Our top films of 2015 - in pictures

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From haunting documentaries to visceral action films, the year offered a treasure trove for movie buffs. Here are the 12 movies that impressed us.


Like Senna, his Bafta-winning 2010 documentary about the Formula 1 racing driver, Asif Kapadia's sensational Amy deals with a fallen idol cut off in their prime. In her native Britain, Back To Black singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse – who died in 2011 the age of 27 of alcohol poisoning – was always a figure of tabloid notoriety. But Kapadia sifts through archive and home-movie footage, conducting fresh audio interviews to piece together a heart-wrenching depiction of the woman behind the headlines. Dealing with issues from addiction to fame and the perils of celebrity culture, Amy is skilfully, sensitively handled; the sort of film that'll haunt you for days.

* James Mottram

As I Opened My Eyes

Leyla Bouzid’s feature-length debut takes place in the rarely depicted underbelly of Tunisia in the summer of 2010, a few months before the Tunisian people began protests that started the so-called Arab Spring. As with the finest portraits of real life political events, the director cleverly keeps the story small, while hinting at a much bigger picture. In many ways the story seems typical, it’s about Farah (Baya Medhaffer), a teenager who wants to break away from the rules of her mother. She plays in a band in hip underground bars and hangs out with societies dispossessed. Not only does Bouzid capture a mood in society, she does so with an awesome soundtrack.

* Kaleem Aftab

A Syrian Love Story

Documentarian Sean McAllister began filming Syrian couple Amer and Raghda in 2009. At the time Raghda was a political prisoner, while her husband Amer raised their children at home. Over the course of the following five years, through their relationship, McAllister shows the effect that demonstration in Tunisia and Egypt had on the Syrian population, the efforts of the Assad regime to quell protests, and then a family forced to flee their homeland to Europe. The film could not have arrived at a more pertinent moment. Yet what’s most impressive is the almost Ingmar Bergman-esque way that McAllister delves into family life and relationships.

* Kaleem Aftab

Beasts of No Nation

Netflix made its first foray into feature filmmaking with an uncompromising adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala's acclaimed eponymous novel about an African boy's journey from innocence to brutal child soldier. Written, directed, and largely shot by True Detective (season one) Helmer Cary Fukunaga, the film features a tour-de-force performance by Idris Elba as a militia leader who moulds the playful youngster into a killer. The real find, however, is non-actor Abraham Attah, who portrays the dying of the light in the boy's eyes with devastating authenticity. Harrowing, beautifully put together and compelling, Beasts of No Nation deserves to be a contender during awards season.

* Stephen Applebaum

Ex Machina

Alex Garland can always be relied on to turn in a good screenplay, with the likes of The Beach and 28 Days Later on his CV, but that doesn't necessarily make for a good director. Thankfully with Ex Machina, his directorial debut from his own screenplay, Garland passed the test with flying colours. The movie takes nods from the likes of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, as well as more recent investigations of artificial intelligence (something of a cinematic cause célèbre over the last couple of years with the likes of Her, Transcendence and Chappie covering similar ground.) Following critical and box office success, we can only hope the film spurs the producers of Dredd, another Garland-scripted scifi classic, to revisit the pair of sequels he wrote for that movie, and ideally reconsider not making them.

* Chris Newbould

It Follows

David Robert Mitchell's low-budget horror achieved the rare feat of gaining ecstatic plaudits from genre fans and 'serious' critics alike, and grossed over US$20m on a modest US$2m budget. The movie returns to the classic era of 70s and 80s horror, eschewing expensive FX for atmosphere, a solid script and performances, and genuine "jump out of your seat" moments. The movie hasn't done star Maika Monroe's career any harm – shortly after its release she was announced as the female lead in the forthcoming Independence Day 2, but she hasn't let the newfound A-list fame go to her head — she revealed to The National earlier this year that "if David came up with some good ideas, I'd be up for a second one".

* Chris Newbould

Mad Max: Fury Road

Thirty years on from the ThunderDome, George Miller's apocalyptic anti-hero made a scorching return – albeit with star Mel Gibson replaced by a surly, largely muzzled Tom Hardy – in this astounding action film. Brilliantly, Hardy's Max Rockatansky was almost a bystander in his own movie, a kink in a hairpin plot that's driven, quite literally, by Charlize Theron's one-armed Furiosa, as she rebels to save a harem belonging to Hugh Keays-Byrne's grotesque Immortan Joe. Living up to its title, Fury Road is sheer 100mph madness, with practical stunts that literally take your breath away. Miller deserves every award going for this groundbreaking jaw-dropper.

* James Mottram

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Probably the most-hyped movie of all time, The Force Awakens has set a new record as the quickest film to gross a billion dollars, but for once, the end product just about lived up to the hype. Sure, there are some gaping plot holes and the film can sometimes veer a little too far into fanboy territory, but this was all about the experience. It was about vanquishing the prequel trilogy horror, and bringing back fond childhood memories while converting a new generation to the Star Wars legend, and it did a very good job on all fronts. Did we mention it was partly shot in Abu Dhabi, too?

* Chris Newbould

The Revenant

Having scooped the 2015 Best Picture Oscar with Birdman, Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu could make it a double in 2016 with The Revenant. Where the former tale of 21st-century anxiety was set largely within the claustrophobic backstage rabbit warren of a Broadway theatre, the new movie is a sinew-straining outdoor adventure that pits Leonardo DiCaprio's bearded 19th-century frontiersman against the elements, and a protective bear, as he hunts down his son's murderer. Shot with painterly grace by Emmanuel Lubezki, it combines the ruggedness of Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God with some of the spiritual yearning of Terrence Malick's recent films. Result: breathtaking.

* Stephen Applebaum


An unmissable gem from Irish filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson, Room is one of the best-reviewed films of 2015. At its centre are two haunting performances from Brie Larson and relative newcomer Jacob Tremblay, as a mother and her 5-year-old son held captive in a squalid shed meagrely equipped with a bed, toilet, bath, bed and basic kitchen. The boy has known nothing else. When they escape, the pair must adapt to a new way of living. Surprising, intense, quietly harrowing and moving, Room takes up residence under your skin and doesn't leave. It is a small movie, but it packs a big emotional punch.

* Stephen Applebaum

Taxi Tehran

In theory Taxi Tehran should not exist. Director Jafar Panahi was banned from making films by the Iranian government in 2010, yet this is the third film he has made since then, and also his funniest and most observational. It won the prestigious Golden Bear for Best Film at the Berlin Film Festival and follows the template set by the great director Abbas Kiarastami of making Iranian films set in cars. Panahi plays himself, a former movie director now working as a taxi driver, picking up passengers, and filming the conversations that paint a picture of life in Tehran. Panahi comes across as charming, thoughtful and gregarious.

* Kaleem Aftab


You might expect a film about a jazz drummer to keep time, but Damien Chazelle's award-winning indie never misses a single beat. Miles Teller seasons his role as ambitious music student Andrew Neiman with just the right amount of cockiness and underlying vulnerability. But it's his relationship with bullying tutor Terence Fletcher (J K Simmons, deserved recipient of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar) that powers the film, as they hurl red-hot barbs back-and-forth in an increasingly up-tempo tale about the sacrifices it takes to achieve perfection. Think Full Metal Jacket with cymbals – with Fletcher the all-in-black drill instructor. College has never seemed so cruel.

* James Mottram