Hail to thee AccessReelers and a Happy New Year to you all. About this time, every year, AccessReel supremo, Darran, tracks down his writers and reviewers at our various holiday destinations, (Kryall Castle, Leyland Brothers’ World, Fairstar the Funship etc) and persuades us to write our Top Ten Films of The Year lists. Sure some of us would be tempted to put THE FORCE AWAKENS in the top nine slots, sneak THE MARTIAN into tenth place and get back to Australia Zoo, but it doesn’t work that way.
In 2015, the blockbuster “tent pole” pictures took up all the oxygen as usual and their merits don’t require any further discussion from me. I have chosen ten films that made an impression and that I believe might prove memorable in the long term. Obviously, there is no way of knowing if this will come to pass, but some films start to fade from your mind before you’ve driven out of the multiplex car park, such is their generic nature, thus anything that stays in the memory after a few months has achieved something.
Firstly, I’d like to award two honorable mentions. THE WRECKING CREW is a great documentary of the Los Angeles session musicians who played on some of the great pop albums of the 1960s.
And secondly kudos to INHERENT VICE. Paul Thomas Anderson has taken Thomas Pynchon’s novel and made a sprawling crime flick. It cross-pollinates a noirish sensibility with the souring of the flower power fantasy of the 1960s. Hippy P.I.Doc Sportello (an excellent Joaquin Phoenix) stumbles through a series of adventures with a good deal of luck and the occasional application of cunning and intelligence. Less comedic than The BIG LEBOWSKI, like that movie, it pulls the switcheroo of presenting us with a mystery but then substitutes the classic gumshoe with a laidback, drugged-out protagonist.
This list skews indie and has more documentaries than usually appear on my Top 10. I reviewed nine of the ten movies, and I have linked to that original AccessReel post where it exists. These films fall into 2015 according to their date of release in Australia. Here, in alphabetical order, are my Top Ten Films 2015.
A brilliantly tense thriller about the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler in 1939. The true story of bomb maker Georg Elser, who came within 13 minutes of killing the German leader. The particular circumstances of Elser’s story mean this moment in history is less well-known outside of Germany than Claus Von Stuaffenberg’s attempt on Hitler’s life (as depicted in VALKYRIE). Director Oliver Hirschbiegel has directed a compelling companion piece to his 2004 feature DOWNFALL, which portrayed the last days of Hitler. (Full Review)
British filmmaker Asif Kapadia has directed a heartfelt documentary about the late singer Amy Winehouse. The lurid media image of an alcoholic trainwreck who died young is countered by this film. Kapadia uses the images from home videos and the recollections of close friends and family to build up a more balanced portrait of a huge talent that didn’t have the capacity to survive the onslaught of international fame. (Full Review)
From the late 1950s, America fell in love with the work of Walter Keane. He captured the public imagination with his melancholy paintings of big-eyed waifs. Then, in 1969, the nation was shocked when Margaret Keane, Walter’s wife, claimed that every single waif painting was, in fact, her work. Amy Adams continues her run of solid character portrayals as Margaret. For reasons that we come to understand intimately, she is dominated by Walter (Christoph Waltz) who is a controlling man and a brilliant marketer. Director Tim Burton’s straightforward character study is a change of pace and his best movie in some years. (Full Review)
Once famous Hollywood actor Riggan Thomson, wants to produce a legitimate Broadway play, but everybody keeps reminding him that once, he was a real star, when he played the superhero Birdman in the movies. Director Alejandro Iñárritu takes us on a journey through a backstage world of workplace politics and into the paranoid mind of a faded leading man desperate for a comeback. Cynicism meets mysticism on the Great White Way (Full Review)
In 2013, Edward Snowden, a former system administrator who worked as a contractor to the United States’ National Security Administration (NSA) leaked information that revealed the extent of the NSA’s global surveillance operations. Their scope and the idea that US citizens were being surveilled by US intelligence agencies, without so much as a warrant for a wiretap, caused a massive controversy. Some described Snowden’s actions as traitorous, others believe him to be a true American patriot. This tense documentary shows Snowden in hiding and allows him to put his side of the story. (Full Review)
Prolific documentarian Alex Gibney looks into L. Ron Hubbard’s Church of Scientology. A fascinating investigation into the history, and hidden workings, of a mysterious organisation. A gripping combination of big business, religion and celebrity. (Full Review)
94-year-old Iris Apfel is a New York style icon. Filmmaker Albert Maysles (1975’s GREY GARDENS) looks at 60 years in the life of Iris and her husband Carl. Iris is an energetic nonagenarian who sets a cracking pace through life. She has an eye for minute detail, a long memory and life-affirming attitude, which is both funny and inspiring. (Full Review)
Ren Xing is a young girl being brought up in contemporary Beijing. Her mother and her father are busy, thirty-somethings; business people who don’t give their daughter much attention. She seems content playing with her iPad and being looked after by the nanny. One day, Ren Xing has to be looked after by her grandfather Zhu Zhi Gen. However, he is on his annual pilgrimage back to see his village, so Ren Xing must travel with the old man. This city versus country tale is a beautifully shot, gentle film about the contradictions facing China today. How does the once rural nation transform into the world’s most powerful economy and maintain its soul and identity? (Full Review)
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
Hands down my favourite big movie of 2015. Veteran director George Miller rebooted his franchise with a good deal of retconning that we don’t need to concern ourselves with. What counts (as Sian says in her review) is that it is a Big Car Chase. Miller has distilled his original Mad Max trilogy down to its pure essence. We understand what we need to understand with a bare minimum of chat. The post-apocalytic world that Max Rockatansky traverses is more terrible and desperate than it has ever been. Miller took actual cars and flesh and blood stunt people and drove them at speed across the desert sands of Namibia. Then he took the brilliant images he’d captured and gussied them up with top-of-the-line computer graphics. The result is a bone-shattering ride that thrills the eye and quickens the pulse precisely because the real stuff combined with the digital stuff makes this fantasy world feel plausible. We are drawn into Miller’s dystopia and we are never knowingly distracted by green screen landscapes or by crashing vehicles flouting physics. Tom Hardy’s Max is taciturn and right on point. Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is a hard-driving warrior on a mission.
As full-on as the action is, Miller lets his movie (and the audience) take a breath at strategic moments. We are also allowed to see glimpses of humanity (Nicholas Hoult’s Nux character) behind the hardened shells of these tough characters. Fury Road is an artful blend of kinetic imagery, smart world-building and nuanced performances.
WHILE WE’RE YOUNG
Josh is married to Cornelia (Naomi Watts). He is a film director and she is a producer. She works on projects with her father Leslie (Charles Grodin) who, like Josh, is an independent documentarian. One day, after speaking to a college class about his films, Josh meets Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) two young fans of his work, Jamie has even taken the trouble to buy a copy of one of Josh’s oldest documentaries on VHS. From this beginning, a friendship develops between the twenty-something Jamie and Darby and the forty-something Josh and Cornelia. Noah Baumbach’s intergenerational comedy has funny things to say about age and youth and insightful observations to make about the fear of missing out. The best Ben Stiller performance since Baumbach’s GREENBERG (2010). (Full Review)