How will we remember 2015? As the year of the Paris attacks and the Charlie Hebdo killings? As the year of mass shootings and killer cops? As the year of disastrous climates and the brutality of ISIS? Perhaps for the war in Syria and the callous treatment of refugees. Perhaps for Donald Trump and his racist rhetoric. Or maybe as the year everyone fought over the colour of a dress.
For most, it’ll probably be remembered as a bit of a bummer. Despite being the centenary of Sinatra’s birth, I suspect few would say “It was a very good year.”
But always remember: despite how bad things may look, a hundred years ago Europe was involved in World War I. So… you know… could be worse.
Besides, amidst all the gloom this year was the occasional cause for glee. In a move that made Obama look like the coolest cat around, America legalised gay marriage in all fifty states. How’s that for progressive politics? A black president announcing that the Supreme Court had ruled gay marriage to be officially legal – just imagine the look on James Baldwin’s face if he were still alive.
Now imagine the look on Oscar Wilde’s face when Ireland did the same thing. But sadly the North of Ireland is lagging so far behind on this it’s like Jeb Bush in a presidential poll. A gay couple can get married in the buckle of the Bible Belt but not in any of Ireland’s six northern counties – provided of course Kim Davis isn’t on duty.
So in a year in which many gays could marry and Caitlyn Jenner became the world’s most famous cover-girl, it seemed appropriate that the movies of 2015 frequently tackled LGBTQ issues (Carol, Grandma, Tangerine, Appropriate Behavior etc.). But in terms of ticket sales, 2015 showed how much Hollywood still relies – perhaps more than ever – on the blockbuster. As I write, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is cleaning up at the box office – shocking, I know. It’s a needless task though because Jurassic World already left it spotless during the summer.
This year did, however, seem to be a great year for women and film – well, at least women in film; for even in 2015 – 120 years since the birth of cinema – there are still too few women behind the camera in the movie industry (and to the left and right of the camera for that matter, too).
It also didn’t help that 2015 deprived us of the great Chantal Akerman, one of the best filmmakers of the 20th Century. But a few terrifically made female-directed films like Carol Morley’s The Falling and Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood helped fill the void left by the great Belgian artist.
Still, great female performances could be found all over the calendar. There was Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in Carol, Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn and Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years. There was also Juliet Binoche and Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria, Emily Blunt in Sicario, everyone in The Duke of Burgundy and Nina Hoss in Phoenix.
There were also quite a few great comedic performances this year, too: Amy Schumer in Trainwreck, Greta Gerwig in Mistress America, Melissa McCarthy in Spy and Amy Poehler and Tina Fey in Sisters. Great comedic performances are notoriously difficult and often unappreciated. But one person managed to pull off the best of the lot this year – Mr. Donald Trump.
But perhaps the most defining characteristic of popular cinema in 2015 was nostalgia. We live in a culture absolutely rife with it. It has become a genre in and of itself. Give it a few decades and we may even have nostalgia for nostalgia.
But in a way there has always been an element of nostalgia in cinema. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a total nostalgia-fest for the swashbuckling cinema of the 1930s. Godard’s Breathless is nostalgic towards 1940s American crime movies. Blazing Saddles is nostalgic for John Ford westerns and Marlene Dietrich cabaret acts (but then again, who wouldn’t be?).
But whereas these films take elements of cinema and breathe new life into them, many modern blockbusters take entire films and suck the old life out of them. See Jurassic World and Terminator: Genisys for details.
Basically, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.
Nevertheless, the standard of film this year was generally pretty good. There were (as always) a few I wanted to see but couldn’t quite find the time for (among them were White God, Diary of a Teenage Girl and Mustang. I’d heard great things but sadly couldn’t quite squeeze them in. Although having said that, I did see Inside Out a lot – as in a hell of a lot).
There are also many acclaimed 2015 releases that the U.K. won’t see until 2016: Spotlight, Son of Saul, Room, Anomalisa, The Hateful Eight, Chi-raq, Victoria, The Revenant, The Big Short, Creed, The Assassin etc.
So bearing in mind I haven’t seen Charlie Kaufman’s latest or Spike Lee’s latest or – much to my chagrin – Tarantino’s latest, here are ten of my favourite films of 2015. As always, it’s completely subjective, pretty arbitrary and will probably change by this time next week. But I loved all these films in different ways. So here they are in alphabetical order because I haven’t the heart to rank them – by which I mean I couldn’t be bothered to.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
A gorgeously stylish, casually cool Iranian vampire film from first-time director Ana Lily Amirpour. I can’t wait to see her upcoming film The Bad Batch.
Bridge of Spies
Spielberg continues to prove he’s one of America’s greatest filmmakers. A brilliantly written, masterfully directed and terrifically acted picture.
A fantastic adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel. Screenwriter Phyllis Nagy turns in one of the best screenplays of the year. Everything from Sandy Powell’s ravishing costumes to Carter Burwell’s exquisite score is an absolute delight.
A claustrophobic, cerebral chamber piece and the best science fiction film in years. It’s worth it for Oscar Isaac’s dancing alone.
I think this was the only movie this year I saw two nights in a row. Although I did have the pleasure of seeing a 35mm print both times. Paul Thomas Anderson’s take on Pynchon’s prose is a crazy, coked-up roller coaster of a film. A film that’s as sweet as it is sad. (See full review here.)
The best Pixar film since Toy Story 3. I laughed, I cried, I cried again. And then I cried because it was all over. (See full review here.)
Mad Max: Fury Road
The best blockbuster of the year. And one of the best action films of the new millennium. More places ought to have the words “We Are Not Things” scrawled on them.
This might be Xavier Dolan’s best film yet. It’s a remarkable movie – one brimming with life and creativity. I’ve also never seen a film use a Celine Dion song so effectively (or even just: effectively) and probably never will again.
A fabulous German noir about identity and betrayal that may have the best final scene of any film I’ve seen this year. Nina Hoss gives one of the year’s very best performances.
I thought I was going to hate this film – an indie movie about the lives of transgender women shot on an iPhone? No thanks, I’m good. I was expecting an annoyingly solemn, boringly respectful film with an ugly, DIY aesthetic – I couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead I got a crazy, vibrant screwball gem. I loved every minute of it.