ILT’s Top 10 Films of 2015!

One word to describe cinema during 2015: BIG

As close to an ‘order’ as I could get, here’s ILT’s 10 favourite flicks of the year…


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10. The Big Short

Dir: Adam McKay

The Big Short just about made it onto my final list for the year, displacing other personal favourites and high profile honourable mentions alike, such as Steve Jobs, Straight Outta Compton, The Martian, and even Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The primary reason is the subject matter. The financial crisis of 2007-10 was a landmark crisis for the global economy, with trillions of dollars wiped away overnight for reasons that, to this day, are not all that clear to the vast majority of the general population. The Big Short not only scratches the surface of the housing market crash – a key component of the crisis – and the eccentric figures who saw it coming, but does so in highly entertaining fashion. Anchorman director Adam McKay constructs a darkly amusing joyride down Wall Street, that isn’t afraid to take the piss out of how most of us have little to no clue about neither a) what anyone is talking about, or b) the severity of it all. Like Spotlight and, to an extent, Steve Jobs, this sort of fresh, event-driven biographical feature, complete with a top drawer ensemble cast (headlined by Bale, Gosling, Pitt, and an outstandingly angry Steve Carell) is a welcome blessing for the genre.

9. Ex Machina

Dir: Alex Garlandf8a502ec-ad59-4c67-a035-43f8df86e390-1024x428

Upon first viewing, most would struggle to guess that Ex Machina is an independent British production shot for a mere $15m. For writer/director Alex Garland – author of The Beach and veteran of numerous sci-fi screenplays – his debut behind the camera is a triumph of stirring quality, highlighted by both slick, claustrophobia-inducing technicality and strong performances from his minimal cast (Alicia Vikander and our frequently mentioned favourite over on The Punch Up podcast, Oscaar Issac, both stand out). The classic but basic “what-we-build-will-destroy-us” nature of the escape-driven story arc is given greater depth by the inclusion and well worked execution of countless twists and turns, each one more misleading than the last. The part soft, part sinister score of Geoff Barlow and Ben Salisbury provides a huge boost to the low budget/high quality value of the finished product. For something a little different from 2015, this neat sci-fi flick is the way to go. Garland is set to return next year; helming the film adaptation of the 2014 novel, Annihilation. Most definitely one to watch out for.
Podcast review: The Punch Up

8. The Hateful Eight

Dir: Quentin TarantinoHateful-Eight-Russell-Jackson

I wasn’t expecting big things from Taraninto’s eighth film, but The Hateful Eight was my pleasant surprise for the year. A large chunk of the reason why was due to my viewing experience, which was quite marvellous. Shot on 65 mm using insanely wide Ultra Panavision 70 lenses, the film is a technical masterpiece that I was lucky enough to witness projected in all its 70 mm glory during its limited release. The dirty, old school cinematic feel (complete with zero commercials, an overture, and an intermission) more than complemented the picture itself; a stage-like ‘who dunnit’ affair with all the usual plot twists, crazy characters, mazy monologues and daft dialogue exchanges one has come to expect from ol’ Quentin. Rounding things off is a terrifically haunting score from none other than Ennio Morricone. Certainly nowhere near QT’s best (though better than Django Unchained), but overall a thoroughly enjoyable trip to the cinema.
Full review: In Layman’s Terms…

7. Listen to Me Marlon

Dir: Stevan Riley
Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 06.51.23

Without question the finest feature documentary of the year, Listen to Me Marlon – a deconstruction in his own words of the late, great Marlon Brando – has been on this list from the moment I left the theatre. Compiled from countless hours of amateur audio footage, Stevan Riley’s picture is a painstaking epic; a genuine sole search of a true Hollywood maverick who just happened to also be, arguably, the most influential screen actor of all time – certainly of his generation. Brando’s opinions on himself, his work, his relationships, life, and death would of course make for fascinating listening in their own right, but the manner in which Riley crafts, translates and conveys such in-depth philosophical tragedy is testament not only to the power of the documentary genre, but also a welcome reminder that a sterile Hollywood biopic should not always be the go to answer when examining this sort of larger than life character. There’s method in the madness, and it’s a thing of raw beauty.
Full review: In Layman’s Terms…
Podcast review: The Punch Up

6. Inside Out

Dir: Pete Docter
Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 23.58.03

Pixar’s best film since 2010’s Toy Story 3, and one of the studio’s finest original tales, Inside Out has been a monumental critical and commercial success. Pete Docter’s highly relatable, deeply personal examination of a child’s varying progressive emotional states works, literally, on so many levels, tossing and turning thematically whilst zipping from big belly laughs to the dark echelons of our inner child in the blink of an eye. Despite being plenty familiar with Pixar’s previous efforts, one tends to underestimate just how good the animation, sound design, and score have the potential to be, particularly when the universe and characters are unfamiliar upon first viewing. This is most certainly the case with Inside Out, which blew me away on the technical front. The manner in which the wonderful writing is conveyed up on the big screen has rarely been bettered in modern animation. With The Little Prince unlikely to feature in Oscar competition until next year due to its North American release date, expect Inside Out to not only clean up on the animation front, but to likely earn a Best Picture nomination also.
Full review: In Layman’s Terms…
Podcast review: The Punch Up

5. Spotlight

Dir: Tom McCarthy

If there was a scale measuring quality in relation to audience numbers, Spotlight was surely the most overlooked film of 2015. The tale of the Boston child sex abuse exposé within the Catholic Church during the early naughties – the start of a global crisis still engulfing the church to this day – seen through the eyes of the investigative journalists who uncovered the story; Tom McCarthy’s moving masterpiece is as brutal as it is powerful. Topping an exceptional ensemble cast is a trio of great performances from Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, and Rachel McAdams. Ruffalo in particular puts in a career defining display, fraught with a kind of uncertain but always empathetic desperation to find and reveal the truth for the sake of all that is holy. Like The Big Short, this is truly vital subject matter and a key moment in recent history, but also an intriguing glimpse into the world of true investigatory reporting during the final years of the pre-Google era. Sure, a rather depressing low key drama failing to do big business when released during the busy Academy Awards season and a week before Star Wars, but also at Christmas time (hardly a fun/festive/family flick) with minimal promotion is hardly a surprise, but strong early Oscar buzz and general word of mouth will hopefully see viewership spike throughout early 2016.

4. The Revenant

Dir: Alejandro G. Iñárritu

The final entry to make it onto my top ten for the year, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant is the definition of cinematic beauty. 2015 truly was an exceptional year for cinematography, with veteran director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki contributing emphatically with this, his second collaboration with Iñárritu (the two previously worked together on Birdman, for which both men won an Academy Award). Together they craft an epic Western dripping with spectacle, emotion, and powerhouse performances from leads Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. Before it came out in theatres, many reviews from screener viewings complained of a lack of engagement, as well as mere Oscar-baiting from Leo, but on the big screen this just wasn’t the case, at least not in my opinion. It’s a simplistic tale of survivalist vengeance, but the technical aspects give it so much more depth, and deserve to be witnessed in their full glory. Of all the major films released this year, I have a feeling that The Revenant is going to be the one that will best get better with age when it comes to public opinion.
Full review: In Layman’s Terms…

3. The Little Prince

Dir: Mark Osborne

Although it isn’t set to grace theatres in North America or the UK until spring 2016, French animation The Little Prince dropped to great acclaim in mainland Europe this summer. An English language production – featuring a stellar, but altogether subtle all-star cast – it is a modern day adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic 1943 fantasy novella, developed from his own experience of a hallucination-inducing aviation crash in the Sahara Desert in 1935. Set in the modern day, a controlled little girl befriends a version of Saint-Exupéry’s aviator, now an old man, whose tale of The Little Prince sends them both on a journey to freedom like no other. A stunning combination of stop motion and computer generated animation, The Little Prince’s beauty is sourced not only from its unparalleled visual beauty, but also its layered thematic approach, poignant heart and superb score. A timeless classic and a triumph for French cinema.
Podcast review: The Punch Up

2. Mad Max: Fury Road

Dir: George Miller

2015 was a great year for action movies. As I’ve discussed previously, the genre has rapidly reached a new golden age over the past few years, spearheaded by the gradual balancing of sensible CGI with practical special effects. The genre can still be hit and miss (Spectre, yawn), but when it does hit, it hits the fucking bullseye. Case in point, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, a quite magnificent production and easily the zenith for action fanboys during 2015. After a long absence from the art of blowing shit up, Miller demonstrated that not only has he still got it, but that he refuses to play it safe; testing the limits of modern technology and stunt work with an unprecedented amount of special effects shots, complimented by gorgeous cinematography and perfect pacing. The plot is hardly deep, but it doesn’t need to be. The desolate universe Max Rockatansky and co. are projected against provides depth in its own right, while the performances of Tom Hardy and, in particular, Charlize Theron, elevate the picture to heights far beyond your usual run of the mill action production. I tend to abhor multiple pre-planned franchise sequels, but, in the case of Mad Max, I’m more than willing to make an exception.
Full review: In Layman’s Terms…

1. Sicario

Dir: Denis Villeneuve
Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 01.20.30

When French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve took a seat at the Hollywood table with 2012’s Prisoners, hardly anyone, myself included, had heard of him, let alone seen any of his Canadian productions. Word then started to spread that Prisoners, a gripping kidnap-themed thriller, was the real deal, and boy did the grapevine have it right. His latest production, Sicario, a shady border-hopping cartel hunt, is a hard-hitting, altogether thoroughly terrific cinematic experience. Watching in a theatre, the suspense was nothing short of insane, and for that reason Sicario has edged its way to my number one spot. It may not contain the more complete feel of the nuanced twists and multi-layered plot devices present in Prisoners, but the ever-building tension around the unseen, unknown character motivations is a force to be reckoned with, as is the thematic character payoff that arrives when the digging finally grinds to a halt. Blunt, Brolin, and del Toro play off each other wonderfully in the lead roles, bringing a fine balance to an intriguing set of characters dripping with darkly humorous juxtaposition. The ultimate star however, is the technical. When a set of vehicles travelling from A to B without incident is the tensest scene of the year, then such work deserves recognition. Roger Deakins haunting cinematography will certainly earn him at least a nod at the Oscars, while Villeneuve cements his place alongside David Fincher as a modern master of misdirection and suspense.
Full review: In Layman’s Terms…
Podcast review: The Punch Up

*Note: Anomalisa, while technically released in 2015, is yet to receive a wide release, and thus could not be considered for inclusion.

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6 thoughts on “ILT’s Top 10 Films of 2015!

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