It was a compelling year in film with gems both big and small. From the larger-than-life experience of Mad Max to the pure intimacy of Carol there was lots to appreciate, especially the exceptional field of inspiring female performances.
My Top 10A lot of hand-wringing went into this Top 10, which might as well be called the "Awesome Women on Film List" because there's an embarrassment of riches on offer. It also demands us to confront the obvious: why aren't we getting this many good roles for women every year?
After acknowledging my blind spots (see bottom) here is my list:
- Carol. Exhilarating, breathtaking cinema with two stunning performances from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Heartbreaking, yes, but utterly absorbing and mesmerising; pure class, from start to finish.
- Mad Max: Fury Road. It is hard to overstate how difficult it is to make a big-budget action picture both meaningful and soulful but George Miller delivered. Charlize Theron is so fucking bad-ass they had to re-write the dictionary definition of 'fucking bad-ass' to accommodate. Can I watch it again right now, please?
- Sicario. At once both cruel and compelling, this is edge-of-your-seat stuff from the first minute that never lets go until the credits roll. A police procedural turned up to 11. Emily Blunt = Fucking Bad-Ass (see above)
- Brooklyn. This is the kind of film which can easily veer mawkish or sentimental but Saoirse Ronan's grounded performance keeps this from tipping into melodrama. Brooklyn effortlessly paints a nuanced portrait of what it means to be caught between two worlds. Haven't we all been there?
- Amy. One critic described it as the 'scariest found-footage horror film of the year' and I struggle to disagree. Very, very difficult to watch once our own complicity in the public execution of Amy Winehouse becomes clear. Yet we must not turn away.
- Ex Machina. This film divides opinion but I loved everything about it. Oscar Isaac's character is challenging but also instantly recognisable as a scion of our sleepwalk towards a not-yet-assured future techno-utopia. Also, this should win gongs for sound design and soundtrack.
- Inside Out. A high-wire act of incredible ambition and bravery, this film could have failed in a thousand ways yet somehow managed to stick the landing. A significant achievement in visual storytelling that didn't shy away from the difficult conversation. Pixar at its best.
- Tangerine. An antidote to cynical and jaded Hollywood sequels, reboots and 're-imaginings', Tangerine is raw; incandescent energy surges throughout, from the kinetic cinematography to the barely-restrained characters to the sheer audacity of storytelling. Landmark cinema.
- Beasts of No Nation. Idris Elba is terrifying as a warlord but Abraham Attah steals the show with a performance whipping us about in an emotional wringer. Through Attah we cycle through fear, pain, loss, brotherhood, pride, alienation and uncertainty, all against the backdrop of unimaginable emotional and physical violence. Brutal.
- Force Majeure. Scratch below the surface of this posh family portrait and reveal an emotional death match, with blows delivered as silent pauses, awkward hugs and thinly-veiled public humiliation. Sound familiar? Uncomfortable watching but hugely impressive film making.
No. 11Any of these just missed the Top 10 and, frankly, could be included without much fuss.
- What We Do In the Shadows - hilarious, the best comedy I saw this year (yeah, sorry Trainwreck)
- A Most Violent Year - More greatness from Oscar Isaac (what a year he's had) and the inimitable Jessica Chastain
- Bridge of Spies - Yawn, yet another great Spielberg film …
- Girlhood - Wow wow wow, incredible cinematography and very moving, though I prefer the French title which translates to Girl Bands
- Clouds of Sils Maria - Binoche and Stewart, the combination you didn't know you wanted but now can't imagine living without
Turkeys of 2015A completely personal list but these were the bottom of the barrel for me:
- Terminator Genisys. God-awful and embarrassing for all involved.
- Spectre. I could write a treatise on how disappointing, regressive and generally unpleasant this film is. From insipid characters – and perhaps the worst-ever Bond Baddie – to the lifeless performances (ahem, that's you Daniel Craig) to the tired camera work. They should have stopped while they were ahead with Skyfall and handed over to someone who actually wanted to make a Bond film.
- Jupiter Ascending. With sincere apologies to my Warner Brothers clients, this really was a loser from the opening scene. The otherwise glorious Mila Kunis was obviously disinterested in being part of a galactic turkey and even the generally-excellent Eddie Redmayne couldn't save this disaster.
- Jurassic World. Cinematic cynicism made manifest. The question whether we need another Jurassic film is irrelevant if this is the shlock we're going to get. Wretched.
Surprise PerformancesI did not see these coming:
- Kristen Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria). Absolutely stunning performance in a very, very good film, now I finally see the talent that brought her to the attention of casting directors. She was wasted in nonsense vampire films, a barbed point she deliciously observes in Clouds. Fantastic and nailed-on 'Best Supporting Actress' nod.
- James Ransone (Tangerine). In the centre of the film's weird vortex, Ransone arrives to confound, delight and deliver a surprisingly subtle, engaging and fun performance. His 'Chester' is pitch-perfect, giving satisfying heft to the emotional conflict driving the rest of the characters.
Oscar PredictionsMy early predictions and what I think the Academy will pick, not necessarily my picks:
- Best Picture - The Revenant
- Best Actor - Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
- Best Supporting Actor - Sly Stallone, Creed
- Best Actress - Cate Blanchett, Carol
- Best Supporting Actress - Rooney Mara, Carol
- Best Director - George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
- Best Visual Effects - Mad Max: Fury Road
Blind SpotsSadly I didn't get a chance to see these films which may have impacted my Top 10 list. Will catch up with these in 2016.
- The Look of Silence
- The Hateful Eight
- Son of Saul
- Diary of a Teenage Girl