I had intended to get this article up a lot sooner. However, many of the films that were released in America in 2015 were not released here in Ireland until January or February 2016. As a result, I’m a little late to the party here. But we’re still in the midst of Award Season and the Oscars loom on the horizon, so I guess that now is almost as good a time as any to name my top 10 films of 2015.
Before I kick things off though, I must admit that I haven’t seen every movie released in the last year. I saw a lot of films in 2015, but there are certainly many more that I did not see. So if one of your favourites is left off the list, I may just not have gotten around to it.
The latest movie in the Rocky franchise is up there with the best of the series. With top notch performances from Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, the film tells the story of Apollo Creed’s son. Despite his father’s untimely demise, Adonis is drawn to a career in boxing and recruits Rocky Balboa to train him. But as the son of one of the most famous competitors in the history of the boxing, he’s under an unprecedented amount of pressure right from the start. We’ve all seen this kind of story before, but this is an enjoyable version of it.
09. STAR WARS VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS
I often don’t get excited about sequels the way that many people do. Between that and the poor quality of the prequel trilogy I was prepared to be very underwhelmed by The Force Awakens. Instead I was treated to one of Abrams’s best efforts to date. It suffers from some plot holes and contrivances, but the visuals are stunning, the world is engaging, and most importantly the characters are likable and appealing. This film breathed life back into a stagnant franchise and for that it deserves a place on the list.
08. IT FOLLOWS
These days, how often do we see horror films that are genuinely great? How many modern horror films have any trace of originality? That’s what makes It Follows such a genuine treat. Gone are the zombies and vampires. There’s no over-reliance on jump-scares or gore. This is a psychological horror that makes your skin crawl by building tension slowly and creating an atmosphere of inevitability. The direction is also impressive and the imagery often terrifying. This is the fresh take on horror that’s been so badly lacking in recent years.
07. THE BIG SHORT
Most people don’t want to learn more about the subprime mortgage crisis in their leisure time. But this film takes complicated (and frankly boring) subject matter and makes it approachable. It even makes it funny. And then it makes you mad. The film is a unique combination of delightful and infuriating. Celebrity cameos, wacky analogies and characters breaking the fourth wall make this film a really fun ride. But The Big Short also doesn’t shy away from the greedy, fraudulent nature of the banks, or how many lives were hurt by the crisis.
Room is an adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s award-winning novel of the same name. But the film might be even better. It depicts the relationship between a kidnapped young woman and her five year old son. The film manages to be disturbing without being exploitative. It is told from the perspective of the child: someone who cannot even imagine a world outside of the room. It’s an intriguing take on this kind of story and the performance from Jacob Tremblay is awe-inspiring from such a young actor. Room is a thoroughly moving and surprisingly uplifting experience.
05. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
The latest Mad Max instalment came out of nowhere to be one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year. It’s not hard to see why. This is one of the best pure action films I’ve seen in years. The film’s relentless pace and awesome practical effects make it impossible to look away. Fury Road gives its audience very little time to breathe, keeping tension sky-high throughout. The characters are thin, but highly compelling, with Charlize Theron stealing the show as Furiosa. But it’s the balls-to-the-wall action that makes this one so good.
Dope is a real gem of a film that unfortunately flew under a lot of people’s radars last year. It somehow manages to be a lot of things at once: it’s a crime drama, but also a comedy, a romance and a coming-of-age film. The film centres on a black high school geek obsessed with 90’s hip-hop culture. He comes from a bad neighbourhood and is bullied for trying to get into Harvard. That’s before he is thrust into the centre of a drug plot that threatens both his reputation and his life. Dope is a fun, uplifting film with a great soundtrack and tons of energy.
03. EX MACHINA
Alex Garland’s directorial debut is an example of science fiction at its most provocative and intriguing. A programmer is invited to the home of his billionaire boss to test the artificial intelligence of a new android he has created. Killer performances by Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander bolster a superb script. Viewers are left to navigate a labyrinth of secrets and manipulation as we try and figure out each character’s agenda. This is a film that you’ll find yourself thinking about for some time.
02. INSIDE OUT
This film is a reminder of what Pixar are capable of when they’re at their best. Inside Out is perhaps their most ambitious work to date. The amount of detail in this film is staggering. The world created inside Riley’s head is one of the most vibrant that I’ve ever seen in an animated film. Pixar use this setting to tell a compelling story about dealing with change, and provide a healthy perspective on human emotion without ever talking down to the audience. This will make you laugh and cry as only a Pixar film can.
It can be difficult to make something like journalistic investigation seem exciting, but with the help of an incredible script and the best ensemble cast of 2015, director Tom McCarthy pulls it off here. Spotlight feels important from beginning to end. It’s based on a true story, but it’s still surprising how real this all feels. The film captures everything so believably. It turns the town of Boston into its own character, and provides insight into how the church could have been protected from the child abuse scandal for so long.
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It was a tough decision between Inside Out and Spotlight for the #1 slot. On another day I may have chosen differently. It was hard to rank some of these films above others, but these 10 were definitely my favourites from what I consider a pretty strong year for film.
Hopefully the coming year will have just as much to offer.
Steve Hanley is an editor and co-founder of NovaCritic.com.