Monday 4 January 2016

My 30 favourite films of 2015 (part three #10-1)

Of all the new films I saw in 2015 - 187 at the last count - these were the 10 I loved most...

10. Brooklyn 
(director: John Crowley UK release date: November 6)
Beautifully written and acted adaptation of Colm Tóibín's 1950s-set novel. Ellis (Saoirse Ronan) is a young immigrant relocating from her quiet Irish village to the hustle and bustle of the titular New York borough. There, she meets and falls for an easygoing Italian plumber but is soon recalled on urgent family business. Back on home soil, Ellis's new life, priorities and future are all suddenly thrown up into the air, especially when a potential new suitor makes himself known. She faces a huge choice - which way will she leap? The plot is simplicity itself but the themes and emotions are big. Julie Walters and Jim Broadbent are both superb in small supporting roles but this is Ronan's film and if she doesn't grab an Oscar nomination I will eat an entire hat shop. 

9. Girlhood
(Director: Celine Sciamma UK release date: May 8)
Excellent French-language drama set in and around a tough Parisian estate and focusing on the members of a black girl gang. Sciamma – a white woman – has been criticised in some quarters for portraying black characters and their lives negatively but this is as much about the limited choices and pressures faced by young women as it is a film attempting to chronicle the black or immigrant experience in France. Besides, at no point does Girlhood seek to denigrate its main characters or their choices. In fact, Karidja Touré's Marieme is an empowering, inspiring creation; a strong, determined and resourceful young woman who simply refuses to buckle under the weight of a difficult life. 

8. Carol 
(director: Todd Haynes UK release date: November 27) 
A film so classy and graceful it makes Breakfast At Tiffany's look like The Toxic Avenger, Todd Haynes' adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel The Price Of Salt is set in 1950s New York and tells the story of a forbidden love affair between unhappy socialite Cate Blanchett (the titular Carol) and Rooney Mara's Therese, a department-store clerk with dreams of being a photographer. Like Brooklyn, the plot is minimal and Haynes takes his time exploring his main characters' lives, the evolution of their feelings for each other and how that impacts upon their other relationships (Carol is married to Kyle Chandler's boorish drunk Harge). The cast is as impressive as any I saw all year, with Blanchett even more magnetic than usual and Sarah Paulson excellent in a supporting role. Haynes once again proves himself a consummate storyteller and an absolute demon when it comes to period detail. 

7. Phoenix
(director: Christian Petzold UK release date: May 8)
Quietly devastating German noir dealing with the return of Auschwitz survivor Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss) to Berlin after WWII. Sporting a new face following reconstructive surgery, she tracks down husband Johnny who, failing to recognise her, instead recruits Nelly into an elaborate plot to claim his 'dead' wife's inheritance. It would be easy to dismiss Phoenix as little more than a clever spin on Hitchcock's Vertigo and denounce the implausibility of its plotting. But the film is so much more than that, effortlessly juggling big themes of rebirth, identity, guilt and betrayal while exploring the experience of Holocaust survivors. Hoss, in her sixth collaboration with director Petzold, is quite superb, and the ending will leave you in bits.

6. Mistress America 
(director: Noah Baumbach UK release date: August 14) 
The Frances Ha team of Noah Baumbach (co-writer/director) and Greta Gerwig (co-writer/star) reunite for a witty comedy that perfectly balances screwball elements with a more melancholic edge speaking to failure and betrayal. Lola Kirke (who you may remember from Gone Girl) is Tracy, a lonely college fresher taken in by her soon-to-be stepsister, Brooke (Gerwig). The older woman is impetuous, adventurous and appears to have the world at her feet. But it doesn't take Tracy long before she realises Brooke's schemes for success and world domination are little more than pipe dreams and that she is going nowhere fast. Woody Allen at something approaching his best is evoked in its rat-a-tat dialogue, spiky, not always likeable, characters and moments of pure, laugh-out-loud farce.

5. The Look Of Silence 
(Director: Joshua Oppenheimer UK release date: June 12)
Joshua Oppenheimer's bravura follow-up to The Act of Killing, his 2013 film about the 1965 Indonesian genocide of alleged communists. The Look Of Silence is a smaller, more personal story of one of the families who lost a loved one during the purge. The murdered man's brother - a gentle but determined optometrist named Adi - confronts his sibling's killers (many of whom are celebrated as heroes and hold positions of power) in a number of truly jaw-dropping scenes. My favourite documentary in a year packed with some very good ones.

4. The Dance Of Reality 
(director: Alejandro Jodorowsky UK release date: August 21) 
Veteran filmmaker Jodorowsky’s sort-of-autobiographical film, set in the small Chilean coastal town where the 86-year-old endured a difficult childhood, is peculiar, challenging and utterly bonkers. Counter-intuitively, it might just be his most accessible work to dateThe movie - his first in 23 years - is full of surreal imagery, absurdist digressions, playful humour and several genuinely shocking moments (a golden shower, the killing of a donkey and genital torture, if you’re wondering), but at its core is really the story of Jodorowsky’s fraught relationship with his Stalinist dad (here played by Brontis, the director’s real-life son). It owes more than a little something to Federico Fellini (especially the Italian director's  and Amarcord) but proves, that even pushing 90, the Chilean maestro is still capable of producing work every bit as intriguing, eccentric and transgressive as El Topo and Santa Sangre

3. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night 
(Director: Ana Lily Amirpour UK release date: May 22)
Utterly beguiling ‘Iranian vampire western’ that quickly transcends its influences to deliver something quite unique. Set in Bad City, a windblown, oddly-deserted industrial town somewhere in Iran (Taft, California in reality), this most peculiar of love stories centres on The Girl (Sheila Vand), a lonely, chador-clad blood-sucker who prowls the streets looking for wrongs to right and evil men to punish. One such night-time patrol brings her into contact with troubled Arash (Arash Marandi) – one part James Dean, one part major doofus – and they enjoy an immediate mutual attraction. Shot in gorgeous, high-contrast black and white with cinematographer Lyle Vincent, Amirpour's full-length debut never loses sight of its sinister horror edge despite also being playful, romantic and effortlessly coolSuperb soundtrack too.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road 
(Director: George Miller UK release date: May 15)
Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy in for Mel Gibson) returns to the post-apocalyptic Aussie badlands in a movie for which the term high-octane was surely invented. On the run from the tyrannical Immortan Joe and his motorcade of mutant crazies, Max teams up with Charlize Theron’s badass Imperator Furiosa (pictured, top of page) for one of the most exciting - and prolonged - chase sequences in movie history. At times, it's like the Marquis de Sade directing Wacky Races, at others surprisingly political, taking aim at patriarchy, climate change, and the one per cent. Hardy's debut as Max is solid enough but this film belongs to one-armed warrior woman Furiosa and the sheer avalanche of crazy ideas, images and stunts that Miller and his co-conspirators bring to the party. The finest action film ever made? It might just be.

1. The New Girlfriend 
(director: François Ozon UK release date: May 22) 
Loosely adapted from Ruth Rendell's bleak short story of the same name, The New Girlfriend is a strange but heady brew of farcical comedy and odd-couple romance that nevertheless contains a tiny sliver of thriller-ish ice at its heart. Ozon's film tells the story of David (Romain Duris) who, after the death of his wife, Laura, starts dressing as a woman, initially so his baby daughter can have a 'mother' but soon simply because he enjoys it. The only person who shares his secret is Claire (Anaïs Demoustier), poor dead Laura's married best friend who was secretly in love with her. 

Initially repelled by David's revelation, Claire tries to discourage his burgeoning transvestism but it isn't long before she starts to come to terms with her own sexuality and falls for his feminine alter-ego, Virginia. On a slightly sinister note, it becomes clear Claire is attracted to the part of David/Virginia that reminds her of Laura and is keen to, in effect, 'recreate' the dead woman using her new beau as a template. In fact, a hint of what can only be called 'necrophilia' informs the entire affair. Not only is Claire in love with Laura but we see David in the morgue dressing his naked wife in her wedding gown prior to her funeral. It's a scene that manages to be titillating and chilling at the same time, and The New Girlfriend is full of such contrasting moments, none more so than in its final shot.

There are times when the film's tone is uneven and the humour just a little too broad, while Ozon leaves some fairly important questions hanging (when David speaks of "living as a woman" does he mean as a transvestite or is he keen to fully transition?). So why is this rather than, say, Fury Road, my favourite film of the year? Well, because I love its ambition and its cheek and its desire to tackle a tricky subject head on and sod the consequences. I admire the fact that French auteur Ozon (PoticheSwimming Pool) has given us a mature, challenging and utterly charming exploration of sexual and gender fluidity in the form of a film that is occasionally as daft as a brush and camp as Christmas. I also love that its leads are both brilliant. 

Duris (The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Populaire) is a hugely versatile actor and his turn here as a man finally able to throw off the shackles and be who he wants to be is sympathetic and believable. He's grieving and depressed, yes, but all of that soon gives way to relief and acceptance and he sells that shift perfectly. Demoustier is French cinema's best kept secret. She is one of those actors who elevates everything she is in by at least 10 per cent and that is certainly true here. As Claire, she's a beautiful ball of confusion and guilt - you can see every conflicted emotion etched across her face. 

Rendell died in May last year and, although Ozon excises her original story's nasty little twist, I'd like to think she'd approve of the complex and fascinatingly flawed film he has crafted from her source material.


  1. Fury Road for me, although I haven't seen most of the films on your list!

  2. Fury Road really is great. I thoroughly enjoyed it the first time I saw it but it was the second viewing that really sealed the deal. The sudden about-turn in the story two thirds of the way through wasn't nearly as jarring and I was really able to savour the visuals more. I hope it does well at the Oscars but I have a horrible feeling it will be passed over for something bland and worthy.

    1. Hanks and Spielberg have a film out, so you're probably right.

    2. I'd be very surprised if Hanks, Rylance and Bridge Of Spies itself weren't all nominated. It's pretty good actually but nothing spectacular.

  3. I'm genuinely gutted that I missed Brooklyn at the cinema. I'm counting down the seconds until its dvd release.

    1. I'm really looking forward to seeing Brooklyn again - and also introducing it to my wife, who I know will love it.