2015 was a complicated year. It started full of ambitions and then life got in the way. A lot. Still, I watched 209 films in 2015, which is just 2 more than in 2014. 164 of those were new to me (4 more than last year), but only 70 of them were new releases (against 76 last year). When life gets in the way, I abandon the cinema screen and go back to comfort watching. But I still watched some really great films in 2015 and below are the 15 I enjoyed the most. Emphasis on the word “enjoy” because this list is not about the “best movies of the year” but very much an emotionally subjective and personal collection.
Because I watch films at festivals, my top 15 usually includes films not yet released in the UK. I don’t put them in there because I want to brag, but because sometimes, a really great indie will get stuck in distribution limbo forever and never see a proper release. Three films I’m hoping to see released in 2016 featured in my original top 15. I have moved them to the bottom as “ones to watch”, so the list itself only includes films released in the UK in 2015. So… 2015 was made of these…
15. Elle L’Adore // Dir. Jeanne Herry
This film went unnoticed in the UK and what a shame it is. When a famous pop singer accidentally becomes a murderer, he turns to his most devoted fan, Muriel, for help to cover his tracks. If Muriel’s character looks set to be manipulated under the premise, the tone shifts quickly as she takes full control of a situation she’s been dragged into. She loves him – but under her own conditions. Elle L’Adore also features one of the best police interrogation scenes I have seen in a long time. Oh and it also had one of the best posters of the year.
14. It Follows // Dir. David Robert Mitchell
I regret not watching this at the cinema. I was worried I’d embarrass myself (which happens a lot with horror films) and decided it would be better to watch it in the safe space that is my living room. What a mistake! It was beautifully tense, creepy and terrifying and added one more thing to the list of things you try to ignore but still remain weary of when sleeping with someone.
13. John Wick // Dir. David Leitch & Chad Stahelski
This is John. He is upset because someone killed his puppy which had been gifted to him by his late wife. Very upset. This is where the word “enjoy” takes its meaning. I had *so* much fun watching this film. Keanu Reeves was excellent, his puppy was the cutest, and I was totally okay with him going on an insanely brutal vendetta for it. It was ridiculous and ridiculously fun and along with Mad Max: Fury Road settled once and for all that action movies don’t need 50 layers of plot to be effective.
12. Güeros // Dir. Alonso Ruizpalacios
This was everything I didn’t know I needed when I watched it. I went into the cinema, the film started and 106 minutes later I realised I’d completely lost myself in a snapshot. A moment suspended in time. It took me away on a trip with three characters, a rusty car and a soundless song, and I enjoyed every moment of it. It’s very self-aware, in a French New Wave way, and it’s sweet and funny. Sometimes, you don’t need anything else than that.
11. Selma // Dir. Ava DuVernay
The 2015 Oscar race was so boring. Selma is the only surviving title from the big awards contenders on this list. Not to say I didn’t enjoy the other films in competition, but nothing really stayed with me. Selma surprised me and moved me. I liked its humanity and unlike others, I did like Ava DuVernay’s direction. It probably didn’t do as well as it should have. I can’t help but think people who have rushed to see it if someone like Spielberg had put his manipulative hands on it. Nevermind… Barbie made an Ava DuVernay doll and it sold out in minutes and the world is a better place for it.
10. Wild Tales // Dir. Damián Szifron
Revenge is a dish best served cold and for the people of Wild Tales a planned vendetta sometimes really does make a bigger impact. This collection of revenge portraits is at times hysterically disturbing and despite the unfortunate timing of its release in the UK, its opening tableau remains one of my favourite cinematic moments of 2015.
9. Timbuktu // Dir. Abderrahmane Sissako
It won everything – everything – at the Césars, weeks after a traumatic start to 2015 for France, but its success really is deserved and not just an impulsive response to the social and political climate. Set in the gorgeous ancient Malian city, Timbuktu reveals the absurdity and harsh reality of life under a regime of terror led by religious fundamentalists. Despite its sometimes horrific scenes, Timbuktu is almost poetic in remaining first and foremost humane in its despair.
8. The Look of Silence // Dir. Joshua Oppenheimer
People can’t seem to be able to see this film for itself and insist on comparing it and parenting it to The Act of Killing. Of course, we’re dealing with the same subject matter, but The Look of Silence is its very own film and its very own story, and it’s a great one. Never have I seen so much forgiveness in anyone and the beauty of the people portrayed is almost too much to bear. My heart felt equally heavy and light, unable to comprehend the horror this family had been through and yet forgiving the unforgivable with them.
7. Magic Mike XXL // Dir. Gregory Jacobs
This could be the most fun I had in a cinema screen all year. It was everything it needed to be, and then some. Congratulations Channing and co. for understanding fully what your audience wanted and delivering one of the greatest cinematic achievements of 2015. I will never look at a bottle of water in the same way again. Yes please. More please. Thank you.
6. The Lobster // Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
I remember watching this film and thinking it was one of the most original things I’d seen for a while. Of course, dystopian future isn’t new but the approach felt different. It’s absurd and yet 100% believable, perfectly funny and yet insanely depressing. It also had one of the nicest poster campaigns of 2015.
5. Mad Max: Fury Road // Dir. George Miller
I live to tell the tale so I must have breathed during this film but the air felt thin whilst watching it. I left the cinema on an adrenaline high, absolutely exhausted from all the fun, action and dazzling colours and sounds that make this film. I was going straight into a screening of Touch of Evil afterwards and the adjustment was difficult. My bus ride home felt remarkably underwhelming that night – why was there no magnificent car chase and where was the guitar playing lunatic that was meant to be on this road?
4. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief // Dir. Alex Gibney
This was eye-opening. You think you know it’s bad, but you don’t know just *how* bad it is. It’s absolutely frightening and the collection of interviews and testimonials surprisingly made me look at certain personalities differently. I thought about it for weeks.
3. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night // Dir. Ana Lily Amirpour
This is the film I most wanted to move into, despite Bad City’s fetid setting. It was described as the first Iranian Vampire Western, and it is, but it is also so much more. It’s noir, romantic, poetic, comic-esque, feminist, and incredibly stylish. It features incredible performances, a great cat and *the* best compiled soundtrack of 2015. When can I move in?
2. The Forbidden Room // Dir. Guy Maddin & Evan Johnson
This is what happens when you remake a bunch of lost films and then decide to fit them all one within another and transform your film into some kind of three-act cinematic Russian doll. It’s absurd, completely bonkers, hysterically funny and absolutely gorgeous to look at. It has dazzling credits, air-filled pancakes, poisonous leotards and a ridiculously catchy song about lobotomy and bottoms. Oh, and a SQUID THIEF too! I watched it the first time on IMAX and it melted my tiny brain, and yet I wanted more of it straight away. This is the movie I became obsessed with. I’m getting excitingly nervous just writing about it.
1. Mommy // Dir. Xavier Dolan
This film broke me. It took me in, made me swirl and then ripped my heart out whilst I cried and cried and cried. I cried for days. I’d hear a song from the film or have a flashback and I’d cry. I listened to its soundtrack for weeks. I still think about it daily. Those characters are so full and so perfect in their imperfections. So loving and yet, somehow, so doomed. Sometimes, you just connect fully with a film, even if you’re a stranger to what the characters are going through. It just clicks because they take you with them, and you feel part of the gang, and suddenly their story is yours – just for a couple of hours. This is the film that stole me.
And now, three films to look out for in 2016:
Green Room // Dir. Jeremy Saulnier (ranking at no.5 in my original top 15)
Jeremy Saulnier follows the excellent Blue Ruin with the equally brilliant Green Room. It’s incredibly tense and will make you look at gaffer tape differently. Currently scheduled for May 2016 in the UK.
Mustang // Dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven (ranking at no.7 in my original top 15)
In a village in Northern Turkey, five teenaged sisters found themselves homebound after their free-spiritism becomes too much for their neighbours. This is a moving and powerful portrait of sisterhood, girlhood, hope, despair and love in a very conservative society. Absolutely stunning and with a remarkable ensemble of young actresses. Scheduled for May.
Our Little Sister // Dir. Hirokazu Koreeda (ranking at no. 12 in my original top 15)
Another tale of sisterhood, but in a completely different setting, Our Little Sister sees three sisters finally meet and connect with their teenaged half-sister after the death of their father. This film is an absolute joy to watch, even at its most moving moments. Currently scheduled for April.