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Jessica Kiang’s Top 20 Films Of 2015

Jessica Kiang's Top 20 Films Of 2015

We compiled an aggregated Playlist Best Films Of 2015 which you can find here. However, regular contributors were also given the chance to submit personal lists.

It was in the dawning days of 2015 that my last Best of the Year list went up, so I can claim tradition and not mere procrastination/laziness as the reason for the tardiness of iteration. And this year, in addition to taking a break from film writing altogether in December, I dawdled before forming my list, humming nonchalantly and pretending I wasn’t keeping half an eye on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which I didn’t get to see until a few days ago. Not so much because I thought it would feature in my final lineup (spoiler: it does not) but because it was always going to be the contextualizing feature of 2015. And since I’m fairly sure the main audience for this post is future me, trying to remember what 2015 was like, it would be a weird thing not to mention at all. So now I’ve seen it. And mentioned it. I liked it.

There are however many other well-received and/or notable 2015 titles that I missed: “Arabian Nights,” “Brooklyn,” “Room,” “Joy,” “The Revenant,” “The Hateful Eight,” “Creed,” “Son of Saul,” “Steve Jobs,” “The Big Short” and so on. Conversely, quite a few of my favorite films came at the festivals I covered and have not yet been released in the U.S., but since this is a personal list, I get to write about some of those here, and hopefully whet your appetite.

READ MORE: Sundance Review: John Crowley’s Gorgeous & Bittersweet ‘Brooklyn’ With Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson & Emory Cohen

Now’s the part where I make a grand sweeping statement about the State Of Cinema in 2015 — but I haven’t really got one, except to say I have enjoyed how some of the year’s most chattered-about films have had casually progressive agendas, centering on characters of traditionally underrepresented gender, sexuality or ethnicity, without ever becoming “issue movies.” It’s really only a handful of isolated examples, of course, in a cinematic landscape that is still massively unbalanced in terms of who gets to make the majority of the films and who those films get to be about. But, call it New Year optimism, it’s a hopeful thing, a glimpse at a soon-arriving future where this sort of representation won’t even be worthy of comment any more. Cinema is already a very broad church, but anything that makes it more expansive and inclusive, and allows more people to find stories and characters that feel like home, can only be good for this elastic, evolving, all-encompassing medium. 

Which is as good a New Year wish as I can make: may you all find a home at the movies in 2016. And now, in reverse order, onto if not the best, then at least one of the latest Best of 2015 list on the planet…

Honorable Mentions
For all this talk about onscreen representation, it’s embarrassing to note that there are only two female directors in my lineup. But that’s just the way my year’s viewing has shaken out — plus some of the great women-directed films that have appeared on other lists, like “Breathe,” “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” and “Girlhood” were 2014 titles for me, with the latter two featuring in my top 20 last year. That is also the case for Joshua Oppenheimer‘s “The Look of Silence,”  Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy‘s “The Tribe” and Roy Andersson‘s “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch…” — all showed up on my 2014 list. Elsewhere, Stephane Brize‘s wonderfully humane “The Measure of a Man” was at one point included below, as was S. Craig Zahler‘s terrific “Bone Tomahawk” until the literal 11th hour, while “The Assassin,” “The Duke of Burgundy,” “Love & Mercy,” “A War,” “Yakuza Apocalypse,” “Paddington,” “Slow West” and many others would all figure somewhere if this were a top 40 (cue collective editorial heart attack and reader revolt at the very idea).

READ MORE: Venice Review: ‘The Act Of Killing’ Director Joshua Oppenheimer’s ‘The Look of Silence’

20. “The Treasure” [Full Review]
One sign that a national cinematic movement has really grown its beard is when its adherents start to expand and reinvent its founding tenets, and it starts to boast internal diversity as well as a coherent group identity. And so it’s no accident that my list contains two Romanian films, from directors loosely referred to as New Wave, but that neither necessarily conforms to expectations of what a Romanian New Wave movie should be. Corneliu Porumboiu has always tended more toward the satirical, skewed end of the scale, but his “The Treasure” pushes his sense of humor into a new, unexpectedly uplifting, almost whimsical direction. It may start off in exactly the kind of flat, unbeautiful, economically depressed milieu that has spawned so much of the country’s recent social issues cinema, but it soon takes a turn for the offbeat and quixotic as an unlikely trio of ordinary, bumbling men embark on a childish pipe dream to find buried treasure. Of course, a lot of the fun is in how the banal practicalities of the treasure hunt (an annoying metal detector, a lot of digging, various personality clashes and the ever-present fear of discovery by the authorities) are so far removed from the folksy fairytale illogic of what they’re actually doing. But in its deadpan, repetitive, almost Jarmuschian way, the film somehow gets funnier, sweeter and warmer as it goes along, before a finale that is both satisfyingly earned and a completely delightful surprise.

19. “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” [Full Review]
It took me a long while to catch up to Marielle Heller‘s Sundance breakout, and so when I finally did it came freighted with the kind of expectations that could easily have sunk an inferior film, especially one in the hardly underpopulated coming-of-age genre. But Heller, aided by a tremendously undaunted performance by Bel Powley, who is completely unafraid to embody her character’s frequent terribleness, walks a great line between delivering the expected, relatable beats of the growing-up narrative and making sure Powley’s Minnie is a wonderfully complex and difficult character in her own right. It means that half the time, as a woman who was indeed once a teenage girl, I could cringe in embarrassed recognition at some of Minnie’s seemingly precocious but actually blitheringly naive statements and impulses, and the other half I could spend enjoying a portrait of totally unique individual. That balance is kind of the Holy Grail for this overfamiliar genre, and if it falters very slightly with some on-the-nose and deus-ex-machina moments at the end, for the most part Heller’s assured, occasionally fanciful direction, and Powley’s fabulously frank turn more than compensate. Mostly it’s just nice to have a film that imagines what might be going on in the minds of the lust objects from all those male-centric coming of age stories, and to gurgle at the notion of how terrifying Minnie would indeed be to many of those callow youths. 

18. “Free In Deed” [Full Review]
A devastating true life story becomes a devastating film in Jake Mahaffy‘s chilling, even-handed yet desperately wrenching “Free In Deed.” It’s a recounting of the tragic death of an autistic child in Tennessee during an attempt at a faith healing that went horribly wrong, but despite the potential for salaciousness and secular snap judgments about misguided religiosity, the film is brimming with compassion and humanity, and seeks to make even the most atheist of viewers understand the social context that could give rise to such an incident. Marked by extraordinarily strong performances across the board (Edwina Findley from “Middle of Nowhere” plays the mother, British actor David Harewood is riveting as the outsider who believes he has healing powers and astonishing newcomer RaJay Chandler plays the afflicted child) the film is a glimpse at the kind of lives that usually fall through the cracks. The poverty-line families, isolated drifters, aging pensioners and unsupported single mothers of this marginalized world are failed by the institutions that should be helping them, and so of course they turn to faith: in ugly, fluorescent-lit storefront churches they find the support and community denied them elsewhere. With dreadful inevitability, the film builds to its shuddering, shocking climax, making it hardly an easy watch, but this is a deeply important story, brilliantly told, that casts light into a dark, shameful corner of American society.

17. “Mistress America” [Full Review]
Earlier this year I had the gratifying experience of writing my way into a greater appreciation of Noah Baumbach, a filmmaker I had been a little on the fence about prior. “Mistress America” however, didn’t require any post-rationalization; from the moment Greta Gerwig gets her hilariously awkward entrance down that too-long flight of steps in Times Square, I had a blast. Lola Kirke is of course the breakout here, and she’s great as the not-as-ingenuous-as-she-seems foil, but for my money it’s Gerwig’s film as much as the lovely “Frances Ha” was — I can’t think of any other actress who could possibly pull off the role’s unique mixture of charisma and cluelessness, sophistication and dorkitude. That she so effortlessly embodies these paradoxical tendencies, and then emerges as a sort of tragic figure to boot is a mark of terrific characterization, in a year peculiarly blessed with well-drawn female characters. Oh, and if you can’t see that here, as elsewhere, Baumbach and Gerwig are explicitly commenting on white, middle-class privilege (in fact, in the person of Gerwig’s insufferadorable Brooke, they’re pretty much pulverizing it) and not shoring it up, please go jerk your knees elsewhere.  

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16. “Beasts of No Nation” [Full Review]
For a director who rose to prominence after just two indie features and a TV show, you would expect there to be something faddish or gimmicky about Cary Fukunaga‘s filmmaking style. But if anything, his sensibility feels the opposite of trendy — there’s a straight-ahead sobriety, and an investment in the seriousness of each passing moment that is completely unironic, making him almost unfashionably sincere. But that sincerity is what I like most about his work, and if it makes “Beasts of No Nation” a very difficult watch at times, well that’s only as harrowing as a movie about the making of a child soldier needs to be. Held together by newcomer Abraham Attah‘s naturalism, Idris Elba‘s charisma and Fukunaga’s own eye for a woozily beautiful, subjective point of view shot, perhaps the trickiest narrative line walked here is between brute realism and a kind of lyrical representationalism, in which the country and the specific conflict are left deliberately unnamed, the better for us to draw generalized parallels. And so for me, ‘Beasts’ is not a Child Soldier movie, so much as it’s a film about how all wars (many of which Fukunaga seems to directly reference in his imagery) plunder and pervert the innocence of their combatants. It just so happens here that the point is given a keener edge by the protagonist being a child and by Attah’s extraordinary performance as the young boy with the oldest eyes in the world.

15. “Embrace of the Serpent” [Full Review]
At any given moment during the fortnight of cinephile overload that is the Cannes Film Festival, there are so many films being screened, so many lines to be stood in, so many words to be filed that taking a flier on a sidebar entry with no buzz from a director you’ve never heard of is a dicey prospect. But it paid off for me this year in grand style, when I lucked into Ciro Guerra‘s “Embrace of the Serpent” — an ambitious, lyrical, surreal, languorous film that has the cumulative power of a low dose of peyote. A kind of black and white period road movie in which the road is the Amazon river, the car is a canoe and the odd couple thrown together are a sickly white explorer and a short-tempered native tribesman who may or may not be the last of his people, and who may or may not hold the ancient secret to curing the white man’s worsening illness, it’s highly original and quite unlike anything else I saw all year. There are odd detours and strange little tributaries off its main story, but perhaps above everything it is a surprisingly moving character portrait of the lonely tribesman, Karamakate — both a ridiculous and a tragic figure, with an impish sense of humor, a glowering, short-fused hatred of the white men who killed off his tribe and a cavernous sense of shame and loss at being the one who survived.

14. “Macbeth” [Full Review]
It’s a mighty, bellowing, rumbling film, but one of the most striking aspects of Justin Kurzel‘s take on The Scottish Play is how all of that thunderous bluster brilliantly counterpoints the progressive disintegration, almost the erasure, of the title character. Macbeth is essentially overpowered, and Michael Fassbender accordingly seems to recede as the film wears on, almost shouldered aside by the magnificent production design, Adam Arkapaw‘s great photography, Jed Kurzel‘s growling score, and by the sheer force of personality radiating from co-star Marion Cotillard. And perhaps at the time I was so dazzled by the look and sound of the film, and by the demandingly intelligent way Kurzel interpreted and layered the text that I didn’t give Fassbender due credit for that being a considered decision, and for just how interesting, subtle and generous a decision it is. But it takes a strong actor to play weak, and his turn has stuck with me and grown in my estimation since — and because the movie is a kind of a sustained primal scream, finding nuance and gradation within it, even retrospectively, is proof that it has more going for it than mere spectacle. We are so used to hero or antihero archetypes who are made stronger, bolder and more extreme by adversity, it’s bracing and almost discomfiting to come across one who is morally and psychologically weakened by it. But Kurzel essentially hammers out his “Macbeth” like a blacksmith at a furnace; and in such a crucible “good” iron can be forged stronger and truer but flawed ore will only ever crumble and warp.

13. “Aferim!” [Full Review]
Perhaps the very last adjective that one might expect to crop up in relation to a black and white Romanian period film is “wacky” but Radu Jude‘s tremendous troubadour-style shaggy dog story “Aferim!” earns it. A kind of horseback picaresque, in which genre Western elements rub shoulders with bawdy moments of pure vaudeville, it features a perfectly pompous Teodor Corban as a 19th century Wallachian constable charged by a local landowner with tracking down the gypsy who cuckolded him. But while it’s undeniably boisterous in a semi-Shakespearean way (there’s something very Falstaffian about Corban’s grandiloquent, craven, all too human character), there’s no mistaking its serious subtext about the legacy of gypsy slavery in Romania, and no missing the subtle point it makes about the culpability of the “just following orders” mentality. But trailing through a feudal Wallachia that could be medieval rather than a couple of centuries old, rarely has contemporary social commentary been this much anachronistic, richly designed, rambunctious fun. 

12. “The Pearl Button” [Full Review]
A film that exists at the nexus of socio-historical documentary, personal essay, scientific exploration and aching folk-song lament, Patricio Guzman’s remarkable “The Pearl Button” is a pristine example of the cinema of deep, pure thought. It features breathtaking, dizzying collisions of concept, period and scale — from the minutest drop of water trapped in an ancient shard of quartz, to the movements of celestial bodies, the drumming of rain on the tin roof of Guzman’s childhood home and the long legacy, still unfolding, of tortured human politics in Chile. So exceptionally wide-ranging, somehow it is never cursory. Indeed it feels like the culmination of a long, deeply considered, politically astute, extraordinarily humane life, one spent not just observing the country of his birth, but living and breathing and knitting himself into it. It’s a small miracle that anyone could be so much of a place and yet have the kind of insight and perspective that Guzman has on his homeland, but it’s also paradoxically what makes “The Pearl Button” so universal: Chile is central to the film, but it is really only the medium by which Guzman tells his real story — a story of humankind, water, grace and cruelty.

11. “Cemetery of Splendour” [Full Review]
I wanted to start this entry with some neat little remark about how Apichatpong Weerasethakul‘s ‘Cemetery’ is not a place where Splendour goes to die but to be born, but as soon as I wrote that down it looked absurd, and also untrue: this is a film so singular as to be completely glib-proof. It’s closer to the spirit of the thing to say that perhaps a cemetery in Weerasethakul’s imagination is not a place of death at all, rather it’s a way station between living and dead worlds, a liminal place between waking and sleeping, witnessing and dreaming, reality and myth, present and past. There’s one segment which perhaps comes closest to framing within the narrative what the experience is like for the viewer: a medium is possessed by the spirit of a soldier stricken with sleeping sickness, and walks around with the soldier’s self-declared mother, describing to her what his absent soul is witnessing while he dreams. “Cemetery of Splendour” is like an act of possession, though one so benign as to feel more like communion, as you get to look through the Weerasethakul’s eyes, overlaying a prismatic filter on your own view of the world that reveals connections, textures, echoes and portents you’ve never thought about before. God, it’s peculiar, and wonderful.

10. “Listen To Me Marlon” [Full Review]
The “Golden Age” of documentary has thrown up many great films in recent years, but perhaps the first “celebrity biodoc” that has made a lasting impression on me is this one, from director Stevan Riley. Where usually the format, no matter how warts-and-all, has an inevitable tendency toward hagiography, toward mythologising its subject (take Asif Kapadia‘s well-made, celebrated but almost gratuitously emotive “Amy,” for example), Riley’s film is told almost entirely in a cleverly curated selection of clips in which Brando himself does all the talking. So yes, there is of course mythologizing going on here, but it’s self-mythologizing which is far more revealing. What emerges most strongly is not Brando the icon (and I confess I was actually wary of the film because I dislike the canonical reverence often accorded to him) but Marlon, the man. He is an odd man, certainly, and lived a most unusual life, but the very best and most surprising aspect of the film was how relatable a lot of his musings are. Quite aside from the “greatest actor TM” and the outsize persona of the Brando brand, “Listen to me Marlon” feels simply like an intelligent, curious, deeply flawed man grappling to make sense of himself, his life and the world around him. In fact, I found it to be one of the most philosophically provocative and profoundly thoughtful films of the year, which, considering it is a celebrity biodoc, is kind of incredible. 

9. “Spotlight” [Full Review]
I kind of love that there was a certain segment of the commentariat who responded to the positive notices for Tom McCarthy‘s brilliant procedural, “Spotlight” by claiming bias: of course movie journalists were going to praise a movie about journalists, they claimed. Some of us may indeed be deluded as to the importance of our work, but I don’t really know anyone who’d equate the filing of an “Alvin and the Chipmunks” review with the exposure of systemic child abuse and cover-ups within the Catholic Church. McCarthy’s film is thrilling and inspirational, intelligent and sincere whatever your profession, and while much has been made of its clear nostalgia for a style of investigative journalism that has all but disappeared in the last decade, really it’s a tribute to the power of committed people, simply doing their jobs. It emerges as probably the best ensemble film of the year, with the only competitiveness on display seemingly a tacit contest to see which character actor can make the most of his minuscule screen time, while still consummately underplaying. Led by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci and John Slattery, the cast is terrific (Liev Schreiber might be my personal MVP) but the major kudos have to go to McCarthy’s unshowy direction and writing (with Josh Singer), that distills a sprawling, complex saga into a fluid, crackling, completely absorbing two hours.

8. “Queen Of Earth” [Full Review]
A few things in 2015 conspired to make me appreciate the fine art of the beautifully overwrought melodrama more than I had previously: I authored a Luchino Visconti Essentials, caught a couple of Douglas Sirk films on the big screen for the first time and filled in several gaps in my knowledge of Rainer Werner Fassbinder‘s filmography. And at exactly the right moment, along came Alex Ross Perry‘s unapologetically hysterical psychodrama “Queen of Earth” to put an ineffably modern (yet unashamedly throwback) spin on the genre. Featuring a gloriously chewy performance from Elisabeth Moss and a cooler, more calculated turn from Katherine Waterston (fast becoming one of my favorite actors) the film is a heady mishmash of its avowed influences, but with Sean Price Williams’ delirious, grainy close-up photography and Perry’s skewed take on a very female frienemy relationship, it is also something uniquely its own. There’s so much that’s safe, timid and tasteful in moviemaking these days, even on the independent side — “Queen of Earth” is none of those things and I love it for that. 

7. “Anomalisa” [Full review]
One of my favorite things I caught up with this year that wasn’t a film was Charlie Kaufman‘s brilliant BFI screenwriting lecture from way back in 2011 — I don’t know how I missed it for so long, but between that and an actual film of his coming out, I’ve had a delightfully Kaufman-influenced 2015. “Anomalisa” is everything we could want from a Charlie Kaufman script — funny and sad and absurd and shot through with self-awareness so piercing as to be actually painful. But it also looks terrific, with co-director Duke Johnson‘s soft, fuzzy-felt-esque animation style beautifully counterpointing the sharpness of the writing and giving such texture to this imagined world that you kind of forget it’s not live action. Most of all though, and in contrast to many of my colleagues who consider the film overridingly sad, I found it curiously uplifting. Not, perhaps in the person of the lead (David Thewlis), but in the treatment of Lisa (brilliantly played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) who, via a simple grace note coda at the end suddenly becomes the one whom the movie is about — the one who gets to learn and grow and change. Of course, being a Charlie Kaufman movie, it is about self-doubt and depressive insularity and the despair at finding yourself trapped in your life. But it also contains the generous hope that some of us, the best of us perhaps, might get to escape that fate, and drive away with the wind in our hair. How can a film be judged depressing when everyone in it gets almost exactly what they deserve? (And when it animates a scene from “My Man Godfrey“?)

6. “Mad Max: Fury Road” [Full review]
There was a collective rending of clothing and gnashing of teeth at the news that Charlize Theron‘s Imperator Furiosa might not return as a character in subsequent ‘Mad Max‘ movies. But why? Yes, she’s the unequivocal lead here and an instantly iconic action hero for the ages. But if George Miller, along with co-writers Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris created her from nothing for ‘Fury Road,’ why couldn’t they do the same thing again next time out with a whole new character? Possibly even more exciting than the movie itself (if that were possible) is the idea of a redefined franchise in which the title character is only ever a supporting cast member in someone else’s story, that takes place somewhere further along the road in this magnificently imagined, devilishly detailed, post-apocalyptic universe. I know that’s not the way franchises tend to work, but with ‘Fury Road’ Miller casually reinvented so much of what a franchise is supposed to be that I’m now Wild Boy to his Immortan Joe — I do not think anything is beyond him, and will drive along side him, bellowing and chrome-grilled, wherever he chooses to go. Narratively elegant, politically progressive, visually gobsmacking and enormously, flashily fun — imagine all action blockbusters were delivered with this much go-for-broke chutzpah.

5. “Eden” [Full review]
“Between euphoria and melancholy” is how Paul (Felix de Givry) describes his sound, in Mia Hansen-Løve‘s completely brilliant, beautiful and bittersweet homage to the also-rans, and it’s a great description of the moods between which the film oscillates, building and breaking and building again. But this is also an insidery evocation of a “scene” (here the peri-millennium Parisian music scene that spawned Daft Punk and a thousand acts who were not Daft Punk), as well as being a tremendously wise and rueful film about having a moment… and then seeing it pass. Unfolding in a continual present tense that Hansen-Løve captures vibrantly and fluidly in long tracking shots and minutely-observed in-between glimpses, it’s also bravely, painfully truthful as it raises a sad-eyed toast to the inevitability of growing older, and to the simple fact that for all we’re constantly told to follow our dreams, they do not always lead where we’d hoped. And it looks bloody gorgeous, with pulsating clubs, untidy apartments and sunlit rooftops all managing to be both urgent and full of life, and to seem like memories. Like my memories, in fact, which is probably why I felt my breath catch in my throat so many times throughout.

4. “Carol” [Full review]
Soft as mink and smooth as sable, it’s impossible to describe Todd Haynes‘ achingly gorgeous Patricia Highsmith adaptation without employing the most sensuous of descriptors; it is a movie to engulf yourself in, like a fur coat, like a lover’s embrace. It’s almost decadently indulgent, every frame a confection, until you realize, somewhere in that blissed-out haze this is a film about two women in love, and that is unusual and a little subversive and oh my god the angle of that hat! The plum shade of that lipstick! Everything in “Carol” is erotic, objects and fabrics are fetishized, glances from beneath immaculate eyelashes are almost tangible — cords of desire that stretch across rooms and contain galaxies. It is a film in love with being in love with love, as Cate Blanchett’s worldly Carol falls for Rooney Mara‘s gently witchy ingenue Therese in a more profound way than even she was prepared for, while Therese responds with the kind of steadfast, dazzled first love that seems like it might just beat the odds and last forever. It is so immaculately achieved that it seems smooth to the touch, but that is only because the million moving parts beneath are working in such complete harmony. Deeply felt and beautifully played, it is undoubtedly 2015’s most luminous film.

3. “The Club” [Full review]
This is a mark of the extraordinary talent of Pablo Larrain: “The Club” was written quickly, cast up quickly and shot quickly as a kind of in-between project, and then premiered with little advance notice and less fanfare at the Berlinale. But where anyone else would turn out some cobbled-together “minor” entry in those circumstances, Larrain made his best film to date, with an amazing ensemble of performances (the invaluable Alfredo Castro is a standout, as are Antonia Zegers and Roberto Farian) and one of the cleverest and most excoriating scripts of the year. Set in the permanent half-light of dawn or dusk, which is the only time the protagonists are allowed out of the enforced purgatory of their grim little house in a dilapidated rural Chilean town, it’s the story of a group of disgraced priests whose various ugly sins come home to roost. It’s bleak, but breathtakingly audacious and completely compelling, mining the thinnest, blackest vein of ironic humor, but mostly informed by an almost towering righteous fury at these men and the institution that sheltered them in order to protect itself. If “Spotlight” is the restrained, smart, procedural take on corruption and cover-ups within the Catholic Church, “The Club” is the “this time it’s personal” version, and it builds to a cruel, brilliant coup de grace in which the strangest and most satisfying kind of poetic justice is finally served.

2. “The Lobster” [Full review]
I’m not sure there’s been a film as densely packed with ideas and as completely imagined since, well, Yorgos Lanthimos‘ “Dogtooth.” In fact the great Greek director’s Cannes 2015 title may be even more impressive than his breakout (which, if you consider a few of us were agitating for “Dogtooth” to be named the Best Film of the Decade So Far is quite saying something), in having a much broader sprawl, and in still managing to retain a rigorous internal logic, even though the canvas has expanded exponentially. Here, instead of a single family, we have an entirely reimagined society which punishes the incorrigibly single by turning them into animals, unless they find a mate. It is a film of two distinct halves, but each comments on the other and each features some completely cherishable performances from a cast who across the board seem completely comfortable on this Weird Wavelength, especially a career-best Colin Farrell. Best of all, is that for all its whimsicality and skewed-universe invention, “The Lobster” is remarkably wise and wittily insightful about the nature of romantic love, socially mandated self-delusion and the pressure to conform, right here in our real world. 

1. “45 Years” [Full review]
Compiling lists like these is often an exercise in forward projection: will I still love this recently-caught-up-with release as much in a few months’/years’ time? But I don’t really have that issue with my number one film of the year, because I’ve already lived with Andrew Haigh‘s sublime, intensely felt and perfectly calibrated “45 Years” since its Berlin premiere in February, and I’m very sure it’s never going away. All these months later, it feels like it still emits a resonant hum of emotion that I can tune in to like on a radio, and feel that same, exquisitely soft, regretful sadness as powerfully as I did when I first walked out of the film. Perhaps even more so, in fact, because “45 Years” is a film that grows more true with time, appropriately because it is so much about time, about age, and about the terrifying prospect that one might have spent the majority of one’s life investing in a lie.

It’s a gentle, unintentional, unmalicious lie that Charlotte Rampling‘s Kate Mercer finds herself enmeshed in — perhaps not so much a lie as a phantasm, a ghost. But the peculiar genius of Haigh’s film is that the ghost is not that of the story’s dead girl; it is of the relationship that Kate thought she was in all those years, that has in so many ways defined her life. How do you cope when you realize you’ve been in love (and this is real, prosaic love, the type that does the dishes and takes the bins out) for the best years of your life with a fiction? I cannot think of anything truer or sadder than the way Haigh handles the tight corners of the story’s emotions, aided by Rampling’s outstanding performance: in those final moments it is all Kate can do to put her arms around the fiction and dance with it, cheek to cheek, to a song that soundtracked the life she thought she was living. It is a gesture that is fathomless with tenderness and also a neat way of hiding your face in case of it wearing an expression of complete desolation.

Ordinary people are seldom embodied so extraordinarily, ordinary life is seldom given this much value and I can’t remember another instance of ordinary heartbreak being treated with such respect and feeling. It is one of those great films that make you realize that behind every face you see on the subway or or through the window of a cafe or even around the Christmas dinner table, there is a story, maybe a monumental one. A 45th wedding anniversary is represented by a sapphire, and like a flawless, perfectly cut gemstone in an unshowy, classic setting, Haigh’s film has sparkled subtly, all across my 2015, infinitely blue.

Thank you all for reading over the last year. Do drop by and hang out some more over the next 12 months — kettle’s always on. 

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