The Best Films of 2015: Part One (20-11)

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It’s that time of year again where we cast our eyes back and reflect on what we’ve done. As is customary, the CineVue team has taken the opportunity to cogitate on the cinematic delights of the past twelve months. Although we’re a UK-based blog, we pride ourselves on our festival coverage and as such have decided to allow any film that has received a world or UK premiere during this year’s festival circuit to be nominated. Yes, some of these films are yet to receive a UK release, but in a world where on demand services are pulling apart the theatrical model, it’s important to champion some of cinema’s more eclectic films.

Each of our writers picked their own top ten and films were scored according to how they were ranked in each writer’s list. Therefore a writer’s number one film scored ten points, whilst their second favourite scored nine points; and so on and so forth. This way films are rewarded for their individual qualities rather than merely on popular opinion. It’s great to see such a strong and eclectic selection of films including a diverse mix of with titles from North and South America, Europe and Asia, independent and studio films and works from directors both established and just striking out. It’s nice to see some documentary cinema in the list as well as a couple of perfectly-pitched mainstream movies.

Sadly, there’s only one female director included in this year’s top twenty which continues to demonstrate the strong gender bias of the industry, but it’s refreshing to note that at least half of the films listed below feature female protagonists or co-leads suggesting that audiences and critics are more than happy to see and champion films about women despite Hollywood’s protestations to the contrary. Part two of the list will be released on Tuesday 15 December and will include links to each individual writer’s top ten. Any list like this is bound to arouse debates and we actively encourage you to let us know your own cinematic highlights of 2015 by getting in touch with us over on Twitter at @CineVue.

20. A Syrian Love Story
The deserved winner of the main prize at this year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest – as well as numerous others internationally – British documentarian Sean McAllister’s heartbreaking delved beneath the newspaper headlines to find a Syrian people torn asunder by violent civil war. Perhaps most interestingly, the battle lines here are drawn not on the shelled streets of Damascus or Homs but in the family home of Amer and Raghda, two former political prisoners with conflicting views on how best to protect their children – and country of birth – from President Assad’s brutal regime. [DG] Read Lucy Popescu’s review here.

19. The Lobster
A black-as-night comic take on our contemporary cultural obsessions with coupling up, here we find the genius of Lanthimos confirmed while we get to enjoy some nice tonally-shifted work from an impeccable cast. Colin Farrell leads the pack as paunchy protagonist David. This is a Farrell we haven’t seen for quite some time: vulnerable, adrift, aching for a connection. As we watch him try to conform to the rules of courtship (and later actively reject them), we can draw our own connections to the seemingly innate cultural pressure to pair off or die in shame. The Lobster has plenty of blood and grit to keep things going, but its the soft moments like watching David send secret signals to his one true love that make this film one of the year’s best. [AG] Read John Bleasdale’s review from the Cannes Film Festival here.

18. Magic Mike XXL
Magic Mike XXL is perhaps the most unlikely triumph of 2015. The third film of Gregory Jacobs – Steven Soderbergh’s former assistant director – it maintained the ethos of the original while carving out its own distinct identity. Much was made of the picture’s feminist credentials, but the brilliance of Magic Mike XXL extends far beyond ideology; it is, above all, a beautifully-crafted aesthetic triumph. With its road trip structure, it transposed the backstage musical into an expression of 21st century working man’s blues. The film is as good on the euphoria of the set-up as it is on the melancholia of the transience. It’s about the ride, the comedown and the healing. [CW] Read Allie Gemmill’s review here.

17. Listen Up Philip
A novelistic extension to his uniquely observed sensibilities, Listen Up Philip perfectly casts Jason Schwartzman as the titular Philip, a tightly coiled ball of rage who makes no bones about alienating himself from everyone around him. Chief among them are his once loving girlfriend (Elisabeth Moss), whose artistic talents have long been quashed by her narcissistic partner. So attuned to the rigours of artistic achievement and fulfilment and its variously positive and negative ramifications, Perry’s beautifully photographed hipster monograph is a divisive treat that refuses to bow to cookie cutter narrative progression or outcomes. It’s ultimately a morality tale without the morality, and is all the better for it. [EF] Read Ben Nicholson’s review here.

16. It Follows
David Robert Mitchell’s intelligent, original and genuinely creepy horror about a sexually transmitted haunting conceals a far more terrifying study of a post-recession US. The dichotomy of sex and death have long provided the horror genre with a workbench in which to dismantle the resolve of even the most ardent horror fanatic, yet Mitchell’s densely textured homage to the films of Wes Craven and John Carpenter twists and bends these familiar tropes to explore the hidden anxieties of the modern America’s psyche. In his debut, The Myth of the American Sleepover Mitchell displayed a tremendous ability to tap into the awkwardness and alienation of adolescent lives. [PG]. Read Craig Williams’ review here.

15. Arabian Nights
It’s incredibly difficult to categorise and summarise Miguel Gomes’ sprawling Arabian Nights trilogy even after months of reflection. Arguably one of the year’s most challenging and divisive festival offerings, it nevertheless manages to cast a spell of some sort over its protracted six-hour runtime. An episodic state-of-the-nation address framed as a mythical modern day re-telling of Scheherazade (Crista Alfaiate) and Tales from the Thousand and One Nights, it’s packed with whimsy and lyricism that will manages to be both patience-testing in one instant, and sublime in the next. Far from what critical consensus might determine cinematic perfection, what Gomes instead crafts is an ode to the disenfranchised people of modern Portugal. [BN] Read our full review from this year’s Toronto International Film Festival here.

14. Diary of a Teenage Girl
Writer/Director Marielle Heller achieved with The Diary of a Teenage Girl a representation of female sexuality remarkable for its honesty and confidence. Adapted from Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel and set in 1976 San Francisco, the film focuses on 15-year-old Minnie (Bel Powley), who begins an affair with her mother’s (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård). For Minnie, sex is something she enthusiastically runs towards, and despite his physical maturity, in her emotionally restricted partner Monroe, she’s found someone who struggles equally with the feelings of power and vulnerability that such passion creates. Minnie emerges as a fully rounded, self-aware, intelligent artist, ready to share her perspective with the world. [HW] Read Jamie Neish’s review here.

13. Catch Me Daddy
A young Pakistani girl has absconded from her strict, traditionalist family to be with her white Scottish boyfriend. Getting by on very little and living in a ramshackle caravan on the misty and foreboding Yorkshire moors, unbeknownst to the duo, the girl’s father has hired a gang to retrieve his daughter. Dark, ferocious, unflinchingly authentic and wryly funny in moments, this debut from promo director Daniel Wolfe may be firmly rooted in the miserablism of British kitchen sink dramas, but the director is able to juxtapose this with a dream-like quality, finding a stark beauty in the broken down surroundings his characters traverse. Woefully under-appreciated during its initial release, Catch Me Daddy deserves the same plaudits which were bestowed upon Under the Skin. [AL] Read Patrick Gamble’s review here.

12. A Most Violent Year
J.C. Chandor’s impressive third feature is his most fully realised and tightly constructed yet – a traditional crime story told with a slick modern voice. Marrying together two of contemporary cinema’s finest actors in Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, who both convey here the simmering effortlessness of their acting abilities, Chandor sets about emulating the broodingly chaotic nature of the titular year, 1981 – statistically the most crime-ridden in New York City history – by slowly building the inherent tension from the plot and characters. Issac’s protagonist, the intentionally named Abel Morales, is used as both an example and metaphor for the inevitability of violence and the ease with which it’s able to corrupt the most well-meaning citizens. [EF] Read Ben Nicholson’s review here.

11. Cemetery of Splendour

Consciousness lies at the heart of both narrative and form in Cemetery of Splendour, the new film from Thai director Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul. Telling an unusually straightforward story about a group of soldiers struck down with an incurable sleeping sickness in a makeshift hospital in Khon Kaen. As their lives shift seamlessly from wakefulness to sleep, so what we are seeing elides reality and dreams. Arguably even more subtle in its ruminations on history, memory and mythology than his most celebrated work, Cemetery of Splendour manages to conjure both Joe’s typically hypnotic reverie and moving statements both personal and political – that this will be he final film in Thailand only adds further weight. [BN] Read John Bleasdale’s review from this year’s Cannes Film Festival here.

To see what made CineVue’s Top 10 Films of 2015, please check back on the site later this week.

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