Best films 201

The 20 best films of 2015, Feature | Best Movies

A year that started with Michael Keaton taking his pants down in Birdman and ends with Kylo Ren and co. trying to pull a similar stunt on Star Wars: The Force Awakens's Resistance threw up plenty of other surprises. Jurassic World was the biggest film of the year (so far), Ex Machina proved that thinky sci-fi has a place alongside the bigger popcorn thrills of Age Of Ultron and Ant-Man, and Inherent Vice and Terminator Genisys just made noodle soup of our minds. Team Empire has posted its ballot papers, the votes have been tallied and our pick of the year's 21 best films is here.

Please note: Now that we've seen it, this list comes with added Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

21. Jurassic World

The greatest trick Jurassic World pulled was giving audiences exactly what they expected while throwing something new into the recipe. We know the dinosaurs will get loose and cause havoc, but what’s different this time are the stakes: the park is now open to the public, allowing for disaster movie levels of tension as crowds of people now share the danger of our plucky central scientists. Oh, and there’s also A Bigger Dinosaur in the form of the Indominous, and that cheer-worthy moment when franchise favourite the T-Rex gets to save the day.

Pixar and Ghibli may grab all the attention, but Ireland’s own Cartoon Saloon is carving out an impressive space all of its own, first with The Secret Of The Kells, and now this gem. A spellbinding Celtic fantasy, Song Of The Sea tells the story of a lighthouse keeper, his ‘Selkie’ wife (half human, half seal), and their two young children – plus witches, giants and faeries. The storytelling is sometimes witty, sometimes emotional; the voice work (including Brendan Gleeson) is perfectly cast; and the sumptuous 2D animation plays like a lushly illustrated picture book, come to life. Ticks boxes, and tugs heartstrings, for every age.

Both maddeningly complex and delightfully silly.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel is, like its source text, both maddeningly complex and delightfully silly. Its labyrinthine plot takes in three separate but just-about interconnected mysteries, with Joaquin Phoenix’s shambolic private eye Doc Sportello pulling on all the threads from somewhere on the outskirts of the tangled web. The ‘70s setting, the detective story and the wrecked protagonist all deliberately call to mind Robert Altman’s great The Long Goodbye. Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Jena Malone and Benicio Del Toro and the stand-out Katherine Waterston are all on hand to confuse matters further, but it’s Phoenix’s show.

If The Quiet Man was one leg of a romantic exchange trip between Ireland and the US, Brooklyn is the return visit. Here, Saoirse Ronan’s Eilis, a young Irish girl, moves to New York in the 1950s in search of opportunity. There are big questions about homesickness and how one fits in to a new world – the answer to both seems to be ‘through the kindness of strangers’ – but also a romance that’s as sweeping as it is small-scale. Director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby show a light touch in adapting Colm Tóibín’s novel, and the film shines with empathy for those brave enough to up sticks and attempt a fresh start on a foreign shore – which makes this old-fashioned tale surprisingly timely.

Much filmed previously (by Polanski, Kurosawa and Welles, among many others), Shakespeare’s infamously bloody Scottish Play has rarely been allowed to elicit the sympathy for its central characters as Justin Kurzel achieves here. He's helped, of course, by having Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard as his leads, never losing sight of their characters’ humanity even as they spiral ever down towards the monstrous. Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography – smoky battlefields, burning skies, fire-lit interiors – is amazing too.

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