Films of the Year 2015

I couldn’t decide on just ten films this year, so I went with twelve instead.

Birdman: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
UK release date: 2nd January 2015
Review: “There are some brilliant moments of hilarity in here, some surprising and well-handled special effects and a few intensely emotional back-and-forths from actors giving their everything to their art. The first truly great film I’ve seen this year. I can’t recommend it enough.”

The Theory of Everything
UK release date: 2nd January 2015
Review: “Redmayne’s performance was astonishing. He completely nails it, working as both a great piece of acting and an uncanny impersonation. The frustration that must be felt by the thousands of sufferers of MND is channelled directly to the viewer by coupling some intimate close-up camera work with some exceptional acting. If Redmayne wins the Oscar next month it will be because of the latter parts of the film.”

Whiplash
UK release date: 16th January 2015
Review: “In the history of cinema, there have been a small number of characters so full of evil they barely resemble human beings anymore. We’re talking Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched, Ian McDiarmid’s The Emporer. I think we can add another one to the list after seeing Whiplash.”

Big Hero 6
UK release date: 30th January 2015
Review: “The animation is the really mind-blowing element of a film that scores highly across the board. It’s fast-paced without ever feeling like it’s trying to lose you in action. The detail given to the plethora of uniquely designed characters is notable, too, and this serves to make each character feel worthy of your investment. If they’re going to spend that long making Hiro’s hair look so awesome, he must deserve a bit of attention on an emotional level too.”

The Duke of Burgundy
UK release date: 20th February 2015
Review: “A highly satisfying, twisting and twisted tale that deserves a wide audience.”

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Listen Up Philip
UK release date: 5th June 2015
Review: “Each character is introduced to us from a position of imbalance and for the most part they spiral into a world of depression and failure. Schwartzman is in fine form throughout, in a role not too dissimilar to others we’ve loved to hate him in. Irritating and overly-confident characters are something of his forte, which is funny if not just because he comes across as anything but irritating in interviews he gives.”

Inside Out
UK release date: 24th July 2015
Review: “This is truly up there with the best Pixar films, no easy achievement given they have been responsible for so many of the best animated films over the last twenty years. It’s the perfect emotional rollercoaster to ride on whilst celebrating reaching the start of their third decade in the motion picture business.”

Irrational Man
UK release date: 11th September 2015
Review: “There are six listed cast members here, but there really are only two stars here. Phoenix and Stone make a formidable pairing. He may have put on some weight for this role, but Phoenix’s allure is still very much there and his convincing lost soul act is enough to make his appeal to the much younger Stone quite believable. It doesn’t quite reach the joyful heights seen in Midnight In Paris, though is streets ahead of the unfathomably popular Blue Jasmine. Well worth checking out if you can find it.”

Orion: The Man Who Would Be King
UK release date: 25th September 2015
Review: “Orion is a documentary worth watching, and it’s an experience enhanced if you know nothing about Ellis. It goes a long way into intimately portraying a man torn between being forced to hide behind a mask and enjoying the limited success he was achieving. It is balanced and as such avoids over-celebrating Ellis, concentrating on his personality rather than his success.”

Suffragette
UK release date: 12th October 2015
Review: “This is a powerful piece of cinema and a relevant work of art. It is essential viewing for all women, any of the 33.9% of the UK public who decided not to vote in the 2015 general election, and anyone with a passion for excellent cinema.”

Bridge of Spies
UK release date: 27th October 2015
Review: “This is an ode to traditional storytelling and any movements it makes to remind us of Spielberg’s supreme talents are trumped by its underlining of Tom Hanks as one of the greatest living actors. This is not a story about espionage, politics or the Cold War. It is a film about one man’s unwavering desire to stick to his principles.”

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
UK release date: 17th December 2015
Review: “J. J. Abrams has managed to pull off a minor miracle. In just over two hours he has erased most of the memories of the prequel trilogy, reminded us of the best of the original trilogy and set up a new storyline that has the whole world anticipating where the next steps will take us. The prospects for the future of the franchise all of a sudden look extremely rosy.”

The Duke of Burgundy (Peter Strickland, 2014)

Peter Strickland’s latest film, The Duke of Burgundy, is an interesting one. Screened in competition at the British Film Festival under a wave of great reviews, it is a film very hard to categorise. I’ve seen it described as an erotic drama. It’s also been referred to as a sexual romance. I’ve a tendency to go with a black romantic comedy, albeit based on the sexual fetishes of a lesbian couple.

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On the face of it, it concerns a sadomasochistic relationship between a dominant woman and her submissive lover. They live in a small community populated exclusively by women, who we are led to believe share similar sexual tendencies. They are all clearly well off, and none appear to work outside a few butterfly lectures here and there.

To label it as a film simply about fetish sex is to do it a disservice. Actually by the end of the film it is clearly more about the demands made by the desires of one person in a relationship, and the effect that has on the second party, especially as they grow distant from these demands and find them less appealing.

The soundtrack, provided by Cat’s Eyes, tweely pitches somewhere between Goldfrapp and Belle and Sebastian. With the constant references to butterflies I was repeatedly reminded of early 00s band Misty Dixon. This juxtaposition between what we see and what we hear is quite intelligent: it underlines the innocence of one party and her belief that this is normal behaviour, even though it is clearly a strain on her besotted lover. She is living in a dream world and the music, in that sense, is perfectly pitched. Plus it’s really lovely music, which helps.

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The whole nature of the relationship is completely flipped from its initial portrayal, and by the end we see the surprising reality. This about-turn makes for some hilarious and at times heartbreaking scenes. Indeed, such is the detail in which we see the emotions and pain seen by one party, we barely see a glimpse of any of the sexual acts, usually having them implied behind closed doors or inferred from showing us the before and after shots. In this way, Strickland managed to avoid it becoming all about the sex and makes it a much greater film as a result.

In a post-50-Shades era the subject matter will no doubt turn a few heads. In many ways I hope readers of the 50 Shades series seek it out and are either disappointed or, more likely, pleasantly surprised.

Whilst it didn’t have the impact of Strickland’s previous film Berbarian Sound Studio, it was a highly satisfying, twisting and twisted tale that deserves a wide audience.

The Duke of Burgundy is released in UK cinemas in 2015.