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The top 20 arthouse films of 2015

Away from the Mad Max explosions, 2015 rehabbed the horror genre, feted the outsider and brought us a 3D sex epic

Yeah, yeah, we get it. The year isn’t over yet. There is still Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 slated for release; which is exactly my point. Most of the indie fare has already bowed at the box office – the rest of this year can be halved into Oscar hopefuls (of which we’ll inevitably hear about through laborious Oscar campaigns) and seat-filling blockbusters (which we’ve heard about the past 10 months anyway). So if what you want to see isn’t on this list, it probaby comes out in the UK early next year (see Room, Spotlight, Anomalisa, High-RiseThe Danish Girl). Needless to say, these are all non-obvious flicks that were released in the UK in 2015, in no particular order.


That Jeremy Saulnier managed to one-up the bloodletting from 2013’s Blue Ruin is almost staggering. But that he does. In Green Room, which oddly stars Patrick Stewart, a punk band goes to play an out-of-the-way gig, but when they witness an accidental murder, they’re held captive in the green room. To escape, they must slash their way through the neo-Nazis who want them dead. It’s basically a case of “who will die first?”, which really ups the suspense factor.


At an all-girls school, two young ingénues (one sexually adventurous, one reserved) are total besties. One secretly admires the others proclivity to “put out”, so to speak. Then she falls victim to a fainting spell, which then spreads mysteriously throughout the school. The girls start dropping like flies, and they have to convince the boorish administration to do something about it.


A couple moves to Los Angeles. The husband bumps into an old friend you can tell from the outset is a huge creep. He brings over a welcome gift, then finds every excuse to “drop by” because he was “in the neighbourhood”. The husband thinks creepo has a thing for his wife, but just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, this film flips convention on its head. Come for the creep, stay for the giant plot twist. This is one of the best thrillers of the year.


This film delivers on the promise of its title. A young girl slash budding graphic artist discovers her mum’s new plaything is a hot blonde in a rollneck. With her daring sensibilities and come to bed eyes, she convinces him to bone her. Gushing about losing her virginity into her dictaphone, as a teen girl in the 70s is wont to do, she realises that she is really into sex. How long can she keep this charade going before her mum finds out? This is a frank portrayal of teen sexploration, which is undoubtedly why it was slapped with an 18 rating in the UK.


If Wes Anderson made a movie in Pittsburgh about a girl with cancer, this would be it. Gomez-Rejon actually does something interesting with another cancer-centric narrative, enlisting Rachel’s bonehead neighbour Greg as the hook for this – could it be… a rom-com? Either way, Greg is forced to cheer her up by his nagging mum, but he slowly warms to the charm and good looks of Rachel. It’s sweet in a non-sickly way (bar the cancer), and it’s definitely more com than vom.


Crystal Moselle’s debut feature is the best documentary of the year. Six brothers shuttered away in a dilapidated Manhattan high-rise worship at the altar of Hollywood. They grew up watching movies, a result of a cinephile dad. So they can quote The Usual Suspects at the drop of a hat. Creating Batman outfits out of yoga mats is also not an unusual afternoon activity for the Angulo bros. Eventually, they begin to venture outside, adopt some sick style and slowly remove the shackles a childhood holed up in one apartment together places on you.

Read our longread with the Angulo brothers and Crystal Moselle here.


What’s the correct way to behave if you’re a bisexual with strict Persian parents who have no idea? That’s the well from which this casual story of one Brooklyn hipster draws its comedy. The result is utter hilarity. Shirin has just broken it off with her girlfriend Maxine. Her brother has just announced his wedding to what her parents would deem a “prize catch”, and as the black sheep, Shirin decides a pansexual rebound is the only way to figure it all out.

Read our longread with Desiree Akhavan here.


What Sean Baker manages to do in 88 minutes (the length movies used to be before Peter Jackson tested our seat-warming limits) is something not many directors achieve their entire careers. It was also shot entirely on three iPhones. That gritty feel can be likened to an old Harmony Korine film, but it’s not that simple. What Baker and Korine do share, however, is an enviable method of having social outsiders tell their stories in their own way. Tangerine is about Cindee, a trans woman who has just been released from the clink, only to find out her man cheated on her while she was locked away. This is a day-in-the-life manhunt through downtown LA to find him so she can give him a piece of her mind.


The best stories are often about those camped out on society’s fringe. The French-Canadian director who has been on the up-and-up since his first feature, J’ai tué ma mère, really struck a chord with Mommy. Single mother Diane has to cope with her violent, ADD-addled son, Steve, after he’s kicked out of school. It’s all too much until Steve and Diane strike up an unlikely friendship with their neighbour, Kyla. The film is shot in 4:3, and while it could have been a novelty gimmick, it ends up reflecting the claustrophobia felt by the characters, including the astonishing performance by young Antoine Olivier-Pilon.


I met a deaf guy the other week, and via the Notes app on his iPhone, we bemoaned the lack of films with deaf characters. We came up with Little Death (a hilarious multi-portrait film about couples with weird fetishes), and Children of a Lesser God (an 80s drama about a deaf guy and a girl who refuses to learn sign language). There was also a mention of Marlee Matlin. The Tribe will be the most compelling entry on this sadly short list. The film is entirely in sign language, with no subtitles or voiceover. It’s about how one deaf guy struggles to fit in to the boarding school system, and it’s totally mesmerising.

Read our interview with the director, Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, here.


This film is available on Vimeo on Demand in the US and Canada, but apart from a brief cinematic release this past summer, the UK might be SOL tracking this one down; legally, at least. But this is the one film I’d urge you to seek out. It is a sorely underrated time capsule of life in a California high school in 1984. Told through the narration of a Finnish exchange student, Rikki, we discover the debauched party scene and laughable family studies classes that resemble a Bret Easton Ellis novel.

Read our interview with the director and Rikki here.


Not just for diehard Amy Winehouse fans, this documentary will give you a new lease on your affection for the gone-too-soon “Rehab” singer. Or, if you haven’t bothered to find out whether or not you liked Amy, this proffers new evidence to sway you. Disclaimer: it’s heart-achingly sad. Her downfall and eventual suicide is difficult to watch play out, which is perhaps why many other stars like Adele have billed it as “invasive”. I say make up your own mind.


A spine-chill from start to finish, Ana Lily Amirpour’s directorial debut exudes cool. Her main character is a blood-sucking, record-collecting Iranian vampire who skateboards at night in search of her victims. In Bad City, a lot can happen. But the citizens are unawares they live amongst a lonely vampire. She moonlights as a vigilante, choosing victims who deal heroin and Robin Hood-ing the cash to the son of a heroin-addicted father. Thumbing a nose at convention, this black-and-white Iranian vampire film is seriously top-notch.

Read our interview with Ana Lily Amirpour here.


If meta-cinema puts you off, or a film like Birdman isn’t for you, then this might not whet your appetite. Flagging actress Maria Enders is asked to revisit a theatre production she starred in years ago and for which she is famous. However this time, she’s not in the role of the pretty young thing, but swapped for the older has-been. As Enders prepares to take to the stage, she unravels and the plot of the production plays out in the film. It’s a bit Inception. Watch it though for Kristen Stewart’s role as Enders’ personal assistant – the one for which she won a César award.


In the genre of alt-Western, not much comes along that’s genuinely awesome. In fact, not much comes along at all. Leave it to John Maclean, former member of Beta Band, to rile up truly awesome gun-slinging action to the big screen. On his desperate search to get to the girl he loves, Jay Cavendish happens upon an outlaw who will serve as his guide. It’s a prairie-traipsing expedition where death could be hiding around the next tree. The visuals are lavish, and the soundtrack is impeccable.


Belgian neo-noir The Treatment is destined to get pulses racing with its sickening plot about a mentally ill serial killer. A detective starts investigating similar disappearances, all of them echoing his troubled youth he can’t escape. His brother, Bjorn, disappeared with an old paedophile at the age of nine. It has plagued him ever since, but he won’t let those disturbing memories cloud his judgement in bringing down the culprit in this gut-wrenching case.


The fucked-up mind behind Enter the Void is back with a 3D sex epic called Love. Many have panned the release, clearly not satisfied in their personal sex lives. And while Noé’s film may not be his best work, there is a certain intimacy that can be gleaned from the fluid relationships on show here. Noé simply proves he can still be daring with a 21st century update on what love can look like.


An early entry to the calendar year, Daniel Wolfe’s Catch Me Daddy is, put lightly, harrowing. I still often think about the ending – which I won’t spoil – and how it leaves you feeling hollow. Let’s just say it’s not the happiest of films. Laila is in a mixed-race relationship that her family will not tolerate. So her father sends her brother and his thugs to deal with the situation, sending Laila and her boyfriend on the run. Equal parts intense and loving, its unflinching gaze on a hellish reality makes for a very good watch.

Read our interview with lead actress Sameena Jabeen Ahmed here.


How do you reinvent a zombie horror trope? Add an STD! At least, that’s how director David Robert Mitchell successfully brought the boring genre tack to its knees. And it works. In It Follows, Jay has sex with a guy on a date who transfers, STD-like, an evil presence that stalks Jay. The kicker is, the only way to rid herself of said presence, is to pass it on by having sex with someone else. Truly frightening…

Read our interview with Maika Monroe here.


Patricia Highsmith has to be the most adapted post-humous writer. So when another Highsmith adaptation comes along, it’s usually cause for concern. How will her work be discredited this time? Cate Blanchett is ineffable in her role as smooth Carol, an in-the-closet married lesbian who finds her next fling in Therese, a department store worker. Their clandestine love affair unspools as Carol’s husband discovers her secret. Haynes does Highsmith due diligence here, and the resulting movie is too powerful to put into words.