Film and Television Features

2015 at the movies

And so we come to the end of another year in film. If there’s one word that sums up 2015 at the movies, it’s “surprising”. From an awards season dominated by slightly left-field choices (whether they were deserving winners or not is neither here nor there), to box office records being toppled again and again.

Really, of course, there was far too much stuff going on – both good, and bad – to sum up in one word, and so, here’s the No Ripcord film writers’ individual top five films of the year, and a few other bits and pieces that we thought were noteworthy.


Alan Shulman


Sounding like a critic’s wet dream by mashing up Vertigo and the Holocaust, this underseen gem from German director Christian Petzold explores more ways in which the greatest tragedy of the 20th century stripped people of their humanity, even if, or especially if, it left them physically unharmed. The last scene sums it all up and brings it crashing down like no other film this year.

Wild Tales

Every once in a while, cinema has the ability to shake you out of your lethargy and send your heart and mind reeling, just from the sheer joy in its execution. This is no small feat, and if you can manage to say something about the modern world and its anxieties brought to the boiling point, then you have something truly special at hand.

What We Do in the Shadows

Hands down the funniest movie of the year, with a kind of genuine sweetness that we Yanks can’t seem to muster. And to think I dreaded another goddamn vampire movie!


On the list simply because it was the one film that seemed to universally change everyone’s mind about its subject. This was probably only possible due to the overwhelming amount of footage available to work with. If it wasn’t for the current generation’s penchant for documenting every tedious aspect of their mostly dreary lives, I’m not sure director Asif Kapadia would have been able to pull this off, because it turns out that Winehouse was a genuine talent, and not (just) the pathetic, wasted, flailing buffoon that the media portrayed. We then get to watch, almost in slow motion, the frittering away of this talent in the glare of a million flashbulbs. The irony of this is not lost on me.

The Big Short

Though I think Anchorman is the best comedy of this generation, frankly I would not have thought Adam McKay capable of such a dead on, hilarious, but deadly serious, satire. This film is not only perfectly paced, but with Sicario, it was one of the few films that felt absolutely necessary for this time and place. You will be giggling through you're gritted teeth.



The instant it ended, hell, maybe even halfway through it, I knew this would be my favorite movie of the year. It proves once again that given the right material, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro are among the most compelling actors we have. Del Toro, especially, elevates this film the way he did Traffic 15 years ago, and is clearly one of the most under-utilized and under-appreciated actors in history - his resume should be peppered with the best films of his generation. Villeneuve has hinted at greatness before, but here he achieves it by maintaining a consistency of tone and focus that Prisoners and Enemy lacked.


Best Shot: Sicario - Soldiers marching over the hill at dusk (sunrise?). Deakins at his best, and I reflexively mumbled to my wife, "there's a shot worthy of Kubrick".


Best decent movie - Not a good year for great movies, but a great year for good ones. Spotlight was the best of the good ones.


Best comedy team - It probably should be Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi, but I'll go with the guys who might be turning into the next Abbott and Costello, Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell.


Angel Aguilar

The Second Mother 

Val is a domestic servant and nanny for a well-to-do Sao Paulo family. She's conscious of her social place within the household, though her motherly affection for Fabihno, the family's child, blurs the class divisions. It fills a void, as she left her own child, Jessica, under the care of relatives. After 13 years, Jessica comes to Sao Paulo to take her college exams, staying with Val while she searches for an apartment, but little by little she oversteps the class boundaries within the home. Unwittingly, Jessica becomes the catalyst for a family crisis, putting Val on the spot. Director Anna Muylaert's portrays the rigidity of class roles through strict camera moves and a keen use of space. This study of class division appeals both to the mind and the heart.


Bridge of Spies

Director Steven Spielberg's clever camera movements are kept in check; Ethan and Joel Coen, who share screenplay credit with Matt Charman, leave aside their quirkiness. Their keen minds are focused here on character and a tricky plot structure that could only have been made by life itself. This is a two-part, equally effective as courthouse drama and taut Cold War thriller. Navigating through this is James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks), an insurance settlement lawyer who is handed the unwanted task of defending Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a Soviet spy, which throws him into a social maelstrom. The defense of constitutional rights against mob mentality may look cold on the page, but the film ticks all the emotional boxes to put its point across.


The Walk

Philippe Petit's famous high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of The World Trade Center was the subject of Man On Wire, the award-winning 2008 documentary. However, there's nothing redundant about Robert Zemeckis' The Walk. The aim here is getting us up there on the wire with Petit to experience his hair-raising acrobatic feats. Crucial to this objective was the recreation of The World Trade Center through the magic of studio sets and seamless CGI, a feat in itself. The details of the team's preparations are portrayed like a well-planed heist and the mishaps on the way to the top unfold like a suspense movie. This one will keep you on the edge of your seat.



The Boston Globe takes on the Catholic Church, but that's only half the story. This is not a treatise on the power of the press. What fuels the drama here is the tension between community traditions and the reporters' allegiance to the truth, with all its painful consequences. The resulting exposé articles on sex abuse in the church will reveal that there's enough blame to spread around. Director Tom McCarthy's set-ups don't detract from the drama, opting for a verité look and a propulsive pace. With a tight-knit cast led by Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo, the film has the best ensemble acting this year.



Most filmmakers would have taken the plot elements of Emma Donoghue's novel to end up with a hackneyed thriller. Lucky for us, Donoghue wrote the screenplay, brought to life by director Lenny Abrahamson through a deft handling of the actors. Abrahamson never loses the gravitational pull of its main theme; mainly, the effect of confinement on a kidnapped woman (Brie Larson) and her young child (Jacob Tremblay). There's also an insight into child-development issues that is on a par with François Truffaut's The Wild Child. Bring a box of tissues to this one.


Best Scene Of The Year - Found in Room. Jack (Jacob Tremblay) sees the outside world for the first time.


Best Performance - Room's Brie Larson, whose nuanced performance runs the gamut of kidnapping victim, protective mother, and haunted survivor.


Worst Film - The Last Witch Hunter, having all the clichés of the action-horror genre and none of the fun. Vin Diesel, call your agent.


Biggest Disappointment - Steve Jobs, which has too much Aaron Sorkin and too little of its titular man.


Biggest Surprise - More lead roles for female actors. Hollywood may have woken to the fact that women buy movie tickets.



Grant Phipps


The Duke of Burgundy

While rapacious audiophile-cinephile Peter Strickland's exquisite third feature film originally began as a remake of Lorna, the Exorcist and feels like a lost chapter of seductive "Euro-sleaze" cinema, its exploration of fading fetishistic fantasy in the laments of female love, bondage, and butterflies is both sincere and darkly funny. Nic Knowland's sumptuous cinematography of psychedelic double-exposures and steadily choreographed movements luminously magnify the opulence of an ambiguous early twentieth century Europe. As the film recedes from autumnal sunlight into deeper psychological darkness with a tribute to Stan Brakage's Mothlight, Cat's Eyes' quivering, melancholic chamber pop score reaches an operatic high.



Resurrected from the ashes of film noir, this riveting rerendering of Hitchcock's Vertigo in the rebuilding of postwar Germany is an intelligent and layered feminist commentary on social and personal identity. Once coveting her former life as a cabaret singer, Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss) emerges from facial reconstructive surgery as an unrecognizable walking ghost in her own life. She is approached as a stranger by her own husband, who believes Nelly to be dead, to play her own doppelgänger in order to claim an inheritance. In the dichotomous intimacy and complexity of the role, the trepidatious woman soon discovers that her own scarred face, like the sordid history surrounding her, cannot be fully healed in this romanticism of the past; she must step away from its shadows into the present light.


Inside Out

A sensitive expansion of the age-old cartoon concept of zooming into someone's head to glimpse the mechanics of their thought (or absentmindedness), Pixar's latest computer animated film could have easily been trite or reductive, but it perfectly balances the reality of an unexpected move from small-town Minnesota to San Francisco in the life of eleven-year-old Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) with the flamboyancy of the anthropomorphic walking-talking quintet of emotions (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger) in the mission control of her mind. Docter and his team of animators match Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler)'s steadfast buoyancy with seemingly boundless creativity in visual representations of the abstract. Much like its companion film, Toy Story 3, Inside Out articulately expresses the psychological challenges and inevitable physical changes of adolescence with rollicking panache.


Taxi Tehran

Yet another victory lap for banned Iranian director Jafar Panahi, who continues to seek glorious innovation after the government instituted a twenty-year embargo against his brand of "propaganda," the film immediately registers as a series of fourth-wall-breaking sketches of Panahi playing the part of an Uber driver. As the colorful denizens continue to drop in, the scripted, self-aware moments accumulate to almost resemble Holy Motors as directed by fellow art house auteur, Abbas Kiarostami. Panahi's constructions are not only astutely playful and essential observations on the cinema climate in Iran; they are also didactic in their political instruction to aspiring filmmakers facing censorship and how to productively persevere in the face of oppression.


Cemetery of Splendour 

Renowned Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's reportedly final film in his home country/Khon Kaen territory finds him at the peak of his distinctly poetic, trance-like capacity, interlocking prior aesthetic recollections – hospitals, communal malaise, native mythology, intense cultural identification, psychic intuition, playful dialogue that sways between naturalism and performance, and calisthenics sequences (of course) – in tender and lengthy formalistic shots. As the ineffable, surrealistic narrative unfurls, Weerasethakul intricately evokes the possibility of ghostly visitation while the film sprawls into tangential branches that offer hope of reincarnation. In its core resplendence, volunteer caregiver Jen (Jenjira Pongpas)'s personal history directly intertwines with Thailand's own.


(And numbers 6-10)
The Forbidden Room
National Gallery
The Look of Silence
Her Wilderness


Most Conflicted Critical Darling: Tangerine

Shot on an iPhone 5S with an anamorphic adapter, the admittedly unique, erratic film tours the streets of Los Angeles with a guerrilla verité that clashes with the hyperbolic characterizations, awkwardly crass dialogue, and positively booming interstitial trap/electronic music. While two transgender prostitutes (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor) attempt to locate their cheating pimp before Christmas Eve's end, Armenian cab driver Razmik (Karren Karagulian) parades around their turf and visits his extended family for a lavish dinner. Their stories eventually intersect organically, but their initial separation seems misguided, as does the alternately trivial and serious premise that only becomes emotionally triumphant in its final minutes.


Biggest Surprise: Honeymoon
An intelligent metamorphosis of the midnight movie that rejects simple interpretation, the intimate and uncanny body horror narrative facilitates an incisive analysis of the fragile stability of the romantic relationship. Recognizing the underlying, impending parental dread of a newly married American couple on holiday (played assuredly by the English Harry Treadaway and Scottish Rose Leslie), director/co-writer Leigh Janiak harnesses seemingly innocuous incidents involving memory and semantics - verbal and body language - to subtly craft a viscerally amusing and deeply unnerving dilemma that one may liken to Lynch's Eraserhead.


Worst Festival Film: White God  
This ungainly, formulaic mess (with its title evocative of Sam Fuller's searing White Dog from 1982) has somehow pulled in art house curators through its shrewd nostalgic marketing as a product of "Rise of Planet of the Apes + Cujo + Homeward Bound." Really, though, the whole pitch here is predicated upon the avoidance of CGI and the simple shot of a pack of street dogs running through a deserted urban Budapest. It's a memorable image but one that should have been captured in a painting or photograph rather than developed into a one-dimensional two-hour narrative that's basically a prosaic, less poignant version of The Simpsons' third-season episode, Dog of Death.



Mark Davison


The Duke of Burgundy

Beguiling, beautiful, bonkers and deeply melancholic, Peter Strickland’s lesbian s&m romance was far more touching than any film with a credited “Human Toilet Consultant” would have any right to be. It could be said that it skewed a little too closely to his previous film, 2012’s Berberian Sound Studio, just swapping its Giallo movie reference points for sleazy seventies soft-core, but really, it was more a sister film to Berberian, countering the former film’s repressed, masculine, violent tension with something more feminine and sensuous, but also knowing and world-weary.


Mistress America

Noah Baumbach’s first film of the year, While We’re Young, was a little bit too overpraised, and far too sour. His second, however, was a rather more satisfying experience. Re-teaming with his Frances Ha co-writer, sometime muse and current partner Greta Gerwig, the two turned in perhaps the most charming film to hit screens since their last collaboration. While laughing at pretentious hipsters is easy (which was very much the route that While We’re Young went for), Mistress America threw plenty of creative, surprising and much appreciated curveballs into its comedy, resulting in something a lot warmer and energetically absurd than the pre-release publicity suggested.


Inside Out

A heart-breaking film about growing up, and – apparently – a close-to spot-on take on neuroscience, Inside Out was one of those “kids films that aren’t really for kids at all”. Or so I thought, after having laughed and wept my way through my first viewing in a noticeably child-free screening. However, having since watched it multiple times with my young niece, and seen her respond to the film’s colourful, imaginative designs and impeccably realised characters, it turns out that it’s for kids too. Although, she probably didn’t get the bit about abstract thought (and the gay joke).



Progressive without being preachy, hilarious without being lightweight. Paul Weitz’s comedy about a recently-single feminist academic helping her granddaughter to find $630 to pay for an abortion was a delight from start to finish, and gave Lily Tomlin a long-overdue starring role (it’s slightly galling to think that the last time she headlined a movie was almost 30 years ago). Even better, at less than 80 minutes long, it definitely understood the value of brevity (making it all the easier to fit in back-to-back screenings).


Ex Machina
Lean, economical and seriously stylish, novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland’s directorial debut was a tense sci-fi three-hander about both the ethics of artificial intelligence, and sexual politics. Featuring possibly both 2015’s best cast and soundtrack (and definitely its most disturbing dance scene).


Good year for: Robots
Just a few weeks into 2015, we were introduced to Alicia Vikander (who really was everywhere this year) through her star-making turn as an advanced and alluring AI in Ex Machina. A couple of weeks from the end of the year we met 2015’s best character – Star Wars’ new droid, BB-8 (who also provided us with the year’s best cinematic double-take). To stretch a tenuous connection further, you could throw in the slightly robotic Steve Jobs of the eponymous film’s first (and best) two thirds, and the man-meets-machine steam-punk of some of Mad Max: Fury Road’s more outlandish designs.
…probably best that we all forget about that latest Terminator movie… as the people who were involved in making it probably hope that we do too.


Bad year for: Cold-blooded killers
American Ultra was one of the year’s biggest flops, and deservedly so, as its nonsensical juvenile jumble of a plot made it arguably one of the year’s worst films. Elsewhere in cinematic espionage, Kingsmen aimed for cheeky, near the knuckle humour, but just left a nasty taste in the mouth, and SPECTRE started strong, but ended up fizzling out (funnily enough, the rot set in just when Sam Smith’s dreary theme started).
…on the other hand, the latest Mission Impossible was pretty good.


Great year for: Consumer-grade filmmaking
2015 saw the release of the first feature film to be shot on the iPhone – Tangerine. While the sketchy plotting and characterisation left a lot to be desired, it did look surprisingly decent. Elsewhere two of the year’s biggest tear-jerkers – Amy and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – used home movies to devastating effect, and I finally had an IMAX experience that was worth the extra money – not involving one of the year’s big blockbusters, but rather at the BFI London Film Festival’s special screening of the latest from low-budget auteur Guy Maddin, The Forbidden Room, projected on the UK’s biggest cinema screen. Whoever programmed that particular mind-blowing delight might well be my cinematic hero of 2015.


Natalia Costa


The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Guy Ritchie is back and this was the most hilarious film of 2015. Brilliant scenes with an amazing soundtrack on the back this was a breeze of fresh air with the glamourous scenarios of the Italian 60s. The scene where Solo is just having a nice snack while listening to Che Vuole Qu’esta Musica Stasera is priceless! BEST movie scene of the year!

Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

The movie of the year had amazing performances and striking scenes. Funny how the ego grabs you tight and doesn’t let go until you lose sight of who you actually are. Amazingly filmed and with powerful performances, Birdman brought us back Michael Keaton and a charismatic cast walking us through the craziness of show biz. As we age we get cynical and/or estranged from the world. We long for what we were and what we were is more about our mind’s memories than the reality we have actually lived. And we envy youth: "I'd pull your eyes out of your head and put them in my own skull, and look around, so I could see the street the way I used to when I was your age."

Irrational Man

Woody Allen even when is not at his best is still a reference of a cinematic year. Irrational Man is funny and intriguing. We find ourselves both cheering and hating Abe (outstanding performance of Joaquin Phoenix), both compliant and repelled by his actions and thoughts, both relieved and scared with his epiphany, both unsure and confident of where is arrogance will lead. Both amused and disturbed by how random chance always has a saying on anyone’s life, including our own.


Still Alice

Julianne Moore deservedly won an Oscar for her touching role with a character with one of the scariest diseases of our days. Brilliant performances of all the supporting roles, especially Kristen Stewart. As memory fades away it is hard to keep human dignity and be up for the simplest tasks of human behavior. Moore played it perfectly as usual and it moved us in such a way that we felt that person could be ourselves.


My personal favorite: inspiring story, touching performances, homely soundtrack. Reese Witherspoon was impressive in this accepting life’s inevitabilities journey. Laura Dern was back in a short but deeply exhilarating role starring the quote of the year that we may want to keep in mind while greeting the New Year: “There is a sunrise and a sunset every day and you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.”