With more and more blockbuster releases hitting the multiplexes every week, the summer blockbuster season in full flow right now, and the winter awards-contenders just around the corner, it’s easy to forget the crop of excellent films we’ve already seen (or perhaps understandably missed – you can’t see ’em all, as they say). That’s why Liam, Matt, Michelle, and Terry decided to look back, celebrate the action, the acting, the drama we’ve already seen this year, and highlight their Top 5 Films Of 2015 So Far.
5. Slow West
The tropes of the Western genre are so well known that creating a new and exciting western film is always going to prove a difficult task. Thankfully Slow West, the directorial debut of John Maclean manages to do just that.
Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Jay, a 16 year old boy from Scotland who is roaming west in search of his one true love Rose. After being ambushed on his journey Jay is saved by Silas (Michael Fassbender), a seasoned outlaw, who proposes he chauffeur him on his journey.
Maclean’s story is an ode to love and the naivety of youth but also a tragic tale about the destruction of a culture, with one scene imparticular really hitting home hard. Maclean has also borrowed a lot from the Coens here- his film is wickedly comic at times whilst still managing to maintain its seriousness.
4. Inherent Vice
Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film proved to be his most polarising to date, especially amongst audiences, with reports of walks outs coming in from all over the country.
Based on the notoriously difficult Thomas Pyncheon novel of the same name Anderson’s take on Inherent Vice is very much a mood piece. Like he has done so many times before him Anderson manages to perfectly capture the time period his film is set in. Inherent Vice is a wonderfully paranoid and hallucinogenic glimpse into an America on the brink of some huge changes.
Adding to that is one of the best soundtracks of the year so far and some top notch performances from the likes of Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin in the lead roles.
3. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Attempting to describe the final film in Roy Andersson’s unofficial living trilogy ‘A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence’ would prove an extremely pointless task. The film is a mix of short sequences, some related, some not, all taking a look at the nature of humanity.
The film has many highlights and is profound, hilarious and disturbing, often all at once. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is not going to be to everybody’s taste but those who are willing to engage with it will find a frank and rewarding study of life as we know it.
Mommy, the fifth feature film from 26 year old French Canadian director Xavier Dolan is a visceral and striking examination of the relationship between a single mother and her son, who is wrestling with ADHD.
Featuring two of the years finest performances from Anne Dorval and Antoine Oliver Pilon Mommy is an engrossing, if at times difficult watch. Dolan is one of the most exciting young directors around today and combined with a script that mixes kitchen sink realism and teenage angst Mommy proves to be one of the most powerful, and best films of the year so far.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
Coming into the summer no-one really knew what to expect from Mad Max:Fury Road- sure it was in the hands of George Miller but it had been 30 years since we last saw Max and fans were skeptical that perhaps it wouldn’t be the same.
Within the opening few minutes of Mad Max: Fury Road I took a deep breath and relaxed, this was the Mad Max I knew and loved, all my worries had been for nothing. However what I wasn’t prepared for was not only the best film in the franchise so far but also arguably the best action movie of the last decade. Mad Max: Fury Road turned out to be an exhilarating, rip roaring action masterclass which didn’t let up for a second, leaving you both exhausted and begging for more.
Mad Max: Fury Road is the best film of 2015 so far and it’s going to have be a good six months for anything to have knocked it off come the end of the year.
5. Fast and Furious 7
It may have been the seventh film in the franchise, but it certainly shifted the series up a gear. With a star studded cast and stunning supercars to match, this full throttle ride barely gives you time to brake.
From parachuting cars out of a plane, to a nail biting cliff side race to hurtling cars through buildings and even the odd punch up, this is a spectacular ride from start to finish. But it’s the quiet moments that are perhaps the most touching. Driven by one of my favourite directors James Wan, the epic racing scenes are just as stunning and ingenious as the use of slow motion and silence as the cars go hurtling through the air.
Dedicated to Paul Walker, who died while filming, the movie also features a moving tribute at the end – and I challenge even the most masculine of men not to shed a tear at the end as the screen fades to white.
4. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)
It’s very rare to come across a film and not have anything to say – but Birdman is one of those movies that takes time to digest before forming an opinion that will undoubtedly be one word: weird (but absolutely fascinating). Michael Keaton leads the way as washed up superhero actor Riggon Thomson, a man who was once known simply as Birdman. The star of the superhero trilogy on the big screen, he’s now desperately trying to make a name for himself on Broadway by writing, directing and starring in his own stage adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story. Directed by Alejandro Gonzalex Inarritu, the film uses a seemingly unedited single shot, one that follows each of the actors’ points of view and takes us from dizzying rooftop heights, right back down to the underbelly of the theatre. Yet it’s the film’s use of sanity – or insanity – that makes it such a captivating watch. From Riggan arguing with a feathered and beaked Birdman in his dressing room to his apparent powers of levitation in the opening scene, you end up questioning your own state of mind as you get sucked into this bizarre theatrical world. It’s frustratingly beautiful.
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
Whether you’re a fan of the original Mad Max films or not, there’s something to get everyone’s engines firing in Mad Max: Fury Road. Opening to a shot of Max Rockatansky surveying stretches of desert landscape before stamping on a double headed lizard and eating it alive, the theme for the film is set – this is a story of survival. Captured by the War Boys, the army of tyrannical cult leader Immortan Joe, Max is taken prisoner and labelled as a universal blood donor, before being hooked up to sick War Boy Nux. Meanwhile, Imperator Furiosa is sent out on a War Rig to collect gasoline but veers off course. Immortan Joe soon realises that she’s taken his five wives and sends his entire War Boy army in pursuit – including Nux with Max the ‘blood bag’ tied to the front of his car. And so a ferocious and spectacular road war begins. With sped up action scenes, extreme close ups and wide pan shots showing off the sparse wasteland all through an Instagram style filtered lens, this is two hours of stunning cinema. Yet, despite being made 30 years after the last Mad Max film, there are glimmers of the original – from the hiss of a War Boy to the eye-popping close ups, there’s a certain nostalgic feel to the 21st Century film. With a flame throwing guitar player, cars that look like porcupines and the return of evil bikers, this isn’t just any old action film; this is a full throttle, visually stunning and highly entertaining ride that’s action packed to the max…
2. It Follows
It’s been a while since an original horror has really given us nightmares. But with David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, you’re guaranteed to still be haunted even after the credits roll – it is literally a story that follows you home. Giving a nod to some of the horror world’s most classic conventions, the film focuses on the most basic scare-standard of them all – sex equals death. The movie follows Jay, a 19-year-old girl whose new boyfriend has passed on the ultimate STD (a sexually transmitted demon). If she doesn’t sleep with someone else and pass it on, the demon will follow her and if it catches her it won’t only kill her, but everyone else in the sex chain. Very reminiscent to the likes of Michael Myers in Halloween this stalking presence is horrifying not for its looks but for its slow pace. It doesn’t need to run to catch you, it taunts, it’s patient and ultimately it’s terrifying. Although the film could have gone down a guts and gore route, it’s refreshing to see a thrilling horror that doesn’t rely on bloody scenes to create scares. Instead it revels on classic tension building, a riveting score and 70s and 80s tactics to disturb and shock its audience. This isn’t a modern horror that relies on ‘found footage’ nonsense, but just good old fashioned scares. And with a creepy stalker storyline and a scream worthy score, this is a terrifying 100 minutes that will leave you constantly glancing over your shoulder on your way home.
1. Jurassic World
Twenty-two years since the park first opened, Jurassic World has taken the Jurassic franchise out of extinction and placed it right here in the real world. Bringing John Hammond’s vision of a dinosaur theme park to life, the film hasn’t lost the magic of the original; in fact it’s grown from it. Set in a world where a child riding on the back of a baby Triceratops is just as normal as stroking a lamb at a petting zoo, Jurassic World has taken the classic idea to a staggering new level. Although there’s some heavy CGI, the bones of the original still shine through with Executive Producer Steven Spielberg’s signature puppetry. Somehow the idea of an actor being able to physically touch and interact with an animal on set, even if it’s a prop, is more believable than knowing it’s all been created by computers. But still, the special effects are impressive and every image is spectacular, from the tiny claw and beady eye of a baby dinosaur egg hatching in the opening sequence to the aerial shots of the flying predators picking off their prey – not forgetting of course the film’s ferocious finale, it’s definitely my number one film so far this year.
Undoubtedly the best hard sci-fi movie since Moon, Ex Machina did not have to do a great deal to make an impression in a quiet genre beset by becoming action film archetypes, but what an impression still! Long time genre cult screenwriter turned first time director Alex Garland is given the ball and scores with a creative success in his own project as he tackles whether an artificial intelligence containing android can pass the Turing test and the morality of bringing such an invention to being. What it lacks in covering up the predictable thriller elements of the plot, it excels with both a stellar group performance and due care & time given to the exploration of A.I. Garland plays on moods from some of his earlier screenwriting and production credits but goes the extra mile in creating a brooding intensity from a smashing bit of cinematography which doesn’t stop until the end credits. All that and current acting golden boy Oscar Isaac breaking dancing in tandem with a sexy Asian robot. A life saving injection into a certain type of movie that was on the verge of extinction in an essential film for sci-fi fan or casual cinemagoer alike in 2015.
4. It Follows
Continuing the revival of the horror genre in the last couple of years, I was stunned to find an American production has finally managed a genuinely outstanding addition. Hot indy filmmaker David Robert Mitchell plays up to making a normal person a viable and underwear staining threat with It Follows. Borrowing the unstoppable force of a Terminator, Mitchell combines the innocence loss for a girl with a blooming sexuality with an unwanted and seemingly unshakeable supernatural force of a shapeshifting human creature, only visible to those who are a victim of a sex curse. Needless to say it’s all quite original and, for a genre filled with garbage found footage & shock scares, this is an achievement. The grim mood throughout that never lets up as our heroine is constantly on the run from a slow moving near invisible force in her own personal nightmare that she fears to spread to her friends. An intentionally ambiguous timeframe as well as an intentional lack of clear story points adds to the mystery to the concept and highlights a truly immersive experience. The best overall compliment is that it manages to combine the visual and seductive atmosphere of Drive but throw it into a horror film to create a unique and well worth revisiting experience. It Follows is a stellar horror film that has not had a contender to worry about so far this year and will leave a mark as you look over your shoulders for a few days after watching.
3. Kingsman: The Secret Service
Taking a Mark Millar comic book at the best of times is always a dicey subject given his track record for puerile humour and dodgy plot revelations, but trust Matthew Vaughn and his team behind Kick-Ass to deliver another off-beat comic book adaptation in style. Removing the concept of ‘chav lad joins MI6’ and supplementing in the traditional 1960’s spy movie flick trappings is a masterstroke, as we see the rise of chav with a heart Eggsy into the clandestine high-class secret agency known as Kingsman. The oxymoron of the two cultures clashing is irresistible and Kingman goes a long way by having not one, but two contenders for ‘Scene Of The Year’ with everyone’s favourite English gentleman Colin Firth going absolutely off the chain as he runs through a hate church killing everyone inside and… well I won’t spoil the other, but it’s probably the best use of Pomp & Circumstance since Macho Man Randy Savage used it for wrestling theme music. Over the top violence, a damn cool soundtrack and icky laughs (in the right way) coupled to a charming concept made this a winner in a year where comic book movies have waned. Also, Eggsy is played by a local lad not too far from where me and Matt are based! Please excuse the personal bias then!
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
Come in Mr. Rockatansky. Whilst I did not really care for Tom Hardy’s portrayal for everyone’s favourite Australian post-apocalypse wasteland wanderer, it hardly mattered as series creator George Miller returned and delivered on a true Mad Max follow up which satisfied everyone in a deludedly creative two hour truck chase film. An action movie which has already attracted nothing but deserved praise from critics and fans, this is going to be one of those benchmarks films, in the vein of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which in about five years time we’ll be comparing every new so called innovator in action. Any complaints are merely minor nitpicks as practical effects are the king of the wasteland with a refreshing view just in the simple joy of seeing vehicles plowing into one another & disintegrating wonderfully, not forgetting the silly number of memorable characters (I can’t work out if I prefer the Blind Judge in the car tank or the Douf Warrior more) with some context thrown in for good measure to balance out the emotion. At times, it’s not Max’s film but then when has Max ever willingly got involved into a situation apart from to suit his needs to survive? Better still, it proves that Charlize Theron is one kick-ass (and one armed) mama that deserves her own female led action movie to emphasise that girls can stand up and be counted for in the typically male-dominated brutal action genre.
1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)
Perhaps more an indicator of how badly cinema so far in 2015 has been if the release slate for UK cinema has allowed this gem from the American Oscar race of last year to slide in, but Birdman deserves a top spot no matter the year. For the many, it’s a return to form for massively underrated actor Michael Keaton after perhaps being unfairly labelled and overlooked as a superhero actor for many years with a stirring and powerful performance. For the few, his award winning showing here was just desserts. In a case of art imitating life, Keaton is a former superhero actor who tries to revive his career by putting on a Broadway show and dealing with everything from a druggie daughter, a wildchild lead actor and of course his own possible delusions from his hero monkier. Whilst I feel Keaton truly brought Birdman to life, it would be folly for me to place all of this films success on him. Director Alejandro G. Inarritu mixes in a jazzy, fourth wall breaking soundtrack whilst pretty much delivering the film as one continuous take in some stunning cinematography in a technical masterpiece. Less of a superhero movie and more of a production film, Birdman still manages to play about in that comic book hero sandbox and go further into the mythology of playing a hero than any other shared universe attempts we’ve had recently, which is an achievement in itself.
5. Big Hero 6
Not only proving that Disney Animation Studios is quickly becoming far superior to the once infallible Pixar, and cementing itself as one of the best children’s films of the year, Big Hero 6 made it’s way onto this list by providing clear competition to a number of big budget adult orientated releases this year; specifically Avengers: Age Of Ultron.
Many believe it’s the best Marvel film to date, and given the heart, the comedy, the arc and journey of the young protagonist (who forms a superhero group, following the tragic loss of his elder brother), and the stunning animation on offer, it’s not hard to see why. It retains universal appeal across all ages and genders, is bright, heartfelt, and warrants a number of repeated viewings.
Plus, with a mascot like Baymax, how could it not make this list?
4. It Follows
Not only my favourite horror of the year, but my favourite horror for… well the last several years at least, It Follows managed to successfully freshen up an increasingly stale genre with its original concept, retro style, and unnerving style.
Following a young girl who contracts a shapeshifting stalker (invisible to all except her), and has to wrestle with the idea of living a life on the run or sleeping with someone else in order to pass on the danger, it raises a number of interesting moral questions, sidesteps the expected gore/jump-scares we’ve become accustomed to, and instead does a wonderful job of creating a growing sense of unease and dread.
Engaging, different, and unexpectedly creepy, It Follows is a film which will have you thinking about it for days after watching; just like any successful horror film should.
3. Kingsman: The Secret Service
Despite expecting a train-wreck of a film upon hearing the concept (council estate chav meets wealthy toff and becomes the new teen-James Bond), and being less than impressed with the trailers, Kingsman: The Secret Service got the year off to a great start for me; proving to be immeasurably fun, and pull a number of fantastically memorable surprises out of its hat.
With Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman teaming up for another big screen adaptation of a Mark Millar comic (as they did with Kick-Ass – the pair also worked together on X-Men: First Class, and have a solid record for quality output), there was really no way this could fail, but the way in which is succeeds is simply breathtaking.
Riffing on classic James Bond movies, modern day culture, and expected movie tropes, it’s not only a comment on audiences expectations and similar media, but works as an exceptionally fun film in it’s own right; with wonderfully OTT action sequences, some witty one liners, one of very few watchable Colin Firth performances, and a lead actor who’s destined for greatness, Kingsman: The Secret Service will be enjoyed by anyone who sees it.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
I had high hopes for Mad Max: Fury Road; being A fan of the franchise since I first saw the original Mel Gibson movies as a child.
Hearing there was going to be a fourth, Gibson-less, Mad Max movie could’ve easily meant disaster, but with mastermind George Miller (original Max creator/writer/director) back in charge, any concerns were soon soothed, and even from the first teaser trailers it was clear Fury Road was going to be something special.
Tom Hardy was no Mel Gibson, but that didn’t matter because Fury Road was all about Charlize Theron’s Furiosa (a true badass action heroine), the world building was fantastic, the art amazing, the action sublime, and the whole two-hour thrill ride simply flew by, thanks to it essentially being the last half of Road Warrior (the chase) on steroids. More please George.
It came out last year in the US, but UK cinemagoers didn’t get to see Whiplash until January. Usually not my type of movie (a drama focussing on a young music student and his mentor), I was intrigued by the first trailer, and the nominations it was receiving, and found myself completely blown away by it.
J.K. Simmons has received no end of well deserved praise for his role as the tyrannical teacher Fletcher; a man who constantly berates his students, and young drumming prodigy Andrew (Miles Teller); but Teller gives an equally impressive showing as the driven young student.
A thoroughly engaging film which grips you throughout, has moments so tense you wouldn’t believe (especially upon hearing the concept), and a superb soundtrack, Whiplash lives up to, and surpasses, the hype in every way imaginable. I’ve been recommending it to everyone who’ll listen (and many who won’t), since January. Seriously… watch it.
Agree with our lists? Think one of us made a glaring omission or included something which has no place being on any ‘Best Of’ list? Or simply want to talk about the films we have mentioned? Get involved and let us know in the comments section below.