2015 had a bit of everything, and it could have easily been split down the middle with both exceptional but also disappointing films. From instalments in some of the biggest franchises around including Star Wars, The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner, to Disney and Pixar classics, Studio Ghibli delights, and superhero blockbusters at their best.
This year I’ve watched 610 films (80 released this year and 262 for the first time). My most watched director is Alfred Hitchcock and my most watched actor is Samuel L. Jackson.
To bring the year to an end, here are my top 10 films of 2015. This list changes quite frequently, so you can see an updated list on my Letterboxd page.
10. The Tale of The Princess Kaguya
I’m a huge Studio Ghibli fan anyway, but The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is something else. Two of my all-time favourite films are Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away because of the fantasy, monsters, and adventure, but Princess Kaguya, whilst it incorporates much of this fantasy still, is, at its heart, a beautiful fairytale.
The story is incredibly powerful and emotional, still having that focus on a young character finding their own way in the world without adult influence, and therefore the characters are unbelievably strong for an animated film. The animation itself is just beautiful, as well, making this a film that will leave an ache in your chest after watching it.
9. Kingsman: The Secret Service
With films including Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, and Layer Cake under his directorial belt, Matthew Vaughn knows how to make a good action film. And with the final film in his filmography, Stardust, also being a surprising hit, Vaughn also knows how to balance comedy. He’s one of my favourite directors because of this: he knows how to handle his genres.
All of his films have been hugely successful, and Kingsman is no different. Combining comedy and action with a very modernised story, Vaugh handles every second of this film perfectly. It’s stylish, fun, filled with great action sequences, and its characters are incredibly likeable – even the villains.
8. Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens
For fans of the Star Wars franchise, newbies or decades-long fanatics, The Force Awakens is undoubtedly the best instalment in the past 20 years. It plays excellent homage to the original trilogy, showing us exactly what the prequel trilogy could have been if they had a man like J.J. behind them, too. I’m actually a big fan of the prequel trilogy, but The Force Awakens tops them in quality, casting, atmosphere, and entertainment. For the millions of younger generations that are experiencing Star Wars for the first time, as well, The Force Awakens shows them exactly what this franchise has to look forward to.
The film has an excellent combination of old and new. Bringing back some of our favourite characters, including Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), it feels like nothing has really changed. There has been a lot of criticism about how similar much of the story is, but whilst there may be the same use of Powerpoint slide changes in between scenes, some very familiar landscape shots and even whole lines of dialogue, all of this is used to make this new episode feel like part of the same jigsaw, making you forget that there’s been such a long wait and change of direction in between.
7. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Since The Avengers first collaborative effort in 2012, Marvel began phase two of their cinematic universe with sequels Iron Man 3, Thor 2: The Dark World, and Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier, as well as expanding into the universe further with the introduction of the Guardians of The Galaxy. After seeing all of the Avengers together for the first time, it was great to go back to the individual characters and also to meet some new ones. But three years later, audiences were eager to see them reunite again, to see the epic superhero team working together with all of their powers, but also to allow us to enjoy the talents of those without their own films yet (Ruffalo’s The Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye).
Not only does Age of Ultron follow on from its predecessor smoothly, it also ties up all of the other films in phase 2 that were released in between them, leading to another hugely anticipated finale battle that sees the effects of the other films come together brilliantly.
6. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Part 2)
The Mockingjay novel wasn’t particularly great, and there wasn’t enough story to fill out two feature films. With Part 1 having to end at some point mid-way through the novel, there was no suitable place for it to end to feel like an individual film, and for that reason, the film felt unfinished without a suitable climax. Whilst it built up the tension and prepared us for what’s to come, Part 1 was only a setup, although it did leave us all anticipating the final chapter with a lot of questions in need of answering.
As two single parts, neither Part 1 or 2 of Mockingjay work fully on their own, but together they are fantastic. Before seeing The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Part 2) in the cinema I watched Part 1 at home, so I was able to experience Mockingjay in full effect. And this is how it should be seen. Arguably I would have preferred to see a single Mockingjay film that ran at 3+ hours, but the additional run time given by splitting the story into two is all put to good use, making this a dystopian story on form with the likes of George Orwell‘s 1984. And I would go as far to say that it is just as relevant.
5. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
I put this film off for so long because I didn’t particularly like Henry Cavill or Armie Hammer, but this film has completely changed my mind about them. Usually, it is pretty obvious that a film is directed by Guy Ritchie (who I’m a big fan of anyway), but there are only hints to his filmmaking styles here, as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is an incredibly sleek and stylish action film.
There’s some brilliant comedy, lots of great action, and the performances are perfectly fitting. Alicia Vikander is also fantastic in this. I love love love her and the scene where she dances to Cry to me by Solomon Burke is one of my favourite movie moments. Her chemistry with Hammer, too, is another reason why this film is a must watch!
4. Mad Max: Fury Road
Fury Road plays homage to the great car chase films of the 70’s and 80’s but is revved up with so much exhilarating force that it leaves the thought of them trailing far behind. Think back to the original Mad Max films and to classics such as Death Race 2000, and that’s what you’ll get… but with much bigger engines, so much fire that you’ll feel the heat, and a truck-load more madness.
Fury Road takes everything to the next level. It’s one of the grimmest dystopian films that you’ll have seen in a long time, one of the most thrilling car chases ever, and is filled with so much demolition and big action sequences that you’ll need to take a minute to slow your heart rate down after watching it.
3. The Theory of Everything
The Theory of Everything tells a story about many of are inspired by yet know so little about. The story of Stephen Hawking’s life is one we should all know more about. Knowing that he is a genius is not enough, but the story that The Theory of Everything tells puts his life and ambitions under a whole new light. That and it’s a beautiful love story, and many of us won’t even know that he had a wife.
The Theory of Everything is eye-opening, full of triumph, and heart-warming until the very end.
There are many reasons as to why Brooklyn works so well as a film, with the visuals being one of the biggest factors. Both the characters and the locations are brought to life beautifully. Seeing the contrasts of Eilis’ pretty hometown to the inflated lifestyle of the city heightens both the experience that Eilis is going through but also gives the story a breath-taking backdrop.
The casting is spot on, too, and it is Saoirse Ronan‘s elegance that adds to this visual beauty as well as the exceptionally talented performance that she leads the film with. The story really wouldn’t have been the same with any other actress, as she completely embraces every characteristic of her role.
1. Ex Machina
From the writer of hugely impressive 28 Days Later and Sunshine, there’s a lot to be excited about when a writer of such talent is about to make his directorial debut. And that’s why many of us couldn’t wait for Ex Machina. Garland has been the source of some of the best films in their genre; the huge scale of space sci-fi Sunshine and the intense zombie apocalypse 28 Days Later were enough to promise that another brilliant sci-fi was on its way.
Many films have used the revolution of technology as a basis to their stories recently, but Ex Machina has an original feel to it throughout. The film doesn’t belittle its audience by throwing too much jargon at them, but it’s enough to scare the audience of the possibility of something similar happening in the future.