As that cheeky scamp Slavoj Žižek noted, “cinema is the ultimate pervert art. It doesn’t give you what you desire – it tells you how to desire.” Below the team of Film Ireland cinemaholics reveal how they desired in 2015.
1. The Tribe
Actions speak louder than words in this captivating crime drama where teenagers run rampant selling stolen goods and themselves between classes in a Ukrainian boarding school for deaf children. Riveting, rapturous and unforgettable, a crime saga like no other.
A coming-of-age drama following the perilous trails and tribulations of an African-French teenager who refuses to be anything but victorious in her pursuit of independence on the outskirts of Paris. Full of memorable moments: the gang induction, the dance-off, the fist-off, the romance, the runaway, the ambiguous return – all of it expertly realised and brimming with energy.
An exuberant tragicomedy about sex workers in Hollywood that Hollywood would be too afraid to make. A Christmas movie like no other with more heart and soul than most, truly transformative filmmaking.
4. Diary of a Teenage Girl
A very graphic graphic-novel adaptation where the heroes and villains are the highs and lows of teenagedom. A kaleidoscopic film experience brave enough to bare all, not the least of which is star Bel Powley’s supreme talent.
5. Ex Machina
Exceptional lo-fi sci-fi from cult writer Alex Garland. A directorial debut with style, substance and solid performances, who knew robots could act?
A beautiful and rare documentary about inner city Dublin as it evolved throughout the ’80s. David Jazay’s absolute fascination with the Quays and its inhabitants unobtrusively captures a moment in Ireland’s history, and many of the symptomatic changes as they occurred in the lead-up to an economic roar.
Todd Haynes, like Abdellatif Kechiche, has all but broken my heart with this story of forbidden love. Filmmaking often coincides with huge sociological movement, and Queer cinema has prospered under and the relentless stream of taboo love stories that has flowed steadily over the last number of years. But few, I think, have been so touching. It is an authentic yet picturesque representation of love and woe, due to in no small part to its leading performances.
War in Eastern Congo
A poignantly relevant depiction of the cyclical Civil War that rages on in the Congo, and in particular, the effects nearly 30 years of savagery has had on the women of the country. Award winning Irish filmmaker Dearbha Glynn glossed over nothing in her documentary about the suffrage of women who have no value in a war of Orwellian proportion, and has been forgotten by the world’s media. Brave and not for the faint hearted.
A self-reflexive masterpiece (both in terms of performances and direction) weighted on the fickle and fleeting career of a Hollywood actor. The resurrected Michael Keaton was astounding in this humorous and revealing role in a film about revival and redemption.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Alex Gibney out-did himself with this one. A harrowing look at the institutionalisation of tens of thousands of people by a single whack job, and the breach of this church into the mainstream as it seeped into Hollywood. The testimonies by ex-members were everything to this film, and Gibney’s determination to expose the wide scale irrationality of Scientology makes this one of the most enthralling watches of the year.
1. What We Do in the Shadows
You know something is an insta-classic when, within a month of your first watch, you’ve already played it 3 times and force-fed the film to anyone who will listen to you harp on about every last joke and quote. This sharp, dry mockumentary follows four vampire roommates navigating modern New Zealand and failing wonderfully at everything. Cringey moments, brilliantly observed personalities and deadpan dialogue make this film one of the best comedies in the past five years. “We’re werewolves not swear wolves”
2. Inside Out
Remember Finding Nemo? Or Up? Pixar douses us in another brilliantly manipulative cocktail of feels, only this time, they go straight to the source itself. Inside Out tells the story of a young girl, Riley and the five personifications of her basic emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. After a bit of a scuffle that leaves them lost, Joy and Sadness end up having to navigate their way back to ‘headquarters’ through the treacherous terrain of a preadolescent mind. Inside Out provides insight into depression and mental health while still maintaining the visage of a zany, energetic kids film.
3. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
The intimate home footage of Kurt Cobain, in the midst of a crippling addiction, playing with his wife and child is heartbreaking; however, the issue is tackled well and left un-glamourised by the film’s director, Brett Morgen. Interviews from loved ones and striking animations set to Kurt’s own audio recordings, plumb new depths in the internal world of Nirvana’s late lead singer. Montage of Heck takes apart the revered angsty persona of music legend, Kurt Cobain, and pieces him back as a lost boy struggling against himself to keep everything together for his family. It’s beautiful filmmaking.
4. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
J. J. Abrams proves he’s the master of the Sci-Fi nerds, by fixing all the terrible, terrible things Lucas ruined in the prequels. The Force Awakens has the adventure, romance and sass back… and in spades. Now this film is far from polished: I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but there’s more holes in the plot than sand in the desert planet Tatooine. Also the new narrative follows a little too closely to the originals. However, the characters are strong, the dialogue is a million times better than the last lot (“Anakin, you’re breaking my heart.” – Really?) and the plot is so fast-paced you’ll be reeling by the credits.
Those expecting the political observations and slapstick ridiculousness of Inside Amy Schumer will leave disappointed, but what Trainwreck is, above all else, is a purely delightful rom-com. As always with the offerings of Judd Apatow, the script’s rife with witticisms, the social situations are awkward and there’s the third act in which the LOLs lull and our delightful main character learns life lessons. What’s fresh about Trainwreck is the distantly female voice behind the writing, as well as the novelty of seeing the gender roles reversed: the wooing gent is straight-laced while the lady’s the one off sowing wild oats. Whacky stuff. Also, Lebron James and John Cena’s comedic performances shine throughout, even in a cast laced with top-shelf comics. Who knew?
Numerical orders are hard so this top 5 won’t be in any specific order, these are just a Top 5 without rank or status. A bit like communism. Also, since Whiplash was from 2014 (despite Irish release dates), it’s not being counted here, otherwise it would definitely make the list. Onwards…
Kingsman: The Secret Service
It may seem like sacrilege to put this in a top 5 while consciously leaving out Fury Road but I can’t help it. It may be a bit problematic, the limits of its budget may rear their head from time to time and yes, Fury Road is a more technically impressive film but no other movie this year came close to eliciting such a reaction of deranged, disbelieving glee from me. The first hour is an OK movie but everything from the skydive onwards is simply incredible action-movie-making. It’s both the most Bond-ian film in decades (even more than Spectre, sadly) yet unlike anything else in its genre.
Few so-called ‘Black Comedies’ remember to do that first part but boy, oh boy did this movie. Genuinely funny but also quite horrifying while somehow finding time to be surprisingly emotionally affecting. It’s also one of the most complex, relatable and fascinating examinations of a damaged, murderous mind American cinema has put forward in some time. Satrapri continues to be a weird, unique and endlessly surprising director but with a real passion for bleak existentialism.
It’s nice to see a serious, slow-burn, hard sci-fi (with subtle horror elements) make it back into the (relatively) mainstream. Great cast, fantastic score, solid directing and an overall brilliantly realised visual sensibility. It takes a special kind of movie to make Oscar Issac dancing the most frightening thing in it. And an even more special movie to take it concepts to their logic, dark endpoint.
Really debated including this or not and was almost tempted to purely for its absolutely hypnotic synth score but it does deserve recognition. Best horror of this year and one of the best of the last decade, if not the century thus far. Deceptively simple concept, well-realised and intriguing world-building, excellent use of tension and just properly, properly unsettling.
This last spot nearly went to The Lobster but Carol really can’t be praised enough. A practically perfect melodrama in the classical mould that stands up against the giants of the genre. Wonderfully cast, somehow even better acted than you’d expect going in and with enough subtle visual storytelling and the odd lapse into muted but almost Lynchian odd-ness to raise it above most other dramatic, Oscar-bait fodder. This is one of the most honest and authentic feeling relationships committed to celluloid in quite some time. Near flawless.
The Customary Seasonal Turkey:
Out of spite I wanted to put Brooklyn in here but Brooklyn isn’t bad, it’s just the cinematic equivalent of watching the colour beige for five hours while borderline-offensive Irish stereotypes occasionally punch you in the face. No, the worst of the year is by far Transporter: Refuelled. A reboot no one wanted to a franchise even The Stath stopped caring about. Infinitely less cool than its own navel-gazing (lackluster) visuals and attitude seem to think, almost hilariously transparent in its attempts to hide its hopelessly outdated sexism and genuine misogyny behind an almost non-existently thin veneer of ‘feminist’ characters and the dangleberry on top; it’s a bloodless, toothless, utterly insipid action film in a year that really raised the bar for what the genre could achieve. Let’s hope no one saw it and it can die a death deserving of its crimes; endlessly being rerun at 2am on a Cribs-obsessed, early naughties MTV.
So I’ll readily admit that 2015 has not been my best year for movie going. Still, this is my list of favorite films for 2015 of what I have seen.
1. Mad Max
This is possibly the most action-y action movie that I have ever seen. And it’s awesome. Pure entertainment. Your heart is pounding for its full running. Hardy is great, the women are bad ass, the villains are grotesque, and the production design is stunning. Well done George Miller!
So this is going back to the very start of 2015. Still it’s no wonder that Birdman was one of the big Oscar winners last year with its rich, multi-layered content and direction. The chemistry and tension between its cast members is enthralling and the cinematography is inspired.
3. John Wick
A lot of people might forget this one since, again, it was out quite early in the year, but I really liked John Wick. It was sleek, smart, stylish and surprisingly emotional. This film gave Keanu Reeves the comeback that he was hoping for with 47 Ronin.
For Irish movie releases this year, I have to say I didn’t get a chance to see The Lobster or Brooklyn yet. Still, I really feel Glassland deserves a mention for its top-notch, harrowing performances from Jack Reynor, Toni Colette and Will Poulter.
5. Inside Out
I don’t think this has been Pixar’s best film but there is a great sense of humor and a lot of food for thought in Inside Out. It’s also a provoking piece that gives a voice to a pressing contemporary issue that needs to cease being a stigma: mental health awareness.
Turkey of the Year:
This film was just so dreadful. There was no story and no character. It was little more than a feature-length commercial for all Minion-related products. A cast predominated by little yellow things that can only speak in babble cannot simply hold up a movie. And yet it is currently the second highest-grossing animated film of all time… which is just too infuriating for words.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Proving that action films can also have engaging narratives with kickass female characters, the newest addition to the Mad Max franchise is a treat for the senses and makes for an exhilarating ride.
What We Do In The Shadows
The brainchild of Flight of the Conchords creators Clement and Taika, this film is not only unyieldingly hilarious but also has smarts in equal measure. Never have vampires been so likeable.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
A wonderful mash-up of genres, this highly stylised Iranian vampire-noir flick examines the various shades of grey that make up the human experience through a black and white lens.
An elegant slow-burner (well, it’s in the title), Maclean’s film boasts stunning visuals and a fantastic cast. A sweetly nostalgic film harking back to the westerns of old, it also succeeds in carving out its own niche in the genre.
A glorious tongue-in-cheek exploration of both contemporary dating culture and cinema, Lanthimos’ strange dystopian flick hits all the right marks. The second half lags ever-so-slightly, but not enough to dent the overall carefully crafted experience.
Ciara Lianne O’Brien
My list this year is a bit of a mixed bag of genres, which probably also defines me as a person so let’s not get into that right now; it’s too early in the day for an existential crisis. 2015 will probably not go down as the best year for movies for me personally, but there were a few that slipped through the cracks that are worth mentioning.
1. Inside Out
I’m a sucker for animated films as it is, but this was one that really stuck with me long after leaving the cinema. It is of course then awkward when your social and exercise skills are compared to that of Sadness… All in all, Inside Out was an excellent movie which refused to talk down to its audience, regardless of their age. Part of me also wants to pre-emptively add The Force Awakens to this list, but with two days to go I may be setting myself up for a massive fall.
2. Jurassic World
Jurassic World could have gone one of two ways, it would either be a great action-packed addition to the previous, or a farce. Thankfully, enough time was left between and enough effort put in that this became a pretty good summer blockbuster that kept me entertained throughout… and I don’t just mean because Chris Pratt looked airbrushed to perfection, I promise.
3. The Martian
I will be honest and say that I didn’t expect to enjoy The Martian. A friend of mine had read the book and raved about it but something about Matt Damon alone in space wasn’t really something I felt I needed to see. Happily, I was wrong as Damon and the writers injected just enough humour to balance out the solitude meaning this was a definite addition to the list.
4. Big Hero 6
Big Hero 6 was a film that I knew nothing about before watching and swiftly became obsessed with. Baymax is my favourite character of the year, earning the prestigious honour of being the topper on my Christmas tree this year. Big Hero 6 goes to show that sometimes the most simple of characters can be the best.
5. Ant Man
I was under the impression by the end of last year that we had surely had our fill of superhero origin movies, and that the superhero TV shows were fully overtaking the movies in terms of quality and general entertainment. Ant-Man was a welcome change of pace in the haze of superhero movies as it refused to take itself or others too seriously, and Paul Rudd was perfect for the role. Ant-Man managed to put the fun back into a genre that had become a bit too saturated.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
Could it really be anything else? For a proper, no holds barred, cinematic experience, nothing this year can compare to George Miller’s dystopian demolition. Thirty years had passed since the Thunderdome and Miller’s vision and style remains in tact, while adapting to a new kind of film industry. The saturation of CGI within big action blockbusters had brainwashed audiences for so long that they didn’t know what they were missing. The action genre fallen into a dystopian age itself. Green screens and hack directors roamed through the vast wasteland of Hollywood, regurgitating recyclable garbage for the docile masses. Miller returned with something tangible, relentless and stunning. Sure, film is subjective and time will show just how much shelf life Mad Max: Fury Road really has. But to have watched it on the big screen for the first time evoked a spine tingling sensation. It wasn’t just another movie, it was an event, a spectacle, giving audiences a high. The comedown was horrific.
2. Steve Jobs|
Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin have dusted off the patented humdrum of the biopic and transformed it into something quick, dynamic and sparse. Steve Jobs| is basically a film version of an Apple product. Minimal plot, but maximum rant, that forces you to manifest your ears to that of a Vulcan. Fassbender may not resemble the late tech titan on the surface, but in the hardrive he pulls out a great performance. Boyle’s subtle directing and Sorkin’s rambunctious rat-a-tat dialogue compliment each other’s style. The result is a well crafted and precise three-act farcical algorithm with a sharp silver tongue.
3. Kingsman: Secret Service
It might be easy now to shrug off Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman as another run-of-the-mill Marvel outing, but watching it in the cinema, I had a smile painted on my face the entire time. From Samuel L. Jackson’s villainous lisp to the Kentucky church scene to KC & The Sunshine Band’s ‘Give It Up’, Kingsman keeps you laughing and never low on surprises. Its tongue and cheek throwback to spy films of yesteryear was a breath of recycled air in contrast to the recent “seriousness” of the Bond franchise. Kingsman isn’t afraid to laugh at itself, while delivering some truly dramatic scenes. Even its cringeworthy anal gag at the end couldn’t stop this film from being a hole in one.
4. It Follows
Sporting the best movie title of 2015, It Follows fiddles around with the slasher conventions and turns them upside down on their head. Sex is the weapon of choice. If you haven’t had it, you’ve had it! Literally, you gotta fuck the pain away. John Carpenter’s Halloween is clearly a big influence, but also it’s enemy when it comes to its mythology. Director David Robert Mitchell has affection for the genre, but isn’t afraid to toy around with it and although he breaks his mythology a few times it still remains one of the most refreshing horror concepts in years. The fun thing about It Follows is trying to spot this evil presence on screen. It’s the Where’s Wally of slashers.
5. While We’re Young
In the tradition of the New York Bohemian style of Woody Allen and Paul Mazurzky, Noah Baumbach has kept the intellectual comedy torch a flame with films like Greenberg, Frances, Ha and this year’s While We’re Young. The latter being his most accessible work yet, delving into the cultural and tech happenings of today while exploring the fears of ageing. There’s threading themes of anxiety, procrastination and restlessness that runs through all of Baumbach’s movies, and While We’re Young is the one that’s the most universal regardless if you’re young and hip or missing a hip.
The pairing of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in this captivating film is a pure delight to watch. Both actresses bring different, but equally interesting things to the film, a lesbian love story set in the 1950s. Mara’s naivety and wonder of her new love finally makes good use of her talents, and with Blanchett, an already accomplished actress, we get to revel in her classic movie star charisma in an era that brings out the most of her talents. The costume, make up and set design all contribute to bringing the film to life and it is compelling viewing.
A small horror film snuck onto our screens last spring, which with its subtle creativity and simple plot structure became a surprise hit with a strong word of mouth campaign behind it. The director, David Robert Mitchell, uses the soundtrack to set the mood for the audience excellently, the effect being that the music is the most unsettling part of the movie. The story moves along slowly keeping us under the film’s spell throughout.
Brooklyn is a simple film about a story common to many people in Ireland’s history. It is the endearing cast – especially the magnificent Saorise Ronan that make this the engaging, heart-warming film that it is. It truly is Ronan’s movie, who makes the audience feel for the emigrant Eilis and her story. Her performance makes a simple story one of the films of the year.
An old fashioned film about journalism that we didn’t think they made anymore. Spotlight manages to tell a complex, true story from our recent past that is fascinating as much, as it is emotionally engaging. The story of the Spotlight investigative team in the Boston Globe as they meticulously dug out the truth of the Catholic Church scandals in 2001/2002 is a well thought-out and excellent drama.
My final film of the year is an unexpected one. I am neither a huge fan of fashion movies nor of documentaries of people that I have never heard of. However, something drew me to the story of Iris Apfel, the 93 -year-old New Yorker who has been a presence on the New York fashion and interior design scene for decades. She is unique, not just in her age, but that she truly has her own style and is just as comfortable haggling at a flea market as she is in the sophisticated world of New York fashion. Her realism and eccentricity are a real delight to watch, all under the gaze of legendary documentary maker Albert Maysles in his last piece of work.
Overall it was a dismally unexceptional year at the cinema. So much so that the annual prompt from our beloved Film Ireland editor generated no instant film memories. At all. Just like I’d been the victim of a memory wipe from Men in Black or a halo from Minority Report And yet, note how I can remember Men in Black and Minority Report. That’s a test of and a testament to a movie’s enduring impact and appeal. Upon mature reflection and after much retrospective research on what was actually out this year, it still has to be said that long-form TV is comprehensively kicking cinema’s ass. I’d struggle to compile any cinematic offerings that could compete with say any one episode from the sublime second season of Fargo. And I’m fully aware of the irony of picking a TV show based on a movie as my example. Yet that’s where we’ve come to. For my list, I’ve selected movies that at least give me hope that cinema can still tell certain stories better than any other form.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Tons of directors get to be bland with tons of money. Very few get to go bonkers and that’s what this was. Bold excess turned up to eleven. A needle of a story driven by pure spectacle and empowered by long stretches of silence. Many chose to project all sorts of environmentalism and feminism subtext onto the delirium but I have no truck with that. I prefer my trucks flipping over in the desert as Tom Hardy is simultaneously treated like an IV drip and a hood ornament. Flipping fantastic.
Viewed so long ago it feels like a 2014 release but it goes a long way to saving 2015 as JK Simmons pounces on the meaty role of a lifetime and devours it with relish. The oft overlooked Miles Teller was as crucial to this searing two hander ostensibly about drumming but more concerned with a culture of bullying, the price of success and the cost of mediocrity. It got me to the edge of my seat in a way I neither understand nor still believe.
A loving father and husband runs off on his family in the face of an approaching avalanche. And then claims he didn’t. It’s as simple and delicious as that. Proof positive that a great ‘what would you do’ premise can still be the preserve of cinema. However, the thoughts of an American remake is enough to send a sliver of ice into one’s very soul.
If film still serves as vicarious travel then here’s a white knuckle ride into cartel territory. It’s a stealthily subversive and unflinchingly raw thriller masquerading as mainstream fare. Emily Blunt anchors the venture splendidly, meaning it’s a shock when the film veers off to follow a secondary character to a climax shorn of its heroine. Or maybe it’s exactly the sort of idiosyncratic detour that more studio films need.
Shaun the Sheep
Yes, Shaun the mother****ing Sheep. While other animations were failing to deliver (with the only other shining exception being Spongebob – Sponge Out of Water, which boasted the second best Mad Max inspired scene of the year) Shaun was the little gem. Stuffed with charm, filled with heart and packed with laughs. And it achieved all of this sans dialogue. Which ain’t easy.
Hypes of the Year:
This was billed as Amy changing the face of filmic comedy and for a second we believed it. Yet looking back, the constraints of a major studio release seemed to bland a brilliant comedian out and declaw her unique strain of humour. A film that tapped into Amy’s genuinely bold and truly incendiary TV output would have been a stone cold ‘18’ cert classic. Not a bloated gentle ribbing of rom-coms. And the sneaking suspicion that Apatow is not the right collaborator for her endures.
I don’t ask for much. Just that the biggest film ever might have a shred of intellect, imagination or some tiny trace amount of originality somewhere in its’ DNA. Even entertainment was in bizarrely short supply in this but still we headed out in record numbers like zombie lemmings strolling over the edge of the cliffs of insanity.
Worst Film of the Year:
I don’t confer this on the truly bad films. Bad films write their own obits. I’d class this more as most annoying film of the year and, oh boy, does this stinker deliver. Hand on heart, I was never onboard with all the love foisted on District 9. This film must have been conceived by a robotic committee because it tries and spectacularly fails to pander to every audience under the sun. With the childish air of Short Circuit ungainly welded to Verhoeven amounts of graphic violence, this film is virtually for everyone and exactly no one at the same time. Or at least, it’s not for me. Note to directors striving to emulate Ridley Scott – he actually made a whole range of vastly different films spanning many genres in his early career. He didn’t settle into a rut and rehash one idea to death.
1. The Duke of Burgundy
Peter Strickland confirms his status as one of the most exciting directors working in world cinema with this extraordinary, profound, beautiful, heart-breaking mesh of romance and ’70s sexploitation. A masterpiece.
2. Inherent Vice
PT Anderson continues to confound expectations with this hilarious, haunting Thomas Pynchon adaptation. Phoenix shines under Anderson once again as stoner private eye Doc Sportello. Endlessly rewarding and a truly original piece of filmmaking.
3. Hard to be a God
Aleksey German’s harrowing, jaw-dropping Tarkovskian spectacle was fifteen years in the making and you can see why. Salo meets Stalker. Stunning.
4. It Follows
One of the best horrors of the last number of years. A terrific premise is exploited to great effect. Beautifully shot, eerie and featuring a terrific John Carpenter-esque score.
5. The Lobster
Lanthimos’ absurdist comedy showcases his singular vision once more and is on a par with the equally excellent Dogtooth and Alps. Features possibly the best ever performance from Colin Farrell.
Ablistering blitzkrieg of be-bop jabs and backbeat hooks pounding us to participate in a deranged duet where two people soon become the pummelled products of perfection’s pursuit, whats not to love? At times the film resembles Raging Bull (1980) in its obsession and self abuse. I didn’t know what to expect going in and I was blown away. At times it looks as though it’s slipping into a cautionary tale but it neither condemns nor condones the way in which characters seek to achieve their goals. It’s gripping, terrifying and at the same time, liberating and beautiful.
An intimate piece of filmmaking which burrows beneath tabloid titillation to unearth the quaking vulnerability of a girl publicly defined by her addiction. At times so personal one feels as if they’re an intruder sifting through the gentle quirks of homemade videos and bashful interviews, though when sewn together with that voice floating ‘tween scales of power and pain I felt a friend beyond the screen, a friend out of reach.
3. Inherent Vice
Los Angeles is a well-trod city for Paul Thomas Anderson, though in Inherent Vice he manages to escort us down the winding back alleys and side streets where we’ve never been with him before. Anderson exhales, wafting towards us a Pynchon interpretation witnessed through the smog of memory. Even while we slowly zoom into conversions like a stoner hopelessly concentrating, there are no short cuts to sense here. We enter a labyrinth of drugs and lost love, shuffling from subtle comedic touches to slapstick laughs and we leave not really knowing what just happened but never wanting to wash the scent out of our clothes.
4. The Duke of Burgandy
There’s something so sensual about this film, an acute sense of sensuality that seems to be hidden from the screen till now. It tends to shy away from the explicit preferring a more erotic aroma letting sly humor slip between those delicate glances searching looks. It uses a magical sense of cinematography, harking back to Bergman’s Persona (1966) to convey a brittle imbalance to sexual desire.
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
It’s a relentless joy ride of revs and chugs where the stench of gasoline mixed with the sound of writhing metal brews a delicate assault on all senses. At the helm, George Miller shoots foot to pedal and pitch to treble as we are shoved in the passenger seat bearing witness to a grotesque ballet, a circus, a celebration. Every bolted image is motivated by the last, each seared in horrific harmony. But as loud as it gets it stays firmly in tune with the wordless romance of silent cinema, possessing an imaginative discipline most action movies lack.
Lanthimos pinpoints that sweet spot between hilarity and cruelty, repeatedly jabbing at the rituals of love we all engage in. The deadpan direction makes for an eerie sense of dread simmering beneath the currents of comedy while managing to balance both expertly.
1. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
A predictably brilliant conclusion to Roy Andersson’s absurdist trilogy. Following Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living, the Swedish maestro has crafted another cinematic gem. His unique style remains: the tightly framed, immaculately crafted vignettes, the fixed camera, the spellbinding musical set pieces, the staring multitude of extras who occasionally look the audience in the eye. And yet, for all its morbid humour and icy pessimism, Andersson’s work somehow conveys a deep sympathy for his farcically constricted characters. Here is a filmmaker who is determined to look mankind in the eye, see all its paltry strivings and occasional cruelties, and to love it nonetheless.
2. Force Majeure
A delicious black comedy set against a pristine Alpine backdrop. When an instinctive act of cowardice robs Tomas of his paternal authority, filmmaker Ruben Östlund takes much pleasure in exploring the aftermath. Wickedly funny, Force Majeure’s genius lies in its dramatising of an acutely modern dilemma: yes, we can be as dismissively ironic as we like about status, authority and the roles society asks us to play, but it’s still traumatic when those things are taken away.
3. 45 Years
While partly a meditation on aging and the power of the past, 45 Years eventually confronts us with a much more terrifying prospect: the random incoherence of a life looked back on. Charlotte Rampling’s performance is poignant perfection – restrained, yet simmering with a growing panic as what she thought was her life story erodes beneath her feet – and the film has a wonderful Haneke-esque quality: zoning in on that tiny existential crack that can undermine the entire edifice of complacent middle class comfort.
4. While We’re Young
The first of Noah Baumbach’s two 2015 offerings, While We’re Young is sharper, funnier and has more depth than the ever-so-slightly-irritating Mistress America. Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts are excellent as the childless forty-something couple intrigued, seduced, and finally dismayed when Adam Driver’s younger generation comes knocking at their door, but the film walks an expert line between mockery and pathos – skewering the tragi-comic pretensions of mid-life anxiety and urban hipsterdom while retaining a warm understanding of its characters’ foibles.
5. White God
An Hungarian film about a stray dog uprising, White God is worth a top five place for its sheer audacity. A skilful blend of central European realism, quasi-myth and political allegory, Kornél Mundruczó’s work used 274 dogs and gains much of its power from the uniquely-painful sight of suffering beasts. Some may lament its anthropomorphic sentimentality (a couple of scenes do veer dangerously close to The Littlest Hobo), but the narrative – propelled by revenge and revolution and soundtracked by Liszt’s Rhapsodies – somehow rises above its slightly strained premise, and concludes with a scene of unforgettable beauty.
The Duke of Burgundy
Peter Strickland’s gorgeously perverse erotic fantasia was the film of the year by some distance. The brilliance of the film lies in the way its impeccably crafted surface – a minute pastiche of misty ’70s Eurotrash erotica by Jean Rollin, et al – exists entirely apart from its truthful and moving commentary on the thorny negotiations of love, sex and domesticity. Beautifully played, especially by Sidse Babett Knudsen, The Duke of Burgundy was kinky, wise, and rapturously cinematic – with the best score of the year, to boot. Phoenix Nina Hoss gave the performance of the year in this, her third collaboration with Christian Petzold.
Like The Duke of Burgundy, Phoenix was a tremendously alluring piece of pure cinema – and like that film it possessed an allegorical depth beyond its abundant surface pleasures. Matching the silky finish of classic Hollywood with the rhythms of European art cinema, Phoenix was equal parts Fassbinder and Hitchcock. The final scene was the most electrifying of the year. I wanted to stand up and applaud.
Bruno Dumont seemed like the last candidate to make a comic police procedural for television, but P’tit Quinquin – released here as a single three-hour film – managed to be quintessentially Dumont, while pushing in an intriguing new direction. Repurposing some of the themes of his 1999 film L’Humanité as absurdist comedy, Dumont created an all-but-uncategorisable piece that at times resembled a surrealist northern French Fargo in how it juxtaposed parochial peculiarities with a philosophically serious investigation of how human good might persist in the face of evil.
Sean Baker’s ‘transgender revenge comedy’ fizzed with energy from its opening seconds. While the gimmick of the film may have been that it was shot on iPhones fitted with anamorphic lenses, the shooting style was quickly forgotten next to the startling debut performances of Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, and the film’s potent evocation of life on the edge in Los Angeles. Tangerine was also the best Christmas film in many years, and anybody left unmoved by Taylor’s nightclub performance scene simply doesn’t like cinema, and probably doesn’t like people.
White Bird in a Blizzard
Gregg Araki’s beautifully sinister teen movie possibly wasn’t the fifth best film of the year, but it’s a salutary lesson in how the work of great independent directors is increasingly slipping through the cracks of the cinema release schedule. Even with an (excellent) lead performance from Shailene Woodley, Araki’s hazy mystery was scandalously passed over for cinema release in this country (bar a handful of screenings at the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork). This is a shame not only because the film was Araki’s best since Mysterious Skin, but also because it contained the best performance ever given in an Araki film: Eva Green’s show-stopping turn as a frustrated suburban mother was what we go to the movies for. It’s a true shame most of us didn’t get an opportunity to do so.
This is such competent filmmaking I don’t even know where to begin praising it. Released early this year, cleaned up at awards season, yet still towers in quality over a year of strong films since. Very much my tempo.
2. They Will Have To Kill Us
A criminally-overlooked documentary about musicians fleeing jihadist violence in northern Mali. Timely reflection on the human cost of the refugee crisis. Timeless celebration of the power of music, which in the case of Mali’s music, is a treasure to the world.
3. Ex Machina
Mostly set in one location, a small knockout cast tell a high-concept story on a low-budget. Setting a great example for filmmakers wanting to tackle big ideas. In this case, artificial intelligence, feminism, humanity itself, all get explored in this tightly-written, impeccably-designed sci-fi.
4. Mad Max: Fury Road
It shouldn’t be this refreshing to have a blockbuster that commands an assured understanding of visual storytelling and well-rounded characters throughout. It should be the norm. I didn’t know I wanted another Mad Max movie but they went and made one and it was damn good.
5. X + Y
I have a more personal reason for including this British drama about autistic mathletes. I’m on the autistic spectrum and this is the most accurate portrayal of high-functioning autism I’ve seen in a film. It gets across the diversity of autistic experience, so much of which was painfully familiar to me and it builds to a powerful ending that avoids cliché.
Dope, Tangerine, Straight Outta Compton, It Follows, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Falling, Timbuktu
This emperor has no clothes. The infuriatingly slow pace, absence of compelling story and substituting of pretentiously overkill bleakness for substance are all hallmarks of shoddy filmmaking. Stop making this kind of film and the Irish film industry will flourish.
We fed the above information into our huge Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer and it beeped out a top 10 list here