Before we get onto my selection for the best films of the year, I thought I'd offer my thoughts on the year's releases as a whole. Barring a few notable exceptions, there really hasn't been any great all-rounders this year; films that excel in every way possible. Take Foxcatcher as an example of a film that falls short. It has great performances (especially Steve Carrell), but the script is pretty dull, and the direction isn't anything to shout home about. That's just one film of the 70-odd I saw. Most followed a similar pattern of one great area of film making, but lacking in others.
Unlike in 2014's "Best of" list, I haven't included every film I've seen this year - just the 20 best. Why the change? Well, I find that depending on my mood, the middle films in this list shift about in their rankings. Best just to focus on the ones I know were my absolute faves!
You'll also see I've named my worst film of the year, which actually proved a harder task than you might think. All in, I've ranked 21 films, so roughly a third of what I saw.
So, without further a-do:
The Top 20 Films of 2015
Honorary mention: John Wick
I had to include this somewhere on the list, because it was a film I'd written off before I watched it. However, the action is pretty much non-stop, and it's a return to form for Keanu Reeves... To say any more would ruin the film. Action/thriller fans, check it out!
20: Still Alice
I really admired Julianne Moore's performance in this. I think it alone carries the whole film - and it's not hard to see why she had success in last season's awards. However, the film doesn't do anything or add anything new - and does feel a tad melodramatic at times.
19: The Lobster
It seems that everybody loved this one, but me! Don't get me wrong - the first half is great. It has a great concept, it's humour is very quirky, and it does attempt some interesting things with its characters and story. But then, [SPOILER!!] Colin Farrell breaks out of the hotel, and the second half of the film is very meandering and more than a little dull at times. All in, I think it means the film averages out as a 'good' - but I doubt I'd bother to watch it again.
18: Slow West
I don't have much to say about this really, except Fassbender was great and I think it's an all-round solid take at the Western genre. I just enjoyed other films more, or felt they explored their subject matters more strongly.
Fantastically shot, with great performances from Blanchet/Mara. However, I didn't like the characters and because of that, I found it hard to care what happened to them.
16: London Road
Very macabre, but different. I don't think the musical aspect was entirely successful, but I respect that the film makers gave it a go. It's also, considering the subject matter, bizarrely very funny in parts. I think it's brave in a way not a lot of British films are these days.
15: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Such a beautifully crafted film. What else would you expect from Studio Ghibli? However, the story does begin to drag a little in the middle, so points lost for that.
14: Ex Machina
Contains possibly the bizarrest dance sequence out of any 2015 movie, Alex Garland's robotic tale is full of twists and turns. I remember looking across at the person I watched this with, properly excited as I couldn't tell where this was going next. It does suffer through some poor characters at points, mind, and the odd few minutes here and there can be quite tedious.
I thought this was well made, and well acted. I liked the characters, and the story was one I could relate to on a personal level.
12: Song of the Sea
A film you've probably never heard of, but having seen the above trailer will most definitely want to check out. Am I right? It's a stunning piece of work, and a masterful addition to Irish Cinema. The story has some very Ghibli vibes to it, which is by no means a bad thing! Go, check it out - and thank me later, when you finish watching it with a great big smile on your face!
11: The Martian
Ok, so it's been done before in films like Castaway... but Matt Damon is hilarious here! Ridley Scott deserves some kudos too, for his marked return to form. This is a blockbuster that most definitely lives up to the hype.
10: It Follows
The first iconic horror film of this decade, and creepy as fuck.
A haunting documentary. At times it felt like I was intruding on Winehouse's life, but it made me question the prejudices I had in my mind about her (because of the media reporting of her behaviour/drug-use) and then made me very, very sad that she's now left the world forever.
8: Big Hero 6
Yes, it's Disney - but so what? In films like this they do what they do very well. This had a solid story, very likable characters, huge amounts of fun with its central concept and was an emotional wringing. Also, my nephew really latched on to Baymax - and mimics him all the time. What's not to love?
This is one of those occasions where the circumstances of how I watched the film completely impact my judgement. I had such a good time watching this at the cinema; seeing my friend James for the first time in a while, going into the theatre happy... not having seen *any* trailer whatsoever. I was blown away by it (and for once, it didn't matter that the characters were so unlikeable). Although yeah, the ending is probably a little too sickly sweet.
6: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
I think the general consensus is correct: This isn't a perfect by any stretch of the imagination. What it is, however, is a blast. It's two hours of action you'll enjoy watching, laugh-out-loud jokes, and some of the coolest characters to grace cinema screens this year. Within minutes it's better than the 3 prequel movies combined. Yes, it's a little too similar to A New Hope - but really, at this point, who cares? A new Star Wars film doesn't have the right to be this good!
Blimey, this was intense! I actually sweated during the movie, so involved was I in what was going on! JK Simmons owned his role in this one.
4: Mad Max: Fury Road
Though I found it hard to connect with the film for the first 5-10 minutes, it soon sucked me in - and yeah, I went along for the ride. I think the action was masterfully directed by George Millar, and Tom Hardy was great as Max. Such imagination, in costumes, cars and scenery. Amazing.
3: Inside Out
I reached some dark places in my mind this past summer. Through this Pixar film, I came to realise that sadness is OK sometimes. This feels like such a grown up kids film, and I loved everything about it. Particularly it's heart.
2: Steve Jobs
I'm not the biggest follower of Apple, or the late Steve Jobs. But that's ok! Aaron Sorkin's script is a marvel. Like The Social Network before it, Sorkin exposes the drama beneath the real-life faces, and mines it for all it's worth. Add in some great performances (take a bow, Ms Kate Winslet!) and some understated direction from Danny Boyle and you have my favourite script of the year.
1: A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
This is a film that oozes cool, but it's about so much more than that. It's beautifully shot, with the best music of any film I've seen this year. It leaves you guessing what'll happen next, and draws you into a culture that you are probably not all that familiar with. That it does this, and you fail to realise that this is actually an American film is all the more admirable. Full marks, on every level.
My Worst Film of 2015...
(OK - so I did the smart thing and mostly avoided the 'terrible' films you too might have seen advertised this year. So it means my worst films are probably nowhere near as bad as those that film critics chose. They have to sit through EVERYTHING released. Can you imagine the shite they must see?!)
I was tempted to put Lost River here - but you know what? At least that had some vaguely interesting ideas pumped into it, and some creepy performances. Enemy was a contender too, but I don't actually think that was terrible - just pretty average. No... the films (for we have joint 'winners'!) I picked are utterly horrible on every level. Both feature characters so unlikable, that I should have walked out of the cinema rather than stay and watch their story unfold. They're also so unbelievable. Both have a sorta hipster vibe, to which I'm just glad that I'm not part of that sub-culture. Also, both tolerate an intellectual elitism that I just can't abide. They are...
Listen Up, Philip & While We're Young
I'll admit, I didn't see everything I wanted this year. A part of me thinks "Must do better next year!" - but then there's a part of me that thinks it needs a rest from seeing this many films throughout the year, and 2016 should be an opportunity to scale back my cinema going.
Anyhoo, do you agree with my list? Let me know in the comments below.