When friends start sending me their top ten films, carefully calibrated in A, A -, B+ etc categories, at the same time inquiring about my progress, I start to get the hint.
So here is one film lover’s ramble/scramble through some of the most remarkable films that I experienced in 2015 – at least, those I can actually remember. I haven’t as yet managed to see Carol, Spotlight, The Danish Girl, The Big Short… given their mid-late January release dates. In any case, I will be overseas at a magnificent wedding when their seasons begin. Realistically, those probable Oscar nominees will have to wait to be considered by me next year, as I didn’t view them in 2015 anyway.
Of course, I also haven’t managed to see many films that other people have loved and recommended. But within my fairly dedicated, if rather limited, film-viewing diet, here is The List for general digestion. Of course some of these were made in 2014, or even earlier, but my excuse is that I wasn’t able to view them until 2015…
From Far from Men to The Assassin: foreign language films extraordinaire
An early one I loved was Far from Men, a beautifully executed film set in 1954 in Algeria, with Viggo Mortensen in the leading role, and with a score by Nick Cave. This profoundly moving French film is based on a short story by Albert Camus, and this was a brilliant start to the year for me. I saw it twice in quick succession. A second international film that impressed me in the new year was Leviathan, a Russian film that evoked another kind of dark grandeur, depicting an ordinary man being persecuted relentlessly by corrupt officials.
A superior neo-noir Spanish film screened at the Spanish Film Festival was Marshland, a crime genre film that was quite delightful and grim at the same time.
Another memorable film festival film I thoroughly enjoyed was the wry, moving, funny, sad Italian film, Mia Madre (My Mother), directed by the amazing Nanni Moretti, whose films I always seem to enjoy. This one did not disappoint. Moretti also plays a key role in his film, as per usual.
Clouds of Sils Maria, directed by Olivier Assayas, is another excellent French film that, while being wordy and complex, is also involving and gripping. Juliette Binoche and Kirsten Stewart are particularly outstanding in their roles as ageing actress and her personal assistant. Life and art certainly mirror each other in this intriguing film.
At the new Queensland International Film Festival, the outstanding fare for me was the beautifully made, achingly fierce opening night film, Timbuktu, and an off-the-wall, unexpectedly delightful French cinematic TV series, screened as a three hour film – or was it five? – Li’l Quinquin. Directed with a quirky, lighter touch by the formidable Bruno Dumont, this serial killer/police procedural production set in the French countryside has lingered with me for a long time – always a great sign of a different kind of masterpiece. Thanks Huw!
The end of the international film festival year was marked by the Brisbane Asia-Pacific Film Festival.
Amidst this feast of films in November, I enjoyed many, and a few stood out for me. Amongst them were Small Town, Early Winter and The Assassin. Small Town was a deeply personal film, made in 1997, by the great Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan. This is his first film, and, as a dedicated admirer of his later films, it was a great treat for me to see this early work. Early Winter is an impressive Canadian/Australian co-production, directed by Michael Rowe (an Australian currently living in Mexico). Trish Lake from Freshwater Pictures, based in Brisbane, is a co-producer. This is a powerful, suitably claustrophobic film, wonderfully shot and edited, intimately revealing a marriage in crisis.
The dazzling, award-winning martial arts film The Assassin (by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien) is visually stunning and a great portrait of a female assassin. While the narrative arc is quite mysterious, it is best just to relax and immerse oneself in the exquisite poetry of this beautiful film.
English language films
Two Australian films I particularly relished were the very moving Holding the Man, and the wild spectacle of Mad Max: Fury Road. I saw the latter in a New York cinema which was a special treat. With the former, I had not read the book by Timothy Conigrave, nor had I seen the play based on that book. However I thought the film was very sensitively handled. It also provided a realistic, visceral portrayal of the AIDS crisis in the Eighties. Many of us lost dear friends at that time, making the film doubly poignant.
Inherent Vice, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, was my favourite American film of 2015. What a terrific roller coaster ride this enjoyable film was, with Joaquin Phoenix playing a stoned private detective in Venice Beach. Another English language film I hold in high esteem is Macbeth, with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in the key roles. directed by the Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel. This was a dark, brooding piece, tightly drawn. I also was impressed by Lobster, a dystopian black comedy film by the extraordinary Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos, and starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. That one has kept me awake at night…Then I caught Locke on Foxtel, and thoroughly immersed myself in Tom Hardy’s remarkable one man effort, driving his car to his destiny.
Regarding documentaries, it is hard to beat the extraordinary Amy, a towering film. Directed by Asif Kapadia, Amy explores the life and death of the diva Amy Winehouse – a gut wrenching experience. Other worthwhile documentaries I enjoyed are What Happened. Miss Simone? a gritty biopic on Nina Simone’s tragic life. And of course, Iris, a fun film on the flamboyant, eccentric fashionista Iris Apfel. I also commend the uncompromising Frackman, an inspiring Australian documentary on anti-fracking activism, again co-produced by Trish Lake.
Now comes the hard part – ranking the films. I know also that sadly I have missed a couple of Iranian films I enjoyed at the lovely Iranian film festival, but, regrettably, I can’t find the program details for those at present.
This is my top ten in order, for now:
Far from Men, Inherent Vice, Amy, Clouds of Sils Maria, The Assassin, Leviathan, Mia Madre, Holding the Man, Lobster, Li’l Quinquin.