Looking Back: Blockbuster Films 2015
We bring you a list of the best films of 2015: from big name blockbusters to the best of world cinema
The year also saw some truly original feats in film: Iñarritu's Birdman became the first film to attempt to recreate the experience of a 'single take'. Tangerine painted a vibrant picture of Tinseltown using nothing but an iPhone.
The year was also a groundbreaking one for women: Suffragette took us back to one of the most important periods in female history. Actresses like Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep took a stand against the film industry's gender pay gap.
Bridge of Spies
The latest film by Stephen Spielberg, Cold War dramatic thriller Bridge of Spies, boasts knock-out performances from Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance and a sharp script from Matt Charman and the Coen Brothers.
Matt Damon captivates in Ridley Scott's big Hollwyood sci-fi, as a botanist stranded on Mars who must fight for survival: The Martian has been hailed as Scott's best film in years, thanks to a brilliant script, plenty of comic panache and, of course, that funky Abba score.
Kate Blanchett and Rooney Mara steal the screen in one of the year's most gorgeous releases, Todd Haynes' tale of 1950s romance between a shopgirl and a married woman.
Love and Mercy
Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks and John Cusack all put in brilliant performances in this quirkily off-beat portrait of The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson: a tense picture of genius and exploitation – but more than anything, an ode to one of music's greats..
From The Social Network's Aaron Sorkin, the unconventional biopic about Apple's founder Steve Jobs shows that even the corporate world can be full of theatrical intrigue. Plus an intimidatingly good performance from Fassbender.
Julianne Moore was fearsomly good and deserving of her Best Actress Oscar in this moving tale of a woman suffering from early onset dementia. Kristin Stewart also puts in a brilliantly understated turn as daughter and confidante.
Starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones don't fail to bring a tear to the eye in this Stephen Hawking biopic, based on the memoir of Hawking's wife Jane, The Theory of Everything is a realistic picture of sacrifice and genius.
The Oscar-winning film from Alejandro González Iñárritu will leave you reeling with its single-take style. A gripping tale of a has-been Broadway actor looking for his next big break.
Director Ava DuVernay's powerful tribute to Martin Luther King’s fight for civil rights is gripping and stunningly shot, with a fierce central performance from David Oyelowo.
And, of course, where would we be without Mr Bond? Spectre may have divided critics, but there's no denying it was one of the year's most talked about cinematic offerings.
Resist the multiplexes and check out the films that really set our hearts racing.
Diary of a Teenage Girl
Marielle Heller's coming-of-age '70s is a hilarious, heartbreaking and deeply personal account of a teenage girl's affair with her mother’s older boyfriend. Stunningly honest, endlessly contemporary, Marielle Heller's Diary of a Teenage Girl warrants discussion on changing notions of consent, ultimately asking what it means to be a woman.
We can't get enough of Carol Morley's ethereal coming-of-age story about mass psychogenic illness in a sleepy Oxfordshire town. We fell in love with its picture of disillusioned '60s youth: read our interview with the director here).
Independent film from Damien Chazelle depicts a young Jazz musician's struggle to achieve greatness. Despite a cast of relative unknowns, Whiplash is an exhilarating gem.
First staged at the National Theatre, Alecky Blythe's verbatim musical London Road is just as arresting on the big screen.
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We've seen scores of actors inhabit the role of the notorious detective, but there's originality in this new film. Sherlock Holmes, at 92, is brought to life by Sir Ian McKellen in Bill Condon's Mr Holmes.
Love is Strange
Ira Sach's latest romantic comedy-drama, Love is Strange stars John Lithgow and Alfred Molina and is a subtly drawn portrait of love and loss.
Michael Fassbender stole the screen in Slow West – a brilliant, wonderfully shot take on the traditional Western from debut director John Maclean.
From Andrew Haigh, director of Weekend, came the gut-wrenching 45 years, which takes a tragic look at daily life from a rarely visited perspective, and boasts incredible performances from Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling.
Brilliant new film from director Sean Baker is a vibrant and unapologetically honest look at life on the backstreets of L.A. – shot, astonishingly, on nothing but an iPhone.
Guillermo del Toro's gothic horror may have divided the diehard fans of his fantasy masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth, but we were still seduced by its rich cinematography and stand-out performances from Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska.
It's been quite a year for documentary. From Asif Kapadia's Amy Winehouse documentary, a favourite at Cannes, to a host of other unbelievable true stories, from harrowing to comic to utterly heartbreaking, this year's selection proves that true life really is stranger than fiction.
SENNA director Asif Kapadia’s AMY remembers the remarkable life and art of Amy Winehouse: a document of a ferociously talented singer, tragic circumstance, and the pressures of modern musicianship, the AMY documentary 2015 attracted considerable praise at this year’s Cannes. We loved it.
The Look of Silence
Joshua Oppenheimer's follow-up to the Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing is an equally outstanding and harrowing look at the 1960s Indonesian communist genocides, this time from the perspective of its victims. Oppenheimer's ability to expose dark truths is fascinating from both sides of the camera. An insight into the human capability for empathy in extreme circumstances.
Salt of the Earth
Art meets politics in Wim Wenders' stunning and thought-provoking film about photographer Sebastião Salgado. Emotional capacities are stretched to breaking point as image after image of unspeakable wanton cruelty, poverty and hunger, shown to moving narration by Salgado himself. A voyage into the dark heart of human cruelty and the brutality humans can inflict upon one another. Bring tissues.
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From director Matthew Hineman and Executive Producer Katherine Bigelow comes the incredible Cartel Land, a documentary that gives us an unprecedented insight into the drug wars in Mexico and America currently elapsing.
We Are Many
This powerful documentary about the mass anti-war protests of 2003, We Are Many is an important film that gives new perspective on history, striking a fine balance between hope and anger and a powerful portrait of the potential for mobilisation.
New documentary Sherpa puts a face to the men behind Mount Everest's heroes. Soaringly beautiful and utterly absorbing, Sherpa is a politically charged lament against an awe-inspiring mountain backdrop.
Raised not by wolves, but by Hollywood...The Wolfpack, 2015 winner of best documentary film at Sundance, charts the unconventional upbringing of six brothers who grew up totally isolated from American society but were free to watch whatever movies they wanted.
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A Syrian Love Story
He Named Me Malala
One of the most famous teenagers in the world, 17 year old Malala has already been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in women's rights. Shot in the head by speaking out against the Taliban in her home in Northern Pakistan, Malala was transported to Birmingham from where she awoke from a coma immediately to relaunch her global peace campaign – all guns blazing.
Foreign cinema has never been so accessible. With a host of foreign language movies making their way into UK cinemas, it's easier than ever to experience the best of what the world's lens has to offer. And what a year it's been – at the Oscars, best foreign film was awarded to the wonderfully sensitive Timbuktu film from director Abderrahmane Sissako, and there's plenty of talent in the run-up to next year's Academy.
Bitingly intelligent Swedish film Force Majeure, from director Ruben Östlund. Force Majeure is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it social commentary on gender relations that manages to be wickedly funny and utterly tragic at the same time. Like a wry, minimalist, Swedish Wes Anderson, Östlund's precise black humour creeps up on his viewers and leaves them enraptured by the ridiculousness afforded by banality.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
America and Iran may not be the best of bedfellows but they make for a fascinating hybrid country in this bonkers indie vampire flick: this new Iranian film is an unexpected gem that raises intelligent questions about cultural difference, Western influence on Iranian culture, and gender politics.
Damián Szifron and Pedro Almodóvar's savage, laugh-as-you-wince Wild Tales film details the most extreme encounters in Argentinian society. This Oscar-nominated comedy is a wickedly delightful compendium of six stand-alone stories, relatable in their brutality, documenting Argentina’s descent into fallibility and madness.
This compelling new Ukranian film about deaf teenagers reinvents the silent movie. Set in a dingy boarding school for deaf teens in Kiev, The Tribe is a true feat of innovation. Like a foreign film without subtitles, it plays out entirely in sign language, leaving the average viewer to piece together the plot from the action.
The New Girlfriend
In The New Girlfriend, Romain Duris plays a young father undergoing a complex transformation. A much overdue demand for films about identity not to be relegated to the queer cinema scene, but to be invited into the mainstream, The New Girlfriend doesn't resort to 'playing it safe' or hiding under shelter of slapstick comedy.
This French film from director Celine Sciamma is bold, bright and intensely contemporary. Girlhood is like the brassier older sister to Linklater's contemplative drama; related by name only, and strident about its own identity.
This stunningly shot philosophical exploration of jihad and sharia law was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film 2014: no political polemics despite the subject matter, Timbuktu is perhaps the gentlest film about religious extremism ever made.
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A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
As Robbie Collin pointed out; "Why would you write about a Roy Andersson film? You might as well dance about a cake." This Swedish 'dramedy' A Pigeon rounds off Roy Andersson's utterly surreal 'living' trilogy. Typically dark, A Pigeon's comic sketches are played out in precise, confined, and static tableaux.
Kumiko the Treasure Hunter
Kumiko The Treasure Hunter, from director David Zellner, star of this Japanese-American gem of an indie. A woman, obsessed the Coen Brothers' Fargo, goes on a heart-wrenching, surrealist quest to find significance in an increasingly lonely world.
The 2014 winner of The Grand Jury Prize and nominated for the Palme: Cannes movie The Wonders is an Italian film with a great deal of heart. A gentle, slow-paced coming-of-age tale; sweet and life affirming, it centres on Gelsomina a girl in her early teens and the eldest of the four daughters. A sentimental exploration of growing up, and how isolation is increasingly impossible with all-consuming globalisation.
The best animated films 2015 has seen so far – we've journeyed inside a little girl's mind and explored the magical world of Studio Ghibli. Plus a beautiful hand drawn animation about an Irish Kelpie... animation is reaching all new heights.
The biggest animation of the year, this Cannes favourite is Pixar's most inventive film to date. Inside Out is visualisation of a person's mind – wise beyond its years, the Pixar team have produced a necessary pleasure to be re-visited at every stage of life. Inside Out is one of the best films of the year, animation or otherwise.
Big Hero Six
Nominated for a Golden Globe, this adorable Disney, set in the futuristic city of 'San Franksokyo', boasts richly imaginative animation and emotional themes. Heart-felt and refreshingly funny, Big Hero 6 is entertainment for audiences of all ages – you won't find sweeter company than Hiro and his huggable robot companion Baymax.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Studio Ghibli
Isao Takahata's final film: The Tale of Princess Kaguya, is based on a millennia-old folk tale about an ageing woodcutter who discovers a diminutive girl inside a bamboo shoot. A striking hybrid of animist myth and proto-science fiction, the story is rendered by Takahata in an unusual impressionistic style that stands out from run-of-the-mill anime.
The reduced colour scale of the hand-drawn film and the Vaudeville piano soundtrack that accompanies the animation gives the new animated film an antiquarian elegance, which faithfully channels the original film and brings a charming sense of authenticity to a modern audience.
Shaun The Sheep
Aardman returned this year just as silly and loveable as ever. A silent movie of wicked, charming wit we revisit the hapless sheep as he attempts to return a lost flock to their rightful home. With lots of nods to its adult audiences in line with Aardman's quintessentially British humour.
Song of the Sea
Irish folktales are brought together and digitally enhanced in beautiful children's film. An ethereal story – animated with rich colours and illustrative flair – that combines Irish myth and folktale: Song of the Sea tells of a young Irish boy who discovers that his sister is a magical 'selkie' who can swim in the deep ocean with the seals.
Not one for the kids, the inimitable Charlie Kaufman, whose past credits include existential masterpieces Being John Malkovich and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, again explores themes of isolation and failures of communication in new film Anomalisa: a brilliantly conceived and sensitively scripted piece of cinema.
Fully caught up?
Read our list of what's to come
Looking Ahead: The Most Exciting Films Coming Up in 2016