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As we hurtle towards the end of 2015, we give our pick of the best films of the year.
10. 45 Years
Not a great advert for the Norfolk tourist board, the film front loads many grey and dreary on-location scenes shot around the county, but 45 Years finally settles on the once repressed and increasingly explosive inner world of its protagonists.
Sometimes, the film argues, isn’t it better not to express everything, that past events not experienced together should remain locked in the memory banks of the potentially guilty party?
The final scene is reminiscent of Nicole Kidman’s slow breakdown in Birth, except that Charlotte Rampling, like 45 Years itself, is allowed to be far more subtle and ambiguous in this tremendous performance.
9. Love is Strange
Love is Strange is an intimate and quiet film about long-lasting love and the practicalities that surround day-to-day living in an uncertain world.
After finally being able to marry, gay couple Ben and George (played wonderfully by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina respectively) lose their New York apartment and are forced to live separately with friends until a solution is found.
Homophobia, ageing and the differences and limitations of extrovert and introvert personalities are carefully considered. Love is Strange is an antidote to 45 Years in many ways, where all secrets are out in the open and consigned to the past.
8. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Alex Gibney’s exceptional documentary is an exposé on the Church of Scientology using talking head footage of previous members including director Paul Higgis and one time friend of John Travolta, the marvellously indiscreet Spanky Taylor.
Going Clear is consistently and jaw-droppingly entertaining and although Scientology is no more misogynistic or homophobic than any other organised religion, the fact that Tom Cruise and the likes of Juliette Lewis are associated with such a wacky and dangerous belief system is both riveting and terrifying.
7. The Lobster
Aside from its questionable ending, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ first English-language film is a surreal and captivating success.
Unhinged and pitch black, The Lobster is an alternative rom-com that has an adorable and chubby Colin Farrell as its leading man. Farrell is placed into a doomed hotel for single people who will be turned into an animal of their choice if they fail to find a suitable partner.
Olivia Colman steals the film as the hotel’s plain speaking proprietor with a penchant for karaoke and loner-hunting. Never has the phrase ‘desperate date’ been more appropriate.
A bleached out, Lynchian world populated by doppelgängers, spiders and psychic breakdowns – there are many reasons to watch Enemy.
One very good reason might be the appearance of Isabella Rossellini as the complex mother reassuring her son that he does not have a twin even though there are two very different Jake Gyllenhaals walking around (another reason).
The most startling and fascinating part of Enemy, though, is its final scene, totally unexpected and utterly perplexing – what’s your interpretation?
5. The Gift
Jason Bateman tries to bury his school-boy past with catastrophic results in this taut and elegant psychological thriller.
Full of class snobbery, manipulation and, ultimately, revenge, The Gift successfully modernises an old fashioned genre. This easily could have been an early Hitchcock film, but oddly had a short and very limited run at cinemas.
Now it’s available for streaming, I hope this film finds the audience it deserves.
If you haven’t already, make certain you see The Gift.
4. The Falling
Carol Morley’s The Falling is a film about growing up and the expectations of young girls. It’s also about the lives the women who teach and nurture those girls have ultimately found themselves in.
Set in a girls’ school, the year is 1969 and pupils are fainting en masse. Appropriately dreamy and disturbing, this is a world on the cusp of many social revolutions, particularly that of second-wave feminism.
Maxine Peake and Maisie Williams are both bewitching as agoraphobic mother and fainting ring-leader daughter, and the soundtrack by Tracey Thorn is well worth seeking out.
3. The Treatment
The Treatment is essentially a grandiose – and genuinely horrifying – full-length TV cop show. Told in the manner and filmed in the style of the best Scandi-noir series, The Treatment is, however, Belgian set and the lead protagonist is male.
More than any other here, this is a film that most closely resembles that of a ‘blockbuster’, such is its bullishness and the strength and wide appeal of its central plot. It’s surely only a matter of time before Hollywood comes knocking hard.
The Treatment is not an easy watch and it will leave you traumatised but exhilarated. The squeamish should avoid.
2. The Duke of Burgundy
Peter Strickland has with The Duke of Burgundy fully asserted himself as one of the most innovative and exciting British film makers of the last five years.
Following on from 2012’s menacing and surreal Berberian Sound Studio, his latest film is less violent superficially but is an exploration into the punishing world of BDSM. The casting of Sidse Babett Knudsen as Cynthia (best known for her portrayal of the Danish Prime Minister in Borgen) is inspired, and her relationship with Chiara D’Anna as Evelyn is erotic, funny and moving.
With not one man cast and a gorgeous soundtrack by Cat’s Eyes, I have not see a more sumptuously layered and richly subversive film this year.
1. It Follows
There was a part in the teen-horror film It Follows when I stopped breathing for what I suddenly realised was a long period of time. The reason for this was David Robert Mitchell’s commanding and supreme use and understanding of suspense, and the scene in question didn’t even have a pay off. Nothing actually happened.
What makes It Follows my number 1 film of 2015 is that Robert Mitchell’s second full-length film, amazing in itself, works so well on every single level imaginable.
You could pause the film at any given point and each image could sit in an acclaimed photographic exhibition – such is the quality of the production design, photography and especially the eerie location shots of Detroit, Michigan.
The electronic soundtrack by Disasterpeace is haunting and terrifying. It is an ominous, droning character in its own right – too loud and intrusive, and that’s entirely the point.
It Follows is no empty exercise in style over substance – of which there were a few contenders this year (hello Ryan Gosling’s The River!).
Robert Mitchell makes his teen cast likeable and complex. It’s especially refreshing that, considering the relevance of fucking to the film’s plot, he doesn’t sexualise his cast in the way many studios would insist.
Most important of all, however: it’s just really, really frightening.
Will 2016 be able to compete? I can’t wait to find out.