1. Hard To Be A God
Aleksei German’s final masterpiece, 15 filth-soaked years in the making, takes you to a distant planet locked in eternal Dark Age squalor to stare humanity dead in the eye.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
Three decades on, director George Miller brings back Mad Max in the very best action film of the brand new millennium. Densely thrilling and inventive, and as madly beautiful as a ballet in a firestorm.
3. Inherent Vice
Paul Thomas Anderson’s shimmering stoner noir isn’t merely a better Thomas Pynchon adaptation than anyone thought possible. It’s a brilliant disquisition into a lovely, modern paranoia, unsolvable enigma – and also, somehow, the funniest film of the year.
4. Inside Out
A tough few weeks in the life of an 11-year-old girl becomes a fantastical adventure place in contours and the vaults of her mental landscape. Pixar’s best and most conceptually challenging movie to date.
The film isn’t a stranger to the words “I love you” – but in Todd Haynes’s taboo love story, with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as the year’s best display couple, they shine like new. Shot every gesture and costume are perfections: collectively, the effect’s overwhelming.
6. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Radical and traditional in equal measure, the movie finds a rare and lucid delight in life’s impermanence.
The conventional, mist-bathed setting is a blood-red herring: Justin Kurzel’s film is the most revelatory Shakespeare variation on film since Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo Juliet in 1996. Anchored by two cosmically strong performances from Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, and speaking directly to Britain in 2015, every scene finds new power in its 400-year-old poetry.
8. Magic Mike XXL
To understand the genius of Gregory Jacobs’ strip-revue sequel, watch it like a Golden Age Hollywood musical. The (charming) road-trip plot is practical beside the point. This really is the restorative power of fantasy, a movie about the transcendent pleasures of appearing, and the infectious enjoyment of human movement. And as if that wasn’t enough: it also features the finest use of a Backstreet Boys track in the history of cinema.
9. Song of the Sea
Tomm Moore along with the Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon leapt into the kingdom of the all-time greats with this elegantly told, beautifully hand- drawn update of a Celtic myth. A swirling, deep bereavement allegory, told from a totally convincing child’s eye perspective.
10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Not only the largest relief of the cinema-going year but excellent blockbuster entertainment in its own right. JJ Abrams’s movie reaches a razor edge balance between initiation and homage, re-bottling the magic and soul of the original Star Wars trilogy while driving the myth somewhere thrillingly new.
11. The Walk
Robert Zemeckis’s dramatisation of Philippe Petit’s 1974 prohibited tightrope walk between the World Trade Centre towers was not just the immersive 3D IMAX bit of showmanship it was billed as, but a heart-swelling poem to human genius, and a reclamation of those buildings’ monolithic memory from the bad guys.
12. Clouds of Sils Maria
A fearlessly intelligent psychological fondue from France’s Olivier Assayas, with Juliet Binoche and Kristen Stewart as a famous actress and her diligent personal assistant, prepping for a play that shapes the drama of their own lives in its likeness. Addictively and playful odd, with career-best work from Stewart.
13. The Wonders
In Alice Rohrwacher’s evocative Italian coming-of-age drama, maturity creeps in slowly as the sun going across a bedroom wall.
After a six-year absence, Michael Mann returned with maybe the Michael Mann-liest movie possible: a technothriller so icily you can almost sense a chill wind whipping through its neon -lit real chasms. The subject of Blackhat is the cyber crime, which means its stage is global, but in addition, simultaneously virtual – and Mann’s mixing of analogue and digital realities has a beauty and visceral charge that brings his movie to the point of pure sensory abstraction.
15. 45 Years
Andrew Haigh’s immaculate, shattering play about a couple approaching their sapphire anniversary is the type of film you don’t consider Britain’s capable of making: formally although absolutely reachable gobsmacking, with a lead performance from Charlotte Rampling that’s not so much close as intravenous. NB incoming BFI chairman Josh Berger: throw wheelbarrow-loads of money at this filmmaker.