Year In Review: Saam Das' Top Ten Films Of 2015

on Sunday, February 28, 2016
Words: Saam Das

The 2016 Oscars are imminent, celebrating the best in film during 2015, so I figure that despite the relative lateness, I can still present my favourite ten films of the past year. I caught about 75 films released in UK cinemas in 2015 from January's eventual Best Picture Oscar winner 'Birdman' to December's 'Star Wars Episode VII. Both of which are worth a watch but neither of which made my best films of 2015:

10: 'Big Hero 6'

'Big Hero 6' mixed the adventure and superhero action of 'The Incredibles' with the heart of similar efforts like 'The Iron Giant' and 'How To Train Your Dragon'. Where this animation exceeded its counterparts was in its incredible visuals as well as its humour, with the interactions between Baymax and lead protagonist Hiro often proving highly amusing for adults and children alike. The wonderful accompanying dog-based short, 'Feast', was an added bonus.

9: 'Cobain: Montage Of Heck'

Skilfully transposing Kurt Cobain's childhood struggles and subsequent inability to cope with the pressure of being an unwilling spokesperson for a disaffected generation, Brett Morgen's documentary also provided a new insight into the musician's life thanks to unparalleled access to Cobain's family and archives. Hisko Hulsing's incredible animated interludes brought Cobain's journals and writings to life, rounding out a compelling portrait of the enduring teen icon.

8: 'The Fear Of 13'

David Sington's wide-eyed 'In The Shadow Of The Moon' was one of the finest documentaries to appear in the last ten years, and his latest film was a similarly impressive effort - albeit in a very different context. 'The Fear Of 13' focusses on the life of a Death Row prisoner, who perhaps surprisingly is himself the driving force of the film. His story is ambitiously delivered via monologue but the execution is superb - moving and exhilarating. One of the best films I caught at the 2015 BFI London Film Festival.

7: 'Steve Jobs'

It's difficult to imagine a project that combines the might of Danny Boyle, Aaron Sorkin, Michael Fassbender, and Kate Winslet being anything other than fan-bloody-tastic. 'Steve Jobs', the latest biopic of the Apple marketing guru, meets the high expectations. Unfortunately audiences didn't flock to see the film but they missed out. Sorkin's whip-smart script was accompanied by a dynamism provided by Boyle, resulting in something that was positively vibrant.

6: 'Still Alice'

Julianne Moore's heartfelt performance as an early onset Alzheimer's patient saw her deservedly come away with the Academy Award for Best Actress last year. Her portrayal echoed the film - sensitive without being overly sentimental. Directors Richard Glatzer and his husband Wash Westmoreland brought a poignancy to proceedings, perhaps in light of their own circumstances, as the former was living with ALS at the time. Sadly, Glatzer passed away in March 2015 as a result of the disease.

5: 'Son Of A Gun'

Writer-director Julius Avery's feature debut, 'Son Of A Gun', went somewhat unfairly under the radar in 2015. A young offender-centred crime drama that saw Brenton Thwaites as new prisoner JR, finding himself under the watchful eye of Ewan McGregor's commanding Brendan. JR's new association embedded him deep within the thrills of mob life (including feisty interactions with Alicia Vikander, Oscar nominated for her subsequent role in 'The Danish Girl') but forced to also pay a necessary price through criminal actions. The tropes may be tried and tested but Avery's direction was taut, showcasing the action set pieces particularly well.

4: 'The Martian'

There was something particularly gripping and enjoyable about Ridley Scott's latest space-based survival feature, perhaps largely because it felt like 2015's bonafide blockbuster. The 'Alien' director adaptation of Andy Weir's novel, saw Matt Damon as an astronaut left behind on a Mars mission, presumed dead. Screenwriter Drew Goddard offered a similar sharpness in his script to the humour that won the original novel praise - delivered with aplomb by Damon, who carried much of the film on his Martian shoulders. Both Damon and Goddard received Oscar nods, and the film received seven nominations in total, the most behind 'The Revenant' and 'Mad Max: Fury Road'.

3: 'Straight Outta Compton'

The 2016 Oscars might be mired in a race controversy (which, at the heart of it, is more of a ground roots issue of a lack of casting opportunities than missed nominations) but NWA biopic 'Straight Outta Compton' at least received some recognition - with a Best Original Screenplay nom. Except all the screenwriters are white, and omitted some particularly nasty things about the band from the film. But that's an aside, as director F Gary Gray felt like the driving force behind this incendiary effort, delivering one of the finest music films to have made it to the big screens.

2: 'The Look Of Silence'

Joshua Oppenheimer's 2013 'The Act Of Killing' was one of the most striking and acclaimed documentaries of recent times, as he vividly recreated the slaughter of Indonesian dissidents in the 1960s, engaging the seemingly unrepentant murderers in roleplay. His follow-up proved even more powerful than its predecessor, focussing on a family who suffered personal loss at the hands of their neighbours.

The quest for justice or even an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and remorse was no more satisfying in 'The Look Of Silence' than 'The Act Of Killing' - indeed, it was arguably more frustrating in this follow-up. The anguish at its heart felt haunting, reflected even in the end credits, where most of the crew were listed as anonymous for fear of reprisal. An Oscar triumph in the Best Documentary category would be most welcome.

1: 'X+Y'

I doubt you'll find Morgan Matthews' film on too many Best Of 2015 lists but I'd like to think that's because a) it's called 'A Brilliant Young Mind' in the US for some absurd reason, b) not enough people saw it, and c) some saw it first in 2014, like I did, when it wowed me at the BFI London Film Festival.

Matthews expanded his 2007 BAFTA-nominated 'Beautiful Young Minds' documentary into a dramatic feature, starring Asa Butterfield as Nathan, a teen maths prodigy on the autistic spectrum. Aided by his amusing but physically deteriorating tutor (Rafe Spall), we follow Nathan on his quest to compete in the International Mathematical Olympiad, while struggling to connect with his single mother (Sally Hawkins).

Nathan's journey also explores young love and Danny Cohen's hazy cinematography and James Graham's taut screenplay appropriately showcase his comfort in numbers and colours over human communication and emotion. The mixture of a Keaton Henson-heavy soundtrack ('Elevator Song' providing a particularly emotive backing) and original compositions from Martin Phipps's Mearl project add further strings to the bow, and the result is a thoroughly moving piece of cinema.

After all, it's not often that I've found myself crying as a result of someone (else) finally being able to solve a maths problem.

Read more of our Best Of 2015 features here. Saam also contributed to the 2015 HeyUGuys blogger poll.

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