Films of the Year 2015

I couldn’t decide on just ten films this year, so I went with twelve instead.

Birdman: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
UK release date: 2nd January 2015
Review: “There are some brilliant moments of hilarity in here, some surprising and well-handled special effects and a few intensely emotional back-and-forths from actors giving their everything to their art. The first truly great film I’ve seen this year. I can’t recommend it enough.”

The Theory of Everything
UK release date: 2nd January 2015
Review: “Redmayne’s performance was astonishing. He completely nails it, working as both a great piece of acting and an uncanny impersonation. The frustration that must be felt by the thousands of sufferers of MND is channelled directly to the viewer by coupling some intimate close-up camera work with some exceptional acting. If Redmayne wins the Oscar next month it will be because of the latter parts of the film.”

Whiplash
UK release date: 16th January 2015
Review: “In the history of cinema, there have been a small number of characters so full of evil they barely resemble human beings anymore. We’re talking Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched, Ian McDiarmid’s The Emporer. I think we can add another one to the list after seeing Whiplash.”

Big Hero 6
UK release date: 30th January 2015
Review: “The animation is the really mind-blowing element of a film that scores highly across the board. It’s fast-paced without ever feeling like it’s trying to lose you in action. The detail given to the plethora of uniquely designed characters is notable, too, and this serves to make each character feel worthy of your investment. If they’re going to spend that long making Hiro’s hair look so awesome, he must deserve a bit of attention on an emotional level too.”

The Duke of Burgundy
UK release date: 20th February 2015
Review: “A highly satisfying, twisting and twisted tale that deserves a wide audience.”

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Listen Up Philip
UK release date: 5th June 2015
Review: “Each character is introduced to us from a position of imbalance and for the most part they spiral into a world of depression and failure. Schwartzman is in fine form throughout, in a role not too dissimilar to others we’ve loved to hate him in. Irritating and overly-confident characters are something of his forte, which is funny if not just because he comes across as anything but irritating in interviews he gives.”

Inside Out
UK release date: 24th July 2015
Review: “This is truly up there with the best Pixar films, no easy achievement given they have been responsible for so many of the best animated films over the last twenty years. It’s the perfect emotional rollercoaster to ride on whilst celebrating reaching the start of their third decade in the motion picture business.”

Irrational Man
UK release date: 11th September 2015
Review: “There are six listed cast members here, but there really are only two stars here. Phoenix and Stone make a formidable pairing. He may have put on some weight for this role, but Phoenix’s allure is still very much there and his convincing lost soul act is enough to make his appeal to the much younger Stone quite believable. It doesn’t quite reach the joyful heights seen in Midnight In Paris, though is streets ahead of the unfathomably popular Blue Jasmine. Well worth checking out if you can find it.”

Orion: The Man Who Would Be King
UK release date: 25th September 2015
Review: “Orion is a documentary worth watching, and it’s an experience enhanced if you know nothing about Ellis. It goes a long way into intimately portraying a man torn between being forced to hide behind a mask and enjoying the limited success he was achieving. It is balanced and as such avoids over-celebrating Ellis, concentrating on his personality rather than his success.”

Suffragette
UK release date: 12th October 2015
Review: “This is a powerful piece of cinema and a relevant work of art. It is essential viewing for all women, any of the 33.9% of the UK public who decided not to vote in the 2015 general election, and anyone with a passion for excellent cinema.”

Bridge of Spies
UK release date: 27th October 2015
Review: “This is an ode to traditional storytelling and any movements it makes to remind us of Spielberg’s supreme talents are trumped by its underlining of Tom Hanks as one of the greatest living actors. This is not a story about espionage, politics or the Cold War. It is a film about one man’s unwavering desire to stick to his principles.”

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
UK release date: 17th December 2015
Review: “J. J. Abrams has managed to pull off a minor miracle. In just over two hours he has erased most of the memories of the prequel trilogy, reminded us of the best of the original trilogy and set up a new storyline that has the whole world anticipating where the next steps will take us. The prospects for the future of the franchise all of a sudden look extremely rosy.”

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Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg, 2015)

After a relatively long break, Steven Spielberg is back behind the director’s chair, and it was worth the wait.

Reading the description of Bridge of Spies, his first film since the hugely successful biopic Lincoln, it has all the hallmarks of some of his greatest achievements in cinema. It’s based on a true story. It’s a story about individual battles within a larger situation. It stars Tom Hanks. It would have been a surprise if this wasn’t a huge success.

Set between 1957 and 1960 during the height of the Cold War, the film focuses on James B. Donovan (Hanks), a lawyer tasked with negotiating the release of Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), a pilot whose U-2 spy plane has been shot down over the Soviet Union. The negotiation concerns trading Powers for Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a Soviet KGB spy held captive in the USA who Donovan has previously defended in court. However, tensions rise when Donovan shows his determination to include an additional US citizen – student Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) – in a move that seemingly only he is keen to see through.

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The film at times threatens to be sabotaged by a slow pace, though Spielberg keeps it going just enough to avoid it becoming a snooze-fest. The plot is one full of intricacies that reward the attentive viewer, so I’m not sure the modern audiences will get it in the same way they did with Schindler’s List, for example. [1]

This is an ode to traditional storytelling and any movements it makes to remind us of Spielberg’s supreme talents are trumped by its underlining of Tom Hanks as one of the greatest living actors. This is not a story about espionage, politics or the Cold War. It is a film about one man’s unwavering desire to stick to his principles. Hanks portrays Donovan as a totally unassuming man whose aggression is only touched on when he feels the principles for which he stands are threatened. As with most of his best roles, it has a way of pulling you in and asking you what you would do in his shoes.

If it is considered for any awards in the next few months, it will be for Hanks as an actor in a leading role. For all the clever cinematography and attentive set design, they are merely the stage on which Hanks is allowed to fly.

Bridge of Spies is release in cinemas worldwide on 27th November 2015.

[1] I’m well aware that this sounds condescending. It is fueled directly by the woman in front of me who three times during the film decided to have a quick check of her phone next to her pocket. Whilst it was only a minor distraction for me (it wasn’t so bad to warrant me tapping her on the shoulder), she missed two critical plot points and the description of what the characters did next in the final credits. Definitely a justification for the theory that the audience’s participation level is as important as the care put into a film.