From Hollywood blockbuster to independent cinema, 2015 is packed with a number of great movies that deserved to be recognised here. Without further ado, here is my own list of the top 10 best movies of 2015.
10. The Walk
In 2008, James Marsh did a great job transforming Philippe Petit’s true story of his wire-walking experience into a remarkable award-winning documentary in Man on Wire. Then came Robert Zemeckis, who successfully recapture the same event in a narrative format with the help of his co-writer Christopher Browne. It was a stunning cinematic experience best experienced in the IMAX 3D format, particularly during the final 20 minutes set atop the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives an excellent performance as the young Philippe Petit, and so do the rest of the supporting cast.
9. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
For almost 20 years, the Mission: Impossible franchise has undergone a varying degree of success with different directors on each instalment. In this fifth movie, Christopher McQuarrie takes up the challenge and successfully creates one of the best yet most exciting Mission: Impossible movies ever made. A triumph in sound and visual, the action is well-staged that favours a lot of practical stunts and less CGI. From the opening plane takeoff scene to the Morocco-set elaborate set pieces that involve underwater, car and motorcycle, this is the kind of Hollywood blockbuster best experienced in the cinema. At 53 years old, Tom Cruise shows little sign of slowing down. Instead, he continues to defy his age by performing most of his own dangerous stunts, while still oozes charisma playing his iconic role as Ethan Hunt. Rebecca Ferguson, in the meantime, nearly steals the show as Ilsa Faust.
A crime thriller involving US-Mexican drug war is nothing new, but French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) manages to craft a solid effort in Sicario. First up, the movie is technically impressive. Johann Johannsson’s drone-heavy score is both haunting and mesmerising, while Roger Deakins’ crisp lensing is equally top-notch. Whether it was the bird’s-eye view of the seedy Mexico landscape or the night-vision scene, Deakins has his unique way of delivering arresting cinematography. The action is tense and well-staged, particularly during a memorable scene set in the US-Mexico border. As the only female protagonist in this otherwise testosterone-driven crime thriller, Emily Blunt manages to stand out alongside his male co-stars. Benicio Del Toro fares even better, delivering one of his best-supporting roles to date since Traffic (2000).
7. Ex Machina
Easily the best science-fiction movie in 2015, it’s a shame that Alex Garland’s directorial debut (best known for writing 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Dredd) in Ex Machina doesn’t have sufficient mainstream exposure to reach wider audiences in the US. Although the theme about artificial intelligence is nothing new, Garland manages to subvert this otherwise familiar genre movie with an engrossing mix of cerebral chamber drama (since the movie is set almost entirely in a remote home/research facility) and psychological-thriller territory. All three actors are impeccably acted, beginning with Swedish actress Alicia Vikander’s breakthrough performance as the elusive human-robot Ava. Domhnall Gleeson is spot-on as the intelligent but naive programmer Caleb Smith, while Oscar Isaac is wonderfully eccentric as a reclusive tech genius Nathan Bateman.
Already a critical darling in numerous film festivals and awards circuit, this fact-based drama involving a small team of Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” journalists (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James) uncovers a massive scandal of the Catholic Church’s child molestation and cover-up is one of the best movies about investigative journalism that ranked alongside All the President’s Men (1976). Tom McCarthy’s direction is well-paced and captivating while managing to bring out the best in each of his ensemble cast.
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
A big-budget blockbuster plagued with a troubled production history often spells disaster, but George Miller’s long-delayed Mad Max: Fury Road manages to defy all odds and successfully created one of the best action movies in years. Unlike most effect-heavy action genre these days, Mad Max: Fury Road is all about real stunts. Whether it was the vehicular mayhem or hand-to-hand combats, every action scene in this movie is impressively staged to visceral perfection. While Tom Hardy made quite an impression as the new Max Rockatansky, it was Charlize Theron that excels the most with her robust performance as Imperator Furiosa. But what makes this fourth instalment of the Mad Max series even more unique is the refreshing feminist angle rarely seen in the normally male-centric post-apocalyptic genre.
4. 99 Homes
Writer-director Ramin Bahrani’s brutally honest look at America’s 2008 housing crisis in 99 Homes is a compelling eviction drama staged like a thriller, complete with urgent pace and handheld camerawork. Andrew Garfield gives a superb performance as the struggling single father who tries to earn as much money as he can after losing his home to the bank. But this movie really belongs to Michael Shannon, whose performance as the ruthless real-estate agent is simply electrifying.
3. The Revenant
Following his multiple Oscar wins in Birdman (2014), Alejandro G. Iñárritu returns with another cinematic knockout in the form of The Revenant. Based on Michael Punke’s 2002 novel, this brutal survival drama tells a harrowing story of the real-life 19th-century frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), who ends up being mauled by a grizzly bear. Yet, Glass miraculously managed to survive the attack and subsequently goes on a revenge quest to hunt down John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), the fellow hunter who left him to die in the first place. Although the basis of the story is nothing more than a simple tale of survival and vengeance, the beauty of this movie lies in Iñárritu’s muscular direction and Emmanuel Lubezki’s mesmerising cinematography. Shot almost entirely with natural light under erratic weather condition in the freezing wilderness of Argentina and Canada, The Revenant is visually stunning. The camerawork is equally top-notch, with lots of roving Steadicam shots and long takes. The movie is also best remembered for its terrifying bear attack scene and Leonardo DiCaprio’s no-holds-barred performance as Hugh Glass.
Perhaps no movies in 2015 come close as gut-wrenching and heartbreaking as novelist/screenwriter Emma Donoghue and director Lenny Abrahamson manages to prove in their critically-acclaimed indie drama, Room. Told entirely from the perspective from a five-year-old boy named Jack (Jacob Tremblay), he spent most of his early childhood in the confines of a small room with his mother (Brie Larson) after being captured by an abductor (Sean Bridgers). The boy has little knowledge about the outside world, until one day his mother helps him escape. Abduction drama is a dime a dozen, but what makes this movie a deeply moving experience is the aftermath and consequences of readjusting one’s life facing the outside world for the first time after years of captivity. The acting is simply remarkable, with a pair of tour de force performances from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay.
1. The Hateful Eight
After the critical and financial success of Django Unchained in 2012, writer-director Quentin Tarantino continues to embrace his filmmaking journey into Western-movie territory. While Django Unchained is a tribute to spaghetti western, The Hateful Eight is more of a tense chamber drama that echoes the similarity of Tarantino’s first movie of Reservoir Dogs (1992). Shot on a rare Ultra Panavision 70 format by Tarantino’s regular collaborator Robert Richardson, The Hateful Eight is packed with sweeping vista (particularly during the extended opening shot of the snowbound landscape). Fueled by a strong ensemble cast (Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, et al.) and a memorable score by the legendary Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight is unlike any Western movie you have seen before in recent memory. Once again, Tarantino proves to be a master of subverting different genres into one movie. Here, it’s an odd but fascinating Western movie that mixes John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939) and Agatha Christie-like whodunit mystery, with a dash of Sam Peckinpah’s orgy of blood and violence. Also, look out for the classic Tarantino moment where Samuel L. Jackson delivers a long monologue that you have to see it for yourself.