2015 ended up being a pretty great year for movies and for What What The Craggus Saw. 181 posts in total and over 15,000 views with a new record was set in February for monthly views (that I doubt will be broken any time soon) but how do I filter all that down into the perennially unfair but likewise popular ‘Top 10’? Well, I’m not going to. This isn’t a Top 10 list based on technical merit or artistic impression. This is my ten favourite movies of 2015.
After my self-inflicted confusion last year, I set myself some ground rules. To be considered, the film had to have a UK release date in 2015, regardless of when I saw it. So, for example, I was lucky enough to see “Birdman” in December of 2014 but it remains in contention for this list because of its release date.
I managed to see 82 new releases in the cinema this year (although two of them are 2016 releases and won’t count for this list) and out of those I awarded eight perfect 10/10 scores yet only five of them make it onto this list. Two of my 9/10 movies make the list and as for the rest, it’s the 8/10s that are duking it out for a space. It just goes to show you can see a perfect movie and appreciate its brilliance without necessarily enjoying it, and on the flipside you can watch a flawed movie and yet still have a blast with it.
Anyway, now I’ve got my pre-emptive excuses for including your most loathed movie or ignoring your personal favourite, here – in no particular order – are my 10 favourite movies of 2015…
2015 was a first for Pixar, the first time they released two films in one year. And the order in which they were released makes all the difference. Coming off the [relative] slump of “Cars 2”, “Brave” and “Monster University”, had they released “The Good Dinosaur” first, Pixar could started to look like they were legitimately in an apparently irreversible decline (and I really liked “The Good Dinosaur” – flaws and all). Thankfully, that didn’t happen and “Inside Out” came out to remind us all why we held Pixar in such high esteem in the first place. Insightful, clever, touching and dazzlingly colourful, the story of the inner life of a young girl exploded to life on screen, creating the biggest of worlds in the smallest of spaces. In a year of largely disappointing animated fare or undeservedly successful cash grabs like “Minions” it’s even easier to see what sets Pixar apart and “Inside Out” sees them at the height of their powers.
Mad Max: Fury Road
It’s hard to deny the sheer kinetic ferocity of George Miller’s return to the director’s chair and the post-apocalyptic world of Max Rockatansky. Tom Hardy makes for a decent replacement for Mel Gibson as the clock is rewound and an alternative timeline is plotted out from the end of the first movie. As much a reboot as a sequel, Fury Road takes the best of “The Road Warrior” and “Beyond Thunderdome” and then turns the entire story on its head by giving Max a surrogate family who proceed to steal the picture out from under him. Whether by accident or design, Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is a far more charismatic and engaging character than Hardy’s taciturn Max and with Nicholas Hoult’s high energy performance as Nux added to the mix, the human element far outshines the incredible stunt work, scenery and cinematography (despite the story being pretty thin). It’s the pure, distilled essence of an action movie brutally bolted to the world-weary soul of a classic western. Magnificent, big screen spectacle.
Of course there was going to be a Marvel movie on this list, I love ‘em. I’ve gone for “Ant-Man” over “Avengers: Age Of Ultron” simply because it was the most fun. I wasn’t one of the people who was disappointed by “Age Of Ultron”. I loved it at the time and still love it now. Okay, so it doesn’t have the impact of 2012’s “Avengers Assemble”. Of course it doesn’t; how could it? Nothing ever could and it shows we’ve become so very spoiled by the quality and quantity of super hero films on offer that we’ve forgotten what it used to be like for comic book fans. “Age Of Ultron” gave us spectacle, team ups, combo attack moves, humour, snark and everything we could want. But “Ant-Man” also gave us a healthy portion of all of that and introduced more depth, texture and history to the fabric of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Tapping into the same high-spirited, light-hearted approach as “Guardians Of The Galaxy”, it gave us a new kind of hero, brilliantly realised new kinds of action sequences and, above all, transcended its very publically troubled production (*cough* “Fantastic Four” *cough*) to deliver a hell of a movie. It reminded us that superhero movies don’t need to be big to be great. “Ant-Man” became the little Marvel movie that could and was justly regarded with a sequel announcement earlier this year.
Talk of superhero movie fatigue is nonsense. As long as the quality is good, people will come to see them. We don’t hear anywhere near the same guff about ‘true story’ movie fatigue despite the fact that 2015 saw “Everest”, “The Walk”, “The Lady In The Van”, “The Theory Of Everything”, “Foxcatcher”, “Black Mass”, “Straight Outta Compton”, “The Woman In Gold”, “Bridge Of Spies” and “In The Heart Of The Sea” to name but a few with “Joy”, “The Danish Girl” and “Concussion” still to come. Marvel have become like Pixar in that even when they’re not firing on all cylinders, they’re still pretty damn good. As long as they can keep up the quality and variety, they’ll likely remain the standard to beat in superhero movies.
Kingsman: The Secret Service
We don’t hear much about Spy movie fatigue, either but 2015 saw six big spy movies released, all of them at least pretty good. “Spy”, “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”, “Bridge Of Spies”, “SPECTRE” and “The Man From UNCLE” all jostled for box office glory in 2015 but for my money, the best of the lot was “Kingsman: The Secret Service”. Taking an irreverent, earthy position, it lovingly mocked and cherished the classic spy movies of old, especially Bond. Despite a breakout role for Taron Egerton, it’s Colin Firth who really owns the movie as the ass-kicking Harry Hart as he shepherds raw recruit Eggsy through the entrance tests of the elite Kingsman organisation. Brutal, bloody, hilarious and exhilarating, it blasted through the stuffy and worthy early-year Oscar bait like a breath of fresh air.
Sensational sci-fi, edge of your seat adventure and a heart as big as Olympus mons, “The Martian” saw both Ridley Scott and Matt Damon back on top form. Witty, gripping and expertly crafted, Drew Goddard’s adaptation of Andy Weir’s novel is a very modern version of a very old fashioned adventure. Using cutting edge technology and as much scientific accuracy as the story would allow, it achieves such a feeling of authenticity that you occasionally have to remind yourself that it isn’t based on a true story like “Apollo 13”. Unashamedly in awe of the science, technology, engineering and mathematical abilities of the men and women of NASA, it’s ultimately a story of humanity’s ingenuity and brilliance in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges both on the distant red planet and on Earth. Uplifting, educational and beautiful to look at – what more could you want?
The first film this year to perfect the magical formula for strip mining nostalgia to resurrect a dormant franchise (go on, guess what the other was), “Jurassic World” gets a place on my list because of ‘feels’. Where the previous sequels had managed to bring back familiar characters, Colin Trevorrow’s sequel eschews familiar names and faces in preference of familiar places. It may hit many of the same beats as the original film did, but it does so in a way that evokes the magic and wonder of what we first saw over twenty years ago. Every time I saw it in the cinema, the swell of John Williams’ theme and the sight of the gates gave me goose bumps and brought a lump to my throat. It felt amazing to be back on Isla Nublar after all this time. It felt right.
The part-tamed raptors make sense as a progression from the developments of previous movies and anyone who claims they’d hate to visit a resort like this is lying, even with the appalling safety record. “Jurassic World” remembers that the magic happens not just bu putting dinosaurs on screen but in combining the awe and astonishment of dinosaurs with the intoxicating fun and excitement of a theme park. The numerous call-backs to the first movie would have grated far more if they’d been ignored than they do by appearing. It’s connective tissue that binds the franchise together and brings with it an enormous amount of affection. Yes, its dressed in borrowed robes and standing on the shoulders of giants, but in a metatextual sense, isn’t that pretty perfect for a “Jurassic Park” film which deals with the commercial exploitation of John Hammond’s original work? Plus, Chris Pratt proves that “Guardians Of The Galaxy” was no fluke.
I saw this and “Birdman” around the same time, a couple of months before their UK release dates thanks to an #ODEONScreenUnseen and a preview screening. “Birdman” got a 10/10 from me and “Whiplash” got a 9/10 yet it’s the sports movie done as a virtuoso drummer tale which makes the list. I stand by the score but it’s the savagery of the conflict and the coup de grace delivered near the end that’s made it linger far longer in the memory than Michael Keaton’s tour de force. A lesser film would have been content to rest on its laurels after that devastating betrayal but “Whiplash” presses on, ultimately affirming its antagonist’s philosophy of forging genius in the white hot crucible of cruelty and pressure. There’s such a ferocious energy generated by the two leads but it’s a magnificent performance from JK Simmons which gives this thrilling drama its power.
Pitch Perfect 2
Simply one of the most fun movies I’ve seen this year. I’ve rewatched it multiple times and enjoyed it every time. Its soundtrack has become a firm family favourite (we have to remind ourselves not to sing along a cappella style to the Universal Studios ident on other movies) and is the only one to have come close to rivalling that of “Guardians Of The Galaxy” in terms of longevity and sing-alongability in the car. Elizabeth Banks makes a terrifically assured debut as director and the cast are on point as the gags and musical numbers come thick and fast. It avoids many of the pitfalls of surprise sequels and manages to be more fun, sweeter and more emotional than the first “Pitch Perfect“. It may be a lightweight bit of fluff but it’s still a superior sequel with a lovably snarky and screwball edge.
Tomorrowland: A World Beyond
It couldn’t be more ironic that this film failed to find an audience in the shitty year of 2015. As the world continued to hurtle towards Hell in a handbasket, this optimistic, hopeful film failed to gain any traction. Religious extremism, environmental collapse, mass shootings, wars, economic uncertainty, racism, sexism, homophobia and the rise of a kind of militant scientific ignorance epitomised by anti-vaxxers all should have sent us looking for something hopeful.
Having watched it a few times recently at home, my love for this movie has only grown. First off, it looks fantastic. The visuals are amazing and the realisation of the alternative dimension of Tomorrowland is achingly aspirational. Brad Bird not only creates a beguiling premise but he delivers some great, strong female characters that have been shamefully overlooked in this much heralded year of strong female leads.
Our main protagonist, Casey, is a case in point. Clever, resourceful, skilled and competent, she was Rey before Rey was even in our collective consciousness, albeit one without the help of magical powers. George Clooney’s character is her sidekick. It’s her that literally saves the world, pulling it back from the brink and pointing the way to the possibility of a hopeful tomorrow, with the help of the android Athena.
It’s a really great family movie and woven through it all is the theme that instead of dwelling on our many problems and lamenting how awful everything is and is becoming, we should be looking for ways to fix these problems rather than resign ourselves to our fate.
Brad Bird and the oft-maligned Damon Lindelof have taken a theme park ride and delivered a classic original sci-fi tale which champions the virtue of scientific endeavour and its capacity to make our lives better. “Tomorrowland: A World Beyond” is original sci-fi. Not a sequel or a reboot but a loving ode to a more optimistic time. Like “Jupiter Ascending”, it failed to find an audience.
Given how often we hear complaints that everything is a rehash of what’s been done before, I’m firmly of the opinion that if you didn’t buy a ticket to see “Tomorrowland” or “Jupiter Ascending” then you’re abrogating your right to complain about the lack of original sci-fi movies being made. Whether or not you liked it isn’t the point, the genre is starved of new, original sci-fi works and if you want more, you need to buy a ticket to the few that are currently made. The studios don’t care what the reviews say or whether it was ‘good’, only that it makes money. How do you think Adam Sandler keeps getting work? You want more original, non-franchise sci-fi? Buy tickets to any and every new sci-fi film that comes out. You may not enjoy them all, but the studios will get the message that you want more and you’ll get more.
But in the meantime, give “Tomorrowland” another chance, you cynic! Go on; just imagine a future that isn’t post-apocalyptic for once.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Well, come on – you knew it was going to make the list. Like “Jurassic World”, it executed a ruthlessly precise strike on our collective nostalgia, successfully reigniting the flames of passion that had been doused by the successive disappointments of the prequels. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” doesn’t have the greatest or most coherent of plots, indeed it largely copies from its more illustrious forebears in that regard. What it does have is a rich tapestry of homage to cover up the threadbare plot and act as a colourful and welcoming background for a host of wonderful characters, both old and new, to strut their stuff. The veterans are welcome touchstones, reminding us of the best of the times we had with “Star Wars”, “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return Of The Jedi” but it’s the new additions which emerge as the most important and most potent ingredient in “The Force Awakens”’ heady cocktail of sci-fi/ fantasy adventure. Kylo Ren gives us the tortured, conflicted and complex character we should have had with Anakin Skywalker in the prequels. Pilot Poe Dameron and his adorable sidekick BB-8 are great fun and the bromance which blossoms between him and renegade Stormtrooper Fin is sublime. But it’s Rey who really stands out as Daisy Ridley explodes onto the global stage an instant superstar. Some people may snipe and carp about her multifaceted abilities but that never bothered me one bit while watching the film – all four times I’ve seen it so far.
No, what I was excited about was my three year old daughter growing up in a world where Rey is a leading figure of pop culture. This Christmas, at her request, she received a lightsaber like her brother’s. Well, I say like her brother’s except she was adamant she wanted a red one. Darth Vader is her favourite character and in amongst the Disney Princes pyjamas and “Frozen” dress-up you’ll find Vader PJ’s and a very distinctive black mask and cloak but I’m hopeful Rey will bring her back to the light side. I’m genuinely giddy with the thrill of the idea that in 2019, Mertmas and I will be sitting beside her in the cinema as my whole family watch Rey’s journey come to its conclusion in Episode IX (after having repeatedly devoured Episode VII and VIII on BluRay).
Well, there you have it. Those are my 10 favourite movies of 2015. Not the best, not the most worthy, certainly not the most popular. But I loved them and I refute anything guilty about these pleasures! I’d love to know what you think, so please leave a comment or two, even if it’s to question my sanity for including “Pitch Perfect 2” and leaving out “Ex Machina” or “Sicario”. In the meantime, I wish you a Happy New Year and a great movie watching 2016!