And so the turkey has been eaten, the presents have been unwrapped and as Christmas draws to a close, thoughts turn reflective and so to my end of year round up of the films that for me have been the best in 2015. Apologies to Macbeth, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Mommy and Sicario which I didn’t get chance to watch. And also to White God which I was too scared to watch (I don’t like doggy violence)
21) Mission Impossible-Rogue Nation (Christopher McQuarrie)
Say what you will about Tom Cruise but he still remains a bloody great movie star, embodying the all action mantel and giving the audience a giant dollop of spectacle. In a world of CGI, the sight of Cruise clinging to the side of a plane that is taking off is made all the more exciting for knowing that the crazy bastard actually did it. And this is within the first ten minutes of the film! Rogue Nation ticks the boxes we have come to expect from Mission Impossible, delivering nail biting stunts, a multitude of locations and a host of espionage duplicity yet it also brings a new element to the table. With the addition of Rebecca Ferguson as suspicious agent Ilsa Faust, the franchise is elevated with freshness from this kick ass character. In a year where strong female leads have thankfully been more present, Ferguson is more than a match for Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and is never reduced to becoming his love interest, instead often leaving him in her powerful wake and proves there’s life in this ole entertaining franchise yet.
20) The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos)
Certainly not to everyone’s taste Yorgos Lanthimos’ English Language debut was a divisive concoction but one whose oddity I found darkly refreshing. Set in a near future where people who are single must go to a hotel and find a companion within 45 days or be turned into an animal, the film really flies with comic absurdity from the beginning. Colin Farrell’s bespectacled frump comes to the hotel looking for a mate, along with an assortment of lonely and confused fellow guests but ends up drawn to a woman (Rachel Weisz) who is part of the resistance to the social dictation. Though the film loses some momentum during its second act, when we are within the hotel, The Lobster is one the most wickedly inventive films of the year and features some excellent oddball turns particularly from Ben Whishaw and Olivia Colman.
19) The Gift ( Joel Edgerton)
Joel Edgerton shows that he is as nuanced behind the camera as he is in front of it with his directorial debut The Gift, an impressively tight thriller with menacing restraint. Edgerton plays Gordo, the former school weirdo who uncomfortably makes his way into the lives of former classmate Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall). Things soon turn sinister with the delivery of gifts to the couple, which begin to unravel the interior of their relationship. Edgerton runs a tight ship, cranking up the tension to an unnerving and bravado ending and pulling a malevolent performance from Bateman, turning the nice everyman persona he usually adopts and producing something entirely compelling and darkly interesting.
18) Eden (Mia Hansen-Love)
My partner, an aspiring musician, was reduced to inconsolable malaise after watching Mia Hansen-Love’s odyssey to French house music from the 90s and beyond. The problem was that the film was such a compelling and authentic portrayal of the music scene, that it captured the ecstasy and agony so painfully perfect in equal measure. Like a hipster version of the Les McQueen narrative from the League of Gentlemen, we follow aspiring Paris DJ Paul (Félix de Givry) who lives for music and the euphoric state it envelopes him in, as he achieves a level of success and riding high, only to fall out of favour with the crowds and out of touch with the scene. It also perfectly encapsulates the passing of youth, how idle and naïve we, believe, like the best sound-tracked nights of our lives that it will last forever. It’s a shit business but one that we cannot help but be seduced by.
17) Inside Out (Pete Docter)
Many said Pixar was on the wan after its recent disappointing output but it proved they can still pull it out the bag with the inventive and dazzling Inside Out. Set inside the head of an 11 year old girl, who has to traverse the emotional minefield of moving house and leaving all she has ever known behind, the film allows the emotions to be the stars of the film as we experience Joy, Anger, Disgust, Sadness and Fear. The premise allows for clever set ups and an exciting race against time through a young girls head, taking an often Freudian slant at times with ideas aplenty. It may not quite live up to the majesty of Wall-E or Up but it is a definite return to form for Pixar. Just don’t mention Bing Bong or the waterworks will start again.
16) A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (Ana Lily Amirpour)
Stylish, sexy, offbeat and cool. Perhaps not the words you would associate with a black and white Iranian film. But how about a black and white Iranian vampire film? Like the lovechild of Jim Jarmusch and Jean Luc Godard, director Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut is a monochrome delight, with a morose but droll spirit and a bewitching lead performance by Sheila Vand, the eponymous girl of the title, a lonely vampire who wanders the night time streets of a district called Bad City. Stunningly veiled in black and white, at once stark but also rich, the film evokes an air of perpetual emotion, loneliness has never looked so cool or romantic. It would make a great companion piece to Jurmusch’s fellow vampire film Only Lovers left Alive, both a world away from the connotations left by the Twilight saga, the two showing how to really get to the heart of the undead.
15) The Tribe (Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy)
My most unsettling experience at the cinema this year came after watching this film but it was also my most unforgettable. Set within a Ukrainian boarding school for deaf teenagers, The Tribe signalled a landmark within the medium by presenting the film with no dialogue and no subtitles. We are left with the visuals which entirely speak for themselves as the pupils create a microcosm of violence, illegal activities and a hierarchy of cruelty. When we do hear sound it is startling and often disturbing from the screams of a girl in pain to the aftermath of an act of vengeance, The Tribe is a stark piece of endurance cinema that revels previous unsettling benchmark setter Dogtooth, something I do say lightly.
14) Crimson Peak (Guillermo Del Toro)
Gothic horror made a welcome return to the big screen this year with Guillermo Del Toro’s lavish Crimson Peak, a film drenched in sumptuous period detail and with a beautifully old fashioned ghost story at its heart. The triple acting threat of Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastian provide the perfect accompaniment to the film’s evocative design, with Wasikowska providing the steely determination as our plucky heroine and Chastian relishing the opportunity to sneer with all the venom of cinema’s greatest ice maidens. Rather than pandering to the modern cinematic ideal of horror, Del Toro instead provided a love letter to the classics of both the film and the literary genre, with nods to Hitchcock, Kubrick, The Bronte Sisters and Edgar Allen Poe.
13) Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Alfonso Gomez Rejon)
Cruelly overlooked at the box office, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl managed to be that rarest of things, a coming of age teen movie that has emotion but isn’t corny or overtly syrupy. It is also a film lover’s film made by a film lover. Alfonso Gomez Rejon’s debut is laden with cinematic references to American counter culture and European arthouse classics and it radiates a true affection for the medium. Greg, a socially detached teenager (Thomas Mann, the Me of the title) channels his film influences and makes parodies of his favourites (Sockwork Orange, Rosemary’s Baby Carrots, The 400 Bros) with his friend Earl. When he is asked to hang out with Rachel (the dying girl, played beautifully by Olivia Cooke), Greg uses his creativity for a purpose and begins to see beyond a life of remakes. Look beyond the mawkish title and discover a charming gem which should find its audience on the small screen and become a future cult classic in its own right.
12) Amy (Asif Kapadia)What could have been a cautionary tale of a girl gone wrong becomes a tragic case of a talented girl who was abused by the industry she wanted to be part of and betrayed by those who she loved. Asif Kapadia’s moving documentary of the short life of Amy Winehouse goes beyond the cheap shock factor of the tabloid pictures and the calamity of her incoherent stage performances to reveal a young woman who vulnerabilities made her susceptible to the darker side of fame, built up through old home movie footage and testimonies from those who knew her. Unsurprisingly Amy’s father Mitch does not come out of this well and since the release has condemned the film however he cannot deny his accountability in her derailment. A scene where Mitch brings a camera crew to St Lucia where Amy is trying yet again to recover is one of the most heartbreaking moments you could witness. Amy is an afflicting, devastating snapshot of a girl who wanted to vanish but whose fame refused to let her.
11) Mistress America (Noah Baumbach)
Noah Baumbach delivered two great films this year, first there was While we’re Young, which was followed by Mistress America, a reteaming with his partner and writing partner Greta Gerwig which produced a deliciously entertaining screwball comedy about female friendship. Gerwig is this time less the lovable loser than she was in Frances Ha, or at least in her characters eyes she isn’t. She plays Brooke, a woman who appears to be living the hip New York dream, however her reality is revealed through her relationship with her soon to be stepsister Tracey (Lola Kirke) who is at first enthralled by her but then pulls at the curtain and the truth behind it. Baumbach and Gerwig prove that great writing and great performing can produce something that feels fresh and relevant yet also pleasing old school, reminiscent of Billy Wilder movies where dialogue was king. Mistress America also passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, showing that a female centric comedy can be at the forefront of cinema.
10) It Follows (David Mitchell)
The horror genre found a fresh vibe with this year’s sleeper hit It Follows, David Mitchell’s masterfully inventive much needed addition to the genre. The simple yet striking plot was like the physical manifestation of a chain letter as a gang of teenage friends try to protect one of their own who, after sleeping with her boyfriend, is pursued by a mysterious entity, one that is takes the form of different people as it persistently stalks its victim until the curse is transferred through sexual contact. Refreshingly the film does not use the narrative as an excuse for exploitation or titillation and instead builds upon a truly haunting sense of dread; the underlying theme of teenage sexualisation is handled with unspoken subtlety. Its John Carpenter meets The Virgin Suicides feel makes it the most stylish and more importantly most creepy horror of the year.
9) Slow West (John Maclean)
Michael Fassbender continues his run of interesting choices and excellent performances with John Maclean’s sophomore Western. Set amongst the wild terrain of 19th century Colorado, former Beta Band member Maclean creates a sharp, tense tale of young Scottish man Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who travels to the plains of America in search of his love who has had to flee her home. Along the way he is ‘befriended’ by Fassbender’s Silas and tracked by an assortment of nefarious characters, all out for their own ill gotten gain, creating the classic trademarks of a Western. Yet Maclean brings a lyricism and a minimalist poetry to the film, aided by ravishing cinematography, splashes of Tarantino-esque violence and another charismatic turn by Fassbender.
8) The Duke of Burgandy (Peter Strickland)
The film that was everything that Fifty Shades wasn’t, erotic, playful, sexy and seductive, and all done without a splash of nudity; Peter Strickland’s third feature was a unique take on the ideas of an S &M relationship between two women. Set within an undisclosed time and place, though the detail suggests a rural 70s era, we are transported into an otherworldly vibe, where women attend lectures on butterflies and men appear to be wholly absent, all set to a sublime soundtrack by Cats Eyes. Though the film flirts with pastiche, it manages to retain a bewitching cocktail of the ideas of submission and dominance between two women whose roles are not as clearly defined as they seem. Strickland remains a director in total command of his vision and whose none conformity to the ideas of British cinema mark him as one of the most exciting filmmakers of the moment.
7) Appropriate Behaviour (Desiree Akhavan)
2015 was the year I fell for Desiree Akhavan after watching her witty, sardonic debut Appropriate Behaviour. A semi autobiographical tale of an Iranian twentysomething living in Brooklyn, trying and failing at both relationships and trying to tell her parents that she is bisexual, Akhavan has created a razor sharp comedy with echoes of a modern day Annie Hall and a suitable showcase for her writing/acting talent. Yes it may be another hip indie movie set in New York and has justifiable comparisons to Girls (Akhavan has since starred in the series) but in the Dunham era of female representation on screen, frankly I say the more the merrier, with Akhavan proving a welcome edition.
6) Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
The film that made the words ‘Not my tempo’ as chilling as anything that may be delivered in a horror movie, Damien Chazelle’s debut takes the age old idea that art comes from suffering and applies this to the Jazz world creating the most tense film of the year. Miles Teller excels as young drummer Andrew who is pushed to his limits by the teacher whose approval he desires the most. That teacher is Fletcher played with magnificent authority by JK Simmons who dominates the film with his terrifying demeanour. The film also features some of the finest editing on screen this year, matching the music, note for note and building to a crescendo in the final scene that tests the nail biting patience of even the most resilient person.
5) Phoenix (Christian Petzold)
A plot reminiscent of 50s melodrama and Hitchcockian overtones combine to make the best foreign film of the year. Phoenix is a study of the physical and mental wounds of war and two people who have ‘survived’ it, Nelly (Nina Hoss) a Jewish former club singer who has undergone facial reconstruction after her ordeals in the War and Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld) her husband who may or may not have shopped her to the SS. Nelly returns to her husband but he doesn’t recognise her and convinced his real wife is dead, instead offers her the opportunity to pose as Nelly so he can claim her inheritance. The characters are unable to see what the audience can, Johnny is unable to see his wife, for to do so he would have to accept the consequences of War and Nelly is unable to let go of her husband despite his duplicitous nature. The stage is set for an achingly brittle love story, with shades of Vertigo and Eyes without a Face, one which also provides the best final scene in a film this year, as Nelly performs ‘Speak Low’, the ramifications of War are fully realised in a devastating blow.
4) Star Wars (J J Abrams)
Not a huge fan-girl of the originals, nevertheless I cannot ignore the pure joyous cinematic thrill ride of J J Abrams return to form for the biggest franchise in the galaxy. Erasing the bitter taste left by ‘those three’, we get the sequel that Han, Leia and co truly deserve; both honouring the legacy carved before it and introducing new welcome additions to the film. Amongst those are Rey (Daisy Ridley-promising), Finn (John Boyega- star quality) and a magnificent new baddie in the form of Kylo Ren (the excellent Adam Driver). The battle sequences showcase the sheer spectacle that cinema can hold and the sight of Han Solo back in the Millennium Falcon is one to cherish. To see it is to be transported back to childhood and to be reminded of how magical film can be.
3) Brooklyn (John Crowley)
Director John Crowley’s film succeeds where many Nicholas Sparks adaptations fail, to feel authentic and to take a woman’s relatable journey and turn it into something beautifully heartfelt. Ronan plays Eilis Lacey, a young Irish woman who leaves her homeland for better prospects in 1950s America and struggles adjusting to life without her family. However she finds romance with a young Italian (a charming Emory Cohen) but, through personal circumstances, is drawn back to Ireland and becomes torn between the two worlds. This is impeccable filmmaking with every element working, from the gorgeous cinematography to the pitch perfect performances from the entire cast, with Ronan at the heart of it all. Her performance encapsulates a range of emotions with each one delivered with restraint and sincerity, her wholly expressive face dominates the screen when words are simply not needed or will not form. Brooklyn is one of the years finest, a film that brims with a classic feel and builds with an exquisite swell and ache of the heart.
2) Carol (Todd Haynes)
We all knew that the combination of director Todd Haynes, Cate Blanchett and source material from Patricia Highsmith would not be dynamite and Carol did not disappoint, becoming not just the most beautiful love story of the year but the most beautiful film of the year. Every detail of Hayne’s film is exquisite as we witness the relationship between two women in 1950s America who are unable to deny a love which transcends the time it was born into. Blanchett and Rooney Mara make for a magical pairing, both at the top of their acting game, matching each other perfectly with an expression yearning. Awards surely await this masterpiece of cinema.
1) Max Max: Fury Road (George Miller)
No one knew quite what to expect from George Miller’s long delayed return to the Mad Max territory, and though a thrilling trailer suggested great things, it’s safe to say that many people were still blown away by the stonking bombastic spectacle that was Mad Max: Fury Road. Thrill rides don’t come any bigger or any more demented, from jaw dropping stunts to flame wielding guitars, the film plays like a steam punk version of Stagecoach as Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa betrays her tyrannical patriarch Immortan Joe (Mad Max stalwart Hugh Keays-Byrne). She takes across the desert in her war rig with Joe’s prized possessions, his ‘breeders’ (a group of scantily clad girls designed for baby making) and crosses paths with Tom Hardy’s Max, all of which leads to an almighty kamikaze showdown. The making of Fury Road has become just as infamous as the film, from the 30 year labour of love Miller has dedicated to this project, to the freedom and budget his vision was given by the studio (almost unheard of in this day and age), to the production of the film which favoured real custom built cars and real life effects instead of CGI, the results are blazed across the big screen. The film also gave us the most badass heroine since Ripley in the form of Theron’s one armed warrior Furiosa, and whilst Hardy’s Max is played with the actor’s usual magnetism, it is Theron who drives the film and is at its heart. She is a steely determined force of nature, unwavering in her mission and is played with iconic gusto by Theron, inspiring a legion of fans.
There is talk of sequels but it is hard to imagine they will be able to replicate this surprise beast, a true action tour de force and a truly mad film, one that smashes the theory that we have seen it all before, our eyes can witness something new, something that burns into our eyes as a visceral cinematic experience.