2015 Film In Review

I haven’t written a specific post about this year in film, but have decided to collect my scattered thoughts on it here. I have contributed to various articles over at Audiences Everywhere for their Yearly Roundup:

I would recommend some more articles, but instead I might confine that to a different post, as there has been a lot of interesting film criticism I have read this year. I will link that here once it is written.

As for my favourite movies of 2015, you can find them here. This goes by 2015 releases (obviously), so there are four notable omissions that would have likely topped this list, as the films I saw at The Brighton Film Festival are due for release in 2016

Total Watches: 216
Seen For the First Time: 139
Re-Watches: 77
Visits to the Cinema: 49
Released In 2015: 37
Brighton Film Festival: 6
Non-Male Directed: 7
Non-White Directed: 10

And just for fun, I’ll give out some award-y type things too:

Best Performances:

Normally I’d split this up into female and male categories, but it’s a little arbitrary, and the amount of great performances from actresses outweighs the men this time around. These are not all of the best performances of the year, but merely my favourite (after whittling down the list). I should mention that this is all going by UK release dates.

45 Years – Charlotte Rampling


My absolute favourite performance of the year is as quiet and patient as gets. A detailed picture of a reserved woman is painted, only for that stability to slip away, in a heart-wrenchingly tragic performance that Rampling sells right up to the last frame.

Carol – Rooney Mara


Much has been (rightly) said of Cate Blanchett’s captivating Carol, but the real star of the movie was Mara’s Therese. It’s a delicate performance that isn’t showy at all, so might not get the attention it deserves, but Mara portrays the innocence, melancholy and longing perfectly.

Tangerine – Kitana Kiki Rodriguez


As far as I can tell from interviews, Rodriguez is very similar to her character – loud, audacious and witty. Comedic timing doesn’t get enough praise when it comes to nominating best performances, and neither do roles which aren’t especially complicated. But Rodriguez finds the humanity within the chaos Sin-Dee causes, without the shift feeling too abrupt.

The Lobster – Léa Seydoux


There’s very little to Seydoux’s ‘Loner Leader’, it’s mostly in her title. Yet the actress is just brilliant with bitterness, cynicism and rage. It’s a wonder that she doesn’t get to go bad too often, since she’s a natural at playing the ambiguous villain. In my comic book dreams she would play The Enchantress.

Sicario – Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro & Josh Brolin


I’m combining a few of these simply because they’re so dependent on each other. Kate as an honest, capable badass, only to have the system not just turn on her, but use her for its own ends. If Kate Macer is the powerless, moral heroine, Matt Graver is her opposite. Brolin wears flip-flops to meetings about Cartel murders, holding back information but never violence; all with a pleasant smile. In between is Alejandro, essentially the driving force of the plot it is later revealed, yet more similar to Kate than you’d expect. Del Toro seems to be dispassionate at first, but later shows himself to be in pain behind this mask of detachment, a puppet of his own trauma – and sentencing others to the same fate.

Macbeth – Marion Cotillard & Michael Fassbender


It’s perfect casting, really. Surprisingly, the film puts visuals ahead of the dialogue, but when it does allow the actors to perform their famous soliloquies they give us their career-best. Fassbender almost seems fit to burst with the guilt and self-hatred inside, his teeth gritting as he is tortured by his conscience. Cotillard, on the other hand, has more affection for her husband than I’ve seen in most versions, but still gives us a Lady Macbeth that is serpentine, up until she hits the breaking point. I haven’t seen her psychological complexity brought to life in quite the same way.

Ex Machina – Oscar Isaac


I’ve written about Isaac’s Nathan Bateman twice this week (see above), but I can’t really say enough. The character himself is an interesting metaphor for misogyny and toxic masculinity, but the actor makes him a villain that at first you’d love to hang out with, then you love to hate. He’s reprehensible but charming, in a very uncomfortable way.

Clouds of Sils Maria – Kirsten Stewart & Juliet Binoche


It feels unfair to choose one over the other, and seeing as it’s Juliet Binoche we’re talking about here – rest assured that Stewart is a severely underrated actress. Most of the film is simply them discussing art, their generational distance, with some slight sexual undertones. But all of this is cleverly woven into the dialogue, and you come away feeling as if these characters are real, existing somewhere out in the world.

The Falling – Maisie Williams


I like Williams as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones, but longed for her to have the opportunity to show what she’s really made of. The Falling is a film that I thought worked extremely well for it’s first 2/3, then outstayed its welcome a little. But I never saw that in Maisie Williams, who is fascinating throughout, and one of the most complex heroines of the last few years.

Mommy – Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon & Suzanne Clément


It feels desperately unfair to put one of them ahead of the other, so I picked all three main actors from Xavier Dolan’s intense drama. It’s a story that’s alternatively uplifting and depressing, as three people with wildly different emotional problems attempt to support and love one another. An entire film could be made about either character, but together they are extraordinary.

Enemy – Jake Gyllenhaal & Sarah Gadon


Technically a release in 2015, by a day or two, Enemy is the second film by director Denis Villeneuve to make this list. Together with the all-round great performances he cultivated in Prisoners, and I’d say he has a knack for bringing out the best in his cast. Gyllenhaal has steadily become one my favourite actors working today. Here he is playing two vastly different characters, while still shouldering the weight of a tormented subconscious. Gadon is the long-suffering wife, infinitely sad and showing an emotional pain that resonates long after she leaves the screen.

Timbuktu – Layla Walet Mohamed


Director Abderrahmane Sissako met a young Tuareg girl in a refugee camp in Mauritania. He had been searching for a mother with a 3-year-old child to cast in Timbuktu, but found himself followed around by the 12-year-old . He aged the character up, and cast her in the role. As an amateur, and as a child, she is remarkably good, with the both the ability to convey complex emotions and the genuine charm to inspire empathy. Timbuktu was full of great performances, but it was Layla who stuck in my head.

Best Scenes

Assume there will be spoilers ahead, so only read the entries for the films you have seen, or the ones you have no intention of seeing. If I can find a video of the scene, I’ll link it in the title (given how recent some of these movies are, however, some of the clips will be low quality or only show part of the scene). I’m not including documentaries in this, as I’m thinking more of constructed fictional scenes, and besides, The Look of Silence and Amy would dominate this list if I let them in.

Ex Machina – The Dance Routine


Maybe the reason that the most cerebral science fiction movies made in recent years went down so well with audiences was that Alex Garland knew he needed to thrill, charm, and entertain too. Going in I could never have know that I’d be watching Oscar Isaac dance to Get Down Saturday Night, but it took until my third viewing before I started to really think about the scene. Garland may be allowing the audience to take a moment to enjoy the ridiculous situation, but he’s also tying in the themes. It strikes a strange chord – it’s funny, energetic, but there’s no joy in the faces of Nathan, Caleb, or Kyoko. It’s a meticulous, controlled routine from a man who insists on controlling the free will he creates, and the display is merely another extension of his destructive ego.

Kingsman: The Secret Service – The Church


A few of the scenes on this list, mostly the action-orientated, are great scenes that elevated movies I wasn’t that interested in otherwise. Kingsman was extremely hit and miss (and unfortunately ended on the biggest miss), but this scene was both a fitting crescendo to the building tension that preceded it, and a complete surprise. I still can’t believe the studio allowed something so volatile, blasphemous and excessive. It’s one of the best digitally-enhanced fight scenes I’ve seen, and the closest Hollywood has come to aping the brutal fights of The Raid and its sequel. What’s interesting is how it plays with the audience’s sense of morality. We are shown awful people, I’m talking real scum-of-the-earth Westboro Baptist bigots, and then are forced (as is Firth’s character) to watch as they are torn apart in a gleefully stylish long burst of bloody violence. It’s thrilling and satisfying, yet with an edge of discomfort. Like the agent himself, we are given the freedom to revel in revenge against the worst of humankind, and are left a little dazed afterwards.

Spectre – The Train Fight


Spectre‘s first 2/3, aside from a few missteps (particularly the Monica Bellucci part), was all I wanted from a James Bond film. The third act, however, was Die Another Day-level bad as far as I’m concerned. Everything with Dave Bautista’s Mr. Hinx was in the former, and he lived up to my expectations. It’s my favourite hand-to-hand combat of the series, as it’s both over-the-top and grounded enough to hit hard. It’s immensely satisfying to see Bond be put through his paces, especially after he’d proved himself so capable in the movie before this point. The stunning power shown in the scene is broken up with moments of absurdity (such as Bautista being set on fire) that alleviate the serious tone, something that the best parts of Spectre and Skyfall found a similar balance between. And, best of all, Hinx gets an off-screen “death”, so we might get to see him again next time.

Mad Max: Fury Road – The Final Chase


It feels pretty ineffectual to talk about Fury Road at this point; It’s all been said. I’m not quite as in-love with the movie as a lot of its fans are, but I can’t deny that this final sequence is masterfully crafted. It manages to have its characters engage in so many different exciting variations of action, while keeping it all believable, character-driven, and coherent within the scene. I do wish that the above screenshot wasn’t featured in the trailer, as it is such a wonderful moment and I would have loved to experienced it for the first time in context.

Ant-Man – Disintegration


Ant-Man got a weird reaction from me. I didn’t think it was any good, but I was kind of glad – glad because it confirmed (at least for my state of mind) that I wasn’t blindly following the Marvel Studios releases merely out of love/nostalgia for the source material. There are a handful of moments that stood out for me, however – the dimiurgic imagery of the Quantum Realm, and the first Yellowjacket fight. Fighting as keys and phones drift around them is fun, but when The Cure‘s phenomenal song Disintegration is accidentally played, the scene becomes something special.

Inside Out – Sad Core Memory


I’m going to get upset even writing this, and I’m going to avoid clicking the link I provided above for the sake of maintaining myself. For all the jokes made about Pixar transitioning from “toys have feelings!” to “feelings have feelings!”, this is the most important movie they have made – and definitely the most important animated film in a long time. The film works on a basic level of ‘character needs to get from A to B to stop C from happening’, while we also see how this directly affects Riley. On another level entirely, the way these emotions interact with each other, and operate alone, speaks to more complex ideas of psychology. Understanding emotion isn’t given priority as we grow up, and Inside Out gives it the focus it deserves. The fact that a sometimes goofy, silly movie approaches its story with such a maturity is why an otherwise typical scene of a kid missing home and struggling to fit in works so well here. Honestly the most upsetting scene of the year, on par maybe with a particular moment in 45 Years; I can barely watch it.

The Duke of Burgundy – Hallucinatory Sequence

duke of burgundy 1

Unfortunately the above clip is only a snippet of an astounding sequence of wordless images, but it’s a great teaser. A lot of the dialogue in The Duke of Burgundy revolves around rehearsed roles within the relationship, and so sounds insincere and disjointed. Cynthia is repressing a lot of doubt, desire, frustration, and confusion, all of which is released in a way only cinema can truly display. Strickland pulls us into chains of images and motifs, where patterns and sound take over. It does the film a disservice to call it hallucinatory, or dream-like; there are few words that can describe it.

Clouds of Sils Maria – Drive Home


There’s plenty of discussion in Clouds of Sils Maria, and a fair amount of the complete opposite. There’s a lot to Kirsten Stewart’s character that’s purposefully held back, and in this scene we see the emotional and physical consequences of Valentine evening without the detail of what went before. Instead, the music rises and Assayas double-exposes the image, and in a fitting representation of nausea and emotional turmoil we see the car continue its journey through the fog as she stops to get out.

It Follows – Car Date


“It’s funny, I used to daydream about being old enough to go on dates and drive around with friends in their cars.
I had this image of myself holding hands with a really cute guy, listening to music on the radio and driving along a pretty road… maybe somewhere up north… after the trees started to change color.
It was never about going anywhere… just having some kind of freedom I guess. Now we’re old enough, but where the hell do we go, right?”

There were a lot of scenes I could have picked from It Follows. In fact, I was pretty sure I was going to choose the Tall Man scene for a while, just because of how claustrophobic and tense it is. But in the end, what I love about David Robert Mitchell’s film is how it approaches the fear of mortality from a specifically teenage perspective. Mitchell’s first film, The Myth of the American Sleepover, was one of the most accurate portrayals of what it’s like to be that age, and he continues that trend here. The threshold of moving from childhood to adulthood is complicated and confusing, and hard to articulate at the time. The above speech is simple and obvious in some ways, but poetic and authentic at the same time. The dark turn at the end of this scene works thematically and viscerally, as the stillness of the scene beforehand is interrupted. As well as this, I just love the cinematography on display here – the shot of her playing with flowers, and the car centre of the frame, with the building to its right, trees surrounding, and pitch black night behind.

Timbuktu – Football Is Forbidden


From someone being sentenced to 20 lashes for the crime of playing football, cut to the game being played all the same – but with no ball. At once a moment of defiance, a pure distillation of the pleasure of community fun with the catalyst removed, and a melancholy way of driving home the effect of loss.

Straight Outta Compton – Boyz In the Hood


Straight Outta Compton was one of my favourite movies of the year for a while, before it got bogged down in contract disputes and the we entered the frankly less exciting part of the N.W.A. story. These initial scenes of recording, when these guys were nobodies and were trying to find a new angle that people could relate to, are phenomenal. O’Shea Jackson Jr, Corey Hawkins, and Jason Mitchell have such great chemistry that their minor interactions between the landmark moments were entertaining as hell. You don’t quite get the whole scene in the above link, but enough to see the central dynamic.

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Vision and Ultron


Age of Ultron was a strange blockbuster. It had more ideas floating around than perhaps any comic book movie to date, several character and relationship, and themes weaving their way in and out of the narrative. Editing that all down to an acceptable length complicated the already difficult task of keeping these plates spinning, and it’s hard to keep up without multiple viewings. The above scene may be the most satisfying of the movie merely because it is the conclusion of the most clear through-line: the question of whether The Avengers/humans are saving the world or guaranteeing its end, and the parent-son line of expectation. This is all quietly resolved in a beautifully-shot scene that’s refreshingly downbeat and slow after two hours of fast-paced plot and action. And James Spader’s voice is so good.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Confrontation In The Snow


The Force Awakens barrels along with such speed and emotion that the lazy structure is easy to forgive, and this scene is the epitome of that. Characters arrive in a location to complete the confrontational scene the narrative needs them to, without any of the connective tissue. It doesn’t really matter though, since the scenes have a powerful emotional connection that the audience is following, and the performances sell it in the moment. It’s the best lightsaber duel in the whole series (except Vader vs Luke in Return of the Jedi), and it’s because there are complex emotions converging at this point.

Macbeth – What’s Done Cannot Be Undone


It would be hard not to make a great scene when you’ve got Marion Cotillard reading one of Shakespeare’s best soliloquies, but the alternate telling of this climactic scene is one of the most interesting parts of Justin Kurzel’s adaptation. It may be heresy to say so, but the framing of Lady Macbeth making her final guilt-driven confession to the apparition of her dead child is more compelling than the original sleepwalking scene in the play. If only Cotillard wasn’t side-lined so much in the rest of the film.

Sicario – Final Scene


In the original script , this scene played out in a far more brutal way, one that I’m glad didn’t come to fruition. While much has been said of Del Toro’s intimidating performance (the best he’s been in years), Emily Blunt is so good she matches him beat-for-beat. The direction plays up the tension too, as lines are repeated and the shot-reverse-shot encounter zooms in to their faces at a painfully slow speed. Alejandro pulls Kate’s hand from her face and wipes her tears away, removing even her right to cry. Seeing a protagonist absolutely robbed of autonomy is shocking, and whether there is a victor/moral high-ground to the scene or if by this point morals are completely irrelevant is unclear.

Best Soundtracks

These are original soundtracks, and I’ll include a Youtube link to a favourite song of the soundtrack, or the whole soundtrack if I can’t decide.

Ex Machina -Ben Salisbury & Geoff Barrow

Inherent Vice – Jonny Greenwood

Inside Out – Michael Giacchino

It Follows – Disasterpeace

Mistress America – Dean Wareham & Britta Phillips

The Duke of Burgundy – Cat’s Eyes

The Falling – Tracey Thorn

Macbeth – Jed Kurzel

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