30 December 2015

The Must See Films of 2015

Wow, and I thought that 2014 had been pretty great. It's been another fantastic year for cinema in 2015, a fairly consistent quality (bar a few stinkers) interrupted by soaring highs at frequent intervals, from films that have showcased new talent in-front and behind the camera to films that prove there is still life in long-running or dormant franchises. Box office be damned, we're talking pure quality here, and it's worth being able to know which films you should have seen in 2015.

As such, below is a list of films that I would consider the "Must See" films released in the UK in 2015. These aren't necessarily the best films of the year, the most artistic or the most "worthy" - these are just great films that I can see having a certain amount of longevity to them, films that impress in a variety of different ways by doing something or multiple things so well that it would a crying shame to have missed out on them.

Bearing in mind that I haven't seen every film released this year, in release date order...


A film about both the risks and rewards of extreme ambition, Whiplash follows aspiring jazz drummer Andrew Neiman as he is tutored by esteemed conductor Terence Fletcher at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory. With brilliant performances from both Miles Teller and J K Simmons, a great jazz soundtrack and a director who manages to make an extended drum solo one of the most captivating sequences of 2015, Whiplash was an early addition to this list and has firmly remained here ever since.

You can read my full review of Whiplash here.

Ex Machina

Following computer programmer Caleb and he performs a Turing Test on Ava, an artificial intelligence created by Caleb's genius billionaire boss, Ex Machina is nothing short of a truly great film. Like all the best science fiction films, Ex Machina focuses on one core concept and fully explores that (in this instance the question of what it means to be human and whether that is even something we should be aiming for), and first time director Alex Garland helps elevate an already intelligent, well-written film with great performances from his small cast and a perfect sense of tone and pacing. The result? A great piece of Black Mirror-esque science fiction that is sure to stick in your mind for a long time to come.

You can read my full review of Ex Machina here.


Mad Max: Fury Road

Obviously. I mean, obviously - anyone who has seen Mad Max: Fury Road can support its inclusion on this list, the return of director George Miller to the Mad Max franchise offering one of the most purely cinematic experiences of not just 2015 but the entire decade so far, maybe even longer. An extended car chase which sees Max team up with Imperator Furiosa in order to ensure the freedom of a group of women who belonged to warlord Immortan Joe, Mad Max: Fury Road has everything you could ask for from a film, from outstanding and imaginative action to meaningful subtext to beautiful cinematography to a palpable sense of world building, all wrapped up in one of the most finely tuned, instantly memorable and well crafted films I've ever seen. Oh, what a film. What a lovely film.

You can read my full review of Mad Max: Fury Road here.


In spite of the overwhelming onslaught of superhero films that are the flooding the market in cinema today (nearly 3 in 2015!), Ant-Man offers a fresh perspective on the genre by positioning itself as a comedy heist film first and foremost. We follow cat burglar Scott Lang as he teams up with ageing scientist Hank Pym and Hank's daughter Hope Van Dyme to destroy a new technology that Darren Cross, CEO of Cross Technologies, is creating in spite of the dangers that it poses. Acting as an antidote of sorts to the somewhat bloated Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man is a focused and appropriately small scale film that is filled with imagination and a hilarious sense of humour, one that despite well reported behind-the-scenes issues still manages to end up as one of the best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far.

You can read my full review of Ant-Man here.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

I certainly didn't expect this either, but in a year filled with spy films Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation ended up being the best one. You know the drill by now - disavowed by the IMF, Ethan Hunt must complete a series of daring and difficult set pieces in order to stop Bad Guy from doing Bad Thing, but with Christopher McQuarrie taking over directorial duties after Brad Bird turned the franchise around in its previous instalment, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation continues to move the series from strength to strength. Between the return of one the strongest ensemble casts in films at the moment, some of the best set pieces that the franchise has ever produced and a sense of fun that is sorely lacking from its biggest competitor, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is simply a great action blockbuster that is sure to entertain.

You can read my full review of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation here.

The Martian

Is there a word that sums up The Martian better than "triumphant"? A film all about hope in the face of overwhelming odds and the nature of the human spirit, The Martian follows astronaut Mark Watney as he tries to survive alone on Mars after being stranded there. Based on the book of the same name, Drew Goddard's screenplay ensures that The Martian avoids the darker tone that the premise inherently skews towards and allows director Ridley Scott to deliver his most optimistic and positive film to date - this is a film that fully believes in humanity as a species, one that knows that we can succeed at anything if we really try, and not just through dumb luck.

You can read my full review of The Martian here.

Crimson Peak

Generally, I'm not a fan of horror films, but Crimson Peak is not what you would call a horror film - at least, not in the traditional sense. Following aspiring writer Edith Cushing as she marries Sir Thomas Sharpe and moves to England to live in the dilapidated Allerdale Hall with his sister, Lucille Sharpe, Crimson Peak is best described as Gothic fiction, a combination of a supernatural horror film and a 19th Century period piece that results in an vivid, atmospheric and engaging movie that must be the most visually impressive film of the year - something entirely Del Toro, in other words.

You can read my full review of Crimson Peak here.

And here are some honourable mentions, films released in 2015 that might not quite be "Must See", but are still worth a watch for one reason or another.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - Despite both the initial critical acclaim and the almost immediate backlash that Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) has seen, it remains a technically fascinating film that works much better as an interesting character piece than it does a cynical mouthpiece. Full review here.

Kingsman: The Secret Service - Just barely missing out on "Must See" status, Kingsman: The Secret Service sees director Matthew Vaughn reunite with screenwriter Jane Goldman to deliver an action packed and incredibly fun tribute to (and dissection of) the spy film, particularly those of the James Bond franchise. That church scene, you guys. That church scene. Full review here.

Big Hero 6 - A vivid, imaginative and hugely enjoyable animated film centred around a group of scientifically minded superheroes known as Big Hero 6. The animated film of the year, in my opinion. Full review here.

Avengers: Age of Ultron - The return of the Avengers is a consistently fun and narratively interesting film that just falls short of greatness, mostly thanks to the way that it tries to juggle too many balls at once as it acts as both a sequel to several films and set up for several more. Full review here.

Beasts of No Nation - Based on the novel of the same name, Cary Fukunaga (directors of the first season of True Detective) shows us the life of child soldiers in a film as uncompromising as it is harrowing. Full review here.

Bridge of Spies - The true story of American lawyer James Donovan as negotiates a transfer of prisoners between the USA and Soviet Russia during the Cold War is an extremely engaging film from one of most widely praised directors still working today. Full review here.

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