10) Bastards (Claire Denis)
Rugged sea captain Marco (Vincent Lindon) finds himself out of his depth in Paris as he seeks vengeance on behalf of his sexually traumatised niece. A tough quiet loner, Marco is the archetypal protagonist for a revenge movie but in this bleak and unforgiving anti-thriller Denis renders him useless.
9)Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg)
Cronenberg and screenwriter Bruce Wagner’s phantasmagorical take on the landscape of Hollywood. Despite the often laboured satire it works best as a ghost story, a study of people haunted by their past in a town which is always looking for new flesh and shows only a morbid curiosity in those whose moment has passed.
8) They Came Together (David Wain)
David Wain and Michael Showalter’s loving send-up of the urban rom-com particularly those using New York as the backdrop for their story. It takes every cliché in these types of movies and raises them to new levels of absurdity aided by two demented comic performances from Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler.
7)Her (Spike Jonze)
Spike Jonze’s sci-fi love story between an introvert and a sentient OS touches on prescient themes, emotional isolation, the complexity of human relationships, and how people mostly interact with the world now through technology. Its futuristic design is mostly understated and credible with the exception of those above the waist trousers.
6) Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman)
A rarity these days, a smart emotionally involving blockbuster. Cruise is self-deprecating and charming as the coward who learns to become a hero and is matched by Emily Blunt as his mentor. Warner Bros still seem to be in the process of picking a title for this movie which might explain why they couldn’t persuade more people to go and see it in cinemas.
5) Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)
My enthusiasm for this was slightly tempered by its London-born director’s absurd diatribe against the Irish film industry and every Irish film ever made. Nevertheless Calvaryis still a moving exploration of religious faith with a wonderful performance from Gleeson.
4) Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
Wes Anderson’s colourful tale within a tale is infused with his usual mixture of comedy and melancholia. Ralph Fiennes performance reminded me a little of Dirk Bogarde in his late-period European work when he was often cast in films about the clash between the old aristocratic order and an emerging fascist regime. There’s a similar type of story here and while Anderson’s approach is comic in tone it’s as good a lament for the pre-war Europe of the 30s’ as you’ll see.
3) Nymphomaniac (Lars von Trier)
Part I of von Trier’s exploration of female sexuality might well be the funniest film of the year. Part II is much darker. Sex is a weapon and there are casualties. Most notably a wronged wife played with astonishing rage by Uma Thurman. At the heart of both films is the oddly touching relationship between Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her lonely confessor Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) which in the cruellest joke von Trier’s ever played on the viewer he undercuts in the final scene.
2) Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)
Just shades What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi) as this year’s best movie about vampires sharing a house together. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are the centuries old aesthetes hanging out discussing great art, literature, and music. The only things that have survived for as long as they have.
1) Frank (Lenny Abrahamson)
Frank was an unexpected and moving surprise. I had doubts about this prior to seeing it. Chris Sievey’s (aka Frank Sidebottom) eccentricity seems intrinsically linked to his North of England background so turning him into an American felt wrong. However apart from appropriating his giant paper mache head Frank has little to do with Sievey’s life. Abraham’s film instead tells its own weird sad story and is illuminating about the nature of creativity and how mental illness can affect that process.