BLAKE @BLAKEISBATMAN HOWARD’S BEST FILMS OF 2015

Before we get started talking about the year, let's start with how I define what to be included in the Best of 2015. My rule is simple, everything I've seen in the calendar year is on the table with the exception of older films that I've missed, notably this year The Babadook and The Judge where amazing 2014 releases that were available for me to see that I did not get around to until this year, and thusly will feature in the special mentions. 2014 felt like an impossible year to contain an end of year list (see my two huge lists of last year's best films). 2015 by comparison was far easier to contain but the rankings felt like they interchanged like bingo balls bouncing around a rotisserie sphere.

There are some huge films that I did not see in 2015 that are appearing on all sorts of lists:

The Hateful Eight (I'll be catching in early January)

The Big Short & Anomalisa (which I saw on the 2nd of January)

Carol, Brooklyn and Mistress America (I'll be catching in the next few days)

Honourable mentions:

The Gift (terrific and tense directorial debut from Joel Edgerton); The Babadook (the best Australian film of 2014 and possibly one of the best horror films of all time); Ex Machina (the iPhone to Blade Runner's Walkman); Macbeth (Justin Kurzel mashes Shakespeare with Sam Peckinpah); The Judge (pure, uncut, daddy issues, in a way that I simply wasn't prepared for); and finally Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Star Wars is the reason I love movies, so more Star Wars that feel slike the original trilogy was most definitely a huge highlight).

Now, let's get to it.

TheGambler11
TheGambler11

11. The Gambler

What I said:

Rudyard Kipling, in his seminal poem ‘If’ provided the following one of many scenarios as a measure to whether you’re a man:

“If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss

And lose, and start again at your beginnings,

And never breathe a word about your loss…”

The Gambler is about the lure to triumph over potential disaster and finding a way to “treat those two imposters the same.” The existential angst of The Gambler remains unresolved, and Wyatt, Monaghan and Wahlberg grapple with it like men.

What I'll add:

The Gambler is one that continues to fly under the radar. Ignore TED 2, Daddy's Home, Transformers 17: New Kids On the Block; this is Mark Wahlberg's most committed and exciting performance since The Departed.

10Spectre
10Spectre

10. Spectre

What I said:

Spectre is the collision of everything we love about Craig’s contribution to the character and the all 23 official Bonds preceding it. There’s a sense of confession of unbinding love of the franchise from all involved, especially after being given the keys to Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

What I'll add:

I had to see Spectre twice. The first time I was privileged to attend a glitzy premiere where my dear friend Garth Franklin (huge Bond aficionado and the myth behind Dark Horizons) and I donned tuxedos, drank martinis, took photos with the Aston Martin DB10 and received an all round 'honeydicking' to assist in our enjoyment of the movie. So the second, markedly more sober, viewing was necessary before committing to a formal opinion. I was pleasantly surprised to find that an additional viewing only further confirmed that it was a sensational continuation of the Daniel Craig era and (if Craig's current outlook continues) the best possible film to end to his run as 007.

9MIRN
9MIRN

9. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

What I said:

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is exceptionally made, insane fun and the best this series has to offer and then some.

What I'll add:

It feels like an age since I've gone and bought a blu ray or dvd with the express intention of consuming the special features; however the minute MI: RN was released I had to see the lengths that Tom Cruise, Christopher McQuarrie and team went to to strap the leading man on the outside of a plane and take off. So many precise and beautifully choreographed sequences, the introduction of the amazing Rebecca Ferguson as Illsa Faust, the combination of the whole IMF team across all the series, and Cruise at his very best as Ethan Hunt; it's hard to deny that it's not only the best of the series but that Mission:Impossible is now punching in the same divison as Bond.

8Sicario
8Sicario

8. Sicario

What I said:

Sicario looks so good that it’s impossible not to gush; features excellent performances by the trio of central characters and forces you to wrestle with the muck of privatised war.

What I'll add:

I like to think of Emily Blunt's Kate Macer like Alice who falls down a rabbit hole of her own into the events of Sicario. This, unlike Alice in Wonderland, isn't a vivid fairytale where she gets to change the world that she's been inadvertently been drawn into; she must instead clamour to survive in the gyre of cartels, barely legal frontier espionage where her life is disposable. I can't wait to revisit this one again.

7Youth
7Youth

7. Youth

Awe-inspiring visuals, poetic meditation on one's purpose, tremendously understated performances and splashes of foolishness; Italian writer and director Paolo Sorrentino crafts a stirring look at age through the prism of two men; Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) and Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine). Boyle, one time titanic filmmaker and Ballinger, a retired orchestra conductor, are old friends vacationing in the opulent retreat in the Alps. While Boyle has compiled an ensemble of filmmaking talent to craft an overdue masterpiece, Ballinger is approached by an emissary for Queen Elizabeth to come out of retirement for Prince Phillip's birthday.

Caine's Ballinger is using the retreat as a figurative ice flow, set off to move quietly into the end of his life. Accompanied by his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) he's wrestling his selective memory of the events that shaped his and his family's lives. Caine so beautifully takes the flaws, the emotion and the hard truths with grace. Keitel conversely is denying that he's done. He's using the retreat to spark inspiration and continues to remind his friend that it's not over for them. Keitel plays Boyle with as indignance that his best years and films are behind him and despite the silver hair, his mental ferocity and wit is sharp as a sabre.

The setting is vibrant both in its aesthetic inspirational quality and the eccentrics who occupy it. Sorrentino approaches the hotel with a stillness, allowing the natural movement of the lifeforms that populate it to orchestrate a poetry. The misfits that Ballinger and Boyle (Keitel) encounter include Paul Dano's tortured actor Jimmy Tree who is wonderfully somber about the possibility that he'll be imprisoned by one poor decision of casting; or the totally silent husband and wife pairing played by Helmut Förnbacher and Heidi Maria Glössner, who the boys bet on every night to see who'll break their silent treatment add life and unpredictability to the divine and precise space.

Sorrentino's Youth is sublime.

Full review to follow.

6Creed
6Creed

6. Creed

Writer/director Ryan Coogler picks begins with Adonis Johnson/Creed (Michael B Jordan), the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), in juvenile detention after the unfortunate passing of his biological mother. Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) decides that she needs to take Adonis into foster care, despite the pain of seeing the result of her husband's infidelity. Setting him up for life where he doesn't have to fight, stuck in a sterile corporate finance existence, Adonis is called towards it. After a series of barely professional bouts in a series of Mexican bars, Adonis decides to quit his job and go to Philadelphia to pursue the profession that is uncontrollably coursing through his veins. Finding Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) his spiritual Uncle, Bianca (Tessa Thompson) a musical muse, he begins a path towards turning professional.

Creed is about finding yourself at any cost. Nothing makes sense about wanting to fight. Running everyday for hours in the dark, going into a gym to work harder than any profession, retooling your body into a weapon to face another warrior for entertainment; but if that's what it takes to find out who you are; then it's worth it.

Creed took an adrenaline shot to the heart of the retired Rocky franchise. It's a fresh approach to the world from a wholly new perspective, with electrifying talent behind the lens (Coogler), and nothing is more rousing than Stallone's Rocky guiding Adonis (Jordan) toward his dream. You can feel the current when they're on screen.

The Rocky franchise has always been close to my heart; boxing you could say, is in my blood. If Rocky was your inspiration throughout your life, Creed taps into that desire to follow your heroes; to take the reigns of your life and your name and step in the ring.

If Rocky was a K.O, Creed is a T.K.O.

Full review to follow.

5Selma
5Selma
4Victoria
4Victoria

4. Victoria

What I said:

There’s a final moment near the end of the film where Costa’s Victoria is overwhelmed by emotion and begins to uncontrollably and unglamorously sob. It’s such a powerfully affective scene because it’s loaded with the tsunami of emotion that the character is feeling while also making the appropriate space for the audience to let their guard down too. Your heart pours out for Costa, and if you don’t keep yourself in check, you may find yourself fighting a potential ugly cry.

Victoria pulses with life, it excites with unexpected romance, it thrills when our characters are dragged into a maelstrom; it is artistry, executed to perfection.

What I'll add:

Victoria is one of those frustrating festival films that is now taking an age to find its way to either a cinema release in Australia or at the very least a straight to home entertainment (DVD, VOD, Blu Ray) releas. This is not a film that should be watched casually. If you're not in the cinema (as is intended) try and watch it on the T.V, in the evening, with your phone off and as few distractions as possible. It's a masterful singular shot film, that if you let it, will suck you into feeling what the characters are feeling.

3MadMaxFuryRoad
3MadMaxFuryRoad
2TheRevenant
2TheRevenant
1InherentVice
1InherentVice

1. Inherent Vice

What I said:

Inherent Vice, as the film describes, means a risk that cannot be avoided. Inherent Vice isn’t going to be a film that you can see once; but it’s so spectacularly put together that you’re going to be desperate to. PTA, Pynchon, Phoenix and co. produce something unavoidably brilliant.

What I'll add:

One of my habits before sitting down to discuss my final selections for the best of the year is to show them to my wife. It's like that final protection or safety blanket against the immediacy of an awards powerhouse overtaking a film that I've been steadily gushing about for the entire year.

"Here's the list. Are you surprised about number one?" I asked.

She looked at me with a kind of odd look as if I'd said something completely ridiculous.

"Oh no. Not at all."

Inherent Vice caught me hook line and sinker. The performances, the density of the narrative, the aesthetic, the music and the flecks of absurdist humour to temper the cynicism held me so wholly throughout. From the moment I watched Inherent Vice, I simply had to see it again. Three times at the cinema, several rented on VOD and finally numerous other times on blu ray; Paul Thomas Anderson is a damned genius.

Blake Howard- follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman

BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.