The 10 best films of 2015 (UK release)

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.

However the absence of probably Oscar contender Carol (2015) is deliberate. You can read about here.

Top 10 films of 2015

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

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?

3. Song of the Sea

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.

5. Whiplash

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.

7. Birdman

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.

8. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

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.

9. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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.

10. Spring

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:

Horror 

It Follows

Documentary

Red Army

Precinct 75 

Western

The Salvation

Slow West

Bonus movie:

The return of Keanu Reeves in kick ass form as the puppy-loving assassin John Wick.

Top Ten worst films

1. Jupiter Ascending

2. Entourage

3. The Last Witch Hunter

4. The Boy Next Door

5. Seventh Son

6. Captive

7. The Visit

8. Vacation

9. Hot Pursuit

10. Everly

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Director: Isao Takahata (2015)

Magical and moving, this animated folktale is charming, moving and a beautifully crafted joy, bursting with humour and life.

When sent to the Earth as punishment, a young Moon spirit discovers that mortal life involves responsibility and pain as well as love.

Deservedly nominated for best animated feature at the Oscars, it’s a captivating combination of glorious pencil-work and delicate pastel colours.

Working in a secluded grove, an old Bamboo Cutter (James Caan) is startled when a bright light reveals a tiny female form inside a tree. The kindly man takes her home to his wise wife (Mary Steenburgen) where the sprite changes miraculously into a baby.

Being without children they resolve to look after the baby as if she were their own. She grows at a prodigious rate, sprouting from baby to toddler in a single crawl.

The Princess is named ‘Li’l Bamboo’ by the local children and joins the gang of Sutemaru (Darren Criss) with whom a strong emotional bond develops.

Loyal, clever, impetuous and mischievous, Li’l Bamboo accelerates through a joyous, gentle and comic childhood in a wonderful rural adventure land. It’s alive with gorgeously animated birds, frogs, spiders, pigs, snakes, squirrels, beavers, fish and deer.

Returning to the magic grove the Bamboo Cutter finds a tree filled with money, then another with swathes of fine cloth. He concludes Li’l Bamboo is a true princess and must be raised as one.

So he builds his daughter a palace in the Capital and when she turns 13 years old he moves the family there to live, away from her friends.

Stern Lady Sagami (Lucy Liu) is employed to teach Li’l Bamboo courtly social graces but the spirited girl rails against her tutoring and the subduing of her personality. She mocks the painful beauty procedures and rejects the subservient idea of womanhood.

At a three day banquet to mark her coming of age, she is given the name Princess Kaguya and to please her father tries to become an obedient, studious daughter. With her great beauty and social skills she attracts a multitude of suitors, including the greatest nobles in the land.

But the Princess isn’t impressed by their status and to her father’s consternation Kaguya issues them impossible tasks to prove their love.

However she’s aghast when one by one they return to make her keep her word and she makes a rash wish which changes her life.

It is more measured in pace and tone and lacks the delirious colours and engineered wackiness of contemporary megaplex crowd pleasers such as Disney’s excellent Big Hero 6. Plus with a running time of 137 minutes it is for older rather than younger children.

With it’s strong-willed country girl who learns of life in the city it’s similar to the story of Heidi which director Takahata adapted in 1974. It is a tale celebrating life but also reflective of grief, loss and suffering, heralding the virtues of honesty and friendship over wealth and looks, taking to task the way female identity is constructed for the benefit of men.

The animation is impressionistic in style with characters and backgrounds being drawn on the same page – unlike in traditional cel animation where characters are drawn separately and superimposed onto the background. It is a wonderfully immersive and suitably organic technique, emphasising the passion for the story in every exquisite and entertaining frame.