Worldwide icon-chevron-right Europe icon-chevron-right United Kingdom icon-chevron-right England icon-chevron-right London icon-chevron-right The 20 best movies of 2015

The 20 best movies of 2015

The votes are in: the Time Out film team pick the very best 2015 movies

By Cath Clarke, Dave Calhoun and Tom Huddleston |

Yes, it's true, we haven't seen 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' yet – but 2015 is very nearly up and it's time to choose the best movies of 2015. Here, we present a varied bunch of great movies that have rocked our world over the past 12 months, some romantic, some funny, some horrific, all excellent. And if 'Star Wars' turns out to be as great as we hope (fingers crossed), consider it number 21 on this list. Here's to 2015, and roll on 2016!

best movies 2015, a girl walks home alone at night
Film, Horror

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

Just when we thought we’d had enough of vampire movies, along comes Ana Lily Amirpour with this very cool black and white no-budget gem. It’s a bit hipsterish, but don’t let that put you off – it’s also very funny and romantic. Sheila Vand plays the heroine of the title, a vampire in a chic stripy Breton t-shirt and a traditional black chador veil.

Why I loved it
Cath Clarke: ‘This has my favourite scene of any movie I’ve seen all year (as well as the best cat). Our heroine is seductively sucking on the finger of a low-life douche-bag drug dealer. He thinks he’s onto a winner. But then – crunch – she spits his finger out like it’s an olive stone. Nice move.’

best movies 2015 - the look of silence
Film, Documentaries

The Look of Silence

Documentary maker Joshua Oppenheimer’s companion piece to his devastating ‘The Act of Killing’ finds him returning to the topic of the 1965 Indonesian genocide, in which over a million so-called ‘communists’ were murdered following a military coup.

Why I loved it
Tom Huddleston: ‘"The Act of Killing" may be the most difficult film I’ve ever watched: a few scenes in particular still disturb me. “The Look of Silence” is a less ostentatious and attention-grabbing work, focusing on the experiences of one family who lost loved ones during the genocide. But if anything, it’s more moving. In optician Adi, director Joshua Oppenheimer has found a true hero, a man who gets to the heart of horrible truths simply by asking the right questions and allowing the perpetrators to hang themselves.’

best movies 2015 - magic mike xxl
Film, Comedy

Magic Mike XXL

Three years after the original, this glitzier, shinier but way more subversive sequel sees Channing Tatum’s male stripper Mike coming out of retirement and joining his old dance troupe on a road trip to Florida.

Why I loved it
Tom Huddleston: ‘I went into this expecting more of the same: an essentially old-fashioned approach to slightly saucy material. But “Magic Mike XXL” is something completely different. Never in my experience has a major Hollywood studio picture about a group of guys been so explicitly, unashamedly tailored to the female audience, constructed almost entirely of long sequences in which male characters joyfully, uncomplainingly give women exactly what they want, whether it’s playful banter or pure bump ’n’ grind. It’s also damn funny.’

best movies 2015 - taxi tehran
Film, Drama

Taxi Tehran

Persecuted Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi continues to make fascinating work in his home country. This wry comedy sees Panahi himself playing a cab driver in Tehran.

Why I loved it
Dave Calhoun: ‘You've got to hand it to Jafar Panahi for continuing to make films when the Iranian government makes it so difficult for him. And what a film this is: it's such a sly and joyful experience as Panahi picks up various characters around the city (presumably actors) and films them on hidden cameras. Each of their tales has something to say about modern life or filmmaking in Iran. It's often funny, yet the ending leaves us with a pointed sense of menace.’

best movies 2015 - love is strange
Film, Drama

Love Is Strange

Alfred Molina and John Lithgow star as long-term partners whose lives hit unexpected difficulties when they decide to get married in this New York drama.

Why I loved it
Dave Calhoun: ‘The writer-director Ira Sachs is a compassionate dramatist, a teller of humane, naturalistic stories. Here, he coaxes such sensitive performances from Alfred Molina and John Lithgow, and his script shows how even settled lives can so easily unravel when circumstances and prejudice conspire against them. The film also has some uncomfortable things to say about the true meaning of friendship. Very moving, very true.’

best movies 2015 - sunset song
Film, Drama

Sunset Song

This is the film that director Terence Davies (‘Distant Voices, Still Lives’) has been trying to make for 15 years: an adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s sweeping tale of love in a Scottish croft. Agyness Deyn is on striking form as Chris, the farmer’s daughter at the turn of the twentieth century who refuses to bow to society’s expectations.

Why I loved it
Tom Huddleston: ‘I’ll admit, the first half-hour of “Sunset Song” was a bit glum, and the last half-hour didn’t completely hold together. But oh, that middle hour-and-a-bit: a British landscape movie the like of which we haven’t seen in decades, drenched in golden light and morning mist, lustily romantic and powerfully moving. There’s a shot of Agyness Deyn and Kevin Guthrie surrounded by flocking sheep that still makes me smile every time I think of it.’

best movies 2015 - the diary of a teenage girl
Film, Drama

The Diary Of A Teenage Girl

British actress Bel Powley stars in the a coming-of-age comedy-drama with Caitlin Moran-levels of funny and brutal honesty. Set in 1970s San Francisco, she plays a 15-year-old who sleeps with her mum’s hippy boyfriend.

Why I loved it
Cath Clarke: ‘Londoner Bel Powley has got to be one of 2015’s big discoveries. She was hilarious as Princess Margaret in the otherwise completely forgettable comedy ‘A Royal Night Out’ and career-makingly brilliant in “Diary of a Teenage Girl”.’

best movies 2015 - chappie
Film, Science fiction


Following the disappointment of ‘Elysium’, director Neill Blomkamp returns to his home turf of Johannesburg – and the knockabout-violent tone of his debut ‘District 9’ – for the tale of a police robot who becomes the world’s first fully self-aware artificial life-form.

Why I loved it
Tom Huddleston: ‘I left “Chappie” on a high. Here was a film that only one director would have dared to make (and with major studio money, no less): a bizarre, unflinching and unashamedly freaky action-comedy stuffed with existential musings, emotional switchbacks and head-bending electro noise. I was genuinely shocked when the bad reviews rolled in – but I’d lay good money that this wondrous folly will be glowingly rediscovered a decade from now.’

best movies 2015 - brooklyn
Film, Drama


Colm Tóibín’s novel about a young Irish girl emigrating to New York in the 1950s gets the big screen treatment courtesy of a script by Nick Hornby and a luminous performance by Saoirse Ronan.

Why I loved it
Cath Clarke: ‘Because it’s not rubbish. So much could have gone wrong with the film of “Brooklyn”. A lesser scriptwriter than Nick Hornby would have amped up the love triangle, and another director would have smacked a twiddly-dee soundtrack over it. It’s a minor miracle the spirit of the novel survived intact.’

best movies 2015 - pigeon sat on a branch reflecting on existence
Film, Comedy

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

Leftfield Swedish satirist Roy Andersson completed his trilogy about the strangeness of everyday life with this series of vignettes set in the city of Gothenburg.

Why I loved it
Dave Calhoun: ‘The work of Roy Andersson is immediately recognisable: his characters look half-dead, often deadpan, doing very ordinary things in extraordinary situations, or vice versa. And he builds careful, colour-coded sets for them to exist in: like frames for cartoon characters. Perhaps the most striking sequence in this film is when an entire mounted cavalry from the eighteenth century trot past a bar and some of them pop in for a drink.’

best movies 2015 - London Road
Film, Drama

London Road

The new National Theatre boss Rufus Norris directed this film version of the hit stage musical about how an Ipswich neighbourhood coped with the death of five prostitutes on their doorsteps during 2006.

Why I loved it
Dave Calhoun: ‘The writers of both the play and film based the dialogue on actual interviews with people who live in the community where this story unfolded. I love the heightened rhythm and texture this gives to the film's lyrics. There's a similar, strange contrast to seeing the film's cast perform choreographed dances in drab locations like the top deck of a bus or a concrete suburban shopping complex. Truly unique.’

best movies 2015 - girlhood
Film, Drama


French director Céline Sciamma (‘Tomboy’, ‘Water Lilies’) continues to explore what it means to be a teenage girl with this story of a Parisian girl from a tough home whose life threatens to go off the rails.

Why I loved it
Dave Calhoun: ‘It's a familiar tale – a kid from the wrong side of the tracks gets into trouble. But what's powerful about “Girlhood” is the brief, fleeting sense of love and solidarity that young Marieme (Karidja Touré) gets from her friends. That’s typified in a hotel-room scene where they all dance to Rihanna's “Diamonds”. Briefly, everything is fine with the world.'

best movies 2015 - birdman
Film, Drama


Michael Keaton made a mighty comeback as a washed-up actor attempting to reinvent himself as a proper artist in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s daring, funny, strangely sweet, sad and utterly brilliant New York-set comedy.

Why I loved it
Cath Clarke: ‘I can remember exactly how I felt walking out of the cinema into Soho after watching "Birdman" – on a kind of high, dazzled and a little bit more alive.’

best movies 2015 - it follows
Film, Horror

It Follows

Harking back to the classic shockers of the 1980s but adding its own crisp, very modern edge, David Robert Mitchell’s suburban horror movie follows a young woman who loses her virginity only to find that she’s being pursued by a murderous supernatural presence.

Why I loved it
Tom Huddleston: ‘This was the most painstakingly controlled film of the year. From the giddy, revolving opening shot with its horrifying punctuation point to the dreamlike, inconclusive finale, you know you’re in the hands of a master filmmaker. The influences are easy to spot – Wes Craven, Harmony Korine, even Stanley Kubrick. But the blend is unique and intoxicating.’

best movies 2015 - inside out
Film, Animation

Inside Out

Pixar rediscovered their mojo by returning to the intoxicating strangeness of their best work. Set inside the mind of a 11-year-old girl, ‘Inside Out’ follows two of her emotions – Joy and Sadness – when they’re accidentally exiled from Headquarters and become lost in the labyrinth of long-term memory.

Why I loved it
Tom Huddleston: ‘If this had just been a colourful romp through the mind, it would still have been something special: the way director Pete Docter and his co-writers manage to present incredibly complex existential concepts in simple, child-friendly form is extraordinary. But this is also a heartbreaking tale of childhood’s end, with important, surprising truths to offer about the way our emotions grow up with us.’

best movies 2015 - amy
Film, Documentaries


Director Asif Kapadia (‘Senna’) sifted through thousands of hours of footage and interviewed friends and musical collaborators to make his definitive, shattering Amy Winehouse documentary.

Why I loved it
Cath Clarke: ‘I wasn’t even an Amy Winehouse fan before “Amy”. (To me she was all towering beehive, eyeliner and tabloid trainwreck headlines). But her personality and talent shine – even through the tragedy.’

best movies 2015 - mad max fury road
Film, Action and adventure

Mad Max: Fury Road

Original ‘Mad Max’ director George Miller returns to show a generation of action directors how it’s done. Set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland populated with car-crazy mutants, Tom Hardy plays road warrior Max, who aids rebellious Furiosa (Charlize Theron) in her efforts to free a group of enslaved women.

Why I loved it
Tom Huddleston: ‘Dizzying, relentless and literally, repeatedly jaw-dropping, this might be the best pure action movie since “Aliens”. Every single juiced-up roadster on screen is really there, not magicked up on a motherboard. This is a work of glorious idiosyncrasy, intensity and intelligence.’

best movies 2015 - 45 years
Film, Drama

45 Years

Acting legends Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay star as a long-married couple who hit a bump in the road in the run-up to their forty-fifth wedding anniversary party.

Why I loved it
Dave Calhoun: ‘In the first few minutes of his film, Andrew Haigh plants the image in our heads of a long-dead character – and from that point this off-screen presence never leaves our minds. So “45 Years” is as much a ghost story as a deeply intelligent portrait of a marriage in trouble. Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are excellent.’

best movies 2015 - inherent vice
Film, Drama

Inherent Vice

Thomas Pynchon’s ‘unfilmable’ novel is filmed brilliantly by Paul Thomas Anderson, with Joaquin Phoenix as the permanently stoned LA private eye.

Why I loved it
Cath Clarke: ‘Paul Thomas Anderson’s out-there-ness makes him the perfect director for Thomas Pynchon. And while we all think of Joaquin Phoenix playing tortured characters, he’s hilariously shaggy dog here. This is the only film of 2015 that I’ve already re-watched.’

best movies 2015 - carol
Film, Drama


Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett star in Todd Haynes’s gorgeous 1950s-set drama as women whose eyes meet across a counter in a Manhattan department store.

Why I loved it
Dave Calhoun: ‘The sense of time and place in “Carol” is exquisite and the choreography of these two people falling in love feels more like dance than drama. Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett deliver a complex, charged routine of glances, touches and almost-touches until, finally, they fall into each other's arms. Quietly thrilling.’

Which movies could win big at the Oscars 2016?

© Sarah Hadley

The Oscars 2016

From the worst ever Oscar winners to a recap of the most unlikely Oscar nominees, we’ve got everything you need to see you through to the Academy Awards. Take a look at the films we think have a chance of bagging gold and becoming an Academy Award winner this year, and come back again for more 2016 Oscars predictions and news.

More to explore

Snap up exclusive discounts in London

Time Out's handpicked deals — hurry, they won't be around for long...