1 | Mad Max: Fury Road
It took George Miller 30 years to finally follow up Beyond Thunderdome and, as the cliché goes, it was worth the wait. More surprising then the jaw-dropping, face-peeling action sequences – an impressive amount of which contained zero CGI – was the director's on the pulse gender politics. Tom Hardy was the lead, but Fury Road was really about kick-ass women, with Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa leading the charge. She was the true star of what will be remembered as comfortably the best action movie of 2015.
2 | Selma
Big, Oscar-baiting films about periods of historical importance are often too worthy for their own good, but this drama about the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama – a key moment in the civil rights movement and the story of Martin Luther King, played brilliantly here by Brit David Oyelowo – hit the right notes. The well-paced story also includes welcome turns from Tim Roth, Cuba Gooding, Jr and the bloke who played Bunk in The Wire.
3 | Foxcatcher
There are so many unanswered questions around this almost too incredible to be true story of eccentric millionaire John T Dupont and the Olympic wrestlers caught up in his mad world, it took director Bennett Miller, alongside screenwriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, years – and years – to research. It was worth it. This small, character-led, gripping period tale transports you to another time and place and is brilliantly played by an unexpected cast. A film that stays with you long after the credits have rolled.
4 | Whiplash
JK Simmons’s performance as a bullying music tutor rightly got the headlines (and the Oscar) but this brilliantly tight and intoxicating tale of an aspiring young jazz drummer owes much to the focused storytelling style of its first-time writer and director Damien Chazelle, who has also pulled off one of the best endings to a film in this or any other year.
5 | The Lobster
"Funny, clever and full of brilliant performances," is how we described Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos' (Dogtooth) first English language film when it came out in October, and we were right. The story – set in a alternative world where single people are forced to find a partner, or be turned into an animal – is surreal, but has plenty to say about societal norms today. Oh – and it's Colin Farrell's mustache is a hoot.
6 | Mommy
There's a reason why this French-language Canadian film won the Jury Prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival. An unflinching depiction of a troubled relationship between a widowed mother (Anne Dorval) and her violent son (Antoine Oliver Piron), Mommy also manages to find surprising notes of humour, thanks largely to the excellent central performances. Another success for Xavier Dolan, 26-year-old director who just keeps getting better.
7 | Cartel Land
Every documentary lives or dies by how close it gets to its subject, and director Matthew Heineman takes us deep enough into his – two vigilante groups fighting Mexican drug cartels on both sides of the US border – to smell the gun smoke. Couple that with incredibly assured direction and some of the most stunning cinematography you'll ever see, and Cartel Land is not just the best film of its genre this year but one of the best full stop.
8 | Carol
Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel The Price of Salt, director Todd Hayne’s first film since Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There (2007) tracks the burgeoning relationship between Carol, a married housewife (Blanchett), and timid department store employee Therese (Rooney Mara) in Fifties New York. Don't be put off by the notion of a romance flick – being swept up by their taboo affair is unavoidable, mainly due to the affecting performances from the two leads. More than just another Oscar botherer.
9 | Ex_Machina
From novelist (The Beach) to scriptwriter (28 Days Later) to, finally, director: Alex Garland's sci-fi chamber piece saw Domhnall Gleeson star as a young programmer invited to his employer's (Oscar Isaac) secluded abode to discern whether his creation, a female android (Alicia Vikander), has developed artificial intelligence. What follows is a tense, claustrophobic and unusually assured debut.
10 | Beasts Of No Nation
After his often stunning work directing True Detective season one, it was no surprise that Netflix snapped up Cary Joji Fukunaga to make their first original film. It was a shrewd move: this drama about a young boy in an unspecifed worn torn African country who gets absorbed into a rebel army of child soldiers is tightly scripted and gorgeously shot, as Idris Elba turns in possibly the best performance of his career as the charismatic, corrupt war lord.