When this year started, I made a list of films I wanted to see. Some have yet to be ticked off because I haven’t got round to them yet, a couple I changed my mind about, a few more I missed in the cinema and some others got added in my head but not on the list. At least one I wasn’t sure would actually come out this year and I was right to think so, so that’ll transfer to 2016 quite happily.
But now it’s mid-December, and in the spirit of the endless reviews of the year that are already a sprinkling and will soon become a deluge, I’ve been having a think about my favourite films of this year. Despite my quiet, semi-shameful addiction to award shows, I don’t actually like to rank films – in no universe does it make sense to pit some of my favourite films against each other: superhero flick, period drama and Issues Film cheek by jowl – but I do like to celebrate them. So here, with just one winner in each category, were my favourite films of 2015.
The Life I Lead: Mistress America
As is often the case with things I really, really, really love, I struggle to write about Mistress America. I feel like I’ll either end up writing 35 unnecessary, unwanted thinkpieces that get increasingly overwrought (“NUMBER 35: ONE FOR EACH YEAR OF MY WASTED POTENTIAL”) or I’ll just end up nagging people to “just see it so you’ll understaaaaaand”. This Guardian piece goes a long way towards unpicking some of the reasons why Mistress America was such a gem of a creation; all I know is, I could have sat in that cinema and watched it from beginning to end all over again without pausing for breath or to wipe away my tears. And it features one of my favourite OMD songs in the soundtrack. When it comes down to it, it’s practically perfect in every way.
At the heart of any debate about feminism lie issues surrounding the female body’s ability to bear children; it is no accident that each of these films features a child being ripped from their birth mother due to her unstoppable desire to be fully human. But, just as it is so often a mother that nurtures a sick child, these films delivered a much-needed dose of medicine to the UK and US film industries. Anyone who cares about battling sexism on screen rejoiced at seeing these films succeed, standing on the shoulders of all the female talent that has gone – frequently unsung – before to give an enthusiastic shove in the right direction. Yes, Suffragette could have better anticipated and avoided whitewashing claims, and Carol, I thought, needed to deliver more of a gut punch. But both were still unquestionably important films, and Suffragette had an undeniably profound impact on me.
Let’s Go Fly a Kite: Tomorrowland
Poor Tomorrowland. It received a drubbing from disgruntled Disney fans (mainly, actually, nothing to do with the content of the film itself, but its marketing). Reviews were so-so. The box office receipts didn’t set the world alight (although it actually did just about turn a profit). And yet I absolutely loved it. You can accuse me of Disney bias if you like, but I promised myself I would only include one of theirs and here it is. There is so much to love about Tomorrowland I wrote two separate – lengthy – posts on it and I could easily fill a few more sides of A4. The annoying thing is that whenever there’s a blatantly feminist film or TV programme people fall over themselves to say how they dream of a day when all of these things are just normal ways of making a film, without it having to be a Thinkpiece Issue. And then Tomorrowland comes along and there’s a girl in the lead role and she’s smart (but not a Strong Female Character) and she has no love interest and she wears jeans and a t-shirt throughout and there’s another girl and she’s a goddamn ass-kicking robot and the men are all drama queens. It turns everything on its head, and it’s gloriously, deliciously, overwhelmingly optimistic, and, and, AND it references two of Walt’s own flagship attractions. I mean for God’s sake, people, what more do you want?
Step in Time: Mr Holmes
Maybe it’s because I watched it in Baker Street, but Mr Holmes was simply delightful. It’s quite the precarious tightrope walk to balance dementia, suicide, missing parents, near-death experiences and strained familial relations without ending up dropping into a quagmire of cloying, saccharine predictability. Mr Holmes, however, steers well clear, deftly avoiding the soft-focus glow that suffuses so many period dramas in favour of a more timeless story of personal regret. It’s one of the most restrained and beautiful performances I’ve ever seen from McKellen, eschewing the kind of deliberate scenery chewing we’ve become so used to in his more recent fantasy roles. A chocolate box that’s full of decadently rich and bitter pure cocoa – as good for you as it is occasionally hard to swallow.
A Man Has Dreams: High-Rise
If I had to choose a film to stay with me, one that opens with a battered but still beautiful man catching and eating a friendly dog probably wouldn’t be high on that list. But for all my misgivings and squeamishness, High-Rise left a lasting impression. I could probably come up with some distressingly insightful self-analysis around sometimes feeling rather blank and grey and battling to keep up with my own expectations. Or I could sagely examine the blistering satire on modern living that’s as relevant now – if not more so – than it was when the source material was written. But peeling back my own public face wouldn’t be done with half as much elegance, so I’ll just say that of all the films I saw this year I’m not sure any other one surprised and unsettled and (frankly almost grudgingly) impressed me as much as this one. Now, if only I had the balls to watch more Wheatley…
And with that, I’ll leave the cinematic pontificating for, oh, a few weeks, and eagerly look forward to more time spent sitting in the dark and avoiding reality next year.