Directed by David O’Russell
It’s no secret that Jennifer Lawrence and David O’Russell are made for each other. Without batting an eyelid, Lawrence can transform effortlessly from comedy to drama, a method O’Russell’s films always seem to prescribe to. Joy is certainly no exception to the rule, and yet, upon viewing the film there were some discernible differences to his previous films that made it feel like a David O’Russell film, but perhaps without the best parts. Most notably, this is his first film in a while that rests it’s weight predominately on the shoulders of it’s protagonist, rather than an ensemble cast. It also spans over more than two decades, rather than anchoring itself around a single moment or period of time.
It’s a relatively biographical story about Joy Mangano, a woman who exceeded against all odds, which were mostly in the shape of other people. So much of the film’s running time is Joy being constantly put down, slandered, ignored and disrespected from almost all angles. While this may be true to life, and raises the stakes of her journey, I couldn’t help but feel like it created such a black-and-white tone for the whole film, where we could only sympathise with the one character, because the rest were made out to be so awful, bordering on cartoonish. I’m not saying Joy is a bad film by any means – the performances are spot on and it looks stunning the whole way through, but it felt like we were treated to what felt like half of what a David O’Russell film can be: a sweeping, musical world of complex, deeply funny and unpredictable characters that feels more true to life than this biographical film ever did.
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Within the first five minutes of seeing The Lobster, it becomes abundantly clear that it’s a film like no other. It occupies so many genres, whether it be comedy, drama, sci-fi, fantasy, satire – all situated in a dystopian near-future world much like our own, that almost forces us to laugh, if at least, to tell ourselves that these situations couldn’t possibly happen to us. But depending on who you are, you can either cackle obliviously along to the absurdity of the characters and plot, or you can stare in horror as you see what the filmmakers are trying to show us through these exaggerations: the truth about our world, our society, and the terror of isolation and exclusion that comes with our existence, and need for companionship. This is what director Yorgos Lanthimos has crafted, as his first film about love. Is it optimistic, pessimistic, or absolutely crazy? Probably all of the above. But that’s what makes Lanthimos such a compelling director, and The Lobster such an idiosyncratic film: he applies the theory of film being both a mirror and a magnifying glass, and then absolutely burns the subject into a fiery hell. His films don’t have heroes, they have victims – and isn’t that who we all see ourselves as?
Directed by Judd Apatow
In Trainwreck, Judd Apatow once again lets his actors do what they do best, and Amy Schumer proves just how ready she is to lead a film. The supporting cast is chock-full of comedy heavy-hitters: Mike Birbiglia, Bill Hader, and Colin Quinn to name a few, and from the opening scene, the jokes come in hard, and they come in fast. The film isn’t without it’s dramatic merits though: you could probably take the B-story with the fantastic Brie Larson and her son and see it working as it’s own little independent drama. Sometimes these two opposite extremes creates a conflict in tone, but nevertheless, the film is hugely entertaining, and it’s always exciting to see what Apatow and co. are doing with comedy in cinema, something they do so damn well.
Directed by James Ponsoldt
It’s difficult for me to talk about this film without being overly sentimental. I’m not even totally sure why I feel so sentimental about it and how it moved me. Was I already predisposed to loving this film due to the people who were involved? Probably. Because of it’s unconventional structure, themes and subject matter? Most likely. But I guess it’s maybe because it met all of my expectations and delivered above and beyond that I can’t help but gush. The film was utterly refreshing on all levels, with tour-de-force performances by Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel, beautiful dialogue and wonderfully subtle direction. The last scene in David Foster Wallace’s house is my favourite scene of the year so far. It makes me overjoyed to see a film released in 2015 to be so simple, yet explore pain, loneliness and ego on such a complex level. I’m glad these kinds of films are still being made. I wish I made it.
Directed by Jafar Panahi
So for those who don’t know, five years ago Iranian director Jafar Panahi was banned by the Iranian government from making films for the next 20 years, also prohibiting him from leaving the country. That’s a disturbing reality, which makes this third “not-a-film” Panahi has made since the ban both a compelling experience, and also a massive success in the case for freedom of expression. Under these rules placed down on Panahi by law, he’s exerted extreme creativity in circumventing around these restrictions, blending fiction and reality together to provide a humanist and soulful ride around present-day Tehran, examining the living conditions, social politics and difficulties the Iranian people are experiencing during the day-to-day. To make a film is difficult enough already, but to make a film this good and still being able to legally call it not a film is something else entirely.
Directed by Josh Mond
James White is, for lack of a better word, devastating. But in the absolute best of ways. A highly personal debut feature from Josh Mond, James White stays up close with the eponymous lead protagonist – phenomenally performed by Christopher Abbott – as we become familiar with his pain, anger, and inner conflicts at every moment. Christopher Abbott carries the film effortlessly, which is incredible considering what’s required of him. The supporting cast is also fantastic, with Cynthia Nixon giving perhaps the most brave performance of her career. Unflinching, raw and sometimes plain horrifying, James White escapes sentimentality for truth and realism, and it made me want to call my parents immediately. A brilliant film (with a brilliant soundtrack).
Directed by Ethan Hawke
Peering into the life of Seymour Bernstein, an extraordinarily talented New York concert pianist, Seymour: An Introduction serves as a honorary tribute to a man that decided to carve his own path. Citing extreme anxiety, Bernstein embraced his reclusive nature despite his talents, holing up in a small New York apartment to become a piano teacher. Instead of the typical rags-to-riches or mental downfall stories which are synonymous with these kinds of documentaries, we are instead treated to a story of a man that made absolutely sure that he could continue doing what he loved, who places his love for music above fame and above money. You may not be enthralled to see someone who has simply found happiness in their life, but by god is it refreshing.
Directed by Peyton Reed
Ant-Man, the film that could’ve been. The departure of Edgar Wright as director casts a massive shadow over Ant-Man, as the film functions like a chicken with it’s head chopped off. Riddled with holes in logic and story, it feels like the film plays out without any sort of real momentum, rather forcing the reluctant superhero story whilst stuffing in obligatory expositional dialogue to cover up its own tracks. It often became painful to watch the amazing cast deliver the lines fed to them: they deserve so much better. All fat with no skeleton, Ant-Man will unfortunately be remembered as that film that no one can really remember.
Directed by Asif Kapadia
Easily the most heartbreaking cinema-going experience of the year, Amy is a film made with a masterfully delicate touch, using exclusively archival footage and voiceover to transcendent effect. By the end of the film’s running time, I felt absolutely devastated by her story, simultaneously enraged, guilty and helpless by the tragic, true events that unfolded on screen. Amy doesn’t overdramatise Amy Winehouse’s death, but pays tribute to an artist, succumbing to the pressures of her relationships and the people around her. A beautifully rendered story about the destructive need for love, and a clear-eyed indictment on the way we treat others.
Directed by Pete Docter
A new Pixar release is a true cinematic event. Audiences everywhere sweat in anticipation to feel as much as they did when watching Up, Finding Nemo or Toy Story. Inside Out is a formidable entry to the Pixar canon, and lends itself to being probably the most fun way to educate children on their own emotions. Despite breaking new ground in storytelling, with brilliant performances and clever set-pieces, I couldn’t help but feel as though the film could’ve reached even higher with it’s narrative, instead of feeling like a massively-budgeted episode of The Magic School Bus. Ultimately, I thoroughly enjoyed the film, but left thinking it had much greater potential to explore.