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.

45 Years
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.

The Lobster
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? 


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.

The Tribe
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.




Blue Jasmine

Frances Ha


Inside Llewyn Davis


The Great Beauty


The Place Beyond the Pines

I see more films than the average person because my boyfriend is a huge moviegoer and works in the film industry. So here is yet another list rounding up my top new releases in 2013. Two fictional films which are largely based on real life events ‘Compliance’ and ‘Philomena’ really moved me with their shocking cruelty and disturbing truths. ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ felt in many ways like a novel in film-form since it straddles two periods of time and generations. While not a perfect film, it's ambition is admirable and it made a really powerful emotional impact. The decadent roller-coaster ride that is ‘The Great Beauty’ is so original and entertaining it’s a film that haunts my dreams. Another foreign language film that captivated me and which I’ve written about before is the powerful ‘Violette’ exploring the life of the feminist author. One big blockbuster that took me by surprise was the historical racing double-bio pic ‘Rush.’ I didn’t think a film about car racing could grip me so much or speak so strongly about rivalry, friendship and ambition. A critically-acclaimed film that I had the biggest expectations for and it lived up to all of them was ‘Gravity’ which terrified and thrilled me watching it in IMAX. I never thought a Woody Allen film would make its way into my top ten of the year again but ‘Blue Jasmine’ was excellent. Blanchett and Hawkins really brought it to life. However, I also loved the way the script moved from present to past gradually revealing Jasmine’s tragic downfall. The Coens’ film ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ is a collection of clever powerful vignettes which come together to form a whole with the entire film looping back on itself like a mobius strip. The incredibly talented Oscar Isaac makes you follow and really care about Llewyn though he is oftentimes unsympathetic with his high-minded artistic ideals and tempestuous nature. No other filmmakers draw such powerfully comic and haunting performances out of their supporting actors. A film which made me feel sheer joy with its humour and humanity was ‘Frances Ha.’ Frances is another character with artistic pretentions, but who is all the more loveable for her foibles as she awkwardly stumbles into full adulthood.