong, “The Martian” is still a visually impressive film, but for a Ridley Scott film it comes across as subdued but this works for the film as a whole.
19. INSIDE OUT
It has actually been a few years since a Pixar film has made it onto my top twenty list, which back in the old days, I wouldn't have dreamed of. The name Pixar was a stamp of quality and anything they produced, you could be confident that it was going to be smart, entertaining and have something to say. However, somewhere along the way, Pixar got stuck on focusing solely on sequels of their past hits, and suddenly they became very hit or miss. “Inside Out” feels like the first true Pixar film since 2010's “Toy Story 3”. Here again, we have a very entertaining and fun story that kids could really enjoy, but this thing is also packed full of emotion and has a powerful tale too. For those that haven't seen the film, it is about a young girl struggling to come to terms with moving house, leaving her old friends behind, and starting at a new school. However we are in her head the majority of the time, witness to her emotions (who are all cute and colourful characters) that are controlling the way she is feeling. The film is also about growing up and the fact that things that were important when we are younger, may not mean as much, if anything, to us in the future, and that is ok. However the greatest aspect of the film is that Sadness is the hero of the film. “Inside Out” tells us that, not only is it ok to be sad and to miss your friends and old life, it is actually healthy to feel this. The cliché here would be that Joy turned out to save the day, as if to say “Just put on a happy face and everything will be ok”, but what made this film so special and heartfelt was that it did the opposite, which is a much more truthful way of looking at the situation. Another thing I liked about “Inside Out” was that the majority of the voice actors were people I was not familiar with. Animation has fallen into a bad habit of using big name actors to voice their characters which are to easy to identify and thus it takes away from the character on screen and becomes more about the actor saying the lines, because we can readily picture them doing so. The reason “Inside Out” isn't higher up on this list though is, and I know I am in the negative here, I found the film and character designs to be totally bland. I thought the emotion characters were poorly designed and lacked Pixar's regular flair for design. In fact, for mine, “Inside Out” is Pixar's least visually exciting film. However the story is one of its best, which at the end of the day stands out more, and again I stress, this film has a hugely important message attached to it.
18. SHREW'S NEST
Set in 1950's Spain, “Shrew's Nest” is about two sisters living in an apartment building. The eldest, Montse, suffers from agoraphobia and never leaves the apartment, but she has given up her life to bring up her younger sister since their parents died. With her sister now getting older and leaving the house more often, sometimes to spend time with the opposite sex, Montse starts to fall deeper into a mental illness as she becomes more and more jealous of the life her sister can lead. Then one day, out of the blue, a neighbour comes tumbling down the stairwell, breaking his leg, and landing right in front of Montse's door. His cries of pain bring an awareness of his presence to Montse, who drags the poor man inside to nurse the man back to health.......or so it appears. However, maybe Montse has now, like her sister, found a man of her own. One that she will do anything to stop from leaving.
I was immediately sold on “Shrew's Nest” from both the poster and trailer and by the fact that Alex de la Iglesia was a producer on the film. This Spanish horror film actually moves at a very deliberate pace for the first half of the film as we are witness to Montse's agoraphobia controlling her life and her jealousies increasing. It appears to be a dark drama about two sisters, but once the third character enters the film, this time a male character, everything changes and it becomes more sick and psychotic which leads to a brilliant and incredibly bloody finale. Sure this isn't the most original horror film ever, but I just loved it. Firstly, it has been very well directed by Juanfer Andres and Esteban Roel and they seem in total command of both the tone and pace of the film. They keep everything very still and sedate for the first half of the film, but as everything picks up in insanity, so does the pace and the tone becomes more grotesque, but it all feels very organic within the story. My favourite aspect of the film though would have to be the production design by Pablo Alonso. The house and all the details within it, all look superb and just help add to the atmosphere of the film enormously. This is a seriously good looking horror film. As I mentioned before, the film ends in such a bloody way and I am happy to say that all of the effects were handled practically here. In fact the film was so bloody by the end, that it reminded me of that great run of French horror films we had about a decade ago, the likes of “High Tension” and “Inside”. This is still not a perfect film though as besides its lack of originality, I also thought at times that Macarena Gomez (who plays Montse) was a little too mannered in her performance, but other than that this is a very entertaining and bloody horror film that I will surely revisit in the future regularly.
17. LOST RIVER
This was actually one of my six most anticipated films of 2015 (back when it had the title “How to Catch a Monster”), but even back then I qualified my anticipation by saying that because Ryan Gosling was an untried director, this film had the chance to be anything: a triumph or an absolute disaster. Turns out it is somewhere in between, and this is a film that has divided opinions right from the start. To be fair, I believe that the majority of people think the film is terrible and a total waste of time, but those that like the film defend it staunchly and I happen to be one of those people. I must say that I can understand the negative response to the film because it is a film that is less focused on narrative and more on atmosphere, but these are exactly the kind of films I respond to. “Lost River” is also weird and mysterious, and seems to be a beacon for my David Lynch and Italian horror film sensibilities that I like so much. It is also visually stunning and through the images by Benoit Debie, you can feel Nicolas Winding Refn's influence also. For those that do care about plot, “Lost River” is about a struggling single mother trying to keep her family together and her house in her possession which exists in essentially a ghost town. The opportunities there are few and far between but she believes her home is her home and that her kids need to grow up there. To achieve this though she must enter a dark world of the grotesque and dangerous previously unknown to her. At the same time as this though, her eldest son, Bones, is falling in love with a neighbourhood girl and the two of them discover the hidden truth about the town they live in called “Lost River”.
I've come to realise that “Lost River” is a hard film to defend simply because it comes down to personal preference. If you do not like these types of films, there is nothing in this that is going to sway you in the other direction. Still the film has been imaginative cast with Saoirse Ronan, Christina Hendricks, Matt Smith and particularly Ben Mendelsohn all showcasing some impressive work, and even Barbara Steele shows up in a wordless performance playing the film's most mysterious character. Again, this is not a film for everyone; it is something that you feel more than anything but it is definitely worth giving it a shot, if not just to witness Ben Mendelsohn's bizarre dance scene near the end.
16. THE LOBSTER
This was probably the funniest film I saw all of 2015, but it has such a dry sense of humour, that again, it wont be for everyone. “The Lobster” is directed by Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, who has the unique ability to come up with the most insane ideas and then set them in a world that considers them to be of the norm. This film is set in the near future where being single is outlawed. If you find yourself without a suitable partner, you will be sent to this resort of sort where you have 45 days to find yourself a new mate. If after such time you are still unsuccessful, you will then be turned into the animal of your choice and live out your life as that animal. Colin Farrell, who plays the leading character David in the film, chooses to be a lobster if he should fail. Seriously, if you do not find this premise hilarious, odds are you are not going to enjoy the film because it is such an acquired taste. However, that said, I was unsure how I would react to it when I first went to see the film, but within the first five minutes I knew that I was on its wavelength and was going to love it. The whole thing is done in such a low key and serious fashion, that the situations presented become hilarious. Colin Farrell's deadpan delivery is so funny and the absolute highlight of the film and it once again proves just how adept he is at comedy. I will say though that this is a film of two halves and I think that the second half of the film isn't quite as strong as what has come before it, as we witness David escaping into the woods and meeting up with a group of social terrorists determined to make change. It is here where Rachel Weisz's character is introduced and David finds someone who could actually be his soulmate amongst all this madness. I must say that I loved little moments in the woods, when random animals would walk past, clearly people who have been changed and set free into the woods. The sight of a flamingo casually walking across screen had me in stitches. Also I love the fact that the dog Colin Farrell walks in with is actually his brother. I do not want to say too much more about the film because it is so much fun and so unique that I suggest you go out and watch it knowing as little as possible. Oh, and if you have happened to have watched the trailer released for this film and did not like it; relax, because it is a terrible representation of the actual film. Hilarious movie; just go see it!
I have mentioned numerous times on this blog about my love affair of fairy tales and in 2015, I was lucky enough to watch two great movies based on classic fairy tales. One of them was a stunning Czechoslovakian film from 1978 based on “Beauty and the Beast” called “Panna a netvor”, whilst the other was this sumptuous and grand live action re-telling of “Cinderella” directed by Kenneth Branagh. Whilst I enjoyed all of the recent adaptations of “Snow White” over the last couple of years, it slightly annoyed me that they all felt the need to alter the story and characters to make them big action adventure stars. I feared that some similar revisionist work would be added to “Cinderella” too but I could not have been more wrong, as the strongest aspect of this film is that is stays perfectly true to the classic story (at least the Disney version of it). This is not a cynical film at all and it is one that will have you believing in magic again. In fact one of my fondest memories of the film was watching my seven year old daughter's face beam when Cinderella got her trademark blue dress from her fairy godmother. It was a beautiful moment perfectly realised on film. Everything about this film just works; from Dante Ferretti's massive set designs, to the gorgeous costumes, to the bold colourful look to the whole film, but most importantly is it has been superbly cast. Lily James is perfect as Cinderella, she just drips in innocence and is stunningly gorgeous to boot, but as perfect as she is, the movie is stolen once again by the villain, the evil stepmother, this time played by a luminous Cate Blanchett. She is deliciously evil in the role and seems to revel in playing a bad guy for once. Kenneth Branagh obviously knows she is the draw card to the film too because the why he shoots her scenes are as if she was from the golden age of Hollywood. She also is given the grandest entrance in the film as she appears from behind her large brimmed hat; just stunning! I have nothing but praise for this film and feel it is perfect for both adults and children alike. This year's “Beauty and the Beast” (starring Emma Watson) has a lot to live up to.
Talk about an underrated film! “Extinction” is the latest film from Spanish filmmaker Miguel Angel Vivas, whose last film was the superior home invasion thriller “Kidnapped”. I was blown away by the cinematic balls Vivas had to pull off what he did with “Kidnapped” and I kept a steady eye on what he was doing next. “Extinction” was that film, but sadly, I do not think it got the distribution it deserved......or the marketing campaign. The film is set in an apocalyptic future where zombie like creatures have taken over the world, and it appears that few humans have survived. Two that have however are Patrick and Jack, former friends who now no longer talk to each other, even though all that separates them is a small wire fence. Living with Jack is Lu, his nine year old daughter. Eventually these three must come together and confront their past, if any of them are going to have a future because the creatures have just found where they have been hiding.
This is such a great film but sadly the marketing campaign for it was all wrong. The trailer makes the film come across as some big creature feature horror film, packed to the gills with action and gore when actually that is not the case. Granted that stuff does happen but not until the last half an hour of the film. Until that time we get something of a family drama about two men and the little girl caught between them, as we slowly learn just what destroyed these two men's friendship. Again, this is a film with a lot of heart and emotion, and importantly, actions have consequences in this world and Patrick is having to come to terms with his. It is an incredibly quiet film, that is also slowly paced too during this section of the film and that may be another reason it hasn't found an audience. One aspect I liked about the film is that it never goes exactly where you think it will; you think you have it figured out and know where it is going but it turns around and does something completely different. When the action, blood, guts and violence does happen, Vivas finally gets to flex his cinematic muscles as he shows us just how visually capable he is at being able to tell a story excitingly. I loved this section just as much as what came before it but for totally different reasons. Suddenly I was thrust into a world with a man who knew how to use a camera and come up with some stunning shots to show off his action. So again I have seemed to be impressed by Miguel Angel Vivas and have just learnt that his next film is meant to be a remake of one of my favourite recent horror films, the French film “Inside”. Normally I would be totally against this, but with Vivas at the helm (and Juame Balaguero on scripting duties), I think this remake is in good hands.
13. THE ASSASSIN
Hou Hsiao-Hsien's years in the making martial arts drama “The Assassin” has divided viewers right from the outset. A critical darling at Cannes, however most “regular” cinema patrons tend to find the film dead boring. As I mentioned in my review for the film, “The Assassin” was the film I heard most complained about at this years MIFF, however I absolutely loved it. Whilst it is not an easy film to understand due to so many seemingly important details being deliberately left out, it is a film I found mesmerising due to its pace and quiet atmosphere. It is a film that has the ability to actually calm you. The issue most people have with the film is this glacial pace and the fact that it has been sold as a martial arts epic. Having some familiarity with Hou's previous films certainly helps in appreciating his latest because by having this knowledge, you would understand going in the kind of film you would be getting. He is meticulous in his detail and in every moment he demands an honesty, so “The Assassin” was never going to be anything like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. That said, I was actually surprised by the amount of kung fu scenes that were present in the film, even though their length was minimal at best. Like everything else in this film, they have been meticulously designed and photographed. I have watched the film twice now and am still impressed by it, and am understanding the political part of the story more and more too. Definitely worth watching even though it wont be for everyone. Click here to read my original review.
12. STEVE JOBS
I originally had no plans to watch this film at all. I barely knew who Steve Jobs was, nor do I have much interest in modern technology, so I couldn't think of a reason why I would be interested in watching a film about these things. Even though both Danny Boyle was directing and Michael Fassbender was starring, I still had my doubts, but again these were slowly chiselled away once word of mouth came around to me telling me how good it really was. So I decided to take the chance and right from the opening minute I was with it 100% and stayed that way until the end. I could not believe how much I liked this film particularly when the subject of the film seemed to be such an egotistical prick. The genius is in how this story is told which is basically three large vignettes, all set at different times in Jobs life (the first starting in 1984, the last in 1998), each time just as he is about launch a new product onto the world. We never actually get to see the presentations themselves, just all of the drama leading up to them and we eventually find out how that product sold soon after. The script by Aaron Sorkin is easily the best of the year and is so dense and yet Michael Fassbender and the rest of the cast deliver their lines with such precise efficiency that it all feels incredibly natural and real. Even though he is my favourite actor right now, I was still stunned by just how good Fassbender was in this and by how he commanded the screen and the rest of the cast. He is the whole show here, if he does not pull off this role, the film does not work and he is amazing. Who am I kidding? Everyone is great in this film, but I need to mention Seth Rogan who proves again that when given the opportunity, he actually has the acting chops to play something other than a stoner loser. Once again I am in awe of Danny Boyle as a director because he seems to be just able to do anything he wants. None of his films are the same, he constantly is trying new things and he almost always succeeds (let's just forget the end of “Sunshine” shall we?). Here he is able to keep the energy and momentum going full pelt for the entirety of this two hour film, and never once make it either exhausting for the audience or boring. He also, along with Fassbender, is able to make us feel for a deeply flawed and potentially unlikeable individual and actually give a shit to what happens to him too. “Steve Jobs” was a total surprise and I loved every minute of it, so if you are like me and feel like you wont be interested in such a film, take the chance, I'm sure you will not be disappointed.
Director Denis Villeneuve is starting to become a regular on my best of lists, but initially “Sicario” looked like it was not going to make the cut. Whilst I liked the film from the outset, it just didn't seem to grab me like it did everyone else. Then I watched it a second time, this time with my wife, and suddenly the brilliance of it just opened itself up to me. “Sicario” is an incredibly tense film about the war on drugs and the places that the governments have to go and the things that they have to do just to make a small difference out there. This is not a black and white world, it is full of grey where the good guys do bad things, and bad people work in conjunction with the good guys at times. It is a very complex, adult drama that asks more questions than it answers but the questions it poses are all important and need to be spoken about. Villeneuve is quite the craftsmen at putting a film together and he seems to have created a great relationship with cinematographer Roger Deakins (whose work with Villeneuve is completely different from when he works with the Coens) as the two of them have seemed to mastered how to film things as dark as possible. Both “Sicario” and “Prisoners” are very dark films visually (and thematically) and yet both are gorgeously photographed. I think the problem that I had initially with the film was that like Emily Blunt's character, I was frustrated in not being able to understand exactly what they were doing or why. In my second viewing I understood that we are meant to identify with Blunt and that these answers do come after awhile so stay patient. This is another really well acted film with Blunt impressing as a tough as nails officer who takes no crap, and Josh Brolin playing a government task force leader in a manner that can best be described as casual and fun. However it is Benicio Del Toro, in career best form, who steals the show here playing a mysterious Mexican character named Alejandro, who is working alongside the U.S government. This is not the kind of movie where everyone goes on to live happily ever after, this is a gritty, cynical look at the world and one of its many problems. It is also excellent.