I saw 78 new films at the cinema this year. There were some great adaptations of books including ‘Brooklyn’ which reminded me what an extraordinary novel this is and ‘Macbeth’ which gives a new perspective on and interpretation of the play. Some of the most entertaining films this year were the foreign episodic film ‘Wild Tales’, the successful remake of ‘Mad Max’, Pixar’s brainy animation ‘Inside Out’, the successful return of the Star Wars epic ‘The Force Awakens’, heartfelt comic drama 'Grandma' and the wild revenge-tale ‘Tangerine.’ But here are ten fantastic films which were a pleasure to watch, changed my perception of things and left the most lasting impression upon me.
This is one of the first films I saw this year as I got to see a preview. I don’t often cry in films but this emotionally floored me. Not because it’s a new story. Although there were some details that were new to me, at school in America I was taught a lot about the Civil Rights movement. What this film does so well is take the viewer into the experience of the protesters. It makes it feel immediate and real.
It seemed like an irresistible provocation to create a film called ‘Girlhood’ after the success of the critically-acclaimed ‘Boyhood.’ However, this film isn’t just an exercise to explore a girl’s coming of age. It sensitively acknowledges the difficult choices a young black girl from a lower class background faces in modern France. The story opens several paths for her to take in life and her decisions are ambiguous. Newcomer Karidja Toure gives one of the best performances of the year.
Tab Hunter Confidential
This is a documentary that gives a comprehensive history of the life of 1950s matinee idol Tab Hunter. He lived the American dream being transformed from a country boy into one of the country’s most desired pin-ups. He had to hide his sexuality for many years and faced difficult choices when the starring roles dried up. This is a story which is in some ways the male equivalent of the life of Marilyn Monroe as sensitively written about in Joyce Carol Oates’ masterpiece “Blonde.”
The Look of Silence
Another documentary and a sequel to the devastating film ‘The Act of Killing’ which explores the terrifying Indonesian genocide in the years 1965-66. I felt this film was more focused in a way as it concentrated upon one family and a particular man who works as an eye doctor and lost his brother in the killings. He travels around the country interviewing men involved in the killings while testing their eyes. He literally and metaphorically tries to make them see reality more clearly. It’s amazing and it’s my top film of the year.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
The style of this coming of age film set in 1970s San Francisco faithfully mimics Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel. It’s a story of imaginative beauty and goes into some dark, twisted areas of sexuality both for the girl and her wayward mother – a performance that allowed Kristen Wiig to take on an unusually dramatic role. I love that the film also invokes the voice of comics artist Aline Kominsky giving a touching portrayal of a writer’s apprenticeship.
Adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s novel which she originally published under a pseudonym, ‘Carol’ allows extraordinary director Todd Haynes to re-enter the 1950s period which he evoked so beautifully in ‘Far from Heaven.’ This is another “forbidden love story” but one done so powerfully and isn’t afraid to show the unlikeable aspects of its protagonists while still making you care deeply about the difficulty of their dilemma.
It’s not often that issues of sex and emotional connection between couples who have had successful long term relationships are portrayed in films. ‘Hope Springs’ is the only other film that comes to mind. A couple played by Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are nearing their 45th wedding anniversary and find their comfortable routine existence disrupted by a secret that’s uncovered and introduces an element of doubt. This is a subtle and powerful film directed by Andrew Haigh who seems to me to be one of the most exciting directors around. There's nothing visually daring about his dramas - just solid stories that get to the heart of relationships.
Son of Saul
I was lucky enough to see this at the London Film Festival. You may dread the idea of going to yet another fictional representation of a WWII concentration camp, yet this film is such a stylistically-daring and emotionally-powerful story it had me gripped from beginning to end. A Hungarian-Jewish prisoner named Saul works in the prison burying the dead. The camera’s focus remains on actor Géza Röhrig the entire time while unspeakable horrors occur in the background around him and he embarks on a personal mission of faith. It’s amazing.
Another film I saw at the London Film Festival, this is a humorous tale of a yacht holiday between several male friends that nonetheless sensitively and hilariously explores the subtleties of male companionship. I believe it also shows how Greek female director Athina Rachel Tsangari is another one of the most exciting directors around. I wrote more about this film here.
This is absolutely the most daring and absurd film I saw this year. Single people are forced to remain in a resort to find a partner in a certain amount of time or else they will be transformed into an animal of their choosing. Though comic and strange, it says something so striking and meaningful about the pressures society places upon people to conform to either have a relationship or remain single. Plus Olivia Colman is always an absolute joy to watch. I absolutely loved this film.
What did you like watching in the cinema this year?