With the Oscars coming up soon, it’s time to rewind back to the films that made us think, cheer and cry throughout 2015. Despite the contrast in genres between my personal (I don’t mean my favourites!) Top 10 picks, there are actually a lot of similarities to point out between them. With gripping subject material and deep thematic resonance, these films do their best to provide us with a unique story with distinctive characters, and manage to offer us intriguing visuals, clever editing choices and great soundtracks. My final observation is that originality, practical effects and the overall experiential feel of the cinema have made their return back to Hollywood. Without further ado, here are my Top 10 films of 2015:
Although Jaco might be my personal favourite of the year (I’ve seen it at least seven times on DVD), that doesn't prevent it from being a great film that covers the life and death of Jaco Pastorius to perfection. With a flawless mixture of snippets of Jaco’s jaw-dropping virtuosity, humbling testimonials from dozens of musicians, as well as weighted moments that delve into Jaco’s personal life, there’s little doubt that this cruelly overlooked gem will be a winner for anyone.
Originality is often the benchmark for films these days, and The Lobster is easily one of the most original and thought-provoking films of 2015. The enormous risk of presenting a quirky and outright absurd film pays off, and offers an interesting commentary on what civilisation might become. The film’s main premise has made its way to countless dinner table conversations I’ve had with family and friends, and plus, how often do you see a movie that is part sci-fi, part black comedy and part Absurdist?
He did it; Ridley Scott has finally made returned to making really good movies, and has made one that has made me want to brush up my knowledge of STEM and books that are waiting to be adapted into films. Sure, The Martian is Cast Away on Mars, but it’s a loveable reflection on problem-solving and hope, and reminds us how there are few limits if we truly put forth the effort to realise our goals.
Another music doco on my list (yes, I know), Amy is possibly the most intimate film I’ve seen in a while, and cleverly uses old archive footage and an eclectic soundtrack to both warm and break your heart as the life of the eponymous singer unfolds, literally and figuratively. The strong narrative, powerful editing choices and objective psychological analysis all account for the rarely-achieved raw emotional power generated by Amy.
One of the films I regret missing out on the most, Sicario delivers everything it promises - compelling performances from A-list actors, a subtle yet sophisticated approach to themes and political issues, and suspenseful moments that are distinctive to Denis Villeneuve’s directorial style. Its Oscar nods for cinematography, music and sound design reveal how it is also a brilliant film as far as technical precision goes.
Quentin Tarantino is one of those directors that just gets better and better, and in The Hateful Eight, I once again relished in the snappy dialogue and electric chemistry between actors, as you normally would in a Tarantino film. I should also mention Ennio Morricone's inimitable soundtrack, which is almost impossible not to listen to repeatedly on your iPod. But the best thing about this movie is its time-travel like ability to replicate the experience, look and feel of classic Hollywood movies, proving how the best directors are the ones with a great knowledge of cinema, which they incorporate into their own style.
Arguably the most anticipated movie of the 21st century, J.J. Abrams’ revival of the Star Wars saga is a blazing success, bringing his trademark fast pacing and fun action sequences, while also delivering a standout cast of characters, and breathing in the perfect amount of nostalgia and humour into the film. I had a marvellous time watching this movie three times in the theatre, even though I'm fully aware Star Wars is becoming more of a blockbuster juggernaut rather than the silent outlook on mythology and history it once was.
At long last, there is a film that has finally given the middle finger to the growing cliché of CGI-filled PG-13-rated mundane blockbusters: George Miller’s epic (in every sense of the word) work of genius, Mad Max: Fury Road. To witness the marriage between a simple yet surprisingly good storyline and jaw-dropping practical effects in this film is simply mind boggling, and it's almost an operatic experience. Watching this masterpiece will inevitably result in you saying the now-iconic line, "Oh, what a day. What a lovely day!"
To put it simply, I have never seen a film as technically flawless and realistic as The Revenant, the gritty, cold and highly poetic magnum opus of Alejandro G. Iñárritu. With Emmanuel Libenski’s mesmerising cinematography, Iñárritu’s powerful direction, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s jaw-dropping performance (just give him the Oscar, goddammit), to nitpick this film would be a fool's errand, because there is so much to appreciate about this gorgeous work of art.
How many films do you know that are as original, intelligent and outright exquisite as Ex Machina? Not many, right? Virtually every cinematic element is directed to perfection, especially its story, performances, production design, cinematography and editing. While its references to mythology and literature are veiled, it doesn't matter, because the breathtaking novelty and intrigue of Ex Machina make it arguably the best science fiction film of the 2010s, and possibly the 21st century.