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Friday, 18 December 2015

Adventures in Movie Watching 2015 - My Favourite Films of the Year


Well it's that time of the year again when I make lists that a few people look at, here's a long list of the films that I enjoyed that were around cinemas (and online) this year.....

50. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night - dir. Ana Lily Amirpour
Stylish dreamy Iranian vampire movie that looked and sounded great, but I could have done with a bit more going on.

49. 99 Homes - dir. Ramin Bahrani
A take on the housing crisis that hit America that's packed full of tension but didn't feel real enough to me and was over the top at times, but at least it came from a real anger about the situation.

48. Patrick's Day - dir. Terry McMahon
A film about the mother of a schizophrenic trying to keep him away from the suicidal woman he's fallen in love with. Mental health issues can be difficult to pull off in film without being reckless or at least insensitive but Patrick's Day manages to walk that tightrope for the most part.

47. Trainwreck - dir. Judd Apatow
A woman who doesn't believe in monogamy falls for someone she might want to spend her life with and struggles with the idea. For the first half, very funny but was outstaying its welcome (particularly the random celeb cameo scene) until the ending pulled it back a bit. 

46. Glassland - dir. Gerard Barrett
A young taxi driver's life and the impact his alcoholic mother has on it. Everyone's acting their asses off and the characters feel real but wasn't really on board with the way the film went in the third act. 

45. Enemy - dir. Denis Villeneuve
A man becomes obsessed when he sees his exact doppelganger in a movie. This was drawing bipolar reactions out of me, one minute loving it, one minute hating it, but overall it stayed with me long after watching it more than most films I've seen this year so it did something right and WHAT ABOUT THAT ENDING THOUGH?

44. Ant-Man - dir. Peyton Reed
A well meaning cat burglar is given a special suit that can make him shrink in size and gain in strength. Fun enough but all I could think about was how much better Edgar Wright would have made it.

The crazy story behind a crazy film, The Island of Dr.Moreau, with some great anecdotes from the Australian actors that got caught up in the madness mainly caused by Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando.

42. Grandma - dir. Paul Weitz
A teen facing an unwanted pregnancy seeks the help of her grandmother. Lily Tomlin is so good in this that everyone else seems poor by comparison, only Sam Elliott can match her level in the movie's best scene.

41. Samba - dir. Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano
The story of an immigrant from Senegal who has been legally living and working in France for the last ten years and then told his application for full time residency has been rejected. He seeks out the help of a voluntary agency that helps immigrants deal with such issues and meets an uptight newbie to the agency who tries to help him get everything he needs to stay. Funny and charming but the ending was a little of out of tune with the rest of the film.

40. The Overnight - dir. Patrick Brice
A Duplass produced sex comedy that ramps the awkwardness up to 11 between two couples getting to know each very quickly over one night. The four actors do good work and are the main reason it doesn't feel too over the top.

39. Red Army - dir. Gabe Polsky
An engaging documentary about the politics and characters around the Soviet Union's famous Red Army hockey team as told by the players.

38. What Happened, Miss Simone? - dir. Liz Garbus
Nina Simone is a musical icon for some, but sadly there’s a ton of people who only know her music from advertisements which means Liz Garbus’ film is a timely reminder of just how impressive a performer and songwriter she was. Unfortunately, life was never simple for Simone, she was a woman tormented by demons, the racism she encountered and also the awful domestic abuse she had to deal with from her husband and manager. While the film doesn’t go into every little detail of her life it does hit the most important parts of her career which means the real strength of the film lies with the archive footage of interviews and performances they were able to find and put together.

37. The Connection (La French) - dir. Cédric Jimenez
The Connection (La French) centres on the same historical event as William Friedkin’s seventies classic “The French Connection” but apart from a similar title, it tells a very different story. Dujardin and Lellouche do their best but it feels like you've seen it all before and it isn't as compelling as you'd hope it would be.

36. Iris - dir. Albert Maysles
A simple charming documentary about a woman with a very singular sense of style.

35. Inside Out - dir. Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen
A well intentioned film that didn't quite grab me as much as some of the other Pixar films, was expecting it to have plenty more gags and it kinda dragged a bit in the middle for me as well.

34. The Martian - dir. Ridley Scott
Matt Damon gets stranded on Mars, a fine film but felt too much like an ad for science. Plenty of humour (but not a comedy!) and some nice moments of tension.

33. Jodorowsky's Dune - dir. Frank Pavich
Enjoyable look at the lively filmmaker’s attempt to make Dune before the studio gave it to David Lynch and the impact his original vision had on some of the great science fiction movies to follow

32.Wild - dir. Jean-Marc Vallée
A chronicle of one woman's solo hike across the wilderness, Nick Hornby's screenplay gives plenty for Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern to work with.

31. Appropriate Behavior - dir. Desiree Akhavan
A very funny film about a bisexual woman struggling with her relationships as well as her attempts to appease her conservative Persian parents.

30. While We're Young - dir. Noah Baumbach
A middle aged couple's relationship is given a shake up when the meet a younger more hip couple. A fun look at hipsterdom and middle aged people trying to recapture some part of their youth.

29. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation - dir. Christopher McQuarrie
The IMF take on a rogue evil organisation, The Syndicate, in this straight forward action film. You'll either enjoy the nods to the other films or find them tired.

28. Mommy - Xavier Dolan
Xavier Dolan's energetic melodrama about a single mother struggling to cope with her violent son showcased some very assured direction and a surprisingly 90’s heavy soundtrack.

27. The Gift - dir. Joel Edgerton
Joel Edgerton's feature length directorial debut is a very solid film about a couple who move house and meet someone from the husband's past who seems to want to be friends a bit too much.

26. The Lobster - dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
Lanthimos brings his trademark deadpan surreality and off the wall humour to coupledom and relationships with his film about single people having to go to a hotel where they have 30 days to find a partner or be turned into an animal. Like some relationships it starts off great, but gets a little bit tiresome near the end.

25. The Diary of a Teenage Girl - dir. Marielle Heller
Bel Powley steals the show in a very honest, frank and engaging look at one young woman’s burgeoning sexuality in 1970's San Francisco

24. Mississippi Grind - dir. Ryan Fleck/Anna Boden
While Altman did a better job with a similar story (California Split back in 1975), two gamblers setting off on a road trip hoping to win big, Mississippi Grind does the smart thing in casting the always watchable Ben Medelsohn in the lead alongside a charming again Ryan Reynolds and also now very proficient character actress Sienna Miller.

23. Wild Tales - dir. Damián Szifrón
A compendium of short films all based around violent revenge that manages to be extremely darkly funny and really cinematic.

22. It Follows - dir. David Robert Mitchell
A film full of tension and dread about a young woman who is haunted by a supernatural force after a sexual encounter. Great watch if you don't focus too hard on the minutae of what's going on.

From the director of Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! comes another whirlwind look at a B-movie industry this time the work of cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus and the films they released under the Cannon Films banner. Full of crazy clips from Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris movies.

20. Paddington - dir. Paul King
I KNOW THIS WAS RELEASED LAST YEAR. I work December to December with these lists and I only got to see it in January and it was so so good I couldn't leave it out, and anyway this is my list. Beautifully made and genuinely heartwarming.

19. Best of Enemies - dir. Robert Gordon, Morgan Neville
An absorbing documentary focussing on the series of televised debates between the liberal Gore Vidal and the conservative William F. Buckley Jr in 1968 and their link to modern news reporting.

18. Far From Men (Loin des Hommes) - dir. David Oelhoffen
Far from Men is a revisionist Western set in Algeria in 1954 and based on Albert Camus’s short story “The Guest”. Viggo Mortensen plays Daru, a teacher in an isolated school tasked with the responsibility of getting a local murderer, Mohamed (Reda Kateb) into custody in the faraway village of Tinguit. Daru is initially against the idea but after fighting off locals attacking the school and wanting to dish out their own kind of justice, he decides to take on the perilous journey. Both Mortensen and Kateb fill their characters with real humanity which helps as we see the horrible conflict going on through their eyes. The film takes on an epic feel from capturing the harsh landscapes beautifully and also from Nick Cave’s typically superb score.

17. Birdman - dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu
A vibrant showbiz satire about a formerly successful actor's attempt to open his new play while dealing with his daughter and everything else going on around him. The film while obviously visually brilliant is beautifully directed and full of great performances.

16. Steve Jobs - dir. Danny Boyle
A Sorkin dialogue heavy movie that has a great device of catching up with Steve Jobs before three separate product launches rather than trying to crowbar in his life, a mistake which many biopics make, and is all the better for it.

15. Ex_Machina - dir. Alex Garland
A programmer is chosen to fly to a reclusive computer magnate's secret lab and test out a robot with artificial intelligence. Isaac is fantastic as the loopy genius as is Gleeson as the poor lad in over his head.

14. Sicario - dir. Denis Villeneuve
Emily Blunt plays an FBI agent who accepts a role with a secret task force dealing with cross border drug dealing and soon regrets it. Benicio Del Toro is fantastic as the mysterious Alejandro.

13. Carol - dir. Todd Haynes
A film that I was struggling with at the beginning but was eventually completely seduced by. Set in 1950's New York, this is a tale of a young female shop assistant who falls for an older married woman who enters the store. The period elements are beautifully drawn and the drama never feels forced.

12. Slow West - dir. John Maclean
A well crafted mix of smarts, funny and violence, Slow West tells the story of a young man travelling across the Wild West to be with the girl he's in love with. Fassbender excels as an outlaw who decides to help him on his way.

11. Brooklyn - dir. John Crowley
Saoirse Ronan shines as a young woman forced into emigrating to America in the 50's after initially struggling, she settles into life there and falls in love, but a chance at a life at home in Ireland forces her to make big decisions. The film beautifully evokes the strong feelings felt by anyone who has emigrated or has had a loved one emigrating, particularly at a time where technology wasn't around to make it as easy as it is now to feel connected with home.

10. The Duke of Burgundy - dir. Peter Strickland
A film with an initial premise reminiscent of kinky 70's euro "arthouse" films is actually an intimate (in every sense of the word) snapshot of a relationship fraught with shifting dynamics and power struggles. The film also boasts beautiful cinematography, performances from the leads and a hypnotic soundtrack.

9. Inherent Vice - dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
A stoner noir that's great fun if you just relax and not care too much about the plot because there's everything else to enjoy. While Phoenix is great in the lead role the film is also populated with fantastic secondary characters all played with relish by everyone involved.

8. Tu Dors Nicole - dir. Stéphane Lafleur
A charming droll surreal film about a young woman at a crossroads in her life and an aimless summer she spends with her best friend. Thankfully while the film is about aimlessness, the direction and the editing are quite sharp, precise and unlike the film’s protagonists, very focused.

7. Call Me Lucky - dir. Bobcat Goldthwait
Barry Crimmins is a very angry comedian, he takes on politics, the government, the church, man’s inhumanity to man, basically all the big issues with a fire and energy rarely seen and this documentary explains why or tries to. What separates this documentary from being a typically fawning comedian’s comedian homage or “this guy should have been bigger” doc is Crimmin’s own story which is equal parts distressing and inspiring.

6. The Dark Horse - dir. James Napier Robertson
Based on a true story about a chess master who spends his life in and out of psychiatric wards but on his latest release sets about to help poor kids, near where his brother lives, learn the game and compete at a big tournament. Sounds like Hollywood schmaltz, but thanks in part to Cliff Curtis's powerful performance it never feels contrived.

5. Whiplash - dir. Damien Chazelle
A film with two lead characters that I thoroughly disliked but was however totally enthralled by. Could have been my favourite film of the year, but not quite my tempo.

4. A Most Violent Year - dir. J.C. Chandor
Oscar Isaac plays an "honourable" man trying to do the right thing while expanding his oil business despite being faced by violence, corruption and greed at every turn. While slow paced, it does deliver on every level possible.

3. Mad Max: Fury Road - dir. George Miller
A mad crazy cartoon of a film, that doesn't let you catch your breath until well into the second hour. Every action set piece is spectacular and Theron steals the show.

2. Mistress America - dir. Noah Baumbach
Really funny film about a student whose life is greatly impacted by meeting her larger than life soon-to-be older step-sister with screwball paced dialogue and a brilliant performance from Gerwig (she co-wrote the part, so shouldn't be surprised)

1. Force Majeure - dir. Ruben Östlund
Family holidays can be a tense affair at the best of times, Force Majeure focuses on a Swedish family off enjoying their skiing holiday in the Alps when an avalanche gets way too close to the restaurant they are eating at and they then have to deal with the fallout to unfortunate instinctive reactions. Writer/director Östlund thankfully decides to mine this premise mainly for humour, pitch black humour and with great skill slowly builds a tightly wrought film. Every part of the film very feels very deliberately composed and planned out in order to squeeze the most out of every situation for all their worth. The two leads, Johannes Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli, pull off brilliantly judged performances and brilliantly convey a nagging sense of unease and growing distrust with each other as they come to terms with the pretence of a happy family crumble around them. The film also looks at increasingly ambiguous gender roles, be it within a marriage or relationship or within a family, particularly the role of protector, and also pokes fun at modern masculinity and male ego at every oppurtunity. Games of Thrones’ Kristofer Hivju turns up as Mats, a friend of the couple who gets dragged into their mess and ends up providing a good portion of the film’s laughs. The film also has one of the most interesting third acts I’ve seen in a while with a very curiously played out ending.

Films I wanted to see but didn't get near: Amy, 45 Years, Tangerine, Legend, White God, Phoenix, The Wolfpack, Bridge of Spies, Crimson Peak, Spectre, Black Mass, The Falling, Mr Holmes, Precinct Seven Five, White God, Selma, The Visit, Love Is Strange, Girlhood, Song of The Sea, Older Than Ireland, The Queen of Ireland

My top ten is included with many other fine people's top ten lists over on SPOOOOL.ie by clicking on the pic below:

Keep on an eye on their continuing End of Year Coverage as well why don't you...

Also you can check out my year stats over at http://letterboxd.com/amawaster/year/2015/

Previous winners:
2014 - We Are The Best! (Vi är bäst!) - dir. Lukas Moodysson
2013 - Stories We Tell - dir. Sarah Polley
2012 - Beasts of the Southern Wild - dir. Benh Zeitlin
2011 - Blue Valentine - dir. Derek Cianfrance
2010 - Inception - dir. Christopher Nolan
2009 - A Serious Man - dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
2008 - The Dark Knight - dir. Christopher Nolan
2007 - The Darjeeling Limited - dir. Wes Anderson