It’s Christmas Day. The year that was 2015 is about to come to an end, which means it’s time for we at BuzzHub to publish our annual Best & Worst Films of the Year article, an epic detailing of every motion picture release we watched and reviewed from January to December and reveal what we loved and loathed. There’s no better guide to 2015 movies than this…
Firstly, here are our Men and Women of the year (the film industry names who dominated our consciousness with their work throughout 2015):
This year’s #MenOfTheYear are three actors who caught have the world’s attention over a number of years, but have truly become stars this year with the release of key projects. Michael Fassbender is electric (and a major Oscar contender) in Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs, and also appeared in the critically-renowned Slow West and Macbeth. Next year he will feature in even more projects, including X-Men: Apocalypse, which will co-star Oscar Isaac, an intense leading man who this year excelled in J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year, the sci-fi drama Ex_Machina and the HBO miniseries Show Me A Hero. He also appeared as fighter pilot Poe Dameron in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and was notably one of the film’s standout new characters. We hope to see more of Poe in future Star Wars films. Tom Hardy has been doing great work in great films for several years, but had his biggest success to date in 2015 with Mad Max: Fury Road, a film beloved by critics and audiences alike. Additionally, he played twins in Legend and stole the screen opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant.
Kate Mara, Alicia Vikander and Brie Larson all stole the spotlight this year in films such as The Martian (Mara), The Danish Girl, Ex_Machina, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Vikander), Trainwreck and Room (Larson). We expect much more superb work in the future from all three…
And now, the list you’ve all been awaiting.
The Criteria: To qualify for the list, a film must have been on general release in the United States between January and December (with some exclusions) and screened for BuzzHub in Ireland during that period. Some of last year’s Oscar contenders (eg. American Sniper) are included, because they were released too late to be considered for our 2014 list. The Hateful Eight, Concussion, Creed, Stonewall and Anomalisa were not viewed in time to be considered for this list.
WORST FILM OF THE YEAR: TERMINATOR GENISYS
One of the most unnecessary reboots of all time, the absurdly titled Genisys was destined to be a disaster. And oh what a disaster it turned out to be. Marvel at the excrutiating pain on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face as he is forced to act the clown opposite Wooden Plank Jai Courtney and destroy the integrity of everything he and James Cameron created with the original Terminator films. The plot is nonsensical, the action is dull and a cameo from JK Simmons almost warrants a reappraisal of his Whiplash performance.
56. THE COBBLER
Adam Sandler’s return to low-budget independent cinema looked promising, a collaboration with Spotlight director Tom McCarthy and the great Dustin Hoffman. Against all odds, The Cobbler is one of the most despicable and vile films Sandler has ever appeared in: juggling racism, sexism and crass sentimentality, and driving us to the point of physical illness.
55. FANTASTIC FOUR
Like Genisys, this expensive reboot was made solely to allow a studio to retain the rights to a well-known property, with basically no regard for quality. The usually reliable cast of Miles Teller, Michael B Jordan, Kate Mara and Jamie Bell are given embarrassing dialogue as they prance about before a shaky green-screen. At times it’s So Bad It’s Fun, but F4 is generally merely headache-inducing.
Another career-low from Adam Sandler, this obnoxious Video Game Characters Attack Earth romp is practically dangerous in its attitudes towards women, and the experience of watching Josh Gad and Kevin James interact is enough to give anybody shivers down their spine.
Cameron Crowe attempts to make a coherent film out of seemingly random footage of Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone and a bunch of solidly talented actors moping around Hawaii. Bill Murray appears to be having a stroke as he launches some sort of nuclear missile/satellite into space in the utterly bonkers third act. Incomprehensibly terrible.
Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy, two reliably witty comedic talents, destroy their reputations in a lazy and cliched action/comedy. Spy is about as bad as the worst episodes of a CBS sitcom, and makes this year’s vastly superior spy-comedy Kingsman look like The Godfather.
51. AMERICAN SNIPER
Bradley Cooper is an engaging lead, but there’s little of aesthetic value in this bombastic, star-spangled patriotism fest that struggles under Clint Eastwood’s unimaginative direction. It may be the most successful January release of all time, but what does anyone remember except the creepy plastic baby?
50. THE GOOD DINOSAUR
In November, Pixar followed up their surprise masterpiece Inside Out with this catastrophically uninteresting excuse for a “family adventure”, reminding everyone just why we’d lost our faith in the once-great animation studio in recent years. The long-troubled Good Dinosaur is even more childish and unmemorable than 2012’s Brave, with unappealing character design and a complete lack of original storytelling. Embarrassing.
49. PITCH PERFECT 2
The original Pitch Perfect was a reasonably charming twist on the cynicism of the Glee formula, but the enlarged role for the horrendously talentless Rebel Wilson (and the casting of Adam Levine as a love interest for her character) made this Elizabeth Banks-directed sequel fairly unwatchable.
Judd Apatow is this century’s James L. Brooks, and Trainwreck is his How Do You Know?. It’s difficult to refer to this film as a “comedy”, such is the complete lack of jokes. However, it also lacks the mid-life crisis profundity that is usually found in Apatow’s directorial projects. Amy Schumer is a nasty, despicable presence in the lead role, and it’s embarrassing to watch talents such as Bill Hader, Brie Larson and Ezra Miller forced to interact with her as she flaunts her unique brand of so-called “hypersexual feminism”. This film is over 2 hours long. Save your time.
47. PAPER TOWNS
While last year’s The Fault in Our Stars was a literarily-conscience, deeply moving teen romance, this follow up (*cough* cash-in *cough*) John Green adaptation is just plain miserable. The wooden leads are labelled with irritating, clichéd high-school banter dipped into pseudo-philosophy, and it’s all supremely frustrating. THIS IS NOT HOW TEENAGERS ARE IN REAL LIFE (for a far superior alternative, see Me & Earl & The Dying Girl below).
While many praised Paddington as “the return of the classic family film”, it’s hard to see how anyone could think as much of this infantile, dumbed-down load of charmless nonsense. Neither memorably witty nor innocently sweet.
Mountains! In IMAX! With an ensemble cast of vaguely familiar faces!!!! Everest is less a work of cinema than a tourism commercial. But- hey!- it’s inoffensive.
44. CRIMSON PEAK
Guillermo Del Toro’s promised “Gothic romance masterpiece” is in reality a dull, unoriginal Haunted House horror which little-to-none of the director’s usual visual beauty. Mia Wasikowska is a capable lead, but the magnificent Jessica Chastain is wasted in a thankless supporting role.
43. Z FOR ZACHARIAH
Low-budget post-apocalyptic character drama starring Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Chris Pine. Impressively underplayed, but too formulaic for its own good.
Similar to Zachariah in its set-up (a trio of talented actors attempt to make a dull script interesting for two hours- with quiet sci-fi bells on), this Android drama features intense performances from Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac, but too little actually happens for it to be impactful as a work.
41. JURASSIC WORLD
Questionable gender politics and complete lack of originality aside, there simply isn’t much to like in Colin Trevorrow’s painfully formulaic dinosaur reboot. The iconic imagery that made Spielberg’s original so beloved is nowhere to be seen, with Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard phoning in performances as Generic Male and Female Lead. Unbelievably old-fashioned, in the worst way.
Al Pacino coughs and splutters his way through a David Gordon Green-directed melodrama. It’s hard to sympathise with a characterless character, and when even Pacino himself can’t make your protagonist interesting, you know your film is essentially DOA.
39. TED 2
It’s hard to comprehend just how bad Ted 2 is. The first Ted was #3 on our Best Films of 2012 list: a fresh, timely high-concept comedy with approximately 4 brilliant jokes a minute. Yet Ted 2 is astonishingly unfunny. Sample joke: Liam Neeson. Yes, that’s a joke in Ted 2. Save your cash and watch a recent Family Guy episode (Seth MacFarlane’s consistently brilliant TV effort).
38. FURIOUS 7
Other than a fitting final farewell to deceased star Paul Walker, the James Wan-helmed seventh instalment of the neverending action franchise is largely even more forgettable than its predecessors. The Rock having a smaller role than in the 5th and 6th films has something to do with it.
37. SAN ANDREAS
Speaking of The Rock, he commands the screen in this disaster porn epic. The gender politics are dated, but there’s a great deal of enjoyment in watching The Rock figuratively stopping an earthquake with his bare hands.
36. BLACK MASS
Why watch the great gangster dramas of the 70s when you can watch “method actor” Johnny Depp paying homage to them? This slick but light-on-substance Boston chronicle charting the rise and fall of Whitey Bulger is about as boring as they come, but the cast try their hardest, and it could be much worse.
The sort of Irish Immigrant In America story that makes Finian’s Rainbow look gritty and raw, John Crowley’s unambitious and crowd-pleasing adaptation of Colm Toibín’s novel sees Saoirse Ronan struggle through every scene as she attempts to bring a flicker of life to one of the year’s least interesting main characters. Sentimentality and crass faux-nostalgia feature in abundance.
34. STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON
The most mainstream, un-edgy N.W.A. biopic imaginable. An hour too long, and the talented leads of overshadowed by the aggressive overacting of Paul Giamatti (in the first of two Seedy Music Manager roles this year).
Far superior to 2013’s irritating Despicable Me 2, this 60s-set animated romp is far more fun that it has any right to be, with a great soundtrack and a pleasant stream of cultural references to amuse parents but- far more importantly- enlighten their kids.
32. THE BIG SHORT
Adam McKay’s hyperactive Wall Street drama boasts an assured, experimental directing style from the Anchorman creator, but the cast (including Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling) are never given room to breath- or to interestingly interpret the incoherently overwrought script.
31. AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
Yet another weak sequel to a 2012 classic, Joss Whedon’s second go at Marvel’s starriest superteam is painfully lacklustre, as Robert Downey Jr. and friends face off against one-dimensional android villain Ultron. Moments of actual human warmth are far less prevalent than in the 2012 Avengers, and Ultron’s predictably nonsensical motives give him none of the operatic majesty of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. The third-act battle is incoherent and awful beyond belief.
30. THE D TRAIN
The enjoyable pairing of Jack Black and James Marsden give life to an unoriginal but pleasant mid-life-crisis drama. Jeffrey Tambor tags along.
29. THE DANISH GIRL
Eddie Redmayne is excellent in this early-20th century transgender drama, but has little-to-no chemistry with irritatingly self-conscious co-star Alicia Vikander. Tom Hooper’s distinctive techniques as a director become more apparent, but the fact that one is paying attention to little but these tropes is a sign of the weak storytelling apparent in the film.
Sam Mendes follows up his tremendous success Skyfall with a James Bond adventure that is predictable, incoherently over-wrought and shockingly dull. The cinematography is absolutely stunning and Léa Seydoux is a charming female Bond counterpart, but Christoph Waltz kills every last thread of integrity he possessed in one of the most poorly-written villain roles in Bond history. Daniel Craig’s had a good run, but his time is up…
27. DANNY COLLINS
Another melodramatic Al Pacino vehicle, yet as least his Collins character (an odd coke-snorting hybrid of Rod Stewart and Neil Diamond) is reasonably intelligible and likeable. It’s all suitably charming, with small supporting turns from the terrific Melissa Benoist and Josh Peck, and- in Giselle Eisenberg- one of 2015’s most impressive child actors.
Tomorrowland, our #2 Most Anticipated Film of 2015, turned out worse than we could possibly have imagined. How Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof, two of the smartest men in Hollywood, managed to produce such a lifeless catastrophe is beyond us. George Clooney gurns and Hugh Laurie twirls his moustache. However, young lead Britt Robertson is utterly charming and is given 2 or 3 very enjoyable scenes, accompanied by a terrific Michael Giacchino score. Tomorrowland, in fairness, isn’t a terrible film, but with talent like Bird and Lindelof on board, it couldn’t have been any worse.
Against all odds, Marvel’s smaller and more troubled-in-production film of 2015 ended up being far more well-constructed and entertaining than Joss Whedon’s explosive clusterf*ck Age of Ultron. Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas are visibly having great fun in a light-hearted, low-stakes semi-superhero romp, with surprisingly solid direction from Peyton Reed.
Todd Haynes’ meditative drama is impressive in presentation, with deeply colourful Super 16mm cinematography, but Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara lack character as two mysterious women embarking on a secret romance, and the film has none of the necessary thematic substance to keep the one’s attention for its assigned 2 hours.
23. THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE: SPONGE OUT OF WATER
The first hour of Nickelodeon’s long-awaited second Spongebob big-screen outing is a magnificent symphony of silliness, with hypnotically colourful visuals and a madcap plot that is completely bonkers and completely genius at once. The third act unravels into a more clichéd action sequence reminiscent of inferior modern animated films, but this is nonetheless a good cinematic comeback for everyone’s favourite Sponge.
Jay Roach makes the best of a bad script with this very enjoyable account of the Hollywood Black List and the secret screenwriting work of Dalton Trumbo (a cartoonish Bryan Cranston) while he was banned from work. The excellent cast balance the humour and tragedy of the time, and the results are fun if not groundbreaking. Michael Stuhlbarg is a standout as Edward G. Robinson.
21. THE WALK
Robert Zemeckis is one of America’s finest visual storytellers, and The Walk is a spellbinding if thematically vapid tribute to the spirit of adventure, the appeal of high risk and the majesty of New York’s World Trade Centre. A thoroughly enjoyable and stunningly shot/animated drama, but try not to giggle at Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s French accent.
Gerard Barrett’s impressive second feature is a brutally intense portrait of working-class Dublin restlessness, with a fervent and fierce central performance from What Richard Did‘s Jack Reynor and memorable backup from Will Poulter. A scene set in Irish DVD rental chain XtraVision is one of the most meta movie moments of 2015.
19. THE MARTIAN
Ridley Scott invisibly directs this formulaic but often gripping adventure, with Matt Damon making the best of Drew Goddard’s mediocre script. Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels and Donald Glover are miscast and underused in token supporting roles, while Scott proves himself once again as Hollywood’s least distinctive “directing icon”.
18. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION
Writer/director Chris McQuarrie goes full Hitchcock with the magnificently well-assembled fifth Mission instalment. Neither as gripping as J.J. Abrams’ M:I:3 or as thoroughly joyful as Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol, this entry follows a similar formula to Sam Mendes’ Spectre, yet Cruise’s marvellous charm and terrific chemistry with Rebecca Fergus, Simon Pegg and Alec Baldwin binds the action scenes together brilliantly.
17. THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 2
Francis Lawrence sends off the consistently excellent Games franchise with an insubstantial but thoughtful finale. Jennifer Lawrence continues to inhabit the role of Katniss Everdeen with more intensity than we have seen in any of her other work, while there are nice moments for supporting players Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson and Josh Hutcherson. The action is watchable and the world of Panem is explored in more depth. Nonetheless, this is the second half of a two-part film that need not have been made.
Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin lead this heart-poundingly intense Mexican cartel drama. Extended helicopter shots of motorcades driving through slum streets are as gripping as anything in Max Max: Fury Road, while the third-act twists are unexpected and moving. A definitive thriller.
15. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
As intelligent and original as modern action cinema can be, George Miller’s thrilling return to his Max franchise boasts exceptional leading performances from Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. There is subtle insanity in every carefully-constructed frame, while the profoundly feminist third-act is momentously progressive.
14. LOVE & MERCY
Paul Dano and John Cusack are enchanting as they share the difficult role of Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson in this sensitive and insightful account of two periods in the life of one of the music world’s greatest enigmas. Elizabeth Banks is the concerned girlfriend of Older Wilson, while Paul Giamatti makes an appearance in the better of his two 2015 Seedy Music Manager roles.
13. MR. HOLMES
Ian McKellen commands the screen in this admirably low-key, incredibly gentle tale of an older Sherlock as he invests time in beekeeping and befriends an inquisitive young boy (Milo Parker). Soft and quiet, but nonetheless unforgettable.
One of the most horrendous scandals in recent history is finally explored on film in Tom McCarthy’s engaging, enlightening account of the Boston Globe investigation of 2001/2002 into Catholic clerical child abuse. The unremarkable script would have benefited from an Aaron Sorkin polish, and Howard Shore’s abysmal piano score disrupts the tension in many scenes, but the top-tier cast (Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci) give the material a boost with their visible investment in telling the story in an entertaining, accessible cinematic context.
David O. Russell’s latest character study centres on Jennifer Lawrence’s Joy, a fascinating, layered figure inspired in part by the inventor of the Magic Mop. The script is weak, particularly in the painfully ill-judged final act, but Lawrence gives arguably her finest performance to date, with very strong support from Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper and Isabella Rossellini. The film transitions with ease from a “strong independent woman” story to an all-American kitchen sink soap opera commentary to an exploration of telemarketing, and is hugely entertaining throughout.
and now, BuzzHub’s Top 10 Films of 2015…
Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, two of the finest talents of their generation, are compelling in JC Chandor’s brooding gangster drama. It lacks the master storytelling to become “this decade’s The Godfather“, but boasts some of the finest cinematography of the century from Bradford Young, and makes incomparably good use of Chastain’s bewitching eyes.
A love letter to film-watching like few we’ve recently seen, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s teen cancer drama is nowhere near as predictable and schmaltzy as last year’s The Fault in our Stars. Instead, it presents a group of legitimately interesting high schoolers who spend their free time producing charming low-budget parodies of classic films (and, unlike in Be Kind Rewind, the “classics” are actually classics- eg. Citizen Kane, Rashomon) whilst Olivia Cooke’s titular “dying girl” wears a brave smile. Utterly delightful yet heartbreaking, constantly surprising yet accessible, Me & Earl is a rare film for teenagers that teenagers won’t feel condescended by.
Steven Spielberg’s best film since War of the Worlds, this enthralling Cold War drama sees Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance command the screen as American insurance lawyer James Donovan and the Russian spy he must represent at a “fair trial”. The decision to divide the narrative into two parts, with the spy’s trial dealt with in the first hour and the remainder of the film dedicated to Donovan’s follow-up Berlin mission, pays off and allows Hanks and the Coen Brothers-rewritten script to harmoniously shine in the midst of breathtaking cinematography and production design. A fascinating historical treat.
Matthew Vaughn’s latest effort is offensive, nasty and sickening: it’s also the most hands-down enjoyable action film of the year. Colin Firth and charismatic newcomer Taron Egerton lead a cast who look like they’re having the most fun imaginable, as Vaughn’s madcap black comedy throws everything and its kitchen sink in their way. Religious fundamentalism, the British class system and the tropes of modern action cinema are beaten to a pulp by the whip-smart script as Vaughn’s epileptic visuals destroy the supposed limits of mainstream cinema. Kingsman is a brain-bandjaxing tribute to the thrills of the movies’ “trashy” side, and is a truly marvellous creation.
Alejandro González Iñárritu follows up his triumphant Birdman with an even more ambitious project. This epic, raw western stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a 19th century frontiersman- more dog than man- stranded in the snowy hills and faced with assault from bear and fellow human: Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter are among the supporting cast. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is overwhelming beautiful, with the Oscar winner insisting on the exclusive use of natural light and Iñárritu putting his chosen landscapes to remarkably good use. The film’s strengths are in its precise direction, from the composition of every frame to the physical interactions between the on-screen figures (not all of whom are people; few of whom are female). DiCaprio’s “acting” mostly consists of screaming and stares of intense suffering, with Hardy carrying much more character. An essential film, but one that can understandably be called Terence Malick-lite.
An astoundingly affecting piece, the Lenny Abrahamson-directed adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel is carried by the phenomenal duo of Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay as a young mother and son imprisoned in a garden shed. Painfully intense and claustrophobic from start to finish, this is a case study in conveying internal battles of love and pain in a breathtakingly moving film.
2015’s best hidden gem, Richard Gere gives an understated career-best performance in Oren Moverman’s slow, poetic homelessness drama. Many of the captivating encounters between Gere’s character and his peculiar peers were shot in secret from a distance, through panes of glass and gaps in walls. This gives the film a unique visceral urgency, and sets a gold standard for sympathetic dramatic documenting of a too often taken-for-granted social issue.
J.J. Abrams may not have delivered the life-changing motion picture experience some people expected, but what he did give us in his too-highly-anticipated Star Wars reboot is the best film in the franchise since 1980. Newcomer leads Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are outstanding and immensely watchable, with franchise spirit animal Harrison Ford back on board as Han Solo along with original stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Peter Mayhew. The jokes are, unlike in George Lucas’ dreadful 1999-2005 prequel trilogy, naturally funny. In Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, the series has a new villain whose story is as compelling as his hair. The earth-shaking plot twists come fast and hard, and are often quite upsetting, but this is a film that improves upon repeat viewings, and one is able to sit back and enjoy the marvels of Abrams’ refreshed cinematic wonderland.
Few people understand people quite like Aaron Sorkin, the mastermind behind The West Wing, The Newsroom, The Social Network and now this, the most fresh and surprising “biopic” of the decade, exploring Apple co-founder Steve Jobs (played by the mesmeric Michael Fassbender, in a career-best performance) not as a Silicon Valley icon, but as a man with a helluva lot of problems. The script is near-perfect, every line rhythmic and flowing and allowing the audience to- in a short space of time- get inside the mind of Jobs and understand his relationships with every fascinating character who appears on screen. Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels excel as Steve Wozniak and John Scully, while Ripley Sobo is notably fantastic as the best of the three young actresses playing Jobs’ daughter at different stages. A spellbinding character study.
Just when we thought we had lost Pixar to the land of mediocre family filmmaking (see Cars 2, Brave, Monsters University), they place gently in our lap this masterpiece: their best film since 2008’s Wall.E. To call Inside Out “heartbreaking” would be a gross understatement: this is a film that throws the viewer’s heart from wall-to-wall without halt; an unexpectedly melancholy examination of the bare human spirit, fractured emotion, loss of childhood: themes that would make Shakespeare himself blush. How it succeeds in being so utterly profound yet cheerful, funny and capable of selling toys is something of a mystery, yet it likely lies in the simplicity of its all: the basic human emotions are personified in 5 multicoloured characters, another figure representing the “Imaginary Friend” and a whole world depicted inside the mind of a young girl in which every aspect of her character is given a street or a factory. The ingenious behind the concept and finalised design is immeasurable. Inside Out presents a new perspective on existence; an alternative manner of “external control” to the typical religious stories. Whether many children will latch onto this as their new belief system is hard to judge, but I for one would rather my children dream and sing about Joy, Sadness, Bing Bong and the gang than a strange man in the sky playing with puppet strings. Inside Out will make you giggle and laugh, whimper and weep, love and- most importantly- it will make you think.
That’s it. Film in 2015. We’ve hoped you’ve enjoyed taking a look back at the year with us, and have been in some way enlightened by our choices for the Best and Worst of the Year. Happy Holidays, and may 2016 be another great year for cinema!
Lucien WD, Editor of BuzzHub.