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Ten films that got us thinking in 2015


From the drama-filled mind of a pre-teen girl to the homes of former Indonesian death-squad members; from a day in the life of a transgender sex-worker to a grim and sublime new rendition of one of Shakespeare's most famous plays; from one actor's immense ego to another's fading relevance to an allegedly doomed writer's captivating self-effacement, Eureka Street's resident film buff Tim Kroenert revisits the characters and themes of some of the best and most conversation-worthy films of 2015.


Inside Out (PG). Directors: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen. 102 minutes

One of the best films in Pixar's remarkable catalogue, Inside Out takes viewers inside the mind of a preteen girl named Riley, and personifies aspects of her personality as characters vying for control. Up until now, Riley's life and temperament have been largely guided by Joy (voiced by the irrepressible Amy Poehler). But when her family moves from the small town she grew up in to San Francisco, other emotions, notably Sadness (Phyllis Smith) begin to (literally) colour her world view. In a manner that perhaps only Pixar could pull off, the film manages to be both endlessly inventive and entertaining, while simultaneously providing a sophisticated and devestating exploration of loss and change, and pain's place in it.

Full review


Clouds of Sils Maria (MA). Director: Olivier Assayas. 124 minutes

Theater and film star Maria (Juliet Binoche) is cast in a new production of the play that kick-started her career 20 years ago. But where she originally portrayed the play's young female lead, this time she is playing her older counterpart. French director Assayas' masterpiece psychological drama contains numerous scenes in which Maria and her intensely intelligent assistant Valentine (the ever more impressive Kristen Stewart) run lines, and in which it is not always clear where the rehearsal ends and conversation resumes. The blurred lines between reality and performance heighten the ambiguities of the characters and their relationship, as the film explores the experience and psychology of women in an industry where youth and beauty is frequently seen as a commodity. 

Full review


Ex Machina (MA). Director: Alex Garland. 108 minutes

Ex Machina explores timeless questions about the essence of humanity, and the ethical and moral implications when humankind adopts the mantle of Creator, in a highly contemporary context. Programming genius Nathan (Oscar Isaac) enlists one of his employees, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), to assist with the final stages of his latest, top-secret project — the development of an artificial intelligence that approximates human consciousness, and which has been built to appear like a young woman named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Caleb's series of captivating conversations with the alluring but inscrutable Ava form the core of a thriller that is as dense with ideas as it is with suspense.

Full review


Birdman (MA). Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu. 119 minutes

A quarter of a century ago, an actor pulled on tights and a cape and helped prove that superhero films could be treated seriously. Michael Keaton would miss the ensuing juggernaut though, walking away from the genre after 1992's underrated Batman Returns. All of which is central to the profound, disturbing joke that is Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman, in which Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a former superhero actor trying to transcend the memory of his most famous character. The film is both an acting tour-de-force for Keaton and a technical marvel, presented as if it is one continuous tracking shot across disjointed time and space; a surreal play mounted on the stage of Riggan's immense ego.

Full review


Holding the Man (MA). Director: Neil Armfield. 128 minutes

Timothy Conigrave's memoir Holding the Man is a classic of contemporary Australian queer literature. Originally published in 1995 a few months after Conigrave's death from AIDS, it is an account of his relationship with high school football star John Caleo, whom he met in 1976 when they were both students at the Melbourne Jesuit private boys school Xavier College. Conigrave and Caleo were together for 15 years until Caleo's death (also from AIDS) in 1992. In 2006 Conigrave's memoir was adapted for the stage by playwright Tommy Murphy, who also wrote the screenplay for this new film adaptation. The film, directed by Neil Armfield (Candy), is a deeply affecting, if patchy, take on this powerful story.

Full review


The End of the Tour (M). Director: James Ponsoldt. 106 minutes

The End of the Tour is based on interviews with American novellist David Foster Wallace conducted by Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky in 1996, but not published until 2010, two years after Wallace's death by suicide. Lipsky's memoir was adapted for the screen by playwright Donald Margulies, whose screenplay is in turn brought to life by acclaimed director James Ponsoldt. So The End of the Tour is Ponsoldt's vision of Margulies' distillation of Lipsky's account of his conversations with Wallace. If the film is true, whose truth is it? It's an interesting question to bring to this captivating and self-reflexive rumination on creativity, human interaction and journalistic process. Jason Segel inverts his melancholy-tinged comedic prowess to deliver an impressive, emotive portrayal of Wallace.

Full review


The Look of Silence (M). Director: Joshua Oppenheimer. 100 minutes

Documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer's 2013 epic The Act of Killing employed the artifice of filmmaking both to illuminate facts for his audience, and to challenge on every level — intellectual, emotional and moral — its subjects, the perpetrators of genocide in Indonesia in the mid 1960s. Its companion film The Look of Silence is less gruelling but no less compelling. It follows Adi, a middle-aged optometrist who was born after the atrocities but whose older brother Ramli was killed during them, as he confronts the perpetrators who still live with impunity in his local community; not to humiliate or denigrate them, but only to gently illuminate truth, and seek the seeds of reconciliation in shared humanity.

Full review


Macbeth (MA). Director: Justin Kurzel. 113 minutes

If you have seen South Australian filmmaker Kurzel's relentlessly grim and violent Snowtown, you will have some idea of what to expect from the director's take on Shakespeare's Scottish Play. Kurzel was handpicked for the project by the film's producers, and its star Michael Fassbender, on the strength of Snowtown, and no doubt he has delivered exactly what they wanted: a sublime but grim and violent rendition, grimmer and more violent even than Roman Polanski's infamous 1971 version. Kurzel's may well displace Polanski's as the standard-bearer adaptation, as both an enthralling cinematic experience and a faithful adaptation, whose twists on the source material tend to illuminate rather than obfuscate.

Full review


Tangerine (MA). Director: Sean Baker. 88 minutes

If the first thing you know about this funny and poignant film about a day in the life of a pair of transgender sex workers from LA is that it was shot on an iPhone 5S, the second thing you need to know is that this is no mere gimmick but an artistic coup. Baker has created a work whose scope and energy is thoroughly cinematic, with, at the same time, a visibly camera-phone quality that places his audience right in the thick of his on-screen world (the filmmaker has us, literally, in the palm of his hand). Baker, as co-cinematographer (with Radium Cheung), is largely responsible for the film's astutely composed visual scheme, and, as editor, for shaping the footage into a cogent, kinetic whole.

Full review


Amy (M). Director: Asif Kapadia. 108 minutes


In 2011, Kapadia released a gripping, heartbreaking documentary about the career and tragic death of Brazillian Formula One driver Ayrton Senna. His film about the late pop singer Amy Winehouse — who died in 2011 at the age of 27 — is equally as gripping, and heartbreaking. Its visuals are constructed mostly from archival and home video footage and still photographs; there are few talking heads and no formal narration; instead, Kapadia weaves the voices of Amy's friends and colleagues, and recordings of Amy's own voice, into a nearly stream-of-consciousness retelling of her story. The result is a film that is as much tribute as tragedy and is, with The Look of Silence, one of the best documentaries of 2015.

Full review


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is assistant editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Inside Out, Birdman, Amy Winehouse, Amy Poehler, Kristen Stewart, Juliet Binoche, Alicia Vikander



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Existing comments

Thanks for this list, Tim. I have only seen two (at present stuck in a long, bleak parent's filmic-no-man's-land) so you have given me some good options to hunt up on DVD. I will say that Birdman was my favourite film this year (viewed on DVD) - Ed Norton and Michael Keaton blew me away. Also, as a wedding anniversary, the Bride and i took our two kids to see Inside Out; we are still making references to it at the dinner table, probably every week or so. Kudos on your list and your reviews!

Barry G | 17 December 2015  

My holiday aim: to find "Amy" and "Macbeth" at our video store. Thanks for all your great reviews Tim.

Pam | 18 December 2015  

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