2015... the year of the female in cinema, the year of the interesting take on the horror genre, the resurgence of the sci-fi movie and the sequel. It was the year of some amazing cinema, and it was great to see some truly incredible pieces throughout both the local cinema scene and the film festival circuit. Following my travels in the search for interesting and provoking films, I've once again listed my top ten, which was super hard this year I can tell you!
So, as ever, let me know your thoughts! I've missed out a few stunners due to the fact that they haven't yet received a decent enough distribution in the UK, so will perhaps save them for 2016. If you're looking for a top ten featuring Jurassic Park and Star Wars, probably best to leave this page now- this is for indie gems only. You may be surprised at the below/ horrified, who knows? Enjoy film buffs!
10. Welcome To Me
What a gem! I saw Shira Piven's Welcome to Me at this year's Edinburgh Film Festival and my number 10 spot was somewhat of a scuffle between this and It's already tomorrow in Hong Kong (which you should also try and check out if you can- a glorious romance which also played the festival this year.) In Welcome to Me, Kristen Wiig plays Alice, a mentally unstable women, obsessed with Oprah and compulsively playing the lottery. When she ends up winning, she comes off of her meds and buys her way onto local TV, headlining her own chat show in which to share her bizarre ideas and views on the world. A highly comedic turn, it's cleverly balanced with a poignant examination of how ego can affect our behaviour. The supporting cast boasts Wes Bentley, James Marsden and Joan Cusack.
The most cinematically stunning film in my list is Danish feature Jauja, which saw hardcore cinephiles flock to screenings in March this year. Shot in luxurious, colour- infused 35mm film, Jauja (its title a reference to a mythical land of plenty) resembles an old square photograph with cornered edges, or a piece of silent cinema. The audience is transported back to a remote military outpost in Patagonia, 1882, during the so-called "Conquest of the Desert", a genocidal campaign against the aboriginal population of the region. The film is driven around Viggo Mortensen's character Captain Gunnar Dinesen, whose desperate attempt to find his runaway fourteen year-old daughter, Ingeborg, transcends time.
Viggo is fast becoming synonymous with unpredictable indie roles in cinema, and this is no exception. The film sees him mostly on a horse, galloping into the colour-rich landscape, a small figure vanishing into the distance. A role which demanded subtlety, discipline and commitment has shone a new light on an actor keen to work in the background of the industry. Talent, however, keeps him constantly challenging his craft and inspiring his audience with rare and wonderful performances such as this. A definite must-see.
It's always good to include some light-hearted comedy in the list and this year's comes from Paul Weitz (About a Boy), who displays the uncanny knack of directing a sharp and witty dram-edy with a lightness of touch. Grandma is the year's Sundance darling starring a brilliant turn by Lily Tomlin as Elle, the hippy, foul-mouthed and hilarious septuagenarian, in what is arguably the most satisfying casting of the year. Still reeling from the death of her long-time partner Violet, and in the process of breaking up with much younger new girlfriend Olivia, feminist poet Elle’s defences are at an all-time high. What she really doesn’t need is her 18-year old granddaughter Sage turning up with her own drama. The film morphs into a delightfully eventful road movie, with constant surprises.
7. He Named Me Malala
The real coup of this year’s BFI London Film Festival was the Documentary special presentation of He Named Me Malala, an intimate portrait of the Nobel Peace Prize- winning teenage activist who, after standing up for her right to an education, was targeted by the Taliban and shot on the bus to school in Pakistan. Immersed in her new life in the UK, we watch as Malala studies for her GCSEs, deflects questions about potential boyfriends (in one of the sweetest, stand-out scenes of the film) and talk about missing a home that she isn’t sure that she can return to. These moments pepper a film that highlights the public engagement schedule that she has to promote The Malala Fund, but it never seems preachy. The filmmakers have produced an engaging and incredibly human piece of cinema.
6. James White
James White is the stunning feature film that excited crowds at numerous festivals early this year and continues to win awards across the circuit. From the team behind Martha Marcy May Marlene and Simon Killer, this directing debut of the enigmatic director Josh Mond (yes, I'm a little bit smitten with him) tells the story about a New Yorker “that explores loss and the deep relationship between a mother and son,” loosely based on Josh’s own history of losing his own mother to cancer. It stars a sublime Cynthia Nixon alongside a ferocious turn from Christopher Abbott, and co-stars Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi, Ron Livingston and Makenzie Leigh. Catch it if you ever come across it, it's a real treat.
5. Still Alice
Julianne Moore plays Alice, an exceptionally intelligent professorof linguistics who becomes victim to early onset Alzheimer's in a film which is both devastating and mesmerising. Moore is perfect in a role suited to her perceptive flair for playing a character whose fundamental shift in personality is at the heart of the narrative. Her portrayal seems sensitive and honest throughout, physically and mentally changing as the illness takes hold. The film charts her struggle to come to terms with both the illness and losing her own kind of superpower- her use of language. It’s an important issue to deal with, and this film handles it well. The screenplay doesn’t shy away from showing an honest version of how the illness can dramatically shape the lives of not only the sufferer, but also everyone around them. No other film has been as successful for a long time.
Women in film was such a big deal at this year's London Film Festival, and I was ecstatic. Brooklyn had to be a close contender for my favourite film from the fest, being so absurdly well-written (based on the best-selling novel, adapted by my lovely Nick Hornby) and very well cast. Saoirse Ronan plays Irish Immigrant Ellis, who moves to 1950s Brooklyn, New York to find work in order to support herself in tough economic times back at home. What she didn't expect was to suffer from devastating homesickness as the harsh contrast between the Irish countryside and the bustling New York collide. Having to reinvent herself, she soon falls for Italian plumber Tony (an enigmatic Emory Cohen) only to face temptation with another man (Domhall Gleeson) when she returns home for a visit. Ronan and Cohen make my favourite on-screen couple of 2015 and the film is worth it to feel the chemistry created by the two.
3. Everything Will Be Fine
Everything Will Be Fine has not yet hit UK cinemas, and perhaps won't for some time (it premiered at this year's Berlinale with no UK release date set as I write this.) However, it CANNOT be missed off of any list that I make due to how it shook me up more than any other this year. Shot for 3D (and not a Marvel film, imagine!) the film is a stunning piece of cinema magic, unlike anything I've ever seen. Tomas (An amazing James Franco) is a struggling writer, spending his days in a world of piled snow, waiting for inspiration. He's established, having written two books already, but he can't get the inspiration needed to follow through with his next project. He has left his home, and his partner (a heavily- accented Rachel McAdams), and seeks solitude in a shack near Oka, Quebec. One fateful morning, Tomas gets into his car and starts the drive to mainland. What follows is a shocking scene, he causes a crisis, but the audience are taken completely aback by the calmness of how the shots are set up, how they unfold.
The pace of the film is perfect. Director Wim Wenders is a master of seasonality- the film feels circular as the years change, reflected in the seasons which divide the film into four parts. The cinematography is always stunning, softly lit, a homage to a landscape that deserves to be fallen in love with. A real class act.
If you haven't seen Carol, where have you been?! My favourite of the film festival circuit this year, Carol is a deeply powerful and emotionally honest story of the romance between two New Yorkers, Carol and Therese (a sublime partnering of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara) who courageously defy the suffocating conformities of mid-century America. An absolutely sublime feature film from Todd Haynes, Carol depicts 1950s Manhattan in a dreamy, ethereal glow; Cocktails before dinner, dappled winter sunlight streaming across the city and a tender love story unfurling after a chance encounter at an uptown department store.
Director Todd Haynes reveals the power of the female gaze in a film which aptly comes to symbolise not only the trappings of the post-war America ideal but also that of social oppression throughout the world today. With a female-led cast and focused romantic plot device, it's ironic that Carol is considered a period piece when it is such a breath of fresh air for film today.
1. Just Jim
And finally, the number one spot! It's always difficult to nominate the winner and I always go for a film that pushes boundaries, has an undeniable charm, but also just deserves it. Just Jim is a super stylish, comedic and personal directorial debut from one-to-watch, Craig Roberts (Submarine). Roberts also stars, playing lonely teenager Jim who splits his empty time between video games and the cinema. His life changes when Dean (a charismatic and super-cool looking Emile Hirsch) moves in next door. Jim can’t believe his luck when Dean offers to instruct him in how to be cool. Cue brilliant scenes involving a retro make-over, awesome dancing and endless chain smoking. Jim is suddenly wrenched out of his complacency, going on dates and throwing big parties with Dean’s help. But as Dean’s influence becomes more insidious, Jim is forced to question whether his newfound popularity is really worth the trouble, especially when he finds out that Dean has a dark secret.
A must watch for fans of coming-of-age drama and strong British cinema, Just Jim is one of the most engaging and original pieces of film from 2015. Cinephiles will love the clever filmic references and playful tone of Roberts' filmmaking, and there is much to enjoy with the original setting of Maesycwmmer- a kind of Welsh John Waters-eque suburban hell, where anything and, equally, nothing can happen.