With only hours left until we welcome in a fresh new year of cinema-going, here’s the final Best of… list you’ll have to endure. Chosen from the 545 films I’ve watched this year (it’s true; check out star ratings of every one we’ve seen via our Letterboxd page), here they are - The SCREEN-SPACE Ten Favourite Films of 2015…
In the ironically titled Youth, Paolo Sorrentino explores the notion of wisdom, artistry and friendship; familiar ground for Italian director, the themes central to his 2013 stunner, The Great Beauty. If the auteur’s occasionally artful narrative proves testing, one can always bask in the stunning visuals; Youth is arguably the most beautifully lensed film of the year.
Best bits: Jane Fonda’s acerbic cameo; Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel get giddy while sharing a spa with a naked Miss Universe (the majestic Madalina Ghenea).
9. CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA
Like Sorrentino’s moody drama, Olivier Assayas’ finest work in years brings a bracing Euro-sensibility and vivid visual style to an exploration of how memory and melancholy work to redefine one’s later life. As the actress revisiting the seminal project of her career, a larger-than-life Juliette Binoche is warm and compelling; that Kirsten Stewart (pictured, right), as her insightful PA, matches her beat-for-beat is the film’s true revelation (earning the Twilight starlet serious new cred and a Supporting Actress Cesar).
Best bits: Stewart takes command of a line reading for Binoche’s struggling diva; the clouds, snaking through the alpine valleys.
8. EX MACHINA
The directorial debut of writer Alex Garland (28 Days Later; The Beach; Sunshine) melds moody chamber-piece/single-setting character drama with near-future AI super-tech. The result is a chilling, low-key, high-voltage cyber thriller that pulsates with dark humour and sexual tension; as the dream-girl android Ava, Alicia Wikander earned her ‘2016 It-Girl’ status with an iconic genre performance.
Best bits: Oscar Isaac’s disco moves alongside Sonoya Mizuno; Ava’s breakout.
7. 99 HOMES
Capturing that moment during the 2008 housing market crash when a ruthless adherence to capitalism took hold, writer/director Ramin Bahrani’s Faustian morality tale pits compromised everyman Andrew Garfield against the soulless might of financial sector hyena Michael Shannon. As the middle-class evaporates and suburbs become ghost towns, the dark heart of the crumbling American empire is exposed with a fierce clarity in this Wall Street for the new millennium.
Best bits: That first eviction; “America doesn’t bail out losers. America was built by bailing out winners.”
Read the SCREEN-SPACE interview with director Ramin Bahrani here.
6. THE AGE OF ADALINE
“Krieger’s vivid, melancholic melodrama emerges as a major work in the tough-to-pull-off ‘romantic fantasy’ genre subset…”
Read the full SCREEN-SPACE review of The Age of Adaline here.
As real-life recovering addict and author Cheryl Strayed, Reese Witherspoon gives a career-best performance in Jean-Marc Vallee’s adaptation of the autobiographical bestseller, Wild. Every emotionally enriching, soul baring consequence of the 1,100 mile trek Strayed made along the Pacific Crest Trail is captured in Witherspoon’s interpretation; Vallee’s fluent non-linear narrative builds to a deeply moving denouement.
Best bits: The fox; losing the boot; Laura Dern.
4. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE ROGUE NATION
Tom Cruise’s fifth spin as super-agent Ethan Hunt gets the nod as 2015’s best action pic over Mad Max Fury Road, by a whisker (don’t worry, we rave about George Miller’s action epic here). Fury Road was pure kinetic energy and a technical marvel, but it was slight on story; Christopher McQuarrie’s slick, thrilling old-school spy adventure offered a dozen nail-biting moments and delirious B-movie plotting that both supported and drove the action. With Bond dropping the ball badly this year, Cruise’s M:I operative is cinema’s reigning superspy.
Best bits: Rebecca Ferguson; that plane stunt, of course; the virtuoso ‘opera house’ sequence.
3. IT FOLLOWS
Writer/director David Robert Mitchell’s first foray into horror riffed on every slasher pic trope in the book– the villain exists to punish the amorous; the ‘final girl’ archetype; absent and/or ineffectual adults; the final face-off. But It Follows was a study in deconstruction, and worked as a truly invigorating (and terrifying) new vision of those old standards. In Maika Monroe, horror has a fresh new muse; in the ever-walking force that stalks her, a classic new malevolence.
Best bits: The kitchen encounter; the old, naked guy on the roof; checking out every background extra to see if they are ‘it’.
2. LOVE & MERCY
“In succinct and sublime tones, Love & Mercy convinces that God only knows where American music would be without Brian Wilson…”
Read the full SCREEN-SPACE review of Love & Mercy here.
1. INSIDE OUT
That Pixar offered up another superb piece of smart, funny animated entertainment is not that surprising. It is a true family classic, the studio’s best film since Up, but something had to be. Inside Out is the year’s best film not because of its beautiful design elements or wonderful character rendering; instead, Pete Doctor’s and Ronnie Del Carmen’s vision soars as a profound study in teen anxiety, alienation, emotional upheaval and depression. Few films have ever conveyed the complexities of mental health with the clarity and devastating emotion achieved by this masterwork.
Best bits: Riley runs away; the mixing of the spheres; “Congratulations San Francisco, you've ruined pizza!”
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Bridge of Spies, Shaun the Sheep, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Jupiter Ascending, The Visit, Everest.
…AND THE WORST OF 2015:
2015 was a dire year for retread cinema, aka ‘The Reboot’ (Mad Max Fury Road being the exception that proves the rule). Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four got all the bad press, but it was a better film than the woefully ill-conceived Terminator: Genysis, the already-forgotten Poltergeist and the worthless new spin on Vacation. Worst of the bunch was JURASSIC WORLD, Universal’s wildly successful but grotesquely mounted bludgeoning of all that was enjoyable about the dino-trilogy to date. The box office suggested it worked for a new generation, but die-hard fans weren’t conned; like the genetic creation at the heart of its barely-there plotting, Jurassic World was borne of the same DNA as its ancestors but morphed into something both hideous and ridiculous.
DISHONOURABLE MENTIONS: Now Add Honey, Train Wreck, Chappie, Ride, The Walk, The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence), Get Hard.