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The 10 best movies of 2015, as voted by my friends and colleagues

There are always far too many films out every year to make any kind of sweeping judgement on the perceived quality of the work released in that arbitrary period.

Yet as winter rolls around, out come the end-of-year lists to fit 2015 into a neatly-cut box and let everyone know just how great our tastes are. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, but this year I thought it might be fun to try something different.

Instead of listing my 10 favourite movies from 2015, I polled a number of friends, colleagues, filmmakers and critics for their top ten lists and compiled a Sight & Sound-esque “definitive” ranking from the results. You’ll see these after the jump, along with comments from some of the contributors and myself.

[A note for pedants: “films from 2015” in this instance means films that were released theatrically in the United Kingdom between 1 January and 31 December this year.]

This is a people’s vote, not a cinephile senate, which means that blockbuster fare ended up occupying more of the top spots than I anticipated. While there is some overlap with S&S‘s end-of-year list, it’s interesting to note that many of the films missing from ours will likely never be seen by some of the pollsters.

Myself? I want to see everything from the arthouse to Roadhouse – and I don’t believe that the final goal of a film should always be to entertain – but I can totally appreciate the populist escapism for which most audiences go to the movies, and I think the following list reflects that…

…While also managing to slip a couple of modern masterpieces in there. Continue reading

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Letterboxing: Nights And Weekends

[This review originally appeared on my Letterboxd page as part of an ongoing effort to watch 365 new movies in 2015. Yeah, I know.]

How much you enjoy Nights and Weekends will largely depend on your tolerance for quirky facial tics, soul patches and clumsy nudity.

The more Joe Swanberg films I see, the harder it is to categorise exactly what it is he’s doing in each one. This time he shares directing and starring duties with sometime co-writer Greta Gerwig, who brings a languorous approach to the teasing out of insecurities and cracks in the lead couple’s long-distance relationship.

It’s very much a film of two halves, which is to say that I enjoyed the latter half much more the latter. Exploring the Not Long Before and Quite Long After of a break-up, Nights and Weekends rarely shows Swanberg and Gerwig apart, despite the fact that they live in different cities, and it’s a good choice; the forced intimacy of such an arrangement results in sometimes stilted conversation, petty fights and occasional shafts of brutal honesty breaking out of the relaxed facades of the leads.

There’s plenty of emotional wretchedness to be found here – especially in the excruciating pauses where both leads are clearly silently deciding whether or not to keep fighting for the doomed relationship – but there’s also a fair amount of tedium. I’ve recently been on a voyage of mumblecore discovery so I’m no stranger to the appearance of dullness in a film like this, but I usually have more patience for it. This may be due to the fact that there are almost no secondary characters so I couldn’t wonder about what they might be doing while Gerwig and Swanberg talk about whether or not they’re going to shower together, and the film becomes a chamber piece that just doesn’t have enough narrative momentum to carry you all the way through readily.

I found the second half of the film, in which the former couple reunite, first as friends and then almost as lovers, much more engaging, though more perhaps due to my own personal identification with that situation than anything else. That still counts, mind, and it was impressive to see Swanberg and Gerwig’s willingness to display the absurd dance former romantic partners do for all its naked (both figuratively and very literally) self-deceit, discomfort and ultimately sadness.

…Shit. I’ve just turned over those two scenes of Gerwig and Swanberg crying on their own in my head. (In the latter Gerwig’s present, but she was done mourning this relationship a while before he will be.) There’s a lot of truth in those moments – when a relationship ends, you don’t get that shoulder to cry on any more. You’re alone, even when the person you used to care for is right there. Greta Gerwig can run the full emotional spectrum in a single take without ever seeming insincere or contrived (or, rather, her myriad contrivances make her that much more real), and as a result I identified far more with her than Swanberg’s character. She wants to believe things can go back to the way they used to be, but she’s nowhere near optimistic or dumb enough to think that things could ever last.

A sympathetic anti-romance and an interesting curiosity for both directors’ careers (especially Gerwig, considering I just saw the luminous Mistress America which she co-wrote with current beau Noah Baumbach), Nights and Weekends nevertheless fails to hit hard where it wants to and by the end can’t muster a thematic statement stronger than Sometimes Love Doesn’t Work.

Which is true, but that doesn’t make it poignant.

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