Even though the mega blockbuster “Star Wars” appears to eclipse all other movies this year, there were many other memorable films. DW’s film editor Jochen Kürten reveals his 10 personal favorites.
To review the best movies of the year, one could start by mentioning those which were the most popular in theaters. At the top of the list of Germany’s box office hits in 2015 is “Fack ju Göthe 2,” a German teen comedy watched by over 7.6 million people. That was followed by the 3D animation film “Minions,” which was seen by almost 7 million people and the James Bond movie “Spectre,” seen by 6.2 million movie-goers.
On a worldwide level, “Jurassic World” turned out to be the most successful production – it even ranks third on the list of greatest box office hits ever. However, some days are left until the end of the year, so “Jurassic World” could still be topped by the new “Star Wars” episode. But that remains to be seen at the beginning of the new year.
Another approach would be to select the films which have won the most awards throughout the year.
The satire “Birdman” won Oscars in major categories. “Youth,” directed by the Italian Paolo Sorrentino, received the European Film Prize. Winners of prestigious film festivals would also deserve to be mentioned on that list, among them the Iranian film “Taxi” that was honored by the “Golden Bear” at the Berlinale. The big winner of the Cannes Film Festival was the refugee drama “Dheepan,” whereas a film from Venezuela surprisingly prevailed in Venice. The German Film Prize went to the single-shot film “Victoria.”
Beyond box office records and prestigious awards, DW’s film editor Jochen Kürten selected his 10 personal favorites of 2015.
‘A Most Violent Year’ (US)
In my perspective, this is the film of the year. Director J. C. Chandor tells the success story of a medium-sized heating oil company in New York in the early 1980s. Whereas Abel Morales tries his best to stick to the law and his sense of justice, his wife Anna rather turns a blind eye to certain things here and then. Politics and the economy, the private and public spheres intertwine in this story written and staged with great precision by Chandor: a masterpiece. Actor Oscar Isaac and actress Jessica Chastain are the film couple of the year.
The Russian film director Andrey Zvyagintsev offers a reflection of life and work at the other end of the world in “Leviathan.” The auto mechanic Nikolai must defend himself against a corrupt and power-hungry provincial mayor. “Leviathan” is a desperate and hopeless struggle, a gloomy piece of contemporary cinema. The film probably provides the most unadorned and realistic picture of Vladimir Putin’s Russia today.
Yet another story set in the US in the 1980s; this one is based on real events. Director Bennett Miller tells the story of the wrestling brothers Mark and David Schultz, who won gold during the Olympic Games of 1984. They then made the acquaintance of multi-millionaire John E. du Pont, the heir of the US family dynasty Du Pont, the biggest chemical giant of the US worth billions of dollars. The story is rather bizarre – and ends tragically. The actors offer an amazing performance.
‘Steve Jobs’ (US)
This is another film is about a super rich American – one who finds it increasingly hard to differentiate between reality and illusion. British director Danny Boyle tells the story of Apple founder Steve Jobs through an intimate play in three acts. Michael Fassbinder, starring as Steve Jobs, describes the rise of a company once based on rather shaky foundations that came to dominate the entire world.
‘Everything Will Be Fine’ (Germany)
One of the most beautiful surprises of the film year 2015 was the comeback of Wim Wenders. Except for some remarkable documentaries, it seemed that creative powers had abandoned the German filmmaker. With “Everything Will Be Fine,” the master of New German Cinema demonstrated once again why he is such as praised director. “Everything Will be Fine” is both melancholic and dramatic – and shot in 3D. Wenders demonstrated that the technique does not need to be limited to space sagas and animation films.
And here is another surprise from Germany – probably the most remarkable movie debut of 2015, at least from a German point of view. In “Freistatt,” director Marc Brummund describes the harrowing experiences made by a 14-year-old in an educational institution in northern Germany in the 1970s. The fact that such conditions have prevailed in some German institutions until recently add to the impact of the movie. But Brummund’s achievements go beyond that: His film has not only touched many hearts, with its screen-filling images, it has also opened people’s eyes.
‘Love & Mercy’ (US)
“Love & Mercy” is a film for all music lovers. It tells the tragic story of the Beach Boy leader Brian Wilson who suffered a nervous breakdown in the 1960s. A wonderful film by Bill Pohlad about the history of pop, the 60s and 70s, and about how one can survive in the world if one refuses to accept conventions and to fulfill society’s expectations.
‘Saint Laurent’ (France)
A sensitive artist is also the protagonist of this biopic: Like Brian Wilson, the French fashion star Yves Saint Laurent also struggled to keep the balance between genius and insanity. He had already been the subject of a wonderful film the year before (“Yves Saint Laurent” by Jalil Lespert, starring Pierre Niney). The second film version by director Bertrand Bonello, starring Gaspard Ulliel, is a bit more distanced, but at the same time, it is more experimental. “Saint Laurent” is a film that brings us close to a very unique artist.
Banned from traveling, Iranian director Jafar Panahi nevertheless managed to show us a whole different world in his film. To do this, he simply entered a cab and allowed us to discover Iranian society as it entered his car. The film, very simple and shot with modest means, is incredibly moving and genuine. “Taxi” stands for the courage of a filmmaker persecuted by the Iranian state, while being a poetic piece of art. Panahi received the Golden Bear for his work in February, and it was well deserved.
2015 was also a year of great documentaries. There were three wonderful films on filmmaking: “Altman,” “This is Orson Welles” and “Hitchcock/Truffaut.” Another memorable documentary was “Heart of a Dog,” directed by the musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson.
Most memorably, the music documentary “Amy: The Girl Behind the Name” impressed even those who were not fans of the soul singer Amy Winehouse. Director Asif Kapadia presented her short and intense life exclusively through original material. Amy Winehouse died at age 27 – which was Janis Joplin’s age when she died too. To find out what else these two singers have in common, check out this other excellent documentary, “Janis: Little Girl Blue” – to be released in January 2016.