NFB’s Film Rankings/Awards 2015 – #10-1

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We continue onwards, with the top ten of my 2015 rankings, and awards. Note: this list and subsequent awards are based off Irish release dates.

  1. The Martian

Ridley Scott’s return to science fiction, after some iffy outings in the past while, at least had fine source material to work off of, in Andy Weir’s 2011 novel of an American astronaut left stranded on Mars following the catastrophic end of a manned mission there. The Martian was a science-heavy novel that still managed to be captivating for the layman, and it was with some interest that I went into Scott’s adaptation, hoping that the old master of the genre could summon up some of the magic.

While the film struggles with some of the negative elements of the novel, namely a cliché and rather unnecessary look at the efforts to rescue Matt Damon’s Watney back on Earth and in the spaceship of his comrades – this always worked best as a castaway-esque experience – it’s still a really good adaptation, and one of the best science fiction films in years, easily outdoing the likes of the more hyped Interstellar. In Watney, movie audiences have an intelligent, thoughtful protagonist, whose flippant 21st century attitude and refreshingly positive outlook despite the myriad of misfortunes he suffers is both endearing and refreshing. Watney, while spending most of the film talking to himself, is played with great humanity and verve by the ever excellent Damon, coming off as ingenious without tropes, and smart without pretension, constantly working to just solve the problem that is in front of him at that moment. While much of the rest of the cast could be a fair bit better, such as a disappointing Jessica Chaistain (still don’t like her), a largely wasted Sean Bean or, in a glorified cameo, Donald Glover, Damon at least nails the character of Watney completely, and an audience will have zero problems in connecting with him. We want him to live, and the escalating sense of peril drives The Martian along.

Matching that is the excellence of the script and Scott’s fantastic visual direction, with the red planet never looking as good before as it does here, this world at once alien in its massive mountains, craters and endless deserts, and very believable in its storms, it’s occasional beauty and in the way that Watney comes to relate to the place. While the film doesn’t make the absolute best of the source material, something that could have been accomplished if Scott was a bit more willing to wield the knife for large parts of it, it’s still a really fun, engaging experience.

"It gets awful lonely out in the black..."

“It gets awful lonely out in the black…”

  1. Avengers: Age Of Ultron

I’ve thought long and hard about the latest blockbuster record setter from Marvel Studios, which actually made a bit of a mixed impression on me at the first time of watching, and that I’ve struggled to properly place in this ranking ever since. Attempting to top the critical and commercial success of The Avengers was always going to be a difficult task for Whedon and the stellar cast surrounding him, and the end product, with the titular team talking on the titular AI/Robot menace, is the kind of film that was both satisfying, but also annoyingly flawed in many key respects.

Chief among the flaws is the comedic tone, an aggressive expansion on the same thing from The Avengers, with nearly every scene and second line of dialogue attempting to force in a quip or a joke. Some of them work – a well set-up gag surrounding the ability to wield Mjolnir chief among them – but many others do not, especially those given to James Spader’s villain, whose otherwise fine VA performances is let down significantly by the apparent need to make him funny. The newly introduced Maximoff twins are fairly shallow characters, the action set-pieces get dull a lot quicker than they did before and the disappointment over some aspects of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow are perfectly valid.

But Age Of Ultron gets much right. In acting terms, it’s another astounding success: Downey Jr, Evans, Hemsworth, Johansson, Renner, Ruffalo, Spader and Bettany are all giving it socks, and so are the other supporting cast members. The script, when it isn’t falling over itself to make you laugh, is engaging and entertaining. For most of the film, the right balance of action to story is found. And, in terms of blockbuster comic book action, Age Of Ultron does what you would expect of it, taking The Avengers formula and expanding it as much as it can be expanded. If nothing else, Age Of Ultron is simply fun: a fun comic book movie, that is the essence of everything great about the MCU in its big budget, making-all-of-your-childhood-heroes-come-to-life form. For that, it is placed as high as I place it. All that being said, I rather hope that Marvel can up their game and change things a bit as we move forward, lest the saturation turn to degradation. That, and I hope that Joss Whedon now puts his talent to a completely new project.

THIS IS CINEMA NOW

THIS IS CINEMA NOW

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road

George Miller’s long awaited sequel/reimagining, bringing Max Rockatansky back to the big screen for the first time in decades, is the sort of film that has had more critical praise and more paragraphs written on it than many of the other films on this list combined. And that praise is very well-earned. The tale of Tom Hardy’s Max and Charlize Thereon’s Furiosa, hightailing it across the desert to escape the freakshow army of Immortan Joe with their precious cargo of virile young women, is as fantastical as they come, but what an experience it is.

Simply put, Fury Road is a film that I think might actually be impossible to dislike. The story is dirt simple, but in the best tradition of dirt simple stories, it provides just the right kind of backdrop for everything else that is great about Fury Road. The action sequences, varied, dynamic and visceral, are some of the best in the history of cinema, with an emphasis on the practical over CGI that is to be highly praised. The world creation is immense, and every different aspect of the Joe army, from the painted warboys and their strange Norse-esque religion, to the guitar wielding “Doof Warrior” sucks you into this universe. Junkie XL’s score is a pulse pounding delight. And top of it all might be Thereon, who owns the movie in such a way that its arguable it even deserves the “Mad Max” title at all: her Furiosa being the grim, grimy but altogether powerful beating heart of the entire thing, a “strong female character” to match any that have come before.

But while I loved Fury Road, I also acknowledge its problems. Hardy is largely wasted in a wordless, expressionless part, which wasn’t the most effective use of his towering talent. The script is limited, as it probably has to be to make room for all those action sequences. The non-Furiosa female characters are cardboard cut-outs when it comes to characterisation (making a mockery of the “We are not things” line) and there is plenty of cliché to be had all over the place. But Fury Road is a film that neither cares about nor wants any of my criticism, fully confident in what it is and in what it is trying to accomplish. While it may not have done enough commercially to warrant a continuation, it would be a major disappointment if nobody was willing to take a shot on one.

When it's good, it's great. And that is all the time.

When it’s good, it’s great. And that is all the time.

  1. Cinderella

Amid the grit and the modern takes on old films that seem to be ramping up in number even as they slope downwards in quality, Kenneth Branagh’s live-action adaptation of the 1950 Disney animated feature comes as a strangely unique breath of fresh air, the director choosing to stay faithful to the general ideas and tone of the original, but using his own skills, an increased running time and modern CGI capabilities to improve things every way that he can. “Cinder” Ella is back on the big screen, and looking as magical as ever. Lily James’ title character is a paragon of courage and goodness in a strong female role that eschews the common thing nowadays of having to be “kick-ass” in order to get to that point, choosing instead to demonstrate her strength through her strongly held convictions and resistance to the insidious taunts and cruelty of her stepfamily. The conflict here is whether someone like Ella can be corrupted and brought low on the inside, by those whose reaction to goodness is revulsion.

That’s the central arc, but there is so much to enjoy elsewhere too: In the palace characters Branagh finds the opportunity for numerous touching scenes and the creation for well-rounded players, not least Richard Madden’s excellent Kit, whose romance with Ella is nothing too inventive, but remains sweet and engaging. Naturally the ever excellent Cate Blanchett comes close to stealing the show as the wicked stepmother, but so do a host of other production aspects: the wonderful costuming, sumptuous sets and a powerful script overflowing with neat touches. With the iconic ball sequence forming into a near perfect set-piece and the able Helena Bonham Carter providing the backbone through her brief on-screen appearance and excellent narration, Cinderella is as enchanting a film as they come, a really welcome revival of the kind of screen story that used to be the norm.

The score could have done with being a bit bolder and the predictability of the exercise combined with the inevitability of the destination will probably turn some off. Others, like myself, will be able to lose themselves in the world that Branagh has re-imagined, and that his excellent cast brings to life. Cinderella doesn’t need to be a sword wielding Amazon, the stepmother doesn’t need to have magic powers, there doesn’t always have to be grit. Can’t we all just go to the ball?

"You shall go to the ball!" Branagh brings one of Disney's classics into the world of live-action.

“You shall go to the ball!” Branagh brings one of Disney’s classics into the world of live-action.

  1. Inside Out

Pixar has had its down days as of late, coming off its previously flawless 2007-2010 run, and the Disney takeover, after which followed the drek that was Cars 2 and the needless rehash that was Monsters University, with the middling Brave in-between, had many worried that the company had fallen from grace. That two Pixar films were being released this year served only to reinforce that feeling, of an animation studio now committed to churning out hits rather than making good films. But, thankfully, Inside Out proves that Pixar, regardless of their ownership, still has the ability to create mesmerising stories.

While it may not be quite on the same level of Up or WALL-E, it’s an imaginative, fun and emotionally satisfying story, that is bound to enthral audiences of all ages. The core reason for this, I feel, is the way that the narrative successfully manages to have a branching structure between the internal journey of the five emotions and the more relatable misfortunes and unhappiness that host Riley is suffering in the real world. Inside Out successfully speaks to the audience by connecting us intimately to Riley, through her experiences: humiliations in school, seeing parents differently for the first time and the loss of joy as the primary mover of our hearts. Inside Out “gets” the sadness that comes with growing up, with moving into the first traces of adulthood and losing emotional connections to things that were once so important, in a way that so many other films on the same topic fails to do. And it matches this seriousness with the more colourful zany antics inside Riley’s mind.

It helps immensely that the VA cast, from the accomplished comedic talents of Poehler, Smith, Black, Hader and Kaling, to the relative unknown Kaitlyn Dais imbuing Riley with so much emotion, are all as top notch as any who have come before for Pixar, and the animation, as if it needs to be said, is the typically genre-defining work that we have come to expect from this studio. With the only limit being imagination here, the production team are free to wash their vision in vibrancy and vividness.

I did sort of miss an antagonist character, a Muntz or a Lots-O, to tie things together, even if the larger point would still have been that emotional problems are not so easily dealt with as to defeat a tangible villain. It’s also probably the least “fun” Pixar film yet, frequently eschewing laughs for serious drama, which can make the experience a bit trying at moments. Minor quibbles, and Inside Out easily rises above all of them, to stake a place alongside Up, WALL-E and Toy Story 3 as a contender for best CGI Animated film ever made.

The films universe is expansive and visually intriguing.

The films universe is expansive and visually intriguing.

  1. Whiplash

I caught Whiplash fairly late in the year, but was delighted to get the chance to take it all in. Long after the plaudits had been given out, and the awards, Damien Chazelle’s intense twin character study, of aspiring jazz drummer Andrew Neiman and his borderline psychotic conductor Terence Fletcher, is still well able to enthral and engage.

While it is JK Simmons’ amazing performance as Fletcher that grabbed so much of the attention – and it was very well deserved attention, with Simmons giving Fletcher a really volatile mix of fleck-spitting hatred and reasoned argument – it really is Miles Teller who makes Whiplash what it is, this elitist individual who finds himself running headlong into the abusive relationship between naïve student and crazy mentor. “Abuse” isn’t used lightly as a word: Andrew drums so hard he makes his hands and fingers bleed, and some of the films only negatively jarring moments are ones where the bounds of believability for how much he can take are stretched to the utmost. But then there is Chazelle’s direction, a Hitchcockian exercise in using music to build suspense, and close up shots to showcase the damage Andrew is doing to himself.

There is something grimly fascinating in seeing Andrew lose himself down the rabbit hole, taking all of Fletcher’s disdain and bile, and just coming back for more every time. Is Andrew a masochist? Is Fletcher a sadist? Do both of them really want to just make the perfect music, or is it all just opposite ends of a dark power trip? The questions grip Whiplash. Such a back and forth might get tired very quickly, but Chazelle’s script, in every bitter denunciation and decrying of mediocrity of Fletcher’s or snarky retort of Andrew to those that he deems inferior, keeps things where they need to be. The supporting cast is also to be praised: Melissa Benoist as Andrew’s ever more distant love interest and Paul Reizer as his father, both poignant human examples of the damage that can be done in pursuit of perfection. And then there is the music, both a dark force and a delight to listen to.

Whiplash builds to a very powerful and effective final act, with a closing set-piece that was as surprising in its nature and message as it was satisfying to witness. Suffice to say that Whiplash is not your typical musical prodigy tale, and it is not a success story. There are no underdog happy endings here. It is a dark psychological study of the price of chasing yours dreams to the utmost. Made on a relative shoestring, and riveting throughout, Whiplash might be Oscar-bait, but it is the kind of Oscar-bait I can get behind.

Starting intense and rarely letting up, is Whiplash as good as they say?

Starting intense and rarely letting up, is Whiplash as good as they say?

  1. Ex Machina

AI stories are as overplayed as anything in the science fiction genre, but Alex Garland’s directorial debut is a worthy use of the concept, in the creation of a twisted tale of manipulation and sentience. Three great acting talents – Gleeson, Isaac and Vikander – are along for the ride too, as a naïve tech company employee descends into the lair of a billionaire inventor, whose latest creation may or may not be as human as the rest of us: and it’s his job to find out.

Ex Machina is taut, stylish and more than a little thrilling. Garland dumps you into this cramped, isolated world of clashing personalities with little fanfare, and lets his principals do the talking, with an environment more akin to a stage play than a sci-fi movie. But it also does a fair but of hand holding when it has to – on AI theory and the like – to help form this impressive achievement, a film that is remarkably simple in its basic drive and purpose – a warped trinity with a sci-fi edge – but has plenty of hidden depths to make you ponder as the credits roll.

Watching Caleb’s progressively scarier interactions with “Ava” is amazing enough, as the audience is left wondering how genuine she is, or how manipulative she might be being. But there is also Caleb and Nathan, with Isaac’s deranged billionaire veering between fascinating entrepreneur and demented predator in our perception, with Ex Machina not willing to make things explicitly clear until very late on. All three do amazing work, but special praise must be sent Vikander’s way: she manages to imbue Ava with this great range of fragility, innocence, manipulative sexuality and empathy. And she does all with just the right level of awkwardness or missteps in language or movement, just so you never forget the exact nature of the thing that she is portraying. Garland’s direction, having come from a mostly writing background, is especially impressive, with this amazing location utilised to the full, with a nice contrast drawn between cramped interior and luscious exterior, and decent visual motifs regards reflective surfaces and red lighting.

While there are moments when Ex Machina descends into a TED-esque lecture regards AI, it’s really an abnormal love story, one told with skill and an understanding of suspense that is positively rare to see in films for this genre nowadays. Age Of Ultron, Big Hero 6 and Chappie all approached AI this year: none did it as good as Ex Machina does, or as memorably. Scored well, paced well and vivid in both its general execution and in its ending, Ex Machina only stutters in fleeting moments, which cannot really dim the overall experience too much. This is a true sci-fi classic.

Alex Garland's directorial debut is a twisted tale of manipulation and sentience.

Alex Garland’s directorial debut is a twisted tale of manipulation and sentience.

  1. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

A long time ago, a man named George Lucas hit paydirt with a story about farmboys wielding laser swords, smugglers with a heart of gold and princesses with blaster guns. A shorter time ago, he conspired to leave his treasured creation with a black mark, three of them to be exact. Now, after a corporate takeover to beat all corporate takeovers, Disney is on the scene, with J.J. Abrams as their chief operator, to take the sci-fi behemoth that is Star Wars and turn it back into a commercial and critical juggernaut. The old cast was back, and a set of up and comers were ready to take the reins. A galaxy far, far away was calling.

Yes, it has its similarities to the A New Hope. Indeed, it has a lot of them if we are being honest, with The Force Awakens being a soft reboot in many instances. Yes, Abrams is shallow on many details. Yes, some characters are side-lined and underdeveloped because of how much stuff has to be got through. Yes, at times the film is too mysterious for its own good with certain characters. But here’s the thing about The Force Awakens: it captures the spirit of the original trilogy in a way that Lucas’ prequels never came close to doing. Abrams has created first a wonderfully fun science fiction adventure romp, and second, a suitable successor to Episodes IV, V and VI.

The story is incredibly well paced and engaging from our opening glimpse of a lurking Star Destroyer to the last gasp on Skellig Michael. The cast is almost uniformly doing fine work: Daisy Ridley’s utterly amazing Rey and John Boyega’s Stormtrooper deserter Finn chief among them, two outsiders primed for utter stardom. With them is Oscar Isaac for daredevil flying thrills and Adam Driver as the insidiously creepy and threatening Kylo Ren, whose insecurities fuel The Force Awakens’ personal narrative. And propping them up, guiding the way to a successful handover, are the legends we know and love: Harrison Ford bringing everything he can back to Han Solo, and Carrie Fisher, maybe a General now, but still always a royalty to me. And somewhere in there too, is Mark Hamill.

The visuals are stunning, a 35mm masterpiece of seamless CGI and practical blending. The script gives all of the characters the right voices. John William’s work with the orchestra is as good as it has ever been. And just more than anything else, The Force Awakens is a film to reignite that incredible feeling the first time you saw that blue text on a black background, promising epic adventure across the stars. It is a film I saw twice with a large smile plastered across my face: it is a suitable and promising reinvigoration of a franchise, that has left the door open for even better things in the future.

Star Wars is back.

Star Wars is back.

  1. Selma

All hail the new Kings of Oscar bait! The biopic has been dominating award nominations for a while now and Selma, released fairly late on this side of the Atlantic, was the pre-eminent example of this year. Trying to the bring a crucial moment in the life of someone as gigantic in history as Martin Luther King was always going to be a hell of a task, but director Ava DuVernay not only accomplished this task, but did so brilliantly, this tale of the Selma to Montgomery marches grabbing hold of you right from the start, in every oppressive action and defiant stand.

For that, she, and the rest of is, have much to thank David Oyelowo for. It’s astonishing to me how ignored his performance has been. It’s powerful, it’s emotional, it’s simply epic, the perfect portrayal in line with the film’s admirable commitment to presenting King as a complicated individual, both heroic and a villain in different terms. For the latter, the performance of Carme Ejogo, the second half of King’s crumbling marriage, is vital. But the film is simply overflowing with acting talent: Tom Wilkinson’s LBJ, Tim Roth’s George Wallace, Andre Holland, Wendell Pierce, Common, Henry G. Sanders and Dylan Baker all give outstanding performances, sometimes in only very brief scenes.

The players are great, and the unfolding story is something to savour too, expertly edited and designed to create an engaging narrative, filled with tension and drama despite the audience’s likely familiarity with the actual events. Paul Webb’s script is immensely strong and powerful, capturing the distinctive voices of the people involved, and giving the cast all of the help that they need to make these characters come to life. DuVernay, with Bradford Young, directs few ostentatious colours or typical sixties sheen, more greys and blacks and visceral looking landscapes. The DuVernay/Young team are quick to focus the camera up on Oyelowo for much of the rest of the film, allowing the performance to come through wonderfully.

Too many films and other media go down the “white savoir” route when it comes to the topic of race relations – even 12 Years A Slave, my favourite film of last year – but Selma is a breath of fresh air in that respect, a film that puts black men, women and children at the forefront. It’s brilliantly written, entrancingly shot and directed, features good music and provides a showcase for one of the best performances of a real-life figure, well, ever. Oyelowo makes Selma so much of what it is, even with the greatness of the rest of the cast. Captivating, emotional, cathartic and important, Selma is biopic of the highest calibre, and the kind of film that will live long in the ages.

The King marriage is the well crafted heart of Selma.

The King marriage is the well crafted heart of Selma.

  1. Birdman

Ah, the enigmatic but altogether loved critical darling Birdman, (and a shout-out to its somewhat dense subtitle: Or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance). A stellar looking cast lined up behind the particularly chosen Michael Keaton, a man who has re-emerged in the last while after a period of relative obscurity, to tackle Alejandro Inarritu’s sometimes bizarre tale of washed-up actor Riggan Thomson, trying to adapt a Raymond Chandler story on the Broadway stage even while his life, and mental stability, crumbles.

In what follows, we swing between doses of hard, cold reality and mind boggling fantasy. Riggan engages with his titular alter-ego while levitating, in-between nearly murdering cast-members he doesn’t like and remonstrating with his just-out-of-rehab daughter. Spoiled, egotistical young bucks challenge his every decision, while his love life spirals between regretful remembrances and messy present-day complications. Dark forces conspire to destroy his vision, and social media is a behemoth waiting to engulf him. But the strength of Birdman is how all of these disparate elements are woven together to form a strong narrative that grabs a hold of you right from some of those bizarre opening shots, and never truly let’s go.

Of course, Michael Keaton, embodying the occasionally pathetic and occasionally heroic Riggan to a tee, is a seriously large part of that. Riggan Thomson is one of the best presented and characterised individuals of this century in film, and it’s largely all done with an inner discussion he’s having with himself, between Riggan (a need for love, to prove himself, to leave a legacy) and Birdman (a need for instant gratification, to feed the ego and to hell with everyone else). And then the rest of the cast, so many and so resplendent that I don’t have the space to name and praise them all, gives Keaton as good he does: special mention goes to Emma Stone as the directionless daughter and Ed Norton as what appears to be a slightly altered version of himself, if the talk is true.

But it is in the direction, between Inarritu and Gravity veteran Emmanuel Lubezki, that really turns Birdman from Oscar-bait to genuine titan. A faux one-shot experience that largely sticks to Riggan’s few days on Broadway come across as a seamless movement of characters and story, the camera following the key players around on their experiences, moving from player to player with ease and tranquility. Birdman really is one of those films where the direction and cinematography go far beyond the necessary competence and become unavoidably noticeable, and praise worthy for it. A script both powerful and darkly funny completes things, as we follow the strangely sympathetic Riggan blunder through some of the worst days of his life.

If there are faults, it might be in the film’s slightly preachy tone when it comes to the superhero genre it is at once lampooning and bashing, or some elements of the small sub-plots the lesser cast members partake in. But it is easy to get beyond these flaws, and appreciate the incredible experience that is Birdman. It is a brilliant film. It’s funny, its moving, its visceral and even when it is being random and crazy, it feels, very, very real. It is the best film of the year.

Michael Keaton tries to rise above mediocrity in Birdman.

Michael Keaton tries to rise above mediocrity in Birdman.

And so, to NFB’s annual film awards.

Best Actor

Awarded to the actor who has impressed the most throughout the year in leading roles.

Michael Keaton (Birdman)

It really was a near toss-up between Keaton and Oyelowo, but in the end I erred slightly towards Riggan. Keaton was required to run an emotional gauntlet throughout Birdman, from the lowest moments of weakness, to the most glorious personal triumphs, and did it all with a skill I regretfully never assumed he had.

Honourable Mentions: David Oyelowo (Selma) Miles Teller (Whiplash), Matt Damon (The Martian), Michael Fassbender (Macbeth, Slow West)

Best Supporting Actor

Awarded to the actor who has impressed the most throughout the year in roles other than the lead.

JK Simmons (Whiplash)

Whiplash needed someone immense in the puppetmaster role, and Simmons provided, from the moment he first asks – nay, demands – Miles Teller starts banging those drums. “Intensity” is too small a word for the performance.

Honourable Mentions: Edward Norton (Birdman), John Boyega (Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens), Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens), Michael Fassbender (Slow West), Harrison Ford (Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens)

Best Actress

Awarded to the actress who has impressed the most throughout the year in leading roles.

Charlize Thereon (Mad Max: Fury Road)

For the first time since I started doing these, this was a category that had an overload of options. In the end, Thereon’s Furiosa, the beating heart of the extraordinary film she could have headlined, just got ahead of Lily James’ more reserved, but near equally noteworthy, Ella, and Daisy Ridley’s wonderful Rey. Long may I have too many options.

Honourable Mentions: Carmen Ejogo (Selma), Alicia Vikander, (Ex Machina), Amy Poehler (Inside Out), Lily James (Cinderella), Daisy Ridley (Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens)

Best Supporting Actress

Awarded to the actress who has most impressed throughout the year in roles other than the lead.

Marion Cotillard (Macbeth)

“Lady” has never had such a magnificent and arresting screen presence, ably provided by one of the finest actresses working today. Imbuing a new perspective of regret into an oft simply-played part, Cotillard is both the manipulator and the mourner of the Scottish play, to a tee.

Honourable Mentions: Emma Stone (Birdman), Scarlett Johansson (Avengers: Age Of Ultron), Cate Blanchett (Cinderella), Laura Linney (Mr Holmes)

Best Ensemble

Awarded to the best cast, generally, of any film during the year.

Birdman

Keaton, Stone, Norton, Watts, Galifianakis, Riseborough, Ryan, Duncan…some great names, and they all came together wonderfully. Sorry Star Wars, you were close.

Honourable Mentions: Selma, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Cinderella, Inside Out, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Best Director

Awarded to the best director of the year.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)

It just has to be. The key directorial duties of drawing out engaging performances, the weaving of narrative and making sure a cinematography showcase is created are all things that Inarritu achieved to a high level.

Honourable Mentions: Ava DuVernay (Selma), Alex Garland (Ex Machina), Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), Kenneth Branagh (Cinderella), J.J. Abrams (Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens)

Best Production

Awarded to the film that has the best production values of the year, in terms of sets, props and other associated elements.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Close between this, The Force Awakens and Cinderella, but I had to go with George Miller’s electric return to the Wasteland, whose locations, vehicles and overall prop work were on another level.

Honourable Mentions: Ex Machina, Cinderella, The Martian, Macbeth, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Best CGI

Awarded to the film with the best use of computer generated imagery and graphics.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

It really could only be this one. The galaxy has never looked quite so good.

Honourable Mentions: Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, Ant-Man, Jupiter Ascending

Best Score

Awarded to the film with the best instrumental (non-lyrical) music of the year.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Only John Williams could have unseated Junkie XL, but I give Fury Road the nod because it was such a surprise, in comparison to the ever brilliant Williams. Fury Road’s score is a pulse-pounding thrill ride, from start to finish,

Honourable Mentions: Selma, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Cinderella, Inside Out, Song Of The Sea

Best Soundtrack

Awarded to the film with the best songs, generally, of the year.

Whiplash

I wasn’t sure where exactly to put Whiplash, but thought it deserved a shot at this. I’m a huge drum fan, and the intense hammering of Miles Teller, from the titular tune to the epic “Caravan” is one of the key things that make the film what it is.

Honourable Mentions: Selma, Song Of The Sea, The Last Patrol, Big Hero 6

Best Original Song

Awarded to the best song created for a film of the year.

“Glory” by Common and John Legend (Selma)

There was actually a dearth of really good options here in 2015, but “Glory” was a wonderfully epic way to salute the people of Selma in song, performed with great passion and power.

Honourable Mentions: “Song of the Sea” by Lucy O’Connell (Song Of The Sea), “Immortals” by Fallout Boy (Big Hero 6), “Writing’s On The Wall” by Sam Smith (Spectre)

Best Cover/Adapted Song

Awarded to the best song that has been covered or adapted from another source for a film of the year.

“Caravan” (Whiplash)

It really was not a good year for this category. That’s not to take anything away from Whiplash’s brilliant finale, but there wasn’t a great deal of competition.

Honourable Mentions: “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes” (Cinderella), “Whiplash” (Whiplash)

Best Adapted Script

Awarded to the best script adapted from another source of the year.

Chris Weitz, Cinderella

Converting an old classic was a daunting task, but Weitz managed to breathe some new life into a whole range of familiar characters, as well as creating the right voice for a lot of new ones.

Honourable Mentions: The Martian, Macbeth, Mr Holmes, Beasts Of No Nation

Best Original Script

Awarded to the best original script of the year.

Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., Armando Bo (Birdman)

A masterful job from a masterful team, not just in designing the words to be given to a character as complicated as Riggan Thomson, but in continuing the feat for a fairly expansive supporting cast.

Honourable Mentions: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Selma, Ex Machina, Whiplash, Inside Out

Best Cinematography

Awarded to the best camerawork of any film of the year.

Birdman

It could really only be one. The team that scaled such heights with Gravity not only did it again, but improved on it, in the incredible visual experience of Birdman.

Honourable Mentions: Birdman, Selma, Ex Machina, Cinderella, Mad Max: Fury Road, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Best Make-Up/Hairstyling/Costuming

Awarded to the film with the best combined make-up, hairstyling and costuming work of the year.

Cinderella

This was a very tough one this year, with galactic aliens and post-apocalyptic warriors all vying. But I wanted to share some love for the intricate details of clothing, styling and make-up done on Kenneth Branagh’s fairy-tale extravaganza, that helped make it such an opulent experience.

Honourable Mentions: Birdman, Cinderella, Mad Max: Fury Road, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Macbeth, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Best Comedy

Awarded to the best comedic film of the year.

Spy

Best Animation

Awarded to the best animated film of the year.

Inside Out

Best Romance

Awarded to the best romantic film of the year.

Cinderella

Best Sci-Fi

Awarded to the best science fiction film of the year.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Best Comic Book

Awarded to the best film based on a comic book/graphic novel of the year.

Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Best Documentary

Awarded to the best non-fiction film with a documentarian focus.

Best Of Enemies

Best Historical

Awarded to the best historical film of the year.

Selma

Best Irish

Awarded to the best Irish film of the year.

Song Of The Sea

Best Scene

Awarded to the best, non-action, scene of the year.

Riggan Brings The Curtain Down (Birdman)

Best Action Scene (Replaced Best Fight Scene)

Awarded to the best action/fight scene of the year.

The First Chase (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Battle Scene

Awarded to the best large-scale battle scene of the year.

The Final Chase (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Delivered Line

Awarded to the best written and delivered line(s) of the year.

“Dad…” (Emma Stone, Birdman)

Best Set-Piece

Awarded to the best single set-piece sequence or segment of the year.

Finale On Starkiller Base (Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens)

Best Hero

Awarded to the year’s best presented protagonist character.

Cinderella (Cinderella)

Best Villain

Awarded to the year’s best presented antagonist character.

Ava (Ex Machina)

“Diamond In The Rough” Award

Awarded to the actor/actress who gives the best performance of an otherwise bad movie.

Tom Hardy (Legend)

“Turd In The Punchbowl” Award

Awarded to the actor/actress who gives the worst performance of an otherwise great movie.

Jessica Chastain (The Martian)

“Bang For Your Buck” Award

Awarded to the best film in the shortest running time.

Best Of Enemies (87 Minutes)

“Inception” Award

Awarded to a film that is still good despite its plot holes.

Ant-Man

“Walter Mitty” Award

Awarded to a film that is still good despite its clichéd elements.

Cinderella

“Starcrossed Lovers” Award

Awarded to the film with the best romantic plot or sub-plot.

Ella and Kit (Cinderella)

“Limp Fish” Award

Awarded to the film with the worst romantic plot or sub-plot.

Nicky and Jess (Focus)

“Lonely Planet Guide To…” Award

Awarded to the best world/universe building within a film.

Mad Max: Fury Road

“Looks like British Columbia Again” Award

Awarded to the worst world/universe building within a film.

Justice League: Throne Of Atlantis

“On The Shoulders Of Giants” Award

Awarded to the best sequel, reboot or remake of the year.

Cinderella

“Has That Been Done Yet?” Award

Awarded to the worst sequel, reboot or remake of the year.

Jurassic World

“NOOOOOO” Award

Awarded to the actor or actress who over-acts the most during the year.

Hugh Laurie (Tomorrowland)

 “What Are Ee-Mo-Sh-Uns?” Award

Awarded to the actor or actress who under-acts the most during the year.

Emily Browning (Legend)

“Equality Now” Award

Awarded to the film that features the best use of female characters.

Cinderella

“T&A” Award

Awarded to the film that features the worst use of female characters.

Jurassic World

“That Escalated Quickly” Award

Awarded to the best movie idea that turned bad.

Tomorrowland

“Surprisingly Tolerable” Award

Awarded to the worst movie idea that turned good.

Cinderella

“It’s Been Mixed” Award

Awarded to the actor or actress with the most varying performances of the year.

Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road, Legend)

“Just Applaud” Award

Awarded to the film that has been rated too highly by the critical community.

Jurassic World

“Why Is No One Applauding?” Award (Previously the “Meh” Award)

Awarded to the film that has been rated too lowly by the critical community.

Fantastic Four

“Chekov’s Gun” Award

Awarded to the most shoed-in or obviously foreshadowing scene of the year.

Observing the Indominus (Jurassic World)

“Just Pick One” Award

Awarded to the film that is trying to be two different things at once, and failing.

Stoner Comedy/Political Satire (The Interview)

“We’re Going To That” Award

Awarded to the film with the best trailer(s) of the year.

Macbeth

“Are You Sure You Want To See That?” Award

Awarded to the film with the worst trailer(s) of the year.

Suffragette

 “The Pictures! They’re Coming…Alive!” Award

Awarded to the film with the single best CGI scene or moment.

The Falcon Flies Again (Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens)

“You Can See The Strings” Award

Awarded to the film with the single worst CGI scene or moment

Dinosaur Tag Team (Jurassic World)

 “Superman 64” Award

Awarded to the worst thing of the year.

Take Your Pick From It To Be Honest (The Interview)

“You Can’t Take The Sky From Me” Award

Awarded to the best thing of the year.

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” (Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens)

And that’s a wrap for this year. In 2016, looking forward to Spotlight, Creed, Trumbo, The Hateful Eight, The Revenant, The Finest Hours, Hail, Caesar!, Race, London Has Fallen, Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, The Jungle Book, Captain America: Civil War, Alice Through The Looking Glass, X-Men: Apocalypse, Finding Dory, Independence Day: Resurgence, The BFG, Ghostbusters, Star Trek: Beyond, Suicide Squad, Ben-Hur, The Magnificent Seven, Gambit, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, Rogue One, Assassins Creed and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny.

Until next year.

(All images are copyright of 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Sony Pictures Classics, Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures, StudioCanal, and Fox Searchlight Pictures).

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