That’s it, we’re calling it… 2015 was a fantastic year for film. In fact, if we could give it a rating, it would be 5★! More than 500 films were released in UK cinemas over the last 12 months, and so many of them effervesced with an enveloping artistic richness that by year’s end our emotions had well and truly been played like a banjo: the likes of Brooklyn and Carol left us in floods of tears; we were nothing but quivering wrecks after watching Sicario and Whiplash; and there aren’t even words to describe the overwhelming state of euphoric excitement we found ourselves in following our first glimpses of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Rarely has the force of film felt so strong and, as a celebration, here’s a few words on the ones we here at Culturefly considered to be the best of the best in 2015!

Macbethmacbeth-03Michael Fassbender gives a tour-de-force central performance in Justin Kurzel’s dynamic new adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Kurzel’s adaptation does credit to Shakespeare’s original play text, producing a remarkably visual, cinematically striking piece. Scotland’s landscape takes centre stage, but the performances are just as striking as the visuals; Macbeth is buoyed by a career-defining performance from Fassbender as the eponymous Scottish king. He is devastating throughout, and more than matched by Marion Cotillard as a devious, scheming and grieving Lady Macbeth. One of the most cinematically striking movies of the year, Kurzel’s Macbeth is a forceful, visceral adaptation of one of theatre’s greatest tragedies. FS

Brooklynbrooklyn-still-01Gorgeous cinematography and a note-perfect central performance from Saoirse Ronan make John Crowley’s Brooklyn a true movie highlight. The film, based on the bestselling novel by Colm Toibin, is set in the 1950s and chronicles the story of a young Irish girl, Eilis, (Ronan) who moves across the ocean to start a new life in Brooklyn, New York. This is a handsome and thought-provoking film that highlights an important part of American history. Ronan’s performance has already earned her a Golden Globe nomination and she deserves all the recognition she gets: the 21 year-old actress’s superb performance perfectly depicts the universally relatable feelings of leaving home. From the unbelievable excitement, the crippling homesickness, the elation and the heartache, Brooklyn covers it all. FS

Inherent Viceinherent-viceThe first time I watched Inherent Vice, I knew there was something there, but it’s a disorienting experience plunging down author Thomas Pynchon and director Paul Thomas Anderson’s kaleidoscopic rabbit hole. The second time I watched it, the confusing, meandering and unresolved adventure of Joaquin Phoenix’s drugged-up hippy PI reveals itself to be both straight-forward and ultimately irrelevant against the wider feel of a country transitioning between 1960’s peace and love optimism, and insidious corporatism. The third time I watched it, I realised I’d fallen hard for this funny, hazy, blissed out crime-comedy. And I’ve not stopped thinking about it since. SM

Carolcarol-03Carol is marked by precision. In tight, strait-jacketed 1950s America, everyone dresses with careful forethought, smokes cigarettes with exaggerated control and drinks as if they’re observing a sacred ritual. It’s not a world of big gestures, and yet it feels like it is when the hand of Cate Blanchett’s title character brushes the shoulder of Rooney Mara’s young wannabe photographer. It feels like it is when their eyes lock together, cutting out everyone else, and it certainly feels like it is when phone calls are punctuated by heavy, pregnant pauses. Emotion burns through Todd Haynes superlative film. It’s a fire that doesn’t die down afterwards. SM

Inside Outinside-outWho’d have thought that a movie about personified emotions would be one of 2015’s biggest hits? Leave it to Pixar to create a film that’s at once playful, poignant, witty and wise, and most definitely the most inventive film to emerge this year. Inside Out chased away all those sceptics who said that the animation genre had become stale and replaced the hate with a delicious dose of joy. The film’s plot is pleasantly philosophical and the combination of gorgeous visuals and clever script means that it has the power to charm both children and adults. With such a complex concept, it would have been easy for Inside Out to get weighed down, but it never once loses sight of its audience, delivering on every emotional level. This is Pixar at its most original and a sure sign that the animation studio still has plenty to offer. NX

Kingsman: The Secret Servicekingsman-the-secret-serviceThis year Mathew Vaughn, the naughty schoolchild of the British film industry, delivered a super spy send up that was better than Spectre. Big, brash and crass, Kingsman may eschew too closely to Lad Culture banter and its politics may be off, but has there been a film as fun as this, this year (admittedly, I’m yet to watch The Force Awakens)? Mixing My Fair Lady with a splash of sixties Bond, Vaughn gives us interesting characters, a snappy pace and some of the best action scenes of the year. Watching Colin Firth go berserk in a church to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Free Bird’ is a delight you didn’t know you wanted. HB

Bridge of Spiesbridge-of-spies-3There have been a lot of spy movies this year: Bond returned, Mission: Impossible did its thing and Melissa McCarthy saved the world as a divorced housewife from Iowa. So trust Steven Spielberg to deliver a spy film that revolved around talking instead of punching. Re-teaming with Tom Hanks (as steady a ship there can be), Bridge of Spies focused on the American-Soviet negotiations for the swap between Rudolf Abel (a great Mark Rylance) and Gary Powers (Austin Stowell). Spielberg does what Spielberg does best, raising questions about international relations in the process. Those afraid that the director would fill the film with his worst tendencies will be pleased to know he keeps the sentimentality and American jingoism in check. HB

45 Years45-yearsGraham Greene’s line about the perils of insecurity in relationships, how it “twists meanings and poisons trust”, feels particularly pertinent when reflecting upon writer/director Andrew Haigh’s honest and heartbreaking allegory of the agonies that can come from falling in love, 45 Years. Occupying the same subtle stillness that Joanna Hogg is known to inhabit, Haigh’s delicate direction deliberates upon the institution of marriage, and the psychological anxieties that can cause cracks to form in the foundations of it. Aided by a pair of astonishing performances from Charlotte Rampling & Tom Courtenay, the mood Haigh crafts is one of disquieting melancholy that’s carefully understated and agonisingly affecting. Take our word for it, this is a muted masterpiece of the most magnificent kind, which doesn’t just demand your time, but deserves it! JM

Mommymommy-stillFrench-Canadian director Xavier Dolan has made five feature films in the last six years, which is an impressive feat considering he’s only 26. Dolan’s latest film sees the director returning to the subject of sons and mothers, which he first explored in his directorial debut I Killed My Mother, and is arguably his most accessible and certainly his most astonishing work to date. Innovatively using a 1:1 aspect ratio to emphasise the emotions of his character, Dolan pulls apart the pain and suffering felt by those having to live and cope with ADHD with a seething ferocity that’s as powerful as it is poignant. With mature themes, magnetic performances, and mesmerising direction, Mommy is, without exaggeration, what cinema is all about! JM

Star Wars: The Force Awakensstar-wars-the-force-awakens-01It’s impossible to describe in detail the fanfare that built up as the release date of J. J. Abrams’ long-awaited 7th Episode in the Star Wars saga drew ever closer. Few blockbusters deserve such hype, but from the opening moments of this stupendously spectacular sequel, it’s clear that The Force Awakens has earned every elated whoop and cheer it has received. This is blisteringly bold and blissfully brilliant filmmaking, bolstered by a pair of pleasingly personable performances from relative newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, and built on a cosmic scale that boggles the mind. Sure, it may occasionally trade too heavily in nostalgia, but that doesn’t stop it being an unbridled success propelled by that purest of cinematic pleasures, the ability to be wholly immersed in a world of wit and wonder. And considering George Lucas’ frustratingly lacklustre set of prequels, this latest trip to a galaxy far, far away is every bit the film fans needed for their faith in the Force to be restored. JM

Mad Max: Fury Roadmad-max-fury-road-still-01Plenty of 80’s properties have been revived recently but while most have simply limped along like shadows of their former selves, Mad Max: Fury Road came out kicking, screaming and snarling, giving action cinema a much needed shot in the arm. Essentially one gigantic action set piece, Fury Road moves breathlessly from one jaw-dropping situation to the next, each act of car-based carnage playing out like a beautifully choreographed ballet of destruction. It’s a big, brash film to be sure but a smart and quietly progressive one too, proving that brawn can come with brains. KB

It Followsit-follows-stillOne of the more inventive and stylish horror films of recent memory, It Follows takes a simple but wonderful compelling concept and wraps it in a moody, neon-soaked aesthetic. The focus here isn’t on jump-scares but rather slow, approaching dread. The characters are constantly looking over their shoulder and you’ll share in their unease and paranoia. Spine-tingling stuff. KB

Sicariosicario-still-03After a succession of truly noteworthy movies (Incendies, Enemy and Prisoners) Denis Villeneuve cemented his place as one of the most exciting directors working today in 2015 with this utterly gripping tale of an FBI agent’s journey through the war on drugs across the US/Mexican border. Emily Blunt is terrific as the young idealistic FBI agent who may be getting in over her head, but it’s Benicio Del Toro who steals the show as the mysterious former prosecutor turned hired gun with more than justice on his mind. Seriously, the man hasn’t been this cool since Traffic. An excellent thriller brilliantly scripted by Taylor Sheridan and masterfully executed. NS

Beasts of No Nationbeasts-of-no-nation-02Netflix graduated from original TV programming to filmmaking with this harrowing adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s novel of the same name, about a boy transformed into a child soldier in an unnamed African country. Idris Elba is masterful as the frightening Commandant, but it is the performance of fourteen-year-old Abraham Attah as Agu who is truly a revelation. True Detective and Sin Nombre director Cary Fukanaga has crafted (in this reviewer’s opinion anyway) one of the great modern masterpieces of 21st Century cinema. Beautiful, chilling, disturbing yet utterly compelling, Beasts of No Nation is not one to miss. NS

Whiplashwhiplash-still-01Way back in January, before becoming the highlight of Insurgent and before Fantastic Four was out to disappoint us all, Miles Teller took a starring turn as aspiring jazz drummer Andrew Neiman under the tutelage of JK Simmons’s Terence Fletcher. Everything about Whiplash is gritty, intense and, at times, painful to watch but it’s a truly compelling exploration of a musical prodigy with all the drive, determination and setbacks that entails, especially when faced with the extreme and abusive ‘guidance’ of Fletcher. Featuring wholly engaging physical performances and an abjectly fascinating finale scene that’s impossible to look away from, Whiplash definitely set the cinematic bar very high very early on this year. MD

The Tribethe-tribe-stillMiroslav Slaboshpitsky’s Ukranian drama about a boarding school for deaf children is not only a disturbing two-hour slice of realism, but a testament to the timeless power of visual storytelling. The whole film’s dialogue is performed in sign language, with no subtitles, forcing the audience to keep their eyes locked to the screen as they search for definitive meaning in a film that can promise no such thing. There are moments in The Tribe that allow us to empathise with characters and situations, and those must be cherished, for the majority of the film spins on an axis of incomprehensible unfamiliarity. With some stunning performances from a cast of unknown actors and a gripping cinematographic style that makes you feel like you’ve never seen a film before, The Tribe will transform the way you view cinema. LR

Ex Machinaex-machinaOne of the fastest rising stars of the last two years, Domhnall Gleeson stars in Ex Machina, Alex Garland’s unnerving depiction of the development of artificial intelligence in a frighteningly near future. The small cast is completed by Alicia Vikander as robot Ava and Oscar Isaac, whose surreal dance scene midway through the film is one of the visual highlights of the year. Every actor is on top form – Gleeson’s tech geek is wide-eyed and easily manipulated by Isaac’s unsettling future-Dan Bilzerian, whilst Vikander’s ability to seduce her audience almost as much as she does the other characters is astonishing. Not just a warning of what is to come, but a condemnation of the artifice of our generation’s online personalities and dependence on technology, Ex Machina is the kind of social science fiction of which Kubrick would be proud. LR

Send this to friend