My Top 7 Films of 2015
Following on from last years Top 7, it is that time of year again to look back at the best cinema I've seen in the calendar year 2015. Usual rules apply; I count the films I've seen that are new but may not yet had a proper release, so things I've seen at festivals etc, and feature length films that went out On Demand so don't count for Academy consideration, all get thrown into the mill. I do this because I pay for all this and frankly, I doubt anyone will read it anyway. So here we go:
Big Hero 6
One of the first films of 2015 that Ellie and I saw was a true delight. Big Hero 6 is a lessor Marvel title that Disney brought to incredible life in a way that thrilled us both and we still pop it on when the mood takes us. The fact that this is the only comic book movie in the list should say enough for what I thought about the standard that followed Baymax to the screen. Plus, its a super hero movie without guns, that deserves a spot on the list if for nothing else. (My Review)
As a Shakespeare nut, a big screen adaptation of The Bard is a great thing. We've been lucky over the last few years with the likes of Joss Whedon's Much To Do About Nothing and now Justin Kuzel and Michael Fassbender bring us a stunning, meditative look at The Scottish Play. With incredible visuals and wonderful performances from the entire cast, it is a screen Macbeth to rival that of Welles and Polanski, while Throne of Blood is still my favourite screen Macbeth, Kuzel and Fassbender have crafted something very special here. Some have pointed out that Marion Cotillard is slightly short changed in the cut, but I felt she dominated the screen when the camera was on her and offered a less "evil queen" take on Lady Macbeth. (My Review)
Beasts of No Nation
A Netflix entry from the man behind True Detective, Cary Fukunaga and Idris Elba comes a harrowing story of child soldiers in an unnamed African country. After his family is killed, Agu runs off into the jungle where he is picked up by Idris Elba's The Commander's troops. Over time he is indoctrinated into the family of soldiers and Agu is slowly brutalised into adult world he should never have to face. The performances from young Abraham Attah as Agu and Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye as his mute friend Striker are powerful and heartbreaking. Beautifully shot and with moments of shocking violence both on screen and off, Beasts of No Nation is a powerful tale of something we tend to not think about any more but need to reminded of.
Michael Fassbender's second time on my list and this time he's wearing a Stetson. As a sucker for a western, Slow West is one of those great films that takes us on a journey through the West and uses the landscape to let the story unfold. Starting in the confines of the forest where Kodi Smit-McPhee's Jay is young and unaware of the danger he is in, to the wide open plains of the finally, were he has come to learn the brutality of life with the aid of his "guide", Fassbender's Silas Selleck, we see a true western, with immigrant accents and moments of comedy thrown in for good measure. Ben Mendlesohn is on villain duties and the moments he is on screen you are repulsed and drawn, as always, to this incredible actor. While the film does suffer from dropping its convictions in the finale, the journey is well worth taking. (My Review)
Surprisingly, I never wrote about Ex Machina when I saw it, which is odd as it is brilliant. Domhnall Gleeson's Caleb works for a Google-esqe search engine and wins the company lottery to spend a weekend with the company's mercurial founder, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), at his retreat in the mountains. Once there, he is introduced to the work that has been preoccupying his boss, a robot with humanoid features and feelings, Ava, played by the wonderful Alicia Vikander. Nathan tasks Caleb with interacting with Ava to see if "she" has human-like intelligence. Caleb is performing a Turning Test on Ava. To say more will spoil the plot, but this three hander is intelligent film making par none and Sci-Fi of a level we rarely get to see these days. Alex Garland, the scribe of The Beach, 28 Days Later and the wonderful DREDD, makes an assured and very impressive directorial début. Visual stunning and endlessly thought provoking, Ex Machina is very special.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Mad Max: Fury Road was one of those films that has seemingly been coming for ages, and by the time it showed up, you worried that the hype would have killed it. Having blagged my way into a press screening, George Miller's return to the wastelands simply blew my mind. The frenetic pace, the stunning visuals and the physicality of it all, pushed you back in your seat and left your face sunburnt. It is a film that has rightly garnered praise for it feminist hero in Charlize Theron's Furiosa and for its continuing audacity that most action films would never go near these days. Yes, it is really just half a film played out twice and yes, Tom Hardy does pick an accent a scene, but it left me exhausted and trilled in a way an action movie hasn't in many, many a year. For that feeling alone, it get one of my top spots. (My Review)
Son of Saul
Son of Saul couldn't be more different a film to Mad Max, but with the same level of audacity you would not expect from this subject matter. Set in the crematoria of Auschwitz, Son of Saul follows the titular Saul, a Sonderkommando, as he ushers his fellow Jews to the gas chamber. Where director László Nemes grabs us is in the framing of his camera, in a close shot of Géza Röhrig's Saul, and staying there, for the most part, for the rest of the film. This means we hear, rather than see, the horror of the death camp in peak operation. When Saul finds the body of a young child that he believes is his son, he embarks on a odyssey through the camp to find a Rabbi to lay the child to rest properly. When the film ended, I was physically shaking, and still was an hour later. This is how effective cinema as art can be and Nemes has crafted a true masterpiece. Son of Saul is due out in the spring and please see it should you get the chance, especially if you can see it in the director's preferred 35mm projection, as it is a true, harrowing marvel of a film. (My Review)
So there you go, my film of the year is one that is not even out yet. You wouldn't expect me to make this easy for you now, would you? It has been a good year overall for film. Special mentions should be made for Face of an Angel, Experimenter, The Martian, Cinderella and The Voices, all of which are well worth you time. My top 2 films, they were a joint number 1 for a while, are there because of the impact they made on me for different reasons. Both hit me on an emotional level that surprised and shocked me. Son of Saul is easily one of the most difficult films I have ever watched, but it's beautiful brutality brings home the shadow of the camps that Spielberg utterly failed to do with Schindler's List. The film that had the biggest emotional response doesn't make my Top 7 and for one good reason, I don't think Star Wars: The Force Awakens will still have that impact on me in years to comes. Trust me, I love it, but, there is a feeling that creeps in with each viewing that it has the same problem as the last two Bond films; it is looking back too much. Given the residual disappointment of of the prequels, going back to the well was a no-brainer for J.J. Abrams and Disney, but, while giving us great new heroes in Poe, Finn and especially Rey, the film does feel too much of a greatest hits at times. Don't get me wrong, its brilliant, I cried tears of joy when I saw it first time around, but it as not had the impact of the seven above. Feel free to disagree, but please, if you get the chance, see all of the films mentioned above. Roll on 2016!