Herewith my annual no doubt inadequate attempt to hone down 2015 in film to just ten elite choices. Here I am presented with the usual dilemma. Are these my ten favourite films of the year, or the ten most cinematically important? Such a division could create two very different lists, so to qualify for inclusion the films in question must at least contain a modicum of entertainment value. Hence why the likes of, say, Michael Haneke’s Amour will never make any top ten lists.
I also want to add a small caveat: I have yet to see Ron Howard’s Moby Dick inspired In the Heart of the Sea, which could either be a whale of a tale, or a wet fish. If it merits a place in this list, I shall update it accordingly.
Anyway, herewith the choices. To qualify, the film has to have been released in the UK within the 2015 calendar year.
This year’s, just-missed-out honourable mentions: The Gift, Mad Max: Fury Road, Macbeth, Amy, and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.
And the top ten looks like this:
10. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – Yes, I know a lot of people thought this was style over substance, but not me. By turns utterly bonkers, disturbing and oddly touching, this Iranian monochrome skateboarding spaghetti western vampire love story had me captivated.
Best bit – The phenomenally acted, trance-like, utterly hypnotic scene where “The Girl” brings Arash to her lair, yet instead of killing him, falls in love with him to the strains of Death by White Lies. 24 carat cinema in one utterly mesmerising shot.
9. Bridge of Spies – Strong performances from Tom Hanks and especially Mark Rylance form the centre of this Steven Spielberg directed fact based Cold War drama. With rigorous attention to period detail, this feels akin to a Le Carre spy novel, but with much more warmth and unfashionable but irresistible idealism.
Best bit – The moment Tom Hanks sees Mark Rylance being ushered into the car. If you’ve seen it you’ll know what I’m talking about.
8. Carol – Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett pursue each other (and Oscar nominations) in Todd Haynes sublimely directed, scripted and acted tale of forbidden love in 1950s New York.
Best bit – The seen-from-two-perspectives Brief Encounter inspired scene in the café.
7. The Falling – Carol Morley’s eerie, unsettling tale of an inexplicable fainting epidemic at a repressive girl’s school in the 1960s, features Maisie Williams in a terrific central role. A melancholy, mesmerising and menacing masterpiece, guaranteed to beguile and infuriate in equal measure.
Best bit – Although some critics felt it undermined the earlier ambiguity, I rather liked the shock Greek tragedy style revelations of the final act.
6. Sicario – A trio of superb performances from Emily Blunt, Benecio Del Toro and Josh Brolin underpin this riveting film about the dubious methods employed in an “inter-departmental taskforce” (ie CIA) operation against Mexican drug cartels. The best thriller of the year.
Best bit – The taskforce silhouetted against a melancholy sunset before a raid on a subterranean drug tunnel network; a metaphorical descent into the underworld. Pure visual poetry from cinematographer Roger “Give him an Oscar already” Deakins.
5. Steve Jobs – A terrific central performance from Michael Fassbender. Tremendous support from the likes of Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels. Confident direction from Danny Boyle. A first-rate screenplay from Aaron Sorkin containing surprisingly fresh insights into the hoary old genius-who-is-terrible-with-people premise. Why on earth did this Steve Jobs biopic flop at the box office?
Best bit – The dramatic fireworks during Steve Wozniak’s climactic rebuke of Jobs’ sins of omission: “It’s not binary. You can be decent and gifted at the same time”.
4. Whiplash – Full Metal Jacket in a prestigious music college best describes this singular two-hander, featuring Miles Teller as an up and coming jazz drummer determined to be one of the greats, and an Oscar winning JK Simmons giving a whole new meaning to the term “extreme mentoring”.
Best bit – The finale, which oddly feels like the climax of Rocky, given the graphic, perspiring, slow-motion close-ups of dripping blood and sweat falling on the drums as Teller pounds the hell out of them.
3. Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Alejandro G Inarritu’s fascinating, pseudo-one take glimpse into a fading actor’s ego, with Michael Keaton giving a career-best performance and superb support from the likes of Edward Norton and Emma Stone. As Keaton’s ex-wife astutely observes, “you’ve mistaken admiration for love”.
Best bit – Keaton awkwardly traipsing through Times Square to regain access to the theatre he has been locked out of.
2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – It doesn’t scale the impossible heights of the original trilogy, but JJ Abrams nevertheless triumphantly revived my favourite film franchise. The biggest plus points include Harrison Ford’s return as Han Solo and the most interesting new character, Adam Driver’s villainous Kylo Ren. Cinematic escapism of the first order (boom boom).
Best bit – Really difficult to choose, and I am still wary of potential spoilers. So let’s just go with the lightsabre fight and leave it at that.
1. Inside Out – Pixar’s incredible return to form is a superb, delightfully offbeat adventure inside the mind of a young girl called Riley, featuring characters based on her emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger. Funny, touching and very wise, this provoked floods of tears from yours truly on both occasions I saw it at the cinema.
Best bit – Again, too many to choose from, but for the purposes of this article, let’s pick the hilarious moment when Joy and companions made an ill-advised trip into the abstract thought part of Riley’s mind, and end up changing shape into various surreal forms (“Oh no! We’re non-figurative!”).
Plenty to look forward to next year, with potential Awards season heavy hitters like The Revenant, The Assassin, Joy, Spotlight, Room and The Danish Girl; Tarantino’s second western The Hateful Eight, the return to the Bourne franchise and Rocky spin-off Creed; superhero action with Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse, Captain America: Civil War and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice; animated fun with Pixar’s long awaited Finding Nemo sequel Finding Dory, a live action take on The Jungle Book and Steven Spielberg’s version of The BFG, not to mention the first Star Wars spin-off at the end of the year, Rogue One.
But for now, I wish you all a Merry Christmas.
Oh, regarding that film quotes quiz I sent out, my wife won the competition, without cheating. No really, it wasn’t rigged. Other people entered, but she won fair and square. That makes her officially better than you.
Simon Dillon, December 2015.