30 December 2015

My Top 5 Movies of 2015

2015 has been a good but not outstanding year for cinema. I think all of the eight movies on my longlist are great but none of them will be entering my list of all-time favourites. I watched 88 films in total, although I caught 30 or so of these on TV or Netflix rather than at the cinema, including some re-watches. The three films on my longlist that didn't quite make it into my top five are: the gorgeous Slow West, the ingenious Inside Out and the heartbreaking Still Alice.

1. The Martian. It's been a good few years for movies set in space and Ridley Scott's The Martian is easily the most entertaining of the lot. It has a likeable hero to root for (played by a perfectly cast Matt Damon), a gripping story, great cinematography and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of humour. If you can catch it on the big screen — there are still a few screenings in London — you will enjoy it even more, but if not, it will still make great viewing on TV.

2. Ex Machina. I watched The Empire Strikes Back for the first time this Christmas (yes, I know...), and although I found it entertaining enough, I don't think it has aged very well (yes, I know...). Just compare C-3PO to Alicia Vikander's Ava in Ex Machina, for example. The latter is an AI created by Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the brilliant but mysterious CEO of a Google-like company, and Vikander's performance as the gently whirring, über-intelligent android is quite something. Alex Garland's film, which also stars Domhnall Gleeson as a young coder who goes to Nathan's house to run the Turing test on Ava. Even if you don't normally go for sci-fi, Ex Machina is a neatly scripted, tense psychological thriller that explores themes such as ambition, intelligence, humanity and hubris.

3. Brooklyn. John Crowley's film, based on Colm Toíbín's novel of the same name, is so understated and unassuming that I'm not sure it will do terribly well when Oscar season rolls around. However, this tale of a young Irish woman's journey to Brooklyn in the 1950s as she attempts to make a life for herself and finds herself caught between two worlds wins you over gradually with its charm and warmth. Saoirse Ronan is fantastic in the lead role: she is wonderfully expressive, switching effortlessly between the sadder, darker moments and those that are lighter and more comic. Timeless and beautiful, Brooklyn is uplifting and moving without being the least bit hackneyed or maudlin.

4. Whiplash. Even re-reading my review of Damien Chazelle's film about a pushy young drummer (Miles Teller) who will do whatever it takes to succeed makes me feel slightly on edge: Whiplash is 107 minutes of pure tension. Teller is great but it's J.K. Simmons as his conductor and instructor who really steals the show. BBC Young Musician of the Year this ain't, but for a sharp, fast-paced story of drive, passion and ambition, Whiplash is well worth a watch.

5. Carol. After I sang the praises of Todd Haynes' Carol — a 1950s love story of a doe-eyed, naive Rooney Mara and a worldly, knowing Cate Blanchett — to some friends, they asked whether it wasn't just a bit 'worthy' and my answer was a resounding no. Of course, the setting and indeed the circumstances mean that this isn't just your average love story, but it's to the credit of Haines and to the two lead actresses that Carol doesn't feel like it's trying to tick the '1950s lesbian love story' box; it could almost be any great love story. The chemistry between Mara and Blanchett is perfect, and their performances are both complex and subtle. It is meticulously observed and beautifully shot.

The full list of films I watched this year is as follows (re-watches are in italics):
  • The Theory of Everything 
  • Veronica Mars (TV)
  • The 39 Steps (TV)
  • Testament of Youth
  • Foxcatcher
  • Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (TV)
  • Whiplash
  • Wild
  • American Sniper
  • Selma
  • A Most Violent Year
  • Ex Machina
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (TV)
  • Still Alice
  • Inherent Vice
  • Lucy (plane)
  • The Judge (plane)
  • Big Hero 6 (plane)
  • The Interview
  • The Duke of Burgundy
  • Suite française
  • The Tale of Princess Kaguya
  • A Little Chaos
  • The Gambler (plane)
  • A Beautiful Mind (DVD)
  • Cinderella (2015)
  • Dark Horse
  • Chinatown (TV)
  • John Wick (plane)
  • Trash (plane)
  • Gone Girl (plane)
  • The Maltese Falcon (DVD)
  • Girlhood
  • Jiro Dreams of Sushi (TV)
  • Listen Up Philip
  • The Overnight
  • Slow West
  • Swingers (TV)
  • The Babadook (TV)
  • Pitch Perfect (TV)
  • The Gift
  • The Diary of a Teenage Girl
  • Inside Out
  • Trainwreck
  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
  • Up (TV)
  • Mulholland Drive
  • Nebraska (TV)
  • Inception (TV)
  • The Departed (DVD)
  • Legend
  • Everest
  • Populaire (TV)
  • Miss You Already
  • The Martian
  • Team America: World Police (TV)
  • Pulp Fiction (TV)
  • Queen of Earth
  • Youth
  • Insomnia (DVD)
  • Sicario
  • Brooklyn
  • Suffragette
  • The Social Network (DVD)
  • Bronson (TV)
  • The Shining
  • Casablanca (DVD)
  • Spectre
  • Rounders (TV)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (TV)
  • Macbeth (2015)
  • Steve Jobs
  • The Dreamers (DVD)
  • Trainspotting (TV)
  • Carol
  • Bridge of Spies
  • The Lobster
  • Melancholia (TV)
  • Black Mass
  • The Wolfpack (TV)
  • Sisters
  • Chef (TV)
  • Elf (TV)
  • Christmas Vacation (TV)
  • Arthur Christmas (TV)
  • The Empire Strikes Back (TV)
  • Fatal Attraction (TV)
  • Love Actually (TV)

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