2015 has seen some modern classics take to the screen, from both well-known, seasoned directors and some astonishing debuts.
A quick note before you read on. Obviously, we wanted to wait and see Star Wars: The Force Awakens before publishing our end-of-year list. Sadly, the screening is too close and it just didn't work out. Needless to say, we've every hope that it's going to be amazing and change our lives completely.
In the meantime, here's the ten best films of 2015.
What a delight Queen of Ireland was. Every bit as captivating as its subject, this documentary was as much a chronicle of Rory O'Neill's life as it was a reflection of Ireland's journey from a repressed, closed-off state to its place at the forefront of civil liberties and equal rights for all. Loving, beautiful, told honestly and emotionally, Queen of Ireland was a highlight of the year.
What made John Wick so thrilling and engaging was that it revelled in its simplicity. It was about an angry widower whose dog, left to him by his wife, is killed during a robbery. This, of course, makes Wick go on a revenge-seeking rampage. That's it. No veneer. No further plot. Quick, clean, brutal and efficient - just like John Wick. Keanu Reeves smartly underplayed the role, allowing his physical presence to say more than he ever could whilst directors David Leitch and Chad Stohelski choreographed and shot some of the best fight sequences we've seen in the past ten years.
As quietly devastating as anything you'll see this year, Carol was equal parts wide-eyed romance and a depressingly honest showcase of a crumbling marriage. The fact that it blended the two so perfectly is a testament to both Todd Haynes' direction and the performances of twin leads Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Both played their roles with such elegance and subtlety that you are entirely immersed in the story. Sumptuously shot, smartly told, Carol is an adult, complex story about love and its price.
Irish animation goes from strength to strength each and every year, with Song of the Sea reaching unheard of heights for the industry. Mixing ancient Irish folklore with a commentary on the decline of rural life and our nation's inability to deal with mental health, Song of the Sea was a testament to Ireland's dominance in the field of animation. Rivaling the likes of Hayao Miyazaki, it brought a depth and emotional core unlike any other animated film this year. Haunting and beautiful in equal measure.
Who knew Ridley Scott had it in him? We sure didn't. As cliche as it is to say it, The Martian really did mark a return to form for the veteran director. Efficiently told and brilliantly realised, this film could have easily become a bloated, convoluted mess. An intelligent script by Drew Godard and Matt Damon on top his game and whip-smart editing by Pietro Scalia, The Martian was unashamed to call itself a science-fiction film. For that alone, it marks itself as being the best sci-fi film of 2015.
Allejandro Inarritu's twirling, dazzling character drama had all the snap, crackle and pop you've come to expect from the man who directed Biutiful and 21 Grams. Michael Keaton gave the performance of his career with a bitingly satirical and refreshingly honest screenplay to play off. While it might not have been for everyone, Birdman was an experience that few can compare with.
From a director on his second film, Whiplash had no business being as good as it was. How can a film about jazz music have all the intensity of a high-octane, pressure-cooker thriller? Although most people would rightfully praise JK Simmons' electric performance as Fletcher, not so many recognise Miles Teller's incredibly understated performance as the sheepish Andrew. The sheer force of nature that Simmons naturally soaks up the screen, but its the moments Teller has alone with his drumset that serve as the core of the film. A fantastic film.
Never has a film about such an ugly topic looked so beautiful. Calling to mind the early work of Michael Mann, Sicario pushed far beyond its crime thriller trappings and played it like a horror film. The level of dread and malevolence that seeps out of the screen as you watch is incredible; Josh Brolin's unfettered, laissez-faire FBI agent coiling around Emily Blunt's idealistic principles has the same force as Hannibal Lecter circling Clarice Starling. In fact, the film is essentially Silence of the Lambs by way of Heat or Traffic, mixing sexual and gender politics with a story about America's interventionist policies overseas.
Pixar really have done it again, making a hilarious film that will also have you ugly crying in the cinema. A film told entirely from the inside of a little girl's head shouldn't work as well as this. The brilliantly thought-out cast of Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader and Lewis Black so perfectly fit their respective roles that you just couldn't imagine anyone else. The incredible sense of comic timing coupled with animation that harked back to Fred Quimby and Chuck Jones, Inside Out was every bit as good as you heard.
What more can be said about Mad Max: Fury Road that hasn't already been said? Fury Road was like an injection of pure adrenaline that saw audiences belted into their seats and shot straight into the desert wasteland at 100 miles an hour. Charlize Theron as the ice-cold Furiosa, the inimitable Hugh Keays-Byrne as Immortan Joe and a near-mute Tom Hardy as Max, Fury Road was as much a moving art installation as it was a two-hour chase sequence with a mutant guitar player that shot fire out of said guitar. A phenomenal, unique, brilliant film. One for the ages.