So 2015 didn't feel epic at the cinemas, but in the last 12 months we've seen five films make over a billion dollars in theatrical release. That's up from just one in 2014, two in 2013 and four in 2012.
The most popular movies are rarely the best, but it's good to see the industry making money. This year Jurrassic World, Furious 7, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Minions bypassed the $1 billion mark (and it shouldn't be long before Star Wars takes top spot).
One highlight of the year's blockbusters was the surge of strong female roles: Trainwreck, Spy, Wild, Hunger Games, Mad Max: Fury Road, Star Wars.
Here are my picks for the best flicks.
Best Horror: It Follows
From a perfectly badass soundtrack to the brilliant idea of a sexually transmitted demonic entity, this independent horror flick laid the boots to studio cookie cutter methodology. Tapping into the basic fear of a stranger you can't shake, this one brought that element of "what would I do if it was me" back into horror.
Best Splatter: Deathgasm
Also wins for best name. The opposite of nuanced, this New Zealand-made flick is about a couple of teenage metal heads who find and play some ancient sheet music and unleash all kinds of demonic horror on their sleepy, shitty town. B-Grade to the core, Deathgasm also has full-frontal nudity, castration, chainsaw massacres, dildo battles and that unique Kiwi sense of humour. Runner Up: Turbo Kid.
Best Animated: Inside Out
Minions made more money, but this one is among the best animated flicks of the past 10 years. An anthropomorphized visual journey through the heartbreakingly painful moments of growing up, Inside Out is one of the smartest flicks of the year. Kids love it, parents will cry. Shaun the Sheep was also good.
Best Comedy: What We Do In The Shadows
New Zealand's comedic power strikes again, this time in a mockumentary about the trials and triumphs of a group of Vampires from different eras living together as roommates. It peters out a bit at the end (almost every comedy does) but the opening of this one is bloody good. The Night Before and Trainwreck were also worthy.
Best Sci-fi: Ex Machina
The Martian was great considering it was essentially Castaway meets Gravity and the new Star Wars did get me stoked on intergalactic adventure. But the winner this year was Ex Machina because it is subtle, creepy, claustrophobic and made me think about the nature of man, machine and the ominous future.
Best Flick You Didn't See: Hard to be God
I didn't see it either (yet) but it looks like some kind of deranged medieval-alien planet dystopian epic. And it's black and white, entirely in Russian and three hours long. Perfect.
Best Role: Harrison Ford — Han Solo
Fassbender killed it in Steve Jobs and Jennifer Jason Leigh shone in The Hateful Eight but to see Ford come back and elevate the Han Solo character to new heights takes the ribbon this year.
Best Living Up to Expectations: Straight Outta Compton
This could have sucked in such a huge way but Cube, Dre and director F. Gary Gray kept it all fairly on point for this biopic of the world's most dangerous group, NWA.
Best Love Story: Carol
It played at the (increasingly amazing) Whistler Film Festival and audiences and critics are eating up this '50s-era NYC lesbian love story starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, and directed by Todd Haynes. Let's hope it comes back to Whistler in the new year.
Best Local Film: The Twisted Slipper
For narrative you gotta respect Sharai Rewels and Angie Nolan's The Twisted Slipper short film (it went to Cannes). And on the action front, Anthony Bonello's Eclipse was about photographer Reuben Krabbe's crazy mission to capture ski/solar perfection is a good peek at true mountain passion.
Best of 2015: Mad Max: Fury Road
It's not even close. By big budget standards it shouldn't have even worked: it's yet another franchise reboot where the franchise character plays a supporting role, it's one big chase scene, it's not Marvel... yet no other film captured the magic of cinema. Director George Miller created a believable, almost unavoidable near-future and populated it with real characters, thematic resonance and balls-out action. This movie was perfect.
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