End of Year: Darren’s Top 10 of 2015

Our end of year Top 10s continue with the choices of podcast member Darren Mooney. Darren’s insightful thoughts on films, television, and comic-books can be found on The M0vie Blog.

#10 – Bridge of Spies

If 2015 was the year of cinematic nostalgia, that nostalgia was not only packaged in franchise rehashes and reboots. Resurrecting the Spielberg/Hanks team for a Capra-esque fable of basic human decency and fundamental integrity, Bridge of Spies also demonstrated how both director and actor had evolved over the years. It may be the first Spielberg film you can see with your father without having to write off some awkward subtext afterwards.

#9 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Nostalgia done right. Even the moments in The Force Awakens that weren’t blatantly lifted from A New Hope ultimately feel like they were lifted from the original trilogy. However, the beauty is in subtly tweaking the formula, with a diverse (and charming) new cast and just the right amount of contemporary relevance. Not to mention an ending that balances the need to let go of the old while retaining what made the franchise such a beloved classic.

#8 – Macbeth

If the twenty-first century has been the era of pop culture’s “difficult men”, then Macbeth feels very much like the Shakespearean play of the moment. Shakespeare’s other three tragedies might be loftier and timeless, but Macbeth‘s questions of masculinity resonate with this moment in time. In keeping with 2015’s pulpy aesthetic, director Justin Kurzel cleverly shoots Macbeth as a pulpy blood stained horror, with two fantastic central performances.

#7 – Inherent Vice

Capturing the fading of Camelot and the rezoning of the American Dream, Inherent Vice captures the melancholy transition of the idealistic sixties into the cynical seventies. With the end of the Obama administration, pop culture’s own nostalgia for the sixties seems to be waning; If this year’s presidential debates are anything to go by, our own era of cynicism beckons. Beautiful direction and a fantastic cast.

#6 – Whiplash

A genre picture often mistaken for a prestige picture, Whiplash works best as a pure suspense piece featuring an amazing (and deservedly Oscar-winning) performance from J.K. Simmons. Although the film teases out questions about popular attitudes towards art and suffering, the drum beats work best as a rising heart rate building towards a well-earned catharsis.

#5 – A Most Violent Year

Proof that prestige cinema is going through its own nostalgic phase, J.C. Chandor’s anti-crime drama evokes a rich collection of classic films in its portrayal of eighties New York. Bradford Young’s cinematography and Chandor’s assured direction elevate A Most Violent Year above many of the year’s other prestige pictures. As with many of 2015’s strongest films, A Most Violent Year builds inexorably to an inevitable (and entirely earned) closing scene.

#4 – Ex Machina

It’s about ethics in artificial intelligence design. As with many of the year’s best films, Ex Machina feels deeply rooted in the mood and tone of 2015. Arriving at the moment when geek culture found itself caught between its most progressive and regressive impulses, Ex Machina is an exploration of entitlement and privilege wearing the skin of high-concept science-fiction. It’s Gamergate and Sad Puppies as existential horror.

#3 – Birdman

We reach the point where it is finally technically possible to record a one-take film at the same moment when it is finally technically possible to create the (practically) seamless illusion of a one-take film. The film’s famous extended take evokes naturalistic sensibility, only to push the film further from reality as it ticks on. What is real? What is fake? Who cares? Nothing is safe from the film’s blistering cynicism; even the film itself.

#2 – Mad Max: Fury Road

A single extended chase sequence with beautifully choreographed practical effects, incredible stunt sequences, a timely sensibility, a collection of great performances, and the undiluted vision of a director who worked for years to realise an uncompromised vision. What more could you possible want? A guy playing a flame-throwing guitar? Sure, we can probably find room for that.

#1 – Inside Out

Eschewing the trite family-friendly morals of some of Pixar’s more recent efforts like Cars 2 or The Good Dinosaur, Inside Out is built around one of the most important lessons that any child will ever learn: it’s okay to feel sad. Featuring a fantastic ensemble and a fully realised world, Inside Out is an example of the animation studio working at the very top of their game. Effortlessly (and mostly visually) explaining concepts that other studios would devote entire movies to, Inside Out is a narrative, emotional and technical tour de force.