2015 has been the best year for film that I’ve been alive for. Hell, it could be argued that 2015 is the best year for film there’s ever been. I’m fairly sure it’s the best year of film that I’m ever going to see (although I’ll be more than happy to be proven wrong on that).
For the first year since I started making these lists, it was a real challenge to work out my Top 6. I don’t just mean the rankings – I mean it was a genuine effort to work out which films deserved the Top 6 spots. There’s no filler in this year’s list – each of the following movies fought for their spot.
My Top 6 Films of 2015
- Mad Max: Fury Road – The first time I saw this, I was utterly baffled. I’d heard so much positive buzz about the film. It had been described as “the best action film ever made” and “a movie which demands other action films to step up their game.
And so I was totally flummoxed to discover that the film not only met the insanely high expectations I’d set for it, it actually exceeded them. On every single possible level, this film is a triumph. I don’t think it’s just the best action film ever made – I believe this might be the single greatest film ever made.
It shouldn’t exist. But it does, and for that I believe we should be thankful.
- Inside Out – Pixar, as we all know, is an incredible studio of geniuses, and thus they’ve produced a steady stream of incredible films for almost twenty years now. There’s been a few misses in there – Cars for everyone, Ratatouille for me, but as a rule they know what they’re doing, and what they’re doing is “making great movies”.
The studio’s biggest flaw – and I’m far from the first person to have noticed this – is that their films are almost always about guys. There’s approximately one woman to every three male characters, and the one time that they tried to make a film with a female protagonist – Brave – it was your typical “she wants to do BOY things but she can’t cos she’s a GIRL” plot (until it got sidetracked and became about an ancient bear curse? For some reason?)
Inside Out reverses that trend, and does it with aplomb. Inside Out is not only the first one to successfully feature female characters, I believe it’s also the studio’s best film. And considering it’s up against Up, WALL-E, Cars 2 and Toy Story 3, that’s really saying something. Incredible movie – I saw it three times in the cinemas, and the only reason it’s not #1 on this list is because Mad Max: Fury Road broke the world and somehow managed to exist.
- Kingsman: The Secret Service – I have slightly different criteria for my personal Top 6 Films of All Time than I do for my Top 6 of the Year. The former is more about how much pleasure the film gives me, and whether I can watch it over and over and over again without getting sick of it. My Top 6 of the Year is more about objective quality (as determined, admittedly, by me).
If it wasn’t, Kingsman would be at the top of the list. It’s not for everyone, it has one particular scene that just flat-out shouldn’t be in the movie, and it’s problematic in a way that Inside Out and Mad Max: Fury Road simply aren’t.
But I loved it. I went and saw it four times in the cinema (compared to three times for both the entries above it in this list – this was a big year for movies and me) and each time, I was just glowing with pleasure from beginning to end. I don’t know why, but everything about this film just managed to press my buttons. It’s silly and fun, it’s impeccably structured, it’s a ridiculous male power fantasy, and apparently that’s what I’m all about because man did this film make me happy.
- Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl – I saw this film in rather unusual conditions. I’d just spent three months in the USA, the place where I want to live for the rest of my life. I’d had the absolute best time of my life…and I was on a plane, leaving the country I love and heading home.
And so it’s hard to say how much of my reaction to this film was circumstances and how much was quality of film-making. Because I wept. I’ve cried during films before – a tear trickled down my face the first few times I saw The Notebook – but I’m generally not the crying type.
But all through the third act of Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl I was sobbing, my whole body heaving as I did.
Holy shit. What a film. I’m not even sure if I want to see it again – that one experience was so powerful, and so I’m equally afraid of it not being as potent the next time I see it…and of finding myself bawling like a child again.
- The Martian – The book this movie was based on was written by Andy Weir, who I’ve actually been a fan of for almost a decade now. Back in the day he wrote a webcomic called Casey and Andy, which I was a huge fan of, and so I followed his livejournal and just generally kept up with his antics.
A few years later, he had a story (The Egg) go viral in that weird, often-unattributed way, and then a few years later he wrote a book called The Martian. It’s the second time I’ve seen someone go from relatively obscure to internet-wide sensation (I followed Yahtzee for years before he started Zero Punctuationing), but it’s the first time I’ve seen someone’s work get this big. It’s been an interesting ride.
Once I heard it was going to be turned into a movie, I decided to postpone reading the book (I prefer seeing the film first), and so my first exposure to The Martian was on the big screen.
Amazing. One of the best sci-fi films ever made, easily. It just works on every level, and totally deserves the accolades it’s been getting. It’s great when an amazing team (Ridley Scott, Drew Goddard, Matt Damon, every TV actor from the last ten years) get together and make something awesome.
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens – I’ve been completely and utterly avoiding trailers for this. Not (only) out of fear of spoilers, just because I wanted to go in with no expectations.I can honestly say that I was blown away. It’s a testament to 2015’s films that a new Star Wars which actually manages to hold its own with the original trilogy is number six on my list.
It’s not perfect, but I’ve been struggling to fault it. All the complaints that other people have had (it’s too similar to A New Hope, they spend too long on the old characters, someone who was heavily featured in the marketing wasn’t given enough screen-time) haven’t bothered me in the slightest – I think J.J. Abrams managed to do an incredible job of recreating the feel of the original Star Wars films, especially with the terrifying weight of expectation that must have been hanging over him.
I loved it. It’s my second-favourite Star Wars film…although admittedly I never saw Attack of the Clones.
On Christmas day, I was discussing this list with my family. “I sure hope The Good Dinosaur is crap,” I joked, “otherwise I’m really going to struggle to pick a top six.”
Fortunately for everyone…it was (see below)! But this still left me with a dilemma. The above six films are undoubtedly the best films I saw this year (and I wouldn’t be surprised if most of them made an appearance on my “best films of the decade” list), but there was another film I saw this year that – in any other year – would easily have made the list.
- The Intern. I went into this Robert DeNiro/Anne Hathaway film on a whim, and walked away totally charmed. It’s (unfortunately) not as good as any of the above six films, but it’s definitely one of the films I spent the most time thinking about.
It’s like Gavin and Stacey in movie form – wonderfully pleasant, with a sprinkle of drama so that there’s enough plot to hang a film around, but for the most part it just exists to be a few hours of idealized humans having delightful conversations and encounters.
When I started cataloguing my film-watching in 2009, I chose “Top 6” because there were six films I wanted to talk about. If this were my first ever “top movie” list, it’d almost certainly be a Top 7, just because I feel like The Intern deserves a place on the list…especially because it’s unlikely that anyone else will be talking about it, at least within my demographic.
(Most people, when I recommend it, scrunch up their noses and say “Didn’t that come out a few years ago? Luke Wilson, yeah?”)
- Tomorrowland – In a smaller year, this might have scraped its way into the Top 6. As it is, it’s barely sneaking into the “runner-up” list. I quite liked Tomorrowland, although it seriously suffered from having no idea who its audience was. Still, they managed to do a good job with an interesting (if strange and ultimately Disneyfied) premise, and damn – those action scenes. Brad Bird knows how to action a good scene.
- Pitch Perfect 2 – This film doesn’t do anything special, but it really doesn’t try to. Everything it tries to do, it spectacularly succeeds at – jokes, bigger versions of great scenes from the first film, more catchy acapella remixes, a super-catchy original tune, and the most delightful villains I’ve seen in a comedy for many years now.
- The Good Dinosaur is the worst Pixar film since Brave. The only reason it’s not the worst Pixar film of all time is because Cars 2, like some kind of anti-Fury Road, defies all logic and manages to be a real thing. So far the only defenses I’ve heard for it are “my kid liked it” (which is…I mean, surely that’s irrelevant? I’m very happy that your kid enjoyed it, but – as someone who loves kids – we must all be able to agree that they’re not really great assessors of quality) and “it’s gorgeous”.
Sure. It’s Pixar. Being incredibly pretty is a given – they’d have to be actively trying to make an unattractive film, and I think that they actually were trying with this one. Which makes the fact that it’s awful even more confusing. It just falls apart on a few different levels; for the sake of brevity, I’m only going to mention one:
WARNING: Spoilers for a really bad, basically plotless movie ahead!
Remember how he had to help his mother collect food before the first snow? Remember how she specified that she needed his help else they were surely going to starve?
Right. Now remember the part where he came back after the first snow, not having collected any food…or really providing any kind of solution whatsoever? In fact, the only thing his return did was give them another mouth to feed.
That movie basically ends with “and the dinosaur family all starved to death”. Short of printing those words on the screen, I don’t see how they could have made that any clearer.
- Jurassic World – Other people have said it better (and in more detail) than I’ll ever be able to, so I’ll just say: Jurassic World feels like someone with no emotional intelligence saw Jurassic Park, and tried to recreate each individual awesome moment, with absolutely no understanding of context. It’s sort of fascinating in that respect.
- Cinderella – I disliked Maleficent, and so I wasn’t really expecting much from this.It managed to be much worse than my poorest expectations. I saw it with Lindsay Ellis (The Nostalgia Chick) and actually had a really good time making her giggle with snarky comments, but dang. This film…it’s barely a film. I don’t know what it was, but it certainly wasn’t good.
- Jupiter Ascending – Another film I saw with Lindsay, after she assured me that it was delightfully awful. Maybe I’m just not the target audience, because it just struck me as plain ole “awful”. No stars.
- Ex Machina – this (unlike Fury Road) was killed for me by the hype. Everyone was raving about it as a film with a whole new take on AI. You can imagine my disappointment when I instead found a film with the exact same take on AI as almost every other film featuring AI that I’ve ever seen (genuinely the only two exceptions I can think of: Her and Moon). It’s probably a good film in its own right, I was just hoping for something interesting and different, instead of the same damn plot played over and over again.
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 – I can barely handle waiting for the new season of Game of Thrones, so until this year, I’d been avoiding the Hunger Games films until I could sit down and watch them all in a row.
This Christmas, I finally did that. And I liked them! They didn’t quite blow my mind as much as I was expecting, but I definitely dug the series (although the love triangle felt completely unnecessary, and I was surprised to find myself having opinions – negative ones – on how it resolved) and I’m sure I’ll watch it again.
I even liked both parts of Mockingjay – in fact, Part 1 is probably my favorite film in the series. Part 2 was good, but that ending. Why, film-makers? Did you learn nothing from the Harry Potter epilogue? Ugh. Almost enough to ruin the whole film.
- Ant-Man – by all accounts, I would have loved Ant-Man, but I only learned after it came out that it featured ants (I am endlessly fascinated by ants). “Peter,” you can cry, “it’s in the title!”Sure. How many bats were there in Batman? How many spiders in Spider-Man? I was expecting ants to be part of the origin story – I didn’t realize he got to hang out with them for the entire film. Will definitely check this out once it lands on Netflix.
- Pan – Apparently this was awful, but I’m a Peter Pan fanboy (it’s more than just the name, I swear) and so I was keen to see their take on it. Never got a chance, unfortunately, but I’m still excited to check it out.
I’m not insane enough to expect 2016’s films to be nearly as good as this year’s, but damn…wouldn’t it be nice if this were the start of a trend, a new golden age of cinema?
C’mon, Finding Dory. You can do it.