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It’s only when you come and look through a list of everything that you’ve seen in a year that you realise the massive scope of great films that hit our screens this year. I’ve ended the year with a list as long as my arm of things other people have been recommending.
As far as I can work out, I’ve seen 110 new releases this year. Below are the ten best, but first my traditional “this will annoy Páraic” run-through of the “nearly made its”… Magic Mike XXL, Love is Strange, Slow West, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (too soon to truly work out its place), Crimson Peak, Tangerine, Grandma, The Martian, It Follows and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.
Céline Sciamma coming-of-age story of a young French girl belongs in special company of modern films that bring a sense of the reality of Parisian life to the masses (La Haine, 35 Shots of Rum and The Beat That My Heart Skipped), rather than the shiny Art Deco feel you get whenever someone like Woody Allen travels there.
Karidja Touré plays Mariame at a pivotal point in her life (16-year-old) as she struggles to find her place as a poor black French girl in the 21st century. Does she fall in with the cool girls, remain loyal to her family or forge her own independent path? None of the choices are without their pratfalls.
9. Ricki and the Flash
I have no strong feelings for Meryl Streep (she delights me as often as she irritates) but must admit a major soft spot for Ricki and the Flash director Jonathan Demme. With his latest work, he manages to craft a story that is funny, heart-warming and engaging. Meryl Streep plays a tired old rock star living in California who upped and left her family in Indianapolis to become a rocker, and is now forced to go back and face them after her daughter Julie’s marriage falls apart.
Featuring a great supporting cast of Kevin Kline and Maimie Gummer (Meryl’s real-life daughter) which makes for a believable dysfunctional family unit. Demme repeats his trick of showing a modern American wedding (previously seen in Rachel Getting Married) and mapping out some of the drama that can surround it.
Big credit too to Demme for showcasing the realities (or a sanitized version of them) of being in a modern dingy rock band. His concert and music documentary shows that he understand musicians and it’s to his credit that he makes Meryl Streep into such a believable Stevie Nicks type icon (even if she did need Neil Young to teach her how to shred guitar).
Asif Kapadia’s documentary on Amy Winehouse came out in the summer and went on to be one of the highest grossing documentaries ever at UK and Irish cinemas. It features a unique narrative technique of using archive footage with audio from interviews then played over it. The method of storytelling means we don’t get all the contrivances of a talking video interview as the subject isn’t under lighting and so comes across much more naturally.
It’s very hard watching for the viewer but at least you can go home at the end of seeing it and privately question if you acted correctly during Amy’s life. As many reviewers noted during its release – while it’s hard on the viewer, just imagine how tough her existence must have been with everyone pulling her in such different and dangerous directions.
7. Force Majeure
This was a popular choice in our friends of spooool lists with it showing up in a number of people’s countdowns. It first played at JDIFF and got the @amawaster seal of approval but here’s what I had to say when I got to see it in April.
Ruben Östlund’s directorial style is really unique and allows for long static shots that frame the family at a variety of weird angles. This serves to heighten the surreal mood and highlight the pseudo-surveillance and focus that goes on during a family holiday like this in a ski resort.
Since then, no European film has made me think more about commitment, relationships and choices. Thanks Mr. Östlund!
6. Love & Mercy
I kind of thought Love & Mercy was set to be more or less ignored in the end of year honours lists, but it seems that Paul Dano’s efforts as young Brian Wilson might get some recognition in the form of awards nominations. It’s more than deserved as he perfectly encapsulates one of the great creative figures of music in the 20th century. You look at him on-screen and you get a sense of everything going on in that head of his.
Jon Cusack’s portrayal of latter ]-day Brian is also well worth acknowledging, as by then he’s become so dangerously influenced by his manager (played with aplomb by manager of the year Paul Giamatti – see also Straight Outta Compton).
It’s funny, clever and suitably trippy enough to suit the man whose mind has been through so much creativity, pain and sadness – often at the same time.
Morgan Matthews’ film is one of the big forgotten films of the year, which I’d place into a nice tidy trilogy of films from late 2014 which are about people who are good at maths – The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything – and is scored dramatically enough to show how uplifting and tough sums are.
The film tells the story of a young boy (played by Asa Butterfield who you may recognise from Hugo) who has autism and struggles to fit in at school. His father died when he was young and left him and his mother (played by Sally hawkins) alone. While struggling socially at school, he finds comfort in the International Mathematical Olympiad and his maths teacher (Rafe Spall) begins to fulfil the father-figure role in his life.
The whole thing could have done without being so poorly marketed (“Is there a formula for love?“) and being re-titled in the US to A Brilliant Young Mind, but in my book it’s going to go down as one of the most enjoyable, thought-provoking films of the year.
4. 45 Years
Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courteney play an aging couple who have been married for – almost – 45 years. Having missed out on a 40th birthday due to ill health, they’re opting to celebrate their 45th with a big party in the village hall with the film taking place in the week leading up to that event. Unfortunately, Geoff gets a letter in the post that reveals his first girlfriend’s body has been found, she had died in a glacier accident 50 years ago. Kate does her best to support him and act like it’s all OK, but the simmering tension she begins to feel brings on one of the best acting showcases of the year.
The director Andrew Haigh made the gay drama Weekend in 2011 and also makes the HBO series “Looking”, but surprisingly but he’s even more capable when dealing with a story of an old aging couple in the English country-side.
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
All hail what will surely be considered the year’s cross-over hit. It made millions, is in the Sight & Sound top 20, the Empire top 20 and now looks incredibly likely to nab a Best Picture nomination now too.
If you didn’t see this in the cinema you missed out as it’s one of the most visceral, exhilarating films of the year and one that truly demanded to be seen on the big screen. Tom Hardy as the titular character is just a prop to the actual stars of the film – Charlize Theron as Furiosa and the ginourmous diesel engines that roar their way into your consciousness
When I think back on the year 2015 and work out what I’d like to look back on over this Christmas season and again in the new year, two films stand out. They’re the only two new releases that I gave the coveted Spooool five stars to and while it’s hard to separate them, it has to be done otherwise this whole list will just self-implode.
Novelist Alex Garland directs with a flawless story of modern Sci-Fi, suspicion, technological ubiquity, artificial intelligence and disco dancing.
Here’s what I said back in January…
All good science-fiction films are just a step or two removed from reality and Nathan’s fictional company Bluebook is just a mashup of everything we already know about Google and Apple with a few subtle hat-tips to the NSA/Snowden revelations. A few weeks ago the annual tech showcase CES was dominated by “the internet of things” as technology companies work to make everything in your home and life “smart” and “communicative”. As we place more and more trust in technology – allowing them to drive our cars, lock our doors and manage all our data – it stands to reason that society’s long-standing fear of making things “too smart” could one day return to haunt us. *reaches for tinfoil hat*
What more I say? I love Carol!