Ten Favourite Films of 2015

10. By the Sea (Angelina Jolie)

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Given my love for 60s’/70s’ European art movies and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tales of beautiful fuck ups, both of which are clear influences here I should have known I’d fall for By the Sea. Dismissed as a vanity project Jolie’s drama about a glamorous couple’s faltering marriage is worth taking seriously. Jolie’s other half Brad Pitt plays a writer who’s taken to drink, while she plays a former dancer who develops an infatuation with the younger couple staying in the next room of their hotel. Fittingly for a film about voyeurism Jolie displays a great eye for composing the frame. Add to that Melanie Laurent, an appearance by Diva/Subway actor Richard Bohringer, plus a Gabriel Yared soundtrack and By the Sea feels like a love letter to French cinema from one of Hollywood’s most enigmatic stars. 

9. Crimson Peak (Guillermo del Toro)

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Sublime take on the Gothic Romance with Mia Wasikowska as the straight-laced young lady who falls for a dashing aristocrat (Tom Hiddleston) with a secret in his attic, or to be clearer his entire fucking house. Crimson Peak is as beautiful as and haunting as Mario Bava’s Kill Baby Kill (1966) and there is no higher praise. And people who said it wasn’t frightening weren’t paying enough attention to the murderous look in Jessica Chastain’s eyes.

8. Youth (Paolo Sorrentino)

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Paolo Sorrentino’s slightly overblown follow-up to The Great Beauty (2013) will only give ammunition to his detractors but I loved every minute of it. From LFF review. 

Youth occasionally teeters on the edge of absurdity but it’s anchored by beautifully judged performances from the leads. Caine, working with a great Italian director for the first time since Vittorio De Sica in 1967’s Woman Times Seven, has wonderful chemistry with Kietel. There’s a real feeling of mutual affection present in their conversations about their memories of their shared past. Kietel does regret very well as his wonderful performance as a burnt out Hollywood agent showed in Ari Folman’s The Congress (2012) and he’s terrific here as a Blake Edwards-type film director who is blissfully unaware his best days are behind him until his muse (a coruscating cameo by Jane Fonda) sets him straight.”

7. Ruined Heart (Khavn De La Cruz)

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Khavn De La Cruz’s near wordless crime movie set in the back alleys of Manila features a familiar array of movie archetypes, most notably the charismatic Tadanobu Asano as a hitman whose relationship with a sex worker (Nathalie Acevedo) brings him into conflict with a local gangster. But it’s the approach to the material rather than story which make Khavn’s film so special. Musical performances and imagery propel the narrative. My own favourite moment is when Asano visits a grave and a mournful sax solo plays and the camera pulls back to reveal the sax-player standing close by in the graveyard. Assisted by legendary director-of-photography Chris Doyle Ruined Heart is colourful, chaotic, and ultimately moving.

6. Pasolini (Abel Ferrara)

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Ferrara regular Willem Dafoe stars as legendary Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini casually going about his business during the last few hours of his life before his murder in 1975. He does an interview, works on a screenplay (excerpts of which Ferrara has filmed and interweaves into the story), and cruises for younger men. Considering the reputation of both men for controversy Pasolini is surprisingly restrained in approach is up there with Ferrara’s best work The Funeral and The Addiction.

5. Evolution (Lucille Hadžihalilović)

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A decade after her last movie Innocence (2005) Hadžihalilović returns with another strange tale about children living in a hermetic society with its own rules. In this remarkable dreamlike body/horror a young boy grows lives on an island inhabited only by mothers and their young sons. All of the boys are suffering from the exact same illness and getting treatment at a local hospital. Yet the boy remembers things nobody else has ever seen and begins to wonder about his place in the world. Excerpt from LFF review. 

“With its unsettling horror sequences and art-house sensibility Evolution put me in mind of another great French film, Trouble Every Day (2002, Claire Denis). That was simultaneously too gory for most ‘serious’ film fans and too arty for gore-hounds leaving it with only a small devoted following. Certainly at the screening I attended there was an interesting reaction with one rather strident plummy-voiced gentleman tearing into Hadžihalilović for filming “obscenities” and asking the visibly rattled director what her film meant. Bizarrely the chap giving Hadžihalilović a bollocking turned out to be Peter Bowles, star of the 80s’ sitcom To The Manor Born

4. Carol (Todd Haynes)

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Todd Haynes and screenwriter Phyllis Nagy’s beautiful adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s ‘The Price of Salt’ captures the woozy yearning of the novel. Extract from my LFF review here.

“While Far From Heaven imitated a particular style of filmmaking from the 50s’ Carol is located firmly in the period itself. This is a more realistic presentation of the era with a muted if not quite drab colour scheme. Emotions are mostly kept in check as you would expect from a film set during a period when homosexuality was illegal, but occasionally they burst forth. Abby quietly weeping while driving, Carol pulling a gun on a private detective, and finally rising to a crescendo during its transcendent last scene.”

3. Mad Max Fury Road (George Miller) 

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Not quite the equal of Mad Max 2 (1981) but Miller’s orchestration of vehicular insanity remains as exhilarating as ever. Tom Hardy makes for an adequate replacement for persona non grata Mel Gibson, though he lacks his predecessor’s intensity. Hardy’s road warrior seems more melancholy than crazed, so it’s left to Charlize Theron’s Furiosa to drive the narrative forward. Some people have claimed there’s no plot but that’s nonsense. They go one way, then turn back, and all hell follows with them.  

2. The Lobster (Yannos Lanthimos)

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Yannos Lanthimos take on the horrors of loneliness and romance is as darkly funny as a Franz Kafka short story. It also proves that sweetly befuddled is the default setting for a great Colin Farrell performance.

“Lanthimos satirises both singleness and coupledom as being equally awful in their different ways. The first half of The Lobster is hilarious but once the action moves away from the hotel and into the forest the tone darkens. Lanthimos remains true to main theme of the film though, the insurmountable distance between people, played for laughs at first, but as it progresses and with its devastating final shot The Lobster becomes the bleakest film of the year.”

1. Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller)

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Portrait of the artist as a young woman. From EIFF roundup.

“Brit actress Bel Powley is astonishing as Minnie, a High School kid who begins a sexual relationship with her mother’s waster boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgard). Based on a graphic novel by Pheobe Gloeckner about her own experiences growing up in 1970s’ San Francisco, animated sequences help express Minnie’s off-kilter view of the world. The film is also surprisingly sympathetic to all of the characters regardless how questionable their behaviour is. This refusal to moralise turns what could have been a heavy-handed, obvious drama in a lesser storyteller’s hands into something more complex.”

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