You often hear critics declaring it to be ‘a good year for film’ when making their annual top ten lists. I usually tend to find this a rather redundant statement, there are good and bad films every year, but this year I really feel I’ve seen a good number of excellent movies, and we’re only half way through. In constructing this mid-year review, I of course had to take in the usual consideration – do I include films that went on general release in their country of origin last year (i.e. most awards contenders) or not?
Due to the number of films I wished to highlight, I initially opted for an approach I’ve not used before – composing 2 separate lists, one for my favourite films from last years’ batch that I couldn’t see until this year, and another for films released for the first time in 2015. Ultimately I decided to combine the two, as I think I’ll use my usual technique of discarding the 2014 films from my year-end top ten. Naturally this list will more heavily feature wide-release movies as I haven’t had a chance to see many of the more acclaimed limited-release films yet.
To give an idea of what I mean by this being a good year so far; here are some films that just didn’t make the cut (some of which I’ll discuss in a later round-up post) – It Follows, Selma, Inherent Vice, Love is Strange, The Tribe, Slow West, Kingsman: The Secret Service
I’ve decided to write about 11 films rather than 10 as I wanted to use the number 10 spot to highlight a couple of movies that are perhaps a little under-seen.
An Honest Liar
An Honest Liar is a documentary about the life of James Randi, from his childhood to his career as a magician/escapologist, to his later work investigating and debunking people who claim supernatural powers. Although it contains many contemporary interviews, both with the man himself and many he influenced, the most interesting part of An Honest Liar is the wealth of archive footage edited together from throughout his career. It has perhaps a little too heavy an emphasis on his personal life, with a surprising third-act reveal that I understand why the filmmakers used as a narrative device, but I could happily have just watched a film all about his work debunking frauds.
An early year surprise, this low-budget Australian sci-fi effort has really stuck with me with its twisty time-travel narrative and fascinating exploration of identity. It’s especially worth highlighting again for the astonishingly good central performance from newcomer Sarah Snook. If her work here is anything to go by, she may well be on course to being a major star in the future. My short review.
Yep, I’m going there. I enjoyed the heck out of Neill Blomkamp’s admirably nuts sci-fi movie. Seemingly cramming together as many ideas as he could, Blomkamp’s made one of the most unpredictable, oddball films of the year so far. I’m actually a little scared to re-watch it now due to the critical panning it received elsewhere but who knows, I may end-up writing a big ‘In defence of Chappie’ post before the end of the year? I had an absolute blast in the cinema with this. My Review.
08. Still Alice
Julianne Moore finally won an Oscar for her heart-breaking portrayal of a linguistics professor struck with Alzheimer’s disease in this powerful drama. Thankfully it turned out not to be a ‘lifetime achievement’-type award for some middle-of-the-road drama, but a fully deserved one for arguably her best performance yet, which is really saying something. My Review.
We should all be pleased that Jake Gyllenhaal’s bid for mainstream Hollywood stardom in 2010 (with Prince of Persia and Love & Other Drugs) failed. In the years since he’s been cranking out great movie after great movie, and here delivering some of his best work yet in an intriguingly creepy performance. Dan Gilroy’s urban drama Nightcrawler, delves into the strange world of freelance crime-scene photographers, and aside from one perhaps too co-incidental development is a gripping piece of cinema. (Most territories got this last year but we had to wait until late February).
Paddington, a modern live action update of an old children’s book and cartoon series looked like it could be just another awful kids’ film. What a pleasant surprise that it’s actually a complete delight, a warm-hearted adventure that’s by turns hilarious and emotionally affecting, and boasting a genuinely positive message to boot. An utterly wonderful family movie that’s nearly up there with the best of Pixar. My Review.
05. What We Do In the Shadows
Just when you thought no-one could do anything original with vampires, along comes this New Zealand mockumentary from Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement. Drawing from various different forms of vampire mythology, they craft one hilarious set-up after another centring on a group of flat-sharing vampires in Wellington. They deal with many of the aspects of vampire lore traditional horror movies would brush over, with frequently hysterical results. What We Do In the Shadows is a smart horror-comedy that also contains the single funniest line of dialogue in any movie this year.
04. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Documentarian Alex Gibney is sometimes accused of being a little too prolific for his own good, but who can complain about the occasional underwhelming film like The Armstrong Lie when he frequently produces documentaries as good as this? Similar to his last religiously-themed film, Mea Maxima Culpa, Going Clear investigates the inner workings of the Church of Scientology both today and throughout its short history. A shocking and eye-opening film that features interviews with a number of former long-time members of the church, Paul Haggis’s first-hand account of when he gained access to L. Ron Hubbard’s hand-written documents remains one of the most memorable scenes I’ve seen this year. It’s a film I found interested enough that immediately after watching it I sought out the book it’s based on to learn more.
03. Ex Machina
Screenwriter Alex Garland expands into direction with this slam-dunk of a debut, a brilliant, thought-provoking and beautifully shot sci-fi chamber piece exploring artificial intelligence in a new light. Plus it somehow also possesses the year’s most memorable dance sequence. My Review
Damien Chazelle’s jazz musical drama fully lived up to the hype it had gained since its Sundance win last year. Eschewing a predictable underdog narrative, it delivered a compelling portrait of the relationship between an ambitious student and his abusive teacher. Ultimately it picked up Oscars for film editing and J.K. Simmons’ tremendous performance. My Review.
01. Mad Max: Fury Road
George Miller returned to his decades-old franchise with the long, long in development Fury Road and delivered an astonishing action movie that arguably sets a new standard for the genre. I think we can already say that Mad Max: Fury Road is going to endure, not just in influencing cinema but pop culture in general. In the days after its release my Facebook feed was always full with people posting images, opinions, fan art and other references to the film. It’s one of the few films that basically everyone I knew who saw it absolutely loved it too. My Review.