In 2015, James Cameron lost his box office reign as JJ Abrams finally did George Lucas’ legacy justice and brought Star Wars: The Force Awakens to a marketplace primed for record-shattering. Amazon and Netflix continued to show their muscle in an ever-evolving environment for artistic distribution. And the best films managed to claw their way to the surface, stirring joy and sadness, provoking awe and terror, stoking love and desire, in discerning audiences worldwide.
Aferim!, Amy, Anomalisa, Arabian Nights, Cobain: Montage of Heck, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Embrace of the Serpent, The End of the Tour, The Fits, Heart of a Dog, James White, Krisha, Rams, Right Now, Wrong Then, The Second Mother, Steve Jobs, Tangerine, The Treasure, A War, The Witch
Top 10 Films
10. Mad Max: Fury Road
“As the world fell, each of us in our own way was broken.”
My review of Mad Max: Fury Road, here.
9. My Golden Days
8. The Lobster
7. Cemetery of Splendour
“Have you ever been loved more than life? That’s how I’ll love you.” “You can be a Loner as long as you like. There is no time limit.” “You simply have to open your eyes.”
My review of My Golden Days, coming soon.
My review of The Lobster, here.
My review of Cemetery of Splendour, coming soon.
6. The Assassin
4. 45 Years
“The way of the sword is without compassion.” “Everything changed in the blink of an eye.” “I’d like to be able to tell you everything I’m thinking. But I can’t.”
It’s likely inevitable that, expectations aside, The Assassin would end up somewhere on this list. The visuals alone, courtesy of Mark Lee Ping Bin (who was also responsible for the exquisite In the Mood for Love), are beyond brilliant – they’re breathtaking, transporting – and the prologue’s transition from black-and-white to colour may be the best use of such technique since Andrei Rublev. Ultimately, Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Cannes Best Director-winning wuxia martial arts extravaganza may be light on plot, but it’s oh-so-heavy on beauty and grace and atmosphere that it becomes one of the most sensually immersive films of the year. Hou is an arthouse master of the form, and let it not be another eight years before we hear from him again.
It was absolutely incredible year for debuts, with Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl), Robert Eggers (The Witch), and Trey Edward Shults (Krisha) launching wildly impressive first features at Sundance or, in the case of Shults, SXSW. And that’s not to mention the fact that a brilliant young Hungarian first-time director – who channeled his two-year experience working as Béla Tarr’s assistant and inspiration from Kubrick, Bergman, and Tarkovsky – was responsible for my #1 of 2015. But it was just as surprising that my second favourite debut of the year came from the Turkish filmmaker Deniz Gamze Ergüven, who cracked the Directors’ Fortnight section of Cannes with her luscious, playful, gripping story about five endearing sisters finding their way in the world.
My review of 45 Years, here.
2. The Forbidden Room
1. Son of Saul
“We gave each other the most breathtaking of gifts.” “Whatever it is you think I have done, I have done it ten times worse…” “There’s nothing more to do.”
There is a cruel irony that one of the best films of 2015 received so little recognition: ten years ago, a similar thing happened to a similarly heartbreaking romance when the Academy refused to award Best Picture to Brokeback Mountain. Carol is so many things at once: a pinnacle of craftsmanship, a realization of the potential that has been evident throughout director Todd Haynes’ career, a celebration of the consistently stunning efforts of character actors Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson. Above all, it’s a showcase for two magnificent performances from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Devastating and universal, painful and captivating, the story of Carol and Therese will break your heart and make you fall in love all over again. Isn’t that why we go to the movies?
My review of The Forbidden Room, here.
My review of Son of Saul, coming soon.
A & S Year-End Awards
Picture: Gábor Sipos and Gábor Rajna, “Son of Saul” (runner-up: Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley, and Christine Vachon “Carol”)
Director: László Nemes, “Son of Saul” (runner-up: Guy Maddin & Evan Johnson, “The Forbidden Room”)
Actor: Tom Courtenay, “45 Years” (runner-up: Colin Farrell, “The Lobster”)
Actress: Charlotte Rampling, “The Forbidden Room” and “45 Years” (runner-up: Cate Blanchett, “Carol”)
Supporting Actor: Kyle Chandler, “Carol” (runner-up: Michael Stuhlbarg, “Steve Jobs”)
Supporting Actress: Rooney Mara, “Carol” (runner-up: Rachel Weisz, “The Lobster”)
Original Screenplay: Efthymis Filippou & Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Lobster” (runners-up: László Nemes & Clara Royer, “Son of Saul”; Deniz Gamze Ergüven & Alice Winocour, “Mustang”)
Adapted Screenplay: Phyllis Nagy, “Carol” (runners-up: Aaron Sorkin, “Steve Jobs”; Andrew Haigh, “45 Years”)
Editing: John Gurdebeke, “The Forbidden Room” (runner-up: Margaret Sixel, “Mad Max: Fury Road”)
Cinematography: Mark Lee Ping Bin, “The Assassin” (runner-up: Ed Lachman, “Carol”)
Score or Soundtrack: Carter Burwell, “Carol” (runner-up: Lim Giong, “The Assassin”)
Foreign Language Film: Deniz Gamze Ergüven, “Mustang” (runner-up: Hou Hsiao-Hsien, “The Assassin”)
Documentary: Asif Kapadia, “Amy” (runner-up: Brett Morgen, “Cobain: Montage of Heck”)
Most Promising Filmmaker: László Nemes, “Son of Saul” (runners-up: Deniz Gamze Ergüven, “Mustang”; Trey Edward Shults, “Krisha”)
Breakout Performance: Anya Taylor-Joy, “The Witch” (runners-up: Géza Röhrig, “Son of Saul”; Bel Powley, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”)
Spotlight Award: Guy Maddin & Evan Johnson, “The Forbidden Room” (runner-up: Sean Baker, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, and Mya Taylor, “Tangerine”)
2016 Most Anticipated
Kyle Chandler may just land on the A & S top 10 for a second year in a row given his involvement in “Manchester by the Sea” from Kenneth Lonergan (arriving 16 years after sibling smash “You Can Count on Me”). Sundance will also provide first viewings of Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain Women” and Todd Solondz’s Greta Gerwig-starring “Wiener-Dog”. Martin Scorsese’s long-awaited “Silence” should be on screens before December (with an unfortunate cast change).
Otherwise, 2016 looks to be a dream for lovers of independent and foreign cinema: Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”), Derek Cianfrance (“Blue Valentine”), Andrea Arnold (“Fish Tank”), Mia Hansen-Løve (“Eden”), James Ponsoldt (“Smashed”), Ana Lily Amirpour (“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”), Asghar Farhadi (“A Separation”), Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy”), Jim Jarmusch (“Only Lovers Left Alive”), and Pedro Almodóvar (“Volver”) are all returning with new work.