Welcome to our rundown of the top ten films of 2015. To see the various cinematic delights that comprised the remainder of our top twenty, you can check out our first post here. We'd also like to take the time to shout out to the likes of The Good Dinosaur, Whiplash, Ex Machina, American Sniper, John Wick, Mommy and Love, which all narrowly missed out but remain deserving of recognition in what turned out to be another rich year for cinema. Anyway, enough of the formalities. Without further ado we'd like to introduce you to the 10 best films of 2015 as voted for by the CineVue team - enjoy!
This is the kind of superior, full-blooded action thriller which rarely crops up within the homogeneous landscape of modern Hollywood. Sicario is an unremittingly tense affair and it's a film that constantly threatens to envelope the audience in a swirling darkness, particularly when Jóhann Jóhannsson magnificently brooding score swells up. Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, and Josh Brolin are all on sterling form, but it's del Toro who threatens to run away with the film as a CIA operative who may have a much more personal stake in proceedings. He's magnetic in the role and deserves recognition during the awards season, as does cinematographer Roger Deakins. What the Coen brothers veteran manages to achieve in those incredible scenes shot at night is nothing short of miraculous. [AL] Read John Bleasdale's review here.
Animation provided some of the best films of the year, exploring adult themes with acute insight and emotional depth; and that was just the Pixar films. Even better was Charlie Kaufman and Duke Jones' Anomalisa, which fused a Kafkaesque nightmare of ordinary madness with the stop-motion animation more usually associated with Wallace and Gromit. David Thewlis voices Michael Stone, a drawling and misanthropic motivational speaker who hears everyone else speaking in the same voice (Tom Noonan). On a trip to Cincinnati for a lecture, his desperate ennui is broken by a chance encounter with the possibility of love and redemption in the form of Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Anomalisa interrogates what it means to be human in a world of uniformity and artifice. [JB] Read our full review from the Venice Film Festival here.
Decades in the making, Hou Hsiao-Hsien's gorgeous Wuxia drama The Assassin turns out not only to be worth the wait, but takes waiting as its theme. With a languid, meditative pace, Hou's quiet masterpiece immerses the audience in ninth century China and the Weibo province, where the titular assassin Yinniang (Shu Qi) is sent to kill her former fiancé, the powerful Lord Tian Ji'an (Chang Che). The intrigue and political plotting are woven in the background while a complex web of loyalties and betrayal enmesh the characters. Swift and murderous violence can also take flight, but in the carefully composed rooms or the luminous landscapes conflict lurks in stillness, and a graceful tranquillity in the midst of bloodshed. [JB] Read our full review from the Cannes Film Festival here.
Four years after The Deep Blue Sea, Terence Davies - Britain's greatest living auteur - returned with his long-gestating adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Sunset Song, and the results were astonishing. Rhapsodic, swooning and immensely powerful, it feels like the work of a man throwing everything he's got at the screen. The naked emotion of Davies' cinema has always sat side-by-side with his passionate cinephilia, but Sunset Song takes it to the next level, as the director uses everything in his power to reach the heart of his story. He is blessed by a terrific cast, including a revelatory Agyness Deyn, giving what must surely be the best performance of 2015. Hopefully Davies's next film will come a little sooner. "He could fair play, that piper. He tore at our hearts..." [CW] Read Martyn Conterio's review here.
If the awards-tipped Spotlight is a scintillating look from the outside at widespread abuse and corruption within the Catholic Church, then Pablo Larrain's fantastic new film The Club, is a sardonic peek behind the ciborium curtain. It is centred on a group of disgraced priests who have been spirited away to an unremarkable house in a sleepy town to pray and repent in ascetic solitude. Spearheaded by a terrifically subtle performance from Larrain's go-to lead Alfredo Castro, it is a gripping and morally nuanced drama that leaves judgement of its characters to God, but caustically disparages the institutional secrecy. With the director finally leaving behind the Pinochet era of his previous films, this bodes well for future output. [BN] Read Patrick Gamble's review from this year's Berlinale here.
Earlier this year, Adam Sandler vehicle The Cobbler was rightly given short shrift by audiences and critics alike on both sides of the Atlantic. From the ridiculous to the sublime, director Tom McCarthy had just the remedy ready to restore his reputation. This came in the form of Spotlight, a poised and patient procedural based on a real-life investigation into paedophilia in the Catholic Church by The Boston Globe. Just like its fervent journos, Spotlight is clinical, hard-nosed and favours diligence above melodrama at all times. Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams head up an ensemble cast, though it may be Liv Schreiber who most catches the eye as the Globe's bold new editor. [DG] Read John Bleasdale's review from the Venice Film Festival here.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a hybrid beast made from parts of the original trilogy, rather than a strict remake or a sequel. The most surprising aspect of Fury Road was the narrative focus primarily belonging to Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa. In several key ways, she took on character traits of the 'old Max'. Furiosa also represented a smart reworking of Max's story with an added gender twist. We know all about Max's anger and sorrow, but Furiosa's pain and past was entirely new. Theron, as the shaven-headed road warrior rescuing a harem from warlord, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), gave us an exciting new movie icon. Mad Max: Fury Road put all other summer blockbusters to shame. [Martyn Conterio] Read Ben Nicholson's review here.
The depths of human cruelty are plumbed in Laszlo Nemes' startling debut Son of Saul, an exercise in filming the unfilmable. Set in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in 1944, the film follows a Hungarian Jewish prisoner named Saul (played by Géza Röhrig) as he attempts to find a rabbi to perform burial rights on the corpse of a child who may, or may not, be his son. The genocide is depicted like a conveyor belt of inhumanity in a factory producing pure evil. Nemes frames Saul's face in shallow focus tracking his movements through excruciating long takes, keeping close to him at all times. The immediacy of Nemes' visceral experience dislodges the audience's gaze and explores beyond the Holocaust, to the heart of mankind's capacity for evil. [PG] Read John Bleasdale's Cannes Film Festival review here
2. 45 Years
45 Years is a near-perfect picture: from the performances to the pacing to the direction to the cinematography, it is a film the manages to wholly envelope you from the first frame. What appears to be a naturalistic drama deals with serious themes in the most effortless way. Ideas of fidelity, marriage and commitment all have a place at the table, creating for serious psychological and emotional conflict. Filter this through legendary leads Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay and the results are electric. The real treat is when director Andrew Haigh chooses to slow the pacing down, cut out the conversation and train his lens on Rampling. It seems she can say everything and nothing without uttering a word. Tension mounts, moments become more and more loaded until the final gut-wrenching frame. [AG] Read our full review here.
Carol can already count the numerous accolades bestowed upon it since its premiere at Cannes earlier this year. That it's so highly lauded is assuredly deserved, as Director Todd Haynes and screenwriter Phyllis Nagy have created a richly realised depiction of romantic love that envelops the viewer completely in its characters' world. Both Rooney Mara as shop clerk and aspiring photographer Therese, and Cate Blanchett as the titular married woman, falling in love in 1950s New York, give exceptional performances, and have a chemistry palpable in every glance. The result is a film the very texture of which, highlights Carol and Therese's relationship as one defined by both their unnameable intimacy and the distance between them, agonisingly reconciled in the film's last, brilliantly tense final scene. [HW] Read Ben Nicholson's review here.
Read our contributing writers' individual lists by clicking on the names below, and take a look at the rest of our Top 20 here.
Writers' lists: John Bleasdale, Ed Frost, Patrick Gamble, Allie Gemmill, Daniel Green, Adam Lowes, Ben Nicholson, Joe Walsh, Harriet Warman, Craig Williams.