An adaptation of a Japanese folktale. A Chilean political allegory. An Italian satire mixed with humanist drama. A series of Swedish surrealist vignettes. A feminist war drama from Britain. What do they have in common? They make up the 5 best UK releases in 2015. Here’s the list.
- A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Just as randomly surreal as its title suggests, Roy Andersson’s conclusion of his Living Trilogy that includes 2000’s Songs from the Second Floor and 2007’s You, The Living is the best of the three, and arguably the year’s best comedy. His distinctive style of static long takes and Bunuel-esque humour remain as a duo of unlucky party costume salesmen struggle in their work, against the backdrop of a series of unusual random events.
From the opening montages depicting three examples of death to King Charles XII invading a modern pub to the salesmen’s gradual bickering, there are plenty of vignettes that will amuse, bewilder and in quite a few cases, just baffle, but in a good way. More for the arthouse crowd but a treat nonetheless to see at least twice.
- Mia Madre
Nanni Moretti stages the best film one has seen of his thus far with Mia Madre working as a fine example of genuine comedy and heart-warming melodrama put together. A director (Margherita Buy) struggles in both her personal and professional lives, coping with her dying mother and helming a film with its self-obsessed, difficult lead Barry Huggins (the scene-stealing John Turturro).
Moretti, who co-stars as the director’s brother, makes a memorable and wholly entertaining work that can have you laughing one moment and feeling moved the next. Whether it’s Huggins’ gradual annoyance or a look at the fractious side of the relationship between mother and daughter, this is an easy pick for the list. Highlight of the film; the moment when director and actor finally clash, with a repeated Kubrick reference thrown in for good measure.
- Testament of Youth
2015 has been an impressive year for home-grown cinema thanks to The Duke of Burgundy, Suite Francaise, Queen and Country and 45 Years, putting the UK in a much better position cinematically than several years before. But the best that the British have delivered this year is easily the adaptation of Vera Brittain’s World War One memoirs Testament of Youth.
Anchored by Alicia Vikander and featuring support from Kit Harrington, Taron Egerton and Dominic West, one cannot forget this film. In fact, the Swedish Vikander so convinces in this strong English role, emotionally and audibly, that though Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn comes very close, performance of the year has to be awarded to Vikander on the basis of pulling off a more difficult performance.
Documenting Brittain’s defiance of peers and tradition to attend university, volunteering as a nurse when war is declared during which her fiancée and brother enlist, and her post-war career, this is a moving and vivid portrait of the way lives are shattered by war.
- The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Forget Inside Out. The most moving and finest animation you will see this year is Isao Takahara’s Studio Ghibli-produced The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, adapted from the Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. A tiny princess is discovered in a piece of bamboo by a bamboo cutter and his wife, only for the child to rapidly grow into a toddler within minutes. After they adopt her, the couple realize that city life is more suitable for their daughter. It is when her lifestyle is reconstructed that it dawns not everything is as it seems and a secret from the princess’s past threatens to separate the family forever.
Magical, funny, heartfelt, fascinating and with one of the saddest endings in recent memory that will stay long after the credits, this proves not all animations have to adapt to the traditions that have slowed American works in recent years. Another argument for why Ghibli, the most reliable source for the genre, should continue with their work for many more years.
- The Dance of Reality
The Dance of Reality, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s semi-autobiographical work and first film since 1990, isn’t just the best film of the year, but a testament as to how diverse the best films of this year have been.
A surreal, darkly comic and often tragic mix of family drama and political dispute, it follows a Stalin-obsessed patriarch obsessed with making his mummy’s boy son more into a boy, his plot to assassinate President Campo and his subsequent mental decline. On top of this, we also get to see the side of the constantly-singing mother, as the son struggles to maintain his stance as the only sane one of the trio.
With Jodorowsky breaking the fourth wall and turning up in random scenes involving the family son, this is not necessarily a straightforward piece. Its genre mix of comedy, drama, thriller and musical just comes out of nowhere and that is just one of the reasons why this film works superbly on so many levels.
Cue a range of wacky scenarios involving amputees, blonde hair, feathers, shoe polish and Nazi torture and you have not just the top film of 2015, but quite possibly one of the decade’s finest.