Our End of Year review continues with the choices of Reviews Editor Philip Bagnall.
A Girl Walks Home At Night
Ana Lily Amirpour’s directorial debut is a stylish and sexy homage to Jarmusch and Leone, whilst still crafting its own niche. It’s the Iranian vampire Western we never knew we wanted, but thank goodness it’s come along. Sheila Vand casts long shadows and creates an icon as the titular Girl, a subtle metaphor in a Persian city beset by heroin addiction. This girl’s too cool for school.
Mad Max: Fury Road
In a summer of shilling corporate product, along came George Miller’s fourth instalment of his long-dormant franchise to set the bar surprisingly high. Out with Gibson, and in with Hardy, Theron et al crossing gorgeously-lensed apocalyptic wastes in a raucous romp whose confidence in its own craziness is matched only by its efficiency and near-breathless energy. Mad? To the max!
Andrew Haigh’s follow-up to Weekend is definitive proof that you don’t have to over-emote to draw tears. Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are quietly astonishing as a couple whose upcoming anniversary (and the years that came before) are threatened when a ghostly memory come back to haunt them. It’s understated, beautiful and honest, with many moments of phenomenal emotional power.
Frederick Wiseman, that most resilient and identifiable of documentary filmmakers, turns his intent gaze to the hubbub of London’s National Gallery to bring a potentially-austere subject to vivid life. The behind-the-scenes action proves as compelling as the artworks themselves, with Wiseman’s ever-unflinching and unobtrusive eye capturing all and any aspects of the gallery’s workings to create a terrifically-rounded and involving portrait.
Clouds of Sils Maria
In the tale of Juliette Binoche’s ageing actress seeing her career being overwhelmed by younger fare (Chloe Grace Moretz’s wildcat), there are parallels to be drawn to many other films. Olivier Assayas keeps unfavourable comparisons at bay with a smart script, elegant direction and the teasing ambiguity of Binoche’s assistant, a game-changing role for Kristen Stewart.
Michael Keaton swaps one career-defining superhero for another in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s fully self-conscious sideswipe at both blockbuster lore and actorly self-aggrandisement. With a game cast in tow, and Emmanuel Lubezki’s nimble camerawork charting the fall and rise of Keaton’s one-time star in need of stage bound redemption, it’s an enjoyable slice of sarcasm that makes no bones about its targets or its own affectations.
The Look of Silence
After the horrifying novelty of The Act of Killing, director Joshua Oppenheimer returns to Indonesia to chart the story of the Indonesian massacres of the mid-1960s, but this time from the point of view of the survivors. It may be less stylish and filmic than its predecessor, but The Look of Silence may be all the more powerful, as these victims share their experiences to a compassionate and attentive camera. Devastating.
Todd Haynes’ adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel is immensely beautiful, but never over-stylised. The performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara brim with emotion, but are never histrionic. From Phyllis Nagy’s beautfully-adapted script comes a tale of elusive passion that’s at once a handsome snapshot of the 1950s and a contemporary-feeling fight in the face of social mores.
Hard To Be A God
Admittedly, it’s difficult to recommend Aleksey German’s masterwork to the casual viewer, but even they would have to admit that it’s astonishingly designed and made. This tale of an Earth-like planet stuck in the Dark Ages is defined by its commitment to a world caked in blood, faecal matter and misery. The discipline and subordinate griminess of German’s vision ensure his last film is one of the few that earns the tag ‘unforgettable’.
The Duke of Burgundy
The third film by director Peter Strickland owes debts to many sources (The plotting is somewhere between Fassbinder and Jess Franco, and its themes of homosexual romance in jeopardy are shared by the aforementioned Carol), but its elegance, its beautifully-judged performances (Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara d’Anna play our leading lepidopterist lovers) and its overawing visual and aural pleasures ensure it remains its own distinct and staggeringly-beautiful entity.
The Salt of the Earth
Best of Enemies
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
The Tale of The Princess Kaguya
The worst: Jurassic World.
A dull, pandering, unoriginal and criminally undercooked insult to anyone in search of a good time at the cinema. A steaming pile of T-rex droppings.