Here’s the all-important Top Ten:
10: Carol – Can’t work out why Todd Haynes’ beautiful film isn’t higher on my list. I loved Carol. It’s exquisite, perfect. Maybe that’s why it’s also a little cold, a smoulderer that never quite blazes? I really don’t know but I’ve seen it three times and it just leaves me wanting a little more tingle – it’s beautifully written, gorgeously shot by Ed Lachman, calling on my favourite 50s street photography, and it sounds terrific. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are great together as predatory, caged Carol and “flung out of space” Therese and I love, love Sandy Powell’s costumes, so wonderfully chosen and designed that they tell the story themselves. These clothes are possibly one of the best things about any movie in 2015, and one of the only things I would call a “masterpiece”.
9: Timbuktu – So, so brilliant to be able to have an African film in here. Abderrahmane Sissako’s fable on an Islamist take-over in a small town feels ever-more chilling but all the more admirable for his restrained and gently absurdist tone. (I loved his Bamako from 2007, too). Stunningly shot, deeply humane yet scary and violent, it contains the “scene of the year” when, after ball games are banned, the kids enact a football match without a ball, echoing Antonioni’s tennis match in Blow Up.
8: Trainwreck – Amy Schumer’s breakthrough made me laugh, a lot. She was great as the drunk party girl and magazine journo Amy who can’t form a relationship until she has to profile a sports doctor, played by Bill Hader. LeBron James is hilarious in his cameos, Schumer is flat out funny and funny flat out and it climaxes with a genius dance number. This was the star-launching event of the year and, you know what, I’m going to watch it again over Christmas. After a few.
7: The Lady in the Van – Maggie Smith is fantastic in The Lady in the Van. She dominates the story, her face, her nostrils, her eyebrows. She can talk along a tightrope, her voice wavering between despair and devilment, strong yet tiny, too. I loved this film. It made me laugh just hearing Alan Bennett’s pernickety prose beautifully brought to life by Alex Jennings. It’s a film about Camden, sure, but also about all society and about how we do or don’t care, about the stories behind the people we ignore. And it’s quietly subversive and political, shocking and honest.
6: Black Coal, Thin Ice – I can’t have been the only one to admire this Chinese noir – it won the Golden Bear in Berlin in 2014 – but its distinctly muted reception on release in the UK is as big a mystery to me as the one detective Zhang tries to solve in the movie. In director Diao Yinan’s pitiless picture of Chinese life, Zhang (Liao Fan) is haunted by the case that drove him out of the force, when dismembered body parts began showing up all over the province – including on coal heaps and in noodle soup. The only clue seems to centre on an inscrutably beautiful widow who works at the Rong Rong laundry and dry cleaners. The plot twists and creeps and involves ice skates – it’s weird and beautiful and unsentimental, lit by flickering neon and cigarette ends, and soaked in blood and booze.
5: Girlhood – Celine Sciamma’s film about a girl in the banlieue (projects, council estates) comes over a bit like a female La Haine, following a young black woman (Karidja Toure) finding female friendship in a gang while avoiding her older brother’s violence and the constant gaze of boys on the block. It’s a subtle, energetic, hair-raising coming-of-age film, crystallised by a perfect ‘moment’ of cinema: when the girls, drunk with shoplifting and cheap vodka on their night out, sing Rhianna’s Diamonds. More importantly, it made stars of its black actresses and shook France in a good way during a most perturbing year for Paris.
4: 45 Years – Andrew Haigh’s debut was about a Weekend of gay sex. This follow-up is about a lifetime of marriage, of love and resentment, of lives lived and not entirely fulfilled. Charlotte Rampling, well, don’t we just love being scared of her. And Tom Courtenay, he breaks your heart. This was a perfectly balanced mood film, about how the past can haunt and long buried secrets can fizzle into the present. Mightily impressive work from Haigh is overshadowed by the two film titans at the centre of it all. I didn’t find it as depressing as some. I found it uplifting if anything, so real and honest about love and being together. It isn’t easy, and that’s the point.
3: Eden – Eden made me tingle, and smile, and dance in my seat. It made me laugh and get wistful and want to spend the day in bed and take drugs all night. It made me want to be young again, which is entirely the idea of this hedonistic remembrance of time raved, following a DJ duo on the 90s Paris house scene as they try to grow up through out the following decades. Mia Hansen Love proves herself one of the finest, most intuitive and attuned directors around with this, mixing major tunes with big emotions and getting the atmosphere of clubbing just right with an almost-doc style. Soundtrack of the year, for sure, but in terms of nailing a scene, an attitude and a fin de siecle air, Eden doesn’t miss a beat. For your chance to win an Eden DVD and poster click here.
2: Amy – Music is to the fore here too, re-assessing the cultural contributions of Amy Winehouse’s song writing and singing. But Asif Kapadia’s mosaic doc is so much more. It’s a three-act tragedy about a young woman’s life, about society’s pressure and also its heartless judgements. There’s a love story in here (Nick Shymansky tries so hard to make Amy nice) and a damaged woman attracted to recklessness. There are baddies to blame – Amy’s Dad Mitch, the tabloid press, the music biz, even Amy herself – and tears to shed. It’s a true story, but the facts don’t tell it all, which makes it an amazing feat of documentary and probably why it’s one of the biggest doc hits of all time, and sure-fire awards winner. Its premiere at Cannes was my party of the year, when Gregory Porter sang for us, followed by Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def. But the film has endured for months after, and captured hearts as much as admiration.
1: Inside Out – OK, so there’s one masterpiece here and that’s Pete Docter’s Inside Out, the cleverest cartoon ever made. This film is pure genius and even reminds me a bit of Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex sketch, with the sperm (“I’m liable to end up on the ceiling…”). Some people tell me it’s like the Beano comic strip cartoon, The Numskulls. But, although it’s of a piece with creators Pixar’s explorations of imaginary childhood worlds (toys coming to life, monsters in a factory) Inside Out is really unique, a tour de force of planning and writing as we go into the mind of 11-year-old Riley and the maelstrom of emotions stirred up on leaving her home in Minnesota for a new life with her parents in San Francisco. I loved the colours and the characters – my own children now understand every time they feel uncontrollable rage or turn their nose up at food (and we’d actually got them to like broccoli – thanks Inside Out…). The brilliant scene of Mom and Dad and Riley and their inner emotions round the dinner table is utter perfection of direction, timing, art work and wit. And throughout, Amy Poehler’s voice work as ever-peppy Joy is among the best ever in this genre, although she’s matched by Phyllis Smith as Sadness. Most of all, I loved how we never got lost in plot even as we ventured deep into the pre-pubescent psyche, through to where imaginary childhood friend Bing Bong lived – voiced by Richard Kind, this clown was the creepiest thing on screen all year. Inside Out had animated rivals in Song of the Sea from Ireland and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya from Japan, but for me it towered above them all, the most inventive, original, touching and visually extraordinary piece of cinema of 2015.
To read my full Top Twenty films 20 to 11 click here.