Best of the Decade: 2015

With the previous decade having drawn to a close, One Large Popcorn, Please! is continuing to honour the greatest films of the past ten years. This week, the year 2015 is in focus.

The once-eradicated threat of terrorism loomed large over the world, with headlines about ISIS and suicide bombings dominating the news. Distraction came in the forms of Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump, who both announced they would be running for President of the United States. It was the beginning of a long and bitter feud which, some claim, continued well-after the following year’s election.

Conversely, this author had a far happier year, completing his final semesters of university, undergoing an internship with a public-relations firm and putting every remaining effort into visiting the local cinema. It was now perfectly clear that a career in film criticism best suited him, a dream that didn’t appear profitable in a regional Australian town.

Universal Pictures also had a happy 2015, with the studio making over six billion dollars at the global box-office and three of its films grossing over one billion dollars: Fast & Furious 7, Jurassic World and Minions. (To Universal’s chagrin, both records were broken by Walt Disney Pictures the very next year.) The film adaptation of E.L. James’ erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey was also released, but the less said about that, the better.

As there was great difficulty deciding which releases were most worthy of being included on this list, there are five films from 2015 discussed below, rather than the usual four.


Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman 1 poster

There was a resurgence in the spy genre this year, led right from the beginning by Matthew Vaughn’s colourful, tongue-in-cheek adaptation of a relatively-unknown graphic novel. It follows the transition of Eggsy (Taron Egerton) from street-smart adolescent to secret agent with the assistance of his mentors Harry (Colin Firth) and Merlin (Mark Strong), operatives of an underground organisation known as Kingsman.

While the material may not take itself as seriously as its contemporaries, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a better spy movie than most – the action sequences are fun and energetic, the visuals are bright, costumes are sharp and the subtle references to other properties most appealing. Impressively, the film does all of this while offering thoughtful, interesting debates about class and status.

The Secret Service received only a lukewarm reception from critics, but was adored by audiences – despite being released in the “dump month” of February. A box-office success, the film earned over $400 million in worldwide takings, which was more than the international gross of another action-blockbuster, Mad Max: Fury Road (see below). So popular proved Kingsman that a sequel, The Golden Circle, was released just two years later.


Shaun the Sheep Movie

Shaun the Sheep posterAardman’s woolly mascot had already forged a following with appearances in Wallace & Gromit and his own television series before making the leap to the big screen. Taking inspiration from the latter, Shaun’s feature-length debut saw him journeying solo to the Big City in hope of locating his missing, amnesic owner, only to find himself befriending a stray dog, outrunning a dog-catcher and keeping his flock out of mischief.

The narrative of Shaun the Sheep Movie is told in much the same way as the TV show, admirably forgoing dialogue and instead relying on visual cues, music and sound effects to convey plot points and emotion. Additionally, the picture possesses all the usual Aardman charms, including flawless stop-motion animation, hilarious gags and an outlandish third-act that’s astonishingly tense.

Despite not having the backing of a major Hollywood studio, Shaun the Sheep Movie was a box-office triumph in Europe, Australia and its native home of the United Kingdom; the film also garnered a nomination for Best Animated Feature at the 88th Academy Awards, 73rd Golden Globes and 43rd Annie Awards. Critics were equally charmed, with Rotten Tomatoes gifting a near-perfect Approval Rating of 99%.


Mad Max: Fury Road


The phrase “style over substance” is often used to criticise a film; but here is a rare example where that phrase can be applied as a compliment. It tells of a nomad named Max (Tom Hardy) who helps a group of women escape the wrath of a misogynistic dictator (Hugh Keays-Byrne) with the assistance of a rig-driver, Furiosa (Charlize Theron) by guiding them – or rather, accompanying them – through the post-apocalyptic Wasteland.

Coming a full three decades after the last film in the series – 1985’s Beyond Thunderdome – few people thought that another Mad Max film would see the light of day. Once it did, Fury Road was met with near-unanimous praise, with critics taken by its technical prowess and audiences by the jaw-dropping practical effects. Other applauded aspects of the movie include the acting, soundtrack and its feminist themes.

Mad Max: Fury Road proved only a modest box-office success, taking in $380 million (give or take) worldwide, but was lavished with accolades during awards season. At the 5th AACTA Awards – Australia’s equivalent of the Oscars – it won both the local and international awards for Best Film, while at the 88th Academy Awards it received accolades in six categories, a record haul for an Australian production.


Inside Out 

Inside Out release

Having spent the best part of a decade at the forefront of its field, Pixar Animation Studios looked to be faltering after a succession of ordinary features. That perception changed upon the release of this picture, which told of a young girl’s struggle as she adjusts to her new life in San Francisco. Guiding her through this change are the five core emotions in her life, including their confident, enthusiastic leader Joy (Amy Poehler).

Although it houses a familiar premise and rather simple story, Inside Out is undoubtedly Pixar’s best feature-length picture to date. Each of the five emotions has an intricate personality that allows conflict to be fostered without the need for an antagonist; more impressively, it does so without making any of the characters unlikeable. And of course, there’s the usual Pixar strengths of top-class animation, superb voice-acting and wonderful music.

Inside Out was given the rare distinction of a five-star rating by this author at the time of its release, and he wasn’t the only one smitten by the movie – Rotten Tomatoes indicates an Approval Rating of 98%. Among its other successes are an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, an Annie Award, and $857 million in global box-office revenue, making it one of Pixar’s most successful releases critically and commercially.


Star Wars: The Force Awakens


To call this the most anticipated release of the decade would be an understatement. Very few were left disappointed by the long-awaited Star Wars sequel, with a new generation of heroes given the chance to shine: Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and droid BB-8. Banding together, in one way or another, the four assist the Resistance in its fight against Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his villainous New Order.

As many commentators noted back when the film was initially released, Star Wars: The Force Awakens suffers from a lack of originality, with its plot being very similar to 1977’s A New Hope. Yet Episode VII is no shot-for-shot remake – in some ways it is better than the original, offering more loveable characters, punchier humour, a blend of digital and practical effects, great cinematography and a masterclass in visual storytelling.

Concerns that a December release date would hurt box-office revenue were quickly laughed off after The Force Awakens became (at the time) the third-highest grossing film in history, and the fastest to reach two billion dollars. (Its final tally, unadjusted for inflation, was $2,068,223,264.) In acknowledgement of its popularity, it received nominations at the 88th Oscars for Original Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Film Editing and Visual Effects.


Other notable releases: Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Age of Ultron proved less popular than its predecessor; Denis Villeneuve helmed the critically-adored Sicario; sci-fi blockbuster The Martian saw director Ridley Scott return to form; the 24th film in the James Bond franchise, Spectre met with a mixed response; the characters of Charles M. Schulz were perfectly adapted by The Peanuts Movie; Ryan Coogler’s Creed gave the Rocky franchise a smart reboot; Spotlight highlighted the Catholic Church’s most heinous crimes in a thoughtful, approachable manner; and Leonardo DiCaprio finally received an Oscar with his turn in The Revenant.


Do you agree with this list? What films have been missed? Be sure to comment below with your thoughts!

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