As the father of a soon-to-be three-year-old it is very difficult to find the time to watch the number of movies I used to watch pre-parenthood. I’m still struggling with this reality, and the number of titles on my To Watch list increases each week, paying no heed to my limited viewing time.
2015 has been the hit the hardest so far, with numerous movies that I missed either its festival screening, its theatrical run, or I haven’t got around to renting. First World problems, I know, but as a self-proclaimed cinephile, this hurts my credibility immensely.
But enough griping; on the plus side, there have been plenty of amazing films that screened this year, either at festivals or in local cinemas, or that were released straight-to-video. My favourites’ list is eclectic that way, with its parameters extending to exclusive festival screenings as well as those that were released in Australia belatedly.
I decided this year to merge the two separate lists of twelve I have been doing for the past three years, into one single list of twenty.
So here then are my favourite twenty movies of 2015, with an additional bunch of honourable mentions/close contenders, and a selection of ones I missed with great regret. Unfortunately time has not permitted me to write reviews for all of these, as yet.
Alex Garland’s debut as director is a stunning piece of work, all mood and ambience, suggestion and restraint. It drips with a seductive science fiction premise, full of literary references, drenched in atmosphere. The vibe is lush and elegant, hard, smooth, and yet beautifully fragile.
Anthony Perkins’ son Osgood delivers a debut shrouded in the kind of dreamy, nightmarish fabric that would make David Lynch proud, and exuding the kind of sensual dread and mystique that permeates the best Euro shockers. This shadows Ex Machina for top spot.
From arguably the most consistently impressive of those three crazy film school Mexicans (Inarritu, Del Toro, Cuaron), this is an instant cult classic, bristling with quotes, searing with truths, floating on fantasy, finally set free by the rapture that is one’s soul torn asunder by love and acceptance; the triumphant gratification of human frailty.
Sparking off an exceptional screenplay that bristles with some of the best sequences of suspense and three beautifully realised characters (each performed superbly), Joel Edgerton’s debut as writer/director (as well as one of the three leads) is an absolute cracker.
French Canadian Denis Villenueve’s extraordinary track record includes Maelstrom, Incendies, Prisoners, and Enemy. He can notch this brooding, brutal, and darkly beautiful thriller on his belt too. Exemplary work from DOP Roger Deakins, a stunning performance from Emily Blunt, and great work from Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin.
An utterly exhilarating experience, aging visionary George Miller’s is a unique piece of cinema, a $100m action extravaganza painted in bold and vivid strokes that looks plucked straight from the lurid pages of that glorious science-fantasy magazine Metal Hurlant (Heavy Metal).
It’s been a year of great screenplay writing, and this one, by director Jon Watts and Christopher D. Ford is no exception (It would make a great black comedy double feature with Cheap Thrills.) Kevin Bacon in fine villain form in a true dark blue American indie gem.
A perfectly disquieting nightmare, playing on that age-old childhood terror of your parents being imposters, whilst delivering a steadily horrifying portrayal of a truly damaged psyche, and the gruesome consequences of harbouring secrets from the disturbed. Great original work from co-directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz.
Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield spa beautifully in this dialogue-heavy (including a searing capitalist monologue from Shannon), but enormously satisfying thriller about greed and corruption from director and co-writer Ramin Bahrani. Real estate acquisition and eviction has never been so compelling.
For his sophomore feature Australian director Justin Kurzel tackles the bard’s darkest tragedy and delivers one of the most rugged and tenebrously beautiful cinema adaptations (up there with Polanski’s 1971 production), whilst his brother Jed delivers yet another blisteringly evocative score.
Embedded with a cool, sensual style, awash with colour and dynamic movement, director Jon Knautz’s narrative, both in mise-en-scene and character, is compelling. Alexis Kendra (star, co-writer, co-producer, and production designer) bravely rides the rollercoaster of emotions, laid bare, being thrown around the arena of love’s cruel intent.
I knew little of the Brit legend’s music, and almost nothing of her troubled life and short career, suffice to say, she intrigued me a lot, and this wonderful tribute (read: eulogy) from director Asif Kapadia, which utilises many hours of video footage from friends, family, and the media, and punctuates with the lyrics to her songs, is both endearing and heartbreaking.
Stephen Fingleton’s feature debut is a minimalist, post-apocalyptic fable sporting the stark efficiency of a slow burn thriller and the dramatic intensity of a chamber piece, harnesses three stellar performances, and delivers a quietly devastating denouement.
A brilliant original score by Todor Kobakov & Ian LeFeuvre soaks director Bruce MacDonald’s dream piece in a truly nightmarish atmosphere. Think Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava trapped in an American cul-de-sac on All Hallow’s Eve. There’ll definitely be tears before bedtime, and there will be blood.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Shot in Los Angeles, but doubling as the fictional Iranian small town of Bad City, writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour fashions an eccentric vampire piece that channels the dark magic realism of David Lynch and the minimalist pop culture of Jim Jarmusch.
Turk director Can Evrenol's debut feature kicks such nightmarish ass in its second half, with a killer ending to boot, that it’s easy to forgive the sluggish first half. If you’re after heinous witchcraft spell this surreal flick delivers in the most gruesome of spades.
Alex Gibney’s powerful, and ultimately very disquieting, exposé on the inner workings and devastating consequences of this complicated belief system that has seduced so many. This is required viewing for anyone who is fascinated by the question of faith, and/or the insidious influence of cults.
Injecting his own furious take on the zombie sub-genre with a suitably ludicrous science fiction plot device, Kiah Roache-Turner (along with his brother Tristan) straddles the instant cult classic mantle with brazen confidence, the kind of party flick that demands to be consumed with as much beer, pizza, and blunts, as you can scoff.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
It’s A New Hope for the iGeneration. Take it with a grain of Jakku salt (including all the glaring inconsistencies, narrative conveniences, and sillyisms) and enjoy the cosmic ride for its sheer unabashed interstellar fun. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are certainly enjoying themselves, as is fanboy director J.J. Abrams, who is basically making a cover version.
Bound to Vengeance, Black Souls, The Hallow, Love & Mercy, Be My Cat, Cat Sick Blues, Unfriended, Victoria, Deathgasm, It Follows.
Notable Absences (movies I really, really wanted to see, but missed):
The Invitation, The Witch, Bone Tomahawk, Horsehead, Hard to be a God.