As per usual, I’ve ended up catching up with a lot of last year’s films this year. With that in mind, I’ve collated a top ten of 2015, 12 months after the fact. Also, my top 10 on Radio One was films I have seen this year, regardless of their original release date whereas this is a separate thing, catching up with the films of 2015 as they’ve dribbled through to NZ. Here we go:
10. The Daughter – Simon Stone: A real surprise and a gem which takes Henrik Ibsen’s ‘The Wild Duck’ and plonks it into post-industrial Australia. As ex-pat mill-owner’s son, Christian (played by Paul Schneider) returns to his hometown for his father’s wedding to a much younger woman, secrets and lies inevitably get thrown up and tensions mount between husbands and wives, parents and children, servants and masters. A who’s who of Aussie acting talent gives it their all but heads up to feature film newcomer, Odessa Young, who really gives this part her all and hopefully will go far alongside director Simon Stone.
9. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief – Alex Gibney: In his element whenever he’s taking on big institutions through the prism of small, human stories (Enron, Wikileaks, child sex abuse in the Church), Gibney showcases the human cost amid the over-hyped quirk, the sub-Nazi rallies and the celebrity endorsements. Here, he interviews ex-Scientologists and journos to expose, first hand, what made the Church of Scientology as big as it is and assessing what little kinks in the legal armour could so easily bring the church and their mysterious leader, David Miscavige to their knees. Louis Theroux’s My Scientology Movie is good but the smart money’s on Gibney!
8. Tale of Tales – Matteo Garrone: A really left field triptych of tales culled from Giambattista Basile’s Pentamerone – the first ever published collection of folk and fairy stories which in turn, inspired the Brothers Grimm. All the elements of sex, violence, succession, intrigue, mutilation. wyrd creatures and olde magicks are all here in spades. Salma Hayek, Toby Jones, Vincent Cassel, Shirley Henderson, Stacy Martin, John C. Reilly and Hayley Carmichael do great work all round (Cassel channeling Kenny Everett’s Marcel Wave at one point) and director Garrone proves he is one of the more unpredictable talents in world cinema, bringing us this after Gomorrah and Reality.
7. Heat Wave – Raphaël Jacoulot: This came out of nowhere for me. It’s a film that reminded me, in all the right ways, of the likes of L’enfant and The White Ribbon. A small, rural town is undergoing the titular heat wave and water is running out, tempers are fraying and one kid, Josef Bousou (Karim Leklou), is front and centre of everyone’s ire. It’s a film about how people need something to blame rather than looking within themselves and need targets to reveal themselves. It is carried high by an ensemble cast that never puts a foot wrong. The real hidden gem of 2015.
6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – J.J. Abrams: A film made by the fans, for the fans. J.J. Abrams continues his winning streak as the clear successor to Spielberg at the height of popcorn blockbuster entertainment, giving us a long overdue reminder that this sort of filmmaking can be really wondrous and transportive and exciting. Nice to see the older cast members appearing to give a shit and give their all reprising their roles but even better that the new characters are just as rich and likeable and well fleshed out. Two hours that’s never boring, always engaging, hardly puts a foot wrong and carries the flame!
5. Our Little Sister – Hirokazu Kore-eda: As I said in my review earlier this year, the main triumph of this film is that – like Shane Meadows’ Somers Town – it is a genuinely nice film that sets out to make you happy. However, whereas Meadows’ film was more of a teen flick, this is definitely a film for grown-ups. Sisters Sachi, Yoshino and Chika meet their much younger half-sister, Suzu, at their father’s funeral and agree to continue raising her themselves. Here is a really smart case of casting women who don’t look alike, embodying different personalities and yet feel like a strong family unit.
4. High-Rise – Ben Wheatley: 40 years in the making for producer Jeremy Thomas and brilliantly, acerbically, viciously brought to the screen by Ben Wheatley in his second best film after Kill List. Tom Hiddletson gives the most intelligent performance of the year as the slippery, almost unknowable Dr. Robert Laing. It’s bleak and sexy, dangerous and hilarious, weird and intelligent. Brutally well written by Amy Jump, you’ve never seen chaos orchestrated this brilliantly with an ensemble cast giving it everything they got to freak you the fuck out! This is big, stylish sci-fi filmmaking with no concession to the mainstream… good for it!
3. Minions – Kyla Balda and Pierre Coffin: Just really, really funny and a movie that really surprised me. I went in a bit sniffy despite having enjoyed Despicable Me but a way in, I had just thrown all my critical faculties out the window. There is a sort-of critical rule that says that a film must work on it’s own terms and this is a fast-paced, dumb, kids’ movie and – on that level – it’s a masterpiece! I cried laughing three times! Haven’t laughed that hard at a movie since I don’t know when! Let the adults sneer – it’s meant to be fun and it is.
2. Embrace of the Serpent – Ciro Guerra: There really aren’t many Oscar nominees like this one… it works on a different plain of thought to any other stories and how great to see a film based on not one but two sources written by white men of European origin that actually takes the viewpoint of the Amazonian tribesman. So, rather than a sad-faced victim, we get a 3-D portrait of a man’s life ruined by the encroaching so-called “civilisation”. It’s been 18 months since I saw this and it won’t leave my head. Barring one ever-so-slight slip towards the end, it’s perfect.
=1. Taxi: Even taking into account the seriousness of Jafar Panahi’s predicament (banned from making films in Iran for another 15 years), this ultimately illegal film which is lucky to see the light of day is one of celebration. It is a hangout, road movie. More Easy Rider than Taste of Cherry. Panahi plays himself, now driving a taxi to make ends meet and it documents all the passengers he picks up and the conversations about life, politics, ethics and Woody Allen movies. A thoroughly deserving Berlin winner and proof if proof were needed that Panahi is one of world cinema’s greats.
=1. Sunset Song – Terence Davies: An adaptation of what is considered to be the greatest Scottish novel, turns out to be one of the greatest British films ever made. I saw this for the second time the other day and it seemed to me that it’s a Scottish answer to Once Upon a Time in the West, not just through it’s pacing but through it’s story of a woman finding her place in a man’s world. I have now completely given myself over to Terence Davies and he gets the utmost from a perfect cast, in particular Ian Pirie, Kevin Guthrie and lead, Agyness Deyn.
Honorable Mentions: Aferim!; Blackhat; The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution; The Clan; Cop Car; The End of the Tour; 45 Years; Girl Asleep; Green Room; Hitchcock/Truffaut; The Lure; The Passion of Augustine; Steve Jobs; Wednesday, May 9;
Top 10 Retrospectives:
Saboteur (1942) Alfred Hitchcock
Ikiru (1952) Akira Kurosawa
Bob le flambeur (1956) Jean-Pierre Melville
The Seventh Seal (1957) Ingmar Bergman
The 400 Blows (1959) François Truffaut
Eyes Without a Face (1960) Georges Franju
Primary (1960) Robert Drew
Chimes at Midnight (1965) Orson Welles
The Plague of the Zombies (1966) John Gilling
The Funeral (1996) Abel Ferrara