The Ford On Film End Of Year Awards 2015: Best Film and Best Short Film
After what seemed like endless days, the Ford On Film End of Year Awards 2015 are finally here! For the next six days, I will be covering the best films, actors, actresses, directors, and television shows, amongst others, of the last year.
2015 was something of a mixed year for film. It was the year in which box office records were broken by a string of fairly unremarkable blockbusters, Mad Max: Fury Road became somewhat inexplicably one of the most loved films ever (it’s a well made film but I wouldn’t go much further unfortunately), and some really brilliant films flopped at the box office. Still, like most years, there are always treats to be found. We saw an animation studio at the top of its game, some of the finest living actors give some of their finest performances, and a demented animator from Texas produced one of the most beautiful short films ever made.
Like most years, I’ve decided to skip over any film that won or was nominated for a major award earlier in the year. As great as Whiplash and Birdman were, there’s not much more to be said about them. There were also, as usual, a few films I didn’t get the chance to see, or weren’t released in the UK on time: Jurassic World, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, The Revenant, The Hateful Eight, and most troubling of all, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
With that out of the way, let’s get on with the countdown!
Kingsman: The Secret Service
The Duke of Burgundy
Dear White People
Justin Simien’s razor sharp race comedy drama is the best film Spike Lee never made. Focusing on the increasing racial tensions at a preppy college, Dear White People has a serious point about what it means to be young and black in America, but never lets its politics get in the way of its hilarious one liners (“Dear white people, the minimum requirement of black friends needed to not seem racist has just been raised to two”), or its terrific performances from Tessa Thompson and Tyler James Williams. It’s great to see filmmakers this passionate and angry about the world around them.
Something of a throwback, John Crowley’s Brooklyn is an often moving and beautiful film about a young woman who moves from her small town in Ireland to New York in 1952. Saoirse Ronan, so good in just about everything since her debut in Atonement, gives the best performance of her career so far as the girl who starts off vulnerable and afraid, but eventually grows to make a life for herself and falls in love with street smart Emory Cohen.
With a talented supporting cast (including Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, and Domnhall Gleeson) and gorgeous cinematography, Brooklyn is an elegant, old fashioned romance, and proof that a simple plot can be the most effective.
Straight Outta Compton
Forget the questionable historical content and focus on the enjoyable, trailblazing story being told. F. Gary Gray’s historical biopic of controversial rap group N.W.A. may be straightforward in its storytelling, but there’s no denying that seeing Ice Cube (played brilliantly by his real life son O’Shea Jackson, Jnr.) first write Fuck the Police after being stopped outside by crooked cops, or watching Eazy-E (gritty but charming Jason Mitchell) record Boyz N’ The Hood are powerful moments.
The mostly unknown cast are great, and Paul Giamatti gives a sleazy performance like only he can (he’s much better here than in Love & Mercy), but most impressive is the film’s damning political views on race riots and the LAPD in the nineties.
The most realistic depiction of teenagers I’ve ever seen in a film. Céline Sciamma’s energetic and stylish drama focuses on the life of a teenage girl (an amazing performance from unknown Karidja Touré) as she escapes from her miserable home life by joining a gang of loyal but feisty girls. Far from a clichéd ‘Girls N’ The Hood’-style look at violence in the ghetto, the film portrays its gang as what they are: fun-loving teenagers, and despite the brutal fights, bullying, and eventual descent into drug dealing, Girlhood features some of the most joyous and vibrant filmmaking of the year.
Ridley’s Scott sci-fi epic is exactly what I want from a summer blockbuster. As the astronaut left alone on Mars, Matt Damon gives a charismatic, Oscar-worthy performance, carrying large stretches of the film on his own. Scott is on top form, making sequences of Damon learning to farm on the moon and listening to cheesy disco music among the most fun seen in 2015.
The supporting cast away from Mars, including the reliably good Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, and Jessica Chastain, help carry the film through it’s more plot driven turns, but this is entirely Damon’s film. Dramatic, funny, and offering plenty of spectacle, The Martian was the best blockbuster of the year.
Sci-fi novelist Alex Garland makes a phenomenal directorial debut with the chilling and stylish Ex Machina. Domnhall Gleeson, currently on the run of a lifetime with a string of excellent films (Frank, Calvary, Brooklyn, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Revenant), is excellent as the timid programmer lured in by sinister Oscar Isaac (on a similarly good run of great performances) to test whether android Alicia Vikander appears to be human.
Vikander is outstanding, a true breakout performance that has been deservedly nominated at the BAFTA’s. Building from a familiar story, Ex Machina spirals and twists into a dark, complex, and incredibly rewarding thriller about what it means to be human, with a terrifically disturbing ending to boot.
After spending his career so far being praised mostly for how young he is, Xavier Dolan has finally become a properly great director in his own right with the blistering Mommy. Raw, electric performances from trashy-but-tough Anne Dorval and unpredictable Antoine Olivier Pilon carry the epically long but never boring story of a single mother’s struggle with her out-of-control ADHD son.
Shot in a tiny 1:1 aspect ratio, Mommy is inventive in its portrayal of domestic drama and ordinary people losing their minds (the unique aspect ratio is paid off with a truly glorious montage set to Wonderwall). Two amazing lead performances (as well as a great supporting turn from Suzanne Clement), a devastating script, and some of the most entertaining scenes of the year make Mommy Xavier Dolan’s best film to date.
After being disappointed by Prisoners and Enemy, Sicario finally made me understand the hype with Denis Villenueve. The most unnerving, brutal film of the year, Sicario tells the tale of the Mexican drug war through the eyes of naïve Emily Blunt, in what is possibly a career best performance. Recruited by the eerily calm Josh Brolin, Blunt is lead into some fantastic action sequences, all watched over by Roger Deakins’ stunning cinematography.
Where Sicario is most incredible is in its shifting of the narrative over to the year’s most enigmatic character, Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro. Quiet and quietly devastating, Del Toro hasn’t been this good since 21 Grams, and you have to imagine he’ll gain an Oscar nomination from it. Acting, cinematography, and wall-to-wall action doesn’t get much more exciting than Sicario.
As soon as Steve Jobs was announced with Danny Boyle, Aaron Sorkin, and Michael Fassbender at the forefront, I was sold. Thankfully, the film didn’t disappoint. Reinventing the biopic, Sorkin’s superlative script covered Jobs at three of the most important product launches of his career; each one was better than the last. Boyle’s direction was perhaps his most mature yet, reigning in his jittery energy for a classier, smoother approach.
Steve Jobs has an excellent supporting cast in Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, and Jeff Daniels, but this is Fassbender’s film. In possibly his finest performance to date, he nails every aspect of Jobs’ character, from charming to bitter to borderline sociapthic. Sorkin’s dialogue sounds right coming from the cast, each relishing the chance to spit out his famous one-liners (“I’m tired of being Ringo when I know I was John!” and “The musicians play their instruments, I play the orchestra” are just two highlights). It’s a crime that the film flopped. Buy the DVD and give Steve Jobs the credit it deserves; it really is that great.
It’s been five long years since Toy Story 3, but finally Pixar released something to rival its best output. Inside Out, the ingenious story of the five emotions inside a young girl’s head as she faces a huge change in her life, is one of the best and most emotionally powerful children’s films of all time. Amy Poehler bounces off the screen in a dazzling voice performance, ably supported by a supporting cast including Richard Kind as the lovable Bing-Bong and Phyllis Smith as the glum Sadness.
Joy and Sadness’ adventure through the mind of 11-year old Riley provides plenty of beautifully animated action, and peaking into the minds of various characters (Riley’s Mum, distracted by memories of a hunky Brazilian, Riley’s Dad, distracted by a soccer game, a random cat) provides many huge laughs. What Inside Out has most of all, however, is heart.
Even the most cynical people will feel themselves welling up at the film’s saddest points (just the phrase “Take her to the moon for me” can get some people going), and it’s a bold, brave mainstream kids’ film that teaches children that sometimes, being sad is okay. Emotional, exciting, and hilarious, Inside Out is the best film Pixar have made in years, and the best film released in cinemas in 2015.
Best Short Film:
World of Tomorrow
It may be under 20 minutes long, but Don Hertzfeldt’s masterful World of Tomorrow is the best piece of film I saw all year. In just 16 minutes, Hertzfeldt covers more big ideas, complex emotions, and huge laughs than anything I’ve seen in a long time. Hertzfeldt is perhaps the world’s greatest living animator (his last film, It’s Such A Beautiful Day, is on my list for Modern Masterpieces), and World of Tomorrow is possibly his finest work.
The story of a young girl visited by her future clone, the film is beautifully designed and animated, with Hertzfeldt digitally animating for the first time. The voice work from Hertzfeldt’s five year old niece Winona is hilarious, but it’s the flat line readings from Julia Pott as the clone facing the end of the world, struggling to overcome her almost total incomprehension of feelings (“Sometimes I sit in a chair and feel very sad”), that provides the film’s poignant heart.
Don Hertzfeldt has a way with words that makes his films feel more philosophical and beautiful than just about anyone I can think of; his vision of the future, featuring galleries made up of old memories and lonely robots on the moon, is among the most extraordinary in the history of science fiction. If it had been released in cinemas, it would be the best film of the year; as it stands, World of Tomorrow is the best short film of the decade at least, and one of the greatest of its kind ever made.
Join me tomorrow when I’ll be handing out awards for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress of 2015!
By Harry J. Ford
Follow Ford On Film on twitter: @Ford_On_Film
Like Ford On Film on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FordOnFilm/