Top 10 Films of 2015

Film

So it’s the end of the year and I thought it would be a good time to do a Top 10 of the films I’ve seen (so far) from this year. I haven’t been able to see all the films I’ve wanted to this year, so bear in mind that given another few months this list might look a bit different. As such, I’ll put a list at the bottom of this post of the films I missed that looked like they could’ve ended up in my Top 10. Anyhow, I hope you enjoy this list and tell me in the comments what your favourites from this past year have been!

10. The Martian

The Martian Poster

Ridley Scott’s best film since Gladiator (2000) and one of Matt Damon’s very best performances makes The Martian the best of the recent space-faring hard science-fiction films we’ve seen. Mark Watney, an astronaut, is left stranded on Mars by his crew and has to survive the harsh environments whilst the best scientists on Earth collectively find a way to bring him back home as soon as possible. Whilst the film does get pulled down by the heavy-handed science talk at points, The Martian is a great testament to the human spirit and it’s quest for further knowledge. I wouldn’t be surprised if The Martian does spearhead a renewed interest in space.

9. Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max Fury Road Poster

Australian director George Miller returns to the world of Mad Max in the brilliantly anarchic Fury Road. In what is essentially a remake of Buster Keaton’s The General (1926), we see Tom Hardy take up the role of Max Rockatansky and Charlize Theron’s kick-ass Furiosa team up to escape Immortan Joe and his War Boys. Never before has the world of Mad Max been so fully realized. It is perhaps the best Mad Max film to date and easily the one with the best action sequences. It’s depiction of women has also lead to many critics calling Fury Road a feminist action film, and it’s certainly something I would agree with. A new action film for a new century.

8. Kingsman: The Secret Service

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Director Matthew Vaughn teams up with comic-book writer Mark Millar for another brilliantly irreverent tribute / parody to genre fiction, this time spy literature / film with Kingsman. Colin Firth stars as James-Bond-type spy Harry Hart, who recruits street-kid Eggsy to the Kingsman secret agency. Together they’ll combat dangerous threats and become good friends. As deliciously violent and hilarious as Vaughn / Millar’s Kick-Ass (2010), Kingsman ranks as one of the best comic-book adaptations of the new century and is just pure cinematic pleasure from start to finish.

7. Ant-Man

Ant Man Poster

Who would have thought that Marvel’s smallest hero would have made for a better film than an Avengers sequel? Paul Rudd’s effortlessly charming Scott Lang teams up with the original Ant Man Hank Pym (Michael Douglass) and his daughter, Hope Pym (Evangeline Lilly) to save the world from Pym’s ex-student Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). It’s a film that is refreshingly simple, unlike the rest of the Marvel slate, and has a whole bunch of characters that you just can’t help but like immensely. Marvel’s best film this year for sure and definitely the best superhero film of 2015.

6. Slow West

Slow West Poster

Slow West is one of the best westerns I’ve seen in a while because it abandons the modern, gritty, McCarthyesque aesthetic that so many modern westerns go for and instead returns to the romanticised, beautiful (but deadly) West that originated in the films of John Ford. Jay Cavendish, a Scottish teenager, has come to the American West to find the woman he is infatuated with / loves. He employs a bounty hunter named Silas (Michael Fassbender) to protect him on his journey, and as they traverse the wilderness and meet both friend and foe, their relationship will have ramifications for all of the characters they meet. It’s beautifully simple and ends in a climactic shoot out that must rank as one of the best action scenes of 2015. Heartbreaking and bittersweet, Slow West is a solid, great film.

5. Jurassic World

Jurassic World Poster

I did really enjoy Steven Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park films as a kid, but even so, I was astonished at the financial success Jurassic World received. Jurassic World isn’t going to win any awards that praise the film as a piece of art. Rather, Jurassic World is just pure pulp fiction and escapism. 20 years after the original park fell apart, the new and improved Jurassic World is open to visitors. And guess what? It falls apart again! You can forgive Jurassic World it’s stock story because it is tied together by stunning set-piece after stunning set-piece, with a likeable cast that makes you care about their chances of survival. Those who liked the original films will love this newest entry. Pure nostalgia.

4. The Gift

The Gift Poster

Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut is one of the best thrillers in years. It’s a genre that has been done to death, so it is truly wonderful when a new directorial voice comes along to shake things up. When a couple bump into a childhood friend of the husbands, they get involved in a friendship that gets more and more intense with each meeting and gift. To say much more would be to give away some great twists and turns. The Gift had me sitting on the edge of my seat throughout. It’s greatest mark of quality is that you can see yourself in all of the main characters – we have been all of these people at some point in our lives. Not to be missed.

3. It Follows

It Follows Poster

Whilst It Follows didn’t necessarily scare me, it’s creepy atmosphere, 80s Carpenter-esque aesthetic and skilful storytelling elevate it to be the best American horror film of the last decade, if not this century. Weaving a delightfully creepy story out of themes such as STDs, coming of age, childhood innocence, and suburbia, It Follows is a strange blend of horror film, coming-of-age film, and art film. It is taken to higher levels by the stunning electronic score by Disasterpeace. Stunning in its originality and intelligence.

2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars The Force Awakens Poster

As you can tell from my glowing (and spoiler free!) review of The Force Awakens, this film not only reinvigorates a classic franchise but also kicks off a wonderful new story with some great new characters. Poe Dameron, Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren are some of the best characters that the cinema of 2015 has to offer. Full of emotional depth and genuinely thrilling action, The Force Awakens ranks as one of the best films in the franchise.

1. Macbeth

Macbeth Poster

Simply put, Macbeth is an absolute masterpiece. Director Justin Kurzel masterfully adapts the Shakespearean tragedy, exploding the world of the stage onto the moody landscapes of Scotland. Beautifully shot and powerfully acted, Macbeth never forgets that it is a film first and not simply a filmed play. This is its greatest strength. Michael Fassbender also turns in a career defining performance in an original interpretation of the classic role. Jed Kurzel’s powerful score is also the best film score of 2015. Moody, bloody, and powerful, Macbeth is everything you could want in a Shakespeare film adaptation. It’s also, in my mind, the best film of 2015.

As I said in the intro, I missed a few films this year that I feel could have changed this list somewhat. Here they are below:

Amy
Beasts of No Nation
Bone Tomahawk
Brooklyn
Carol
Cobain: Montage of Heck
Creed
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
The End of the Tour
Ex Machina
The Hateful Eight
Inside Out
Listen to Me Marlon
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
The Revenant
Sicario
Straight Outta Compton
Tangerine
While We’re Young
The Witch
Youth

Thanks for reading everyone! I hope you’re all having some good time off work on holiday and enjoying it with your families. Please comment below with your picks for the best films of the year!

Film Review: Star Wars – The Force Awakens (2015) (Spoiler-Free)

Film

The Force Awakens Poster

So here we are. 32 years after the release of The Return of the Jedi (1983), we finally have the next vital chapter in the Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens (2015). How does it measure up to the quality of the original films? Thankfully, both long-time fans and newcomers will find lots to love in this new thrilling episode of the Star Wars franchise.

Finn, a Stormtrooper, decides to flee the First Order and goes to the planet Jakku. There he meets Rey, and together they traverse the galaxy, meeting old heroes such as Han Solo, Chewbacca, and General Leia, and new ones such as ace Resistance pilot Poe Dameron. They will also have to face Kylo Ren, a villain who is powerful with the dark side and as mysterious as he is deadly.

Force Awakens 1

Finn, Rey, Poe, and the droid BB-8, the new heroes of the Star Wars franchise.

I can’t really give a specific review without going into spoiler zone so I’ll keep this as simple as possible. Rey and Finn are a great pair of lead heroes. Daisy Ridley’s Rey in particular proves to be versatile and more than capable of taking care of herself. Having such a great female character become the new face of the franchise is particularly compelling. Likewise, John Boyega’s Finn is a humorous and charismatic action hero. My particular favourite was Poe Dameron, portrayed by Oscar Isaac, who was everything I wanted him to be.

Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is perhaps the great discovery of this film. Gone are the two-dimensional villains of the prequel trilogy; we finally have a villain in Kylo Ren who can live up to the shadow that Darth Vader has cast across the series. He is so much more than a villain wearing a black mask and holding a lightsaber. He has genuine complexities and remains perhaps the film’s most interesting character.

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Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is the greatest of the new additions to the Star Wars mythos.

Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew and Mark Hamill all return in their signature roles. Ford picks up Han Solo’s character effortlessly. This isn’t Ford doing Ford on screen for two hours – this is legitimately Han Solo, with a complex history behind him that may have changed some aspects of his character but still leaves him as the rugged space-pirate come Rebellion general that we all know him for. Carrie Fisher’s General Leia commands the room whenever she is on screen. I genuinely choked up at her appearance. Peter Mayhew’s Chewbacca gets his best scenes yet, as Chewbacca emerges from simply being Han Solo’s buddy to being his own character. And Mark Hamill… I wont say anything, but I’ll let you know that his first appearance is easily one of the best moments of the film. He has all the gravitas that you would expect the legendary Jedi to have.

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Peter Mayhew and Harrison Ford return to the franchise that launched them to superstardom as Chewbacca and Han Solo.

The greatest virtue of The Force Awakens is that it is a single story- unlike the prequel trilogy, this film stands well as it’s own adventure whilst having the connective tissue that will allow the story to bridge into the upcoming sequels. Many questions are answered about what has happened between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, but there are so many more questions that will provide for lots of debate among fans until the debut of the next episode. The Force Awakens left me even more excited for what is to come next.

9/10

TV Review: Jessica Jones, Season One (2015)

Television

Jessica jones Poster

After being thoroughly blown away by the excellence that was Daredevil (2015), I was a bit nervous about how Marvel and Netflix were going to follow up with their next production, Jessica Jones. On top of that, despite being an avid comic-book reader I had never really read many comics with the character in; Alias, the comic on which Jessica Jones is based, has been out of print for a number of years until very recently. The “no capes” aesthetic also worried me – could Marvel make a show set in a realistic setting with non-superhero characters? My previous experience with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. told me no, although I am aware that apparently that show has become excellent since its lacklustre first season.

Once again, Marvel has captured lightning in a bottle. The “no capes” aesthetic turns out to be one of Jessica Jones’ best aspects. All of these characters feel very real, complex, and full of problems, most of all Jessica herself, portrayed by Krysten Ritter. She is without a doubt one of the greatest of heroines, and is going to go down in popular culture as such. Simply put, Jessica Jones is totally unlike anything else that Marvel has done, and also unlike anything else that has come before. It is their most original and thoughtful production to date, and perhaps their most important, too.

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Krysten Ritter’s performance as Jessica Jones will leave you breathless. She is without a doubt one of the best female heroes of recent memory.

The show’s treatment of real-life issues, such as sexual assault, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, and sexuality is perfect. I can’t think of another show, movie, or book that has done this much to explore the issues that women face on a daily basis. It’s true stroke of brilliance, though, is that the show never whacks you over the head with it, telling you these issues as some kind of political soapbox. Rather, the issues are delicately sown into the fabric of the story. They are necessary to the kind of story Jessica Jones is telling. By the same token, Jessica Jones is not a story that could feature a male lead; it absolutely had to have a female lead for it to work.

One of the biggest highlights of the show is David Tennant’s performance as Kilgrave, or as he’s known in the comic-books, the Purple Man. It would have been very easy to make Kilgrave a cartoony villain, but Tennant crafts a truly scary performance. One look at Kilgrave and you can tell he’s just a complete sociopath. But Tennant also imbues him with vulnerability and even sympathy. The writers resist the urge to make this super-powered rapist a truly evil, unlikeable villain. Instead, we spend a lot of the show in his shoes; learning about his childhood and the circumstances that his power creates. He is one of the first villains I’ve seen where he is as much a victim of his own power as the people that befall his gaze. If you were a mind-controller, and you never knew if people actually did things with consent, how could you not be a sociopath? This also gives a brilliant platform for discussing memories of trauma, and showing how the victims and perpetrators often have differing memories and opinions of what happened.

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David Tennant’s Kilgrave is one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most complex villains yet.

The show does have some minor flaws, however. It did take me a while – actually until around episode 5 – to really get into the characters and to realise what the show was trying to do. Additionally, I think the tension of the story peaked around episodes 8 and 9, leaving the ending of the show to be a little ant-climactic. Nonetheless, Jessica Jones is a quality show, and perhaps the most important and thematically rich thing that Marvel has yet to put out. It doesn’t quite reach the highs of Daredevil, but I am biased in saying that as Daredevil is probably my favourite Marvel comic. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

9/10