2015 in the cinema

GIRLHOOD – my most viewed film of the year.

GIRLHOOD – my most viewed film of the year.

Here are the ten films, released in UK cinemas in 2015, that I enjoyed most or which made the most impression on me this year. I’ve placed them in alphabetical order:

Carol (UK-US-France 2015)

Girlhood (France 2014)

Mia Madre (Italy-France 2015)

OK Kanmani (India, Tamil 2015)

Phoenix (Germany 2014)

Piku (India, Hindi 2015)

Taxi Tehran (Iran 2015)

Theeb (Jordan 2015)

Timbuktu (Mauritania-France 2014)

West (Lagerfeuer, Germany 2013)

Because this is a list of ‘most enjoyed’, it’s obviously a list reflecting my taste. Although only one title was directed by a woman (Girlhood), four films could be described as female-centred melodramas, two as romance/family dramas, two as political ‘statements’ and just one as an ‘action narrative’ – and Theeb is an action adventure from a young boy’s perspective.

Half of the ten films above are  films that I have introduced, discussed or formally taught this year. Girlhood stands out as I saw it four times on four different cinema screens in the space of a year, as well as studying several scenes in detail. Each time I watched it I got something new from it. I also presented and discussed Ex Machina for students and it proved a good choice for a student event, provoking an interesting set of questions.

I don’t rank or ‘grade’ films since this seems a pointless exercise, based on a wide range of criteria that aren’t applicable to every film. There are several films that I missed which may well have appeared on my list. In my part of West Yorkshire we get most film releases but not all and I can only get to Manchester or Sheffield occasionally rather than all the time. I’m most sorry to have missed Alexei German’s Hard to be a God and several of the Polish classics in the touring season.

Even though more and more documentaries are released in cinemas each year, I tend to see only a handful. Amy has appeared in many end of year lists and I can understand why. For my own part, I need a documentary to offer three very different pleasures – an interesting subject, an aesthetic approach that works and a filmmaker whose viewpoint I can appreciate, even if I don’t agree with it. That’s a tall order and the nearest to meeting it this year was probably The Salt of the Earth.

I did watch some American films this year including Mad Max: Fury Road and Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. I did enjoy both screenings, partly because of the public debates about the films and at the time I felt engaged by the debates – but the films themselves didn’t make a lasting impression. Spy proved to be good entertainment for a night out. But the best American films I saw tended to be archive films or restorations. Missouri Breaks surprised me and my love of Westerns is still there. Can I bring myself to spend three hours with Quentin Tarantino next month?

I only managed four festivals this year, all in the UK. Glasgow Film Festival was very enjoyable and most of the films I saw eventually got a UK release (except the Chinese films). I only made two films at Leeds and Crow’s Egg did get a very limited UK release (six screens) and perhaps should have been in my list of ten. ¡Viva! was in three parts this year and proved as fascinating as usual – but sadly Spanish and Latin American films rarely get a UK release. Travelling to Manchester to see these films, and often to listen to the directors, remains a surreal experience and the failure of UK film culture to properly embrace the films is a continual disappointment. Much the same can be said for the excellent films that turn up each year at the London Film Festival and rarely screen anywhere else in the UK. Thirst and Arianna were the two films that really stood out for me. What I’ve missed, most of all, is my local festival in Bradford. Will we ever get it back? It makes a mockery of Bradford’s title as the first ‘UNESCO City of Film’.

2015 has ended very badly for me. The triple whammy of Spectre, Hunger Games and Star Wars has driven out virtually every foreign language film (apart from Indian films) from UK cinema screens. It’s Christmas and I can’t find anything locally to go and see. Radio 4’s Film Programme on Christmas Eve was depressing with three guests giving each other DVDs of their pick of the year’s films as Christmas gifts. Predictably all were American. Only Francine Stock’s championing of Girlhood prevented me from switching off the programme. With the ‘awards season’ coming up and the prestige US pictures replacing the blockbusters, January also promises to be grim – but Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Assassin is due for a UK release. Even so, I think I’m going to be watching more DVDs in 2016.

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5 comments

  1. Veronika

    That’s a wonderful top 10 list! I am really excited about finally seeing Taxi Tehran, but I’ll have to wait until January. And I completely understand your frustration about big blockbusters dominating the screens around the holidays, it’s the same in my country. But Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Assassin was one of the best films I’ve seen this year, so I would definitely be looking forward to seeing it, even if you have to wait another month. :)

  2. john hall

    full marks for including ‘Phoenix’, probably my runner-up film of the year. I have seen depressingly few of the rest of your selection, but maybe you also didn’t see my number one fave of the year : ‘Black Coal, Thin Ice’.

  3. keith1942

    Good list Roy. However, I question whether we get ‘most releases’ in West Yorkshire? I was fortunate in getting to the Leeds Film Festival daily otherwise my selection of new films would have been really poor.
    I happily saw Carol twice, but since it ran for most of two weeks what then? And it looks like 2016 will start off in the same way with Joy.
    One slight bonus was that I visited Showcase who screened By the Sea which I do not think any other exhibitor carried.

    • Roy Stafford

      I guess it depends on what you take ‘most’ to mean. There have been over 700 films released in the UK in each of the last two years. Only London will get nearly all those releases. Leeds/Bradford gets ‘most’ mainstream releases and a significant number of specialised films. I think the offer has shrunk rather than grown and some films only get one screening, but we are still better off than many parts of the UK. Bradford does pretty well for Indian and sometimes Polish films via Cineworld but we aren’t getting the new mainstream Chinese films that are appearing in Manchester. I’m not counting festival screenings in this calculation.

      Did you mean By the Sea? That’s the kind of film that might have screened at the Vue in the Light in Leeds at one time?

      Picturehouse taking over the National Media Museum screens and the Leeds Everyman proving to be almost a mainstream cinema have been major disappointments.

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