As we are past the midway point of 2015, I think it’s time for me to give my personal Top 10 films of 2015 so far. Films that are eligible are films with a UK release from 1st January 2015 to 30th June 2015, not including those that are 2014 releases that are still in cinemas through 2015. Here we go…
10. Whiplash– This three-time Oscar winner was better received by others than myself, with the film appearing at number 1 on many a Top 10 list of 2014 (it was a 2014 release in the U.S.), as well as the film receiving a Best Picture nominations at the Oscars. For a directorial début, from Damien Chazelle, and being made for roughly $3 million, Whiplash is incredibly well made, showcasing a terrific performance from Miles Teller in the lead and a strong, but massively overrated, Oscar-winning performance from J.K. Simmons. It didn’t grab me as much as it did others and I wasn’t completely thrilled throughout, but a strong screenplay, along with strong direction, makes this worth watching.
9. Rosewater– Another directional début, this time from Jon Stewart, is a definitively impressive work, managing to show torture in an accessible way, and creates interrogation scenes which manage to showcase Stewart’s trademark political humour and heart thumping tension. It’s an uncomfortable watch, but great performances from Gael García Bernal, Kim Bodnia and Shohreh Aghdashloo make this an incredibly interesting film, showing that Jon Stewart was right to quit the day job as The Daily Show host.
8. Ex_Machina– An absolute mind-bender that will make you feel like your brain has been completely drained, Ex_Machina is yet again a directorial debut that is incredibly impressive. The performances from Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac are stand-outs and it’s stance on the future of the A.I. is creepy and eternally interesting, with an ambiguous ending that will seriously keep you thinking.
7. Far From the Madding Crowd– Beautifully shot and excellently acted, Far From the Madding Crowd is the prestige British film that I’ve been waiting for, with it’s costume and production design being absolutely first class. Carey Mulligan shines and Michael Sheen hasn’t been this great since The Damned United, a heartbreaking portrayal that works well alongside the hunky yet solid Matthias Schoenaerts and the devilishly puzzling Tom Sturridge and his fine moustache. An adaptation for the ages, yet somewhat let down by it’s reliance on the source material. This is a bit frustrating as it’s good enough to stand alone.
6. Selma– Incredibly powerful and an important film that all should see, Selma marks a change in African-American cinema, finally film made by black people about black people are becoming mainstream hits, following the Oscar-winning success of 12 Years a Slave. Ava DuVernay’s direction is impressive and the ensemble performance is strong across the board, with the best performance of all coming from Henry G. Sanders who, in limited screen time, made his portrayal of Jimmie Lee Jackson’s father utterly heartbreaking. Not quite as good as The Butler, but still an incredible achievement. A deserving Best Picture nominee.
5. Big Hero 6– I honestly haven’t laughed as much whilst watching a film as I had watching Disney’s latest, which is an absolute blast from start to finish. Baymax is my favourite character in anything ever and was voiced perfectly by Scott Adsit, whose chemistry with Ryan Potter as lead protagonist Hiro is great to witness. It loses it’s way with plot but the laughs keep on coming, with beautiful animation that is a joy for the eyes and the heart. A deserving Best Animated Feature winner and possibly my favourite Disney film yet.
4. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)– With it’s visually stunning cinematography from Emanuel Lubezki and an incredible ensemble performance from it’s cast, this year’s Best Picture winner lived up to the hype by delivering an enjoyable, weird and wonderful experience that drags you in every direction while you find yourself in the melting brain of Riggan Thomson, played well by Michael Keaton. However, it is Edward Norton steals the show as the pretentious Mike Shiner, and Emma Stone also does fine work in a film that relies so heavily on it’s actors to control the narrative portrayed. It will be difficult to find a better ensemble piece this year.
3. X+Y– Held together by some of the finest talents that Britain has to offer in Asa Butterfield, Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins, X+Y is a fascinating, yet enjoyable film that takes on a winning formula of heartbreaking and heart-warming in a perfect combination, with cliché being omitted excellently. While the performances from the adult cast are universally strong, with Rafe Spall giving his best performance to date as the lovable, yet tragic, Mr. Humphreys, it’s the young cast that truly shine, with Asa Butterfield’s maturity shining through in his honest and careful portrayal of the autistic Nathan, as well as the excellent Alex Lawther continuing the fine form he showed in The Imitation Game and newcomer Jake Davies, who really makes the most of his limited screen time with a finely tuned portrayal of the hauntings that can come with dealing with autism. This really is an excellent piece of work from first-time film director Morgan Matthews.
2. The Theory of Everything– The British hit of awards season, winning 3 BAFTAs, 2 Golden Globes and 1 Oscar, is deserving of this high praise as it manages to break down an infamous man through intimate moments, the kind of which aren’t shown enough in mainstream biopics. Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne is truly extraordinary as Stephen Hawking, managing to present new discoveries of the character as he portrays the scientist through different stages of disability. However, he is still matched by Felicity Jones, who gives a career-best performance as Hawking’s first wife, Jane, whose emotional state is always timed to perfection, showing dedication in a different form to Redmayne’s, but just as impressive. A terrific film that puts some faith back into the UK film industry.
1. Foxcatcher– My most anticipated film of the year is also my favourite so far. It’s the only film that I have awarded 5 stars to. It’s absolutely breathtaking, a film that changes your perception and storytelling depending on whether you know what happens at it’s conclusion. The atmospheric dread that Bennett Miller creates is astonishing. Steve Carell gives the best performance of the year (so far) as the eerily enigmatic John du Pont, exploring the character by getting into his head, not being withheld to just performance, just becoming the man and transforming himself. Channing Tatum also impresses and Mark Ruffalo has never been better (the documentary scene is incredible). A story about the American Dream gone wrong that more patriotic films wouldn’t want you to see, an incredible piece of work. The fact that it didn’t get a Best Picture nomination is near-unforgivable.