The 30 Best Films of 2015

2015: a year of extraordinary films, fascinating indie flicks and nostalgic blockbusters.
Here’s my favourite 30 movies – and a few of the worst.

The bad and the ugly…
Spy – Jason Statham was a hoot as a gruff agent. The fact he was funnier than foul mouthed star Melissa McCarthy was just one of the many problems.

Jupiter Ascending – epic in scale, well made, but utterly barking. “Bees don’t lie.” Funniest line of the year.

The Last Witch Hunter – Vin Diesel’s The Slow and the Infuriating would have been a better title.

The good…

30: Inside Out. Sweet but overrated Pixar smash boosted by a sucker punch third act. Support ‘toon Lava was a gem.

29: Brooklyn. Slow burning drama with Saoirse Ronan a mesmerising force.

28: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The material was sari-thin, but the cast sold it beautifully.

27: The Falling. Maisie Williams was magnetic in director Carol Morley’s compelling drama about suspected mass hysteria in a school. Picnic at Hanging Rock, UK style.

26: Steve Jobs. Danny Boyle’s three act, three launch biopic crashed, but Fassbender and co did justice to Aaron Sorkin’s script.

25: It Follows. Creepily effective thriller with nods to Carpenter, Raimi and Let Me In.

24: Danny Collins. Pacino couldn’t carry a note as the eponymous singer, but this loosely fact-based drama had a heart bigger than his tour bus.

23: Avengers-Age of Ulton. Top heavy, weak villain, and a flabby second act but still fun.

22: Big Hero 6. Beautiful, touching and superbly crafted yarn reminiscent of Incredibles, anime and Iron Giant.

21: Jurassic World. Light on character development, heavy on spectacle and terrific action scenes.

20: Ex-Machina. Alex Garland’s intelligent three hander ticked over nicely.

19: The Theory of Everything. Eddie Redmayne’s career-best turn as Stephen Hawking was worthy of all the awards.

18: Bill. The Horrible Histories team worked wonders with this Shakespearean comedy.

17: Spectre. James Bond returned. Cash tills rang. Things exploded. Reached for the sky, fell short, but great fun regardless.

16: 50 Shades of Gray. A kinky fairytale for frustrated secretaries the world over. I loved it…like you do.

15: Mr Holmes. Ian McKellen’s Oscar and BAFTA-worthy take on the Baker Street sleuth was a gloriously created yarn. The finest performance of the year.

14: Ant-Man. Best superhero flick of 2015. Edgar Wright’s departure may have been no bad thing… and I love his work.

13: Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation. Tom Cruise back on form as Ethan Hunt; Simon Pegg fast becoming the saga’s MVP, and a star was born in Rebecca Ferguson. The opera scene was outstanding.

12: Awaiting. Well crafted thriller with Tony Curran on top form as an unhinged dad and Rupert Hill delivering a solid performance. Glorious third act. Great score too.

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Awaiting. Photo: Solar Productions

11: The Martian. Not as good as Andy Weir’s superb novel, but Ridley Scott’s best in years.

10: Man Up – Lake Bell and Simon Pegg’s Curtislike rom com with a GSOH.

9: The Lady in the Van. Alan Bennett’s autobiographical play was a modest gem.
Maggie Smith shone.

8: Whiplash. Miles Teller couldn’t save that slated Marvel movie, but here he was Mr Fantastic in the best film about drumming ever made. And JK Simmons deserved his gongs after that powerhouse turn.

7: Birdman. Surreal, compelling and dazzling with a superb Michael Keaton. It soared.

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Michael Keaton soars in Birdman: Source image: Fox Searchlight/Sketch – Roger Crow

6: Kingsman – The Secret Service. Came out of nowhere, and proved hugely enjoyable. Also turned Taron Egerton into an overnight star.

5: Sicario. Denis Villeneuve’s gritty, stylish drama with tense set pieces and great photography by Roger Deakins. Blade Runner 2 now looking more promising than ever.

4: The Duke of Burgundy. Peter Strickland’s powerhouse adult drama paid homage to euro movies of the seventies. Beautifully mounted, like many of the moths featured, with a great Cats Eyes score.

3: Bridge of Spies. Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance delivered the most satisfying, intelligent thriller of the year. “Would it help?” being one of 2015’s most unlikely catchphrases.

2: Mad Max: Fury Road. George Miller’s heavy on the mad, light on the Max reboot was the best movie of its type since Mad Max 2 in the early Eighties. Visually stunning. Charlize Theron was outstanding. ‘Shiny and chrome’.

1: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Midi chlorians begone; that’s not how the force works. This was the most satisfying Star Wars epic, and sci-fi adventure since The Empire Strikes Back. Funny, thrilling, poignant and touching. I laughed. I got something in my eye. I played the soundtrack on a loop. I went back to see it again and again. JJ – you did us proud.

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JJ Abrams, fresh from the set of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, with composer Michael Giacchino and Simon Pegg at the Albert Hall. Photo: Roger Crow

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens – A spoiler free review

It’s too early to tell but The Force Awakens may be the best Star Wars film yet. Yes, better than The Empire Strikes Back, which is saying something.  However, as I saw the first IMAX 3D screening at Castleford, which crashed half way through, I’ll need to watch it again to form a better opinion. 

JJ Abrams’ movie is a fun packed roller coaster ride which takes elements from the best Star Wars movies and bolts them together like a well crafted metal quilt. 

There are thrilling set pieces, chilling villains, splendid twists and an excellent cast. 

  
The first screening of The Force Awakens – Midnight, December 17, 2015

John Boyega is a terrific young hero, while Daisy Ridley almost steals the film as the scavenger thrust into a dazzling adventure. That is when lovable droid BB8 lets her. It may look like the mechanised head of a one-eared Mickey Mouse but you will not see a more adorable droid all year. 

The effects are often stunning, with some wonderful flourishes, but most of all it boasts incredibly touching moments. 

Unlike all of the prequels, I actually cared about these protagonists, and when that sucker punch moment comes, like it does in many JJ movies, you know things are never going to be the same again. 

Harrison Ford gives one of the best turns of the past 20 years, slipping back into the character that made him a star like a foot finding a bespoke old shoe. 

  
His relationship with other familiar faces also feels completely natural. 

Carrie Fisher’s welcome return to that galaxy far far away is also something to treasure. 

Some of these characters we have grown up with and old with. It’s a joy to see them back on the big screen. 

John Williams’ score slots right in with the rest of the saga, and with a rich storyline featuring plenty of loose ends, Episode VIII cannot come soon enough. 

I laughed. I got a little teary. I want more. 

Sisters – The Movie Review

The ’teens have a house party in an impossibly opulent abode’ has been done to death over the years. But what happens when those teens grow up?Can they recapture that magic before kids and responsibilities arrive? That’s also been addressed in films such as Bad Neighbours. 

  
Thankfully Sisters, the new movie for old mates Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, is a lot more on the money. 

Yes it’s patchy and overlong, but when the improv gags work they bring the house down. Literally. 

  
It also benefits from a laugh out loud moment involving a musical ornament and a key member of the cast. 

I’ll not say any more for fear of ruining the moment, but a line in a swimming pool in the last few minutes ranks as the funniest of the year. 

Poehler is terrific as the uptight orderly sister whose teenage diary is a cure for insomnia, while Fey has rarely been sexier as the wild child sibling who is forced to be ’house mom’ during the mother of all grown up parties. 

  
Good support comes from John Leguizamo, James Brolin and Dianne Weist. It’s 30 minutes too long and I’m sure a sub plot involving a dog wound up on the cutting room floor, but despite mawkish moments of sentimentality, as counter programmed comedy goes, this should be a fine alternative for those viewers who fancy something other than Jedis and Sith lords this week. 

Snoopy and Charlie Brown-The Peanuts Movie

Like millions I was hooked on the comic strip Peanuts as a kid. The TV specials were also a small screen delight, but then other things like Garfield and The Simpsons came along and Charlie Brown seemed like a chunk of childhood frozen in time. 
I always wondered why nobody had turned Charles Schulz’s beloved characters into a big screen offering. And eventually fans got their wish with the mouthful of a title: Snoopy and Charlie Brown-The Peanuts Movie. 

  
The result is patchy, but there’s also a lot of love here. Aimed at a young audience, it’s a checklist of classic moments from the strips, from Charlie trying to fly a kite to Snoopy’s battle with flying ace The Red Baron. 

The animation is simple but effective with the flying scenes helping the movie come alive. The problem is there’s no real story aside from our hero trying to impress a new girl at school. 

It was occasionally touching, especially Charlie and Snoopy’s friendship, which was always the backbone of the strips. 

  
The score was sweet, especially that familiar theme from the tv specials, and it didn’t outstay its welcome. I wish it had been as good as Paddington but liked the fact it wasn’t brought up to date with gags about texting, computers and the Internet. 

It seems Charlie Brown and Snoopy will always be that inseparable duo locked in a 1960s bubble of angst and fantasy. Like they should be. 

The Worst Films of 2015*

*And some okay flicks
Spy: when Jason Statham is funnier than Melissa McCarthy, you know there’s problems. 
  

The Last Witchhunter – The Daft and the Infuriating. More vin egar than Vin Diesel. 

  
Terminator Genisys – Worse than the episode of the Sarah Connor Chronicles when Shirley Manson morphed into a urinal. To paraphrase Phil Collins, Turn it off again. 

Knock Knock – who’s there? John Wick. Slams door in Keanu’s face. Twice. 

The okay flicks

Exodus: Moses the bore giver. Epic, stylish. Empty. 

  
Into The Woods: some good songs, great cast but fizzles out. 
Jupiter Ascending: The year’s most barking film. Ambitious, dazzling nonsense. 
  
Insurgent: YA fatigue mixed with a dull story and characters in a dystopian future society wearing off the peg clothes. Insufferable. 
The Man From Uncle – Offbeat, fun, but like flicking through a style mag for the duration. 
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Inside Out – sweet but generic. Most overhyped toon of the year. 

Crimson Peak – glorious gothic costume fest but needed more thrust. 
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Foxcatcher – Slow burning Carell crash drama.