We are in the middle of revealing the results of our annual film of the year lists. Yesterday, we revealed the 11th to 20th best films of 2015. Read on for part two, where we break into the top 10.
Denis Villeneuve’s crime-thriller rightfully gained near universal acclaim. The tightly-wound Sicario sees Emily Blunt star as FBI Agent Kate Macer. After a drug bust results in the death of some colleagues, Macer is recommended to join a task force run by the Department of Defense. Their task is track down those responsible, including a high level Cartel lieutenant. Much to her chagrin, Macer’s exact role in the team remains undefined, while a shady outsider (Benecio del Toro) seems to be given carte blanche to act as he pleases. What follows is a pulsating two hours as we follow the team performance operations of questionable legality over the border in Mexico.
In lesser hands, Sicario could have ended up as late night guff on an unwatched television station. Instead, we get a perfect example how the combination of director, cast, scriptwriters and cinematographers can combine to produce a thoroughly brilliant experience. Put simply, Sicario is excellent; one of the best films of the year.
Pixar’s latest family animation is set inside the mind of a young girl, Riley, where five emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Sadness and Disgust – control her actions. As Riley’s family relocates across country and leaves her struggling with making friends in a new school and dealing with missing her old life, a mishap strands Joy and Sadness outside of Riley’s control centre where they must trek through her long term memories to return to headquarters.
In many ways this is the standard Pixar fare: two diametrically opposed characters get isolated outside their comfort zone and face a quest to get back home. Any twists the script throws in are telegraphed and predictable. But the magic of Inside Out is in the excellent characters, both human and otherwise, superb voice acting and a script which sends an important message to young and old that all feelings are important and relevant. It’s arguably Pixar’s boldest feature yet: a brave, risk taking venture for the studio and for that they should be applauded.
Kingsman: The Secret Service
I’ll admit it – I came very close to giving this one a miss. A terrible trailer gave the impression of a film in the vein of James Bond Jr, only with what some soulless marketing executive would describe as “attitude!”. Only the knowledge that it was from the creators of Kick-Ass tempted me into the cinema, hoping against hope for the same gleefully anarchic fun that was in the former.
Thankfully, I was not disappointed. Telling the story of Egsy, an applicant for the ancient order of the Kingsmen – a British intelligence service with highly-trained and extremely violent dapper gents – as he uncovers a plot from an environmental activist to save the planet by destroying mankind. With a great performance from Samuel L Jackson and featuring Colin Firth violently taking on the Woodsboro Baptist Church, my initial scepticism was quickly banished to see Kingsman landing in our top 10.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya
One of the last Studio Ghibli films to grace the western shores before the company’s creative hiatus, this risky venture attempts to move away from the tried and tested and beautifully striking animation style. This tale is framed for us is a very different but equally beautiful watercolour theme with a lot of the screen left as white, negative space. The story is also as ambitious as the visuals, a farmer finds a young girl growing in a plant and when she grows he and his wife understandably believe her to be a miracle and indeed a princess. Wishing to give her the best life they attempt to turn her into a sophisticated lady and find her a suitor to provide her with all the majesty her birth has brought to their lives.
A bold, relentlessly tragic tale with all the aching emotions of this world colouring it’s white backdrop we feel the humour, love, pain, mistakes and misguided affection. Life in every shade, this film is unflinching and captivating in equal measure.
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
A newer hope, this film had even more expectation that the prequel trilogy and the added task of undoing all the damage as fanboys everywhere tried to banish the memory of those films to a galaxy far far away. Thankfully no one can deny that this exciting new chapter recaptures that magical feeling of the original Star Wars phenomenon coupled with stellar new effects and technology. This swashbuckling romp through the Stars had pulses and imaginations racing as well as relief sweeping through thrice burned Star Wars fans.
A changing of the guard introduces new characters to love with Poe and Finn roguishly sweeping through, Kylo Ren showing how Anakin should have been done, Rey showing how Keira Knightley should have been done and BB-8 as the cutest thing since…well, the last droid. Some accuse the relentless pacing to betray fear in Abrams direction which as well all know leads to a dar path… And many complain that it is in fact too similar to A New Hope and the villain’s love for an impractical giant orb with a laser slapped on, but the franchise’s simplicity is perhaps the main ingredient to this man made magic of cinema. Much like the childhood games it’s not the complexity and logic which cause us to love this film, but the pure unadulterated enjoyment and suspension of belief. Dark against light.
A Most Violent Year
This one crept in under the radar somewhat. A Most Violent Year tells the story of an honest man trying to achieve the American Dream legitimately, selling heating oil in New York in 1981. As his business expands, his competition becomes more ruthless as business rivals, unions, mobsters and other assorted criminals seek to undermine and ruin him – how far will an honest man go to keep what he’s earned? A story that may have been told before, but one that has rarely been told better. The film takes it’s lead from some of the genre classics – there are hints of Scarface, The Godfather and Goodfellas throughout – the latter in particular is recalled with the lead characters line “I’ve spent my whole life trying not to become a gangster”, the flipside of Goodfellas‘ opening salvo.
The film’s casting is excellent throughout. Oscar Isaac has never been better as Abel Morales, a man trying to prove it is possible to live an honest life amongst the chaos, whilst Jessica Chastain takes the Lady MacBeth role as his wife, the daughter of a mobster who encourages Abel to play dirty in the heating oil turf war (which admittedly is not a sentence I ever thought I’d type). David Oyewolo also shines as the district Attorney who is sceptical of Abel’s aim of legitimacy.
It would be unfair to cast this solely as a organised crime drama though. The film also tests the bounds of family loyalty with a political aspect that runs throughout. The seamless blending of genres is testament to the writing and editing of the film, whilst the cinematography creates a gritty world of New York in 1981. And in terms of sheer drama, you will be hard pushed to find anything released in 2015 that tops the end of the film.
That wraps up part two. Check back tomorrow for the third and final part to this opinionated trilogy, and see who induct into our Hall of Film.
Did you see any of the films listed above? What do you make of our commentary and their placement? Too high/low? Please leave us a comment below.