Favourite films of 2015

Happy New Year and here’s to 2016; let’s hope it’s another good one for film fans. Before I list my favourite films of 2015 I just want to write a general ‘thank you’ to anyone who has regularly (or irregularly) stopped by this blog during the past twelve months. Thanks very much for taking the time to read, it’s always appreciated, and I’ve enjoyed chatting to people via the comments. I’ve maybe overdone it at times in terms of the number of films I’ve been writing about, and the quality has occasionally suffered as a result, for which I apologise; every time I look at an old post I spot a badly-made point or a spelling error or something that I’d have picked up had I proofread properly!

Anyway, the list below is a long one, but I saw a lot of films this year that I enjoyed, so I’m afraid you’re going to have to put up with such excess. Even now I’m looking at it and thinking ‘how can I not have got Everest or Me And Earl And The Dying Girl or Les Combattants on there?’ Also I’m fully aware that it’s pointless to suggest that ‘X’ is better than ‘Y’, particularly given that my own viewing habits are quite diverse, but I still like trying to figure out whether I liked Taxi Tehran more than Mad Max: Fury Road anyway. (If you’re wondering where the latter is…I’m afraid I just didn’t care for it as much as everyone else seemed to.) Is there much difference between a film on this list that’s sitting at number 40 and a film at number 10? Well…not really…I’d recommend all of the movies listed below for different reasons.

My only criterion for inclusion in the list is that the film was on general release in UK cinemas during 2015, which means that some entries considered as ‘2014’ movies in other territories, such as Whiplash, Birdman and Foxcatcher, are included, while some films that have appeared in critics’ lists for 2015 are not, as they aren’t necessarily out here on general release until 2016. So, that means the list doesn’t include films many North American critics have rated highly, such as Tarantino’s latest, the new installment in the Rocky franchise or even festival-wowing fare like Room, Spotlight and The Assassin. (Hey, I may actually dislike some of those anyway.)

The key (and obvious) thing here is that these are my ‘favourite’ films out of the ones I’ve seen; although I’ve been to the cinema a lot I think it’s almost impossible to get round to everything you want to see, unless you’re a professional critic. So there are plenty of 2015 releases that I’m still keen to check out, such as Blind, Dear White People, The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya, Jauja to name a few, but unfortunately the old adage about time waiting for no man is applicable once again.

Oh, and I’ve kept a separate list of documentaries, which I probably shouldn’t have done; you can find a top ten at the bottom of the post.

Feature Films, Top 50

mistress america

Greta Gerwig in Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America

50. Mistress America: ‘…maybe (maybe) it betrays a certain smug, east coast loftiness from the newly-crowned King and Queen of Generation Flat White, but I can certainly forgive them while they’re making films about New York millennials as witty and breezy as this one.’

45. Tangerine: ‘Underneath all of the drama lies a simple message about friendship and loyalty, and the film’s bittersweet ending is quite moving, with one character left out in the cold and another two reconciling in a launderette (which is about the least Christmassy establishment you can imagine). Baker and fellow cinematographer Radium Cheung who capture a series of backgrounds during an end coda to remind us of the time of year have made an impressive low-budget feature, and their busy camerawork further manages to capture the rhythm of the street.’

38. Phoenix: ‘The drama here is understated, while Petzold’s film remains tightly-focused throughout, with just two leads and a supporting character appearing for most of the running time. It’s reflective, intriguing and executed with restraint.’

41. 99 Homes: ‘Bahrani, who co-wrote with Iranian director Amir Naderi, provides a damning assessment of those who exploit the misfortune of others for their own good or who are corrupt in some way or other, while also highlighting the many moral and legal grey areas that can be found within modern property law. I hope more people see this drama, particularly as the acting is of a high standard.’

 

49. Mississippi Grind: ‘This road movie about two gambling addicts one young, suave and incapable of settling down, the other a degenerate with racked-up debts whose wife has long since bailed with their daughter in tow feels at times like a blast from the past, a 70’s-style character study that flows south along the titular river before eventually climaxing in New Orleans with the kind of win-or-bust ending that has been done many, many times before see The Hustler, Rounders, California Split, etc.’

Tale of the Princess Kaguya

47. Brooklyn:In terms of Irish immigrant tales set in New York I’ll register my preference for Jim Sheridan’s semi-autobiographical In America, starring Samantha Morton and Paddy Considine, but I can see why Brooklyn has received a lot of praise. It’s solidly well-made, competently shot by Jean-Marc Vallée‘s regular DP Yves Bélanger, charmingly old-fashioned (both in terms of its pace and its wholesomeness), and Saoirse Ronan does a terrific job in the lead role.

 

The rhythm of the street: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in Sean S. Baker's Tangerine

The pulse of the street: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in Sean S. Baker’s Tangerine

44. Ex Machina: ‘For the most part it’s smart, zeitgeist-surfing materialthat assumes its audience is intelligent, but crucially it never alienates the viewer through constant middle-brow theorising.’

 

Martin Luther King, Jr (David Oyelowo) and supporters stage a protest in Ava DuVernay's Selma

Martin Luther King, Jr (David Oyelowo) and supporters stage a protest in Ava DuVernay’s Selma

40. Selma: ‘I don’t want to go on too much about the whole Oscar thing, as it’s all been said elsewhere, but how this hasn’t been identified as one of the five best performances of the year is a mystery to me.’

30. 45 Years: ‘There is a sense here that minutes and days matter just as much as years and decades, and the length of the marriage counts for less than you would expect as both parties continue to change or the dynamic of such a union continues to evolve, even after 45 years. Complementing the superb acting and direction is Lol Crawley’s cinematography, which highlights the natural beauty of Norfolk’s flat (and tellingly very un-Alpine) countryside.’

36. Bridge Of Spies: ‘There’s undoubtedly a lot to admire in Steven Spielberg’s latest film: Cold War drama Bridge Of Spies feels well-crafted, like a good bit of solid oak furniture, or a Paul Weller album. The acting is commendable, too, and in writing about the diplomacy of the era Matt Charman (whose screenplay was ‘polished’ by the Coen Brothers) seems aware that the GDR/Soviet relationship is almost as interesting as the frosty one between America and its Communist enemy.’

 

39. Dokhtari Dar Šab Tanhâ Be Xâne Miravad (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night): ‘Ostensibly a Jim Jarmusch-style existential vampire tale with a few spaghetti western tropes added for good measure, it’s a striking and moody film shot in (beautifully-lit) black and white, and one that is heavily reliant on its carefully-constructed style: there is much use of shallow depth of field here, with plenty of interesting images created as a result, while a dreamy, narcotic haze pervades.’

46. Fehér Isten (White God): ‘It’s notable that the writer-director has chosen the animal that we’re supposedly the closest to, emotionally, in order to make his point; it’s a similar decision to that made a long time ago by a certain Pierre Boulle, who based his Planet Of The Apes story around creatures that shared the closest genetic proximity to humans. Indeed the Orwellian final act here occupies similar territory to Rupert Wyatt’s recent Apes reboot Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, though there’s only a fleeting whiff of an action spectacular unexpectedly usurping the European arthouse stylings.’

37. Beasts Of No Nation: ‘It’s understandable that some people will be put off from watching such upsetting subject matter, but Beasts Of No Nation is worth praising for the way it successfully highlights a growing problem: it is estimated that there are more than 300,000 child soldiers forced to fight in Africa today, and the film will surely draw more attention to their plight.’

 

Liao Fan and Gwei Lun-mei share a cab in Black Coal, Thin Ice

Liao Fan and Gwei Lun-mei share a cab in Black Coal, Thin Ice

35. Bai Ri Yan Huo (Black Coal, Thin Ice): ‘The screenplay, also written by Diao, recalls the plot of Harold Becker’s late-80s thriller Sea Of Love, though it also has a flavour of Raymond Chandler about it: it’s easy to get lost as the plot takes sudden left turns, right turns and about-turns, while the characters are, generally-speaking, noir archetypes. From what I can gather the pace of Black Coal, Thin Ice, coupled with the challenge of staying on top of the plot, seems to have put some people’s noses out of joint – a sign of the times, I’m sorry to say – but make no mistake: this atmospheric piece has been made by a talented filmmaker, and is well worth seeking out.’

34. La French (The Connection): The Connection is an entertaining film, sumptuously-shot, and packed with all the exciting drug busts, hits and sporadic acts of violence you’d expect (although the moments of quiet add plenty of flesh to the bones and ensure well-drawn, believable characters). It follows a few genre conventions a little too closely, while there is some repetition that ensures it sags a little in the final act, but for the most part it’s an exhilarating, well-acted crime drama that has understandably made a lot of money in France, and should do well internationally.’

33. Taxi Tehran: ‘There’s a dark, threatening ending to the film, but very quickly you realise it’s merely a construct to enable Panahi to get his latest work out of the country without excessive comeback from the authorities, and perhaps a further comment on how ludicrous the situation is that he finds himself in. You’re left with nothing but admiration for the man, who continues to prodcue interesting, illuminating and subversive work while remaining ‘in limbo’, and the bravery of the director/star and everyone else involved here should be applauded.’

32. The Lobster: It feels like there was a chance for something extra special here, a kind of Being John Malkovich for the modern day, but greatness just slips out of The Lobster‘s claws. That said there’s more than enough here to warrant a viewing and there’s plenty of arch commentary on the dating merry-go-round.’

31. Relatos Salvajes (Wild Tales): ‘There are occasional minor dips in quality, but I stress that they are minor: overall Wild Tales is a fun, colourful collection of thematically-linked shorts and the humour is supremely off-kilter; it may not have won awards, but its nominations in the most prestigious film competitions have been richly deserved.’

45-Years

Charlotte Rampling delivers an acting masterclass in 45 Years, and Tom Courtenay isn’t too shabby either

 

28. Foxcatcher: ‘The director establishes a bleak tone early on, sticks with it for more than two hours, and it’s difficult to keep track of the number of utterly uncomfortable on-screen conversations you’ve sat through by the end. In that sense I can see why Foxcatcher would not appeal to everyone – it is at times a little too slow, too, though not overlong – but wisely I don’t think anyone has gone into the project with dreams of packed cinemas and enthusiastic standing ovations. It’s a confident, measured work, with a trio of fine acting performances, and I especially liked its incessant, troubling moodiness.’

27. Slow West: ‘Shot in 1:66:1 in order to emphasise the characters rather than the landscape (though DP Robbie Ryan does a fine job of showing off the magnificence of New Zealand’s South Island nonetheless), Slow West is a welcome addition to the pantheon of modern westerns, its writer-director entertaining with wit and weirdness but also creating a setting that feels satisfyingly realistic, not least because of its emphasis on immigrants and sparseness.’

25. La Isla Mínima (Marshland): ‘It requires concentration and the screenplay – co-written by Alberto Rodríguez and Rafael Cobos – generally avoids those revelatory ‘eureka!’ moments and implausible breakthroughs that big screen detectives tend to enjoy; little wonder then that the scenario, style and setting have led many to compare it with the slow-burning first season of True Detective: there’s a similar look and feel to this film…’

24. Love Is Strange: ‘A limited release (only 130-odd screens across the US, for example) has seemingly put paid to wider recognition, but my advice is that you don’t let this film slip by unnoticed, even if you have to watch it on the small screen: it’s a warm, rich account of two people in love, it ruminates gracefully on the cyclical nature of life, and it examines familial discord very well too. Added to that, Sachs’ attitude towards New York City is redolent of some of Woody Allen’s better moments, and his latest film is just as amusing.’

29. Appropriate Behaviour: ‘The whole ‘break up and move on’ thing may be nothing new, but this is a good example of the way an unusual perspective can breathe new life into such a story, and Akhavan is a very funny writer and performer. It’s just a shame there isn’t more of it: Appropriate Behaviour is several minutes short of an-hour-and-a-half, and I could have happily sat through way more.’

22. Mia Madre: ‘Having recently suffered a loss myself (albeit under entirely different circumstances to those seen in this film), Nanni Moretti’s latest treatise on death and grief touched a raw nerve at times; however although this is a sombre piece overall it is also one that deserves to be championed as heartfelt and honest, and it deals with illness and bereavement in an intelligent, straightforward and moving way, carefully balancing its necessary moments of sadness with sporadic and well-judged outbursts of humour.’

 

Jauja

Blind

15. Le Meraviglie (The Wonders): ‘The Wonders is … a beautifully-shot tale of a rural family’s struggles, and yet there’s also something indefinably ‘other’ about it that ensures it lingers in your thoughts afterwards.’

 

26. A Most Violent Year: ‘Perhaps, if anything, it lacks that something special: there’s nothing in this film that would stand up to comparison with the wit and zip of Scorsese’s finest moments, the weight of Coppola’s most gripping scenes or the set pieces of De Palma’s best work, but those are rare filmmakers who have made rare works of excellence within this field and within this particular genre. Despite commendably approaching the crime film in a way that feels fresh today this sits just below the peaks reached by those directors…’

Raúl Arévalo and Javier Gutiérrez in Spanish police procedural Marshland.

Raúl Arévalo and Javier Gutiérrez in Spanish police procedural Marshland.

 

23. Inherent Vice: ‘So: those who like their plots and their actors crystal clear are obviously best advised to give it a miss, but if you’re still up for it you’ll find a flawed-but-entertainingly absurd piece that slots nicely into the director’s filmography and looks typically fantastic. It’s kinda fun to be all-at-sea with Doc and Inherent Vice is a trip; how can you resist a film containing character names like ‘Japonica Fenway’, ‘Buddy Tubeside’, ‘Riggs Warbling’ and ‘Puck Beaverton’?’

21. Inside Out: ‘So, to sum up, it’s a film packed with gentle and inoffensive fun, with a winning attention to detail, but most impressive is the way that Docter and co subtly wage war once again on the suppression of emotions; this is carried out in a way that doesn’t come across as patronising to younger audiences (though really I’m not in a position to say this for certain) while also giving older viewers plenty of food for thought. Lovely film.’

13. Steve Jobs: ‘Boyle has created an extremely intriguing film, one with several unexpected visual flourishes, and the editing by Elliot Graham, who did similarly impressive work on the biography Milk, is excellent. As has been widely mentioned elsewhere the supporting actors deliver fine performances, but special mention must go to Fassbender, who appears in nearly every single scene and delivers a fascinating turn that ranks among the best I’ve seen this year.’

Clouds_of_Sils_Maria-xlarge

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart excel in Olivier Assayas’ Clouds Of Sils Maria

20. Clouds Of Sils Maria: ‘You’re probably aware by now that Kristen Stewart became the first American actress to win a César Award for her performance in Clouds Of Sils Maria, the latest film by French auteur Olivier Assayas, though she is in fact the second of her country’s talents to have done so (Adrien Brody got there first ten years ago). Stewart was very good earlier this year in Still Alice too, acquitting herself well opposite one of the best actresses working today (on Oscar-winning form to boot). So for anyone following her career closely it’ll come as no surprise if I concur that yes, she does deliver her finest performance to date as Valentine, PA to Juliette Binoche’s actress Maria Enders, and that she is just as impressive as the consistently-great Parisian last seen, rather unusually, in a brief cameo at the beginning of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla – in this poetic tale of identity and temporality.’

19. Love And Mercy: ‘By concentrating on and linking together two different but key periods of Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s life, Bill Pohlad’s Love And Mercy sheds light on his creative talent while largely sidestepping the usual music biopic formula that sees stories moving conveniently through three distinct passages: the humble beginnings and the rise to fame, the subsequent travails (artistic, personal, artistic and personal) and finally death or some kind of redemption, depending on the star in question; that’s all present here but the focus is firmly on the management of mental health issues.’

18. Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance): ‘While I’ve enjoyed all of Iñárritu’s films prior to Birdman this is definitely a step forward, tonally-different to his earlier, darker work, and it bodes well for the future that he has found another route to critical acclaim. That said this black comedy does have a spicy, vaguely malevolent streak, and its targets are broad: the prevalence of the superhero blockbuster is the most obvious, but there are a number of voices competing here with the intention of trashing actors, filmmakers, critics, stage directors and their audiences.’

14. Mommy: ‘Dolan is a real talent, and he has coaxed some fine performances out of his actors here: all three leads produce excellent work, with much of the film’s emotive heft created by the entirely believable interactions between their characters. It’s a relentless, absorbing story, played out in a naturalistic fashion, and it’s as touching as it is uncomfortable. Dolan keeps the pace up and gradually tightens the screw, to the point where you are convinced this is all building up to something terrible and shocking: it kind of does, but the end also represents a neatly-cyclical return to the status quo. A very satisfying watch, and the original soundtrack, by Noia, is my favourite of the year by a country mile.’

17. Trudno Byt Bogom (Hard To Be A God):Hard To Be A God is undoubtedly a magnificent achievement, a film that defies categorisation and defies comparison with other cinematic works (and I’m not just saying that because my last two reviews here have been for Trainwreck and Wet Hot American Summer). I have to admit it’s not a comfortable viewing experience, but it is one that you will remember. I’d argue it’s entirely possible to consider a film ‘great’ without it ever necessarily appearing on a list of your personal favourites, and this is great in many senses of the word: epic, admirable, extreme, long, extravagant and formidable.’

16. The Diary Of A Teenage Girl: ‘What a fine film this is. The Diary Of A Teenage Girl smartly recreates the hippy hangover San Francisco of the 1970s through its costume, decor, hazy amber filter and an aesthetic that leans heavily on the underground comics of Aline Kominsky-Crumb (and, by association, her husband Robert … in addition to its own graphic novel origins). It also highlights just how plain, plodding and boring most coming-of-age stories are.’

Family bonding in Alice Rohrwacher's The Wonders.

Family bonding in Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders.

 

 

 

12. Sicario: ‘I’m not convinced that Sicario tells those of us observing from afar anything new about the conflict or its associated problems cartels are ruthless, those at the bottom of the food chain on either side suffer and the US government’s agencies pay scant regard to the laws that supposedly bind them seem to be the main and obvious messages but purely in terms of thrilling action and suspense it’s well worth seeing and the performances and cinematography are obvious highlights.’

11. It Follows: ‘Mitchell is operating at a higher, more cerebral, more artistic level than most other horror directors, but I like the fact that the clever-clever allegory doesn’t get in the way of the important business of maintaining a sense of dread or scaring the viewers. It Follows is a fatalistic psychosexual chiller that has lingered in my mind since viewing, and I highly recommend it.’

A brief moment of family harmony in Ruben Östlund's frosty Force Majeure

A brief moment of respite in Ruben Östlund’s frosty Force Majeure

10. Turist (Force Majeure): ‘It is perhaps a little too long, but that doesn’t matter so much when a story is this engrossing, and it’s unsurprising that Östlund has been compared to Michael Haneke: this film has that same sense of cool detachment often found in the Austrian’s work, while it is regularly just as uncomfortable and quietly devastating.’

9. Timbuktu:Timbuktu is a must-see, rightly lauded since it competed for the Palme D’Or in 2014, and a film that looks at the effect of intolerance and fundamentalism on both individuals and an entire community with subtlety and grace. It is one of the most relevant films of the year to date.’

8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens: ‘Tough, sharp, resilient and independent, Rey is the true star of this new chapter and I think it’s terrific that she has been made the early focal point of this new trilogy. I loved her scenes with Finn and BB-8, and imagine the effect it will be having on young girls all around the world will be very healthy indeed. What a treat to see Star Wars back on the big screen in such great shape; I never thought I’d see the day.’

7. Carol: ‘My own criterion for deciding whether a movie is great or not is usually nothing more complicated than weighing up all of a film’s constituent parts; does everything come together to produce a work of true artistic merit? With regard to Carol, the answer to that question is unequivocally ‘yes’.’

 

Girls on film: Céline Sciamma's delightful Girlhood.

Girls on film: Céline Sciamma’s delightful Girlhood.

5. Bande de Filles (Girlhood): ‘Girlhood‘s combination of minimalism and a sporadically-colourful style, a strong screenplay and good all-round acting performances ensures it is one of the highlights of the year to date. Most of the cast members were recruited off the street in malls and stations and so on, and acquit themselves well, adding an air of credibility and authenticity to proceedings…’

6. En Duva Satt På En Gren Och Funderade På Tillvaron (A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence): ‘In terms of visual experiences A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence is as good as it gets – take my word for it, Andersson’s influence on the fine art medium format photography world should not be underestimated – and I guarantee you won’t see anything like it in cinemas all year. It’s not the kind of film I would want to watch over and over again, but the writer-director’s clear sense of style and his impeccable execution must be applauded.’

4. Whiplash: ‘It’s unfortunate that events in Andrew’s private life feel a little by-the-numbers, and perhaps your enjoyment will be greater if you go expecting to be presented with a series of questions about the notion of achievement and the means of attaining it rather than any illuminating answers, but these points are raised merely to try and create a sense of balance here. In truth Whiplash is an extremely strong work and I left my local cinema thinking of the film as a great example of why I love this art form.’

3. The Duke Of Burgundy: ‘Elegant production design (Pater Sparrow), art direction (Renátó Cseh) and set decoration (Zsuzsa Mihalek) combine perfectly with the costumes by Andrea Flesch and the magnificent cinematography by Nicholas D. Knowland, who was also the DP on Berberian Sound Studio, to create a striking, aesthetically-pleasing work. Strickland gets fine performances out of his two leads, and wastes not a single second of screen time: his intoxicating third film is a sexy, sensory, swirly, psychedelic delight.’

2. Plemya (The Tribe): ‘However difficult it may be, I long to experience films like this, that feel so different to the majority, that starkly contrast with much of the turgid crap that gets released each year or those average movies that get wildly overpraised. The Tribe is undoubtedly a visceral film and a tough one to sit through at times for several reasons, but this is obviously a story by a strong voice, it is well acted, and watching it is a fascinating and immersive experience. It affected me in ways that few films have done in recent years, while the use of sign language is absolutely, categorically not a gimmick.’

Félix de Givry and Pauline Etienne in Mia Hansen-Løve's Eden

Félix de Givry and Pauline Etienne in Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden

1. Eden: ‘The fourth feature-length film by French director and screenwriter Mia Hansen-Løve is less a celebration of the church of dance – though it is at times a paean to clubbing and its inherent vices, particularly in the first of its two parts – and more a bittersweet tale about moderate success, moderate failure, gain and loss, spanning a period of twenty years and focusing on the life and loves of (fictional) DJ and producer Paul Vallée (Félix de Givry). With its emphasis on the Parisian electronic music scene of the 1990s and early 2000s the subject matter of Eden may well alienate some cinemagoers, but those willing to take the plunge will find a well-scripted, intelligently-structured film that brings to mind both the cool dreaminess of Sofia Coppola and – through the use of several non-professional actors and the general focus on twenty-somethings – the work of Éric Rohmer …

… Eden is a finely-constructed and engaging film, and one of my favourites of 2015 to date; that’s partly due to its many obvious qualities – with regard to the script, the use of music, the acting and the accuracy of the clubbing scenes (the best since Yolande Zauberman’s 1996 film Clubbed To Death, released when the 90’s French house scene was in its prime) – but I also regard it so highly because it left me feeling warmly nostalgic about my own twenties and the places I lived in or visited (though I never had the missionary zeal of the main male characters in this piece, and thankfully no equivalent drug problem). Eden is an accurate, heartfelt, intelligent and absorbing picture, while de Givry’s central performance is both understated and realistic; he is well-supported by the rest of the cast.’

Documentaries, Top 10

In terms of documentaries, I’ve only watched about 15, so sticking with a ‘top ten’ was much easier. They are as follows:

Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan live it up in Cannes

Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan live it up in Cannes

10. Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films: ‘When a documentary features Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, Bo Derek, Charles Bronson, Superman, Sylvester Stallone, Jean Claude Van Damme and a couple of ninjas on its one sheet then it is worth sitting up and taking notice.’

9. Cobain: Montage Of Heck:Cobain: Montage Of Heck is…an understandably sad film to watch, in which the mental state of a troubled father, son, husband and friend is examined mainly through his own words and previously-private thoughts. One wonders whether we should really be allowed to see all of this, and ultimately it’s a brave decision by his surviving family to let us, while thankfully Morgen presents it in a respectful (though not hagiographical) manner.’

8. Dreamcatcher: ‘Throughout Longinotto is an unobtrusive presence, rarely heard and never seen; working with regular collaborator and editor Ollie Huddleston, she has made a successful portrait of a hugely empathetic, selfless and staunchly non-judgmental character, whose value to society is priceless, and you’re left wishing there were more people like Brenda Myers-Powell in the world.’

7. National Gallery: ‘Wiseman is less interested in the gallery’s visitors than its employees, but I like the fact that the focus is on the latter, as a lot of the behind-the-scenes footage included here is fascinating. I’d warrant that we see nearly all of the National Gallery’s employees, from scholars and guides to those in charge of its budgets, from framemakers and decorators to those who care for and restore its paintings, and while we do not get to know any of them personally it’s more about marvelling at the collective knowledge, skill and enthusiasm, which the director has identified as being every bit as important as the work hanging on the walls.’

6. The Ecstasy Of Wilko Johnson: ‘It’s a life-affirming, thoughtful piece, its subject musing soulfully on his own time on this planet while paying homage to Bergman by playing Death at chess on a clifftop overlooking the Thames. Temple’s docs-on-speed are collages, utilising clips from other work alongside his own footage, and there’s plenty to keep cinema buffs happy in this choppy, kinetic 90 minutes; rather aptly A Matter Of Life And Death features most heavily in this magnificent, broad study of an intriguing individual facing the end.’

Amy Winehouse, the subject of Asif Kapadia's moving documentary Amy

Amy Winehouse, the subject of Asif Kapadia’s moving documentary Amy

5. Amy: ‘Naturally it is a sad film to sit through, and the death of the singer hangs over it from start to finish, but it feels like Kapadia has managed to get to the root cause(s) of Winehouse’s unhappiness and his examination of her short career feels exhaustive. The happier moments and the performances (great and awful) that are contained here merely add to the sense of impending tragedy, and the feeling that we have lost another rare talent far too young.’

4. Cartel Land: ‘Heineman’s effort in gaining access to both groups and his bravery behind the camera (presumably along with co-cinematographer Matt Porwoll) is as obvious as it is commendable; at one point one of the two men gets caught up in a shootout, which puts the stylistically-delicious but ultimately safely-constructed set pieces of Sicario in perspective.’

3. The Look Of Silence: ‘One early sequence here highlights the fact that history is taught incorrectly in Indonesian schools, thus – despite the scale – knowledge of the genocide does not seem to be widespread. Oppenheimer’s brace of films has helped to change that outside of the country, at least, even if justice still looks to be a long way off. The Look Of Silence may struggle to find as wide an audience as the earlier, more sensational piece – it’s far more conventional – but it is no less powerful and the motif about seeing (or not seeing) is simple and effective.’

2. A Syrian Love Story: ‘Throughout McAllister films his subjects with a hand-held camera, adding to the sense of intimacy as he sits in the various living rooms and bedrooms with family members. Over time he gets to know them very well, and is able to speak candidly and ask tough questions without necessarily causing the adults or the kids to raise their defences. He can do this because they trust him, and they are right to do so: this is a film that is as honest about them and their situation as it is moving, and due to its length it offers a far more rounded portrait of a refugee family and the issues they face than anything I have seen on the news or in newspapers during the past few months.’

A British soldier in Afghanistan connects with a local in Adam Curtis' Bitter Lake

A British soldier in Afghanistan connects with a local in Adam Curtis’ Bitter Lake

1. Bitter Lake: ‘ It’s a powerful film and, notably, one that shows the value of restraint, incorporating long wordless passages which allow music and images to carry any necessary messages; the information is easy to digest but this multi-layered film lets it out gradually and intelligently, relying on visual impact as much as the director’s clear, schoolmasterly narration. Essential viewing.’

(Honourable mentions for Iris, Love Is All: 100 Years Of Love And Courtship, and The Salt Of The Earth, all of which I enjoyed)

Summary

So, there you have it. Eden was my favourite film of 2015, and Bitter Lake was my favourite documentary. It has been a great year, film-wise, and I’m off to see my first release of 2016 in an hour or so. I’ll be joining in with the ‘Blind Spot’ thing this year too, as I’ve got way too many gaps in my knowledge, so I’ll post a list of those later today or tomorrow. If you’ve made it this far thanks again for reading and I wish you all the best for the year ahead.

Cheers,

Stu