It was another tough one this year. I’ve been to the cinema much less than in previous years, but I was still left with a list of about 25 films that I had to whittle down further to make this final top ten.
Now, as always let me clarify that this list is based on a film’s first cinematic release in the UK. This is based solely on UK cinematic releases in the calendar year between 01 January and 31 December 2015.
Likewise, the likes of Creed, The Revenant, The Hateful Eight etc aren’t out in the UK at the time of writing and so won’t appear in my list for 2015. Instead, as they are released in January 2016, they will be contenders for my next Top 10 list in 12 months time.
Now with that made absolutely clear, here are my top ten films released in the UK in 2015:
10 – Inherent Vice
Frequently baffling and nonsensical, Inherent Vice is almost 3 hours of following Joaquin Phoenix’s stoned private investigator as he kind of but not quite solves three linked cases. It could have been a terrible mess, but is in fact really, really good. It may take a couple of viewings (or six) for you to fully appreciate everything that’s going on, however.
9 – The Martian
Making hard science palatable to a mainstream audience whilst still telling an entertaining story is a tricky balancing act, but Ridley Scott and Matt Damon proved more than up to the task. Arguably Scott’s best film in quite some time, and captures the friendly but informative tone of Andy Weir’s novel.
8 – Birdman
A technical achievement more than anything else, Birdman got the year off to a good start, made clear just how good Michael Keaton is (as if you needed any more proof) and poke fun at the modern age of superhero cinema. The story itself is somewhat trite and played out, but shooting the whole thing as if it was one seamless sequence? Genius on the part of Mr Inarritu.
7 – Mr Holmes
A touching story focusing on the latter years of Sherlock Holmes. What could be worse than for The Great Detective to start losing his memory? I would argue that the narrative presented in the film is more satisfying than the source novel, but only just.
6 – Song of the Sea
A touching and heartwarming look at the nature of family, sibling relationships and the pain of loss, all wrapped around an old celtic myth about selkies, seals that can turn into humans and vice versa. Given a choice between this and the equally good Inside Out, I had to go with this. Don’t hate me for it.
5 – Slow West
This was a late entry on the list, but offered a substantially interesting take on the Western genre to bump The Salvation out of my Top 10. This is a modern take of the old Western, a still but incredibly beautiful landscape upon which bounty hunters and a lovelorn Scotsman come to blows. It doesn’t hold back on either the violence or the black comedy, managing to balance the two with almost effortless efficiency.
4 – It Follows
There’s a great concept behind It Follows, and an all too believable malignant force at its centre. That person walking towards you, are they real or is it the thing that will kill you? Not everything is tied up neatly by film’s end, but this something that works in its favour. I’m just hoping that, if a sequel ever emerges, it retains the qualities that made this film great and doesn’t become a Blair Witch 2.
3 – Ex Machina
Smart science fiction concept combined with excellent performances and solid direction. What more can you ask for in this day and age? Well, assuming you appreciate science fiction. If not, I’d recommend just going off and doing literally anything else.
2 – Whiplash
I never expected to enjoy a film about jazz drumming as much as I did in Whiplash. That comes down to an excellent script and two barnstorming central performances from Miles Teller and JK Simmons. Teller’s determination to be the best he possibly can be meets Simmons near-possessed conductor. Plus, my sense of timing is so bad I’d never be able to tell if I was rushing or dragging. On the other hand, I do now use the phrase “not quite my tempo” quite a lot.
It was trapped in development hell for so many years that it almost never saw release. But, thankfully, George Miller managed to pull everything together and provide what for me is a perfect road movie. Detractors will criticise the plot for basically being “Going from A to B, then back to A” but that for me is missing the point. That isn’t what we’re supposed to focus on. Instead, it’s the emotional journey of the characters and specifically Furiosa, who is more or less the main character in place of the mostly silent Max. Insane action doesn’t really get much better than this, and extra plaudits are handed to Fury Road for the guitar wielding Doof Warrior.