Another new year and another list of best films. Unlike last year, in which I felt that there were not enough films good enough to make up a top ten, 2015 has enough films for a decent list. But first the ones that missed out.
Blackhat was a well-made thriller with a serious intensity that made it feel like it mattered. The same went for horror films with It Follows. For throwaway comedies, Shaun The Sheep Movie and Mistress America were both surprisingly enjoyable. Force Majeure was a rather cruel film, but its glee at some very human failings was infectious. Equally, Brooklyn was a sober and well-presented drama, as was Miss Julie, albeit less successfully. And 2015 was not missing a true, and difficult, art film to challenge how we watch films and respond to them thanks to Lav Diaz’s From What Is Before.
10. West was another excellent drama just slipping in ahead of Brooklyn, another film about immigration. It is also anchored by a great central performance from Jӧrdis Triebel and an authentic and interesting outsider view of our history and ourselves.
9. Another excellent drama was Far From The Madding Crowd, a more feminist reimaging of the Hardy novel and the Schlesinger film. I have since seen the older and much-loved film (but still not read the book) and while Thomas Vinterberg’s version is missing some of the grit of the original, it has a greater feeling of sincerity and respect for the characters, as well as pace. Mulligan, Schoenaerts and Sheen all shine with thoroughly believable and likeable characters.
8. Almost despite myself, I thoroughly enjoyed Bridge of Spies thanks largely to Spielberg’s direction, Hanks’ performance and the classical storytelling – looking now at this, Far From The Madding Crowd and Brooklyn, it seems a good year for old-fashioned filmmaking. The film gets nearly unbearably tacky in its final moments, but it is great way to spend two hours in the hands of a filmmaker and star who know exactly what they are doing.
7. Less classical was The Tribe, which was another film to challenge how we watch and understand films and how we identify with disability in cinema. The film is a nasty, harrowing crime film and is unrelentingly bleak, but it is as riveting and new as it is shocking.
6. Whiplash was another great drama, though less because of the performances, though both Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons do fine work. This is a film intended to be taken in one sitting and it has a forward momentum unlike any other film this year, making everything else look sluggish. It is the fastest film of the year and one in which the direction and editing and sound are fantastic.
5. Glassland was another powerful drama, but one that seeks to unsettle where others may tend towards quiet enjoyment. The film challenges our concepts of alcoholism, saintliness, self-sacrifice and the modern day capitalist Ireland. Though a great critique, it is also a powerful drama with even more fantastic performances (a good year from performances too) – this time from Jack Reynor and Toni Collette. It promises that Gerard Barrett will be one of our most serious and committed filmmakers.
4. Like the other two documentaries in the top 4 (a great year for documentaries), Sean McAllister’s A Syrian Love Story matches the importance of its subject matter with the humanism in its approach. A Syrian Love Story is an important film about Syria today, but it is also an involving story about how revolution, imprisonment and exile can effect a family. The documentary intercedes in a cruel story that is too often represented in dehumanised terms and should work as a corrective to any other narrative about Syria.
3. Equally The Look of Silence, which challenges the status quo in modern day Indonesia by excavating some hidden truths about the country’s past and making the perpetrators face up to them, is as much about the human victims left along the way. It is a film of very real risk and daring, but it makes the case for the proper care of the victims of a government still largely in control and still scaring its citizens into silence.
2. Dreamcatcher is another documentary that defies the common narrative, this time about sex work and the economic and emotional challenges that throw people into it. By focusing on a grassroots movement, the Dreamcatcher Foundation, the film gives a voice to victims and, again, acts as a powerful corrective. Dreamcatcher, like A Syrian Love Story and The Look of Silence, achieve so much because they make their points underneath the real stories of real victims and they approach these victims with the respect and compassion that they deserve. All three are about the power and importance of resistance – and all three might actually make a difference.
1. Sometimes, however, a fiction film can capture the desperation and horror of a situation in such a way that it leaves its mark just as well as any factual telling might. It seems slightly disrespectful to place Timbuktu ahead of such important documentaries, but I still cannot forget the final few seconds.