By Neil Hazel | Follow @IamNeilHazel
This has been a great year for movies. From reboots and sequels to classics to unique takes on classic genres, 2015 has had a little bit of everything. It has also offered up some of my favorite films in recent memory. Action-packed, funny, emotional and groundbreaking are just a few of the words that could describe the best of 2015. Let’s get started.
-Fargo: Season 2
I know I’m starting out my best films list with a television show, but if I could I would put Fargo in my number one spot. Every single episode of this series feels like a movie in terms of the quality that was put out every week. Great performances and a twisting, interesting storyline make Fargo a must watch.
–Beasts of No Nation
This Netflix produced film provides an eye-opening look at the child soldiers that are all too common in parts of Africa. Driven by powerful performances from Abraham Attah and Idris Elba Beasts is powerful, sad, disheartening and yet, hopeful.
–We Are Still Here
We Are Still Here was one of my biggest surprises of the year. It provides a unique twist on the classic haunted house horror film, with terrifying creature designs, superb special effects and unrelenting scares. The less you know about it the better.
– Kingsman: The Secret Service
Kingsman is an adrenaline packed ride from start to finish following the top-secret British spy sect known as the Kingsman. The action pieces in the film are extremely diverse, from parkour chases, to hand-to-hand bar brawls, to exciting shootouts, Kingsman always has something interesting occurring. Samuel L. Jackson turns in a hilarious performance as the main villain, and Colin Firth kicks some serious ass throughout the film, especially in the church scene towards the end. Don’t look up anything about it just go watch it.
Top 10 Films of 2015
10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
J. Abrams had a lot on his plate when he agreed to create the next entry in the Star Wars saga. After the prequels left a bad taste in fans mouths, Abrams delivered with an enjoyable return to the Star Wars universe. The most hyped movie of the year (perhaps of all time) is also one of it’s best. The new characters that are introduced in The Force Awakens are some of the most interesting and diverse in the series. Great action set pieces and interesting plot developments set up the next films for success. With such an exciting first entry into the new Star Wars trilogy, it is exciting to see what the future holds.
9. Bone Tomahawk
Westerns, for a time, were one of the most beloved genres in film. This has changed in recent years, as audiences crave breakneck action in modern set pieces. Bone Tomahawk is a return to the classic western genre with a twist. The first hour and forty-five minutes of this film are pure western, as a sheriff (Kurt Russell), his back-up deputy (Richard Jenkins), an injured cowboy (Patrick Wilson) and a hotshot war veteran (Matthew Fox) set out to rescue some kidnapped townsfolk. The last thirty minutes however, are a brutal, gritty, torture-horror film. This film features one of the most grotesque scenes I have ever seen. The lead up to this situation is a slow burn, establishing the characters and the setting. The four main characters are portrayed masterfully and provide some of the best and most unique dialogue of the year.
8. The Lobster
The Lobster is one of the most bizarre films of the year. Set in the near future, all single people must stay at a hotel where they are given forty-five days to find a partner or else be turned into an animal of their choosing. While this may sound disturbing, The Lobster has a dry humor about it similar to a Wes Anderson film. Colin Farrell gives an abnormal performance that catches your attention from the beginning. The settings and cinematography are beautiful and just as unique as the concept of the film and the plot takes some interesting twists that are best left unspoiled.
Spotlight is an incredibly powerful film, and the weight of it’s content did not fully set in until sometime after the credits had rolled. The film tells the true story of a team of journalists in the early 2000’s that discover the Catholic Church has been covering up the sexual assault of minors by numerous Priests. Spotlight features one of the best ensemble casts of the year: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schrieber, John Slattery, and Stanley Tucci, as well as the numerous minor characters in the film, all turn in great performances. The events of the film are thrilling without being overly dramatized and despite knowing the real life story that inspired the film, I was still completely interested and invested on what was going to happen next. Witnessing the characters uncover the corruption that was occurring is equal parts fascinating as it is horrifying. Spotlight delivers one of the biggest emotional punches of the year.
6. What We Do In The Shadows
This mockumentary follows around a clan of vampires as they go about their daily activities and prepare for the annual gathering of undead creatures, and it is downright hilarious from start to finish. Shadows was directed by and stars Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi, two of the guys that helped create Flight of the Concords. Shadows is easily one of the most clever films of the year turning a unique and funny lens to the vampire mythos. Everything from sunlight, silver, vampire hunters and blood sucking is turned into a joke. Shadows never takes itself too seriously and doesn’t overstay its welcome, clocking in at just over an hour. This allows the film to hit lots of jokes in many different scenarios and stay fresh and funny all the way until the end. The jokes are intelligent and subtle, and I found something new to laugh at each time I watched the film. Immediately from the first scene when the character groggily awakens to his 6 p.m. alarm I knew that Shadows was one of the funniest films I had seen in a long time.
5. Ex Machina
When Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a trip to spend a week at the private estate of the CEO of his tech company, his life will never be the same. While Caleb thinks that his trip will be a fun vacation, the CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), has some ulterior motives. Nathan has been developing a near human artificial intelligence (Alicia Vikander), and he wants Caleb to test its ability to pass as human. Ex Machina is an interesting tale about how engrained technology has become into our lifestyle and what it truly means to be human. The film smoothly transitions from creepy to hilarious to heartfelt and everything in between. The film is driven by stellar performances from the three main cast members and almost no other characters. Ex Machina is a sci-fi modern classic.
4. It Follows
It Follows is not only one of the best horror movies of the year; it was also shot in Detroit, making for an interesting and unique backdrop for a horror film. It Follows plays out similar to something like The Ring, as the main characters must contend with a curse that is passed through sexual encounters. Rather than relying on cheap jump scares, It Follows instead spends the whole film building tension through the use of an excellent score and great camerawork that is not typically seen in horror films. It Follows builds a sense of dread and tension that holds all the way until the last shot. Come for the 8 Mile reference, stay for the scares.
Excuse the pun, but Creed is a knockout of a film, and one of the best things that could have happened to the Rocky franchise. Rather than trying to bring old man Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) back for one more fight, Creed instead injects some new blood in the series by making Apollo Creed’s illegitimate son (Michael B. Jordan) the main character. Rocky is placed in the role of the trainer, and Stallone plays the part perfectly, delivering a powerful, emotional, and heartfelt performance. Creed pays several homages to the original Rocky films, from a new take on the training montage to the soundtrack, a solid mix of the old-school Rocky theme with new-school hip-hop, the perfect symbolism for Rocky and Creed. The actual boxing scenes in Creed are some of the best things I’ve seen on film this year, they are gritty, exciting and exhausting. One of the fights is shot in a single take, following Creed through multiple rounds of hard-hitting action. Don’t write Creed off as just another Rocky film.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
It is hard to wrap my head around the idea that George Miller, the director of the original Mad Max films, could return to his franchise thirty years later, and do it bigger and better than it had ever been done. Mad Max is a film that is pure energy from beginning to end. Almost the entire duration of Mad Max is one long chase scene, and the action and excitement is unrelenting the whole time. The film begins with scenes of action that most films barely reach in their climaxes, and only gets more exciting from there. Tom Hardy plays Max perfectly, despite having very few lines of dialogue. The real star of Mad Max is Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron. When so many action films have been dominated by men in recent years, it is refreshing to see a female character than can just as much hold her own. Mad Max is also a visually stunning film, as Miller uses vibrant colors coupled with practical effects and stunt work (rather than CGI) to create a crazy, yet beautiful, apocalyptic film.
1. The Hateful Eight
Despite it’s nearly three-hour runtime, The Hateful Eight had me completely enthralled from beginning to end. A mix of Reservoir Dogs, Django Unchained, and The Thing, The Hateful Eight is part action, part drama, part comedy and part mystery, with a little bit of social commentary sprinkled in. In the middle of a blizzard shortly after the Civil War, eight supposed strangers find themselves trapped in a log cabin for a night. In typical Tarantino fashion, things do not go as planned. Lies, threats, and money turn the night into a bloody affair filed with unexpected twists and turns. Each member of the cast turns in an excellent and memorable performance with each of the main characters given moments to shine. With The Hateful Eight, Tarantino has created deplorable characters that he then spends the entirety of the film developing into somewhat likeable, or even more disgusting. The Hateful Eight made me both laugh out loud and feel sick to my stomach. Tarantino is known for his scripts and does not disappoint here. The dialogue is unique and hilarious and by the time the film had reached it’s conclusion all of the subtle elements that had been constructed throughout the film began to fall into place. The Hateful Eight is a chilling film, both literally and figuratively. Tarantino does a great job of making the environment feel cold, as the characters breath is visible and the snowy wind howls throughout the film. The score of The Hateful Eight is also one of the best of the year as it creeps along in a menacing fashion throughout the film, setting the tone masterfully from the very first scene. By the time the credits rolled on The Hateful Eight I immediately wanted to watch it again, and again, and again. I have intentionally tried to keep this review as vague as possible, because The Hateful Eight truly is a mystery, and seeing the events unfold in their natural fashion is incredibly entertaining.