Infernos, Princes and Pigeons: The Best Films of 2015

A list comprising the fourteen best films of 2015- what prove truly stirring pieces of cinema, each in their own unique way.

My top two choices in particular I cannot recommend highly enough – please if you get a chance watch Inferno -directed by Vinko Moderndorfer, a raw and powerful testimonial critique of modern Europe and the contemporary wild capitalist culture which sustains it, as well as the wholly sincere and equally incendiary animated work The Little Prince.

  1. Inferno (Vinko Möderndorfer, Slovenia)

Short review (via Letterboxd) – http://letterboxd.com/filmboss96/film/inferno-2014/

Full review to be published.

INFERNO

2. The Little Prince (Mark Osborne, France)

Full review – https://cinemaunmasked.wordpress.com/2015/12/22/the-art-of-the-little-prince-re-imagining-antoine-de-saint-exupery/

An adapation of de Saint-Exupéry’s immortal work, pictured below.

mali princ

3. From What is Before (Lav Diaz, Philippines)

A mammoth near-7-hour work, Diaz portrays the tremendous historical changes of mid-20th century Philippines, the seeping introduction of military warfare, industrial capitalism and the dogma of individualism in relation to rural village life and bristling heritage of the country, noting the tension between the people’s collective mentality, rich history and tradition and the introduction of a deeply individualistic authoritarian system predicated on difference and self-negation, which begins to alter the once collective mind-set and simple surroundings, from within. Diaz’s aesthetic and layered long-takes evoke the time and place with an extraordinarily uncomfortable insight, capturing the meandering life of villagers, their slow days, the lengthy philosophical antecdotes and more comprehensively the unfolding nature of history and the existential dimension of time and being. This film reveals a  paradox – dead time captured, interspersed with(in) history, a history that is ever-changing and eternally the same, where the job of the people and the artist is to seek refuge and engage in a collective past – in order to be able to deal with the traumatic present and the unwilling changes enforced on a local, national and global level –  a place where we continue to be inspired by ‘from what is before.’

lav diaz from what is before

4. Human (Yann Arthus-Bertrand, France+co-production)

Mixing breathtaking aerial photography of the rich geographical landscapes on the Earth, juxtaposing images of mass migration, poverty, ultra-modernized socities and rural natural settlements, differing ways of life and expansion, with brooding close-ups of human faces – from across the globe telling their actual personal stories to camera – Human is a documentary unlike any other. Although it may often prove exoticised and certain juxtapositions bear problematic elements, it is triumphant in entirely transcending the level of national and individual into the international and collective, revealing a common identity, one which reveals the cracks of the negating difference, the inequality and false tolerance promoted by systems of authority, the modern world and the supposed ‘(post-)modern’ societies. Human calls with all its might and political heft for a common world, one which pierces beyond the ideological and begins to feel out the domain of our shared ontological reality.

human

5. Taxi (Jafar Panahi, Iran)

”They don’t want to show it, but they are doing it themselves.”

Iranian subversive social critique at its peak, which goes beyond petty realism and lives more in the vein of Vertov’s ”life as it is” – further revealing paradoxes of reality and realism, and the tension between the organization of life and society and the constructed nature of film. Panahi serves out his best film, also a wonderful companion to his earlier uproarious film Offside. 

Short review – https://cinemaunmasked.wordpress.com/2016/03/15/jafar-panahis-taxi-2015-a-short-review/

taxi panahi little girl

6. Android’s Dream (Ion De Sosa, Spain)

A wildly original work from Ion De Sosa, Androids Dream depicts an uncanny future, where everything is the same but for one element, one which cannot be easily articulated or recognized, but felt, sensed in the cold mentality and indifferent humanity (an oxymoron) which haunts the film and its detached dystopia. This film appears prophetic, it reflects both the clinical humanism favoured by today’s contemporary societies and the isolated individuals it will produce in the future, resulting in a totalitarianism which will not need mass violence or fascism to carry out its despotic ends, but merely our submission and the simpler resignation of Self.

>Please see this film if you can – sci-fi and contemporary reality suffused into one haunting hour.

androids dream

7. Güeros (Alonso Ruiz Palacios, Mexico)

A champion emerges from Mexico, with a character genuity greater than your Del Toros, a minimalist aesthetic transcending your Cuarons and a versed cinephilia beyond the Inarritus, this work I would highly suggest to all film-lovers to watch, coming-of-age, development of simple friendships, a growing rebellious musical scene and a changing landscape of, and for, the Revolution, Güeros encompasses this and toys with it in a brave search for identiy through Self and through others, revealing their inseparability and the verisimilitude of (self-) identification, friendship ties and the wry cynicism of growing-up.

gueros

8. The Witch (Robert Eggers, USA)

Real horror which engages attentively with cinema’s voyeuristic side in order to pry into the (non-) essence of evil and the negation of Self through submission, exposing surrender which is not tantamount to the self-surrender of Love and the artistic process, but rather a compliance to the self-negating void of evil – a negation of ontological being and ontological freedom. If ontological freedom is to be understood as Goodness and Absolute Love that is not merely puritan morality, as in the film, then the final scene presents a paradox – a freedom to choose your own negation, which paradoxically is no longer ontological but merely a matter of choice. This is not surprising since puritanism in that historical context subordinates theology and the understanding of Christ rather on pure morality and fundamental behaviour of the ”chosen group” of Christians. Even if the director (Robert Eggers) aims to be critical towards puritan culture – it simultaneously shapes his view, reflecting a black-and-white moralist stand-off between oppressive puritan morals and the devil which offers liberation (paradoxical); however by revealing the girl’s sexual awakening as analogous to the submission to evil Eggers subverts the morality of puritanism. This film provides a serious insight into how puritanism has shaped and affected American culture, even in its reaction against it, particularly steming from the area of New England.

A psychoanalytical approach to the film will surely reveal many other layers to the work.

Full review – https://cinemaunmasked.wordpress.com/2016/03/15/real-horror-eggers-the-witch-2015/

the witch 3

9. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Roy Andersson, Sweden)

The final entry in Andersson’s surreal trilogy Pigeon is absurd, hilarious, off-putting, engaging and novel, along with any other fun buzz word you can think of, because the superficiality lived by Andersson’s humans is so emphatic and equally detestable that it is impossible not to relate with their plights and scruffy troubles. The beauty offered by his surreal escapades, ones which both reflect and enlighten Andersson’s cooly detached culture, by extension our own, seeks to reveal a palpable relation between sad humans who only need to recognize each other and the simplicity of their life in order to fully engage in all its beauty and complexity.

pigeon branch

10. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Taiwan-China-Hong Kong)

A maze of seductive yellows and cool blues, The Assassin is a deliciously slow-burning work which will surely take many more viewings to fully appreciate, a film steeped in, and disengaged from, tradition, and the converged aesthetics of the wuxia film, the historical epic and the classical landscape painting, this work bares the indescribeable beauty of Hsien’s most intimate and unobtrusive character studies.

assassin hsien

11. A Century of Energy (Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal)

Manoel de Oliveira’s last film at 106 years of age captures the essence of his greatest works in fifteen minutes.

century of energy

12. Arabian Nights Volume 3: The Enchanted One (Miguel Gomes, Portugal+co-production)

A smorgasbord of poised visuals and archaic dialogue, builds on the serene beauty, albeit inconsistency, of the first two installments. Needs to be seen.

arabian night

13. Parched (Leena Yadav, India)

An abhorrently underappreciated work from Indian filmmaker Leena Yadav, Parched is a vivid, energetic and gorgeously painted portrait of the life of four women in rural Western India, as they talk about men, sex, life, fears and hopes, and attempt to actively deal with their (collective) traumas and demons, and the stale patriarchy growing and inflicted from the grass-roots level, even in their children. Part frisky Bollywood, part subdued art cinema and part painfully honest black comedy, and simultaneously resisting simple categorization, this remains a work which breathes by encompassing such genres and styles, and transcending them, a film conflicted in its form and context, unsure what it wants to be, but certain in what it is (the ”it” is open to interpretation). As a final point I would like to say that terms like ”feminism” and ”equality” may be applied to glossy reviews of this film, however this film outgrows the standardized definitions, severing itself from the monopolizing, superficial manner through which mass culture and popular media have commodified such crucial terms. Instead Parched reveals glimpses into their original meaning and the essence behind them, utilizing its own superficial and ideological filmic tendencies for in-depth and counter-ideological purposes, steming from a corner often ignored by world cinema enthusiasts and international media.

surveen_chawla_in_parched-1366x768

14. Where to Invade Next (Michael Moore, USA)

Moore’s slice of exultant utopiansm and insightful critique illuminates the troubled reality faced by Europe and the United States today, it is a documentary which screams from the rooftops, calling for the transformation of society by transformation of Self, and instead of being generalized or idealistic, it exposes the realistic and serious dangers, and consequences, of neoliberalization, individualism and the authoritarian relations dominating the globalized world.

where to invade next

Honourable Mentions: Inside Out, The Forbidden Room

Pleasant Surprises: The Gift, The Big Short, Joy, Kingsman: The Secret Service

And some to bear in mind: Goodnight Mommy, Francofonia, Dheepan, Mia Madre, Mommy, Poet on a Business Trip, Enklava (Enclave)

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2 thoughts on “Infernos, Princes and Pigeons: The Best Films of 2015

  1. I’m absolutely loving this list, and the fact that there are so many foreign language movies in there! Gueros looks very interesting, as does The Assassin! I’m a huge fan of foreign language cinema (as you can tell on my blog) so this is right up my alley. Thanks for the suggestions. Would you be interested in sharing your work on Moviepilot/Creators? Feel free to shoot me an e-mail so I can expand on that. I’d love to hear from you. You can find my contact details on my blog.

    Like

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