Whiplash is a film that manages to make endless, self-indulgent drum solos unbearably tense and exciting, so it definitely gets points for that. But more than that, it's a fascinating investigation of what it takes to succeed, the drive you need to have and the price you have to be willing to pay for it. It's also propelled by two of the year's best performances, and J.K. Simmons' monstrously evil, yet oddly understandable, Terence Fletcher remains one of 2015's most memorable characters.
I don't know why I like this film so much. Genuinely. I have no idea what it was about, and I barely know what happened in it. But it creates an atmosphere like nothing else I've seen this year; it's not a horror film, but it's weird, haunting and unsettling in all the best ways. An under-seen gem, it's definitely one to seek out.
Carol is the main reason why this list is a little late. I only got around to seeing it the other day, and I had a feeling it would end up here. I'm happy to have been proved right. An understated, beautifully performed illicit romance in 1950s New York, it's safe to say that many Oscars will be coming this one's way. Cate Blanchett is one of the best actresses alive, and the final shot may be my favourite of the year.
Ridley Scott made a good movie again! It's been a long while, but he finally returns to the genre that made his name with smashing success. The Martian is a compelling survival drama that's also one of the most unexpectedly funny films of the year, and is a shining example of how you can make a smart, scientifically accurate (mostly) film that doesn't feel the need to talk down to its audience.
I'll probably catch flak for this one, but I thought Crimson Peak was a hoot. The marketing was terrible, it's not a horror movie, but if you go into it in the right mindset, it's great fun. It's an over-the-top Grand Guignol gothic melodrama, with gorgeous set design and just the right amount of self-aware silliness. It's as if the old Hammer horror team decided to make a pantomime.
After a raft of middling-to-good sequels like Monsters University and original films like Brave that didn't quite live up to expectations, Pixar finally returned to their usual level of quality with Inside Out. Maybe a little too clever for kids, you certainly have to admire their guts in putting a character struggling with depression in a children's movie. One of the most emotionally complex and rewarding animated films we've seen in some time.
The best pure SF film of year, Ex Machina proves that complex, talky, thoughtful science fiction still has a place at the multiplex. Its dissection of tech-bro culture, the complicated implications of beautiful female robots, and the risks and rewards inherent in the idea of artificial intelligence add up to a film that practically demands multiple viewings. Alicia Vikander kicked off a remarkable year with a star-making turn here, and it would be great if she could join her co-stars Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson in a future Star Wars film.
SONG OF THE SEA
Without question the most staggeringly gorgeous film released this year, Song Of The Sea confirms Cartoon Saloon as the Irish equivalent of Studio Ghibli. Weaving Celtic mythology amid a story of a young girl growing up and finding her true identity, it's really quite hard to overstate how stunning this film is to look at. It should have won the 2015 animated feature Oscar. Yes, it's better than The LEGO movie.
THE WINNERS - MAD MAX: FURY ROAD & STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
This one is a cheat, I freely admit, but I just can't choose between them. If forced to, I might give the edge slightly to Star Wars, largely by virtue of being a really good Star Wars movie in a world where it looked very unlikely that there would be any more good Star Wars movies. And it was wonderful - it feels like Star Wars like nothing else has for a very long time, and with a certain moment involving a blue lightsaber at the climax, it's safe to say the old magic is back. The fact that a new generation's heroes are a black man and a woman is a truly wonderful thing, as well, bringing some long-overdue diversity to the Galaxy Far, Far Away.
But where The Force Awakens was a loving, nostalgia-drenched return to a world we've loved for nearly 40 years now, Fury Road took a much different, bolder approach. Eschewing continuity and chronology altogether, George Miller's magnum opus is post-apocalyptic science fiction as epic myth, where the films and characters don't match up or make much sense when considered together, but still manage to resonate as these kinds of stories are meant to.
I'm a devoted Star Wars fan, but I had no such fondness for the Mad Max franchise. The Road Warrior is an excellent film, but I wouldn't have said I was a fan of Max. But Fury Road, with its turbo-charged, unbelievably ludicrous action sequences, surprising narrative weight and magnificent feminist hero Furiosa, is simply one of the greatest action films ever made, and will be considered a classic in the years to come.