December 20, 2015

The Best Movies of 2015

A list from David Stratton which includes several excellent biopics.


This has proved to be the year in which the gap between the way films are released into cinemas — depending on whether they’re deemed to be blockbusters or small movies aimed at minority taste — grew so wide that it is now seemingly impossible to bridge.

In the past, while the “big” films — usually superhero franchises or broad, often vulgar, comedies — screened in cinemas all over the country, there was still a good chance to catch the “small” films, thanks to some of the independent cinema chains and the small number of wholly independent cinemas, many of them still operating from single screens.

This year, catching a small film became more difficult than ever. Some key films weren’t even previewed for reviewers, while others were given such limited exposure you had to be extremely quick to see them at all.

To review the Taiwanese film The Assassin, which is included in my 10 best films of the year below and which — to my knowledge — has yet to be booked into any Sydney metropolitan cinema (though it has in Melbourne), I travelled to Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains where the enterprising Mount Vic Flicks, a single-screen cinema, was screening it across two weekends.

On the other hand, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, another of the films on my list, is screening in almost every cinema in the country. Then there are the films that bypassed cinema release altogether, apart, perhaps, from the occasional special screening, often accompanied by a Q&A; films like this were offered via various streaming sources instead.
Some of the most interesting films of the year — those that failed to make the list below but nevertheless are worth seeking out — have had similar difficulties in finding cinemas to show them or distributors willing to give them a push. I haven’t yet been able to see Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups, which was admired by my colleague Stephen Romei but was denied a preview screening by its distributor and screened in only a pitifully small number of cinemas.



Other barely released films of interest this year have been Roy Andersson’s whimsical collection of Swedish cautionary tales, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence; Gaspar Noe’s erotic 3-D relationship movie, Love; and Christian Petzold’s post-World War II melodrama, Phoenix.

This means the enthusiastic buff who wants to see films on the big screen faces more challenges than ever to keep abreast of contemporary cinema.

It underlines the importance of the independents, and the small cinemas that still operate and even flourish. The single-screen cinema in Sawtell, NSW, recently has been renovated and given a new lease of life, just one example of grassroots enterprise.

Also of increasing importance is the role played by the film society movement and film festivals. The major city festivals are successfully screening wide cross-sections of new films every year and are augmented by an increasingly multicultural list of national festivals, of which the French and Italian are most prominent. Between them, these events provide — at a price — most of the best of contemporary cinema.

To keep my 10 best list under control, I’ve been forced to omit some very good films. Far from Men, Girlhood and Clouds of Sils Maria were all high-quality French productions; Amy, about the life of Amy Winehouse, was the best documentary; The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything were prestige British films of distinction; It Follows was the best horror film; Strangerland and The Gift were impressive directorial debuts by two Australian directors, Kim Farrant and Joel Edgerton respectively.



And there was a clutch of first-rate American independents, including two by Noah Baumbach (While We’re Young and Mistress America, the latter starring the sublime Greta Gerwig) as well as Me & Earl & the Dying Girl, The Diary of a Teenage Girl and Peter Bogdanovich’s deliciously funny and sadly underrated comedy, She’s Funny That Way. So it was not a bad year for cinema, even though it was sometimes a frustrating one.

David Stratton’s Top 10 for 2015
Clint Eastwood’s sober movie is not only the biography of a real-life marksman (played by Bradley Cooper) whose skills were put to use in Iraq, it is also and more importantly a study of the trauma of contemporary wars on their participants.


A stunningly beautiful minimalist martial arts film from Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien about a female assassin. A triumph, despite a convoluted narrative.

Alejandro G. Inarritu’s satirical behind-the-scenes exploration of the work that goes into the production of a play is a stunning piece of cinema with a seamless shooting style and fine performances from Michael Keaton, Emma Stone and others.

The events leading up to the murder of Olympic gold medallist Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) by eccentric millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell, superb) in 1988. A strangely gripping true story, beautifully told by director Bennett Miller.

Inside Out
The year’s best animated film by far, this extremely inventive Pixar production, made by Pete Docter, takes place almost entirely inside the head of a little girl.

Andrei Zvyagintsev’s blistering expose of life in contemporary Russia, set in a small town on the Barents Sea where the Everyman protagonist finds himself in conflict with powerful interests against whom he has no hope of prevailing.

Mad Max: Fury Road
Undoubtedly one of the best films of its type made, George Miller’s acclaimed action epic overcomes a slender plot thanks to its sheer skill and invention. I wish this very talented director would tackle original dramatic subjects again, but there’s no denying the quality on display here.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Director JJ Abrams breathes new life and energy into one of the cinema’s most popular franchises, adroitly combining old (Harrison Ford) and new elements in a thoroughly entertaining romp.


The Tribe
An extraordinary film from Ukraine enacted solely in unsubtitled sign language but nevertheless completely comprehensible. A grim story of the exploitation of the handicapped, this is a simply stunning piece of cinema. 

Cate Blanchett gives perhaps her finest screen performance in this riveting account of the behind-the-scenes network television drama that resulted in the end of the long on-camera career of Dan Rather (Robert Redford).

By David Stratton

With many thanks to The Australian.

Picture Credit Alan Turing and Benedict Cumberbatch: Say Member

Other pictures have been mentioned in posts below

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