When I stepped back to look at my list of the 10 best films of 2015, I noticed 4 of my choices are science fiction and a further 3 are animated.
Cinema is escapism and if I wanted real life I’d stay at home. When I go to the cinema I want to go to places I can’t go in real life. There’s no place I can’t go to more than outer space.
Any film holds the possibility for fully exploiting cinema’s epic potential if it combines intelligent storytelling, tremendous visuals, an out of this world scale and a sense of humour.
As ever it’s impossible to see every film released each year, and so the absence of drama 45 Years (2015) and documentary Amy (2015) shouldn’t be read as a judgement upon them.
Top 10 films of 2015
George Miller’s barkingly brilliant reboot of his own 1979 action classic is an extraordinarily epic non-stop thrill-ride, an apocalyptic nitrous charge of pure cinema.
2. The Martian
Matt Damon was marooned on Mars in this breathless, big budget sci-fi adventure which rockets along to a disco beat. Who knew Ridley Scott could do funny?
This gorgeous Irish fairytale is a moving and magical adventure full of enchantment and transformation. Oscar nominated for Best Animated film.
4. Ex Machina
Sexy, sharp and stylish, this brilliant British sci-fi thriller explores man’s relationship to machines with verve, wit and polish. Alex Garland is happy to acknowledge the debt it owes to long running comic 2000AD.
An aspiring jazz drummer clashes with his menacing music teacher in this exhilarating music masterclass. Won three Oscars including Best Supporting Actor for JK Simmons.
6. Big Hero 6
Disney gave us this hilarious, joyous and thrilling tale of a boy and his inflatable robot Baymax. Winner of the Oscar for best animated film.
Michael Keaton soars in this extraordinarily ambitious black comedy about a desperate actor enduring a nervous breakdown. It’s funny, sexy, brave and bold. It won Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay and Cinematography.
Magical and moving, this animated folktale of a young girl who comes of age is a charming, moving and beautifully crafted joy, bursting with humour and life.
A light speed blast of fun from this epic seventh and third best episode in the long running sci-fi saga. Fast, funny and visually spectacular. The force is strong in this one.
Little seen but fabulous horror of an American in Italy who falls for a mysterious girl. A gorgeous and terrifying love story. Narrowly edged out It Follows as best horror of the year.
And the best of the rest:
The return of Keanu Reeves in kick ass form as the puppy-loving assassin John Wick.
Top Ten worst films
5. Seventh Son
7. The Visit
9. Hot Pursuit
Blast off to the red planet in this breathless, big budget sci-fi adventure which rockets along to a disco beat.
Based on Andy Weir’s 2011 novel, director Ridley Scott has rarely had so much fun or provided so much clever, crowd pleasing entertainment.
Scott washes away his reputation as a dry visual perfectionist by splashing wild torrents of humour and humanity over his typically brilliant design and cinematography.
When a Nasa team is forced to abort their experiments on the surface of Mars, Mark Watney is assumed dead and left behind.
Intelligent and likeable, Matt Damon is terrifically cast as the marooned astronaut forced to improvise to survive.
His resourcefulness allows him to farm water, oxygen and food but is constantly beset by technical problems, not least having no communications with colleagues in space or on Earth.
The operation he performs on himself is not as graphic as the one Noomi Rapace endured in Scott’s flawed Prometheus (2012) but still not for the squeamish.
When a Nasa technician discovers Watney’s alive, his now not-dead presence presents a tricky PR problem, especially if they fail to keep him alive a second time.
It’s a race against time, budgets, office politics and technical limitations.
As harassed Nasa officials, the comic ability of Jeff Daniels and Kristen Wiig are used to good effect in straight roles.
British Oscar nominated star of misery memoir 12 Years A Slave (2013) Chiwetel Ejiofor brings charm and warmth.
Sean Bean is a gruff conscience who brings heart to the constant equation crunching and scores for a big laugh.
The huge success of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) combination of humour, action, state of the art effects and pop tunes is clearly an influence. But this is more grounded and less smug.
With the exception of a strangely retro-titled ‘advanced supercomputer’, an excellent script offers plenty of plausible sounding sciency stuff.
There are scenes in China which may well be extended when the film is released in that market. Unlike films such as Iron Man 3 (2013) the Chinese element feels a necessary part of the narrative.
There’s little bitterness, fear or insanity but vast amounts of hope, hard work and optimism.
The Martian celebrates the courage, ingenuity and loyalty of humanity. It is a cry from the heart for the return of to an age of space exploration.
Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski worked on Scott’s flawed Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014). Scott often has him shoot from a low angle to include ceilings and skies in his shot, heightening the sense of Watney’s captivity and suffocating isolation.