Best of 2015: Top 10 Movies

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So another year of countdowns comes to an end, and inside the calendar year this time!

2015 was the first year this decade where movie-watching dropped low enough on my list of my priorities to ensure I didn’t once go out to the cinemas without knowing exactly what I wanted to see. As a result I saw fewer new releases than any other year in which I’ve written this list. It was pretty much just major blockbusters and films with word-of-mouth hype amongst my friends.

That still put me in pretty good stead, however. Looking back at what I missed in 2015 I can’t really complain too much, as I only really missed The Martian and maybe, at a stretch, Crimson Peak in terms of movies people really seemed to be talking about. And regardless of how much thinner the blockbuster offering of 2015 was compared to previous years, what does it matter when Star Wars was so good?

Let’s count down some movies.

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VR BEST OF 2015 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s weird. Cool, but definitely weird. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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10. Pitch Perfect 2

So Pitch Perfect was a thing. A fairly notable thing, as it turns out. Three years ago Hollywood darling Anna Kendrick sat down, put a cup on the ground and lit the internet on fire, drawing crowds to the movies to see a comedy musical for the first time in several years. The oddball movie about competitive college acapella singing was a fine example of what can happen when you electrocute a painfully cliched sports movie plot with a current of pure enthusiasm, witty, politically incorrect dialogue, spectacular all-vocal song arrangements and Rebel Wilson. Much like 2000’s Bring It On, Pitch Perfect challenged my own ability to judge a movie by its marketing. Unlike Bring It OnPitch Perfect’s sequel doesn’t suck. In fact it may be even better, as it drops a lot of the necessary shackles by which it was bound as a new franchise and sets up some even more ridiculous – and hilarious – sequences, scattering cameos left and right as it does so.
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9. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

Startlingly, I think Mockingjay Part 2 may be my least favourite movie in the franchise, but I don’t know how meaningful that statement really is given how close my ranking would be. Ultimately the rather macabre ending chapter to Suzanne Collins’ anti-war-proclamation-disguised-as-a-young-adult-series pulls off most of the major story beats that it needs to, and while it chooses to dampen the harshness of some moments to its detriment, it also springs some great surprises, particularly in the action department that was so sorely lacking in Mockingjay Part 1. Movie fans are now left with a pretty strong cinematic adaptation of the books overall, and as a fan of the books I couldn’t have asked for much more than that.
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8. Jurassic World

Had it not released in a Star Wars year, Jurassic World may well have been the movie blockbuster success story of the year – and it pushed The Force Awakens really close for that opening weekend too. It well and truly lives up to its blockbuster billing, embracing the ridiculous, the nostalgic and the grandiose like nothing else this year. As the movie star of the hour, Chris Pratt’s seemingly effortless charisma in the role of Velociraptor trainer Owen – yes, really- carries the movie, and he is ably matched by Bryce Dallas Howard as the scientist who brings Jurassic World‘s most satisfying character arc to the fore. Sure, there are an awful lot of silly supporting characters in the movie, but they just add to the escapist feel of the movie, setting up an audacious fanservice finale like few things I’ve ever seen on screen.
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7. Ant-Man

In a year containing the highly anticipated follow-up to 2012’s mega-hit The Avengers, it was a smaller scale Marvel movie that earned the greater share of critical praise and internet goodwill. Even despite its famously troubled production, which featured the unceremonious departure of Shaun of the Dead/Hot Fuzz‘s Edgar Wright, Ant-Man holds together rather well both as a heist caper and a pretty funny comedy, with a spectacular suite of small-scale action sequences to ice the proverbial cake. Stacked with memorable scenes and fun nods to the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and, with surprising believability, its past), Ant-Man can stand alongside the MCU’s better films.
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6. Sicario

A rather straightforward story that unfolds as if on the end of a razor blade, Sicario is one hell of a tightly-wound thriller that seeks to showcase how sometimes in law enforcement, the simpler an operation is, the more complicated and disturbing its moral implications can be. Bookended by two extremely tense sequences – with a third even more taut scene involving a motorway somewhere in the middle – Sicario doesn’t so much burn slowly as it sears painfully. The film is anchored by a series of all-too-grounded perforamances from Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro, with inconspicuous CGI and an attention-demanding directorial effort from Denis Villeneuve providing the finishing touches.
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5. Ex Machina

Screenwriter Alex Garland has shown promise with his work in the past, but he’s also been attached to some duds, most notably After Earth. But with a killer idea and full directorial control, Garland flexes his muscle in Ex Machina, a four-person ensemble cast piece that confirms the Brit has a strong future ahead of him. Psychologically engaging the whole way through, the movie is well and truly carried by the interaction between Star Wars co-stars Domnhall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac. The former’s inner struggle between awe and disgust contrasts with the latter’s supremely entertaining choleric overconfidence as the pair dance (sometimes literally) around the moral quandaries associated with creating true artificial intelligence. And newcomer Alicia Vikander is spellbinding as the catalyst that sets them off.
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4. Mad Max: Fury Road

Many critics seem keen to labour the point of how much the superhero-soaked movie blockbuster climate needed Mad Max: Fury Road. Indeed it is a very different beast to its fellow box office successes this year – a heavy understatement to be sure – as it devotes itself mainly to a single ongoing chase sequence throughout a post-apocalyptic wasteland, barely stopping to take a breath or even provide much at all in the way of dialogue exchange. Fury Road tells a story through action, costuming and practical effects better than any movie in recent memory, proving director George Miller’s ridiculously long development time for the film was worth it. The unhinged, otherworldly cinematography and performances, most notably from Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Nicholas Hoult, succeed wildly in resurrecting a once hugely influential movie saga for a new generation – and hopefully more movies.
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3. Kingsman: The Secret Service

In a year that turned out to be rather fruitful for the James Bond-esque spy movie, with The Man From U.N.C.L.E and of course Spectre taking their well-dressed bows, Kingsman: The Secret Service gave the world the Matthew Vaughn take on things. Which is to say it gave the world a very bloody, typically un-PC commentary on wealth and class that pulls few punches while simultaneously staying relentlessly entertaining throughout. Samuel L. Jackson’s larger-than-life villain contrasts with Colin Firth’s prim and proper, highly strict mentor figure to provide the core of a movie that goes to some unexpected places with its pacing, refreshing the roles of its characters on multiple occasions to great effect. Seeing the growth of protagonist Gary “Eggsy” Unwin is immensely satisfying, and the movie’s finale is spectacular.
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2. Inside Out

Witnessing a return to form for Pixar was the second-best feeling I had at the movies in 2015. From charming pre-movie short Lava to the emotional, clever expositional opening of the film proper, Inside Out had my attention early on in a way no Pixar film since Up has managed. It may be colourful, action-packed and whimsical, but the themes of this coming-of-age tale about emotional development are unmistakably adult in nature. I won’t tell you how many times the film got me to well up – you know, just a little bit – with its very Pixar-ish metaphors. The movie’s warm visuals are spot-on, the voice acting matches them, and the sprinkling of amusing commentary on the human brain throughout is a real bonus. The hilarious exclamation point that comes at the very end of the movie is a lesson in cathartic comedy as well. I won’t say Pixar is back to mixing it with Disney’s main animation studio yet, because I haven’t seen The Good Dinosaur, but Inside Out is still a very good movie.
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1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

It sure is great when something lives up to the hype, even when that thing isn’t perfect. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not a bad movie, it’s not a mediocre movie, it’s not even a solid movie. It’s a really good movie, in fact. That it has met so many of the expectations of the Star Wars franchise’s millions of fans – and maybe even exceeded them – is still completely dumbfounding to me. In a post-Phantom Menace world, it just had no right to be that good. JJ Abrams has done a spectacular job of taking nostalgic and fresh-faced viewers alike on a journey laced with both familiarity and tantalising hints at the crazy developments to come. A palette of brand-new characters with the charisma to rival those who have gone before them, a bevy of practical effects used in tandem with unintrusive computer-generated ones, a powerful and believable enemy force and a hearty helping of funny moments all combine to leave moviegoers with the crowning cinematic achievement of 2015, full stop. Whatever comes next in Disney’s era of Star Wars, let’s not forget how we felt on December 17th, 2015.

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Honorable Mentions
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Avengers: Age of Ultron
Yeah, it’s still a fun movie, even if it could never have lived up to the unrealistic expectations set by people waiting on an impact similar to the historic team-up movie of 2012. An intimidating villain, unexpected developments for returning characters, great action set pieces and more zinging Josh Whedon lines make for an “event movie” that’s definitely worth a watch.

–Unfriended
Though this creative horror film progresses in a rather predictable manner, it’s unique one-take, one-perspective style commands attention, especially in light of how realistic it’s depiction of modern internet usage manages to be. There’s also a chilling moral about humanity and anonymity at the centre of the narrative that rings scarier than any of the traditional horror fare within.

Spectre
It’s still entertaining to me to guess people’s history with the James Bond franchise based on how much – or how little – they enjoyed the latest James Bond spectacle. Skyfall director Sam Mendes has backed up 2012’s rather different take on the Bond mythos with a perhaps shockingly traditional one, with all the old trimmings back firmly in place. This thrilled quite a few of the longtime Bond fans in my life while disappointing some of my more detached friends. I think it’s a really enjoyable action movie.

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