So, here we are, the end of 2015. I saw a total of ninety-eight 2015 UK releases, which must stand as a record for me, reviewing forty-one of them (another record). Some have called this a weak year for cinema but, while every year has its ups and downs, I don’t buy that there’s such thing as a bad year for movies, and I think my top 10 reflects that. All the movies below are really cracking pieces of cinema, and my #1 has already made it onto my list of all-time greats.
So, without further ado, my top 10 of 2015 . . .
10) Listen Up Philip
Jason Schwartzman is at his deeply apathetic best in director Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip. Add to that the gorgeous Super 16 cinematography, a pitch-perfect meandering jazz score and razor-sharp dialogue, and Perry’s film stands out as one of the most unconventional, yet fabulous, star vehicles of the past twelve months.
My sole horror entry comes from genre favourite director Adam Green, and this faux-documentary monster movie is his pièce de résistance. Green plays himself as he is contacted by the mysterious William Dekker (Ray Wise), who claims to have uncovered a subterranean network of deformed beasties. On a first watch, Digging Up The Marrow went so far as to leave me with the uneasy sense that Dekker might have actually been onto something. It loses some of that potency on a second viewing, but that does little to dull the film’s playfulness.
Marshland takes a page out of Truman Capote’s book and creates a magnificent sense of place upon which to formulate a crime thriller. Couple that with Alex Catalán’s stunning cinematography, a sharp political underpinning and a great pair of lead performances from Javier Gutiérrez and Raúl Arévalo, and Alberto Rodríguez’s deeply ambivalent Spanish crime thriller is one of this years standout works of world cinema.
The less talked about easy peeler-based arthouse hit. Tangerines tells the story of Ivo, an Estonian caught in the middle of the Georgian War in Abkhazia. Ivo’s fight to maintain a peaceful home in the middle of a brutish warzone makes for enthralling viewing and provides a scathing commentary on conflict of any scale.
6) John Wick
In any normal year, John Wick would’ve been the action movie to beat, but Mad Max: Fury Road – and Whiplash, to some extent – put something of a dampener on that. But, John Wick’s successes aren’t to be taken lightly. A steely Keanu Reeves, killer action and an intriguing mythological under-pinning cement John Wick’s place in the modern action hall of fame.
This searing crime epic from director J.C. Chandor was one of the Oscar hopefuls in the lead up to last year’s ceremony. The fact it didn’t receive a single nomination was one of the Academy’s most unfortunate oversights last time out. But, what do they know, eh? A Most Violent Year is a meticulously crafted nation crushing crime drama, the likes of which make it to our screens just once in a blue moon.
4) The Duke of Burgundy
Probably 2015’s biggest surprise was The Duke of Burgundy. Now, it wasn’t that Peter Strickland’s psychosexual tug of war had received bad reviews (quite the opposite, in fact), but I was trepidatious that I hadn’t yet made the leap into Strickland’s challenging oeuvre. So, what a glorious surprise to find myself transfixed by this intimate exploration into a fragile dom/sub relationship.
3) Jodorowsky’s Dune
This movie has been bobbing around for a few years now, but it only received its official UK release (straight-to-VOD, no less) earlier this year. Jodorowsky’s Dune is 2015’s standout documentary. It chronicles the glorious failure that was Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt to bring Frank Herbert’s seminal science fiction novel, Dune, to the big screen. The world will never see what Jodorowsky’s Dune would have looked like, but it would’ve been a tall order to better this.
The little drumming movie that could. Whiplash is one of the great indie success stories of recent years, having stemmed from a Sundance favourite short film and going on to gross 15x its production budget. The film’s beautiful brutality (‘beautality’, if you will) may be off-putting for some, but the rewards are richer than you could ever imagine. I came out of the cinema fist pumping.
One of my purest cinematic joys is transcendent action cinema. It’s the ace in the hole that makes Aliens my favourite film of all time, and it’s a feeling I felt murmurs of during Mad Max: Fury Road. I know there’s little left to add to the discussion, but this is the kind of cinema that’ll take your breath away.
And now for my honourable mentions. I would regard all of these as 5 star films, but they just didn’t quite make the top 10 cut. First up is the brilliantly performed Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy, then we have Ramin Bahrani’s politically charged real estate crisis drama 99 Homes and the radically subversive The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Two Cannes hits are also worth a mention – Macbeth and Dope – alongside Foxcatcher and the fantastic series finale that was The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2. Then, I’ll finish with a quintet of excellent horror films: The Hallow, Some Kind of Hate, Unfriended, Creep and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.
So, there we have it . . .
Do you agree with my choices? Are there any belters I’ve missed? Are there any shockers I’ve included? Let me know in the comments below.
Here’s to another year of cinematic excellence!