This is it, folks. The biggest year ever for film (until next year) is over, and only five have made our top cut for the absolute best to come out of it. Which ones have prevailed? What singular project has made it to #1? Why isn’t Mortdecai on here? To answer that last question: it’s shite. And to answer the other questions…

5 – CAROL

This year, the most affectionate and believable romantic couple wasn’t heterosexual.

Director Todd Haynes’ drama is beautiful in every sense of the word, whether it’s capturing the breathtaking lead romance between Rooney Mara’s spritely young store clerk and Cate Blanchett’s older divorcee, or the time capsule environment of mid-winter New York during the 1950s. It is more than just arthouse fodder, it leaves you with an overwhelmingly warm feeling inside as these two very different women grow closer and closer together, forming a special bond that soon grows into something much more passionate.

Both actresses, of course, are excellent (with Mara perhaps delivering the stronger performance; there’s something about the way she looks that feels distinctly other-worldly, and all the better for it) while Haynes continues exploring his regular themes of love and loss in new and bold ways, one that original author Patricia Highsmith – whose book The Price of Salt formed the basis of this film – would be proud of.

A new romantic classic whichever way you look at it, Carol is bound to both arouse and move all types of couples looking for a good film to watch together.

4 – EX MACHINA

Released back in January, writer Alex Garland’s directorial debut is by far the oldest film on this list – so the fact that it’s managed to stay within the top five throughout the whole year, let alone near the #1 spot, is a huge testament to how truly fantastic this film is.

Garland’s tale of artificial intelligence and human trust is startlingly original and refreshingly minimalist – with only three main actors throughout the entire film (Alicia Vikander, and Star Wars co-stars Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson) in the singular location of a hidden fortress right out of a Kubrick film, it manages to tell a thrilling story while also finding time to develop and humanise three very different but equally interesting characters, all within a reasonable hour-and-three-quarters. We won’t spoil the many surprises it has in store, but we will definitely say that the final few scenes will leave you breathless.

It’s also a fantastic debut for Garland as a filmmaker; the novelist and part-time screenwriter for films like Dredd and 28 Days Later doesn’t just let the words tell the story but also the imagery, a trap that other writers-turned-filmmakers tend to get stuck in; he allows the claustrophobic cinematography and the incredible visual effects used to bring Vikander’s robot Ava to life to honour the classic filmmaking rule of “show, don’t tell”, and sometimes just lets the eyes do the work for your ears.

It’s truly awe-inspiring stuff, and highly worth checking out as soon as you are able to; it deserves a lot of love to complement its endlessly intriguing mechanics…

3 – STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

Maybe it’s because the excitement is still bubbling like mad inside of us for this to be ranked slightly highter than Ex Machina, but it’s here nonetheless because it’s perhaps the only film this year that managed to meet our already high expectations (it was #1 on our Most Anticipated of 2015 list last year), and also surpass them.

Giving hardcore fans and general audiences exactly what they wanted out of a Star Wars movie, J.J. Abrams and his mighty cast and crew put their all into making the best film possible, one surrounded by tidal waves of hype from the moment it was first announced, and the results are truly spectacular blockbuster entertainment.

For the first time in over thirty years, we were re-introduced to Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess General Leia Organa and many other classic characters – many of whom seem to thankfully be their same old selves even after all these years – while also meeting new characters that turned out to be just as strong and likable, with Daisy Ridley’s Rey being a particular highlight. All of them are wonderfully realised by a strong script by Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt which, though prone to repeating certain plot threads from past films in the saga, took the very principle of Star Wars and made it exciting and fun again.

In a year where not a lot of hyped-up blockbusters necessarily met their mark (Jurassic World is a prime example of that), Star Wars: The Force Awakens is one that most certainly did for a good majority of people – and even made this reviewer a very happy bunny, which you can read more about in our spoiler-free and very personal review here.

As fantastic as it is in terms of entertainment and excitement, however, it’s only #3 on this list because there just happened to be two other films which were technically better. But the fact that it’s ranked #3 on any kind of list like this is a miracle in and of itself, especially after a prequel trilogy where trade negotiations and offensive racial stereotypes (among other things) were once confused for genuine intrigue.

It truly is wonderful, either way, to know that Star Wars is, once and for all, back…

2 – INSIDE OUT

Objectively, this is the BEST film of the year.

It has everything you could want as an average filmgoer; bright colours, fun characters, beautiful imagery, perfect writing, lovely music, laugh-out-loud humour, and a story that is both simple and complex at the same time.

It’s Pixar back on top after a few years of lulled projects that never wholly took off (even The Good Dinosaur, the animation giant’s second offering of the year and is honestly fine but flawed, wasn’t able to reach the heights of Toy Story, Finding Nemo or even this), and it represents their most creative and thoughtful ideas sparkling together to make one hell of an awesome experience that literally anyone can enjoy.

It is also, to get on a more personal note, the first Pixar film to legitimately make us cry. We made it through the first ten minutes of Up, we even held it together for Toy Story 3, but it was this one that broke us, in the best possible way. What it does with this incredible set-up – being set within the mind of a young girl, with her emotions as the main characters – leads to a truly heartfelt moral, one that is so deep and, yes, emotional that it’s hard not to get a little steamy-eyed yourself. We also may have shed a tear for a certain character and their brave sacrifice, much to the astonishment of the much younger audience we saw this film with (how amazed, and confused, they must have been that a grown-up would shed tears for such a character designed specifically for young children).

Some great vocal work from the likes of Amy Poehler, Bill Hader and Lewis Black among others, highly creative suggestions of how the mind operates from dreams to memory banks (there’s a reason you keep remembering that irritatingly catchy jingle from TV), funny moments, sad moments, in-between moments, Inside Out has it all.

So, you’re probably asking yourself: why the hell is it at #2?

In all honesty, this list – and by extension the Worst Of list too – is comprised of films that grabbed our attention us from the start of the year to its end, but not necessarily in the right order. Like all film criticism, it’s entirely subjective; what we perceive to be the absolute best or worst of the year in regards to storytelling, writing etc isn’t necessarily what comes out on top. It’s which films drive our emotions the strongest that end up winning the day, whether they be feelings of excitement or pure anger.

Looking at the recent Worst Of list as an example, from a technical standpoint Unfinished Business is the worst film of the year – it has the worst writing, directing, acting et al of anything we saw all throughout 2015, and is in general a pitiful excuse of a movie as a whole. However, it ended up ranking second on that list because Pan filled us with more anger than Unfinished Business ended up doing; the fact that such a dear story was being sodomised with all the things we went through in that list just filled us with more contempt, and that anger (as well as a much higher budget) ended up making it our most hated of the year.

Bringing it back to this particular list, it’s almost parallel with these top two films. Inside Out, by all accounts, is the stronger movie than our #1 choice; we felt that out of everything we saw this year it had the better grasp on story, character, writing, and whatever else makes a great film even greater.

But, once again, our emotions told a different story this year. While we loved Inside Out, and do still consider it the BEST film of the year, only one film would eventually surpass even that to become our FAVOURITE film of the year.

And judging by its mysterious non-presence on this list so far, we reckon you know all too well which one it is.

1 – MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Of course it is.

There’s no denying it, this is the action spectacle that we not only wanted all these years, but the one that we NEEDED. And to say it delivered is perhaps the understatement of the past 365 days.

George Miller somehow managed to make a two-hour long chase sequence entirely captivating and never boring, a feat that the likes of Michael Bay and the like could only dream of doing. Everything from the practical stunt work to the endlessly hyperactive and kinetic energy of the filmmaking makes this a truly unique experience to behold, really unlike anything else we’ve seen all year. Even amidst the likes of Inside Out, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and all the other great movies on this list, we’re hard-pressed to think of one that gave us just as much a pure thrill from start to finish, and yet taking the right amount of time to calm down and let its audience breathe.

It takes many risks, including having Tom Hardy’s Max not be the absolute main character like he is in the previous films – he’s just there, caught up in this particular story through pure circumstance. This, to the delight of us more open-minded folk, enraged the Men’s Rights Activist community to a point where they actually boycotted the film because Max was taking orders from <gasp!> A WOMAN?!?!  One that is just as capable if not more so than any of the men in this movie, alongside a further couple of groups of women that are actually really interesting characters in their own rights, again more so than most of the male characters in this movie?! “Most unorthodox!,” the chauvinist throats of the MRA cried out collectively, not remembering how Max did THE EXACT  SAME THING when he approached Tina Turner for work in Beyond Thunderdome, and was even open with his feelings in the very first Mad Max movie.

You know what, you meninist morons? Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, an instantly iconic character in her own right, is a far more masculine figure than you will ever be with your increasingly outdated ideologies, and one that is far more adept and badass with handling multiple action scenes than the good majority of the MALE action leads all year. If Furiosa’s might and power is anything to go by, then your meninist days are seriously numbered.

Needless to say, the female angle of this film is not only handled wonderfully but also in a way that really made people open up more about gender politics in the film industry. We went on about that in our Suffragette analysis on this list, but we feel that this film, and specifically its widely-applauded handling of women in action, was highly instrumental in causing a radical change in the way studios thought about better representing women in film this year. Even better, they can’t make the argument that because it didn’t open at #1 at the box office opening weekend, people don’t want to see more female-centric projects in mainstream cinema, because you know what DID make #1 that weekend? Pitch Perfect 2, which not only starred women but was also written and directed by women, and that ended up being one of the higher-grossing films of the summer. What we’re getting at is, Mad Max: Fury Road – which, by the way, did end up making quite a bit of money at the box office as well – has really set the bar as high as it needed to be to better represent women in the action genre much better than they have done in the past, and we’re all for that regardless of how this movie would have turned out.

What else can we say about it? It has incredible action, some stunning cinematography (who’d have thought that the sandy desert could be so colourful?), intense imagery, awe-inspiring creativity, a much-needed update on female roles in action that has inspired endless debate about gender politics in film, and many more qualities we haven’t even yet touched upon. But it’s more than enough to make Mad Max: Fury Road the quintessential, not to mention the best, film of the year, just for how influential it has already become in representing action in ways that it needs to represent, and for the wild and crazy ride it will give anyone who lays eyes on it.

Take it away, Nicholas Hoult:


 

And with that, our annual look back on the Best and Worst of the year draws to a close! If you want to share your own picks for the year’s best, then feel free to do so in the comments section below or on our Facebook and Twitter pages!

If you’re eager for a full recap of the Best, check out #15-11 here, and #10-6 here!

But we’re not finished JUST yet – click here where, to mark the start of a brand-new year of film, we take a quick look at the ten biggest films to keep an eye out over the next twelve months…