So as is traditional, now is the time for me to seek forgiveness and express regret over the films which hovered in and out of this final selection of ten. As I’m sure I’ve said before, it’s not that this collection of guilt was demonstrably ‘less’ than any of the films on the numbered list which follows, but rather that in this frozen moment of time they became the unfortunate casualties of selection. And so to the near misses of High-Rise, Couple in a Hole, Partisan, The Survivalis and Force Majeure, along with the films whose release dates coupled with my tardiness disqualified them from the 2015 list, Borgman, Enemy, Catch Me Daddy, ASCO and Days of Gray – know that I shall sing your praises in many other venues. But for now, the stage belongs to the following 10…
10. JAMES WHITE – Josh Mond
Through the years New York triumvirate Borderline Films have consistently proved that a triangle is the not only the strongest of shapes, but also the most talented. After producing his co-collaborators’ impressive features, Afterschool, Martha Marcy May Marlene and Simon Killer, Josh Mond steps forward with his deeply personal (but not autobiographical) tale of a wayward son spiralling out of control in the wake of family death and terminal illness. It’s an intense watch but one which truly earns every ounce of emotion it wrings from you.
9. VICTORIA – Sebastian Schipper
One night, one city, one continuous unbroken no trickery take. It would be easy to write Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria off as a cinematic gimmick with a marketing hook built into its structure, but such cynicism is quickly blown away once you experience this realtime night of thrill-seeking friendship turned to desperation. Plus there’s just something undeniably cool about the fact that the film’s success ultimately hinged on a third and final last chance take.
8. THE LOBSTER – Yorgos Lanthimos
A few years ago Yorgos Lanthimos ignited my love of modern Greek cinema with his over protective parenting tale Dogtooth and in The Lobster he demonstrates that he’s just as effective a filmmaker in English as in his native tongue. Full of wry humour and performances made all the more comedic by their straight delivery within the absurd frame of a world in which the loveless are sent to a last chance for romance hotel, it seems that Greek cinema and I will stay together for quite some time to come.
7. TAKE ME TO THE RIVER – Matt Sobel
Watching Matt Sobel’s Take Me To The River might have been my most uncomfortable cinema experience of the year. Whilst this is far from the first ‘city kid visits his less than open minded rural relatives’ conflict narrative I’ve seen, Sobel’s inverted coming of age story coupled with outstanding, believable performances from his talented cast had me squirming in my seat, wishing I could intervene before events turned irrevocably disastrous.
6. AMY – Asif Kapadia
There are few of us who haven’t at some point sang her lyrics or perhaps laughed along with the comedians and talk show hosts who made her the butt of their jokes, but what Asif Kapadia does so damn well in Amy is reveal that beneath that beautiful voice and figure of fun for the media, Amy Winehouse was a living, breathing woman who needed help and instead was exploited for her significant talent and ridiculed for her all too human failings. With its use of mobile and then media footage, Amy is the perfect documentary warning about the ills of celebrity culture and our complicity in it.
5. ROOM – Lenny Abrahamson
Throughout his directing career Lenny Abrahamson has repeatedly demonstrated that he’s a filmmaker with a clear talent for drawing rich characters on screen. Whether they be the optimistic misfit in Garage, the privileged alpha-male of What Richard Did or the shy papier-mâché singer of Frank. In Room Abrahamson puts those characterisation skills to excellent use in his tense story of an especially close mother/son relationship. Of all the films I’ve watched this year Room is the one that will most reward a blind viewing. Read no reviews, ask for no descriptions and seriously, do not watch the trailer which seems to have been wilfully designed to destroy this rich viewing experience.
4. FAULTS – Riley Stearns
With his lupine parenting tale The Cub and (unfortunately not currently available) isolated delusion story Magnificat firmly amongst some of my favourite short films, anticipation for Riley Stearns’ feature debut was high indeed. Any concerns about his move into long form storytelling quickly melted away as I became utterly engrossed in the not so straightforward story of Leland Orser’s mind control expert’s attempt to deprogram Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s strong-willed cultist.
3. CHEVALIER – Athina Rachel Tsangari
The second Greek Director on my list and a firm favourite after she schooled me in the ways of filmmaking, Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Chevalier takes the “I’m the best at…” challenge which first manifests in childhood never to really leave, and runs it to its ludicrous extremes, as a fishing boat of friends transforms into a broiling pressure cooker of machismo in the ultimate dick swinging battle of superiority.
2. QUEEN OF EARTH – Alex Ross Perry
It probably says something worrying about my state of mind that the two top spots of my list are taken by films in which the main characters plunge into the depths of madness. Regardless of the diagnosis to come, there’s no way that I couldn’t put Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth way up here. Not only does Elisabeth Moss implode in spectacular, raw fashion under the crushing weights of loss, rejection and untapped potential, but the interplay between her, Katherine Waterston and Sean Price Williams’ close up cinematography has kept this psycho thriller in the back of my mind ever since.
1. HOMESICK – Jakob M. Erwa
As the ambitious cello student at the centre of Jakob M. Erwa’s expertly contained feature slowly loses her mind, so too does our confidence as to the objective truth of her situation oscillate back and forth as Erwa has us switch from righteous anger at her suffered indignity to worried concerned for her state of mind, never allowing the audience or his embattled heroine to settle into the comfort of home. Just as the narrative forces us to peer through layers of meaning and intention, so too does Christian Trieloff’s apartment based cinematography which maintains visual interest through its use of multiple frames within the frame. Homesick is a film which managed to consistently pull the rug from under me right up to its closing seconds, making me second and third guess my own perceptions.