Friday 1 January 2016

My 30 favourite films of 2015 (part one #30-21)

I'm not sure 2015 provided us with a stone-cold cinematic masterpiece - like 2014 did with Under The Skin - but there has certainly been some terrific movies released in the UK in the past 12 months. I'm offering up my 30 favourites but could easily have produced a list of 60 or 70 titles, and every single one of them would have come highly recommended. I've seen 184 new pictures this year, a number nowhere near what a professional critic sits through but a bloody good haul all the same, I think you'll agree. They include everything from Hard To Be A God (a wearing but visually stunning three-hour Russian film in black and white) to Get Hard (a rape-obsessed 'comedy' starring Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart) and all points in between. 

Of course, being a UK film fan and blogger can be a frustrating experience because this sceptred isle's release schedule is so out of sync with those of a great many other countries. You'll find Birdman, Whiplash and Appropriate Behaviour on this list because they were released in the UK in 2015. But they are, in truth, movies that belong to 2014. Likewise, films such as The Hateful Eight and The Revenant, which have already been released in the States, won't appear in UK cinemas until later this month and are therefore ineligible for this list. It's a far from satisfactory state of affairs but one we're all stuck with. 

One thing I have changed slightly for my countdown this year is that I'm no longer excluding those films that bypassed cinemas and went straight to DVD/Blu-ray or View On Demand. I've seen some wonderful films that were not released theatrically over the past 12 months, including superb horror flick Starry Eyes, and it seemed churlish to exclude them. In fact, with distributors finding it harder and harder to get their movies into cinemas, we're going to see a lot more films going the 'straight-to-VOD' route in future.

So, without further ado, here are numbers 30 to 21 in my countdown, based on films released in the UK - on all formats - between January 1 and December 31 2015.

30. A Pigeon Sits On A Branch Reflecting On Existence
(Director: Roy Andersson UK release date: April 24)
Bizarre comedy following the antics of two dour salesmen as they attempt to flog a range of hopeless novelty items. There isn't a coherent plot as such, just a string of loosely connected sketches each commenting on some aspect of human existence. It's gloriously odd and frequently evocative of Spike Milligan and the Pythons, especially the scene where an 18th Century Swedish monarch pops into a modern-day bar to make use of their facilities.
29. Black Souls
(director: Francesco Munzi UK release date: October 30)
Munzi's atmospheric Italian-French crime noir was about the Sicilian mob but, with its mostly rural setting and melancholy vibe, eschewed the dirty glamour of many mob movies. Instead, it focused on a cast of rich, complex characters, a simple but gripping story in which the stakes and violence grew bigger and scarier as the film proceeded, and a truly heart-stopping denouement. A hidden gem. Trailer below

28. Catch Me Daddy
(director: Matthew Wolfe UK release date: February 27)
Oppressive and brutal British 'honour killing' drama about a young couple on the run on the Yorkshire Moors from the girl's vengeful father. First-time director Wolfe blends elements of social realism, thriller and the western (The Searchers has been mentioned as an influence) to great effect while newcomer Sameena Jabeen Ahmed is a revelation as Laila. 
27. Wild Tales
(director: Damián Szifrón UK release date: March 27)
Argentine portmanteau featuring six stories about rage and vengeance. The pre-titles sequence set on a plane punches you right in the guts but its the final sequence centring on the meltdown of a couple’s relationship at their wedding that provides the film's best moments. A tour de force of bleak humour and brutal emotion. Trailer below

26. Love & Mercy
(director: Bill Pohlad UK release date: July 10)
Bravura biopic of Beach Boy Brian Wilson, concentrating on two crucial periods of his life. Paul Dano plays the songwriter as a young man at the height of his musical powers but teetering on the brink of mental illness, while John Cusack is the older Wilson, under the perfidious spell of Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), a quack psychologist who took his money and cut him off from his family. 
25. Dear White People
Justin Simien UK release date: July 10)
Whip-smart satire following four African American students at an Ivy League college. First-time writer/director Simien makes considerable hay with the nonsensical idea that Barack Obama's two presidential election victories have somehow made the US a "post-racial" society. Tessa Thompson shines as Sam White. Trailer below

24. Amy
(director: Asif Kapadia UK release date: July 3)
Heartbreaking documentary chronicling the life and death of singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse. Kapadia’s refusal to let anyone off the hook for the 27-year-old’s untimely demise – including her father Mitch and all areas of the media – makes it a tough but ultimately illuminating watch. The film also provides a timely reminder of Winehouse's prodigious talent.
23. White Bird In A Blizzard
(Director: Gregg Araki UK release date: March 6)
Criminally-underrated coming of age/missing person drama which boasts a sharp script and terrific performances from Shailene Woodley and Eva Green. Perhaps not quite as essential as Araki's best work (his wonderful Mysterious Skin turned 10 years old in 2015) but certainly in the same ballpark. Trailer below

22. A Syrian Love Story
(director: Sean Armitage UK release date: September 18)
Bruising but timely documentary from British filmmaker Armitage chronicling the lives of a Syrian family - Amer, Ragdha and their three sons - as they flee to France after suffering under the oppressive Assad regime. Refusing to offer any easy answers to Syria's myriad problems, Armitage's film shows how oppression seeps into every single area of a person's life - even Amer and Ragdha's seemingly rock-solid marriage isn't safe from it.
21. White God
(director: Kornél Mundruczó UK release date: February 27)
Hungarian film chronicling a violent uprising of mistreated stray dogs in Budapest. Mundruczó's movie is a powerful, moving and visceral piece of work; part apocalyptic horror, part political allegory. The director eschewed the use of CGI which is astounding when you consider the film contains scenes of dog fighting, a 250-strong canine rampage through Budapest's streets and a heart-in-mouth sequence in which lead mutt Hagen (pictured, top of page) attempts to cross a busy highway. 

**Next up: Numbers 20-11**

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