2015, what a great year for film! With plenty of variation and lots to cheer. From Mad Max to Inside Out to Carol, film critic Mike McCahill gives his favourite picks, listed in alphabetical order.

Bridge of Spies

Dare I suggest we risk underrating Steven Spielberg—a director who, even on an average shooting day, is functioning at a higher level of filmmaking and storytelling craft than most of his American contemporaries?

This superbly absorbing Cold War yarn holds each of its elements—Le Carre-style intrigue, Coen-authored ironic comedy; the oddball Rylance and the chummy Hanks—in such skilful balance.

 

 

Carol

Carol
Via Studio Canal

A forbidden book about a forbidden love becomes—in the caressing hands of writer Phyllis Nagy, director Todd Haynes and leads Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara—a thing of rare beauty.

Every scene moves us a little further beyond surfaces as desirable and beguiling as any other shop-bought bauble to land, in the unforgettable closing moments, upon the beating hearts beneath.

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Clouds of Sils Maria

Clouds of Sils Maria
Via Artificial Eye

The year’s other notable girl-girl thing: a finely scripted two-hander that strands Juliette Binoche (in a role tailored to her considerable abilities) and Kristen Stewart high in the Swiss Alps in order to watch them spark off one another. The surprise, to some at least, was that the junior party should emerge as at least her co-star’s equal: her Cesar win in February was entirely merited.

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Eden

After Father of My Children and Goodbye First Love, Mia Hansen-Love has emerged as one of the most distinctive and generous voices in French cinema.

This tale of a would-be DJ’s erratic passage through the French house music scene—a Gallic Boyhoodretains a lovely, wistfully observant air, alert to both its protagonist’s successes and follies, yet it also knows how to party, as the year’s freshest soundtrack testifies.

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45 Years

The past is another country, they say. Not so here, where it lands with a disconcerting splat on the kitchen table of Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay’s country retreat, forcing this couple to reassess their relationship.

Andrew Haigh’s film demonstrates a psychological edge that elevates it above cosier Silver Screen fare. We’re not far from Rebecca-like horror once Rampling ascends into the attic in a bid to penetrate distant hubby’s cluttered headspace.

 

 

Home from Home: Chronicle of a Vision

Home from Home: Chronicle of a Vision
Via Artificial Eye

This is what critics mean when we talk about world-building: Edgar Reitz’s properly immersive four-hour prologue to his Heimat series. The film parachutes us into a 19th century Rhineland village to watch as its younger inhabitants reject their elders’ hand-me-down wisdom and strike out along their own paths.

No prior knowledge is required; the process of enlightenment described proves engrossing in its own right.

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Inside Out

Just when you’d given up on Pixar, back they came with their busiest and cleverest film for a decade—a staggeringly sophisticated careen through an 11-year-old girl’s head that offered up psychological insights, endlessly funny visual gags and prompts to hard-won emotion with equal aplomb.

Never mind its effect on kids, there are grown adults still striving to get over what happened to Bing Bong.

 

 

The Last of the Unjust

The Last of the Unjust
Via Eureka Entertainment

Not a great year for documentary—there were too many of them, and too few that merited the theatrical showcase—but Claude (Shoah) Lanzmann’s latest Holocaust inquisition loomed over all pretenders.

Deploying footage from a fascinating 1975 interview with Benjamin Murmelstein, the Theresienstadt ghetto’s last man standing, Lanzmann disappears time, in a way that banishes complacency. Everything described herein could happen in your own backyard.

 

 

Love Is Strange

A small, quiet, perfectly realised miracle. In an update of 1937’s perennial tearjerker Make Way for Tomorrow, writer-director Ira Sachs describes the struggles of a newlywed New York couple (John Lithgow and Alfred Molina).

They are forced by financial circumstance to separate, in remarkably economical, superlatively performed scenes that ensure the film’s emotional effect expands far beyond its unshowy, miniaturist form.

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Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road
Via Warner Brothers

Alternatively, sometimes you just want to play it loud. George Miller’s Ozploitation reboot used a napkin-sketch plot—refuseniks of oppressive regime head into desert, wheel around, come back—as a line on which to hang ever-more-eyepopping setpieces.

You will emerge wanting to wield a double-barrelled electric guitar atop a speeding vehicle: any tinnitus provides a necessary reminder of the wildest ride the movies gave us in 2015.

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