…And what a year in film it has been! Global box office records have been shattered twice (Jurassic World, followed by Star Wars: The Force Awakens), triumphant return of the beloved franchises – this time done right (mainly, Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens) – and also, not so right (Spectre, Terminator: Genisys) – also Tarantino returns with yet another western. Not that much anything new on the big screens, but much of the old stuff re-heated, sometimes with great success, sometimes, not so great.
Here are the best films of 2015. Disclaimer, I haven’t seen some of the important ones (The Revenant, The Hateful Eight) yet, because they hadn’t come out in Finland yet.
1. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (George Miller)
Staggering out of the theatre after the intense experience that was the new Mad Max, the film that had been in the making for over 20 years, having so many times almost getting made but then getting cancelled the last minute, I felt strangely numb and even a bit sad. Numb, because all my sensory inputs had been blasted with so much pure awesome for the last two hours, and sad because I knew I’ll never do a film better than Mad Max: Fury Road in my life. I came out having watched – no, witnessed – something that 20-30 years later would be an action classic, an experience I can brag to my son and his friends later on, just like our parents were able to brag about having watched Indiana Jones or Star Wars in theatres, or having seen Beatles live.
Mad Max: Fury Road was so extremely good because of these three factors:
- Sheer energy was tangible in the way I haven’t seen in action films in years. Computer generated visual effects, stunt choreography, action vehicles and all the special effects – cars wrecks, explosions and weapons – worked seamlessly together, fooling even the more experienced viewer that they were actually watching a film that was analog in the same way films were in the 80’s (which, of course wasn’t true, but just to be able to grasp the same effect, look and feel is a directorial triumph of its’ own).
- Simple plot is the very key to a successful action film. Mad Max‘s plot was: go there, kick ass and come back. Instead of focusing on pushing the viewer through the marshes of self-indulgent scribes trying to find their way around their life-long writer’s block, it focused on the drama and the characters which made the simple plot interesting and epic.
- Characters were treated in an interesting manner for an action film. Main guy Mad Max (Tom Hardy) was actually an observer, and it was Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who slammed the pedal to the metal and led the way. This slight shift in power made it feel fresh and modern.
Love isn’t the film which features all this real, direct penis-in-vagina -sex. It isn’t the movie which brought threesome in the big theatre screen near you. It’s the film which investigated the most interesting – and most familiar, and most believable – relationship issues and dialogues of the year. It was the best film about love this year.
Love introduced us a man who mixes love with dependancy in the wrong way, a man who believes his actions are above other people actions, a childish kid who experiences feelings related to love, but has no idea or concept of what love is supposed to be. There’s the woman who knows very well what love is, but burns her love with such a heated flame it leaves only ashes behind. They end up searching ways to explore their sexuality, bump into jealousness, ex-es and sheer stupidity around intoxicants and ruining what could’ve turned into something good.
Gaspar Noé manages to find real intimacy between the characters, and the cheesy relationship dialogue which sounds way too stupid to be written in a film is actually exactly the same pillow talk we all are so familiar with in real life.
Honestly, I don’t understand why Sicario isn’t spoken more about. It’s a serious, shocking bad-ass thriller about the futile, already-lost war on drugs, topical and modern in storytelling. The grit and scale and the element of constant, harrowing danger all around makes it definitely one of the strongest experiences in cinema this year, one where you feel you as an audience member are being spoken to directly, looking right into your eyes, about something that’s going on right now. Jóhann Jóhansson‘s music paints even darker clouds in the distance.
Director Asif Kapadia made one of the strongest documentaries of the recent years, Senna (2010), few years back, and now returns with a brilliant and uncomfortably closeup documentary about the drug- and alcohol addicted singer Amy Winehouse, and one of the biggest losses of music industry since the death of Kurt Cobain. The film starts off with seemingly random collection of bad-quality home video clips from Amy’s years, and the more prominent and popular she becomes, the more the produced interviews and TV-footage starts to wipe out the person she was and presents herself as the person the media wanted to see. In the end, we’re witnessing mostly flashing lights of the paparazzi and Amy running into black cars, herself being completely consumed by the ever-hungry shit media and her gift becoming secondary to her troubles. More than the story of Amy Winehouse, it’s actually the story of how the Yellow Press and media in general, friends, parents, managers, lovers and bodyguards abuse the center of all attention, all tearing her apart in their own way. Left is nothing but a shell, talented shell, but the person is gone before she’s pronounced officially dead. There’s no need for talking heads of the people around her – we only hear their voices – because these are the people who, in the end, pushed her to the edge and beyond.
Although the film is far less popular than the rest on this list, it’s just as effective and gripping. A Swiss filmmaker’s harrowing story about two (or, spoilers ahead, is it only one?) kids who decide their mother is actually not their mother, and start torturing her in her own home in the most gruesome manners. It follows the home invasion / torture horror schematics and definitely isn’t the first time it’s done, but Goodnight Mommy does it the right way. More than anything, it’s in the end a story of loneliness, growth of identity, blame and guilt, all woven into a simple story shot in a simple location, in a chilling manner. The film deserves all the love it’s getting from genre festivals around the world, and there was even a slight chance of it ending up competing for Oscars (it didn’t, in the end), but it’s bound to be re-made in America, probably turning it into a crappy DVD-horror fiction, unless they hire the directors and let them have their way with it.
I love Steve Spielberg, and if you’re like me, Bridge Of Spies is a perfectly rationed Spielbergian drama. Good script, stellar cast and beautiful cinematography are all the elements that a good film needs for a very enjoyable 2 hours in cinema. It gets a bit too overtly American, but then again, that’s also Spielbergian trait, so the film is best when taken in with a grain of salt.
Agricultural science fiction is unfortunately an ailing treat in cinema nowadays, but bravely as ever, Ridley Scott takes a potato and makes a full-fletched billion-dollar scifi classic out of farming on Mars. Matt Damon is best when he’s left alone doing his Matt Damon -thing, without any actors buzzing around and bothering. Clearly based on a good source material – book by Andy Weir – it’s a very good, although not a genre-changing as Ridley’s earlier works sometimes have been, comedic-element-loaded scifi story.
The feelbad movie of 2015 comes – again – from Joshua Oppenheimer, whose The Look of Silence is just pure brilliant documentary filmmaking. Although based on some of the same elements as 2012 film Act of Killing, it’s a completely different, and way more personal account on the atrocities of Indonesia, following one man’s journey into confronting the murderers of his brothers, who nowadays live large and as respected members of the community. The lack of remorse in the film is only strengthened when a daughter of one of the murderers tries, feebly, to ask forgiveness for her sick father. The darkness in The Look Of Silence is so intense you’ll carry it with you a long time.
Born from the brain of brilliant novelist and ambitious scriptwriter Alex Garland, this year’s smaller scifi classic Ex Machina works its’ magic on robots and emotions. Not the first time this topic is on, nor will it be the last time, but the subtle approach entertains the brain and gives a nice breather among the explosions and starships of typical scifi visions.
Pixar’s films have been going downhill since Cars 2, but Inside Out brings a nice change to the sequel-stuffed roster. As a concept, it’s original and that’s quite a lot to say nowadays. The film itself suffers a little bit when trying to be the brainy, kid-friendly, adult-loving all-around family film, when it apparently wanted to be a film for a little bit more mature audience to begin with. Nevertheless, it’s very clever and intelligent and most of the time quite funny, and just like all the best Pixar films, also touching, although the main characters are not that well developed that they’d become instant legends the same way Toy Story’s or WALL-E‘s characters did.