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Saturday, 2 January 2016

Best of 2015 Awards: Top 10 Best Films (Part 1)

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Our round-up of 2015's ten finest cinematic hours begins with a comprehensive look at the motion pictures which made enough of a mark to warrant a place on the second half of our shortlist...

While scanning back over the plethora of noteworthy motion pictures which made their names heard (or not, as the case may tragically have been in some instances) in cinemas last year in order to seek out the releases worthy of a place on our Top 10 Best Films shortlist, one immediate question sprang to mind for this writer – where to start? In contrast to years such as 2014 where critics arguably had to search much more rigorously for works of cinema which wholeheartedly deserved applause, the past twelve months brought with them heaps upon heaps of accomplished big-screen narratives that are all but guaranteed to be revisited by cinematic devotees and mainstream audiences alike in the year, making the proposition of ascertaining and then ranking the ten most impactful additions to the history of the film industry that much more daunting overall, as our readers can surely imagine.

Nevertheless, after giving the matter at hand due consideration over the course of the last few days of 2015, we’re glad to say that we’ve finally reached a unanimous decision (through truth be told, given that the On-Screen team has only ever comprised of a single writer and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future short of a colossal editorial overhaul taking place at some point)…and sadly, none of you have made it through to Boot Camp this time around. What’s that? We’ve got our wires crossed and have somehow managed to convince ourselves that we’ve been misfortunate enough to acquire a place on The X Factor’s judging panel? In that case, many thanks for the reality-check, dear reader – it’s moments like these that remind us why we keep you guys around.

Let’s follow Soul II Soul’s example, then, and move “back to life, back to reality”, taking a whirlwind tour back through the jam-packed year that was 2015 over the course of two articles so as to reveal which ten blockbusters left the most notable impression(s) on our easily-distracted minds (in hindsight, anyway). Read on today and tomorrow to discover our personal cinematic highlights of the past twelve months in descending order (plus to catch the theatrical trailers for each of the films listed in the event that their names and our précises don't ring an immediate bell), then be sure to leave your own rankings as well as any comments about this particular shortlist on the usual social networking domains:

10. LEGEND (4*) – Tom Hardy’s offered up a rather astounding number of captivating turns for his ever-burgeoning fan-base to dissect in recent years, but the Inception star’s work in the role of not one but both of the infamous Kray twins who made life for London’s diligent policemen a living hell back in the Swinging Sixties might well mark his piece de resistance, and that’s saying a lot at this point. Couple his sensational work as the emotionally detached Reggie and the psychologically unstable (at best) Ronnie with a surprisingly nuanced performance from A Series of Unfortunate Events’ Emily Browning, understated yet undeniably accomplished direction from Brian Helgeland and a largely satisfying screenplay which still manages to greatly compel despite its tonal missteps from the realms of full-blown crime thriller to occasionally cringe-worthy romantic drama, and the result’s a fascinating throw-back to one of the most intriguing periods in the history of the criminal world, one which sports a remarkable amount of innovation given its inhabiting of a genre that of late has so often seemed lacking in this regard.

9. INTO THE WOODS (4*) – If it wasn’t already obvious based on the numerous instances where we’ve awarded entries in the genre spots on our end-of-year awards lists, big-screen musicals tend to hold something of a coveted place in yours truly’s heart, a trend which only continued this time last year with the release of the structurally flawed yet emotionally breath-taking Into the Woods. From the screenplay’s cunning subversions of some of society’s most beloved childhood tales to its seamless integration of a variety of tonally diverse musical numbers (which run the full gamut of emotions, sure to induce just as many laughs from open-minded viewers as they will tears), from Disney’s immensely beneficial decision of allowing their latest live-action narrative to wander into waters more morally ambiguous than anything we’ve seen before to the hugely commendable levels of conviction with which James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep and the bevy of talented new young actors portray their characters despite their respective elevated personalities, there’s no shortage of merits to be found in this oft-underappreciated motion picture, even if its underwhelming third act had a slight hand in preventing its ascension into the upper echelons of our shortlist.

8. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (4*) – “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”…well, you know the drill. No, seriously – in this case, unless you somehow have managed to go your entire life (so far) without ever laying eyes upon Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, then expect the multi-million dollar science-fiction franchise’s latest instalment to evoke a serious sense of déjà vu as it recaps the narrative tropes of its 1977 predecessor like there’s no tomorrow by transporting us from a barren desert planet to a galaxy-conquering star of death (see what we did there?), all while depicting a brilliantly old-school quest to convey a droid carrying vital battle plans into the hands of the oh-so-familiar Resistance. It’s as a result of this lack of structural inspiration that The Force Awakens finds itself only featuring in the early stages of our Top 10 Best Films count-down, but even so, J.J. Abrams’ much-needed instilling of the charming humour, grounded action set-pieces and awe-inspiring intergalactic wonder of which the prequel trilogy was in such desperate need, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver’s frankly stunning debuts as Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren respectively (not to mention Harrison Ford’s show-stealing return to the role of a certain wise-cracking nerf-herder) and the manner in which Episode VII’s script deepens its franchise’s mythology by merely laying strong foundations for the series to build upon in future instalments while simultaneously paying fitting homage to episodes gone by all ensure that the piece as a whole makes for captivating viewing. Star Wars is back, and whereas the words “for better or for worse” always needed to accompany those in the case of Episodes I-III’s launches, there’s no denying that as of 2016, the once Lucas-owned series couldn’t be on stronger form if it tried. Next up: Rogue One. Punch it to December, Chewie! Well, it was worth a try. Moving on…

7. ANT-MAN (4*) – Who could have guessed back on New Year’s Day, 2015 that perhaps the least-anticipated addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ensemble of big-screen adventures would turn out to be one of the series’ finest outings to date? Not us, that’s for sure, as evidenced by its complete absence from our Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2015 shortlist last December. All the same, whilst Paul Rudd might not exactly have knocked the metaphorical ball out of the park with his solo cinematic ventures in recent years, what with the inspired manner in which it put Rudd’s comedic talents to great use in the role of one of the franchise’s most light-hearted but charismatic protagonists, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lily’s equally mesmerising – and better yet, incredibly dramatically layered (especially in comparison to virtually all of the one-note characters placed at our feet in the rather dreadfully mediocre Avengers: Age of Ultron back in April) – turns as the Pym clan, Peyton Reed’s visually awe-inspiring direction of Scott Lang’s literal and figurative transformation from a despondent criminal to a miniscule defender of justice hell-bent on protecting his daughter from the forces of evil and the almost seamless manner in which the MCU’s twelfth chapter integrates itself into the series’ vast lore whilst also succeeding where Ultron failed in standing on its own two feet in terms of isolated narrative merits, it’s safe to say that far from coming off another missed opportunity for both the thespian himself and Marvel Studios as a whole, Ant-Man came to represent a monumental step in the right direction for a franchise which was previously beginning to show signs of stagnation.

6. TED 2 (4*) – Considering that Seth McFarlane’s original foray into the gut-wrenchingly hilarious world of Ted only managed to earn itself a 3* score here at On-Screen: Entertainment Enhanced in 2012, it’s testament to the Family Guy show-runner’s seemingly endless abilities as both a comic and accomplished screenwriter (much as he appeared to try to convince us otherwise with the woeful A Million Ways to Die in the West in the Summer of 2014) that he managed to turn the follow-up into one of the most inventive, well-rounded comedies we’ve had the good fortune of laying our eyes upon in quite some time. Not only does McFarlane afford the newcomers to his cast ensemble such as Amanda Seyfried (who, against all of the odds, all but steals the show here thanks to a comedically assured yet still impressively sympathetic performance the likes of which we’ve not seen from her since 2012’s Les Miserables) with just as many inspired gags as himself and Wahlberg, but by throwing in a wealth of genuinely original takes on well-worn set-pieces such as convention brawls (you’ll never see ComicCon the same way again), courtroom battles, near-death hospital experiences (fans of Ted’s cruel but hilarious attempt to fool John into thinking his resurrection had gone awry last time around will simply adore the sequel’s penultimate skit) and so many more, the man behind such great projects as American Dad and the Blue Harvest trilogy not only demonstrates once more his rare ability to wholly rejuvenate a thought-deceased franchise, but moreover sets an astounding new benchmark for the big-screen comedy genre going forward; a job extremely well done, in other words.
The story doesn't end here, of course - don’t you dare miss the chance to come back here tomorrow in order to discover the remaining five entries on our Top 10 Best Films shortlist! We shan’t spoil what’s ahead for obvious reasons, yet suffice to say that there may well be some gasp-inducing shocks in store – you’ve been warned…