It Follows.
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The best and worst films of 2015

And the runners up.

Contrary to popular misconception, there were films released this year that were not called Jurassic World, Spectre or Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Come with me now while I remind you of a few of them.

Film of the Year

It Follows
With the exception of the “Thank you” to George Osborne and Ed Vaizey in the end credits of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, all the darkest cinematic moments of the year came from this exquisitely-made horror movie about a sexually-transmitted curse. On a second viewing, new layers and complexities were revealed; the film even started to seem bizarrely romantic in places. One thing is for sure: its writer-director, David Robert Mitchell (who has made one previous movie—the equally atmospheric but more whimsical The Myth of the American Sleepover) is a born filmmaker. He knows how to tell a story with the camera and to use the empty space on screen, as well as the crunchy, wailing electronic score by Disasterpiece, to excite our anticipation. Read my review.

Other Films of the Year

London Road
Alecky Blythe’s verbatim non-fiction musical about the murders of five women in Ipswich transfers flawlessly from stage to screen.

Carol
Todd Haynes’s visually arresting love story is all the more effective for being so subdued. Read my review.

Mad Max: Fury Road
Spectacular action was expected from the latest in this series of post-apocalyptic demolition derbies. Its female bias was a pleasant surprise.

Phoenix
A Vertigo-style slow-burner in which a woman (the sublime Nina Hoss) comes face-to-face with the man who shopped her to the Nazis: her husband.

Honourable Mentions:

Inherent Vice
Read my review.

National Gallery
Read my review.

45 Years
Read my review.

The Look of Silence
Read my review.

Timbuktu
Read my review.

Clouds of Sils Maria

Tangerine.
Read my review.

Worst Film of the Year

Kingsman: The Secret Service
Matthew Vaughn’s super-violent Bond-style caper about a young working-class ruffian singled out for spy duties came early in the year and set the bar exceedingly low for the category of worst film of 2015. It was as if the makers of mid-1990s lad mags such as Zoo and Nuts had collaborated on a spin-off movie encompassing all their most reprehensible elements. What’s more, it was also poorly made and often completely senseless, especially the centrepiece sequence depicting a massacre in a church. Reliable stalwarts such as Colin Firth and Michael Caine gave uncertain, half-hearted performances that suggested they may not have been in on the joke – whatever the joke was.

Runner-up Worst Film of the Year

The Intern
As well as being the second-worst film of the year, this was also, after It Follows, the creepiest. Not that it was meant to be. Nancy Meyers’s intention was to make a heartwarming comedy about a widower (Robert De Niro) chosen for a seniors’ intern scheme at a hotshot internet fashion website run by a go-getting entrepreneur (Anne Hathaway). But De Niro has no comic levity. When he’s supposed to be funny, he resorts to wincing and gurning; when he’s trying to be charming, he’s like a serial killer in training. There is no discernible difference between his performance here and as a psychotic stalker in The Fan. His badness spreads outwards from this movie and into his other work – when I saw him a few months later playing Jennifer Lawrence’s father in Joy, I could still feel the hangover from the awfulness of The Intern.

Comedy Cameo of the Year

Ryan Serhant, a real-estate agent and star of the US reality show Million Dollar Listing New York (no, me neither), stole While We’re Young from under the noses of its stars with his handful of scenes as Hedge Fund Dave, to whom a documentary maker (Ben Stiller) is pitching his movie in the hope of raising funding. Told that there is 100 hours of footage, Dave gasps: “The movie is 100 hours long?” As the pitch drags on, his eyes first glaze over and then drift irresistibly toward the screen of his mobile phone. It’s a masterclass in gentle upstaging.

DVD/Blu-ray Release of the Year

A New Leaf
Elaine May’s brilliant 1971 black comedy stars Walther Matthau as a wealthy New York loafer who finds that a life of Ferraris and fine dining has depleted his collateral. It is his butler Harold (the glorious George Rose) who suggests that a well-chosen spouse might save Sir from penury. “Marriage?” splutters Henry. “To a woman?” He comes around to the idea when it occurs to him that he could bump off this wife and keep the loot. “I’m going to find a suitable woman,” he announces to Harold, “and mur – marry her.” May herself is glorious as his wife-cum-victim: Henrietta, a clumsy, millionaire botanist with glasses like bicycle wheels, a lopsided mouth and a full set of butterfingers.

“World’s Smallest Violin” Moment

In the November issue of Vanity Fair, a profile of the actor Burt Reynolds spoke poignantly of his realisation that “suddenly his annual income was sinking toward six figures”.

Favourite Bad Biopic Moment

From Straight Outta Compton (and there are many to choose from):

Int. Day. ICE CUBE's house. ICE CUBE is sitting at the computer in his living room, typing. He is laughing to himself.

His WIFE walks in.

WIFE: What you doing honey?
ICE CUBE: Working on Friday.
WIFE: How much you done?
ICE CUBE: I'm on page 100. Gonna stop soon.

Film-related Obituary of the Year

Patrick Macnee in the Telegraph. So many incredible details here: the chimpanzee rescue followed by car crash, the father urinating from a balcony, the stepmother called “Uncle”. A great obituary – and a great life. What a movie it would make!

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards and is Film Critic in Residence at Falmouth University.

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The Back Half #21: Janelle Monae, The Looming Tower and Jim Crace

The NS culture podcast with Tom Gatti and Kate Mossman.

Tom Gatti and Kate Mossman discuss Janelle Monae's new album Dirty Computer and the Amazon-Hulu series The Looming TowerThen, they hear from novelist Jim Crace, an interview that was recorded at the Cambridge Literary Festival. Finally, they celebrate another significant cultural noniversary.

Listen on iTunes here, on Acast here or via the player below:

Get in touch with questions or noniversary suggestions on Twitter via @tom_gatti or @ns_podcasts.

Credits: 

Audio from The Looming Tower courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.

Our theme music is "God Speed" by Pistol Jazz, licensed under Creative Commons.