2015 opened strong with It Follows landing in February and announcing itself as one of the most original horror movies of recent years. The year closed with the wonderful gift of a new, good Star Wars movie.
In between were five star movies, a welcome return of the Jurassic Park franchise, and not so welcome return of the Terminator series, and a surprisingly large number of great documentaries, animated movies and foreign fare.
2015 could be seen as the year of the indie film, despite the megabucks made by Jurassic World and The Force Awakens. Looking at the list below, even money makers Mad Max: Fury Road and Inside Out deliver experiences way outside the traditional popcorn wheelhouse.
So, sit back, relax and see what we thought were the films that stood out in 2015.
10. Force Majeure
Knockout Swedish drama with an irresistible premise. When holidaying in the French Alps a man flees an apparent oncoming avalanche, grabbing his glove and iPhone but leaving his family behind. The avalanche does not reach them, meaning they have to deal with the fallout of his actions. Writer/director Ruben Östlund blends compelling drama with perfectly executed black comedy, making this a thrilling exercise in “which side do you fall on?” Johannes Kuhnke is wonderfully infuriating as the obstinate husband, but the film belongs to Lisa Loven Kongsli as his wife, realising she may not know him at all.
9. Wild Tales
Meanwhile in Argentina, this Oscar nominated belter proved life exists in the portmanteau format. Six tales of urban dread and paranoia straddle class divisions and a variety of topics, from road rage to explosive revenge to upper class double dealing, before reaching a sort of conclusion that love might conquer all if people can stay alive long enough. Writer/director Damián Szifron orchestrates proceedings with the confidence of a grandmaster, abetted by a cast who never take a wrong step.
8. Mad Max: Fury Road
If Wild Tales had one road rage episode, Mad Max: Fury Road starts vehicularly miffed goes insane from thereon. Much has been made of Max being side-lined in favour of Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, a woman on a daring mission, but it is a shrewd move on director George Miller’s part. She’s the more interesting character and a better guide into the remarkable world the film creates. Add to this stuntwork that goes from thrilling to sublime and you have an action movie to savour.
7. The Duke of Burgundy
Berberian Sound Studio director Peter Strickland again looks to 70s Euro exploitation for inspiration with The Duke of Burgundy. This time it’s the erotic works of Jess Franco and Jean Rollin Strickland draws upon, but this is no empty pastiche. The Duke of Burgundy’s Sapphic S&M power games sound shocking, but the film is a surprisingly touching story of the compromise and acceptance that typifies any relationship. Darkly funny and genuinely emotional, Strickland allows himself directorial flourishes, while Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna as the two lovers anchor the film with knockout performances.
6. Star Wars – The Force Awakens
The trailers promised much. But could the film deliver? Yes, and yes again. J.J. Abrams and co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt prove they understand Star Wars’ magic more than creator George Lucas, recapturing the sights, the sounds, the smells and the magic of the original trilogy. Sure, the plot is a reworking of A New Hope, but the new characters shine and enough tantalising story seeds are planted to make us optimistic that Episode VIII will go into unchartered space. Too many wonderful moments to mention, but the first time we see the Millennium Falcon is a doozy.
“Were you rushing, or were you dragging?” The threatening question posed by J.K. Simmons’ tyrannical music teacher is an instant classic line of dialogue. But, writer/director Damien Chazelle neither rushes nor drags his story of a talented drummer at war with his professor in a prestigious music academy. Shot and performed like a psychological thriller, this battle of wits will leave you gasping. Simmons rightfully won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work (memorably telling everyone to call their mums in his speech), but Miles Teller should not be overlooked for a performance that moves from wide-eyed optimism to deadened determination as the battle rages.
Todd Haynes’ five star movie has been unfairly branded Far From Heaven II in some quarters, but he is not simply re-visiting former glories. Cate Blanchett is monumental as a middle aged woman rueing a life lived in denial, who becomes drawn to Rooney Mara’s callow department store worker. Screenwriter Phyllis Nagy retains the tone of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, while Haynes and his Far From Heaven cinematographer Edward Lachman breathe life into the 1950s time period via lush 16mm visuals.
3. Inside Out
Pixar take us inside the head Riley, the young heroine in their best movie since Toy Story 3, and with little apparent effort deliver a profound insight into the human condition. Told from the point of view of the girl’s emotions, primarily Joy and Sadness, Inside Out is smart, funny, inventive and often moving. Room is made for lessons leaving the past behind, understanding that a little sadness can be just as effective as boundless optimism, and abstract art… The film also has one of the year’s best lines, as Joy look at scattered tiles inside a speeding Thought Train and remarks, “All these facts and opinions look the same. I can’t tell them apart.” A shoo-in for Best Animated Movie come February’s Oscars.
2. It Follows
Last year The Babadook proved horror still had power enough to take best film of the year. In 2015 arguably two horror movies take the top positions. First up is David Robert Mitchell’s electrifying and imaginative take on the slasher genre. A malevolent force targets teens in a wintry, economically depressed town and though slow moving will not stop until it has them. Like all great horror movies this is a thrill ride if that’s all you want, but there is mind meat to chew on for those looking for metaphors. Chiefly the fear of growing up in a world where death seemingly can step out and randomly claim you at any time.
1. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
For the first time, a documentary takes the top spot in an Electric Shadows’ Top 10 of the year list. Alex Gibney’s blistering expose of Scientology is a tense as any thriller and as mind-scrambling as anything dreamt up by fiction’s darkest fantasists. Humane in its treatment of those who have come forward to reveal the abuse occurring within the notorious organisation, a huge amount of detail reveals the dark past of founder L. Ron Hubbard and how his paranoia and avarice remain guiding principles today. Tom Cruise does not come off particularly well, but the real villain is current “Chairman of the Board” David Miscavige, an almost cartoonish bad guy. That the infamously litigious group have not taken Gibney or backers HBO and Sky to court, choosing instead to smear campaign the film, says a lot…