Films I loved in December 2015

Jafar Panahi in Taxi Tehran

Ever since Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was banned from making films, he has created highly meta docufictions  that are playfully defiant, intellectual musings on what film is and means to people, and mournful laments about political oppression in Iran. Taxi Tehran continues along similar lines and sees Panahi playing himself (or appearing as himself?) as the driver of a taxi picking up passengers around Tehran. While it’s tempting to assume the entire film is a construct you are never too sure and in the end it doesn’t really matter as the joy of this film is spending time with such a humane, charismatic, thoughtful and innovative filmmaker.

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Jason Segel as David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour

An adaptation of David Lipsky’s book Although of Course You End Up Becoming YourselfThe End of the Tour depicts the conversations Lipsky had with David Foster Wallace that formed the basis of Lipsky’s profile on Wallace for Rolling Stone magazine. A sort of road movie version of My Dinner with Andre, the topics covered during the film include detachment, loneliness and spiritual starvation in the modern era. It’s also a very entertaining portrayal of two contemporaries – one far more successful and talented than the other – engaging in petty rivalry, intellectual oneupmanship and ultimately a genuine attempt for mutual respect and friendship.

Carey Mulligan as Maud Watts in Suffragette

Suffragette focuses on one group of working-class women in England at the start of last century to tell the story of how the members of the Women’s Social and Political Union, who were campaigning for the right for women to vote, became increasingly militant in their activities. By depicting the injustices, unfairness and cruelties that the women in the film endure, it is a powerful reminder of how institutionalised discrimination can only be overcome when equality is demanded not politely requested.

Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano in Joy

While Joy doesn’t reach the same heights as David O. Russell’s brilliant mid-career films Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees, it’s my favourite film of his from the past five years. Based on the true story of inventor and entrepreneur Joy Mangano, it is a rags-to-riches film about a woman who against all the odds turns her life around. But with an excellent cast that includes Jennifer Lawrence in the lead and Russell’s assured direction, this is a tense and emotional film with the potential to be a feel-good Christmas classic.

And finally… yes, I’ve seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens and I loved the experience of seeing it with a bunch of fans who like me I suspect have treasured memories of how large the original trilogy loomed in their childhoods. And while I’m not sure how much it holds up as a film in its own right, it delivered some wonderful rushes of nostalgia and the promise of a rich new set of characters for future instalments. I had a ball seeing this film and I suspect I’m not alone.

Thomas Caldwell, 2015