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Tree's Thirty-Tree: The Best Films of 2015

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I generally like to wait until everyone else has done their end of year lists before writing mine. It gives me a little more time to think about the past year and I don't like being swept up by awards hype.

 

For me, the past year has been something of a revelation in cinema. I went to the cinema about three times a week and I got a job working in my local independent multiplex. I've seen more films from 2015 than I have from the previous 5 years combined. I've loved seeing a vast array of new films, and I just want to share a bit of my experiences.

 

So I have compiled a list of my 33 favourite films of the year, and I'll throw in a few broad achievement categories too. I know I am prone to take weeks or months with my lists but I shall try to get through this at a relatively quick pace.

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Honourable Mentions

 

Firstly I want to just mention a few movies that I enjoyed more than other people. These are films that, at least on this forum, provoked something of a negative backlash, and although they didn't make it into my list of favourites, I will defend each of these films to the death.

 

 

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BLACKHAT is not one of the finest films from almost anyone involved, and hunky Chris Hemsworth as a world-class hacker is about as believable as Meg Ryan as a helicopter pilot. But Michael Mann's trademark knack for piecing together thrilling action sequences still shines, and decent performances from its diverse cast hold this together as a really solid genre movie.

 

 

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I have no idea what JUPITER ASCENDING was about. From the astral wolf romance to planetary invasions, I have no clue what any of the characters were doing or why any of the utter nonsense on-screen was going on. But you know what? I enjoyed it. There's some lovely, intricate design of worlds and ships and costumes, and the vivid imaginations of the Wachowskis is evident in every shot. I can't deny that I had fun - and who can say no to Eddie Redmayne as Emperor Ming?

 

 

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I'm not ashamed; I laughed all the way through MINIONS. It's cute and innocent and it has at least three billion references to British pop culture. It's pure slapstick joy. I've seen it three times and if I were stuck on a desert island with only this movie? You know, that would be okay.

 

 

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I was never a big fan of the Terminator films, and maybe that's why I liked this, but TERMINATOR GENISYS was at least fun. It's great to see Arnie back in the role after such a long gap, and the performances from Emilia Clarke and Lord Jai are not as terrible as they should be. In fact, that's the resounding theme here - it's nowhere near as rubbish as it ought to be. No, it doesn't add much if you've already seen the previous movies, but if you want to spend 2 hours watching Schwarzenegger's "Pops" reel off one-liners in machine-gun fashion, look no further.

 

 

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TOMORROWLAND is hugely flawed. Its ending is completely out of place, it's got plot holes you could fit an alternative universe in, and I don't quite buy into all of its characters. But you have to give it to Brad Bird for having the balls to make a movie like this, for making a film that looks down upon its audience for paying to watch this action blockbuster rather than going out and making their own. If you've seen the film, it won't surprise you why so many people dislike it, but it has values (from both a philosophical and cinematic point of view) that I can get behind, and the central cast are great. And any film that can pull off a relationship between a 10 year old and a 50 year old and not make it creepy is a film to be admired.

 

 

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Enslaved miners singing Nirvana. Flying pirate ships fighting Nazi bombers. PAN is the craziest version of J. M. Barrie's legendary story ever put to film, and as a result it's the best. This is how a fantasy dream world should be, and this should be the standard to which live-action kids movies adhere. My only complaint is that it ended.

 

 

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This was the first time I'd ever seen a dinosaur movie at the cinema. Needless to say, I was sceptical that JURASSIC WORLD could match the original, but after watching it three times on the big screen, it's safe to say it holds its own. Colin Trevorrow's cynical vision of what this theme park would be is brilliantly realised, and it's this picture of the park that makes the film stand on its own. It's absolutely accurate, and just seeing the attractions in working order is really something to marvel at. Of course, this is just the background - the real fun is the central family drama and the terrific action scenes. Watching this, I felt a vibe that made me giddy like a child, and for that it earns a place in this list.

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Dishonourably Discharged

 

And now the not-so-good.

 

 

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Okay, starting with the obvious here. #MORTDECAI really is as terrible as it looks. One minute into the film, you ask yourself if Johnny Depp is really going to talk through the film like this, and you realise that, unfortunately, indeed he will. Its "jokes" are preposterous, the actors are revolting, and everyone involved should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. I lost any expectations of Depp several years ago, but Paul Bettany, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Goldblum(!) and Olivia Munn should know better.

 

 

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NO ESCAPE is a zombie flick except the zombies are just Asian people. I mean, all Asian people want to do is kill us foreigners, right? This film is absurd, laughably offensive and simultaneously a pretty shoddy B-movie thriller. Even Pierce Brosnan can't save this stinker.

 

 

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It's such a shame to place this here. I love Star Wars - I love its characters, I love its worlds, I love its melodrama. Unfortunately, none of what I like was to be found in THE FORCE AWAKENS - a dull, uninspired cash-in that did nothing more than rehash George Lucas's masterful original film. Aside from the money, there is no point in this film. Like Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean and other franchises, this movie is the epitome of Hollywood simply making films for audiences that will lap up any old shit as long as it's got a brand on it. There are nearly no merits to this disappointing entry to the saga; all I can hope for is that future films can improve.

 

 

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THE VISIT. Oh my. Words can't describe this film. All I can say is that it is neither a comedy nor a horror; there is nothing in this film that makes any sense; and that this is M. Night Shyamalan's worst film yet. From Ed Oxenbould's ear-scraping rapping to the embarrassing attempt at a plot twist, this makes LADY IN THE WATER look like a masterpiece.

 

 

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I used to like Cameron Crowe very much. I've even tried to defend him in recent years despite some of his past few films. But ALOHA is the nail in the coffin - proof that Cameron Crowe not only should not be making films, but should probably be locked in a mental institution. This clusterfuck of a movie is hilariously terrible (Bill Murray's nuclear terrorist!?), yet kind of depressing at the same time (Emma Stone giving an awful performance?!). None of it makes sense, it's like Crowe made 15 different movies and then chopped them up and put them in any order and put this out without any additional editing.

 

THERE IS A SCENE IN WHICH TWO MEN LOOK AT EACH OTHER SILENTLY AND THEIR FACIAL EXPRESSIONS ARE SUBTITLED IN FLUID ENGLISH DIALOGUE. THIS BUILDS CHARACTER, APPARENTLY. Can there be any doubt that this is the worst film of the year?

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Nice write ups so far, I really liked JW too. had a write up for it so haha. I also thought Terminator was pretty underrated. not a masterpiece by any means. but a pretty fun film. and Tomorrowland was okay, not awful. but could have been a lot better imo.

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33.

Life

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LIFE tells the story behind Dennis Stock's now-iconic photo shoots with James Dean. It's the relationship between these two young men both trying to find their way in the world, told through two terrific, pure performances. The soft, almost damp cinematography makes the film feel delicate, much like a freshly printed photograph. Equally, the film is presented like a photoessay - we are taken from iconic frame to iconic frame, interchanged with tense, passionate conversations. Dane DeHaan is marvellous as Dean himself, although Robert Pattinson is just as good as the photographer trying to follow Dean around and expose his genius to the world.

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32.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

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I haven't liked any of Guy Ritchie's movies, to be honest. His films have always been shallow, pretentious or just plain dull. As such, I went into this film with just a little cynicism. What a pleasure, then, to be proven so wrong. This is a terrific blockbuster action-spy movie, and bests any attempt James Bond has made on screen. It's fun, it's funny, it's vibrant and colourful, the performances are all-around wonderful - put simply, Ritchie has upped his game by several steps. I fell in love with the characters of Illya Kuryakin and Napoleon Solo, both of whom were utterly convincing characters and performances from Hammer and Cavill. There's no crass sexism, there's no feeling that it's looking down on its audience, but instead inviting them to join in the fun. This is how all blockbusters should be!

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Interesting list so far. I didn't hate Star Wars but it's not hard for me to sympathize with that view of the film. Completely agreed on Jurassic World, though. Pure, cheesy fun and I lapped up every second of it.

 

I think I leaned more overtly negative on Tomorrowland. The aimlessness of the message was just too much for me. The opening scenes are just awful in how blatantly anvilicious they are, so much that the silly ending seemed restrained by comparison.

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31.

True Story

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TRUE STORY is a powerful film about justice and testimony. After Christian Longo is jailed for murdering his family, journalist Michael Finkel is drawn to investigate this alleged psychopath, hoping to find a new big story for himself after he is fired from the New York Times. What follows is a gripping drama between two men, each trying to decipher the other one. James Franco is truly creepy as Christian Longo, and Jonah Hill's natural naivety is used to great effect by director Rupert Goold. The film takes place in the harsh landscape of winter in Montana, and Nietzschean ideas of looking into the abyss make for an effective, chilling movie. It's Goold's first theatrical film, and I have heard arguments that it feels like a TV movie, but I saw it in the cinema and I'm very glad I did. It's a small film that in another year I might have missed.

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Well so far there are films I like and films I very much do not like coming up hand in hand, so I will reserve judgement on my opinion on the whole list :D

 

Nice to see another one start up though :)

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I wanted to like Man From UNCLE.. and I did but just barely and I felt it went on a little too long and was slightly boring. Cavill and Hammer did have great chemistry though and are probably the main thing that kept me from disliking it.

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30.

Magic Mike XXL

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The first Magic Mike was a surprisingly low-key drama about the home life of two strippers, and although I found it more interesting than I had expected, I also thought it was a bit dull. In contrast, the sequel lightens up a bit and is pure joy to behold. It's a simple movie about a group of people who just want to make others feel happy. It's fun, the characters are all people you just want to be around, and if you don't cry with happiness at least ~3 times, I might question your humanity. This really surprised me; I thought it would be dumb and shallow, nothing but an attempt to get some women to ogle bare-chested men, but it's really quite delightful. Joe Manganiello's show-stopping scene in a petrol station might be my favourite two minutes of anything on screen last year.

 

 

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29.

Sisters

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I went into this movie with no expectations - I didn't know what it was about, hadn't watched the trailer, and there were no reviews yet. It turns out that this it's not only really funny, but the central duo are well rounded characters that I genuinely cared about. This is particularly helped by the terrific performance of Tina Fey, who brings a surprising layer of subtlety to her character. The other thing I found impressive is the director's ability to manipulate the jokes; there are jokes which get dragged out for several minutes, and yet I was still laughing. At one point it felt like the film was asking me to laugh, then me laughing, then the film laughing at me for laughing in such poor taste. It's a little hard to explain, but Jason Moore really does a great job, as there are plenty of scenes that in other films I would have found dull and exploitative. It's a straight-up comedy that works on its own terms, and packs an emotional punch too.

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28.

The Forger

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It might only hold a 6% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but for me, it was a little gem of a movie. Powered by a sensational, nuanced side of John Travolta that's seldom shown on film, it's a drama about a father trying to make the most of his time with his terminally ill son. 7 years ago Travolta lost his real son, and it's likely because of that that he comes across as so real here. His eyes have a dying look of passion and sadness; it's really something to behold, and should be celebrated. The film around him is rock solid, it takes its time with the characters and their situations, to make for an authentic drama. 

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27.

In the Heart of the Sea

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Another film that I was hesitant to see, but glad that I did. There's not a lot of happiness in this survival tale, and at some points it's even rather gruesome. The whale that chases the Essex makes the movie relentless, and there is death all around this film. Yet within their harsh adventures, the sailors must make peace with nature and choose their fate - which makes the film feel somewhat spiritual, and touching. There are impressive setpieces with particularly a great effort from cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle. The central performances from Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker and Cillian Murphy are great - Hemsworth and Walker play two men dueling for control of the voyage - a rivalry which is scaled up many times over once they realise that there may be bigger fish to fry. But the star of the show is Brendan Gleeson, in what a great supporting role should do - have an integral, but small, importance to the plot, but be performed so well that it lifts the film to another level. Although he is only in a few scenes, Gleeson's performance is enough to give you a thorough understanding of his character's feelings of upset and guilt. This all comes together to be an intriguing and enthralling voyage of a movie.

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26.

Bill

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The first family film that I consider one of my favourites from 2015 is this terrific feature-film adaptation of the TV version of the wonderful Horrible Histories books that I grew up with. For those unfamiliar, Horrible Histories is a staple of children's historical education here in the UK; they are massively popular books that make history digestible and funny. The TV show is a modern-day Blackadder, and this movie is every bit as good as that might sound. It's Shakespeare's origin story, although the plot is not particularly relevant to my enjoyment of the film. Every member of the ensemble cast is tremendous, jokes are flung across the room at rapid fire pace and they all hit, and aesthetically it is a great portrayal of the Shakespearean era. But what I love most about it is that although it's sold as a "kids film", it can be enjoyed by audiences from age 7 to 77. I felt like a giddy child in history class.

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Remarkable Visual Design

 

So now, a little celebration of some of the terrific efforts in 2015 by set designers, cinematographers, costume and makeup designers, and of course visual effects designers and animators - and all the thousands of people who dedicate their working lives to giving us such rich visual experiences. Film is an inherently visual medium, and as such this element of movies should not go unmentioned.

 

 

 

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The biggest reason I enjoyed JURASSIC WORLD so much was the fact that it truly brought the park to life, and this is demonstrated mostly through its visual design. The cheap, tacky, plastic look to this consumerist theme park makes it feel truly authentic and is a genuine wonder to behold. 

 

The detail that went into producing buildings, signs, merchandise and much more is super impressive. This is all under the helm of the immensely talented Ed Verreaux. I particularly loved the petting zoo.

 

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Not to mention ILM's stunning technical work with the dinosaurs themselves:

 

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...and shot by John Schwartzman, who gives the park a sun-drenched look, and gives a real 'awe' factor to the dinos.

 

 

 

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The team behind Robert Zemeckis's THE WALK truly innovated with 3D conversion technology. I have always found 3D to be gimmick, regardless of how the movie was filmed, but this film is - in my view - the first movie to ever justify the use of 3D. I felt sick looking down at the ground as Joseph Gordon-Levitt walked the tightrope - and that is a real achievement. Hopefully more movies like this will get made. It might not have set the box office on fire, but this is really pushing boundaries with its use of depth.

 

 

 

 

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Say what you want about CRIMSON PEAK but to look at, it is astonishing. The house is nothing short of extraordinary, and you want to gaze at its every nook and cranny for hours. Thomas Sanders and Brandt Gordon lead the art direction and it's unquestionably the pinnacle of their careers. Since watching (and rewatching) the film, I have scrolled through Google Images just looking at the work on display here. Kate Hawley's period costumes are wonderful and are used in great storytelling form.

 

 

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Beautiful costume design:

 

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And Tom Hiddleston is Hot Stuff in ghost form (spoilers, oops.)

 

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The animation and design in STRANGE MAGIC is wonderful. Lucas's team created a splendid, gorgeous, magical fantasy realm and on a massive cinema screen it is glorious. Animation wise, this is the most photorealistic I've seen in a film; it's far superior to Pixar's (also impressive) THE GOOD DINOSAUR.

I have a real weak spot for this type of basic fairy fantasy art style, and this film tickled me good.

 

The characters are unique and look like they are creations from the late Jim Henson. The film as a whole feels like a spiritual successor to LABYRINTH (which, of course, Lucas worked on), and this is brilliantly executed in its visual design. 

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2D animation in 2015 was just as fantastic, though -

 

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THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA is a story told through watercolours; hand-drawn etches give the film a feeling of ambiguity and fluidity, and help make it feel like a legend. Not every detail is filled in, and there's empty space - who knows what could be there? The drawings shimmer and flicker, for it is a story not set in stone, but one which is up to the viewer to understand. CG has come a long way and 2015 has been a tremendous year for animation of all sorts, but I'm so glad that hand-drawn films like this can still coexist.

 

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