If there was one thing that marked this year, it was writing about writing. I feel like I’ve done almost as much of it as actual writing, of breaking new ground and putting less personal thoughts into the world (whoops, here comes some more!). Admittedly, it’s a welcome change. Until Mistress America came along and somewhat revitalised me (ah, the feeling of a great film that gets you), it looked as though this year was going to be minimally productive and ultimately a bit of a let-down.
I harp on every year (this is now my third of doing this ‘officially’) about art imitating life. Undoubtedly, what I experience and feel each year directly correlates with what resonates. Last year I latched squarely onto films about reinvention and identity, at a time I was going through a period of change and defiance of expectations myself. Ned Benson’s The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby was about reevaluating yourself in the most unfortunate of circumstances, and the ways in which we reinvent and deal with others changing. David Fincher’s Gone Girl was about the disposable nature of identity, and how one’s path in life is influenced by those around them. Orphan Black considers perhaps the purest manifestation of the idea of one’s life being predestined – being genetically engineered. In a year where my life was quite possibly changing more than ever before, these stories of a self of self and a loss of that were just what I needed.
But I’m not in that situation this year. My year hasn’t been about a single journey or problem that I’ve looked for and found resonance in by the films I’ve seen. It’s perhaps for this reason that my list this year is a lot broader than last’s. By the end of last year, I could only muster up passion to call three things the best and the most resonant, those I just named above. By contrast, this year there are 41 films on my list. The result is a list that is maybe not as deeply tied to my life at the present as last’s, but nonetheless one that represents what I felt this year. Because resonance is what this is ultimately about. Why does one watch films if it’s not to see the human experience, their experience, reflected or investigated in some way?
This year’s films aren’t as easily unifiable, because they speak to a variety of situations and emotions, or maybe just plainly found their way into my head and heart through their fantastic imaginations and storytelling. It spans a wide range of genres and countries, from the brooding Quebec-set drama Les Loups (translates as The Wolves), to the exhilarating documentary Twinsters, and to the Australian outback in the revenge comedy The Dressmaker. They tell stories of everything from a doomed mountaineering expedition, a summer that changes everything, to a simple story of discovering the world by oneself for the first time.
On further inspection, the easily identifiable unifying theme is love. Families (no matter how unconventional they may be), countries, couples, friends. First love, badly but perfectly timed love, chance meetings. Exhilarating love and toxic love of self discovery and destruction. Love that hurts, love that heals. It’s violent but gentle, terrifying but joyous, a beautiful mess of contradictions. And the best, but also worst part? It has no end.
But upon second glance and consideration, what makes these films interesting is not necessarily the fact that they are about love, but the things on the periphery to that. They’re about the fight to personal freedom, a state where one can be their true self, including loving in any way they want. To fight against the shackles of the past, of authority, of society; and to emerge triumphant, in a state of one’s true self. What makes them resonant is that this battle is not easy. It takes time, effort, even realisation that the injustice is there in the first instance. But the fight is what makes the victory even sweeter. However, what the protagonists in these films realise that this process is never ending. The fight will never be truly over. In Carol, the titular character and Therese (Rooney Mara) will continue to be challenged by society. In Spotlight, what the team uncovers on screen is only the beginning of the unspoken horrors.
But, to hammer home the art imitates life theme again, challenges in real life have no end. There will be always new things to discover and conquer, just like this journey with cinema has no end either. This is a list that will undoubtedly be added to in years to come as I keep discovering things (just like there never seems to be enough hours in a day to write about what I want to, there’s also never enough time to watch all the films I want to). The review list isn’t even complete yet, despite how much I wanted to be finished, it felt wrong to rush some of these for the sake of this, so it’ll continue to be updated in due course. Despite the cynicism about creativity and the industry I seem to read daily, film still offers an endless journey of discovery and ways to get excited year after year. It even seems to get harder and harder to write about them, to exactly articulate what I adored so much and do the film justice in that. Indeed, it is neverending. Here are 43 films I loved in 2015.