I blame fatherhood and the quality of television for the continual decline of feature viewing happening in my life over the last couple of years. There was a time I would have called myself somewhat of an oracle of independent filmmaking with the amount of cinema I used to digest on an annual basis, but now my love for television/short film and my broken attention span means fitting in two-hours to watch a feature film is becoming a rarer and rarer occurrence. Around three-quarters of the way through 2015 there was a distinct possibility that the Penguins of Madagascar film was going to break into my top ten (I did love that Werner Herzog cameo!), but a flurry of late watching has meant that I feel like I’ve put together a decent collection of films which features Animation, Documentary, Horror, Science-Fiction and even the odd Hip-Hop musical. Enjoy! (oh and watch that Penguins of Madagascar film if you get a chance – John Malkovich provides the voice for an octopus called Dave…GENIUS!)
10. TOKYO TRIBE – Sion Sono
There were a lot of features I watched in 2015 where the idea behind the narrative felt better than the actual film itself. Tokyo Tribe is the only one of these to make this list (Kornél Mundruczó’s White God and the Zellner’s Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter missed out). Sono’s latest feature is a Hip-Hop Musical set in a futuristic Tokyo where warring gangs battle for territory and control and in all honesty it isn’t quite as much fun as it sounds. Its run-time means it starts to grate a little, but still this is opulent, excessive filmmaking that I can’t help but include in this list. It’s somewhat of a guilty pleasure…but still to this day I find myself wandering my house, busting moves and shouting “TOKYO TRIBE, NEVER EVER DIE” at my poor girlfriend.
9. FLORIDA MAN – Sean Dunne
Whilst Sean Dunne’s latest feature Cam Girlz was a film I had been long waiting to see, ever since I backed it on Kickstarter back in 2014, it was actually a project he snuck somewhat under the radar that impressed me most in 2015. Released for free on Vimeo, Florida Man is a 50-minute documentary that Dunne himself describes as a film “about everything”. Introducing its viewers to some of Florida’s most interesting residents, Dunne’s long-short/short-feature (you decide) is hugely entertaining and wonderfully refreshing with its simplistic approach to storytelling.
8. BEYOND CLUELESS – Charlie Lyne
Described as ‘a dizzying journey into the mind, body and soul of the teen movie’, Beyond Clueless from filmmaker and film critic Charlie Lyne is a nostalgic trip down motion-picture memory-lane as his distinct “essay” style of filmmaking guides you through the high-school halls of some of cinemas most unforgettable flicks featuring teenagers. Screening at Hot Docs, Sheffield Doc Fest and SXSW in 2014, Lyne’s film made it onto Netflix in 2015 and proved that this style of documentary filmmaking can be as funny and entertaining as many of the films it features. Lyne also put his trademark, collage-documentary approach to excellent effect with Fear Itself – a journey through the Horror genre which was released on the BBC’s iPlayer just before Halloween this year.
7. IT FOLLOWS – David Robert Mitchell
David Robert Mitchell’s unusual horror feels like the first from its genre I’ve featured on one of these lists for a while. Growing up, I was a huge fan of Horror, but in recent years I found the genre becoming a little stale and tired. It Follows treads a lot of the same paths horrors before it have traversed, but its one simple twist (which I won’t reveal here in an effort to avoid any spoilers) gives it a fresh new angle that turns out to be unbelievably creepy – and what more can you ask for from a Horror?
6. FORCE MAJUERE – Ruben Östlund
There’s always something powerful about a film that has the transportive power to reposition you in the place of one of its central characters and make you think about exactly what you’d do if you found yourself in a similar situation. For me, this is what I most enjoyed in Östlund’s award-winning feature. When that key-scene drops in the narrative, it’s a real “fucking-hell!!” moment and it’s hard not to really be impacted by attempting to relate to the character’s actions and consider the real-life implications if this actually happened. Östlund is a filmmaker we’ve had an eye on since 2011, when we were introduced to his work through feature Involuntary and it’s great to see a Director we’ve featured on the site hit the big time by winning the Un Certain Regard at Cannes.
5. EX MACHINA – Alex Garland
It wouldn’t feel like an end-of-year list unless I included a science fiction film. Last year I included Under the Skin, Coherence and The Rover, 2013 saw Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color top my list and I’m sure if you went further back, you’d be hard pushed to find one of my annual feature round-ups without a sci-fi flick in it. This year it’s Alex Garland’s directorial debut Ex Machina. Best known for writing the novel The Beach, along with penning several Danny Boyle screenplays, Garland’s first venture into directing is a taut and compelling watch that lives long in the memory banks after watching. Ex Machina also wins my vote for best scene of the year, with that Oscar Isaac dance routine narrowly beating the ‘Limping Lolita’ scene (see below) from A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence and that blood-splattered opening of Sion Sono’s Tag.
4. FAULTS – Riley Stearns
As a huge fan of his short film The Cub, I’d been bugging director Riley Stearns on Twitter for most of 2015 asking when we could see his debut feature in the UK and finally, just before the year ended, I got the chance thanks to iTunes. A thriller as funny as it is intriguing, captivating and inventive, Stearns really nailed it with his first venture into feature territory. Outstanding performances from Leland Orser and Mary Elizabeth Winstead initially hook the audience with their captivating turns, but it’s Stearns’ clever writing that keeps you gripped until the end.
3. WILD TALES – Damián Szifrón
It’s probably no coincidence that the two of my top three films in this list both consist of smaller sketches/stories put together to make a longer film. My role as Head of Programming over at Short of the Week and the ever-increasing quality of television programmes means I tend to digest shorter content on a more regular basis nowadays and don’t often find time to dedicate two hours to a feature (although I’ll happily binge-watch four hours of TV). With this in mind, Damián Szifrón’s Oscar-nominated anthology of six short stories that explores how stress pushes human behaviour to some extreme reactions perfectly fits my ever-evolving viewing habits. Six short, snappy, stories that are set to surprise any unexpecting audience, Wild Tales was a film I knew nothing about before viewing and it felt like my most rewarding discovery of 2015.
2. O MENINO E O MUNDO (THE BOY AND THE WORLD) – Alê Abreu
It says something about the power of Alê Abreu’s film that it managed to captivate my three-year old son for 80-minutes and actually stop him from moving (but not talking) for this length of time, whilst also almost bringing me to tears on several occasions. Starting off as what feels like a simple story of a young boy searching for his father, The Boy and the World soon develops into a kaleidoscopic journey through worlds of corruption, poverty and industrialisation as our young hero witnesses the world outside him homestead for the first time. Sparking conversations I would never have expected to have with my son (not at this age anyway), about financial hardships, cultural differences and the origins of everyday products, this is a film that can be enjoyed as a simple visual journey or something much, much deeper – it’s easy to see why it has been so successful on the festival circuit.
1. A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE – Roy Andersson
What can be said about Roy Andersson that hasn’t been said before? The man is a true maverick. His filmmaking so unique that it is both unmistakable and incomparable. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence may only be his third film in 15-years, but what he lacks in quantity in terms of output, he more than makes up for in quality. The scene below is probably the most memorable from Andersson’s 101-minute film, but it is just one of a number of distinct sketches that consistently manage to be both profound and hilarious in equal measure. Maybe my favourite feature from Andersson so far and a more than worthy winner of top spot in my list.