2015: A Year in Film


by Joanna Orland

Every year at this time I make a last ditch effort to make sure that my movie viewing has not been in vain.  While this year I’m not going as hardcore on ensuring that I see all potential Oscar nominees (this year is a bit of a mixed bag), I’ve hit the festivals hard and seen a few truly wonderful standouts.  But only a few.

As my film viewing crosses both UK and US nations as well as film festivals across the world, my release dates often get jumbled so I make my list very personal.  Because of this, some of this year’s best (ie the UK release of Whiplash) falls in my 2014 list, while some of 2016’s best (The Hateful Eight, High-Rise) actually fall in my 2015.  I hope you don’t mind too much, but as there are so many ‘Best-Of 2015’ film lists on the go anyway, the more personal the better in my opinion!

In addition to having some seemingly random release date inclusions in a 2015 list, I also rank them in order of personal enjoyment rather than calibre.  This is not an Oscar prediction list or anything of the sort, but just my personal favourites in my 2015: A Year in Film.

The Lobster – Not just my favourite film of the Cannes Film Festival, but my favourite of the year.  This film strongly appeals to the cynic in me.

Room – I nearly cried 5 times in this harrowing drama about a relationship between mother and son who are held captive in a room.  Jacob Tremblay is a remarkable young actor!

Son of Saul – clearly the best film of the year, but such a harrowing watch, I can’t put it in the top place.  It is by far the most profound, immersive holocaust film made.

Mad Max: Fury Road – WHOAH!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – J.J. Abrams absolutely nailed it!

The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino’s 8th film.  QT is on form with a fantastic score and ridiculously excellent cast!

Youth – My immediate reaction to this film was – GIVE IT ALL THE PRIZES!  But having calmed down a bit, I see its flaws…. many many flaws… but I choose not to care.  Classic Sorrentino directorial style and a moving performance from Michael Caine, this film riled my emotions, fully engaged me, and was a clear standout of all the drabness of the other Cannes festival films.  I absolutely loved it.

Inside Out – New Pixar film + Amy Poehler’s voice. I LOVED it. Pixar on form.

High-Rise – A dark examination of social breakdown, set to the backdrop of a dystopian 1970’s high-rise.  As a work, it possibly surpasses the J.G. Ballard novel it’s based on.

45 Years – Tender, cold, touching and bleak. A harsh story of how the past can change our perception of our present and potentially destroy our future. Beautiful performances by Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay.

Slow West – An arthouse Western, atmospheric and beautifully filmed. FASSBENDER!

The Revenant – I loved this visceral revenge thriller, in spite of its mega ADR issues of dialogue sync. It is beautifully shot and brutally performed.

Spotlight – A powerful drama with an excellent cast.

Bridge of Spies – Nearly a faultless film.  This is old-fashioned filmmaking at its finest.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl – Brutally honest and captivating.

Trainwreck – How can you not love Amy Schumer’s honest brilliance!

A Perfect Day – What a strange concept to make a comedy set in the Bosnian war of 1995. But it works, and so well at that!

The Big Short – A comedic drama of the modern economic crisis, directed by Anchorman‘s Adam McKay and starring an all star ensemble cast including Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Christian Bale and Brad Pitt!

Dheepan – An intelligent drama with complex characters.  The subject matter is modernly relevant and this film emotionally powerful.

Steve Jobs – Aaron Sorkin’s script is amazing with powerhouse performances from the entire cast, notably FASSBENDER as Jobs himself.

The Voices – Ryan Reynolds gives a perfectly balanced performance as the unstable Jerry in the darkest of black comedies. Kitsch, violent, hilarious horror. WTF. Why has box office success eluded Ryan Reynolds?

Foxcatcher – Uncomfortable to watch, bleak, sickening, depressing, fantastic.  I never want to see this movie again.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya – Sentimental, emotional, stunning.

Paddington -I was skeptical about this film.  I don’t love family friendly movies and I hate big screen adaptations of old classics.  Kudos to director Paul King who made this film charming, endearing, lovable and hilarious!

Grandma – Who doesn’t love Lily Tomlin as a tough-as-nails wise cracking grandma?

Brooklyn – A visually beautiful and touching story about a young girl (a captivating Saoirse Ronan) as she makes herself a new home away from Ireland.

Louder Than Bombs – A touching drama with an excellent performance by Devin Druid and interesting directing style by Joachim Trier.  Heartfelt and wonderful.  I predict big things for Devin.

Queen of Earth – This complex tale of female friendship is psychologically tense. Even more so, it has characters that are true to life once you can see past the thriller genre at play. Elisabeth Moss’ performance is minimal, naturalistic and outstanding.

Green Room – Next level Blue Ruin.  So stressful!!!

Nasty Baby – A strong character and social study, sometimes straying into the absurd, but all grounded in the reality it creates for itself. Often visceral and horrific to watch, but leaves the audience thinking and questioning right from wrong, social constructs, and the system as a whole.

Joy – I’m not usually a fan of the J. Law / B. Coop David O’Russell fare, but Joy lives up to its name.

Me, Earl and the Dying Girl – A wonderful indie film with heart. Gets a bit sappy at times, but its charm wins out.

Black Mass – Johnny Depp is back on form playing a human man, and Joel Edgerton delivers a breakout performance! A perfect crime drama from the director of Out of the Furnace.

The Martian – A good old Hollywood space romp by legendary director Ridley Scott.

Everest – An epic true and tragic story. I loved how the drama was heightened in the adventure narrative, and downplayed in the death scenes.

Love & Mercy – The Brian Wilson biopic starring two Brians:  While “future” Brian (John Cusack) feels like he belongs in a separate inferior movie, “past” Brian (Paul Dano) is a revelation. If “past” Brian were the sole focus of this movie, it would be a five star masterpiece. Paul Dano has finally arrived with this role.  This film was 50% perfection.

Men and Chicken – A grotesque and absurdist Danish comedy with strong elements of body horror. Disgusting yet so well done!

Amy –  A well-made documentary on Amy Winehouse.  Fully tragic.

Sicario – Denis Villeneuve takes a page out of Michael Mann’s book to create this dark action thriller.  Beautiful cinematography and stylization.

Ryuzo and His Seven Henchmen – I’m a sucker for a good Takeshi Kitano film and this one combines his two greatest assets – yakuza battles and quirky comedy.

Assassination – A full-on Korean action film / period piece. A slow starter, but once it kicks off, it doesn’t let up.

Jurassic World – A terrible installment in a nostalgic franchise, but in spite of the awful elements, those dinosaurs sure do thrill!

The Walk – Joseph Gordon-Levitt is oddly cast as Frenchman Philippe Petit, the highwire artist who walked between the Twin Towers on August 7th, 1974. The dubious accents and sentimental ode to the buildings themselves makes this film an awkward one, but the coup when they get the wire on the towers and the walk itself are just brilliant! Not for vertigo sufferers, especially the 3D version!

Suffragette – A hugely important and relevant story, bleak and hollow in its execution.

What We Do In The Shadows – A mockumentary about some modern day vampires living in New Zealand, starring some familiar faces from Flight of the Conchords.  Hilarious!!!

Mr. Holmes – I was a tad disappointed that this film wasn’t more Holmesian, but as a film about an aged man in the last days of his life, this film triumphs.

Spy – Classic Paul Feig / Melissa McCarthy collaboration, but the star of the show is Jason Statham in a hilarious comedy performance!

Black Coal, Thin Ice – A solid Berlinale Bear-winning Chinese murder mystery. Engaging and interestingly directed, but a bit obvious in its resolution.

I am Michael – An unbelievable true story of how LGBT advocate Michael Glatze went on a journey of self-discovery in a struggle to go back into the closet as a heterosexual Christian.  Fascinating.

Love Is Strange – A touching and sentimental love story in times of trouble.

Carol – Beautifully directed by Todd Haynes, but a bit lacklustre in story and interest.  But again, beautiful.

American Sniper – In spite of its political overtones and whatever you may think of the film’s subject Chris Kyle, this film is a seriously gripping and well-made war film.

Trash – Basically the wannabe Brazilian Slumdog Millionaire!

Macbeth – Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, and the best cinematography of the year!  That is all.

Legend – Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy in a Kray Kray performance.  It gets somewhere between 2 and 5 stars.

Magic Mike XXL – It’s definitely not one to watch for the plot.

I Smile Back – The usually hilarious Sarah Silverman gets real bleak for this drama!

The Program – I loved the Alex Gibney documentary on Lance Armstrong, but this dramatization by Stephen Frears is pointless and flat.  With an odd choice of Ben Foster as Lance.

Yakuza Apocalypse – Another nonsensical insane film from Japanese director Takashi Miike.

Jauja – One week later and I’m still trying to figure out what this movie was about and what happened in it.  While completely nonsensical and quite dull, it is visually and aurally stunning!  Original music by Viggo Mortensen and Buckethead!

The Good Dinosaur – Pixar really messed this one up!  But the environmental visuals are stunning!

Mistress America – A bit too forced to recreate the appeal of Frances Ha, but Greta Gerwig & Noah Baumbach’s latest collaboration is still enjoyable.

Beyond Clueless – This teen movie documentary tries to get deep, but really just made me want to watch some shallow teen films.

Valley of Love – The plot for this film is dire, but the acting superb.  I loved the relationship between Isabelle Huppert & Gerard Depardieu’s characters.

Beasts of No Nation – A powerful story with excellent performances, but something is missing in this Netflix original film.

An Open Secret – An Amy Berg documentary that features heavy subject matter and touching stories.  Very upsetting.

Live From New York! – Not an amazingly well-made documentary, but with subject matter of Saturday Night Live and interviews with the cast and creative, it’s impossible to make this unenjoyable!

Crimson Peak – I remember when horror movie cliches used to be wonderful.  Even the visual spectacle of Guillermo Del Toro isn’t enough to make this horror endure.

Suite Francaise – A solid film with a weak finale – not a surprise considering it was based on an unfinished book.

Desierto – A solid prey versus predator thriller directed by Alfonso’s son Jonas Cuaron.

The Assassin – Beautiful but dull.  But so beautiful.  But so dull.

The Little Prince – Beautiful stop motion animation embedded into a less good CGI story.

Samba – A low key drama starring some of France’s finest actors.  Should have hit heavier considering the talent and subject matter, but a good watch nonetheless.

Skeleton Twins – Sweet, but I expected more from a film starring Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader (the dream team).

Addicted to Fresno – Judy Greer and Natasha Lyonne as sisters! Plus Aubrey Plaza, Fred Armisen, Ron Livingston, Molly Shannon and Kumail Nanjiani all have bit parts!  Why is this not better???

Far from the Madding Crowd – A ridiculous soap opera of a tale, with a very handsome leading man in the form of Matthias Schoenaerts as Mr. Oak – phwoar.

The Burning –  An homage to old westerns, this Argentinian film is in dire need of modernization.

Convenience – A funny and charming British indie!

The Danish Girl – REALLY???  Tom Hooper and Eddie Redmayne are a nightmare, panic attack inducing combination.  This film makes a farce of its fascinating subject matter.

Hot Sugar’s Cold World – Artistically executed and a beautiful mood piece, Hot Sugar’s Cold World runs more cold than it does hot thanks to the protagonist’s emotional disengagement.

Futuro Beach – A very slow film that does eventually pay off, but is pretty hard to get through until it does.

Dressed as a Girl – A documentary about the East London drag scene that offers those in the know a huge dose of nostalgia!

The Sea Of Trees – What kind of crap is this!!??  The McConaissance Era is over.

Experimenter – How can such interesting subject matter make such a horrible film?

Knight of Cups – Terrence Malick is hit and miss.  This is a miss.

Queen of the Desert – This is a near miss for worst film of the year, but it slightly redeems itself through the unintentional hilarity of some of its finer moments!  Tear-inducing hilarity from Werner Herzog!

White Bird in a Blizzard – A camp stylization of utter nonsense with a fantastic soundtrack and solid lead performance.

Do I Sound Gay? – A self-indulgent documentary that I wouldn’t bother investing your time in.

Closer to the Moon – I could not even stay awake for this film.  It’s a tonal mess.

The Intern – Why?????????

Are You Here – To go from creating highly acclaimed TV series Mad Men to producing such big screen trite as Are You Here, Matthew Weiner reinforces the power of television as a more relevant medium for drama.

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