Clouds of Sils Maria is a telling and tender study of a friendship in transition. Photo: Pinnacle By the Sea is packed with lingering close-ups of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt doing nothing in particular. Photo: Universal
Tom Hardy brought depth to his role in Mad Max: Fury Road. Photo: Jasin Boland
The fault lines of life in Iran were exposed by Jafar Panahi in Tehran Taxi. Photo: Supplied
Wild Tales is choreographed madness – a joy. Photo: Sony
What We Did on Our Holiday had much to say about the things that youth and age have to teach one another. Photo: Supplied
Stars often disappoint but few do it with the breathtaking self-regard displayed by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in the making of By the Sea, my worst film of the year.
Its impact was all the more striking because these two have worked so hard to prove that celebrity and seriousness need not cancel one another out. Jolie, who wrote and directed the film, packed it with so many lingering close-ups of them both doing nothing in particular that you couldn’t escape the conviction that you were watching a massive ego at work.
My top choices of the year were all unexpected pleasures – although pleasure is hardly the word for the mighty Russian film Leviathan, which took a case of civic fraud in a small coastal town and elevated it into a metaphor for the corruption eating away at the Russian state.
It was magnificent but it sent you home without a hope. Far From Men, adapted from an Albert Camus story about the Algerian war, did the same but it, too, was worth the angst.
More cheering – in a melancholy way – was Clouds of Sils Maria, with Juliette Binoche offering a wistful portrait of an actress getting older in an industry in love with sassy starlets fresh from breakthrough roles as female superheroes. Kristen Stewart played Binoche’s cool, young assistant, an expert in the ways of this brutal new world, and the two produced a telling and tender study of a friendship in transition.
But it was the gloriously anarchic Argentinian comedy Wild Tales I liked best. Writer-director Damian Szifron spliced together six revenge stories in an accelerating order of hysteria and didn’t falter once. It was choreographed madness – a joy.
Much gentler but almost as funny was the unassuming British family film What We Did on Our Holiday, distinguished by the blithely unselfconscious performances of its young actors. Their scenes with Billy Connolly as their worldly-wise grandfather had much to say about the things that youth and age have to teach one another.
It was a year when I took comfort yet again from Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman’s dictum that nobody really knows anything about what’s going to work in movies. My big mistake involved the Australian comedy Oddball. To me, it seemed too tame to excite either children or their parents, yet it did great business. So, too, did The Dressmaker. With its dizzying switches in tone, its bizarre plot twists and high-camp excesses, it seemed altogether too wacky to be commercial, but it was never boring – which is what mattered. It’s a lesson that Brangelina are yet to learn.
Sandra’s top 10 of 2015
1. Wild Tales 2. Leviathan 3. Far From Men 4. Clouds of Sils Maria 5. What We Did on Our Holiday 6. Bridge of Spies 7. 99 Homes 8. Amy 9. Youth 10. Truth
The movies had momentum – beautiful, thrilling and sometimes shocking – in 2015. George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road put the pedal to the metal in the post-apocalyptic Australian desert, the civil rights protesters opposing segregation in Selma walked through violence towards equality, and Pixar’s Inside Out took us into the depths of an 11-year-old’s mind alongside Joy, Sadness and an imaginary friend named Bing Bong.
It was, on reflection, a great year for cinema, and the best way to experience it was actually in a cinema. Streaming might be the new normal for television, but the only place to experience Mad Max: Fury Road, the finest feature of the past 12 months, was on the biggest screen possible, immersed in the vast mechanised choreography and holding your breath alongside hundreds of others. George Miller’s filmmaking was immaculate – he’s the maestro of automotive mayhem – and instructive; every frame visually conveyed necessary information.
Tom Hardy was taciturn and tender as the new Max Rockatansky, but the standout was Charlize Theron as the fierce Imperator Furiosa, a warrior with a prosthetic arm and an unyielding spirit. Furiosa’s rescuing of female slaves from a warlord ignited the lean plot and made explicit the movie’s feminist underpinning.
Women struggled for equality behind the camera – although Ava DuVernay’s success with the compelling, nuanced Selma offered hope – but in front of the camera their stories were some of the most relevant in 2015. Sicario’s Emily Blunt, as an FBI agent entranced by drug war brutality, was a female fighting to survive in a male world, while Maika Monroe’s teenage heroine was pursued by an unstoppable force in the nightmarishly serene horror flick It Follows.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens was very good, partly by invoking 1977’s original and partly through the spot-on casting of Daisy Ridley as a young Jedi-in-the-making. But our collective gratitude these past 10 days shouldn’t obscure the fact that the comic-book superhero franchises are quickly petering out. The Avengers: Age of Ultron was pleasant but hardly memorable.
Impossible to forget, however, was Jafar Panahi’s emblematic Tehran Taxi, the third film he’s surreptitiously made and sent out of Iran since the country’s fundamentalist regime arrested, interrogated and then banned him from filmmaking. Playing himself as an amiable cabbie, Panahi revealed the strictures of repression, his nation’s fault lines and, above all, the artist’s need to create. His movie fit right into the many conflicts of 2015’s best movies.
Craig’s top 10 of 2015
1. Mad Max: Fury Road 2. Selma 3. Sicario 4. Inherent Vice 5. Birdman 6. Mistress America 7. Inside Out 8.Tehran Taxi 9. It Follows 10. Blackhat
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