In the summer, I did my top 10 films of the year thus far. Well, now it’s time, after the year has come to a close, to do my top 20 favourite films of the year. Bear in mind, I haven’t seen most of the year’s films (I’m still yet to see Carol, American Sniper, Mad Max: Fury Road, amongst others), and also bear in mind that this is going by UK release date, so The Theory of Everything counts while The Danish Girl doesn’t. It also means that I can’t include my favourite film that I’ve seen in 2015, The End of the Tour, as it’s not out in the UK until February. Anyway, this is my top 20 favourite films of 2015, that I saw in 2015.
20. Rosewater– This telling of real life journalist Maziar Bahari’s imprisonment in Iran is Jon Stewart’s debut feature, and it looks like it will be one that will be difficult to top. It’s riveting, funny and deeply human, with an excellent central performance from Gael Garcia Bernal.
19. Trainwreck– While it isn’t anywhere near Judd Apatow’s best work, Trainwreck still is one of the funniest films of the year, and is a blending of the gross out humour that Apatow is known for and a softer, romantic side, that he has shown in passing, but never to this depth. Amy Schumer does a fine job in the writing and acting departments, and there are incredibly memorable turns from John Cena and LeBron James, as well as a fine supporting performance from Brie Larson.
18. Ex Machina– This mind bending sci-fi from first time director Alex Garland is a beautiful worked film that effortlessly transforms from quitely haunting to a white knuckle thriller. This is as good a non-space sci-fi as you are likely to see, and Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac shine in brilliant supporting performances.
17. Far From the Madding Crowd– This British romantic tale is beautifully stylish and rich in texture, but stands out from the crowd due to its added bite and twists. Carey Mulligan is brilliantly understated as Bathsheba Everdene, while Michael Sheen is phenomenal as the emotionally crippled William Boldwood.
16. Ant-Man– This Marvel film is the superhero movie for people that don’t like superhero movies, as it is entertaining, funny, and visually stunning. Paul Rudd is perfectly cast in the central role as the bamboozled superhero, while Michael Douglas adds fine support as inventer Hank Pym. The film is stolen, however, by Michael Pena, who really shines as the dimwitted Luis.
15. Still Alice– A film that is a lot more than just a vehicle to showcase Julianne Moore’s talents, Still Alice is a beautifully told film about the suffering and heartbreak that comes with illness. Moore is terrific in an Oscar winning role, and it is a fitting final film for co-director Richard Glatzer, who sadly died shortly after the film’s release from a long suffering illness.
14. The Walk– While the superb visuals have been rightly recognised, you cannot underestimate the fact that The Walk is a genuinely brilliant film in it’s own right. That’s mainly because Robert Zemeckis does such a fantastic job in making it not just about the walk itself; it’s about the man and his dream. It’s a brilliantly directed film, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers an excellent performance as Philippe Petit.
13. Selma– I’ve seen this civil rights drama twice now, and it is nothing short of sublime. Ava DuVernay inserts all the passion required to tell this story, and does it by understanding Martin Luther King Jr. and his motives. David Oyelowo does a fine job of portraying King, while Henry G. Sanders steals the show as the heartbreaking Cager Lee.
12. Steve Jobs– With a brilliant turn from Michael Fassbender at it’s core, Danny Boyle’s portrait of the flawed genius Steve Jobs is one that is to be admired. Aaron Sorkin’s razor sharp screenplay sets the tone, and the cast is up to challenge, particularly in Act 2 of Sorkin’s 3 Act screenplay, where the face off between Fassbender’s Jobs and Jeff Daniels’ John Sculley is some of the finest pieces of cinema you’ll see this year.
11. Bridge of Spies– An effortlessly brilliantly designed film, Bridge of Spies manages to be riveting, engaging, and beautiful to view, proving that Spielberg is still one of the finest filmmakers of our time. Tom Hanks does a brilliant job as attorney James Donovan, but it’s Mark Rylance who is the stand out as the nuanced and enigmatic spy Rudolf Abel.
10. Love & Mercy– One of the most creative films of 2015, Love & Mercy‘s telling of Brian Wilson’s story is a fitting tribute to one of the finest musicians of all time, and is accompanied by an excellent soundtrack. Paul Dano and John Cusack excel as Brian Wilson, while Elizabeth Banks breaks out from the comedic roles she’s known for to deliver a powerful, yet understated performance as Wilson’s wife Melinda Ledbetter.
9. Big Hero 6– Far and away the funniest film of the year, Big Hero 6 is a delightful animation from Disney, as they combine beautiful visuals and a sharp script to create a hilarious and charming treat for all ages. Scott Adsit’s Baymax is a character for the ages, a brilliantly funny and lovable creation.
8. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)– Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Best Picture winning film may not be a deserving winner, but it is undoubtedly a brilliant film, and features some of the finest cinematography you’re likely to see. The film is boasts an excellent ensemble cast all at the top of their game, with Michael Keaton delivering a tour-de-force performance as Riggan Thomson, and Edward Norton stealing the show as the pretentious Mike Shiner. This is filmmaking at it’s finest, and it’s a film that is going to age like fine wine.
7. X+Y– This independent drama may not have the gravitas as the other films on my list, but it is probably the most personal. It gets under the skin of what it is like for someone with autism, perfectly capturing life in a very human way. Asa Butterfield is excellent as the troubled genius Nathan, while Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins offer fine support as those trying to ease Nathan through life. A real tear-jerker, but a rewarding watch.
6. Wild– A brilliant platform for Reese Witherspoon to showcase her dramatic credentials, Wild is a film that manages to take a deep grasp at a woman at her high and low points, which is so deeply personal that we almost feel like we’re infringing. Witherspoon is extraordinary as hiker Cheryl Strayed, and Laura Dern excels in a role that is only shown through flashbacks, which are brilliantly edited together by director Jean-Marc Vallee, further proving himself as one of the best filmmakers working today.
5. Brooklyn– The finest romantic film of the year, Brooklyn boasts a great performance from Saoirse Ronan as the lovestruck Eilis, in a film that manages to tell the trials and tribulations of living away from home in an accessible way for all to feel empathetic. Ronan gives the best performance of her career, and is matched by Emory Cohen’s charming performance as Eilis’ boyfriend Tony, whose romance you really root for. A really rewarding and delightful film.
4. The Theory of Everything– With two astonishing performances from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything is the best British film of the year, as it manages to tell a straightforward story in a way that really exposes the power of love, no matter what obstacles are thrown in the way. Jones’ strong and nuanced performance gives the film its heart, while Eddie Redmayne’s transformative, Oscar-winning performance is some of the finest acting you’re likely to see.
3. Beasts of No Nation– A knockout from start to finish, Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation is a relentlessly brutal gut punch of raw emotion, as war is shown at it’s most harrowing and horrifying. Led by a towering performance from Abraham Attah as child soldier Agu, and supported by an equally outstanding Idris Elba, this is a tough watch, but an essential one at that.
2. Inside Out– Possibly one of Pixar’s finest achievements to date, Inside Out is a mature, funny, and heartbreaking look at the mind and our emotions, and is accessible to all ages as a vocal point to our worries. It’s got a really sharp script and fine voice acting, and gets to play with our emotions in a way that only Pixar films can.
1. Foxcatcher– One of the first films that I saw in 2015, no film has had more of a knock out effect on me this year than Bennett Miller’s chilling drama. You’re unlikely to see a better combination of phenomenal directing, acting, and writing than in Foxcatcher, a film that fills you with dread and unease, leading to a finale that is unforgettable. Steve Carell is phenomenal as the creepy, lonely billionaire John Du Pont, with Channing Tatum delivering a strong, brooding turn as wrestler Mark Schultz, and Mark Ruffalo giving an excellent performance as the tragic Dave Schultz. This is a film that shook me like no other, one that has stuck with me, the one that managed to get under me. An extraordinary achievement, and my favourite film of 2015.