So…..during 2015 I saw 45 films at the cinema, averaging just shy of one a week. Some were good, some were bad, and some were downright awful, but in amongst all of the bad and mediocre there were ten really good films that have worked their way into my top 10 for 2015.
Contained in this list are a few surprises, with arguably the biggest surprise for me coming in that I had no intention of seeing some of them, but then again it was the same for the film that I ended up ranking at number one in 2014, Nightcrawler. The Jake Gyllenhaal masterpieces is the reason that I ended up giving some of these films a chance, and I’m glad that I did.
So, with that in mind, it seems almost appropriate to start with a film that I had zero interest in seeing because of the story, the cast and near enough everything about it, but I ended up giving it a chance and loved it….
Cast : Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Julie Walters and Jim Broadbent
Plot : Sick of life in a small Irish town in the 1950s, Eilis (Ronan) decides to relocate to America and try to start a new life for herself. Despite initially struggling with homesickness, she soon starts adapting to American life very well, and she soon meets Tony (Cohen), a native from Brooklyn.
The two eventually start a relationship, but Eilis soon receives news that her sister has died from a mysterious illness and she goes home for the funeral. Before she leaves, she and Tony marry in secret. Eilis doesn’t tell anyone back home about her marriage and this leads her mother to try and force together a relationship with Jim (Gleeson). She also gets offered a job, but despite her insistence that she will head back to America, she soon finds herself pondering whether to stay in Ireland.
Why in the Top 10? : Brooklyn was one of those films that I had virtually no intention of seeing whatsoever, I had never heard of Emory Cohen before this so this was definitely nothing against him. The reason, pure and simple, as Saoirse Ronan. In a world in which a lot of films are being dominated by unacceptably bland young actresses, Ronan was one of the worst. I haven’t seen her in a single film in which she wasn’t making Kristen Stewart the queen of emotions.
I also expected Brooklyn to be a typical romantic film, with the character meeting the love of her life and leaving her husband for him, but it was the excellent reviews that convinced me to go and watch John Crowley’s film. So I sat with the lowest of low expectations…..and I was very pleasantly surprised.
The homesick feeling that Eilis experiences is definitely correct and something that I can relate to from person experience, and what I especially is liked is that her romance with Tony actually feels very well built and natural. Tony is a very likeable character, and Cohen’s performance is refreshing as he approaches the role with a very humble approach.
Brooklyn’s entire approach is one of being humble and it never feels forced and the conflict feels really in the sense that there is now a potential life for Eilis that wasn’t there before, but that leads me onto my only complaint.
My one real complaint with Brooklyn and why it’s not higher on the list is that there is never any real conflict in the romance sense for Eilis. Her and Jim never really look like a couple that will ever happen, and I was personally delighted when she ended up going back to Tony because the character has a genuine connection with Eilis, whereas Jim doesn’t once feel like the natural choice. That’s nothing against the character, or indeed Domnhall Gleeson’s portrayal of him, but there was only ever one logical choice for Eilis.
Cast : George Clooney, Brit Robertson, Raffey Cassidy and Hugh Laurie
Plot : In 1964 Frank (young – Thomas Robinson, adult – Clooney) presents a jet pack at a World’s Fair and he impresses Nix (Laurie) and seeming-daughter Athena (Cassidy), although the pack ends up failing to work properly. Despite then being dismissed by Nix, Athena encourages Frank to follow the group and he ends up in a futuristic city.
Skip forward to the modern day and Casey (Robertson) is desperately trying to stop a rocket tower from being demolished, however, she is caught when trying to stop it and arrested. When she is bailed out, a mysterious button is in with her belongs, and touching it takes her to the same futuristic city. With her curiousity peaked, she decides to find out what she can about it, but that leads to being chased by assassins.
Why in the Top 10? : Tomorrowland is a film which some have since described as overly complicated and unnecessarily lengthy before anything actually happens in the film, but for me it was a return to what Disney used to do best and that was build up mystery and characters very well. The mystery surrounding the pendent and the land it transports the characters to is still shrouded in mystery right up until the point in which the main characters are actually there.
Yes, Tomorrowland has some fundamental flaws here and there, but for me it was just a fun film and there aren’t enough to them these days. You don’t have to think about Tomorrowland that hard and whilst it will NEVER win any awards for ingenious creation, it kept me interested for the entire run time.
The cast is absolutely fantastic and delivers excellently throughout. Clooney in particular is interesting to watch in a role that is very different from most of what he’s played before. Hugh Laurie, despite having a very small role, is an excellent antagonist, and his exasperation at this situation is great.
Tomorrowland is just a fun, sit back and relax kind of film, and I would definitely recommend it.
Cast : Keanu Reeves, Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas
Plot : Evan (Reeves) is a successful architect and is using his family’s trip away as an opportunity to finish a project. Progressing well, his door bell rings and stood there are two young girls, Bel (Armas) and Destiny (Izzy), that claim to be looking for a party. Evan invites them in until a taxi can arrive. He dries their clothes for them, but he grows increasingly anxious for the taxi to arrive as they start taking advantage of his hospitality. The taxi finally arrives, but the girls seduce him into having sex.
Evan awakes the next day to find them still there and he is horrified when he realises that he cheated on his, and even less so when Bel reveals herself to be just 15 years old, well under the legal age for sex in America. Reeves forcibly drives them away, but they soon find their way back and start torturing him and destroying his home, but can Evan successfully turn Bel against Destiny after they bonded over music earlier in the night?
Why in the Top 10? : I never thought I would have an Eli Roth film in my Top 10, but this Keanu Reeves led flick was one of the better mainstream horror films that I have seen for years for the simple reason that you can never true work out the motives of Bel and Genesis, and no matter how hard Evan tries to get out the situation, he never feels like succeeding because of how well the two are presented. It is the first film I’ve seen for a long time at the cinema in which the antagonists in the story actually feel like winning.
And the worst part is that they are genuinely dangerous in their intents. They know they’ve gotten Evan exactly where they want him, and this plays brilliantly into the feeling that even if he does escape physically from the situation, it will only be a matter of time until having sex with what he believe is an underage girl will catch up with him.
The respective portrayals from Izzo and Armas are almost perfect for their roles, and the casting in that sense couldn’t have been better. Even Keanu Reeves, who I have often been luke-warm about, at best, does a respectable job as Evan.
Away from the excellent acting from all involved, Knock Knock isn’t what you’d normally expect from an Eli Roth film, there’s virtually no blood or gore (if any), and most of the torture is mental rather than physical, although that’s not to say that there isn’t some physical violence during the run time.
Knock Knock will never be considered a classic, but for what it is and what I was expecting going in, I was very impressed.
Cast : Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers, Joan Allen and William H. Macy
Plot : Seven years ago Nick (Bridgers) kidnapped Joy (Larson) and forced her to live in his garden shed. She can’t escape as the only window is far above anyone’s height, and the door is coded. After two years she gave birth to Jack (Tremblay), and Joy makes it her mission to protect him from Nick.
One day, Joy is telling Jack about the world outside and he refuses to believe her about various things, so she decides it’s time to escape the room and tricks Nick into believing that Jack is dead. When he is taking Jack to dump his body somewhere, Jack manages to escape the van, although he is disorientated having never been out of the shed before hand, and he only barely convinces a stranger to help him.
Joy is eventually rescued and Nick is arrested, but how can Jack survive in an outside world that he doesn’t understand, and can Joy actually adapt back to normal life after what happened to her?
Why in the top 10? Room was the last film to enter this particular list, seeing it as late on in the year as December 14th, and I hear many of you ask how I can include a film that hasn’t technically been released in the UK yet. Well the reason is that the cinema chain that I work so has something called Unseen Screen, and this is basically a screening of a film before it’s release, but you don’t know what that is before going in. So I entered the screen and was hoping for The Revenent, but it turned out to be Room, but I was still excited as a friend had seen it and described it as one of the best films he had ever seen.
So based on that I was excited and whilst Room took a bit of time to get into, it turned into one of the best acted films that I had seen in quite a long time, and one of the most emotive due to the use of music, and more precisely, the use of one of my favourite instrumental pieces, “The Mighty Rio Grande” by This Will Destroy You. It was a piece of music used so effectively in Moneyball, and the song has also impacted my personal life. Every time I hear that song, it brings out such brilliant emotional connections that I can’t help but get emotionally invested in the scene.
The film is excellent from start to finish, and whilst there are quite a lot of spells where not a lot is really happening, you feel completed transfixed on the screen as the character development throughout is excellent, and in any other year there would be a chance that this film would have been ranked as top of this list. Even the minor characters are written perfectly, with Robert (Macy) being the best case of this. Despite being Joy’s father, he isn’t really involved after the she and Jack escape, but the character’s struggles to accept Jack due to him obviously being the result of Joy being raped by Nick.
Jack is comfortably the best character in the film due to the flexibility of what you can do with him. For example, it’s obvious that he’s never seen what the outside world looks like, so when he does eventually escape he looks at everyone with a sense of wonder and fear, something that is very difficult to capture in both writing and acting, yet they nailed it perfectly.
The only reason this film doesn’t rank higher is that after they escape from the shed, the film does lose something, not a lot but certainly enough to warrant lowering it’s position on the list slightly. I’d say that the first half of the film is a near enough perfect ten, but the second half is only really an eight.
Cast : Joaquin Pheonix, Emma Stone and Parker Posey
Plot : Everyone at a New England university is excited when it is confirmed that Abe Lucas (Phoenix), an acclaimed philosophy professor, will be joining the faculty. Lucas has a reputation for influential and brilliant behaviour, albeit with an exceptionally erratic side. When Abe arrives, everyone is surprised by his morbid outlook on life and his belief that everything is ultimately futile. Despite his unusual behaviour, Professor Rita Richards (Posey) falls for him and the two start an affair.
Lucas is quickly impressed by the unusual thinking of Jill (Stone), a student in one of his classes. The two become friends and she invites him to a party, at which he decides to show a group of students the structure of chance by doing a one-man game of Russian Roulette. Whilst dining out with Jill, the two overhear a conversation between a woman and her friends in which she is reflecting on the realistic chance of losing her kids just to the judge in her custody case being friends with her ex-husband, and how he is constantly encouraging her to make costly appeals, only to reject them. Abe decides that this is the turning point in his life and decides to kill the judge.
Why in the Top 10? : A film that I’ve already covered on this site after it’s initial release, Irrational Man was an unexpected delight as the trailer made it appear was one type of film, whereas in reality it was something entirely different.
You can read the full review here, but below is a very brief summary of why I even said at the time that it would be likely to be included in this very list.
Basically Irrational Man is everything that I like a zany, offbeat comedy to be. It’s not laugh out loud or in your face comedy, it’s a dark, almost intelligent comedy. In this sense I liken it very much to the TV-show, Frasier. It’s a thinking-mans film, with very offbeat, and often dark insights into how fragile human life can be, and how bonds can easily break down, or indeed how people can easily turn out to be something completely different to what you believe them to be.
I don’t want to repeat myself too much when I’ve done an indepth review, so I’m going to leave this little section here.
Cast : Jason Bateman, Rebeccca Hall and Joel Edgerton
Plot : Simon (Bateman) and Robyn (Hall) have bought a new home and whilst out shopping they run into Gordon (Edgerton), a man who went to school with Simon, although he struggles to remember him. Gordon initially presents as a very friendly and welcoming man, which Robyn really appreciates, but Simon soon starts growing suspicious of his intentions.
He questions why Gordon is taking such an interest in the pair, but he is also concentrating on his career and is on the verge of a promotion. Robyn also starts feeling very uneasy with Gordon’s presence, even thought there is no evidence that he has anything other than pleasant intentions towards them.
After threatening Gordon, everything seems to be back to normal, but the revelations of how he remembers Simon throws everything into unrest.
Why in the Top 10? : In a year in which I only saw a heavy number of films because I got them for free, The Gift was comfortably the best film in that category and that’s made even more remarkable by that I had precisely zero interest in watching it based on the trailer. The trailer made it look like a completely different film to what it actually was, and this is a good thing because the trailer made it look absolutely shit. Infact, I only went to watch it on the back of a review from Chris Stuckmann, the guy who initially inspired me to start reviewing film.
I loved the moral message of being careful how you treat others as it may come back to bite you , and what I found exceptionally interesting is that you go into the film with one expectation of who the antagonist of the movie is, but the seeming protagonist is actually the true bad guy of the film. You feel no sympathy for him by the end of the film, and I loved this twist on the situation.
Without revealing how the film ends, the situation that Simon finds himself in is normally something that you’d hate to see a character in, but all that I could think of was that he actually deserved it for how he had lead his life. He has got exactly what he deserved. What Gordo does to him at the end is so simple, and yet so effective, that you can’t help but admire the genius way in which he gets his ultimate revenge.
You get to know the character Simon quite well, and how the impact of Gordo in his life affects his relationship with Robyn, especially as there are quite lengthy spells without Gordo in them at all. Whilst a prominent part of the opening half of the film, Gordo practically disappears for the entire second half of the film, with the odd exception of a minute or two here and then.
Cast : Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Dylan Georgiades, Yilmaz Erdogan, Cem Yilmaz and Jai Courtney,
Plot : Joshua (Crowe) is a water diviner in Australia just after World War I, but he and his wife (Jacqueline McKenzie) are struggling to cope with the deaths of their three sons at the battle of Gallipoli. When she kills herself, Joshua decides that it’s time to find his sons bodies and bring them home.
He sets off for Turkey and quickly develops a relationship with Ayshe, a war-widowed hotel owner. Soon after he successfully crosses to the area of Gallipolli, he finds out that civilians are banned from the area, although Major Hasan (Erdogan) and Lt-Colonel Hughes (Courtney) agree to let him search, but he soon finds out that one of his sons may actually still be alive.
Why in the Top 10? : I feel in love with The Water Diviner pretty much as soon as I had seen it. I have seen Russell Crowe described pretencious quite a lot, but to be fair to him his directorial debut was brilliant, and much like a few other films on this list, it did spend a while at number one. It’s very rare these days that you get a film that spans several different continents and actually has a decent meaning behind it, rather than being done just for the sake of showing new locations, and Water Diviner does that brilliant.
The Water Diviner has that epic scope feel to it, right from the scenes that are set in vast, open expanses, such as the one in the poster, right through to where character are having conversations about Joshua, all the while him setting up camp on a beach. The visuals in The Water Diviner are stunning, and brought me right into the environment.
Away from the look, the acting through is stupendous from everyone, even Jai Courtney. No-one puts a foot wrong and you grow to appreciate pretty much every one of them,
Cast : Matt Damon, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig and Sean Bean
Plot : The Ares III mission to Mars is more than half way through it’s mission when a dust storm causes the crew to abandon the planet for safety, however, during the escape Mark Watney (Damon) is struck by debris and presumed dead. The crew lifts off without him. It turns out that Mark actually survived and he must now figure out how to survive on a planet that has no natural way of growing food.
Meanwhile, NASA discovers that Mark survived and try and come up with a rescue plan, all whilst trying to justify how he could be left behind. Mark eventually re-establishes contact with Earth, but the earliest any plan can rescue him will take him well beyond the date that the food will run out. What risks are NASA willing to take to rescue him?
Why in the Top 10? The Martian may have a lengthy run time, but it doesn’t feel like it lasts as long as it does because of how it is put together.
Let’s start with the tone of the film. Despite it’s very nature, The Martian isn’t actually a negative or bleak film at all, with the character of Mark personifying that very well. It would have been so easy for him to become exceptionally depressed by the situation he finds himself in and become suicidal….but he doesn’t. Mark stays optimistic throughout and it is only in rare moments that he actually lets the situation get on top of him. The optimistic nature drives the film on, and had it been the other way around then chances are that I wouldn’t have been as enthusiastic about the film as I am.
Matt Damon puts in yet another competent performance and is supported by a cast that doesn’t really put a foot wrong throughout. Each cast member plays their role exceptionally well and I can’t fault any of them.
The visuals on The Martian are pretty much from you would expect from a high budget sci-fi film. The NASA building looks accurate enough (I’ve obviously never been inside the NASA building but I would imagine that how it’s presented in the film is pretty much spot on), the inside of the station that Mark stays in looks realistic and they’ve done a great job making it look like his is actually on Mars, it’s very convincing.
Cast : Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Adrian Martinez, Rodrigo Santoro, Gerard McRaney, Brennan Brown and BD Wong.
Plot : Rookie con-artist Jess (Robbie) unsuccessfully tries to steal money from Nicky (Smith) after several obvious giveaways. She decides to learn from him and he reluctantly agrees when she follows him down to New Orleans, the site of the Superbowl. Nicky teaches her the tricks of the trade, along with Horst (Brown) and Farhad (Martinez). Over the space of the Superbowl weekend, the group, along with a specialist team, successfully steal more than $1 million.
To celebrate, Nicky takes Jess to watch the game itself, although not being a fan of American football, she decides to challenge him to several minor bets, and this brings them to the attention of Liyuan (BD Wong), a notorious gambler. He and Nicky enter several high stakes bets and Jess grows increasingly angry and Nicky’s insistence on betting everyone’s money, but what he is about to do will piss her off even more.
Why in the Top 10? : In any other year, Focus would not only be number one, it would be number one by a MASSIVE amount. I love this film.
I’m going to start with the scene between Jess, Nicky and Liyuan. Not only would I describe this as my favourite scene in any movie in 2015, I would describe the scene as absolutely perfect. It is flawless. The acting is stunning, the impending sense of doom is engrossing, your urge for Nicky to stop is genuine and the pay off with what happens at the end of the scene brings to an end what is about ten to fifteen minutes of brilliance. I can’t rate it highly enough.
I really want to get into why I like that scene so much, but to do so would be to spoil what happens and it’s a scene in which you really have to watch it in order to understand why I rate the scene so highly. It is one of many scenes in the film which end with a twist, and that’s why I love the film, you’re always left guessing and wanting more. It’s done superbly and even right at the end of the film I was left thinking of what twists they had left to bring, even when the credits started.
Away from that scene, I can’t find a flaw with the film, other than minor things here and there that aren’t really worth going into at all.
The chemistry between Smith and Robbie is not only believable, but you could picture them as a real life couple, but it’s not only their on-screen relationship that I could believe, Robbie and Santoro also share a decent chemistry, even though there isn’t any genuine love between the characters, and Robbie also shares a very fluidic friendship with Martinez and you look at them and think “yeah, I can picture them chatting in a cafe and catching up”. The characters of Nicky and Bucky have a natural level of antagonism and respect at the same time. The casting director deserves a well earned bonus.
So then, what becomes my second annual Number One mainstream film of 2015? Well this film is one that a lot like last year’s Nightcrawler, I probably wouldn’t have seen had it not been for a particular set of circumstances. This year was a film that had I not been allowed to leave work early before a holiday, I wouldn’t have been able to see the film as it was gone by the time I got back, but I’m glad work did because it gave me the chance to watch the Owen Wilson lead action film, No Escape.
1) No Escape
Cast : Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Sterling Jerins and Clare Geare.
Plot : Jack (Wilson) has secured a new job working for an American company specialising in water systems, but the role is based in Cambodia. He moves his entire family out to the Asian country and everything seems ideal at first, and Jack in particular is very pleased with his new home. One day he goes for a walk before he notices a mob walking towards him. He quickly hides and witnesses the mob killing another American man.
The mob notices Jack and he barely makes it back to his hotel alive. He and his family then try to escape the hotel. They eventually learn that the locals are unhappy that the jobs that were offered to Jack and the other Americans was originally going to be for them, and the Cambodians are unhappy about foreigners getting their jobs.
Constantly chased down, the family has several narrow escapes from the mob, but how far can luck get them?
Why Number One? : If you’d have asked me in January if my favourite film come the end of 2015 would be starring Owen Wilson, I would have probably laughed in your face. I have nothing against Owen Wilson, but I have never been convinced by films that he has been in for the most part, but it was the same with Jake Gyllenhaal last year.
No Escape was a brilliant adrenaline rush and I was hooked on the screen for the entire run time. It was flawless action and enjoyment as Owen Wilson does everything he can to get his family through a genuine threat, and this includes not fucking about when it comes to getting his daughter across a gap between buildings.
The scene in question comes when they have to escape one roof onto another, and the daughter is understandably frightened. Jack has to talk his daughter into doing it, but knowing that she won’t he doesn’t give her a choice and tricks her into a false sense of security, all before literally throwing her across the game. It was at that moment I knew that barring some sort of miracle, this film would feature in the Top 5 for the year, at least.
There was no fucking around, he doesn’t waste time trying to see if his daughter will do it, afterall, why take that risk when the rioters will discover you any second? Everything about this movie screams realistic, and more importantly, brutal.
Scenes are filled with the violence and intensity that you would expect from a movie based on riots. The rioters are a genuine threat, no two ways about it. They are no nonsense, they don’t differentiate and if you are a foreigner, you will be killed. I just love the non-discrimatory way in which they do things, and much like the girls in Knock Knock, you genuinely feel like they have a chance of succeeding. Unlike some other films in which the family has to struggle through, there are numerous times when you feel that there is a genuine chance that they could die, and it makes the whole thing worthwhile.