It was a good year

So, if you just want a list, I put together a Top 10 for The West Australian, which you can read here.
But that is just a list, without commentary or context, and besides, there were way more than 10 films released in 2015 worthy of your attention. So here, at last, is the unexpurgated, carefully calibrated, official Celluloid And Whiskey Top 20 of 2015. As you know, this list supersedes all others, regardless of time or location of publication. Year of release is based on Australian release dates, which eliminates stuff like The Revenant and The Hateful Eight, and you should feel a bit of a prick if you’ve already watched them through less than legal means. Seriously, get a job and learn to postpone gratification, you goddamn child.

20. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Yep, it just squeezed in. I always have a problem making lists like this – how do you compare a movie like this to, say, Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter? – and so I wouldn’t go paying too much attention to the numerical order (at least until we start closing in on numero uno). Still, I’d also say that every other film on the list is better than The Force Awakens, while maintaining that TFA is a very good Star Wars flick – and certainly the best Star Wars flick we could have hoped for. It had a very precise target to hit and it hit it. Full review here.

19. Kingsman: The Secret Service

Director Matthew Vaughn gets James Bond better than the current keepers of the flame over at Eon do, as demonstrated by this enjoyable slice of Cool Britannia. The drawcard was seeing Colin Firth kick ass and take names – which he does in one of the best action sequences of the year – but relative newcomer Taron Egerton quickly established himself as a strong screen presence, bringing charm and intelligence to what could have been a crass caricature. Fleet, fun and with a few things to say about class and wealth, only a couple of tonal slips stop it from being further up the list. Full review here.

18. Fast & Furious 7

Or Furious 7 or whatever they’re calling it in the marketing region you’re in. In any other year, this would have been the action movie of the year. It’s been a weird experience watching this franchise grow from its cheerfully cheap indie-B roots to the ridiculous, knowingly-overblown behemoth it is today. It is, if nothing else, the reason Vin Diesel keeps getting money for his geeky pet projects. This installment saw relatively untested action filmmaker James Wan overcome the mid-shoot loss of star Paul Walker and still manage to pull together something coherent, wildly exhilarating and, yeah, touching. All else aside, you get Jason Statham punching on with both The Rock and Vin at different points, and a scene-stealing appearance from the great Kurt Russell. Full review over here.

17. While We’re Young

If you’re at that point where movies about young people are starting to grate,, but movies about old people still feel like they’re talking about your parents, this latest from Noah Baumbach will sink your battleship. Middle-aged documentarian Ben Stiller clashes with hipster dilettante Adam Driver, with the latter’s insouciance and flippancy contrasted against the former’s insecurity and anxiety. Strong turns from Naomi Watts and Amanda Seyfried make this more than just another polemic on male angst. Slip on your bifocals and read the full review here.

16. Black Sea

Absolutely nobody saw this on its incredibly truncated theatrical release and it’s a damn shame, because it’s a brilliant little thriller. Director Kevin McDonald keeps the pressure up as Jude Law’s retrenched salvage submariner leads a motley crew on a search for sunken Nazi gold in the eponymous body of water. A cast of cracking character actors, including Ben Mendelsohn, Scoot McNairy and Michael Smiley help make this a textbook “guys on a mission” movie of the kind we rarely see these days. Sink into the full review here.

15. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

This gem only saw the light of day at the Lotterywest Festival Films Season in my neck of the woods, so I hope you got a chance to catch it. Rink Kikuchi is mesmerising as the troubled Japanese office drone who pins all her dreams on finding the buried treasure from the Coen brothers’ Fargo. Yes, the fictional buried treasure. By turns whimsical and devastating, Kumiko is an unforgettable work of icredible empathy and pathos. Sign onto Team Bunzo by reading the full review here.

14. Last Cab To Darwin

Jeremy Sims and Reg Cribb reworked the sprawling stage play of the same name into a tight, thoughtful meditation on mortality, loneliness and family, and in the process gave Aussie screen veteran the chance to deliver a career-best performance as the Broken Hill cabbie who drives across Australia for the chance of an assisted suicide after he learns he has terminal cancer. A uniquely Australian film steeped in gorgeous landscape photography and leavened with deadpan, gallows humour, Last Cab ticks every box. Full review here.

13. Diary Of A Teenage Girl

I didn’t actually write a review of this one – sometimes the time just gets away from you, sadly – but old mate David O’Connell has one up here. British actor Bel Powley absolutely nails it as the protagonist of this coming of age memoir set in the world of underground comix in ’70s San Francisco. By turns hilarious and painfully uncomfortable, Diary is never judgmental, giving us a powerful, singular look at burgeoning female sexuality.

12. Dope

And speaking of coming of age, here’s Dope. Director Rick Famuyiwa brings an infectious energy to this tale of black nerds caught up in gang life in South Central Los Angeles. Newcomer Shameik Moore is a flat out delight as Malcolm, the ’90s hip-hop-obsessed, hard studying, hard done by and hard to fool hero who must use his wits to navigate a dangerous world where everyone underestimates him. at times screamingly funny, Dope never forgets that the stakes in play are real and deadly, making for a unique cinematic experience. Full review here.

11. Foxcatcher

Easily the most uncomfortable watch on the list this year, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher relates the events leading up to the murder of champion wrestler Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) by chemical heir John du Pont (Steve Carrell). Foxcatcher feels like we’re spying on an insular and alien world, populated with inarticulate and unknowable creatures whose motives we can only attempt to decipher. A haunting examination of desire and frustration, it’s a film that lingers. grapple with the full review here.

10. The Lobster

One for everyone who thought their world was ending after a break up, The Lobster takes place in a world where the single are doomed to be transformed into animals unless they can quickly find a new partner. The first English language film from Greek provocateur Yorgos Lanthimos, this is a measured, absurdist satire of relationship politics and cultural expectations. Some may be put off by the film’s stilted artifice, but it’s well worth the buy-in; by operating almost entirely in the realm of metaphor, The Lobster is one of the most brutally honest relationship movies in memory. Crack the full review here.

9. Mr Holmes

The last case of Sherlock Holmes sees the famed but aged sleuth (Sir Ian McKellan) battling his own dodgy memory to solve a pair of dusty mysteries, while at the same time grappling with his own mortality and life with his staunch housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her precocious son. McKellen infuses the iconic character with a rarely-captured humanity, making the great detective at last relatable. I did write a review for The West Australian, but can’t seem to find it on their site. Maybe you’ll have better luck.

8. Inside Out

After a bit of a rough patch, the playful genii over at Pixar delve into the headmeats of a little girl to bring us a poignant, hilarious story of emotions out of whack. Spot-on voice casting (Yay Amy Poehler!) and careful construction of the metaphorical inner world make this one a cut above. Also, the “facts and opinions” gag is one for the ages. Full review here.

7. Bridge Of Spies

A polished, mature drama, Bridge Of Spies didn’t seem to make much of a splash, which is a crying shame, as it’s an exemplary piece of professional filmmaking of the highest caliber. Steven Spielberg directs a script from Joel and Ethan Coen that sees Tom Hanks’ sturdy, incorruptible lawyer navigate the murky world of Cold War diplomacy to engineer a prisoner exchange between the US, the USSR and East Germany. A Hitchcockian post-war noir of the highest order. Read the full review here.

6. Birdman

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu’s bleakly funny look at the disintegration of Michael Keaton’s ageing star delighted many and infuriated others. I fall firmly into the former camp. Birdman defies classical interpretation, and so those expecting a traditional narrative shape and character arcs were disappointed, but even if you’re of that stripe, there’s much to live here, from Keaton demonstrating that his wilderness years were a crime against cinema, to Inarittu’s formal boldness, to the excellent supporting cast (Edward Norton is just amazing). My review seems to have been lost to the internet afterlife when X-Press and The Music merged their online presence, but if it ever shows up on an old hard drive you’ll be the first to know.

5. The Martian

This is what happens when you give Ridley Scott a good script, in these case by genre mainstay Drew Goddard, adapting the wildly popular novel by Andy Weir. A taut survival thriller built around a never-better Matt Damon as a stranded astronaut, The Martian’s chief asset is its robust, earthy sense of humour – something Scott has never really been known for. Exciting, optimistic, science-positive and at times quite poignant, this one is going to inspire a whole generation of scientists and explorers. Jet over to the full review here.

4. Sicario

Denis Villeneuve finds his footing after a couple of near-greats, following Emily Blunt’s tough FBI door-kicker into the horrifying world of Mexican drug violence, with Josh Brolin as her untrustworthy Virgil and Benicio Del Toro as a laconic killer with his own agenda. Sicario is a triumph of mood and tension, with Villeneuve zeroing in on small, telling details and discreet actions to illustrate the incredible scale of the bloodshed and horror happening along the border. Full review here.

3. Ex Machina

for his directorial debut, novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland chose to make a science fiction chamber piece. Domhnall Gleeson’s computer programmer is press-ganged by Oscar Isaac’s tech-entrepreneur into helping him determine whether his latest project, Alicia Vikander’s android, is self aware. Not everything is as it seems, of course, and questions of intelligence, identity and self-determination are all raised in this cerebral thriller. Full review here.

2. Creed

Fresh off the stunning Fruitvale Station, director Ryan Coogler and actor Michael B. Jordan do the seemingly impossible by reconfiguring old cinematic warhorse Rocky into something of meaning to a new generation. Jordan is Adonis Creed, illegitimate son of Apollo, who comes to Stallone’s aged and lonely Rocky to be trained as a fighter. A crowd pleaser and a tear jerker, Creed wrestles with notions of identity, heredity, race, and family, but uses them to reinforce its core underdog narrative, not overwhelm it. Stallone os looking at an Oscar nomination for his performance here, and we’re looking at a whole new franchise rising from the ashes of the old. Full review here.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

Really, it could be no other. George Miller’s long-gestating sequel is nothing less than a goddamn achievement. It’s a stunningly literate action film that uses a deceptively simple plot to tell surprisingly complex and nuanced story. The action is incredible – it’ll be “homaged” for years to come – but what really impresses is Miller’s command of the frame. The film refuses to tell us much – and, indeed, falters when it does second guess itself and verbally delivers information – but every shot is drenched with layers of metaphor, symbolism, emotion and meaning. Full review here.

TRAVIS JOHNSON

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