31 December 2015

Favourite 5 films of 2015

When it comes to writing this annual summary of my year in film, I can only think to start by saying that it's been a weird year. Firstly, in my eyes it's been a far from strong year for film. Only three jumped out at me as saying "I must be on your year end list" - one of those, Whiplash, has been my favourite film of the year since I saw it in January. There has been very little else that has gotten me as remotely excited. That is one reason why this list has been pared down from my usual ten to just five favourites - in previous years there's always been a lot of internal debate as I try to whittle the list down to ten, but this year I couldn't even find ten films I wanted to include.

Secondly, as the numbers below attest, I have just not watched anywhere near as many films as in recent years. On the one hand I've had to become more selective about what I see - the film geek approach of watching as much as possible at the cinema had to go on hold as life got in the way this year (for the best). Whilst I also found that that something called "television" seriously affecting my time too.

As has been the case for some time now, the satisfaction derived from the long-form storytelling offered by a television series is becoming harder for film's more ephemeral self-contained stories to match, when they're intended to be enjoyed in a single sitting. With so much out there of such high quality, it can be hard to strike a suitable balance of film and TV viewing when you want to watch it all! Purely out of curiosity, I worked out that in 2015 I watched all of these drama and comedy shows, either in their entirety or at least half of (depending on whether a series traversed year's), and it was even more than I realised:

Agent Carter (S.1), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (S.2 half), The Americans (S.3 half), Arrow (S.3 half), Ballers (S.1), Better Call Saul (S.1 half), Between (S.1), The Blacklist (S.2 half), Bloodline (S.1), Brooklyn Nine-Nine (S.2), Catastrophe (S1-2), C.S.I (S.15), The Flash (S.1 half), Game of Thrones (S.5), Girls (S.4), Gotham (S.1), Hannibal (S.3), Murder In the First (S.1-2), The Newsroom (S.3), The 100 (S.1-2), Orange Is the New Black (S.1-3), Sens8 (S.1), Silicon Valley (S.2), The Strain (S.2), Suits (S.4), Supergirl (S.1 half), The Walking Dead (S.5 half, S.6 half), Wayward Pines (S.1), The West Wing (S.7), Zoo (S.1)

Moving back to film, the numbers are below, and everything I watched this year can be seen in order of viewing here: http://letterboxd.com/davidhunt14/list/2015-films-watched/

128 - total films watched (-42% YOY)
40 - films watched at cinema (-88% YOY)
63 - films released in 2015 watched
4 - films to be released in the UK in 2016 watched
0 - films watched more than once in 2015

And so, in alphabetical order, these are my favourite 5 films of 2015 (favourite does not objectively equate to being the best, rather these are the films I liked the most) based on a 2015 UK release date: 

Good Kill

War is hell. We've had that hammered into us by films for years. Good Kill is one of the first to represent that concept in the digital age, essentially - war is hell when conducted remotely from a container in the Nevada desert. Ethan Hawke is superb as the disaffected air force drone pilot spying on and bombing targets in the middle east from a dark, air conditioned cockpit in a box filled with computer terminals. It effectively shows the surgical precision and ruthlessness with which (potential) enemy combatants are taken down. But more than anything it amplifies the helplessness of watching from 30,000 feet up and thousands of miles away - is what you're doing right and are your actions justified? What happens when you can only watch as something bad repeatedly happens and the mission dictates doing nothing? And then you're expected to drive home and kiss your wife good night and be ok with your life. It's inevitably something we've never considered and the whole film is a sucker punch as you can't help but empathise with these characters. Good Kill is one of the most thought-provoking and affecting films of the year.

Jurassic World

The biggest films at the box office this year have been sequels - that was always an inevitability - but what is surprising is that the sequels no-one thought they wanted were by far the best. There was really no need to return to Isla Nublar and rehash the idea of dinosaurs in a theme park. The actual awe of seeing these amazing creatures in action was seemingly passé, and it has been fourteen years since the last film after all. But Jurassic World stomps over any doubts. We clearly really do want to see what happens when the park is open and watch these creatures run amok again. The effects are even more incredible and the film is rife with thrilling set pieces. Chris Pratt further cements his exceedingly likable leading man status, whilst Jessica Chastain provides fine stern fun. All the while the underlying story of us needing bigger and better entertainment is prescient if unsubtle. It seems that watching dinosaurs on screen is still incredibly fun, in what is surprisingly one of the most enjoyable films of the year.

Mad Max: Fury Road

If you had told me a year ago that one of the most batshit crazy films of 2015 would be a $150m plus key summer release from a major studio, I wouldn't have believed it. Mad Max: Fury Road is a film like no other from this year, and we should rejoice as studios just do not throw money at crazy ideas like this anymore. That it works should come as little surprise... George Miller, the original creator/director of the Mad Max series, is the man driving this film. Tom Hardy makes for an intriguing Max even when he is channeling Bane in the first half, whilst sneakily making Charlize Theron's Furiosa the actual lead was an inspired touch. But more than anything, it utterly convincingly makes the argument for practical effects over computer generated fakeness. In fact, by flipping the script so that CGI enhances the backgrounds rather than the action makes for a more visually arresting and enjoyable film. Kudos to all involved for making what is ostensibly a two hour car chase into one of the most exciting and unexpectedly great films of the year.


Spring is one of the most interesting horror films I saw in 2015. It lacked the technical skill or stylish visuals of other contenders such as It Follows or A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, but it succeeded thanks to heart and its sense of mystery. And like both of those films, it's actually pretty subtle as horror films go. The understated moodiness of warm Italian climes adds an alluring feel to the picture, as the mystery behind Nadia Hilker's Louise draws you in. The blossoming romance between her and Lou Taylor Pucci's Evan feels right and you can't help but root for it to work - something that you didn't imagine at the start of the film. As a low budget film there's certain aspects of the effects work that could've been improved but it works because of the ideas it has. Most satisfyingly of all, it completely pays off at the end, which is something most horror films struggle to do without following the tropes of the genre - with a better conclusion It Follows might have actually made this list. Spring may not be one of the best films of the year, but it was certainly one of the most impactful and for that reason it stayed with me.


My early front-runner for film of the year and it never fell behind. Whiplash is lean, focused and hits hard. There are really two elements that make this film work so successfully: the sparring between Miles Teller's student jazz drummer and his teacher J.K Simmons, and the music. The music is loud and in your face every time it kicks in and starts to swing, making it a character in its own right. But ultimately it comes down to Teller's drive to be the best at the expense of all relationships in his life, and how much abuse he's prepared to take from Simmons' revered mentor. And it is abuse. Simmons is on sparkling form, tossing out vicious barbs and take-downs at anyone not meeting his exceptionally exacting standards, but once you worry he's one note he offers a depth and pathos that catches you off guard. And then everything syncopates, leading to the type of crescendo that you wish more films had the skill to pull off, leaving you exhilarated. This is exemplary filmmaking.
[Read my full review here]

The also-ran:

For what it's worth, these are the small handful of films that were close to being good enough to appear on this list, but just quite weren't there for whatever reason:

Ant-Man - the best superhero film of the year because it plays like a heist movie. Excellent casting and plenty of fun (Marvel gets character introductions right!), but Jurassic World was just that bit more enjoyable.

It Follows - a fascinating plot and superb camera work that reminds how something as simple as clever, deliberate camera movement can create tension. Great score too, just a shame it didn't lead to a more satisfying conclusion. 

Kingsman: The Secret Service - tremendous fun thanks to Matthew Vaughn's proclivities to go over-the-top, alongside some great casting. But it didn't sustain the energy all the way to the end, and was marred by some unwarranted, brief sexism. 

Sicario - if the whole film was like the first half, this would definitely have been on the list above. An excellent hour of mystery, intrigue and thrills (the trip into Juárez is phenomenal filmmaking), but it loses steam in the second half ending up too anti-climatic. If it had kept this up all the way though... 

(And Birdman would've been on this list had I not seen it on it's limited London run at the end of December last year, prior to wide release on 1st January - hence it appears on my 2014 list).

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