Top 10 Films of 2015

  
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So the countdown of my ten favourite films of the year starts with Spectre. All of the work of Casino Royale was finally undone as Daniel Craig’s Bond moved away from the gritty realism and right back to formula. It was genuinely great to do something different for a while but there was also tremendous fun to be had seeing all the familiar tropes return.

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There have been some great female characters this year. In films such as Mission Impossible 5, Mad Max, Sicario, Star Wars and Ex Machina there have been many women demonstrating what the blog refers to as the Ripley Factor. For me though it was an unassuming twenty something shop clerk called Therese, played by Rooney Mara, that showed the best example of a brave and realistic woman. For this reason, and many others, my ninth favourite film of the year is Todd Haynes’ 1950s love story Carol.

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Number eight in my films of the year list is The Duke of Burgundy which came out a week or two before Fifty Shades of Grey and totally took that movie to school. The Duke of Burgundy is everything that Fifty Shades of Grey should have been. It also features a dominant and submissive kinky sex relationship but finds the inherent humour in that situation rather than just making it nasty and sexist. The crucial difference is that the couple in The Duke of Burgundy, this time two women, clearly love one another very deeply which could not be further away from the set up in that other film. Another great thing about this movie, particularly considering the subject matter, is that it does not feature any nudity so no one feels objectified or demeaned, which again it a total contrast to Fifty Shades of Grey. The Duke of Burgundy is a clever, witty and sweet film and as a final point of interest it does not feature any men at all.  

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2015 has seen the release of some excellent animated films with Pixar’s Inside Out, Studio Ghibl’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya and The Song of the Sea from Ireland. My favourite though, and number seven in my films of the year list, is Shaun the Sheep Movie. This may seem a surprising choice but the artistry, the charm and the sensibility of this film all feel distinctly British while using the conventions of early American silent cinema. The movie is an absolute joy.

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Coherence is a low cost, small distribution, little known film but I picked up on it during its brief cinema release and downloaded it from iTunes. It centres around a group of friends having dinner who discover alternate versions of themselves also having dinner in an alternate version of their house just down the road. Alternate realities, time jumps, who knows? Ultimately it doesn’t matter, what is important is that it shows you don’t need big budgets to make great films, just big ideas. Coherence is my sixth favourite film of the year.

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My number five film Still Alice got attention largely because of Julianne Moore’s Academy Award winning central performance. Some of the reviews even suggested that without it there wouldn’t be much else to the film which is totally unfair and absolutely true. Still Alice is a portrait of a woman with Alzheimers and as such hangs on the main character but criticising it for that is like saying Vermeer’s painting of the girl with the pearl earring wouldn’t be anything to write home about without the girl. This is an import film for reasons beyond good acting though; what it does is give a voice to sufferers of a disease that commonly and tragically strips them of one.

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The 2015 Best Actor Oscar deservedly went to Eddie Redmayne for his work in my fourth favourite film of the year, The Theory of Everything. Unlike Still Alice it is not built around one incredible performance though, it is built around two. Felicity Jones is also superb in it. The film tells the story of Stephen Hawking; a brilliant scientist and a brave and witty man, all of which comes over in the movie. He isn’t generally considered a romantic figure yet by concentrating on his first marriage The Theory of Everything is, more than anything else, a beautiful love story.

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On seeing Sicario I immediately placed it in my 2015 top ten but with due consideration it has settled in third place. There have been plenty of thrillers about hit men and drug crime but this one was so masterfully handled to have lifted it above them all as well as almost any other film released this year. Sicario is tense, intriguing, shocking, surprising, tightly written, skilfully performed and deftly directed and when you think about it (as you most certainly will) you realise it is film making of the highest order.

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The best kind of science fiction films can deal with big themes as well as just telling great stories with shiny special effects. Ex Machina, my second favourite film of 2015, examines notions of humanity, masculinity, femininity, individuality, deity, technology (and dance) and is certainly an example of the best kind of science fiction. Like Sicario, the central conceit has been done before; in this case advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, man creates woman, yadda yadda. Like Sicario though it shows that you don’t need totally new ideas to create true art; Michelangelo was not the first guy to paint a picture of God. Even though this is the first movie directed by Alex Garland it may well end up being his own Sistine Chapel.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn’t the most accomplished film I’ve seen this year but it is by far my favourite. No other film has even come close to prompting the same overwhelmingly positive response. Part of it was relief, part of it was nostalgia but I had a big grin on my face for about two days after I saw it. Basically, you know that scene at the end of Ratatouille when Remy serves his signature dish to the food critic and it instantly evokes in him beautiful memories of his childhood? That’s what watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens was like for me, for its entire 135 minute running time. Thank you George Lucas, I know you’ve had a lot of stick for messing up the last attempt to reboot this series but we wouldn’t be here without you. Thank you for giving us this great world to play in. Thank you also to J.J Abrams for playing in it so skilfully and reverentially. He nailed it.

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