The 10 Best Films of 2015

I posted a top ten list when I first started this blog in early January, but having thought about it more over the awards season and having watched more 2015 films over the past two months, I wanted to update it.

10. Ex Machina (dir. Alex Garland)

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Ex Machina is a thematically complex and intellectual film which explores its numerous ideas through artificial intelligence. The film is perfectly cast and stars three of 2015 break-out actors: Alicia Vikander (who in my mind won her Best Supporting Actress award for this film), Domhnall Gleeson, and Oscar Isaac, all of whom are excellent in a very character driven story.

9. The Lobster (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)

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A hilariously deadpan and satirical romantic comedy for the cynics. The Lobster is possibly the most original and creative film I’ve seen in 2015. Yorgos Lanthimos creates a world that is so absurd but feels so realistic, with a society that is an allegory for modern dating life. Colin Farrell is fantastic as a single man who is sent to hotel where people are given forty-five days to find a partner. The weirdest film of the year, but also one of the most moving.

8. Mistress America (dir. Noah Baumbach)

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Like Frances Ha, Mistress America is another funny, intensely relatable film by the Noah Baumbach/Greta Gerwig team that imbues screwball comedy with a certain sense of melancholy. Its strength lies in its ability to create an emotional grounding in its absurd situations and its weird, larger than life characters that anyone can relate to. Briskly paced with great momentum, it will take you on a wild ride you won’t want to end.

7. Spotlight (dir. Tom McCarthy)

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A workplace drama that avoids the usual melodramatic conventions to tell the true story of the Boston Globe journalists that exposed the systemic crimes of the Catholic church in covering up child abuse by their priests. The story and message is powerful and wonderfully written. It’s consistently solid and gripping, with an excellent ensemble cast filled with great performances.

6. The Look of Silence (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)

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A harrowing, emotionally gut-wrenching documentary focusing on the Indonesian genocides of the 1960s, Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to 2012’s phenomenal The Act of Killing is equally excellent and riveting. It deploys a brilliant concept to pose morally unsettling questions not only to the perpetrators which feature in the film, but to its audience as well. Watching the perpetrators’ unrepentant denial of their actions is absolutely horrifying, and creates a sense of urgency and tension that is utterly gripping.

 5. World of Tomorrow (dir. Don Hertzfeld)

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This choice is dubious, because it’s a short film, but I can’t bring myself to care too much. World of Tomorrow has a runtime of a measly seventeen minutes, but has more depth and imagination than most full-length motion pictures. Don Hertzfeld packs the substantive content of a two hour film into this sci-fi short, which explores issues of ageing, technology, memories, and death. The simple and colourful visual scheme belies its melancholic and wistful core, and each viewing brings more to explore and unpack.

4. Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. George Miller)

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In a year full of reboots and remakes, Mad Max: Fury Road is the best out of all of them. It is a delightful cacophony of stunning cinematography, thrilling action sequences and unexpectedly moving character development. Rarely does an action film find that perfect combination of pure action and emotional resonance, but that’s exactly what this does. Intoxicatingly energetic, uncompromising, and so completely alive, the film takes you on a wild and immersive rollercoaster ride into the post-apocalyptic world it’s set in.

3. Brooklyn (dir. John Crowley)

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This is a film that is comparatively simple with the other films on this list, with its low stakes and narratively linear story, but just as poignant and powerful. A lot of this is down to the talents of the incredibly charming and charismatic Saoirse Ronan, in her best role since Atonement, who can seemingly communicate any emotion possible through her expressive blue eyes. It’s a movie about what home means and how it can change over time, and learning to lead the life you want to lead. Technically and thematically, there are more complex films that are ranked below it, but Brooklyn resonated with me and where I am in my life right now so powerfully that I couldn’t help but put it higher up my list.

2. Phoenix (dir. Christian Petzold)

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Utterly compelling and spellbinding, Phoenix is a character study about the fragility and perception of identity. Nina Hoss gives one of my favourite performances of the year as a holocaust survivor with a reconstructed face who tries to find her husband after the end of the war. She is restrained, but always spellbinding and powerful. The relationship at the centre of the film is captivating and is as wonderfully developed as it is tragic. This movie evokes the dark atmosphere of post-war Berlin so strikingly and vividly that it’s easy to lose yourself in it, contributing to the Hitchcockian-level of suspense that builds throughout.  The ending is sublime and hauntingly indelible; easily one of the best of recent times—second only to the number one film on this list—and it will stay in your mind forever.

1. Carol (dir. Todd Haynes)

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A cinematic masterpiece in every sense of the word. My response to this film was unexpected and immediate in a way that I rarely experience. Carol is a beautiful and tremendously profound film about love, loneliness, and self-discovery. It’s immensely subtle and intimate, but it also pulsates and courses with life. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara give career-best performances as two women who are utterly lost with their place and identity in the world. Rarely does a hand on the shoulder or a shared glance seem so heart-stopping—every frame, look, and gesture is nuanced and layered with meaning and emotion. Critically acclaimed but overlooked by the Oscars, this is a film that will most certainly stand the test of time in the pantheon of great love stories. If you watched Carol and found it too cold and distant, I urge you to give it a second chance—it’s a film that definitely deserves it.

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