Heartbreaking is the simplest way to describe Asif Kapadia's documentary which charts the rise and demise of Amy Winehouse. From bubbly teen with a big voice to chart-topper, Grammy winner and finally addict, this was a ghoulish tale of our times where celebrity obsession and tabloid culture affects (and infects) us all. But it was also a reminder of how prodigiously talented Amy was, something to cling onto amid all the darkness.
Alongside Avengers: Age of Ultron Marvel's other offering this year was fun and perhaps a little lighter on its feet. Paul Rudd was perfect as thief turned micro-hero Scott Laing recruited by Michael Douglas's original Ant-Man, Hank Pym, to stop tech-villain Darren Cross creating an army of nano-soldiers. Ant-Man was a very entertaining way to end Phase Two of Marvel's cinematic world dominance.
Pixar continued their phenomenal run of success with Inside Out. Their fifteenth film proved to be a very moving, wonderfully animated and beautifully inventive as ever. Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness were the unlikely stars and with the emotions so present it was no wonder that laughter, heartache and joy joined us on this emotional rollercoaster. A triumph.
Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation
Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and team (Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and newcomers Rebecca Ferguson and CIA head, Alec Baldwin) returned to our screens on possibly their toughest mission yet. Did they accept it? Yes, of course, with aplomb! Screenwriter and director Christopher McQuarrie created a series of exhilarating set-pieces that took your breath away, with Cruise quite possibly topping all of his previous stunts by hanging on to the outside of plane as it motored down the runway. The health and safety officer on set must have had a heart attack! We look forward to seeing how Cruise will top that nail-biter!
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Fast, fun and beautiful to look at, director Guy Ritchie’s fingerprints were all over this big end of summer movie. Much as he had done with Sherlock Holmes, he provided a modern twist to a period drama, injecting plenty of humour and action without detracting from a cracking yarn. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer were ideally suited as the mismatched Solo and IIIya, and were ably supported by Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris and a scene-stealing Hugh Grant.
Hitman: Agent 47
Let’s not beat around the bush: the critics did not rate Hitman: Agent 47…Showcase audiences, however, loved it! We saw an early preview of Aleksander Bach’s film and we too fell for this stylish action movie, reveling in the tongue-in-cheek violence, all pulled off without Rupert Friend’s ‘perfect killing machine’ spilling any claret on his suit or shirt, or indeed his red tie.
Legend saw Tom Hardy in double top form as feared and brutal gangland twins, Ron and Reg Kray, remarkably achieving two highly individual performances. Screenwriter and director Brain Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) created a fast-paced, highly stylized and at times very violent, but also surprisingly fun period drama.
A white knuckle ride of the highest order, Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur’s film was inspired by the incredible true events surrounding an attempt to reach the summit of the world's highest mountain. Using cinematographer Salvatore Totino’s stunning visuals to the maximum, Everest was a thrilling and devastating immersive experience that spat you out of the theatre exhausted.
Before seeing The Martian we interviewed the author of the book, Andy Weir. He was very humble about the big screen adaptation and yet his excitement about the film he had already seen was all too apparent - and rightly so! Master filmmaker, Sir Ridley Scott was back with a real return to form. A film with huge scope and ambition, it was thrilling, smart and for those who had not read the book, surprisingly funny and an ideal vehicle for its star, Matt Damon. An update on the Robinson Crusoe story (at one point Damon calls himself a ‘space pirate’) this was pure cinema.
Gripping from beginning to end, Denis Villeneuve's graphic study of the war on drugs is played out on the US/Mexico border as Emily Blunt's FBI agent is seconded to a special covert unit. Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro are brilliantly shadowy in their supporting roles in a world where there are no moral certainties. Sicario never lets up, from the tensest traffic jam in history to a breathtaking night vision sequence in a tunnel under the border.
James Bond returned in one of the most anticipated films of the year with director Sam Mendes and star Daniel Craig reuniting to try to top the spectacular success of Skyfall. Spectre found 007 trying to track down those responsible for terror attacks around the world and unravelling a personal connection to the culprit in the process. All the Bond essentials – great action scenes, nifty gadgets, fast cars and glamourous women – made sure Spectre was a big hit.
Director Sarah Gavron crafted an impeccable tale of ordinary people caught up in political warfare. When we spoke to Abi Morgan earlier in the year she said she found her breakthrough in writing the script when she decided to write the story of the Suffragette movement from the viewpoint of an ordinary woman as opposed to Emmeline Pankhurst (played by Meryl Streep). Carey Mulligan’s portrayal of a working wife, whose life is dramatically changed when she joins the Suffragette movement, is a highlight in a short but impressive career.
Hotel Transylvania 2
After the huge success of the original film, it was great to welcome back the gang from Hotel Transylvania. This time round they had a newly relaxed outlook, hoping to change their fortunes by opening their doors to humans. Once again co-written by star and producer Adam Sandler, the gags in Hotel Transylvania 2 came thick and fast delivered by the likes of Sandler, Steve Buscemi and Kevin James.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2
And so Katniss Everdeen fought her final battle. After three blockbusting films, The Hunger Games franchise came to an end with Mockingjay, Part 2. Amid stunning sci-fi effects, a lesser actress might have been overwhelmed, not so Jennifer Lawrence, who returned to the franchise after Oscar success (with Silver Linings Playbook) and again delivered a stunning performance as the moral heart in the dystopian anti-war saga.
Bridge of Spies
Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, the Coen Brothers: Bridge of Spies had all of the ingredients to make a perfect film and no surprises then that it was indeed an impressive combination. This gripping, elegant and smart take on the Cold War thriller was anchored by yet another great performance from Hanks, this time as the unlikely hero, Brooklyn lawyer James Donovan. However for many the revelation was Mark Rylance, in a role that will surely result in an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
The Good Dinosaur
Two Pixar films in one year is our idea of a cinematic treat! After Inside Out Disney Pixar returned with The Good Dinosaur and asked the question: what if the asteroid that forever changed life on Earth actually missed the planet completely and dinosaurs never became extinct? In this alternative prehistory, a young dinosaur named Arlo befriends a young human called Spot and builds an unbreakable bond. Held together with breathtaking animation, astonishing attention to detail and a huge dollop of heart and emotion The Good Dinosaur proved to be yet another hit for Pixar.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The most eagerly awaited film of the year (perhaps the decade) was not a disappointment. JJ Abrams’ sequel to the original Star Wars trilogy was set 30 years after Return Of The Jedi and introduced a new set of characters in the battle between the forces of good and the dark side – as well as seeing the return of some old familiar faces. With a great reception from critics and audiences alike, The Force Awakens looks like being not just the biggest film of 2015 but the biggest film of all time.
Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie
Our year in cinema ends with yet another cracking animated film. Making their big screen debut, Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang came to life in a wonderful homage to Charles M Schulz's unique take on childhood. We saw a preview of the film and it's a delight and a wonderful way to see out the year.