To celebrate the end of a great year for culture, both in the UK and abroad, we’ve decided to share some of our personal highlights. We’ll print them over the next three days, starting today with our choices of film, TV and pop music.
2015 was another year of wonderful British and international drama. Amongst the highlights of this year: the film 71 and the TV drama This is England 90, which both feature building suspense and brutal violence, interspersed with light hearted moments and flashes of social commentary. Another commonality being the two featuring scenes filmed on the iconic Park Hill estate, Sheffield - perhaps due to Warp Films involvement in both productions? In the past year, BOP has been involved with a project to bring an art gallery and workspaces to Park Hill, as well as assessing the development of the film and TV production economies outside of London on a project for BBC Wales.
In recent years, Scandinavian crime dramas seem to have become increasingly popular with the Brits, with the Nordic noir continuing its control over the airwaves in 2015 with returns for both Arne Dahl and the mighty The Bridge. We also loved the River starring Stellan Skarsgård alongside departed partner Nicola Walker and ITV’s Unforgotten, a beautifully performed ensemble piece about the gradual unearthing of long buried secrets and lies.
Several espionage and political thrillers this year seemed to be in thrall to the nostalgia of the cold war, like The BBC’s The Game. War is also the subject of Adam Curtis’ new documentary. He turned his unstinting Weberian gaze upon the tragedy of Afghanistan in his epic and brilliant Bitter Lake. While still undeniably curtisesque, the film represents a progression in his work, combining his typically dazzling use of archive footage with by turns unsettling and strangely beautiful cinéma vérité footage of Afghanistan under the occupation of the US and the British.
But 2015 had to offer more than just crime, drama and war. It also marked the return of David Attenborough to BBC1 in The Hunt. Whether waiting for crocodiles to devour antelope in Africa or following polar bears hunting seals, the awe, wonder and suspense was what HD was made for.
In our opinion, this year’s best movie was The Danish Girl, directed by Tom Hooper who is probably best known for The King’s Speech. The movie is based on the life story of Danish artist Einar Wegener who underwent the first documented gender re-assignment surgery in the 1930s, becoming Lily Elbe. The movie deals with the subject in an intelligent and nuanced way just as the subject transgender enters mainstream popular culture.
2015, was a particularly successful year for UK artists. Adele’s comeback album 25 replaced Oasis’ Be Here Now as fastest-selling album of all time. But also less fêted UK singer-songwiters made better returns in 2015. Ghostpoet continued his quiet progression into one of the most original voices around today on his Shedding Skin long-player. The critically underrated Roots Manuva similarly came up with the goods again on Bleeds, his ninth studio album. One of our favourite tracks this year, however, was The Other Side, the centrepiece of Public Service Broadcasting’s The Race for Space – a loving crafted commemoration and celebration of the pioneering Soviet and US space missions of the 1960s and 70s.
But also many international artists caught our attention. Norwegian duo Royksopp surprised us with grown-up orchestral electronica on their final album The Inevitable End that has musically come a long way from some of their lighter pop-synth origins. In Portugal a whole new music genre has emerged as a result of many young people returning to Angola, a former colony. This has led to a strong cross-pollination of sounds, which gave rise to batida music in the peripheries of Lisboa. ‘Batida’ is a shake of different musical flavors ranging from Brazilian batucada, Caribbean soca and traditional African rythms, to grime and dubstep. It also integrates sound recordings from the public spaces of the city fringe, or bairros, from where this music emerges. The sounds could be heard as a claim for the right to the city and for a recognition of its inhabitants in non normative terms.
Not just new sounds emerge, but old ones are being rediscovered as well. In recent years classical music has been making a comeback with artists such as Terry Riley, a genius of minimalism, ambient music and a great connoisseur of Indian classical music and Ludovico Einaudi. In Einaudi’s Elements the natural world remains a key inspirational stimulus, but it is a more cerebral, intellectual piece of work. Seemingly created in a laboratory rather than a recording studio, here the creativity of Einaudi becomes almost scientific, taking its cue from the fast pace of quantum physics, with rapid and unexpected chord shifts, to great emotive and cinematic effect. The perfect accompaniment to qualitative coding.