Sunday, 17 January 2016

Our top 10 films of 2015

2015 was undoubtedly the year of the blockbuster. Hard to believe, but in the same 12 months, we have seen a new Jurassic film, a new Mad Max film, a new Bond film, a new Star Wars film and countless other big budget spectaculars. But it was also in year in which the likes of Ex Machina and The Martian proved that thought provoking science fiction has a place alongside the bigger thrills of Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Ant-Man. Not to mention​ a few hidden gems.

It's popcorn all round, then, as we delve into our top 10 films of 2015.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

Director: Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher)
Cast: Mission: Impossible veterans Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames, alongside Rebecca Ferguson (Hercules), Alec Baldwin's (The Departed), Sean Harris (Prometheus) and Simon McBurney (Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy)

Put Tom Cruise in a mechanical suit, pair him with Cameron Diaz or stick him onto a barren, post-apocalyptic Earth and the box office remains resolutely unfazed. Clad him in the garb of IMF agent Ethan Hunt, though, and it's another story. Audiences flocked to the fifth Mission: Impossible outing and were treated to a slick and stylish franchise extension. Cruise is occasionally overshadowed by Rebecca Ferguson, whose breakout star, Ilsa Faust, has him eating dirt and Sean Harris whispers menacingly. Roll on number six.

Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel)
Cast: Michael Keaton (Robocop), Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man), Edward Norton (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone), Andrea Riseborough (Oblivion) and Naomi Watts (The Impossible)

Recently punishing a new cast on his violent Western The Revenant, Alejandro González Iñárritu here puts his players through a different ordeal, and gets a showcase performance out of every one of them. Unfolding across two hours of backstage theatre drama that play as a single take, it is an almost impossibly complex technical achievement. But it remains rooted in its characters, particularly Michael Keaton's Riggan, who once played a superhero but is now aiming for something higher. Meta much?

Steve Jobs

Director: Danny Boyle (127 Hours)
Cast: Michael Fassbender (Prometheus), Seth Rogen (This Is The End), Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road), Jeff Daniels (Looper), Katherine Waterston (Robot & Frank) and Lisa (Perla Haney-Jardine)

Arguably the best thing to come out of the Sony Pictures hack, Danny Boyle's slick, mesmerising fly-on-the-wall drama shifted studios before it saw the light of day. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's (The Social Network) look behind the scenes at three key product launches mines the technical firebrand's extraordinary career for human drama. Theatrical in form without ever feeling staged, Sorkin's unique three-act structure is driven home by another pitch perfect Michael Fassbender performance. Sometimes commanding, sometimes shrill, always mesmerising, Fassbender may not look much like his character, but he certainly acts like him. Steve Jobs flopped at the box office but certainly deserves to find a much bigger audience on TV and iPads everywhere.

Inside Out

Director: Pete Docter (Up)Cast: Amy Poehler (Parks And Recreation), Mindy Kaling (The Office), Lewis Black (The Aristocrats), Bill Hader (Superbad) and Phyllis Smith (Bad Teacher)

Just when Pixar seemed to be running out of steam in the wake of their so-so sequels and mark missing original ideas, along came Inside Out, a movie as bold and smart as any release this year. Here was a family film bold enough to land its young heroine with clinical depression and explore a child's psychological hinterland in a way Freud would have approved, and combine all that with a race against time adventure and an elephant cat hybrid called Bing Bong. For director Pete Docter it was a semi-autobiographical labour of love – for the rest of us, it was an alloyed joy.


Director: Damien Chazelle (Guy And Madeline On A Park Bench)
Cast: Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now), J.K. Simmons (Juno), Melissa Benoist (Tennessee), Austin Sowell (Love And Honour), Paul Reiser (The Thing About My Folks) and Jayson Blair (The New Normal)

Damien Chazelle's unbearably tense drama stars an outstanding Miles Teller as the driven jazz drummer protagonist, but his show is nevertheless stolen by J.K. Simmons' incendiary turn as his bullying mentor Fletcher, making "not quite my tempo" one of the most terrifying lines of the year. That he ends up a sympathetic character is a stunning achievement both of the writing and the performance.

The Martian

Director: Ridley Scott (Prometheus)
Cast: Matt Damon (Elysium), Jeff Daniels (Looper), Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Kristen Wiig (The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty), Kate Mara (127 Hours), Michael Peña (End Of Watch), Sean Bean (The Lord Of the Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave)

While he is undoubtedly one of the great film directors, there is nevertheless something dour about most Ridley Scott films. Which is what makes The Martian such a wonderful surprise. Arguably the feel good film of the year, its premise of an astronaut stranded alone on a hostile planet wouldn't seem to lend itself easily to hilarity. And yet while you wouldn't call it a comedy, the laughs come often, thanks to Matt Damon's light touch and Drew Goddard's (The Cabin In The Woods) smart writing. And to Scott, who uncharacteristically lets those moments roll amid all the hard science.

Jurassic World

Director: Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed)
Cast: Chris Pratt (Guardians Of The Galaxy), Bryce Dallas Howard (The Help), Ty Simpkins (Insidious), Nick Robinson (The Kings Of Summer), Omar Sy (Micmacs), Vincent D'Onofrio (Escape Plan), Irrfan Khan (Life Of Pi), Jake Johnson (21 Jump Street), Judy Greer (Carrie), B.D. Wong (Jurassic Park), Katie McGrath (Merlin) and Lauren Lapkus (Are You Here)

The greatest trick Jurassic World pulled was giving audiences exactly what they expected while throwing something new into the recipe. We know the dinosaurs will get loose and cause havoc, but what is different this time are the stakes – the park is now open to the public, allowing for disaster movie levels of tension as crowds of people now share the danger of our plucky central scientists. Not to mention a new threat in the form of the genetically enhanced Indominous Rex, and the cheer worthy moment when franchise favourite the T-Rex gets to save the day.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Director: George Miller (Mad Max)
Cast: Tom Hardy (Lawless), Charlize Theron (Prometheus), Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies), Riley Keough (The Runaways), Zoë Kravitz (X-Men: First Class), Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (Transformers: Dark Of The Moon), Hugh Keays-Byrne (Sleeping Beauty), Nathan Jones (Conan The Barbarian), Abbey Lee Kershaw and Courtney Eaton

More than 30 years after leaving Max in the wasteland, George Miller returns to his signature series with results that can conservatively be called extraordinary. On paper it certainly doesn't sound like much – Max (Tom Hardy) and Furiosa (Charlize Theron) escape from somewhere and then go back again. But it is the insane assemblage of post-apocalypse desert freakery and mechanical carnage that elevates Mad Max: Fury Road to an incredible, visceral, purely cinematic experience.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Director: J.J. Abrams' (Star Trek Into Darkness)
Cast: Star Wars veterans Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, alongside John Boyega (Attack The Block), Daisy Ridley (Silent Witness), Adam Driver (Girls), Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), Andy Serkis (Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes), Domhnall Gleeson (About Time), Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years A Slave), Gwendoline Christie (Game Of Thrones), Max von Sydow (Shutter Island), Christina Chong (W.E.), Crystal Clarke and Pip Anderson.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a triumphant return to form for cinema's biggest franchise, managing to both honour the saga's heritage and reimagine the galaxy far, far away for an entirely new generation of fans. We have a lovable new droid in BB-8, three new heroes in Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) and arguably the series' most complicated villain yet in the magnificent Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). From the sheer spectacle of the set pieces to the beautiful character moments, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is everything you could ask from a Star Wars movie. Roll on Episode VIII.

Ex Machina

Director: Alex Garland
Cast: Alicia Vikander (Anna Karenina), Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) and Domhnall Gleeson (About Time)

Proving that science fiction doesn't always need to be about spectacle, Alex Garland's directorial debut is largely confined to a single house and concerns itself more with dialogue than action. Centred on a relationship triangle between reclusive inventor genius Nathan (Oscar Isaac), beguiling android Ava (Alicia Vikander), and unsuspecting rookie programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), it is a fiercely intelligent psychological guessing game that wouldn't have shamed Philip K. Dick. Beautifully shot and delicately scripted by Garland himself, Ex Machina is a sinister and delicious science fiction thriller that explores what it it means to be human.

You can read out full review of Ex Machina right here.

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