End of Year: Niall’s Top 10 of 2015

2015 will be remembered with fondness for being a good year for cinema in general. In particular it was a great year for domestic films, animation,a nd documentaries. Before the year began much of the hype was around the array of blockbusters that were heading for our screens. Jurassic World was the unexpected winner in the blockbuster box-office stakes, but mostly the big films underwhelmed. Avengers: Age of Ultron was fine, Ant-Man was enjoyable but slight, Terminator Genisys was dreadful, while Fast and Furious 7 was a fitting memorial to the late Paul Walker, but enjoyable as it was it will never be mistaken for a great film. Mad Max returned in spectacular style and looked to have the high ground of excellent big-budget adventure and critical darling, that was until the force awakened!

#10 – The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya

Reportedly the final film from the great animation house Studio Ghibli, these adaptation of the classic Japanese folk-tale is a triumph of the artistry of hand-drawn animation. Its minimalistic visual style perfectly matches the pacing of the story, although if there is a criticism it is that at 137 minutes the film is too long. 8 years of work for director Isao Takahata and his team this is beautiful, honest, and heart-warming film.

#9 – Inside Out

Pixar’s creative output had hit a bit of a creative rut recently, not bad, but not as good as the giddy heights of Finding Nemo, Wall-E, and Up. A slew of sequels had aided this feeling so their triumphant return to form with this original property was a wonder to behold. A simple premise, “what if the voices in your head were real?”, is elevated into a loving story of growth and childhood that has a marvellous and touching message for its young audience.

#8 – Hard to be a God

As enjoyable as Inside Out is to watch Hard to Be a God is not. A bleak and suffocating experience this is a film that expertly shows the power of the medium to immerse you in a completely different world. Narratively this is a sci-fi tale set on a medieval world, but watching it is to live there, filth and all. A darkly funny, awe-inspiring, epic cinematic tale, but not for the faint of heart.

#7 – Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road should not have worked. Stories of on-set disagreements, studio mandated reshoots, and production delays after production delays blighted the film. And yet what emerged from this hell is a work of utter majesty.It’s an exhilarating action film, essentially one giant chase, that manages to work well as a narrative, and gives us one of the finest heroines depicted on-screen in an age.

#6 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

As a Star Wars fan The Force Awakens is almost everything your could have hoped it would be, a loving homage to the original trilogy that introduces new characters that you are actually invested in, and an apology for the prequels by basically ignoring their existence. Yes it is narratively too close to the original Star Wars, and it has a number of plot loopholes, but it is such a giddy delight that it demands repeat viewings. And for newcomers to the series it is an accessible point at which to tackle the universe.

#5 – The Queen of Ireland

It’s rare that a film comes along so soon after a monumental event and manages to capture the moment in such a perfect manner that it becomes part of the zeitgeist. That is what director Conor Horgan achieved with this perfectly pitched story of Irish drag-queen Panti Bliss a.k.a. Rory O’Neill. Bookended by the events surrounding the 2015 Irish Marriage Equality referendum The Queen of Ireland manages to be simultaneously the funniest and most emotionally uplifting film of the year. Blessed by the circumstances this is the very definition of right time and right place, and in O’Neill the film has a bona fide star.

#4 – Patrick’s Day

Terry McMahon’s second feature is a powerful, hard-hitting and emotional ride of a film. The film expertly challenges the perceptions of mental illness with a superbly framed and exquisitely performed look at the life and potential love of one young man. As this young man actor Moe Dunford finds his range, offering fragility, bubbling rage, and emotional rawness, without ever overdoing it or lapsing into stereotype. McMahon the writer peppers the film with moments of levity that allow the film room to breathe, and avoid becoming an overly harrowing experience. The film also has the best use of sound in any Irish film this year as composer Ray Harman, sound mixer Hugh Fox, and sound editor Nikki Moss work in harmony to ensure that the film impacts on all senses.

#3 – Ex Machina

Screenwriter Alex Garland’s directorial debut is an assured, stylistic and realistic look at Turing test, and the moral dilemma posed by artificial intelligence. In Vikander, Gleeson, and Issac the film has 3 fine actors to build itself around. Vikander in particular is a revelation, bringing poise and substance to her complex character.

#2 – Song Of The Sea

Cartoon Saloon and director Tomm Moore’s Celtic myth is a truly glorious creation. Song of the Sea is easily the most visually accomplished animation to be created on our shores and could be used in any animation school in the world as a lesson in the art-form. Each frame of this lovingly crafted could be hung on the walls of any art gallery, and not look out of place. The simple story is full of childlike wonder but also allows itself to be bittersweet when it has to be. All of this is married to a uniquely Irish score that allows the film to be a story of Ireland’s past and its modern day.

#1 – Carol

Todd Haynes’ romantic drama is an absolutely gorgeous piece of classic filmmaking. Shot on Super-16mm the film has a sumptuous glow that envelopes this story of the blossoming relationship between Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. The old school visuals work brilliantly with the period setting, and Haynes’ deft direction allow Blanchett and Mara to inhabit their characters with a natural ease. A stunning and haunting film.