Sunday, December 27, 2015

Cine-jambalaya's favourite films of 2015

20. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron, Roy Andersson)

If you combine existential philosophy with absurdist comedy, you get Roy Andersson's winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. The curious series of comedic sketches defies explanation or even description, but it will raise eyebrows, laughter and unexpected thoughts. I'm not sure what it is, but it sure is magnificent. 

19. Body (Cialo, Malgorzata Szumowska)

Malgorzata Szumowska tells a compelling story about loss in modern day Poland. Three characters (a tired widower, his anorexic daughter and an odd counsellor/medium) all cope with their situation differently, and Szumowska exposes the absurdity of how we deal with loss through dark sense of humour and a great deal of affection. At the end of the day, one thing is certain: you'll never walk alone.

18. Sunset Song (Terence Davies)

Terence Davies, one of the great poets of (British) cinema, finally turns his long-gestating passion project into reality. The Liverpudlian's adaptation of a classic Scottish novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon is gorgeous, epic, and yet intensely personal and passionate. The deliberately slow pace doesn't trouble a film filled with fantastic performances.

17. Jauja (Lisandro Alonso)

Viggo Mortensen sports 2015's best moustache and shows of his Danish language skills in Lisandro Alonso's period drama. The poetic Western opens with a remarkable tableau vivant before embarking on a long search for a missing daughter across a stunning Argentinian landscape. The film is shot in the rare 1.33:1 aspect ratio with rounded corners, which give it an unusual, unique look.

Read my full review of the film here

16. Son of Saul (Saul Fia, László Nemes)

The technical achievement of Son of Saul, 2015's most harrowing cinematic experience, is undeniable. First-time director (!) László Nemes throws his audience into a WWII concentration camp and doesn't hold back. We see and particularly hear (the sound design is incredible) the atrocities with an unprecedented immediacy. It may verge on arthouse-torture-porn, but Son of Saul is not easy to forget.

15. Crimson Peak (Guillermo del Toro)

Crimson Peak was billed as a horror movie but, the odd ghost aside, it really is a Gothic romance in the vein of Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre. Guillermo del Toro plays with his mastery of set design and visual effects to infuse detail and beauty into every frame as the haunted house appears to be an organic, living thing.

14. Going Clear (Alex Gibney)

Documentary-machine Alex Gibney tackles one of the most dubious and controversial organisations of the last century: Scientology. In an excellent piece of investigative journalism, he exposes the church as a terrifying mixture of religion, pseudo-science and capitalism. The film's portrait of L. Ron Hubbard, science fiction writer-turned-founder of Scientology, is particularly fascinating.  

13. Love & Mercy (Bill Pohlad)

With Love & Mercy, we get two excellent films for the price of one. The first is one of the best depictions of the creative process in recent times. It stars Paul Dano as Brian Wilson, the musical genius behind the Beach Boys, during the recording of Pet Sounds. The second stars John Cusack as Brian Wilson, the former musical genius behind the Beach Boys, and tells a sweet love story. Why is brilliance frequently accompanied by pain? God only knows.

12. The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos)

Somewhere between Bunuel's surrealism and modern satire, there is The Lobster. This is a film that refuses to rules about a world, in which people who don't stick to the rules, are transformed into the animal of their choice. Dating will never be the same again. 

11. The Club (El Club, Pablo Larraín)

The Club is an incredibly bleak film about the struggles of the Catholic church to keep up with modern times. Set entirely in a "retirement" home for delinquent priests on the Chilean coast, it delves into grey areas of morality. This is reflected in the visual style; Larraín used lenses that Andrei Tarkovsky favoured to dim the lights.

Read more about The Club here

10. Second Coming (Debbie Tucker Green)

This fascinating film unfairly slipped under the radar in 2015 despite the presence of Idris "Luther" Elba. The allegorical story about a potentially immaculate conception is shrouded in mystery and ambiguity, which allows for several interpretations. Questions linger in our minds long after viewing the film. What do you believe in?

9. The Assassin (Nie yin niang, Hou Hsiao-Hsien)

The Assassin, winner of Best Director at Cannes, feels like a major piece of cinema. A loose narrative about a female assassin who has to confront her past and ask herself fundamental moral questions is grounded in a tactile world of gorgeous aesthetics. Hou Hsiao-Hsien reworks the ethics of the wuxia tradition in stunning fashion.

8. Girlhood (Bande de filles, Céline Sciamma)

2015 gave us few more euphoric moments than the sight of four teenage girls from the Parisian suburbs dancing to Rihanna's Diamonds in a hotel room. Friendship, solidarity and, most importantly, identity are formed in two minutes and a few seconds - Girl power! The scene is representative of a film that refuses to look down on its characters and become downbeat, despite an abundance of problems. Growing up and finding your place in the world is never easy. 

7. The Pearl Button (El botón de náca, Patricio Guzmán)

History, memory, science and philosophy are all intrinsically tied to one another. Patricio Guzmán finds the connections and takes careful steps toward conclusion. The Pearl Button, which can be seen as a companion piece to 2010's Nostalgia for the Light, is the most fascinating documentary about water you will ever see (probably).

Read my full review of The Pearl Button here

6. Inside Out (Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen)

Pixar have done it again; the creators of Toy Story, Monsters Inc., WALL·E, and Up have created another masterpiece. All of their films have been about feelings, but this time the emotions of a little girl are the characters. In addition to being imaginative and moving, the film teaches a valuable lesson about the value of sadness and nostalgia. If Bing Bong did not make you cry, your feelings might have gone missing too.

5. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)

Tom Hardy is no Mel Gibson, but that might be the only downside to the fourth entry into the Mad Max-saga. George Miller returns to the apocalyptic wasteland three decades after Beyond Thunderdome and rewrites the rules of action cinema. Fury Road is essentially a single, relentless and bonkers chase sequences which features a guy with a flame-throwing guitar on a monster truck.

4. Magic Mike XXL (Gregory Jacobs)

"How much for the cheetos and water?" - MMXXL is one of the year's most important and entertaining films. Best seen in a room filled with merrily cheering feminists.

Read my full appraisal of the magic here

3. Tangerine (Sean Baker)

In Tangerine, we get to see a different side of Hollywood. Sean Baker's Christmas-tale about two transsexual prostitutes and an Armenian taxi driver is a hilarious screwball comedy in an unusual setting, while touching on serious themes such as loneliness, identity and family. It is good to see that this kind of film exists, but it's even better that it's brilliant and accessible.

Read my full review of Tangerine here.

2. Carol (Todd Haynes)

Todd Haynes takes a simple love story and tells it to perfection. The acting (Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara have caused a dearth of superlatives in film criticism), the cinematography, the costumes (where can I buy Terese's plaid hat?) and Carter Burwell's career-best score are all on point. One of the most moving romances of the decade. 

1. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Kaguyahime no monogatari, Isao Takahata)

Studio Ghibli's penultimate feature (for now) is stunning on every level. The story is simple, yet complex. Unlike most films aimed at children, it is not afraid of politics. Princess Kaguya is a feminist critique of monarchy and feudalism; it is a constructive appeal for change. The animation, expressionistic at times, proves meanwhile that the pencil can still be mightier than the computer.