Friday, 1 January 2016

Films of 2015 - The Top 10, the Honourable Mentions, the Hidden Gems and the Clunkers


A quick look back at the films of 2015, from the good to the bad, the surprises to the disappointments and the memorable to the forgettable. The choices are taken from the list of 67 films I've seen this year with a UK 2015 release (hence the inclusion of Foxcatcher, Whiplash etc).

The Top 10

10. THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY (Dir. Peter Strickland)

In ditching the real world in favour of a fabricated one, Strickland has excised any aspects of reality (such as the existence of men) that would detract from his story of the evolving relationship between two female lepidopterists; instead, he crafts a context and setting that enhances and embellishes it.

9. CRIMSON PEAK (Dir. Guillermo del Toro)

Guillermo del Toro's magnificent latest sees him return to the more overtly character driven dramas of his earlier Spanish language films. A resplendent gothic romance that embraces its melodramatic roots that are distinctly old-fashioned but aptly suit del Toro's story. Some of the twists and turns are familiar but del Toro gives all of his characters, especially the nominal villains, a complexity that encourages empathy from the audience. 

8. STILL ALICE (Dir. Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland)

Still Alice isn’t the most visually appealing film but any flamboyant flourishes would give the film an artificiality that betrays the measured, heart-breaking and frankly horrific story unfolding on screen.

7. EX MACHINA (Dir. Alex Garland)

Writer/Director Alex Garland choses not to engage with the notion of whether or not we should be trying to create artificial intelligence. Instead he suggests that, quite rightly in my opinion, humanity is misguided enough to try and develop artificial intelligence, despite the possibility that they may one day overthrow us (maybe). Ex Machina also combines its exploration of artificial intelligence with points on gender and attraction and how we may, despite our logical intentions, ultimately be led astray by our desires.

6. THE FALLING (Dir. Carol Morley)

Carol Morley's startling and confounding picture is too dense to dissect on an initial viewing but it's never anything less than utterly captivating. A psychedelic late 60s tale of a mysterious delirium that breaks out amongst the pupils at an all girls school; Morley succeeds in creating the same sense of unease and uncertainty for the audience that the pupils are experiencing. Florence Pugh shines early on as precocious teen Abbie but the outstanding Maisie Williams guides the audience through the nightmare as the troubled Lydia.

5. THE LOOK OF SILENCE (Dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)

Oppenheimer's follow up to his much acclaimed The Act of Killing is a more intimate but no less powerful affair as an optometrist named Adi meets the men who killed his brother, whilst also taking care of his elderly parents. More is often said during the silences in the conversations and as Adi watches his brother's killers recall the horrific past without a shred of shame. The Look of Silence is a perfect companion piece to The Act of KIlling: the latter provides the wider understanding of the genocide, the former focusses on the individuals left to come to terms with the atrocities.

4. FOXCATCHER (Dir. Bennett Miller)

Foxcatcher works so well because it maintains a confounding complexity of the bizarre people and unfortunate events but also finds a path to lead us through to a greater, but not complete, level of understanding.

3. CAROL (Dir. Todd Haynes)

A tender romance shot through the dusty windows and rain-strewn taxi cabs of 1950s New York. Todd Haynes' sumptuous film is practically perfect in every way, from the gorgeous costumes, Ed Lachmann's splendiferous 16mm grainy visuals and Phyllis Nagy's sparse but economical script that lets silences speak louder than any words could. I frequently nearly got lost in the impeccable design and compositions but the two outstanding performances from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara drew me back into their story; Mara in particular perhaps gives the finest performance of the year.

2. WHIPLASH (Dir. Damien Chazelle)

On the surface Whiplash may look like a jazz musical but in reality, it’s the most adrenaline fuelled rollercoaster since Gravity. Lean, ferocious and exhilarating; one of the most assured debut films ever and destined to be a future classic.

1. INSIDE OUT (Dir. Pete Docter)

There’s undeniable sadness (and many tears) in the loss of some of the untainted innocence of early childhood as Riley’s personality is rebuilt, but Inside Out presents Riley’s understanding of more complex feelings as an overall positive experience. The need to accept that there is a place for sadness in our lives is difficult to understand at a young age, but it ultimately helps to prepare for the complex adult world that lies ahead. Age will bring a different perspective, but Inside Out is a film for everyone and, in my opinion, a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding one too.

The Honourable Mentions


INHERENT VICE (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (Dir. George Miller)
STEVE JOBS (Dir. Danny Boyle)

The Underrated Gems

BLACKHAT (Dir. Michael Mann) - Smart cyber thriller that actually has something to say.

WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD (Dir. Gregg Araki) - Melodramatic teenage coming of age fantasy with a terrific turn from Shailene Woodley and one of the year's best soundtracks.

THE VOICES (Dir. Marjane Satrapi) - One of the year's funniest that also has the year's most powerful and disturbing deaths.

BLACK COAL, THIN ICE (Dir. Yi'nan Diao) - A stylish neo-noir that takes its time to weave its story of an exiled police officer haunted by his last case, but patience is greatly rewarded.

YOUNG ONES (Dir. Jake Paltrow) - Not great, but a distinctive style and committed performances that are deserving of a stronger story.

The Clunkers... in 5 words or fewer

THE TRIBE (Dir. Miroslav Slaboshpitsky) - Art house torture porn.

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (Dir. Matthew Vaughn) - Repugnant.

JURASSIC WORLD (Dir. Colin Trevorrow) - Slapdash and aggressively stupid.

WILD TALES (Dir. Damián Szifrón) - Idiots doing idiotic things.

PREDESTINATION (Dir. Spierig Brothers) - An admirable failure.

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