A bionic renegade leads the charge against a masked warlord. A stunning jazz singer burns all too brightly, a man falls for a machine and a much-loved franchise makes a nostalgic return. And Minions; minions, everywhere. There was so much to see on screen in 2015, but what were the 10 best films of the year? There is only one rule: to qualify for this list, the film must have had a non-festival UK cinema release beginning in 2015. Included are monsters, mistresses, magic, melancholy and more. Read on to find if your favourites make the grade; and if they do not, put your strongly-worded letter of complaint in the comments below. Here’s to another great year at the cinema in 2016!
10. Mistress America – dir. Noah Baumbach
Quality comedy is tougher to produce than quality drama; it is extremely rare for a film to be as funny in as many different ways as Noah Baumbach and co-writer/lead actress Greta Gerwig’s sardonic summer picture. Feeling alienated from the social obstacle course of college, freshman Tracy is dazzled by the free spirit of her soon-to-be stepsister Brooke. Their friendship dances across New York City to Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips chilled disco score, before a delightful forty-minute scene in a modern Connecticut mansion that gives familiar farce jokes a 21st century twist. Just as tricky to procure as laughs is that undetermined ‘cool’ factor; when the neon title buzzes on screen to signal the end credits, you know Mistress America has it in heaps.
9. Song Of The Sea – dir. Tomm Moore
A celtic folk tale that reaches right into your heart. Beautiful, unique animation portrays the story of an Irish family from which the mother has disappeared, leaving a despondent father and two bewildered children. Ben and Saoirse must take chances and explore their world to find out why she left, and what can be done to help their father. This film makes you want to believe in magic; it also makes you sure of the kindness that is in people, however hidden it may seem.
8. Appropriate Behaviour – dir. Desiree Akhavan
The super-talented Desiree Akhavan’s directorial debut is a smart depiction of life and love for Shirin, the Brooklyn-dwelling daughter of Persian immigrants. By contrasting her bisexuality and broken heart from a failed relationship with the often unspoken dogma of her family, Akhavan subverts traditional rom-com roles and creates a film that is fresher than anything the genre has seen for years. The comparisons to Lena Dunham’s Girls are a compliment to both; many TV shows would give their right leg to be as witty and heartfelt as this is in 90 minutes.
7. Carol – dir. Todd Haynes
When watching Carol, you feel like cinema was created purely to host such gilded objects. From Haynes’ assured direction, Phyllis Nagy’s excellent adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price Of Salt and two knockout performances from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, there rises a sublime romance that considers how much love is worth to us, and what we will forego to maintain it. It fully deserves the fulsome praise it has received (including in this review); in truth, Carol is an experience that will linger long after the awards glory has faded.
6. Tangerine – dir. Sean Baker
If Carol is a sublime symphony, then Tangerine is a Kanye classic; urgent, infectious and so energetic you can barely stay in your seat. Sean Baker’s fifth feature has rightly received much attention for being shot on iPhone 5s handsets; you’ve never seen anything quite like this, but thanks to the new territory it has opened expect to see filmmakers make the most of the mobile in the future. The innovative filming is far from the most gripping part of Tangerine, though; two transgender sex workers storm across downtown L.A. on Christmas Eve, and their sun-drenched, sassy chat provides the most electrifying drama of the year. Have a look here for the full review.
5. Force Majeure – dir. Ruben Östlund
Cruelly overlooked at the 2015 Oscars (leading to this mickey-taking ‘breakdown’ video from director Ruben Östlund), Force Majeure is a drama as cold as the snow through which its characters scythe. An avalanche on a skiing holiday puts Tomas and his young family in mild peril; although no-one is harmed, his fear and instinct to run rather than protect his loved ones becomes the elephant in the room. Their perfect vacation starts to crumble and Tomas and wife Ebba reevaluate the foundations of their relationship. The combination of bone-dry humour and modern consideration of gender roles made this one of 2015’s most contemporary releases, and not just because it features a remote-control drone.
4. Whiplash – dir. Damien Chazelle
‘Not quite my tempo…’ The interruption of J.K. Simmons fearsome band leader will be etched into the brain of moviegoers for years to come. Whiplash is a Platoon for percussionists, as the terrifying Simmons bullies, cajoles then annihilates Miles Teller’s aspiring drummer to prove that if you want something enough, no amount of terror or pain will stop you. What started as a short at Sundance 2013 went on to wow festival-goers as a feature the following year, before picking up three Oscars in 2015 including, most deservedly, for Simmons. As for the next beat, well, if the 30-year-old Chazelle is this good now, imagine what he could make in the future…
3. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – dir. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
When you can hear people (including your tough Australian friend) bursting into sobs around you in the cinema, you know a film is doing something right. With Jesse Andrews adapting his own novella to a sweet, sharp script, Gomez-Rejon has directed a high school classic, a film that starts off as one thing then expands to become so much more. I’ve attempted to avoid spoilers in this review; but I cannot recommend this film highly enough, with its quirky characters, inventive shot selection and cute soundtrack all decoration to a story with genuine soul. It will make you see the world in a different way. Have Me And Earl down as a Heathers of its time, a cult favourite in years to come.
2. Inside Out – dir. Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen
Now this one you might have heard of. When Disney/Pixar get it right, few others come close, and with Inside Out they have applied their typically alluring CGI to a brilliantly-executed idea. Delving into the mind of 11-year-old Riley, they expose all our human emotions as what they are – component parts of being alive, each as vital to our sanity as the other. This might yet prove to be the hopping lamp‘s greatest creation – as well as beloved by kids, it has a spiritual level that puts it up there with It’s A Wonderful Life and Groundhog Day.
1. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night – dir. Ana Lily Amirpour
You know how frustrating it is when people ask ‘What’s your favourite Iranian vampire skateboarding horror western movie?’ Well now there is an answer, in the form of 2015’s best film. Amirpour’s direction is so assured that the film has grasped you in its opening seconds. From then it only tightens its grip, taking you deeper into the black-and-white streets of Bad City where monsters roam – but it may not be the vampires who are dangerous. Throw in a pulsating rock soundtrack (one scene set to White Lies ‘Death’ is exhilaratingly good), a script that moves in mysterious ways and a heroine for the ages, and you have all the ingredients for a stunning film. When you see it, you will know, so see it now.
Well there we have it – the top 10 of 2015 and no mistake. I can barely entertain the possibility of better films than these. So there is your challenge – what have I missed out? Are you seething at no Star Wars? Mad that I’ve missed Mad Max? Let me know in the comments – and have a wonderful, film-filled start to 2016!