Over the past twelve months, Concrete Playground's film critics have watched a truly obscene number of movies. Blockbusters, indie titles and arthouse flicks from around the globe, if it's been projected onto a screen anywhere in this country we've gobbled it up – along with approximately ten truckloads full of popcorn. And while there are certain films we'd much rather forget (looking at you Fantastic Four), there have also been plenty of great ones. Presented in alphabetical order, here are our ten favourite movies of the year.
Amy, by director Asif Kapadia, is an overwhelmingly tragic and absorbing portrait of the life (and death) of famed jazz singer Amy Winehouse; a documentary steeped in disquiet because, just as it was with Kapadia's previous film Senna, you know it ends in a crash. With its remarkable catalogue of personal videos, voicemails and recording sessions, Kapadia has crafted an extraordinarily moving tribute to a prodigious talent whose life seemed somehow unavoidably foredoomed.
Filmed like a play but choreographed like a dance, Alejandro G. Iñárritu's Birdman is a cinematic ballet, one where the way the story is presented is just as critical as the story itself. Narratively, its chronicle of redemption is a simple one, but like all good tales the simplicity of plot is offset by characters possessed of deep complexity. This is a film that almost commands repeat viewings, if only to marvel at its mechanics – and yet Birdman offers so much more than form. Darkly comedic, intellectually challenging and emotionally confronting, it’s a tantalisingly original piece of cinema that rightfully garnered multiple Oscars, including the top gong, at this year's Academy Awards.
If you're thinking about French electronic music, then you're probably thinking about Daft Punk. Writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve understands this, and doesn't shy away from their success in her portrait of the scene during the early 1990s. In fact, they're the counterpoint to the struggles endured by Eden's main character, Paul (Félix de Givry), as he chases the same dream over the course of two decades. Suffice it to say, he doesn't quite enjoy the same trajectory as his helmet-wearing friends. The film does, however, offer an astute account of trying and not quite succeeding that's equally hopeful and realistic.
Before Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson found themselves on opposite sides of the good-versus-evil divide in Star Wars: Episode VII, they battled over something else in the sci-fi realm. In Ex Machina, artificial intelligence and a humanoid robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander) spark a clash between Isaac's tech company CEO and Gleeson's computer programmer, after the former invites the latter to help test his newest creation. One of the best modern appropriations of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein ever made, Alex Garland's directorial debut is precise and probing in its themes, visuals and mood.
Pixar gets back to the top of their game with this wonderfully inventive tale set inside the human mind. Like all the studio's best movies, Inside Out can be enjoyed by just about anyone, with plenty of cerebral grown-up gags mixed in with the animated slapstick. It also features some of the most gorgeous visuals they've ever put up on the screen. But it's the film's emotional intelligence that earns it a spot in the Pixar pantheon alongside Up and Toy Story 3. Not content simply to make us cry, director Pete Docter instead examines why we cry, delivering a poignant life lesson that applies no matter how old you may be.
It's two and a half hours long, full of graphic sex and the whole thing is shot in 3D. In case you couldn't guess, Gaspar Noe's Love won't appeal to every taste. But even those who hate it would be hard pressed to deny that it's one of the most daring movies released in quite some time. Say what you will about his apparent predilections, but Noe is clearly a master of his craft. And if nothing else, Love is worth seeing just so you can argue about it. Is it a scathing critique of misogyny and male insecurity, or is it guilty of those very issues itself? Ultimately, you need to see it to decide.
Few filmmakers can take something as distinctive as Shakespeare and turn it into a creation that feels wholly like their own. Justin Kurzel might follow in the footsteps of fellow Australian Baz Luhrmann in achieving this feat, although his Macbeth has little else in common with everyone's favourite version of Romeo + Juliet. In the Snowtown helmer's hands, the tale of an ambitious soldier willing to do whatever it takes to become king is stripped down to its most bleak and brutal elements. Yes, it rages with sound and fury. Yes, it's moody and brooding, both in emotion and in its aesthetic. Yes, Michael Fassbender steals the show in the title role, though Marion Cotillard threatens to do the same in every scene she's in.
In an era when most blockbusters follow the same predictable path, Mad Max: Fury Road charts a course in a very different direction. A barebones narrative forms the basis for the film, essentially a two-hour car chase through a bizarre desert wasteland, where warlords rule with an iron fist and flamethrowers double as guitars. Director George Miller makes fantastic use of practical effects, crafting action that is both bombastic and possesses a genuine sense of danger – something that films loaded with CGI often struggle to achieve. And that's to say nothing of the movies' unexpected feminist streak, with Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa stealing the whole film right out from under Max's feet.
Since the beginning of the Mexican Drug War in 2006, it’s estimated more than 100,000 people have been killed in cartel-related violence. Sicario (Spanish for ‘hitman’) is a gritty, confronting and appropriately brutal examination of the US’s complicated and often deleterious engagement with this conflict. While its doleful theme of ‘this is just how things are’ doesn't deliver anything particularly new on the topic, Sicario showcases two powerhouse performances from its leads — Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro — and delivers a relentlessly tense, immaculately constructed piece of cinema from start to finish.
If you were going to get turned into an animal, which one would you choose? This line of thought pops up in The Lobster, although it's actually one of the least interesting things about the English-language debut of Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos. The writer-director behind Dogtooth and Alps, Lanthimos uses a light sci-fi premise and a high-profile cast to ponder society's obsession with pairing people off, maintaining monogamous relationships and adhering to an amorous status quo. The result is a savagely funny yet heartbreakingly tender film that also features what might be the most memorable use of Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue's 'Where the Wild Roses Grow' we've ever seen.