Duke of Burgundy: one of Berkeleyside film critic John Seal's favorite films of 2015
Duke of Burgundy: one of Berkeleyside film critic John Seal’s favorite films of 2015
: one of Berkeleyside film critic John Seal’s favorite films of 2015

I estimate I watched between 500 and 600 films in 2015, but every year I miss a ton of new movies, so this article needs to include an appropriate disclaimer: this is NOT a comprehensive list of the year’s ‘best films’. It’s a short list of those new or revived films I saw for the first time in 2015, and enjoyed (and/or appreciated) the most, so please don’t be upset if I omitted your favorite – I probably haven’t seen it yet!

1. The Duke of Burgundy: From the moment this film began, I knew it would feature prominently on this year’s list — and here it is, right at the top. The Duke of Burgundy was the most classically ‘cinematic’ film I saw all year; a true work of art encompassing an intriguing story, superb acting, intelligent writing, and incredible music (the score deserves an Academy Award nomination) – all while reflecting director Peter Strickland’s deep appreciation for film history.

2. Babylon (reissue, originally released in 1978): I don’t know if this film ever played in the US – I caught up with it at London’s newly reopened Regent Street Cinema over the summer. It’s a kitchen-sink drama about a young Afro-Caribbean man (Brinsley Forde) trying to survive in deeply racist late 1970s London. Forde is outstanding, the reggae soundtrack peerless — but be aware that some of the dialogue is delivered in particularly thick Jamaican patois.

Nuoc 2030
Nuoc 2030: a slice of intelligent science fiction for those interested in Earth’s future

3. Nuoc 2030: Until I started reacquainting myself with my 2015 reviews, I’d all but forgotten how good this speculative Vietnamese film was. It’s a slice of intelligent science fiction for those more interested in Earth’s future than life in a galaxy far, far away.

4. And speaking of which, it would be churlish of me not to include Star Wars The Force Awakens, which marks a complete return to form for the franchise. Featuring all of the characters you want to see and none of the characters you don’t want to see (as well as a couple of engaging new ones), it avoids the deadly serious tone of the last three Star Wars features, returning the series to its chapter-play roots. It’s fun, exciting, and even funny at times, but if you were hoping for a film in which Ewoks waterboard Jar Jar Binks during a lecture on Midichlorians, this ain’t it.

5. Mad Max: Fury Road: I would have enjoyed this film tremendously if all it had done was enrage ‘men’s rights activists’, but it also turned out to be a worthy sequel and one of the best action movies I’ve seen in a long time. And how about Charlize Theron? She really is a fine actress.

6. The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson: To the extent Americans know Wilko Johnson, it’s due to his role in television’s ‘Game of Thrones’, but in Britain he’s the beloved former guitar player of R&B legends Dr. Feelgood. This film examines the deep lows and remarkable highs of his recent life, and like all Julien Temple films, it’s a bit over-the-top and operatic. Johnson is such a lovable larger-than-life character, however, that you’ll happily overlook the film’s flaws.

Vergine giurata (Sworn Virgin): An impressive first feature for Laura Bispuri

7. Sworn Virgin: The highlight of this year’s LGBTQ Film Festival.

8. Wildlike: This old-fashioned, ‘70s-style character study was anchored by fine performances from newcomer Ella Purnell and veteran Bruce Greenwood.

9. Gett, the Trial of Vivienne Ansalem: Proof that you can make an excellent, totally engaging feature film within the confines of a single room.

Ghost Town
Ghost Town to Havana: one of the year’s best documentaries, according to John Seal
: one of the year’s best documentaries, according to John Seal

10. We Come as Friends, The Wolfpack, 3 1/2 Minutes 10 Bullets, Danny Says, Ghost Town to Havana: I saw a whole bunch of documentaries in 2015, and these were among the best of them. They’re all thoroughly worthwhile, and all quite different.

11. Second Mother: Not sure if it’s a comedy, a drama, or a comedy-drama, but this Brazilian feature is worth scoping out for Regina Casé’s performance as a live-in-maid with a rebellious daughter.

12. Experimenter: It’s no one’s idea of a good time at the movies, but this was definitely one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking movies of the year.

Big Screen Berkeley: Favorite films of 2014
Big Screen Berkeley: Favorite films of 2013
Big Screen of Berkeley: Favorite films of 2012
Big Screen Berkeley: Favorite films of 2011
Big Screen Berkeley: Favorite films of 2010

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Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as...