Saturday, 25 January 2020

Top 10 Films of 2019

From breathless war epics to delicious whodunits, 2019 was such a great year for film that I had to come out of my cave and write a top 10 list. It’s a bit late, as usual, but with some cinemas bringing films back before the Oscars, you might still be able to catch them on the big screen! No spoilers:

10) Pain and Glory dir. Pedro Almodovar

Antonio Banderas plays Salvador Mallo, an aging film director who has writer’s block. Unlike most of Almodovar’s previous films, Pain and Glory is quiet and restrained. Part fiction and part autobiographic, he reminisces about childhood days spent with his mother collecting film star trading cards, while reflecting on the choices he’s made and confronting death. It’s raw and intense, but never goes over the top. What does seep through though, is his undeniable love for cinema.

9) Us dir. Jordan Peele

Perhaps not as massive a hit as Get Out, but definitely a lot scarier. Division seems to be a recurring theme in many of this year’s films - namely that between the rich and the poor (Parasite, Hustlers, Ready or Not…) – and Us examines this in the most inventive way. Even if you don’t want to go down that rabbit hole, it can be enjoyed as a straight-up horror film. After all these months, Lupita Nyong’o’s croaky voice still haunts me.

8) Marriage Story dir. Noah Baumbach

Noah Baumbach’s characters tend to come off as a bit cold because I can almost never relate to them. Marriage Story for me is his best work to date. Despite never having been married, I connected to the two lead characters who fumble their way through a collapsing marriage and helplessly turn into versions of themselves they probably never imagined they would. I found it to be beautifully poignant, with amazing performances.

7) 1917 dir. Sam Mendes

Films can go down a top 10 list as you watch more of them, but the opposite seldom happens. Straight after coming out of 1917, sure, it was a riveting experience, “but probably won’t make my top 10”, I thought. But it stayed with me, and as the days went by, higher up my list it went. The ‘one-shot effect’ puts you right there with them in the mud, and unlike many others it seems, I was really invested in the characters. It’s a visual tour de force, and should be seen on the biggest screen possible.

6) Transit dir. Christian Petzold

Every time I tell my partner she should watch Transit, she says, “that’s that one about the couple running from the Nazis, no?” to which I don’t want to say yes or no, because that realisation is the beauty of the film. In a cold and uncaring world, our characters, acting out of self-interest for the most part, wander around in limbo chasing ghosts. Time and again, we watch their smiles turn into heartbreak. Petzold’s previous film Phoenix made my top 10 in 2014, and by now he’s a master of his craft.

5) Knives Out dir. Rian Johnson

With his The Last Jedi money and acclaim, Rian Johnson can do whatever he wants, and what a treat that is! For mystery fans, this film is a gift sealed with a ribbon. Everything is right there for us to deduce, and all the little details come together nicely. The script is tight, and the characters are fully-formed played by an excellent cast. It’s fun, offers biting social commentary, and most of all it has warmth.

4) Little Women dir. Greta Gerwig

Oh to have the balls to take on such a huge classic for your second film! In this version, past and present are weaved together. Far from making it confusing, for the first time ever, every motive made sense, and each character was wholesome. I was smiling from beginning to end, and wanted to stay snuggled up in that warm and happy place forever. Greta Gerwig adds a modern perspective while honouring the source material, making this the ultimate adaptation.

3) Portrait of a Lady on Fire dir. Céline Sciamma

I saw this film here with Spanish subtitles, and much to my delight I understood everything. That’s not so much a result of my Spanish skills as it is because of the visual storytelling. It opens in a painting class, in which Marianne instructs her students to observe, but it’s us being tutored to pay attention to every glance and silent moment. It’s a sensual and captivating love story which took my breath away. Set in 18th century France, the romance is doomed, but it burns brightly before being snuffed out.

2) The Farewell dir. Lulu Wang

Though it clearly comes from a personal place, you don’t need to be between cultures to be moved by this delightful film. It’s about both protecting and clashing with family, dealing with illness as well as missing home. Balancing heartbreak with humour, it’s an unforgettable experience with a beautiful performance by Awkwafina. The film was completely overlooked by the Academy, but it’s found a special place in my heart.

1) Parasite dir. Bong Joon Ho

Parasite took the world by storm this year, becoming only the 12th film not in the English language to be nominated for Best Picture, and the first ever for South Korea. The road was always leading here for Bong Joon Ho. He’s perfected the crime genre (Memories of Murder), he’s a master of suspense (Mother, The Host), and we know he has a penchant for the absurd (Snowpiecer). This time he’s combined it all into one. The Palme d’Or winner starts off as a comedy of sorts, has you on the edge of your seat at times, and even tugs at your heartstrings. It’s wildly entertaining, rich in visual poetry and superbly acted across the board.

The following films were in my top 10 at some point or another, and may well have made the cut on any other day. They’re too good to not mention, so very briefly:

Rocketman dir. Dexter Fletcher
A bold, dazzling film with a killer performance by Egerton. Had so much fun! That he wasn’t even nominated for the Oscar is an injustice…

Hustlers dir. Lorene Scafaria
Speaking of injustices, J-Lo gives the performance of her life and has also been snubbed. Based on a true story, it’s slick and stylish, but never exploits its characters.

Jojo Rabbit dir. Taika Waititi
It’s either the perfect time or the worst time for this kind of film. Some moments were genuinely moving, and the kids are so cute!

Atlantics dir. Mati Diop
The exquisite and haunting directorial debut of Mati Diop about the women left behind. It’s impossible to describe, but easily available on Netlix.

I Lost My Body dir. Jérémy Clapin
Another gem I found on Netflix. A delightful little story of a detached hand on a journey back to its owner, with a surprisingly profound resolution.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Top 17 Film Moments of 2017

I suddenly had the idea to do a top film moments post like I once did a few years ago, in order to keep a record of some other films I liked outside of my top 10. For some reason I felt the need to do it before the Oscars, so I've rushed through the list in one evening.

Spoilers, obviously (I tried not to include spoilers in the pictures):

17. Split: Ending

Split would’ve been a perfectly entertaining film without the ending, but that ending made it just that extra bit special. We find out that James McAvoy’s character, nicknamed The Horde, has escaped and is on the loose. First we hear the familiar music. Then we see a news report about him in a diner, where someone talks about a similar case from 15 years ago – the “funny guy in a wheelchair. What was his name?” “Mr. Glass” says a voice behind her – it’s none other than Bruce Willis! And for the first time we realise we’ve been watching a sequel to Unbreakable.

16. Coco: Remember Me

Terrified of losing Hector to the ‘final death’, Miguel rushes to his great grandmother’s side, begging her to remember him. But Mama Coco can barely make out what he’s talking about, let alone remember anything. His family surround him, demanding he explain himself and apologise, when he picks up his guitar and, voice trembling, begins to sing Remember Me, the song Hector had written for her. Mama Coco’s face lights up, and she starts to sing along. It suddenly got very dusty in the cinema for the people sitting around me.

15. Lady Bird: Cafe Hug

When Lady Bird barges into her boyfriend Danny making out with a guy in the bathroom and crosses his name off the wall in her room, we don’t think we’ll see him again. Onto the next guy, probably. But he comes back to the cafe that she works at, and awkwardly starts talking about how his grandma missed her at Thanksgiving. She cuts to the chase and blurts out, “You’re gay!” In a panic, he begs her to not tell anyone, explaining that his parents don’t know and he needs time to figure out how to tell them. Her expression switches to a compassionate one in an instant and they embrace as he starts to cry. In a film with plenty of beautiful little moments, this one stood out to me the most.

14. Killing of a Sacred Deer: Sacrifice

Unable to choose which one of his family members to sacrifice, Colin Farrell’s character seats his wife, daughter and son in the living room, covers his face with a beanie and spins around, randomly firing his rifle until someone is killed. I was enjoying the unfolding horror (quite satisfying after watching them speak in such a robotic, monotone manner throughout the whole film), but this scene was bananas.

13. A Fantastic Woman: Through the Wind

Marina, a transgender woman, loses her lover to a sudden seizure and is unable to even attend his funeral because of the family’s unacceptance of her. It’s a powerful film with a mesmerising performance by Daniela Vega who plays Marina with strength and dignity that trumps the cruelty of the people around her. In one of several surreal, dream-like scenes, the wind blows with such intensity as she walks down the street, and in fighting against it she tilts practically paralleled to the ground. It’s a beautiful moment that briefly puts us into her shoes.

12. Logan: Opening Massacre

There are several touching and also shocking moments in Logan, but I’m going to pick the opening scene. Logan, drunk and tired-looking, wakes up to a group of thugs attempting to steal parts from his car. He tries to speak to them but they shoot him. Of course, he gets back up and those claws come out like we’ve seen so many times before. But it’s nothing like we’ve ever seen before. He tears them apart – literally, limbs are torn off – and we’re treated to claws piercing skulls and graphic sounds of blood squirting.

11. The Last Jedi: Throne Room Fight

There were many moments I particularly enjoyed in The Last Jedi, from the opening bombing sequence to the battle of Crait, but my favourite has to be the fight in Snoke’s throne room where Rey and Kylo fight the Praetorian Guards. Against a crimson red backdrop reminiscent of Kurosawa’s Kagemusha, Rey and Kylo, on the same side and standing back to back, engage in a gorgeously choreographed battle ending with Kylo using Rey’s lightsaber to burning a hole through the head of one of the guards.

10. Wonder Woman: No Man’s Land

“This is no man’s land. It means no one can cross it”, explains Steve Trevor. The battalion has been there for a year and they’ve barely moved an inch. “We can’t save everyone in this war”, he tells her. But of course, that’s not Diana. In a surprisingly moving moment, she throws off her jacket and storms across no man's land. The music soars as she defects bullets in slow motion, and the rest of the soldiers start to follow. It’s the birth of Wonder Woman.

9. I, Tonya: Did You Do It?

We’ve been watching Tonya Harding go through shitstorm after shitstorm, so when her abusive mother, who has never shown an ounce of anything resembling love towards her daughter, comes knocking on her door offering a hug while the press have surrounded her home, we’re genuinely moved. “Did you do it?” she asks just as she’s leaving. Our hearts drop as she reveals the tape recorder strapped to her. It’s the moment you realise it really is her vs the world.

8. Dunkirk: Gliding Spitfire

In one of the film’s most moving moments, Farrier’s (played by Tom Hardy) spitfire runs out of fuel and floats across the sky waiting for the engine to give out. Down below the soldiers are ecstatic as the evacuation has begun. Then everyone’s joy turns to dread as a German plane descends on them. But Farrier isn’t done yet. He shoots the plane down with the last of his ammunition and cheers erupt. He glides across the beach, window open and propellers still, until he is inevitably captured.

7. Blade Runner 2049: Casino Fight 

Blade Runner 2049 is filled with iconic shots, but my favourite scene is the fight between K and Deckard in the abandoned casino. They throw punches at each other (actually it’s pretty one-sided) surrounded by flashing strobe lights and glitchy holograms of Elvis and bright yellow feather-costumed dancers. It’s a strange and beautiful scene.

6. Baby Driver: Opening

The final third of Baby Driver got a little out of hand, but it boasts the best opening sequence of 2017. Baby boogies to Bellbottoms while the rest of his crew rob a bank. It’s followed by a thrilling car chase sequence, introducing us to the world of the world of Baby Driver with a bang. The opening sequence that follows of Baby walking through the city and grabbing a coffee, perfectly in sync with Harlem Shuffle, is pretty amazing too.

5. Personal Shopper: Texting

Who knew text messaging could be so thrilling? As Maureen boards the Eurostar from Paris to London, she starts receiving mysterious texts from an unknown sender and the conversation continuing throughout the entire journey. The sender knows she’s going to London, so she has cause to be alarmed. The film has already established that ghosts are a thing, so it could be her dead brother. Watching her hesitate to press send and stare at the “…” in anticipation while the sender types, we're completely engrossed as we don’t know what to expect.

4. A Ghost Story: I Get Overwhelmed

In a film full of beautiful moments, one that stands out is the scene where Rooney Mara’s character listens to I Get Overwhelmed, the song her husband had written for her. The scene flashes back and forth from she first hears it to her listening to it now, laying on the floor alone. She almost touches the bed sheet of her husband’s ghost standing there right behind her. I quite like the song itself, and I found this to be a beautiful sequence connecting past and present, dead and alive.

3. The Florida Project: Ending

As Moonee goes about her day, she’s suddenly thrown into a chaotic situation which rapidly escalates. She’s about to be taken away from her mother and of course she doesn’t understand why. Desperate, she runs to her friend’s apartment to say goodbye and for the first time, she struggles to find the words and breaks down in tears. Then, her friend grabs her hand and together they run, run, run until they are in the heart of Disneyland. I already commented on the similarity it shares with The 400 Blows in my previous post. It’s a magical moment which also broke my heart. Shot on an iPhone like in Tangerine, you could even interpret it as a dream sequence that never really happened.

 2. Get Out: The Sunken Place

In my previous post I said that Get Out was the most iconic film of 2017. Well, this scene is the most iconic scene of 2017. Rose’s mother lures Chris into hypnosis with the soothing sound of her voice and the gentle tinkling of a teaspoon against a teacup while under the guise of helping him quit smoking. She subjugates him, sending him to the sunken place. It’s more terrifying than any ghost or monster I’ve ever seen. I’m going to cheat and include the film’s ending as one of my favourite moments as well. After surviving a barrage of attacks, Chris thinks it’s finally over as he lies collapsed on the street. Just then, a police car approaches and we’re all thinking the same thing. Until we find that it’s Rod, Chris’ best friend. It’s a clever scene which subverts out expectations.

1. Call Me By Your Name: Speech

I’m going to cheat again and include 2 moments from Call Me By Your Name, my favourite 2017 film. The first is when Elio’s father, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, gives the monologue all parents should print out and memorise. Heartbroken after having said goodbye to Oliver, his father sees Elio’s pain and gives a moving speech about being open, treasuring love if you are lucky enough to find it, and to embrace the sorrow that comes with it. The other moment is the final shot of the film when Elio, after learning via a telephone call from Oliver that he is getting married, sits by the fire and stares into it, just…feeling. His parents are in the background setting the table, letting him be. There are no words, we just watch his face as he goes through a million emotions while the end credits roll to Sufjan Stevens’ Visions of Gideon. Left me stunned in my seat.

Honourable mention: every scene in Mother!

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Top 10 Films of 2017

Last year I gave up, but this year I’ve mustered up the energy to squeeze in as many 2017 films as I can before the Oscars, which is pretty tricky when you live here. I haven’t been able to see as many animations or foreign language films as I would have liked to, but I’m pretty happy with my list. So without further ado, here is my top 10:

No spoilers!

10. Brigsby Bear

This was a weird but wonderful little gem that should be a treat for anyone who loves films, or being creative in general. It’s hard to describe the plot without giving too much away, and I think the less you know, the better the experience will be. James is a young man obsessed with a kids’ TV show starring Brigsby the bear. Brigsby posters fill every inch of his room, and he records himself giving his latest Brigsby theories after each new episode. But isn’t James a little too old to be obsessed with this kind of thing? What’s going on? The lead character is sympathetic and kooky in an authentic way, and the film goes down its own unique, unpredictable path with confidence. A highly original film, funny with a tinge of sadness and a surprising amount of heart.

9. Good Time

Good Time is a high-energy urban noir film which makes you feel like you’re right in the middle of the action on the gritty, neon-lit streets of New York City, close up in the face of Connie Niklas, our highly incompetent protagonist who hastily drags you from one bad idea to the next as he tries to rescue his brother who is in prison after a heist gone wrong. The heist takes place at the beginning of the film, and the rest of the story takes place more or less over the course of a single night. It’s shot on 35mm film with a deliberate rough texture, punctured by quick camera movements and a pulsating score – all which add to the sense of panic and claustrophobia. So if that’s your idea of a good time, you’ll love this film. Robert Pattinson completely loses himself in the role of Connie, giving us the best performance of his career so far.

8. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

It’s been 7 months since Mildred’s daughter was brutally raped and murdered, and the local police - “too busy torturing black folks” - have made no progress in their investigation. One day she comes across 3 empty billboards and decides to take matters into her own hands. The film is about anger and revenge, as well as finding peace in this cruel world. It feels like the most fully fleshed-out of Martin McDonagh’s three films with his trademark foul-mouthed, razor-sharp dialogue on full display. Somehow he manages to balance the dark subject matters with humour, and shows that no one is simply good or bad, that everyone has their demons. Frances McDormand is fantastic, making you feel the grief that is eating her up under her deadpan delivery, saying so much with few words. Wearing a jumpsuit, a bandana and accompanied by a spaghetti western soundtrack, this is a woman at war.

7. Personal Shopper

Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart have teamed up again after Clouds of Sils Maria, my number one pick of 2015, to create a mysterious and haunting portrait of a woman dealing with grief and loneliness. Maureen, a bereaved spiritual medium, is in Paris trying to contact her twin brother who recently passed away. They’d promised each other that whoever died first would send the other a sign. She works as a personal shopper to Kyra, a film star, picking up fancy clothes and running errands. Unlike in Clouds of Sils Maria where she shared the screen with legendary Juliette Binoche, this time she carries the film on her own, playing Maureen with subtlety and vulnerability. The camera fixates on her as she waits for a sign from her brother who may or may not be there, getting summoned to pick up some high end dress whenever Kyra pleases and tip-toeing into her empty house to leave it behind without a trace, all the while repressing her longing to try it on. At one point in the film while on a train she starts receiving eerie text messages from an unknown number. Is it from her brother? Is it a stalker? Is her imagination playing tricks on her? It’s a thrilling scene in which she acts alone. An intimate and fascinating film which has stayed with me since I saw it in early 2017.

6. Blade Runner 2049

30 years after the original Blade Runner the world is even more bleak, devastated by industrialisation and environmental collapse. The streets are overcrowded with people wearing masks because the air has become so polluted. Our protagonist, Officer K (and later, Joe) – a reference to Kafka’s The Trial – is a lonesome hero who belongs nowhere. The film honours the original, expanding on its themes of what it means to be human and the significance of memories, as well as introducing entirely new ideas of artificial intelligence that are relevant today. The film is a breathtaking work of art – with legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins at the helm - that really takes its time to soak into its visuals. It’s kind of a miracle that this film exists at all. There are so many iconic shots, from rain-soaked rooftops to dusty orange landscapes. Like in Arrival which was one of my favourite films last year, Denis Villeneuve is able to bring a sense of deep emotional truth to the visual spectacle, making this one of my favourite Sci-Fi films ever.

5. I, Tonya

I, Tonya is an unusual biopic based on multiple accounts of events that often conflict with each other. Uninterested in the one and only truth, it becomes an entertaining portrait of Tonya Harding which somehow manages to balance its dark themes of domestic violence with its lighter tones. Characters break the fourth wall for both comedic effect, and also during its toughest scenes to challenge us directly: what do YOU think? While the film depicts its many points of views and doesn’t ask us to take sides, it clearly has a soft spot for Tonya and we root for her as we watch her unable to escape the onslaught of violence, classism and tabloid frenzy, and yet refuse to see herself as a victim. The film is both funny and tragic, and also shows ice skating in a dramatic, up and close way that we don’t normally get to see. But even if you have no interest in ice skating or have never heard of Tonya Harding before, the film is a thoroughly entertaining ride with excellent performances by Margot Robbie and Alison Janney.

4. The Florida Project

While his previous film Tangerine (in my top 10 of 2015) told the story of transgender sex workers in Los Angeles, The Florida Project explores a community struggling to make ends meets, living in extended stay motels just outside the boundaries of the most magical place in the world. Like Tangerine this film is vivid and dripping with sun. But unlike Tangerine, here there is no narrative at all. We spend time with a group of kids led by Moonee during their summer holiday, running riot and mostly getting up to no good. They don’t need any Disneyland; to them, this poverty-stricken area is paradise. The film is heartbreaking and tragic, but there is also so much joy. Halley isn’t a great mother, but you can clearly see the love that she and Moonee share. It reaches an emotional climax towards the end (one of my top film moments of the year), and then closes with a scene reminiscent of the ending to The 400 Blows. Like Truffaut, Sean Baker is a humanist who finds beauty in the little details of people’s lives. He manages to draw out a stunning performance from then-6 year old Brooklynn Prince, who hilariously owns all of her R-rated dialogue. Willem Dafoe, who plays Bobby the motel manager who looks out for Moonee and co, is the only seasoned actor in the film and blends in just perfectly.

3. A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story is unlike any film I’ve ever seen and difficult to describe without sounding a bit silly. The protagonist is a (dead) man covered in a white sheet with eye holes designed to look like a child’s ghost costume for Halloween… Just as I was beginning to think it was ridiculous, it turned into a beautiful and profound experience that has stayed with me since. The title is somewhat misleading; it’s not so much a ghost story as it is a story with a ghost in it. It’s about life, death, love, loss, time, fear of change… With minimal dialogue and no facial expressions for us to deduce, it relies on its haunting soundtrack to convey the ghost’s lonely emotions.

2. Get Out

THE defining film of 2017, Get Out was released in early 2017 and the hype never died down. Jordan Peele uses the story of a black man meeting his girlfriend’s parents as a platform for a delightfully clever satire on race relations in the United States, but it’s also a hilarious, thrilling and terrifying mishmash that bends the rules of genre. As soon as Chris (a brilliantly nuanced performance by Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose arrive at the house, something is clearly off. The parents seem nice but…too nice. Something is wrong with the housekeeper but we aren’t sure what. When you finally get the twist, from there on it’s pure entertainment that never gets out of hand the way many films do, culminating in a brilliant ending. It’s scary, funny, and says something important in a truly unique way.

1. Call Me By Your Name

It’s the summer of 1983, “somewhere in northern Italy”. 17 year old Elio is staying at his family’s summer home with his academic parents. Every summer they host a graduate student who assists Elio’s father on his research; this year it’s Oliver, a 24 year old American who exudes effortless charm and leaves the room with a breezy “later!” His confidence and openness fascinates Elio and takes over his life. Elio is himself open and free, raised by his parents to explore life and discover its fruit as he pleases. He’s well-versed in literature and transcribes classical music, but he’s convinced he doesn’t know anything. They spend their days in lush, sun-drenched gardens, lounging by the pool discussing art and plucking peaches from the trees. It’s summertime and there’s no hurry to get anywhere. Elio and Oliver have instant chemistry though they’re hesitant to admit it at first. Oliver asks Elio to play something on the piano, but Elio won’t play it the way he wants him to. Without realising it, they’re flirting. All these little details build up to the moment when they finally consummate their love, and it makes you hold your breath. And with it there’s a sadness as we know it can’t last. It’s been there from the moment he arrived, in the unspoken words, the rustling leaves and spaces between them that the camera lingers on. The film is a pure and sensual masterpiece accompanied by a beautiful soundtrack. I only need to hear the first couple of seconds of Sufjan Stevens’ Mystery of Love or Visions of Gideon to start welling up. Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays Elio’s father, gives a powerful speech towards the end of the film which destroyed me. And the final shot! Timothée Chalamet should win all the awards for that scene alone. He gives a tour-de-force performance, switching from child-like and playful to wise beyond his years as smoothly as he transitions from French to English to Italian. It’s the most romantic film I’ve seen in recent years, and will resonate with anyone who’s ever been in love.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Top 15 films of 2015

I’ve had so much free time since October so I’m catching up on 2015 films just before the Oscars. It’s been a challenge because Spanish cinemas dub everything. Anyway, here’s my top 15. I haven’t included films which were nominated for last year’s awards.


15. Wild Tales (dir. Damián Szifron)

This film is made of 6 short stories which aren’t linked at all except for their overall theme of how humans behave in extreme situations. The first one is so surreal and funny, cut to open credits and you know you’re in for a good ride! Some of the segments are quite dark and a little scary in the sense that it feels like it could happen to people around you. Six fun stories for the price of one!

14. Miss Hokusai (dir. Keiichi Hara)

I don’t normally watch animated films unless I know they’re good, but this one surprised me. It’s told from the viewpoint of Hokusai’s daughter, O-Ei, who is also a talented painter. There isn’t much of a big story, and it feels more like a glimpse into their lives. There are many haunting moments, some beautiful imagery, and I think I remember liking the music too for the most part. Really pretty. The Japanese Edo period comes alive.

13. Pawn Sacrifice (dir. Edward Zwick)

Based on the true story of American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer, set during the Cold War. We see him take on the Soviet Empire as well as struggle against his own mental illness, with the whole world watching. I’m not particularly interested in chess, but I still found this to be really enjoyable. Some reviewers are saying that the documentary Bobby Fischer Against the World is far superior, which is true in the sense that it’s more historical accurate and there’s more depth, but this film is worth seeing for Tobey Maguire’s captivating performance as an eccentric, paranoid, sad but also charming Bobby Fischer. The ending comes somewhat suddenly and the story of his later life is explained in the form of text, and I can’t help but feel that there was plenty more interesting story to be told, but perhaps the tone would have shifted too much. For the full experience, see the film and the 2011 documentary, but as a work of fiction based on true events, this was plenty enjoyable.

12. Phoenix (dir. Christian Petzold)

This is a really dark, haunting film about identity, denial, loss, and searching for answers in the post-war era. Nina is a concentration camp survivor, but has been heavily disfigured. She undergoes facial reconstruction surgery and asks the surgeon to give her back the face she used to have. Then she goes on a desperate search for her husband. She finds him, but what awaits her is more and more heartbreak. It’s really gripping, right until the end credits, stylishly shot but the symbolism is subtle and not in your face. The acting is really great too. I saw this just once way back in the summer but it was such a powerful film, it still resonates with me.

11. Room (dir. Lenny Abrahamson)

I wasn’t sure whether to add this to the list or not, because I never want to watch it again. Well, not anytime soon anyway. It’s a harrowing story that was painful to watch, but it also explores the great, loving bond between this mother and her son. It’s a film that I’m really glad I watched, and if you haven’t seen it, you definitely should. I won’t say what this film is about; the less you know before seeing it, the better I think. It’s a raw, emotional experience I’ll never forget. Brie Larson is fantastic as the mother, and the 9 year old Jacob Tremblay was even better as little Jack. He must’ve been like…8 or even 7 during filming? Wow. It’s the best child performance I’ve ever seen. Credit to director Lenny Abrahamson too, for getting such an amazing performance out of a child. He directed Frank from last year, a film I really enjoyed as well.

10. Taxi Tehran (dir. Jafar Panahi)

In 2010 Jafar Panahi was charged with propaganda and banned from making films for at least a decade. I’d seen some of his most famous films before, like Crimson Gold and The White Balloon, but was unaware of the more recent happenings until I accidentally stumbled across his latest film Taxi Tehran. This is actually his third ‘film’ since his ban. The first one being a documentary filmed on an iPhone when he was under house arrest, called This Is Not a Film. I need to check these out. Anyway, in Taxi, Jafar Panahi poses as a taxi driver and has unknown actors play various passengers. Each passenger’s story paints a little picture of what life is like in Iran, and some of them give full-on speeches about topics such as the criminal justice system, and talk about how such views would be banned by the Iranian government if they were to ever put it into a film (ha). The director’s actual niece plays his niece, who has been assigned by her school to make a film as homework, but has been given a list of detailed instructions on what she isn’t allowed to include. It’s all very in-the-face, but also very entertaining. Some of the things that happen and the things they talk about are really humorous and enjoyable. Despite the cameras never leaving the taxi and the film being a series of passengers, it feels quite fleshed out. The director’s courage and reluctance to give up making films in itself makes this film precious, but it’s really also a lot of fun.

9. The Revenant (dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)

The grittiness of this film takes a toll on the viewer’s mind, but in terms of filmmaking it’s a masterpiece. It’s almost like realism in a sense, because the cast and crew have gone through hell in actual freezing cold settings, and no artificial light has been used (I read that the director only wanted to use real light so they could only film an hour or two of footage per day). DiCaprio crawls through snow and wades through rivers barely uttering a word, and the agony on his face I’m sure is almost all real. But of course, hundreds of hours of rehearsals have taken place, ensuring that things go to plan in those one or two hours, and that no one gets hurt. CGI has been used sparingly for some of the scenes involving animals. What is this called? Torturealism? I’m here under a warm blanket but I feel like I’ve gone through this epic journey too. The water, the snow, the wind, I can almost feel it. It’s intense, but its beauty takes my breath away. The camera soars into the air, under water, glides between trees, pans 360 degrees, and then even makes us look directly into DiCaprio’s eyes at the end. It’s beautiful and it’s powerful. It makes us understand that the greatest villain of the film is nature. It’s not the most enjoyable film in the world, but it’s great cinema that will no doubt stand the test of time.

8. Carol (dir. Todd Haynes)

Cate Blanchett puts on an exquisite performance. Every glance, every move of her fingers, every word she says kind of floats into the air like smoke, and unlike in a film like Joy for example, where the lead performance tramples all over the flimsy mess of a film, the other parts of this film – the cinematography, the music, the framing, it all blends together. No scene feels out of place, too long or too short, which I feel tends to happen in films adapted from books. Credit to the screenplay. I like the mix of things – it’s a love story, but also feels like a thriller at times, a mystery at times. The film is called Carol, but Rooney Mara’s character is no audience surrogate. She’s a fully formed character in her own right. Naïve but not in the annoying sense. It always felt like these two characters were both trying to figure out the feelings they were feeling.

7. Brooklyn (dir. John Crowley)

Another great adaptation from book to screen. It’s a simple love story, but told so beautifully. It’s sweet, pure, funny at times, and I’m reminded that films don’t have to be complicated or have any surprises to be great. Saoirse Ronan is fantastic. She doesn’t carry the film, the film doesn’t need to be carried, but she makes it so great. Her eyes alone convey so much that words cannot. Some people seem to disagree, but I felt a charming chemistry between her and the actor who plays Tony. I put this higher up on the list than Carol, the other love story on my list, because the theme of homesickness really resonated with me. If you’ve ever felt so miserably homesick that you feel like you have no future, the first half of the film will remind you of that.

6. The Brand New Testament (dir. Jaco Van Dormael)

God lives in Brussels, and he’s a dick. Everyone’s heard of his rebellious son, but no one knows about his daughter… I loved this film! It has a dream-like feel reminiscent of Amelie, and it’s hilarious. In a satirical, dark sense, but also in a delightfully oh wow! sense. The final act was a bit disappointing for me. It dragged on a bit, and didn’t give the film the kind of ending it deserved. But still, it’s so high up on my list because of how imaginative and original it is. It’s a lot of fun, has a couple of really beautiful poetic moments, and should be enjoyed for its charm as I don’t think it’s aiming to offend anyone.

5. Inside Out (dir. Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen)

I didn’t see this film until just a couple of months ago and I really wanted to find that it was overrated because I’m a horrible person like that, but by the time I was halfway in I’d run out of things to mumble about and decided to give in to the sheer awesomeness of it. “That’s definitely not how emotions work”, “I moved schools like every other year and never complained”, and “why don’t they just kill sadness?” being some of the comments I made which I now take back. All the bits inside the mind where Joy and Sadness get lost were so clever and imaginative! The train of thought! Urgh. And at a certain point towards the end of the film I had to bite my lip to stop myself from shedding a single tear. It was a surprisingly emotional journey, and it took me back to when I was a child. The outside world and inside head stories went well together and didn’t seem out of sync or unbalanced. I had a great time.

4. Tangerine (dir. Sean Baker)

Filmed using iPhones, Tangerine is about a transgender prostitute who has just been released from prison. She finds out that her pimp boyfriend has been cheating on her and charges through the streets of LA to find him with her best friend on Christmas Eve. This just goes to show you don’t need expensive cameras, fancy sets or famous actors to make a great film. Real characters, imagination and anything with a camera in the hands of talent is what you need. The subject matters of prostitutes and drugs don’t particularly interest me, but it looked like a light bit of fun so I sat down to watch it. The two female leads are so powerful and memorable, they drag you through the colourful streets of LA and immerse you into their lives. It all builds up to one hell of a climax, and you realise how surprisingly solid the film was. It’s not just a comedy, it’s also a raw and touching story about friendship and family, and it’s the warmth and love of these characters that makes the film so great.

3. Ex Machina (dir. Alex Garland)

Sci-Fi isn’t usually my cup of tea, but if it’s written by Alex Garland you know it’s going to involve great ideas about what it is to be human, social norms and gender roles. This was his directorial debut, and it’s amazing how masterfully he is able to work visually. There is a sinister feeling throughout the film which engages us for the entire time. The ominous music, the sparse use of colours, smooth surfaces and framing of characters with lots of space all create a claustrophobic feeling. Like Ava, the AI created by Nathan, we feel trapped inside this building in the middle of vast forest assembled by lots of mirrors which create an inwards depth with no way out. Lots of important and interesting questions are asked and get us talking, which I think is also a sign of a great film. I also really liked the conversations between Nathan and Caleb. They use language that’s simple enough to invite us in and be enticing, but it never feels condescending. The use of CGI is really great despite the low budget. The film gets straight to the point and doesn’t ever lose sight of what it set out to do.

2. Victoria (dir. Sebastian Schipper)

Victoria, a young Spanish woman is in Berlin for a few months. One night after clubbing she bumps into a group of local guys who flirt with her, and she joins them for one last beer…the film then takes us on an unexpectedly insane, intense adventure. The entire 2 hour film was filmed in one single take! And they’re not in just a few simple locations or anything. They cycle down roads, go up buildings, drive around in cars…to think of all the preparation that must’ve gone in to film this, it’s just incredible. You literally go on a journey with them, from something like 3 or 4 in the morning until a perfectly timed sunrise. I read that most of the dialogue was improvised, and the cameraman also had to dive around to avoid accidentally filming other crew members etc. Not just that, but the camera often reflects the character’s state of mind. The naturally flowing dialogue is mostly charming and funny. They speak in English, though there is some German spoken among the guys at times. I purposely turned the subtitles off to try and put myself in the protagonist’s shoes, and I’m glad I did as it felt more real and tense. It’s a really intimate, riveting experience and I’m glad I came across this film.

1. Clouds of Sils Maria (dir. Olivier Assayas)

The female version of Birdman! But easier to understand. That being said I can’t really explain the film… It’s about growing older, various approaches to acting, being ‘relevant’…but there are so many layers to this film that it’s so much more than that. It’s a great work of art set in beautiful locations that blurs the line between what is real and what isn’t at times, and these moments are delightful. Art is a way to express oneself, so really it’s relatable to anyone. Juliette Binoche is remarkable as Maria Enders, an actress who has agreed to play the older woman in a revival of the play that made her famous, opposite the younger character she played all those years ago who is now being played by hip new actress Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz) who is talented but full of scandals. Kristen Stewart holds her own next to Binoche as her personal assistant. They recite lines together, and the conversations they have are a joy to watch. My favourite film of 2015.