Top 10 Films of 2015


Top 10 Films of 2015

Personal Favorites.

by Whiteboard Journal


Another year comes to a close. And what is life if we don’t gather and sum up the events of the year? and it is even more important for art. There’s never been a bad year for art, and in this case, film. As long as people keep making film, there will always be something worth talking and making lists about. As I have stated above, this is my personal list. Subjective preference is my prime utility in deciding whether a film has made it to my list or not.

Regarding multiple reasons such as unavailability and general laziness, there are still a lot of films I’ve yet to watch. Unlike music and video games, It is a classic problem of films to not be accessible to everyone, and at the same time everywhere in the world. There are barriers of festival screening, selected theater viewing, and a depressing general absence of important films from the end of the world country such as ours. And so it is also quite normal for a year-end list to contain films from the previous year due to the delay of international and public screenings. And as for me, I can only rely on.. *ehm* downloads to get my fix. I add the information of its year for films that were not originally released in 2015.

This list is effective for all the movies I’ve watched before 22nd of December. I will not go into details of which film I have watched, but not made the cut, and which promising ones I haven’t watched. There’s just too much, and not to count the untouched ones that were already in my folder. It is physically impossible to watch every single film available to you on a given time.

Here are my top 10 films of 2015, I divided the list into two sections – the best of 2015 from No.10 to 4, and the Absolute Extraordinaire, the top 3 that stand tall above the rest.

Enjoy, and see you next year.


10. CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (2014), (Oliver Assayas, France)
A powerful chemistry between Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart. And perhaps I was as surprised as everyone else of how great Stewart can actually perform. Perhaps she always was that great, if not for the whole Twilight Saga debacle (reminds me of Jared Leto before and after Dallas Buyers Club.).

A meta-loop, ribbon-tied into an exquisite package. When Maria, a legendary actress has to revisit the groundbreaking work that made her famous 20 years ago, where she played a dazzling young girl who charmed her boss into love, dependency, and depression. But this time, she has to play the boss, which possesses a frailty and hopelessness she despises so much. And the role become larger than life, as the nature of the character seeps into hers.

A battle between the maturity versus the spontaneity of youth. A power struggle swirling in Maria’s veteran interior. She was a symbol of youth once, and famous for it. Now she has to be on the receiving end. Perhaps it is the disgust she feels toward the boss character, but it is more likely that she’s losing that control, a sudden realization (or perhaps she’s been aware all along) that she has become an old lady, that face of frailty she resents for her entire career.

Clouds Of Sils Maria also tackles the nature and the glitz of today’s show business. The social media, the tabloid affairs, the viral scandals. The film does not try to mock and look away from the banality, but rather incorporate the “Savvy-ness” into the fray. As Maria can barely handle the norm of the modern showbiz ecosystem.

One of the reason Kristen Stewart worked so well in this film is her suitability with this “social media era”. Trough Valentine, her character, Stewart proves to be a worthy opponent for the refined and elegant Maria. she is the embodiment of youth and wonder. Where both of them didn’t saw eye to eye on number of issues – This is the strongest point of the film, a dynamic tug o war between Maria and Valentine, the wise against the young. As Valentine often serves as both poison and antidote to Maria’s refined point of view. Does your point of view change drastically as you grow older? is it natural for that spark of spontaneity that Maria used to possess to slowly wither away as wisdom takes hold and grows fuller? as Valentine beautifully puts it; “you can’t be as accomplished as you are, and as well rounded as an actress if you still expect to hold onto the privileges of youth, it just doesn’t work like that.”

And to borrow the quote of one Mr. Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend – “Wisdom’s a gift, but you’d trade it for youth.”

Would you?


9. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (2014), (Jermaine Clement & Taika Waititi, New Zealand)
Looking for a great laugh with an adequate amount of wit and vigor? If yes is your answer, Then I highly recommend What We Do In The Shadows, easily the funniest film on this list. A mockumentary about 4 vampires living in a decrepit house in New Zealand. The film crew follows the activity of these colorful characters as they run their daily routine. From looking for fresh young blood, hanging in the local pub, to the menial task of house maintenance. The crew also document their general opinion of things and their relationship with each other, borrowing the spirit of such effective formula from comedy shows such as The Office.

With all the dated vampire cliches intact, from their zero tolerance to sunlight to their fear of chirst cross, What We Do In The Shadows thrives by utilising this element and present these vampires as lame as possible in their desperate attempt to look cool. A clever exploitation of fantasy element coupled with an awkward social contraption, and a hilarious usage of cheap practical effect from time to time will keep your butt on your seat and your mouth tired from laughing through the entire experience.

An apparent weakness of a regular straight laugh-out-loud comedy is the mediocrity of its plot. You can laugh all you want, but the all so basic plot will eventually be very tangible as the film draws to its close. This is not the case with this film. I did not find a single instance where I would worry about how the story turns out. It is a complete experience between a great comedy and a good film. Both the narrative drive and the laugh just comes naturally and without a very noticeable hiccup. A well-oiled parody machine that never forget how to be playful and making an ass of yourself. The laugh that just keeps coming, and it gets even better as the minutes pass by.


8. STAR WARS : THE FORCE AWAKENS (J.J. Abrams, United States)
Out of respect for everybody that desperately waiting for salvation since the turmoil of the prequels, and the magnitude of people that will watch this movie, I am trying to write as little as I can about the film. Spoilers are very serious offenses, and I won’t wish it even to my worst enemies (to be fair, if months after release you still don’t watch the damn thing even though you have access to it, the fault is partly yours. You probably don’t care anyway.)

This is obviously the fanboy writing to you while being as fair and critical as he could. Longing and expectation can be a painful thing if the odds don’t end up in your favor, but when it does… damn it feels wonderful. This is a great Star Wars film, it adapts gracefully to the norm of today’s blockbuster movie business without losing the essence of the original trilogy. I gave this film 4 of 5, but it survived the hype, or rather triumphs . There might be hiccups at some dramatic instances, but goddamit, I love everything about it, and 4 + expectation that pays off equals a shining, solid 5 star for me.

To sum it in two words: I’m Awaken!
And let’s remember for a second, even though it was very brief, Max Von Sydow is in the film! The legendary champion of Swedish cinema is on the film!


7. THE HATEFUL EIGHT (Quentin Tarantino, United States)
Tarantino conceived The Hateful Eight from an idea of putting eight nefarious characters in a room together for a night. All with their own backstories that may or may not be true, and a composure to put a bullet in the guy next to them if necessary. What CAN’T possibly go wrong? A story where everybody’s the hero, the supporting role, and the villain.

His fascination for the glory days of Spaghetti Western era brings Tarantino to revisit the genre for one more bout. The Hateful Eight might not be in any way a sequel to his previous western piece, Django Unchained, but it acts as an opposing and equally powerful counterpart to it. The Hateful Eight is a colder, calmer, and a slower paced answer to the hot-headed, thrilling, and fast paced Django Unchained.

In fact, this is Tarantino’s slowest paced film to date. Taking place on the same exact room for about three quarter portion of the film, it is a much more talk and much less general action (for Tarantino’s standard) film, which you might find off-putting and barely bearable if you’re a Tarantino regulars looking for serious action. As for me, I found The Hateful Eight to be a refreshing pace and still hilariously and rightfully his.

Shot using the Ultra Panavision 70 (generally used in the 60s), The Hateful eight is a very serious and dedicated homage to the Spaghetti Western genre and epic films of the 60s. Tarantino takes the very bothersome approach to see his film on a 70mm projection. The end product looks beautiful, on both long shots and close-ups. It successfully transfer the essence of “epic-ness” and beauty that the western-drama of the old possess into the very cold world of Tarantino’s vision. And not to forget that he brings back the legendary composer Ennio Morricone to produce original scores to this movie, it’s been about 40 years since Morricone scores his last western film.

As I stated before, conversation dominates the film, the infamous and certified Tarantino’s script that made the lines from Pulp Fiction, Inglorious Basterds, and his other films to be so damn memorable and very much quote-worthy. Unexpectedly, Rather than an epic western piece, The Hateful Eight is a low-key western crime fiction/mystery drama. With suspects, investigations, and all sorts of stuff. A mystery case that looms large and will keep you guessing through the film. The degree of action and ultra violence will eventually escalates as the film goes, but until the end, The Hateful Eight remains to be a bag full of drama and multi-layered suspense along with Tarantino’s signature touch of comedy.

Played incredibly by his regulars like Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Madsen and Tim Roth, and new contributors from Jennifer Jason Leigh to Bruce Dern, Tarantino welcomes you once again to his world of dramatic enterprise. From stylish violence to hilarious comedy, from clever narrative drive to cold-blooded characters, this is still very much a Quentin Tarantino’s picture with a neat twist of suspense and mystery. By this point of his repertoire, you either originally liked Tarantino’s or you don’t, because he doesn’t intend and will not likely making any radical changes. As for me, I’m always happy to be in his world. I just wish I could see its glory in the majestic 70mm roadshow style, which is pretty unlikely for me.


An outstanding achievement on both black comedy and meticulous mise-en-scene. “Pigeon” welcomes you to peer together inside this condensed fish bowl of daily human interaction. The film seems to put an effort to distance the viewer from the social contraption that the scenes deliver. As the multiple instances of the scenes tend to be highly absurd, stylized and often not so lifelike. We, the viewer are that “pigeon” that reflecting on this human concept that are so unfamiliar and alien to our own concept of being.

But from that one extreme of unfamiliarity, “Pigeon” takes us to reflect that sometimes, human interaction and all its pre-determined concept are indeed absurd and bonkers at times. We paid small attention to it on our everyday routine. Being human, and interacting with others seemed to be a simple game, but it always contains a complicated intricacies from social contract, to norm, ethics, customs, and so on.

This film offer that unique experience of sitting and glancing from a distance, to be an outsider, to be non-human and peruse the alien world that crafted to be a clone of ours that shares the same physical feature but posses all the wrong inner qualities . And lament together that either on a small or a big portion, absurdity and uncertainty is the driving force of our existence. But hey, at least it’s a comedy, and no one would turn down a chance for a laugh or two .


5. CAROL (Todd Haynes, United States)
It is no doubt that two of the best performance of the year came from this film, Cate Blanchett as Carol and Rooney Mara as Therese. Their chemistry are superbly spectacular. It is always amazing when two actors independently perform at their highest caliber on a same film, it is even more baffling when the two are put together on the same screen, but instead of swallowing each other, they compliments each other very well and thus making their performance shines brighter. It’s like two grade-A seasoning that serve an even better dish when the two are on the same plate, it creates its own unique taste without eliminating the quality of each original flavor.

Carol Aird and Therese Belivet are two completely independent and capable women. Fed up with the nauseating and self-centered ego of men, they chose to escape the world and go wherever the road takes them. The film centers the world through the eyes of Therese, of her fascination with the enticing and always radiant Carol. But as the story moves further, they realize that they can never completely escape the world and all the problem it carries. Love is a conscious decision, and like any decision, it came with its own set of effect and repercussion.

My illusion of Carol Aird trespass the boundaries of the screen. I can feel her existence, the scent of her perfume, and the weight that the sound of her heels make when she walks. Therese’s obsession to this majestic entity is all too real for me. An older, capable figure that you want to impress in any way possible. A drunken and irresistible sensation the moment you fell in her embrace, and it is completely okay to never let go. A hopeless dependency that you love to hate, and vice versa. It is a sensual attraction without being entirely carnal and vulgar.

Carol is a seamless and natural portrayal of love. Being sensual without being lewd, and being exquisite without being unreal. It does not aim to reason with love, because the best love stories are unreasonable. It carries a fatal quality together with its blooming sensation. Against all negative odds, you either choose to love or love chooses you. You might know that sooner or later, everything will fall apart, and nothing else but heartache and depression comes with it, but you chose to dwell in its sweet temporal sensation either way. That why it’s called “falling” in love, a momentum determined by nature added by almost accidental reaction between two elements. You can temporarily delay the fall, but you can never alter its force and direction, it will always aim to go down, as you helplessly dragged down along with it.


4. P’TIT QUINQUIN (2014), (Bruno Dumont, France)
Follow Detective Van Der Weyden and his subordinate Carpentier, through a rural beach town, cracking a mysterious, very bizarre, and absolutely bonkers serial homicides. You got the idea of the film so far? Twin Peaks, True Detective, and the rest of the ballpark?

Not quite…

It is Twin Peaks and True Detective with all the wrong cast, the wrong gesture, the wrong mood, and an entirely wrong film. A playground for Absurdist, comedy enthusiast, and tragedy buff alike. P’tit Quinquin arrive with such a terrible tragedy, just to throw it all away seconds later. A murder story with a very dry and black comedy, paired absurdly with a quality of “flatness” that Robert Bresson’s work entail, and a mischievous, often times juvenile wonders of Jacques Tati’s comedic flair. You’ll never expect which direction the film reels, and at times, shits just went completely out of the rail.

P’tit Quinquin is a uniquely bold statement. Carrying the weight of 3 and a half hour film with a perfectly adequate thriller pitch but decided to take a silly walk or a pulling a stupid face on each step to push the story forward. The film can be trying at times, as it dangerously toys with sanity, and you’re completely lost in your emotional confusion. But that was what the film try to achieve all along, to yank and tear the curtain down, to wipe off the illusion of ethic on the board and draw something silly on top of it, and to be like a toddler that tries to speak the foreign language and norm of thriller without even knowing how to speak anything at all. A cinematic experience like no other.


3. YOUTH (Paolo Sorrentino, Italy)
“This is what you see when you were young, everything seemed really close.. that’s the future. And that’s what you see when you’re old, everything seemed so far away… that’s the past”

Soggy, damp, and slow. Youth is the cinema of looking back, You’re going nowhere forward with this film. You’re taking your time, and moving backward when you walks. Youth gave us a glimpse, a sensation of being really old. Of reminiscing the best of our days, and tremble in silence as the bad ones seeps through your night sweats. Both a remedy and celebration to a battered life. No matter how famous and rich you’ve got, life will always keeps up with your pace, or perhaps, life is always one step ahead, just waiting for the right time to hit you in the eye.

But in any case, Youth is not and never aimed to be a depressing picture. Beautifully shot and playfully pieced together, the modest comedy of the film shines as one of its best quality.. There’s no point questioning Michael Caine’s and Harvey Keitel’s ability anymore, they are an unfading star that survived the ages. Paul Dano and Rachel Weisz also performed on their usual caliber, being quirky and radiant respectively to keep the magic going. And so does the rest of goofy characters and personalities of the resort that kept me laughing and occupied throughout the film. From the very fat and old Maradona, the old couple that never talks to each other, to the attendee of the sauna. These extras put an adorable weight to the comedic scale.

Like the afternoon walks you take with your cane in hand and a blurry set of eyes for a vision. You’re struggling, your leg swayed back and forth, but you have to do the damn thing anyway, not because you have to, but because you want to. You want to savor the last flavor of life, not how the way it actually felt, because you have shit for a body now and you can barely feel a thing, but to savor it like how you remembered you used to. The film represent the tremendous weight of old life, of fading memories and the anxiety of its own kind. But instead of moping and being all maudlin about it, Sorrentino chose to paint the picture in a positive hue. Without being overly optimistic and delusional, Youth shows us that there’s still a lot in life to be desired, no matter how old you are. It’s about keeping the jig going. Take a walk, share the story, laugh, or simply sit on a pool with your good friend, and eye that naked lady on the other side of the pool.


2. MIA MADRE (Nanni Moretti, Italy)
Family drama will always be my all time favorite genre. There’s just so many things and latent issues worth talking about in a family dynamic. The presence (and absence) of a family is a very powerful force, it’s a basis to any psyche.

A story about Margherita, a director in the process of shooting her next social-realist film. Meanwhile, she also has to cope with the deteriorating health of her old mother. Mia Madre is a very actor and theme centered picture. Cutting through the hassle of beauty shot and metaphorical montages, the film has a realist and straightforward manner. The camera’s only focus will always be the character, staring straight to the heat of the argument, or on a meaningful encounter. This method proves to be a charm on its own. By withholding the need of a visual greeting and banter, Mia Madre bring us much closer and deeper to its characters.

John Turturro came as a much appreciated comic relief to the picture. Playing a well renowned and slightly goofy american actor that star on Margherita’s film. Turturro’s character are both a relief and a pain to Margheritta’s character, playing it exactly on key without drawing too much attention to his enigmatic persona. Just the right amount of craziness to not topple this powerful drama into a comedy show.

Margheritta’s films are in a way a visual exterior of herself, a form of escape or perhaps her only true source of both solace and despair. The failing of her mother opened her eyes, of her coldness and self-centered ego. Her unwillingness to distinct between reality and her “preferred version” of reality is staggeringly beautiful and sad. As she said to one of her crew about the idea of her film and its moral coherence to reality ; ” no, this is real, it is my idea of reality”.

Mia Madre is an emotional ride. A picture of decay, hope, and longing. A painful and exasperating feeling in the face of undesired expectation. Where the outcome will most likely not going in your favor, and you have to deal with the emotion day in and day out until it actually falls apart. Family is a very powerful force, and the idea of losing one is a chapter that every person have to face sooner or later. Mia Madre thrives by getting straight into the thick of it. The family dynamics, the warm memories, and the process of letting go all gleams gracefully through Margheritta’s eyes.


1. THE ASSASSIN (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Taiwan)
A true cinematic spectacle of the year. A Wuxia (chinese martial-art fiction genre) picture about a very skillful assassin tasked to eliminate a local lord. With The Assassin, Hou Hsiao-Hsien exhibit what I believe to be the purest form of cinema ( Partly from a Bressonian point of view, that cinema shouldn’t be just a “recorded theater/play”), that when pushed to its boundaries, can turn into something out of this world. It transcends into a living, breathing experience that can exclusively executed only in the realm of moving pictures. Hou commands and have a complete control over the dimension of time and space. With a carefully crafted composition and a mastery over narrative tempo, it is easily the most visually breathtaking film of recent years.

The Assassin have a rhythm and mood a kin to a silent, flowing river. It is majestic and mysterious, Serene and dangerous. A lingering aura of an uneasy tranquility. It is absolutely unreal how Hou can keep the flow together without breaking that illusion for even a single moment, even on fight scene. Hou would hold a motionless shot for over 20 seconds without cutting, at other times he completely cut off an ongoing scene and immediately presents us with an ambiguous outcome over prior events ( which reminds me a lot of Ozu’s use of Ellipses on his narratives). He often uses moving foreground like a bristling curtain or a swaying bamboo grove to conceal the action of his character. Creating a constant, haunting and uneasy expectation for things to come. I am swayed but constantly on edge, it’s like that slight fear you had to put your feet on that calm, serene, and fresh river bed, for you know that it’s deep and have an unexpected force of flow to grab you away. A mastery of filmmaking on a philosophical level. This is not a film, this is not popcorn, this is not a movie.

This is something much more sacred, this is “cinema.”

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Alvi Ifthikhar
Writer, Video Director, and CG Artist at a local production house. As a hobby, he also writes film and music analysis for his personal blog and various websites. His keen interest on cinema, music, philosophy, and the wonders of humanity in general fuels his passion to peruse, rant, and document all of it in writing.whiteboardjournal, logo