The Ten Best Films of 2015 So Far
As we approach the halfway mark of 2015, it’s time for me to look back and choose the ten best films I’ve seen this year. I only have two criteria for making the list:
1. The film has to have been released in the UK in 2015. Any late December or US-only releases will not be included on the list.
2. The film can’t have been nominated for an Academy Award. Many Best Picture nominees released back in January are very deserving of making the list, but honestly, I feel like all the Best Picture nominees have been critiqued, praised, and talked about more than enough (even on this blog). Whiplash and Birdman were easily good enough to make the list, but I’ve decided to move past any Oscar contender to focus on a few films that haven’t been so talked about.
Without further ado, let’s get to the ten best films of 2015 so far.
Swedish director Ruben Ӧstlund’s family-holiday-gone-wrong drama Force Majeure raises a horribly uncomfortable moral dilemma; how would you react if you and your family found yourselves caught in the middle of avalanche? Tomas, played by the brilliantly pathetic Johannes Kuhnke, runs away, leaving his family behind. He tries to deny the fact until video footage surfaces of his cowardly act. Force Majeure is a little too long and slow, but its questions about manhood and heroism are fascinating and fascinatingly original.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Whilst somewhat suffering from insane levels of hype (a spectacular 98% Rotten Tomatoes rating), George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the most stylish and gloriously demented blockbusters in recent memory. Tom Hardy, Charlise Theron and Nicholas Hoult are all decent if underwritten, and some of the dialogue is very naff, but Mad Max is not a film about the acting or the script; it’s all about the spectacle. Two hours of loud, furious car chases and explosions, the film’s all-too-frantic first act gives way to an outstanding climax, featuring some of the best action you’ll see all year.
While We’re Young
I was one of the few people who disliked Noah Baumbach’s previous film, Frances Ha; it felt painfully quirky and hipster to the point of tedium. Luckily, I was a much bigger fan of While We’re Young. Housing Ben Stiller’s best performance in quite some time, the film tackles aging and the frustration of reaching middle age in a way accessible to people of all ages. Occasionally self-consciously indie in the same way of Frances Ha (new-age spiritualism, arthouse references, Adam Driver), While We’re Young is a funny, insightful, and surprisingly melancholic comedy drama that suggests Ben Stiller should put a lot more focus on drama.
Already a cult sensation in America, John Wick doesn’t reinvent action cinema in the same way of The Raid; it just does it far better than the competition. Keanu Reeves may never be an Oscar winner, but he showcases unseen levels of charisma and intensity as the most dangerous man on the planet, while Game of Thrones’ Alfie Allen gives good snivelling villain. Selling itself as a pure action film and delivering, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski’s beautifully shot and choreographed John Wick is as good as big, dumb, beat-em-up films get.
The most realistic depiction of teenagers I’ve ever seen in a film, Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood depicts life in the French ghetto with a beautiful amount of clarity and relatability. The story of a disillusioned teenage girl (Karidja Tour in an outstandingly mature and complex performance) joining a gang, Girlhood could easily fall into clichés but instead shows the highs and lows of teenage friendships, love, and trying to get by in a difficult world. Girlhood should be applauded for taking a very specific time and place, and making it feel universal.
Shaun The Sheep: The Movie
As funny, charming, and endlessly clever as you’d expect from Aardman studios, Shaun the Sheep: The Movie is the rare children’s film that can be loved by people of all ages. Light on plot, heavy on gorgeous Claymation and visual gags, the film finds lovable Shaun and his friends lost in the big city (literally called The Big City), looking for their amnesia-suffering farmer and dodging an evil pest control officer.
I went in expecting something fairly enjoyable; what I got was one of the funniest films of the year. Sweet but not saccharine, childish but not juvenile, Shaun the Sheep might not be as sharp as Wallace and Gromit (what is, really?), but it does offer the sight of said pest controller trying to romance a sheep in lady’s clothing, and if you don’t find that hilarious, you might be lacking a soul.
Sci-fi writer Alex Garland makes a terrific directorial debut with Ex Machina, an insidious, intelligent story about artificial intelligence. Domnhall Gleeson is great as the code designer in over his head as creepy boss Oscar Isaac asks him to interview his greatest creation, robot Ava. As Ava, Alicia Vikander is phenomenally good, nailing the voice, facial expressions, and body movement in the best android performance since Michael Fassbender in Prometheus. The odd cliché or directional flaw can be forgiven, as Garland’s debut is a bold and stylish vision; perhaps the next great sci-fi director has arrived.
Even scarier than last year’s terrific The Babadook, It Follows frightened me more than any film released in the last decade. Maika Monroe gives good scream queen as the teenage girl infected with a horrifying curse; she’ll be haunted by visions of grotesque people walking towards until they catch and kill her. While most horror films are all about claustrophobia, David Robert Mitchell’s gorgeous direction and cinematography focus on the fear of wide open spaces. The effect is overwhelmingly creepy. Horror is a genre that has felt fairly lacklustre for the last few years, but It Follows is proof that there’s still life, and big scares, in the genre.
Kingsman: The Secret Service
The most fun I’ve had at the cinema this year, Matthew Vaughn’s divisive spy comedy manages to have its cake and eat it to thrilling effect; it acts as both an affectionate spoof the clichés and tropes of 60’s espionage thrillers, whilst managing to be a fast paced thrill ride of its own. While Tamsin Egerton gives a great breakthrough performance as the cheeky youth turned suave gentleman and Samuel L. Jackson is hilarious as the lisping villain, Kingsman belongs to Colin Firth. Transforming from ‘Mum’s favourite’ to badass secret agent, Firth has the time of his life in the role.
Boasting several big laughs, an astonishing Church set piece and one of the most audacious finales of any comedy, Kingsman may lose marks for a couple of totally unsubtle ‘lad’s mag’ gags, but is otherwise a hilarious and exciting comedy thriller.
Predestination is impossible to review. Revolving around a cavalcade of twists and turning points, the Spierig Brothers’ time travel melon-twister is effortlessly cool and completely ingenious. To describe the plot would be to spoil the fun. All that needs to be said is that a bartender (Ford On Film favourite Ethan Hawke, good as ever) has a conversation with a bitter young man (Sarah Snook, an astonishing dual performance that should be her breakout), who describes the events that ruined his life. After the story is over, the bartender offers the man a way out.
Multiple viewings of Predestination will either clear up any confusions or reveal a cavern of plot holes. On first viewing, I was blown away by how terrifically good and unpredictable this underseen sci-fi was. If there’s any justice, Predestination will be a cult classic a few years from now.
The Duke of Burgundy
Peter Strickland’s previous film, Berberian Sound Studio, was an incredibly unique, out-there horror about the gradual mental collapse of a foley artist and studio engineer. Strickland’s latest film, The Duke of Burgundy, is somehow even stranger. On the surface, the film is about a BDSM-practicing lesbian couple in a non-specific part of Europe whose relationship begins to suffer. Look deeper, and the film is about the complexity of love and the tight balancing act of trying to give everyone what they want. I confess, there’s so much I don’t understand about The Duke of Burgundy, such as why there are no men in the film’s world, or why everyone seems fascinated in the life of butterflies. Honestly, I don’t want to understand these plot points.
The film is an enigma, slow and absorbing and really quite touching. It requires some patience to get through, and you have to be fairly open minded about the film’s wisp of a plot, but let the film take you in, and you’ll find it’s a moving, incredibly intelligent film about love, with two terrific performances from Chiara D’Anna, as the eager masochist, and Sidse Babett Knudsen, as the reluctant masochist. Certainly not for everyone, but for my money, Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy is the best film of 2015 so far.
There you have it; my picks for the ten best films released in 2015 so far. Will all these films survive onto the end of year countdown? Probably not. There are still tons of great releases coming soon, and I look forward to seeing many more great films throughout the year. Congratulations to Peter Strickland for directing the best film of the year so far, and thank you to everyone for reading.
By Harry Ford
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