The Best Films of 2015

Well, here we are at the end of 2015 and it has been another magnificent year for film, both in terms of great films, and huge box office returns. Here we look back at the best films of 2015 and some of the great films that may have went under your radar.

Thanks to all the film writers of HeadStuff who chipped in with their thoughts. So here are all the films in no particular order! Enjoy.

The Best Films of 2015

Star Wars VII Kylo RenStar Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is a back-to-basics treat for anyone who felt their childhood was betrayed by the CG living nightmares of Episodes I-III. Old friends return (people, Wookiees, spacecraft, the feel of Episode IV) with some new and brilliant additions and – it must be said – big laughs; you can’t CG humour and it was missing from the prequels. Not a reinvention, this is still an incredibly enjoyable watch; fresh and full of Force-y goodness. – Tara Flynn



MadMax Fury Road Featured Image with Tom HardyMad Max: Fury Road

It was fast, furious and utterly crazy but there is no doubting that George Miller’s post-apocalyptic chase movie was the cinematic experience of the year. As visually stunning as it was brilliantly told, the story was actually engrossing and well delivered. Its role in the socio-political debate regarding feminism should not be understated as it is not the titular Max who is the hero, but Furiosa and the women who are on the run from the evil Immortan Joe. The visual aspect to the film was utterly breathtaking and Miller’s singular view of this world was consuming and brilliantly realised. Check out our full review here. – Peter Morris

Inside Out

Disney’s Pixar are a team of near perfection. Their story telling abilities, combined with artistic brilliance and the ability to make grown men cry is a powerful, wonderful mix. This year’s Inside Out may well be regarded as one of their finest offerings, not only for the wonderful story, clever crafted jokes and life re-affirming plot arcs, but for its determination to make us consider our own feelings, out emotional integrity in a world where sadness and happiness are not divided equally. Check out Mark Conroy’s wonderful article on mental health in cinema which looks at Inside Out’s role in open conversations about the still taboo issue. PM

The Martian - HeadStuff.orgThe Martian

The Martian  is probably the movie I thought about the second most often. It made me feel good, like, opposite of the news. The world works together for a common cause (nothing major, just saving a single solitary life), but they show amazing resourcefulness, teamwork and better than any other movie it demonstrates the power of humanity working together (including Independence Day), and I just can’t stop thinking about how if humanity really worked together like that, how amazing this planet would be. Also, it looks great, it’s witty and the Damon is charming. – Alan Bennett

ex machina - HeadStuff.orgEx Machina

This was probably one of the most engrossing science fiction films of the year and featured three fantastic performances in Domhnall Gleeson’s naive but clever programmer, Oscar Isaac’s probing and shadowy genius, and Alicia Vikander’s vulnerable but veiled robot. First time director Alex Garland delivered a question about future societies without giving an answer and in doing so produced a film full of intrigue and wonder. As we sit on the verge of AI, it will be interesting to see how prophetic Ex Machina may become. PM

Beasts of No Nation

Netflix have been very busy indeed, cementing themselves as a serious producer of original content. Beasts of No Nation was their first original feature and it did not disappoint. It does however, disturb. We follow Agu, a child soldier from a happy playful boy living with his family in a small village in central Africa to a child soldier caught up in the painful realities of a world bent on destruction. Alongside Abraham Attah (Agu), Idris Elba (The Wire) brilliantly portrays the haunting, brutal leader of a growing army of drug filled young men, many only children. The director of True Detective’s first season, Cary Joji Fukunaga, takes the helm of this brilliant yet brutal tale of war. It may be a tough watch in parts but it is an important watch throughout. – Paddy O’Leary

Mission Impossible Rogue Nation - HeadStuff.orgMission Impossible – Rogue Nation

The fifth outing for Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt is probably the finest of the film franchise to date. Director Christopher McQuarrie found a perfect blend of action, intelligence and a decent cast with which to drive the franchise from strength to strength. It’s hard to believe how old Tom Cruise is when you watch him hang from the side of a plane, or free dive for 7 minutes but all his weird shit aside, he is still a bone fide action star. With the likes of Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg and  Rebecca Ferguson on board, Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation was a firm fan favourite this summer. Check out Eadaoin O’Neill’s look back at the franchise here. PM

Sicario

Given that his oeuvre includes Prisoners, Enemy and Polytechnique, it’s an achievement that Sicario manages to be Denis Villeneuve’s bleakest film to date. The plot in of itself, an idealistic FBI agent joining a quasi-paramilitary of questionable morality to fight drug cartels, is nothing special. The filmmaking on the other hand, is breath-taking. Villeneuve’s never shied away from tackling ambitious themes that deal with the dark side of life, and Sicario gives him a chance to explore just how many wrongs it takes to make a right. Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro sink their teeth into better roles then either of them have had in years, and Josh Brolin gives yet another example as to why he might just be in the middle of a mid-career renaissance. The real star however is cinematographer Roger Deakins. It’s likely that Emmanuel Lubezki’s work on The Revenant will take home the Oscar, which is a shame, because Deakins reaches a career highpoint on Sicario. The ambush during a traffic jam is one of the most thrilling sequences in any film of the year, a virtuoso piece of cinema. Deakins and Villeneuve are set to work together again on a sequel to Blade Runner, one of the philosophically ambitious films of all time. It’s hard to think of a better pair. – Adam Duke

Brooklyn Saoirse Ronan - HeadStuff.orgBrooklyn

For the longest time the Irish cinema’s most prominent genre has been the misery film.  Brooklyn could so easily have been another example of this type of filmmaking.  It’s not hard to imagine Saoirse Ronan’s Eilis having a terrible time as a immigrant in ‘50s America.  Refreshingly, Brooklyn is a film that’s content in being, for the most part, upbeat and affirming. It’s not best practice to describe something as ‘nice’ but that’s a perfect descriptor for Brooklyn it’s a ‘nice’ film, and that’s fantastic. Check out our full review here. – Luke Maxwell

Fast and Furious 7

A fitting tribute to the late Paul Walker, the 7th film in the vehicular franchise was surprisingly well done as both a ridiculous action film and a homage to the series star who passed away tragically before the end of filming. Vin Diesel and The Rock are pretty much Vin Diesel and The Rock but they are suited solely to this type of fun, frivolous, mindless action which drives from set piece to set piece via some shoddy dialogue and meaningless plot. Fast and Furious 7 is all about the action, and never tries to be anything different. It is this simplicity that actually makes it extremely likeable. PM

crimson peak featured image - headstuff.orgCrimson Peak

Part of the joy in Crimson Peak is seeing a pet project from Guillermo Del Toro finally seeing the light of day. Del Toro famously left The Hobbit adaptation to develop a film version of HP Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness, which was shelved for ultimately being too similar to Prometheus. A visual storyteller through and through, Del Toro was clearly able to have a lot of fun with the gothic nature of Crimson Peak. The eponymous mansion tells a story by itself and the movie begs to be re-watched just to catch all of the visual cues and treats piled onto the screen. A mostly practical set, the whole thing creeks, moans and bubbles with a sense of eerie physicality. Tom Hiddelston for the most part does what Tom Hiddleston does, as does Mia Wasikowska. Jessica Chastain however proves once again why she’s probably the most interesting actress working in Hollywood. Given that most blockbusters are franchises micro-managed to within an inch of their lives and full of lightweight CGI, it’s thrilling to see big film that’s original and visually individual. Check out our full review here.  – AD

Trainwreck

This was the biggest comedy surprise of the year for me. I’m not sure if I should admit that I hadn’t a clue who Amy Schumer was before it but the truth is I didn’t. Bill Hader and Judd Apatow were the draw for me but Schumer absolutely stole the show. Let’s get this straight, Schumer’s Amy is not the most likeable of characters but she is refreshingly honest and all her humour is born out of her personality and not stupid one liners. She is the heart of this film and Trainwreck, while being about a woman’s sexual misadventures, is beautifully staged. If you expected raucous belly laughs then you may well have been surprised by its compelling humanity. Schumer’s Amy is not just a character, she is very real, witty and intelligent and it’s refreshing to see this kind of female lead in a Hollywood comedy. Surprises like these don’t come along too often. See Trainwreck if you haven’t already. Then see it again and laugh at all the bits you missed first time around. – Graham Connors

Song of the Sea

I am already a complete sucker for animated features but Song of the Sea really raised the bar. We are introduced to a wealth of myth and legend as captivating illustration brings this tale of the last selkie to life. An impressive cast, engrossing soundtrack and moving script (have tissues to hand) draw you in and keep you until the very last beat. Then again it’s only to be expected from the Director that brought us The Secret of Kells. Have a read of our article on mental health in cinema which takes a deeper look at Song of the Sea. – Eadaoin O’Neill

Spy Paul Feig Spy Comedy with Melissa McCarthy - HeadStuff.orgSpy

Spy works brilliantly as a comedy, helped no doubt by its clever reworking of spy genre tropes. Whacky and absurd the entire cast work to create characters that are ridiculous but relatable and the film gives a refreshing amount of credence to the relationships which drive the film, keeping them from slipping into tired cliche. Mostly though it’s just very, very funny! – Eoin Rogers

A Most Violent Year

J.C. Chandor is one of the most interesting film makers of the past five years and his understated and thoroughly brilliant A Most Violent Year went under many radars when it was released early in the year but it features one of the finest performances of 2015 in Oscar Isaac’s portrayal of righteously honest Abel Morales who suffers at the hand of repetitive acts of violence against him and his business in 1981 New York. Chandor’s ability to deliver ferocious scenes of silence and intelligence has earned him many plaudits and his past films All Is Lost and Margin Call are as assured and brilliantly delivered as this fine drama about the violence of capitalism. PM

Whiplash JK Simmons Miles Teller movieboozer.com -HeadStuff.orgWhiplash

Whiplash  is the best film of the year, hands down. I watched it in January, now it’s mid December and it’s still the film from this year that I think about the most. This film made me sweat, which might not sound like a good thing, but it is. Much like sex makes you sweat, but really, not like that at all. Generally when you watch a film, you’re being entertained, moved, things are happening to your emotions, and it’s a good time for everyone. With Whiplash  my emotions were happening to me, they were making me clench muscles and tense up my body, I’m sure I was sitting, mouth agape, 100% invested in the film. By the end of it I fully understood the “on the edge of your seat” expression, because that’s exactly where I was, tinkering there, held up only by my attachment to the screen. When I walked out of the cinema, there wasn’t the slightest sliver of a doubt that JK Simmons wouldn’t be winning the Oscar. If I was a betting man I would have bet everything I own on it – it’s the only time I wished I was a betting man. Also, check out Nick Hilbourn’s brilliant article on Whiplash. AB

John Wick Featured - Headstuff.orgJohn Wick

John Wick is 101 minutes of well-choreographed visual gusto, as Wick comes out of retirement after having one hell of a bad week. While working through the loss of his wife, some thugs cross his path and things take a nasty turn. For them. John Wick is mindless violence and plays out like a videogame you can enjoyably finish in record time (perhaps it’s the film Max Payne should have been). – EON

Foxcatcher Steve Carell Channing Tatum Collider.com - HeadStuff.orgFoxcatcher

On first viewing it is the deeply unsettling and completely immersive performance by Steve Carell that captivates in Bennett Miller’s recounting of the tragic murder of Olympic wrestler David Schultz by millionaire egotist John du Pont. In fact Mark Ruffalo’s role as Schultz should be regarded as equally impressive. Further viewing establishes Foxcatcher as a rife story of obsession and jealousy and a modern American tale of the corruption of power and desire. Miller’s film would be nominated for 5 Oscars in 2015, winning none but many feel Steve Carell was robbed but he was up against Michael Keaton for Birdman and Eddie Redmayne, the eventual winner, for The Theory of Everything. Check out our full review of Foxcatcher here. PM

Everest - HeadStuff.orgEverest

Though Star Wars may have been the most anticipated film of 2015 (possibly all time), for me Everest was the one that I longed to see. Having read Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air several years ago and found myself captivated by it, I wondered how a film could capture the majesty of, not only the mountain, but the spirit of those who climbed and perished on the summit attempt. I need not have worried as Everest boasts the best ensemble cast of 2015 (Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Kiera Knightly, Sam Worthington and Emily Watson), each giving superb but also respectful performances. Though the temptation must have been strong, director Baltasar Kormakur did not turn the emotional screw. With a film detailing one of the greatest losses of life on Mount Everest you’d be forgiven for expecting a Titanic-esque tear jerker, but this isn’t the case. So subtle and nuanced is Everest that the emotional punch sneaks up on you. The final act is devastating and the film stands as a perfect tribute to those who perished on those wind battered snowy slopes in 1996. A totally satisfying and near perfect film. Check out Graham Connor’s full review here. – GC

Straight Outta Compton

If ever a movie made me feel black it was this one. I felt the injustice, I came out of the screen with attitude in my step and all I wanted to do was head up to the Garda station flipping the bird and shouting, “Ice Cube is right! Stop being dicks!”. Luckily that wore off before I made a fool of myself, being the whitest person ever, never having had any run-ins with the law. What I did do though was go home and listen to loads of rap music. For the next few months it’s all I listened to, going through all the MCs’ back catalogues, learning about how certain rappers connect to other ones (often it seems like Dre is the string that binds many of them together). That’s what made this a successful movie, it created a reaction in me that lead me to consuming more history and art, even if some of it was a very generous retelling of actual events. AB

Birdman, michael keaton batman oscar street on street bird squawk - HeadStuff.orgBirdman

This film threw me off a little, because it’s great, but probably not in my top three of the year. Was 2015 really that good a year for film? It seems to have been. But really Birdman helped that, so I shouldn’t hold it against the movie. Michael Keaton plays an excellent older Michael Keaton, and it’s perfect casting. I’m among the few that didn’t think he should have won the Oscar for brilliantly portraying himself on screen, but if he had won, I would have been happy enough. The most memorable things about this film for me, other than Keaton, (and Ed Norton), were the long shots and beautiful cuts which gave great movement to the scenes; and the percussion throughout – so ingrained in the fabric of the film that you could almost see a drummer there on screen sometimes. AB

The Best Films You Might Have Missed in 2015

It Follows The Showreel Trailer Review - HeadStuff.orgIt Follows

With directors like Adam Wingard and Leven Gabriadaze and films like The Babadook and It Follows there’s a real sense that horror films might be getting their bite back. A group of teenagers in timeless Detroit contract a curse whereby a murderous spirit will follow them at walking pace, unless they pass the curse to someone else. The method of passing on the curse allows director David Robert Mitchell to explore the scary side of one of the oldest and most Freudian subjects – sex. A daringly original idea, the film takes  its cue from the works of John Carpenter and George A. Romero. It’s not afraid to let tension build slowly and unbearably, and it never sacrifices its intelligence for a cheap thrill. Great horror films always have real ideas behind them, exploring fears at the heart of society. This year It Follows along with The Babadook (an analogy for depression) and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (loneliness) ensured that some mainstream horror films where as haunting as well as frightening. – AD

Slow West

First time feature director John Maclean delivered a very peculiar but thoroughly enjoyable Western starring Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Ben Mendelsohn. The story follows a young man (McPhee) as he travels across America in search of his lost love. On the way he encounters Fassbender who takes him under his wing only to be confronted by outlaw Mendelsohn. It is not the story here, but the delivery which makes Slow West so good. Part comedy, part violent western, part meditation on love and desire, director Maclean made a serious statement with his first film and won awards a plenty along the way including the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema at the Sundance Film Festival. PM

Force Majeure

An amazing premise- a father momentarily abandons his family during a false alarm avalanche on a ski holiday- leads to the darkest, cringiest and most astute black comedy in ages. The unflinchingly long, Kubrickesque takes allow no escape as the film needles away cruelly and gleefully at a seemingly picture postcard family. This leads to a lot of extremely uncomfortable laughs and the option of post-screening discussions about gender if that’s your thing. – Ged Murray

The Lobster Colin Farrell - HeadStuff.orgThe Lobster

If you want to watch a movie where you won’t be able to guess the next plot point make sure you haven’t missed Yorgos Lanthimos’ third film. The premise; a world where single people are sent to a hotel (filmed in Kerry) to partner up within a time limit or be turned into an animal of their choice. If it sounds like a fairytale, it really isn’t. There’s a queasy threat of violence and cruelty throughout. This is an unpredictable, often edge of your seat (in a squirmy way) absurdist ensemble comedy. GM

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

I was told to watch this by my little brother. He likes good movies, so I gave it a shot. I had heard it had done well at Sundance, picking up both the Grand Jury and Audience Awards for Dramatic feature. The story is all about Greg, his co-worker Earl and a new acquaintance, Rachel, a girl just diagnosed with leukaemia. We are reassured, by our narrator Greg, from pretty early on that Rachel won’t die and that this isn’t a Hollywood love story. What it is however is a brilliant coming of age story that is both dramatic and very funny. Well worth a watch. POL

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

Roy Andersson’s latest film, the last of his ‘Living’ trilogy looks and feels like some long-lost, silent-era comedy now colourized in grey and brown and redubbed with the deadest of deadpan dialogue. The picture takes a look at the lives of various down-and-outers in Gothenburg, Sweden. The actors, and the characters they play are sadsacks, incapable of connecting with one another. It all sounds bleak, and it is, but it’s also heart-warming and hilarious. LM

Tangerine

Tangerine as you may have read in every review and feature on the making of the film was shot on an iPhone.  What you may not have read is that the film is a mystery-caper featuring the world’s worst, but most likeable, prostitute detective. Sin-Dee knows her man’s been up to no-good while she’s been in prison and she’s going to bumble her way to victory, no matter the cost. Tangerine is visually arresting and technically daring but it’s a lot more as well. LM

The Voices

Unless Alvin and the Chipmunks 4: The Road Chip  surprises us all, The Voices, a film about a nice guy being instructed to murder women by his Scottish accented cat wins the prize of the year’s darkest Talking Animal comedy. Be warned, the English language debut of director Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) jumps tones between bouncy and horror at top speed but a refreshingly snark-free Ryan Reynolds gives a centre and, more importantly, a heart to the madness. – Cethan Leahy

Bone Tomahawk

This Western is not one for the faint of heart, and features one scene in particular which is so brutally disgusting and utterly violent that it might have ruined what was a really enjoyable film. I am a man of strong constitution and rarely find myself shocked enough to actually look away but that is what that particular scene in Bone Tomahawk did to me. Is the scene necessary? Is it gratuitous? Yes and yes, and that is the point. Bone Tomahawk is a genre melding horror western that features a quick fire script full of humour and exuberance along with an astonishing mix of horror and assured intelligence. It is like Deadwood met The Searchers and The Hills Have Eyes in a dingy alleyway and had a maniacal orgy. It is wonderful. PM

 

Well there you have it. So, what one’s did we miss, what ones do you agree with and what ones did we completely get wrong?? Let us know. Here’s hoping 2016 will feature as many cinematic joys as 2015.

 

Thanks to Matt Mahon for the featured image.

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