This list may come across as if I’m trying to be a bit high brow. Believe me, I appreciate some good big budget movies like ‘Bad Neighbours’ which was utterly hilarious and the time-twisting action of ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ which was really entertaining. But when I think back on the many films I’ve watched this year these are the ten that made me think the most about them afterwards and made me want to watch them again to try to understand their meaning. They may not all be easy views - although there is much pleasure to be gained from all of them - but they are all powerful and haunting.
I missed this film when it played at the London Film Festival last year so was thrilled to catch it upon its small release. Divorced 58-year old Gloria goes to singles bars in Santiago looking for love. She’s determined, free-minded and prone to overzealous passion. With a fantastic soundtrack following the ups and downs of her romance, this is an emotional and engaging film.
Set in a future that is more recognizable than filled with sci-fi fantasies, ‘Her’ is another film about a divorced individual looking for love. But in this film he finds it with a piece of artificial intelligence – a disconnected voice that adapts and changes as the system learns more about him. Like other AI stories problems arise when the computer becomes self aware, but this is more a story about the modern perils of digital relationships and misdirected expectations in love.
Stranger by the Lake
Part suspense story, part erotic gay film and part commentary about the danger of desire, ‘Stranger by the Lake’ is a French film that works equally well on many levels. Set on a nudist beach it’s about a man named Franck who frequently attends this gay cruising ground. What at first comes across as a simple story develops into a tale filled with psychological complexity. The idyllic playground morphs into a vicious battleground.
Under the Skin
Adapted with a heavy amount of changes from the novel by Michel Faber, this film imaginatively portrays a strange being in the form of Scarlett Johansson driving a van through the streets of Glasgow hunting for men. This film conveys so much about the warped nature of desire and the complex formation of identity. It features an incredibly creepy score by Mica Levi which I was lucky enough to see performed live at the Southbank Centre alongside the film’s screening.
It’s impossible to imagine that two groups as disparate as a loose gathering of London gay activists and striking miners from a small Welsh village coming together, but this really happened in 1984. I was hesitant about seeing this movie when its trailer made it look like a hokey feel-good comedy, but the film is entirely absorbing and emotional and inspiring. It’s also been a fantastic platform to raise awareness for Gay’s the Word bookshop which features heavily as a meeting spot in the film and is still going strong today.
The Imitation Game
This film is another impossible-but-true story about Alan Turing’s instrumental contribution to cracking the enigma code which no doubt massively helped win the second world war. This central story is bookended with the sad details of Turing’s troubled personal life including his early heartbreak and later persecution as a homosexual where he was chemically castrated under government mandate and driven to suicide. It’s an incredible story that memorializes a man who should have been celebrated but was tragically vilified. It made me cry.
It’s startling how spare and simple the dialogue in Ida is, yet how powerfully complex its meaning. Set in 1960s Poland, a young nun named Anna goes in search of what became of her family during the second world war. Paired with her spirited aunt Wanda they travel in search of terrible truths where the weight of history threatens to crush them. I was utterly astonished by this beautiful movie.
Two Days One Night
Over the past decade, the Belgian Dardenne brothers have made some of the most moving films about the downtrodden and forgotten. ‘Two Days One Night’ follows Sandra played by Marion Cotillard as a wife and mother who has been struggling with mental health issues. Because of complicated politics at the factory she works at, she’s been voted out of her job and this film shows her desperate journey to try to maintain her employment. So few films deal with the real hardship ordinary people experience trying to keep afloat during challenging circumstances. This film is by no means perfect, but it makes a great impact.
The Golden Dream
This Mexican film also highlights the struggles of ordinary people – in this case young migrants from Guatemala who journey to cross the border into the US. The challenges they encounter are surprising and terrifying. Small unexpected acts of kindness are enough to make you keep faith in the goodness of humanity. At the same time, the failings of institutions show how people in situations as disadvantaged as this can be preyed upon by groups of opportunists.
Daring, original and like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Click on the title to read fully what an impact this Ukrainian film about a boarding school for deaf children had on me.