HereI reviewed my ‘Best Of’ 2015. But how about the turkeys?
I guess I should caveat this by saying that although I have an ‘Unlimited’ cinema card, I am sufficiently time-strapped with ‘the day job’ that I don’t get to see every movie at the cinema. As such, I tend to pre-filter the real dross (though I’m sure “The Fantastic Four” was absolutely lovely!) so my list is composed only of the films I saw. As such, you might view this as my list of the ‘biggest disappointments’ of 2015.
My top 5 (or rather bottom 5) in reverse order of direness are as follows. (For each film I have also picked my favourite picture/comedy caption combination!).
This might divide opinion, but I found this a tired and flabby reboot of a 60’s TV classic, and one of the summer’s great disappointments. The lovely Alicia Vikander is used as little more than a clothes horse, and the dynamic duo of Arnie Hammer and Henry Cavill lack any form of on-screen chemistry.
Two directors; half the satisfaction. A sour and grumpy Will Smith and the lovely Margot Robbie being generally unpleasant to ordinary people. And with the one genuinely intriguing classy section of the film spoiled by the trailer. Pointless.
Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson does what every emergency response worker should do when disaster strikes: he ignores his job responsibilities and goes to look for family needles in a haystack (and of course finds them). Dodgy effects. Even dodgier 3D. Dire plot. Very few redeeming features.
Despite being a fan of the original cheese-fest, Elizabeth Bank’s movie dredged the depths of mediocrity and bad taste replacing all that was fun and fanciful in the original movie with lameness: a collection of ‘Side B’ songs; rampant xenophobia from the contest commentators and Rebel Wilson’s shtick getting progressively more irritating.
Lists, lists… nothing but bloody lists. It’s that time of the year again, and a chance to look back at the films that have thrilled, moved or excited me during the last year. And then some of the turkeys of the movie season. While some of these were released in 2014, they only reached my eyes in the cinema during 2015, so they count.
As always, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so you might not agree with my choices, but that’s the joy of cinema. And with the benefit of hindsight, some which I rated very highly have slipped in my estimation, while some have stayed in my mind all year and as such deserve a place on the list.
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So, here they are, in best countdown tradition in reverse order. (For each film I have also picked my favourite picture/comedy caption combination!). And if you want to see my choice of the festive turkeys of the year, you can find that here.
George Miller’s insane 2 hours of adrenaline powered mayhem that makes you leave the auditorium feeling like you are smelling of petrol. Very little plot, almost incomprehensible dialogue, but it just works.
Surreal, quirky, extraordinary. This WAS a Marmite movie, that some loved and some hated. But I was in the former camp. Emma Stone giving a manic and memorable performance. And I could watch Keaton and Norton’s rehearsal scene – a masterclass in acting about a masterclass in acting – over and over again.
Probably not a film that is going to trouble the Oscars, but just one of the most wholly entertaining action films of the year. Rebecca Ferguson kicks-ass in an ambiguous good girl/bad girl role and Tom Cruise’s aerobatic stunt makes for one of the most jaw-dropping openers of any film. A guilty pleasure.
Ridley Scott’s interplanetary version of Robinson Crusoe using the clever device of Matt Damon’s vlog to avoid the cinematic death-grip of the voiceover. We learn that potatoes grow well in shit and that if you’re going to take gaffer tape to Mars make sure it’s the REALLY STRONG sort!
Unlike the next film in the countdown, a low-key science-fiction classic. With Force Awakens alumni Domnhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac and the gorgeous Alicia Vikander, Alex Garland’s claustrophobic little tale ticked all my boxes. It was probably the one film I massively under-rated in my original review.
After all the hype, the reality couldn’t possibly meet the expectation could it? For me, it did. J.J. Abrams lovingly created a movie that ‘smells’ of the original trilogy, thankfully obliterating from the memory the lacklustre and CGI-rich prequels. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega excel in their new roles of Rey and Finn with the original stars reprising their roles, all older and wiser and all back in the cast list for 2017’s Star Wars VIII.
It’s easy when you do one of these lists to overlook the great films early in the year at the expense of the later ones you’ve seen. But Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash is so emotionally powerful in its feral tale of bullying in a music academy that it breaks through that bias to get my number one slot for the year. A well-deserved Oscar for J.K. Simmons and a breakout role for Miles Teller.
My intention is always to keep my reviews spoiler-free, and this will be no exception.
Since January 2013, when it was announced that J.J. Abrams would take on the onerous job of directing Star Wars 7, Star Wars fans have held their collective breath. You could feel the nervous tension, mixed with fervent anticipation, as the lights dimmed at the packed midnight showing at 00:01 on 17th December 2015. Could Abrams deliver or would the Disney-powered hype dissolve in a lens-flared dissipation of metaclorians? Well, the wait is over and the result is in. And it’s a triumphant victory… prepare to be gushed at!
I would normally recap the basic plot at this point in my review, but to do so could potentially ruin some of the monumental twists and surprises of the story, which is both simple but Shakespearean in its breadth. The film has been a masterclass in marketing, throwing up feverish debate in the fan-world: why was Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) absent from both the trailers and the poster? Why is one of the heroes, Finn (John Boyega), seen wearing a stormtrooper outfit? Who is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)? No answers here, but all great questions skillfully answered through the screenplay.
So I will stick to the well-worn facts of the pre-publicity: that the film is set some 30 years after the historic events of “Return of the Jedi” (but still a “Long Time Ago”), and centres on talented yet frustrated starship mechanic Rey (Daisy Ridley) stranded in a dead-beat job on the desert planet of Yakku (which all feels nostalgically familiar to someone who is old enough to have been there at the start of it all). Through the intervention of a droid with an embedded secret (ditto) she is dragged into the workings of the Republic’s fight against a resurgent dark-side in the form of “The First Order”, going 100% Hitler including an alien Nuremberg-style rally that is all red, black and white.
What makes the film succeed is a strong emphasis back on story and character over effects (with the latter of course still being awesome). All of the acting is fine, with Oscar Isaac’s heroic pilot Poe Dameron being particularly strong and Domhnall Gleeson (“Brooklyn”, “Ex Machina”) almost unrecognizable to me as General Hux, mouthpiece to the First Order. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega both impress as the ‘unknowns’ in the cast, albeit with (particularly in the case of Ridley’s Rey) a few rough acting edges in some of the dialogue that will smooth with age and fame.
Rey is a wonderful female character at the heart of the film, the strongest role model for women in action films since Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in “Alien”. Athletic and tough, yet still showing a feminine grace and beauty in her Greek goddess-inspired apparel.
It’s also fabulous to see the original trilogy cast again, all older and nicely wizened, with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) being delightfully crusty and only Carrie Fisher’s Leia perhaps suggesting that even with all the high tech that existed back then, they still hadn’t quite mastered cosmetic surgery. Even the inside of the Millenium Falcon – queue audience cheer as the rust-bucket hoves into view – looks like its had a chip-fat fire or ten too many and could do with the hire of a steam cleaner. (And Abrams judiciously resists the urge to lens flare it, which is a plus!)
What a treat also that the ‘hidden’ originals of Anthony Daniels (C3PO), Kenny Baker (R2D2) and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) all had the chance to reprise their roles again. They are joined in the “I was in Star Wars not that you’d know it” club by Lupita Nyong’o (from “12 Years a Slave” and “Non-Stop”) as a sort of alien commune leader (reminiscent to me of The Simpson’s Professor Frink), Mo-cap expert Andy Serkis (“The Lord of the Rings”; “Planet of the Apes”) as supreme leader Snoke and the very lofty Gwendeline Christie (“Game of Thrones”) as the stormtrooper Captain Phasma.
In fact it’s almost impossible to criticize this film. It’s as near a thing to perfection as I could imagine. It has obviously been lovingly crafted by people (and a lot of British production talent) that clearly had to pinch themselves that THEY were getting to work on a Star Wars film. The script by Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt zings along like an express train, with some great snatches of appropriate humour delivering laugh out loud moments. It certainly avoids a lot of the cheesy lines that were one of the few things you could criticize the previous Star Wars masterpiece “The Empire Strikes Back” for.
John Williams delivers a stonkingly powerful score, with new themes for the new characters mixed with a nostalgia-filled return to the classic old themes, all deserving of a proper listen-to via the soundtrack album.
After this experience, I’m personally sorry that Abrams is not doing the next one too: Rian Johnson (“Looper”) has a challenge on his hands and a high-bar to reach.
I feared Abrams might make a cack-up of Jar Jar proportions with this one, but I am truly delighted to be proved wrong. I predict that all fans of Star Wars of whatever age will love it, and wish that Hamill, Fisher and Ford would all go on to star in Episodes VIII and IX. Fantastic cinema. Go see it, and ideally before any spoilers emerge.
Fad Rating: FFFFF.
But What Did You Think? Do You Agree With My Rating And Comments? Please Let Me Know By Commenting Below!
“Carol” rates as one of the most romantic films of 2015. But whereas most romantic movies involve some form of love triangle (as per the recent “Brooklyn”), this film is more of a convoluted square – a ‘love trapezium’ perhaps – with significant lesbian content. In fact the film bears many similarities to “Brooklyn” – both films are set around the late 40’s / early 50’s; both are set in New York; and both concern the love interest of a department store shop-girl. There though the similarities end.
Cate Blanchett plays the rich and privileged Carol Belivet with Rooney Mara (”The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) as the shop-girl Therese, with broader photojournalism ambitions. Therese becomes instantly attracted to her in a US society much less tolerant of homosexuality than current times. In fact in a era before ‘gay bars’ it is quite mystical how these relationships ever got voiced and consummated (Carol – “Ask me the questions…. Please”).
Carol’s similar passion, with childhood friend Abby (Sarah Paulson from “12 Years a Slave”), has driven a wedge through her marriage to the not unreasonably frustrated Harge (Kyle Chandler from “Super 8” and “Zero Dark Thirty”). Their young daughter Rindy (twins Sadie and Kk Helm) is the pawn in the ongoing marital battle.
The film is exquisitely put together. Let’s start for once with the music by Carter Burwell (“Twilight”, “Fargo”) which grabs the attention from the first frame; a luscious melody of cello and piano that sets the tone of the film perfectly. Add in to the mix a plethora of music from the era and you have a beautifully dynamic soundtrack that I would like to see up for an Oscar nomination.
While I’ve never personally been a mad fan of Cate Blanchett’s acting, here her affected manner suits the role to a T. But the real star turn of the piece is Rooney Mara. Channeling a young Audrey Hepburn, Mara is utterly compelling to look at as she rides the roller-coaster of Patricia Highsmith’s story (“The Price of Salt”). For me, an Oscar nomination shoe-in.
Between them the pair build up an extraordinary sexual tension throughout the film, with the camera taking long lingering shots of Carol’s fingers and body. This tension rises relentlessly until the inevitable scene of release, which is done with lots of flesh and eroticism but also with real gentleness and beauty, reminiscent of “Desert Hearts”. (Mara also looks gorgeous: as Therese opens her gown, Carol breathes “I’ve never looked like that” and you can hear all of the women in the audience silently agreeing with her!)
There’s a significant twist in the tale though, which you don’t see coming and which adds a different dimension to the film (albeit one that feels as a viewer rather unwelcome).
The art department also supplies fodder for the Oscar cannon. Legendary costume designer and multiple Academy Award winner Sandy Powell delivers fantastic period costumes. And both the cinematography and film editing by Edward Lachman and Affonso Gonçalves respectively is gorgeous: a scene of Therese on a train panning through steamy windows to her arrival at home by taxi is a masterclass in composition and editing. In the director’s chair is Todd Haynes, none of whose previous cinema releases (dating back to 1991) I recognise…. but he’s nailed this one.
Whilst the subject matter might prove challenging for those who feel uncomfortable watching a bit of ’girl on girl action’ the film is a beautiful love story. A film deserving respect and recommended for anyone who has a beating heart, and particularly (I would imagine, given the book’s loyal following) those in all female relationships.
Fad Rating: FFFF.
But What Did You Think? Do You Agree With My Rating And Comments? Please Let Me Know By Commenting Below!