Top 15 Films of 2015 – Allen’s Picks
13) The Duke of Burgundy
What does it mean to be in love? What does it mean to surrender one’s self to another? How much sacrifice and compromise does one give for the happiness of their partner? These are just a few of the questions in Peter Strickland’s strange and beautiful The Duke of Burgundy. Chiara D’Anna and Sidse Babett Knudsen are two lovers whose “unique” relationship tests their bond in ways neither one expected. Strickland fills the narrative with nuance – the emotional journey the characters take feels appropriate despite the nature of their actions. Admittedly, this may not be for everyone, as the lengths the two go to solidify their connection could put off the average viewer. But for those with more of an open mind, this is one of the more thought-provoking examples of “love” in recent memory. I was captivated the whole way through.
Writer/director Christian Petzold has done a rare thing with Phoenix – he has told a post-WWII story unlike any we’ve yet seen. This is a remarkable tale of identity, love, and betrayal. Petzold takes bits and pieces of Vertigo (1958), mixes it with the intrigue of The Third Man (1949) and molds the final product into something unique. Nina Hoss gives a magnificent performance as Nelly Lenz, a severely disfigured concentration camp survivor whose facial reconstruction surgery renders her unrecognizable from her previous self. Nelly uses this to her advantage as she begins to suspect her husband (Ronald Zehrfield) may have been responsible for her capture. The pacing takes its time, as Nelly’s love for her husband battles with the realization that things may not be what they seem. This all builds up to what is – hands down – the best ending scene of 2015. I was completely wrecked by this moment, and what it meant to be both characters.
Lenny Abrahamson’s Room is anchored by two incredible performances, one by Brie Larson (who continues her streak of solid work) and by the young Jacob Tremblay. Larson plays a mother to Tremblay’s five year old boy, the two living out their days inside of a small room. The mother does what she can to make her son feel safe and secure, but early on we can sense that something is amiss. The circumstance of their situation is too horrible to comprehend, but what works is the perseverance the two have amidst the surrounding darkness. Their battle for survival harks to the very nature of humanity, what it means to be human, and what it means to be alive. Although there is much evil in this narrative, the strength of Larson and Tremblay’s performances, combined with the deft writing by Emma Donogue and Abrahamson’s confident direction, leaves us walking away uplifted and inspired.
Sometimes life isn’t about cruelty or cynicism; sometimes there is joy and happiness to be found in the simplest things. Growing up, meeting new people, experiencing new adventures, these are what make life worth living. There’s a saying that “they don’t make movies like they used to,” but then Brooklyn comes along and sweeps us into its story without even trying. Director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby adapt Colm Toibin’s novel about a young Irish girl who immigrates to New York in the 1950s. Saoirse Ronan’s work as the lead character is so good because she appears at home in this time and place. She navigates her past and present with hesitation and then acceptance, and in the end comes out a newly formed person. Brooklyn is sweet and lovely without pretension, and embraces its earnestness with open arms.
Forgotten dreams, hidden desires, lost loves. These are the stories that strike the heart the purest. Todd Haynes, who explored these ideas before in Far from Heaven (2002), returns to the social structures of the 1950s in Carol. Like the best work of Douglas Sirk or Wong Kar Wai, Haynes tells the tale of two lovers forced into cultural roles assigned to them by society. The relationship between the shop girl (Rooney Mara) and housewife (Cate Blanchett) are relegated to small glances, hushed voices, and subtle gestures. But the longing to live their own lives seeps through the screen with amazing potency. These feelings are further amplified by the lush cinematography (Edward Lachman) and mesmerizing score (Carter Burwell). This is a romance burdened by the moral conceits of the time, proof of how far we have come and how much further we still need to go.