January 1, 2016 by heligena
The time has come my friends to speak of many things, of cabbages and kings…and the best movies we saw in the cinematic wasteland that was 2015. Although don’t get us wrong- cabbages can be totally compelling too (check out your local Napa if you can find one. Phwoar.) But that’s for another blog. We’ll stick with films today.
Anyways these are our favourite offerings…and so, in no particular order…we start with…
- Sicario- Ok so we know that some viewers found this Cartel/procedural thriller to be a little anti-feminist with such an ‘emotional’ female lead but on this point we kind of disagree. Entirely. Emily Blunt was as watchable as ever in the main role with fantastic support from both Josh Brolin and (especially) Benicio Del Toro and to be honest we applaud the guts it takes to showcase a female character who doesn’t need to be masculine or impassive in order to do their typically male job. In the same way that Gone Girl last year played around with the unappreciated wife role without saying anything about all women everywhere, Sicario only speaks for its character nothing more. And we appreciated the breath of fresh air. Leaving that aside though, in technical terms the film was also shot beautifully and kudos should also go to the location scouts as the Mexican vistas they found to film were a real thing of real beauty. So Sicario gets a big thumbs up from us even with it’s admittedly semi-workman like script.
- The Lobster- and if you’re looking for something unique you’ll definitely find it with this little gem that came and went in the blink of an eye. With a peculiarly European bent that we personally loved, this indie movie has everything; a unique concept, a cast made of A-List stars and TV faces, both completely willing to take the proverbial out of themselves plus a beautiful Ireland setting The Lobster is a film you’ll never forget. It’s true that the final third doesn’t match the first’s gleeful ludicrousness and the denouement may leave some a little cold but for it’s boldness of vision and skewed sense of humour it makes the list nonetheless. And let’s be honest, any movie that makes you ask the hard questions of yourself afterwards (for example, what animal would you choose to be if you had to spend the rest of your life alone) can’t be bad. It just can’t. So into the number two slot it goes.
3. The Diary of A Teenage Girl- yes we know, it’s a terrible title. And hardly an original concept either (especially if you’re a literature nerd- classic bildungsroman anyone?) But the beauty of this flick lies in its realism. Seventies San Francisco is recreated on screen in all its seedy glory and the screenplay never shies away from the embarrassing outbursts and awkward sexual awakenings most of us have (tragically) been through. Bel Powley as the main character Minnie is also excellent- vulnerable but trying not to show it and the actors around her lend proceedings a ridiculously tragic air. And while some may feel the story veers too far into fantasy we think the narrative style simply captures the absurdly romantic teenage notions the film is trying to convey. So in light of that, on the list it goes.
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens- hmmm, this one needs a caveat incidentally. As someone who is definitively not a fan of the Star Wars series (calm down, you at the back) we went into this showing with a heavy heart. A heavy heart and lots of popcorn. But…we have to hold our hands up on this one. Striking a careful balance between homage and extending Lucas’s cinematic universe, The Force Awakens has a fantastic sense of pacing and truly keeps the attention for the full running time. The new characters are as well drawn as you can expect from the franchise and all those old faces everyone has been buzzing about on the message boards are surprisingly used well in terms of plot. Of course it’s never going to be a master class in cinematic innovation but in regards to popcorn entertainment and distraction from the winter weather you really couldn’t ask for more.
- Mad Max: Fury Road- Apparently it’s the year for returning to popular franchises then. But if you were expecting another hyper-violent hyper-masculine monosyllabic entry in the Mad Max series then boy were you wrong. Focusing more on Charlize Theron’s Imperata Furiosa and the struggles faced by her band of women in the apocalyptic future this movie actually manages to turn the whole concept of the series on its head in one fell swoop. Presented beautifully on celluloid awash with a sea of yellow and reds the movie is also a visual treat and doesn’t skimp on the fanatical excess and chaos that should come with an OTT chase em up. Eschewing the shaky cam, CGI and other cheap gimmicks that could potentially make viewing uncomfortable the film is bursting with WTF stunts and to be honest is almost jaw dropping in its sheer confidence. And everyone likes confidence, right? It’s sexy, it’s alluring. None of which you could say about the characters in this. But man, can they hold your gaze. Seriously.
- Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)- and from excess back to the interior we go…. Also it’s a simple fact, but we love a film with an alternative title presented in brackets (it’s probably the snob in us but there we are). It’s really very difficult to describe Birdman to those who haven’t seen it yet. Detailing the story of a formerly popular movie actor in his fumbling attempts to put on a critically acclaimed stage play, the movie is a Rubik’s cube of an offering. Employing long, uncut walking shots throughout (think The West Wing, if that helps) the film relies heavily on off the wall performances and a script filled with crazy/sparky dialogue. Luckily Inarritu was involved in both directing and writing and gives us both of these in spades. Keaton for his part fully reinvigorates his own image after years in the hinterlands and Ed Norton plays a deliciously tweaked version of his media persona. Special mentions should also go to Naomi Watts and Zach Galifianakis as supporting artists. It’s possible of course that the ending will infuriate people as much as satisfy but that being said if you enjoy a good oddity at the multiplex then you really could do a lot worse than Birdman.
- Ex-Machina. Again to be upfront, with this entry we didn’t really have high hopes as we took our seats. But what unfolded in front of our eyes was not your typical I-Robot high concept action-fest but actually a quiet investigation of humanity and its moral inconsistencies. Surprising, no? Well Alex Garland’s offering has more than one curveball up its sleeve here. With fantastically rendered (and sparsely used) CGI plus an eclectic cast of relatively unknown actors somehow he manages to create a claustrophobic thriller that relies on a single location and intelligent discourse to make its point- trying to root out what makes a human human (which we’re not sure we really want the answer to after watching this.) All of the main players are incredible in their roles of course and almost all of them have gone on to bigger things since this came out. Which goes to show that Garland has a canny eye for casting as well as everything else. So if you’re on the hunt for a Phillip K Dick-esque movie anytime soon, you should really check out Ex Machina before going any further.
- It Follows. Ok, so maybe It Follows doesn’t offer up much in the way of Academy Award acting or mind blowing dialogue. It is a horror film after all and as we all know the success of a horror flick relies on two things and two things only. Direction. And concept. Everything else pretty much fades into the background. And while David Robert Michell (not the guy from Peep Show before you ask) offers up a series of solid, creepifying shots mainly set at night, in all honesty it is the backbone of the plot that spurred us on to adding this to the list. Positing the idea of becoming the target of an otherworldly being through innocently hooking up one night, giving us the notion of a sexually transmitted haunting the film comes up with a truly original proposal. Adding on a further stipulation that if the person you pass it on to gets killed then it returns to the previous victim, the movie gives us a very cool ‘what would you do’ scenario and runs with it full steam. It goes without saying that it has the usual good looking teens and absent parent clichés buried in there too but for the sheer boldness of its core concept it’s going on the listing. Hashtag sorry not sorry.
- Still Alice- Now this one might come up against a little controversy. After all the film is at its heart little more than your average TV Movie, a sob fest designed to sell tissue boxes centring around mental illness and a particular family coming together to battle against it. So far so blah, right? That being said though, just as It Follows made the grade for its concept, Still Alice crosses the line for the sheer force of its acting. We all know that Julianne Moore is a drama powerhouse but here she is just unstoppable- susceptible, bitter and desperate while still retaining that poise that always seems to come so naturally. Kristen Stewart to some of your consternation is almost on a par too, childish and guarded but unable to hide the cracks in a carefully constructed facade when they break through. There’s a sense of realism to the whole thing that resonates beyond the typical TV fare so yes, nay Sayers we’re putting our shame aside and giving the movie our backing this year.
- Whiplash- and we end our countdown with possibly one of the most surprising entries on the whole list. With a fairly standard plotline (promising young drummer attends prestigious music school where he has to decide whether he is willing to give up everything for a shot at the bigtime) the film’s advertising didn’t exactly scream innovation or delight. Hell, even the trailer came and went without fanfare. But once the screen lit up, that’s when things got interesting. Real interesting. Because Damien Chazelle’s movie is an astonishing coming of age for all involved. Miles Teller outgrows his teen resume to offer up a wonderfully intense performance as the protagonist, almost matching JK Simmons barnstorming turn as his nemesis/tor-mentor. Even director Chazelle takes the leap from short films and unoriginal horror sequels to give us a beautifully visualised piece of film with magnificent variety; a melting pot of cinematographic techniques including unbroken close ups and macro slow-motion sequences that bring everything into vivid, sweating life. Part psychological thriller, part philosophical human drama the resulting movie is an unanticipated masterpiece, not always enjoyable but constantly gripping and for those reasons (and more) it has to take tenth place on the list. What else could we do?
Ok well, the writings on the wall guys. Those were our faves this year from a selection of mostly underwhelming offerings. You agree with our decisions? Disagree? Come at us either way…We can hug or fight about it.