Now as we are well into July and half the year has already passed us by it seems like a good time to look back at the year so far and some of the cinematic delights that have been on offer. In the words of Bruce Robertson “the same rules apply”, and as always my sole criteria is the UK theatrical release date being in 2015. As a humble paying cinema goer there are of course plenty of films I am yet to see, but this is my personal highlights of what I have managed to see.
In many people’s previews of 2015 they were of course looking forward to some very big name franchises appearing at our local multiplexes, and though of course the summer blockbuster season has only just got under way, we have already had the latest chapters from some serious mega-franchises.
The Marvel cinematic juggernaut shows no signs of slowing down yet with Avengers: Age of Ultron (review) taking over $1billion at the global box office, while another big name returned from much longer absence in the form of Jurassic World (review), which took even more. Both films have plenty of flaws and problems, but are immensely enjoyable as one off big screen experiences.
Despite the untimely death of Paul Walker potentially putting the permanent brakes on the franchise, Fast & Furious 7 (review) did get finished and is so far 2015’s highest grossing film. It was most certainly business as usual for the franchise, with the film upping the bonkers factor even more and is looking set to take the spot of guilty pleasure of the year as per the norm for each instalment these days. It is also worth noting that despite the potential to get it very wrong, the rewrites forced by Paul Walker’s death are done extremely well.
Though I am yet to see Terminator Genesys, so far the best of the supposed franchise films for me has to be Mad Max: Fury Road (review). Whether you call it a sequel or a reboot, it is a wildly entertaining and insane two hour thrill ride.
Though Fast & Furious 7 may be set to be the guilty pleasure of 2015, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson also turned up in another film that was an enjoyable romp, but mainly due to it being an unintentional comedy; he took leading man status for big budget Emmerich style disaster movie San Andreas (review), which is ultimately total crap, but great fun.
Likewise the Wachowski’s have never been afraid to let their imagination run riot, and Jupiter Ascending (review) is such a narrative mess that it most certainly ruins its initial franchise potential. However it is so incredibly barmy that it is impossible not to be entertained by it, even if it is predominantly for reasons the Wachowski’s never intended.
In terms of genuine laughs that are actually with a film, those who know me will be very much aware of the fact that I generally detest mainstream comedy, but the funniest film of 2015 so far without any shadow of a doubt has to be Dead Snow 2: Red or Dead (review). The horror comedy is extremely difficult to get right, but Tommy Wirkola’s gory horror comedy simply nails it.
Though another contender for funniest film of the year may well be Shaun the Sheep Movie (review); Ardman proved with incredible aplomb that you don’t necessarily need dialogue to deliver a film with non-stop hilarious visual gags, it is a film of such a high standard of genuine creativity that it puts most big budget computer animated children’s films to shame.
There is certainly an abundance of cynical and sickeningly saccharine ‘feel-good’ films these days that are basically made by accountants, and the dreary and inevitable sequel The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (review) was a depressing example of this. However one film for me that actually was sincerely heart-warming was British drama X+Y (review). Though its overall narrative may be very conventional, it is made with the best of intentions as it tackles its subjects and themes very well and gives us genuine characters to care about. Likewise Danny Collins (review) may have a narrative as clichéd as they come, but yet thanks to a more raw script than is the norm for this kind of film and some great performances, it is impossible not to really enjoy the experience.
Ever since the admittedly excellent Taken Liam Neeson has found himself a career as an action hero, but in predominantly dismal films. Though it is by no means a masterpiece, Run All Night (review) was certainly a return to form for Neeson. It has some genuinely nasty violence instead of the safe 12a violence of his other films in which Neeson seems positively indestructible, some other decent actors and actually has a half decent plot to make for a real entertaining film.
A SUCCESSFUL TRANSITION
There have of course been plenty of disastrous TV to cinema transitions, but one that was not only slightly unexpected, but an actual success was Spooks: The Greater Good (review). Of course its genre helps, and though the plot has a tendency to tie itself up in knots and the director has a inclination to overdo the aerial shots of London, it is an immensely enjoyable action romp. Meanwhile I am yet to see it, but I have heard Entourage was a pretty horrendous film at the other end of the spectrum.
YET ANOTHER CINEMATIC HOLMES
It seems the world’s most famous Sleuth is more popular than ever at the moment, with so many films and TV series depicting the character, or elements of it. Despite this, Mr. Holmes (review) and its portrayal of the elderly Holmes is a very much welcome addition. This classy drama features at its centre a wonderfully charismatic, but also suitably physical performance from Ian McKellen, and not only has fun with the myths surrounding the character very effectively, but is a genuinely moving and involving drama.
ACTORS GOING BEHIND THE CAMERA
Whether they be called passion projects or vanity projects (if indeed they are actually different things), actors often use their fame and fortune to make films for themselves, and both Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe decided to also step behind the camera for theirs this year
Opting to stay solely behind the camera, Ryan Gosling’s Lost River (review) is made with admirable (if slightly hubristic) ambition, and though there are some wonderful moments and some striking visuals, it is a total mess of a film.
With The Water Diviner (review) Russell Crowe opted to direct and be the lead, and though it is a film that demonstrates Crowe to have visual flair as a director with some very well put together scenes, story-wise it embarrassingly clings very much to the middle of the road.
WORLD CINEMA DELIGHTS
Though they may just miss out in being in my top 10 films of the year so far, there were some excellent films from overseas, including Timbuktu, which is a stunningly visual and immersive experience but also has at its very core a thought provoking and unique examination of some very topical themes.
Xavier Dolan has had quite a prolific career to date, and though Mommy (review) occasionally ventures into self-indulgence and ill-discipline, it is most certainly his most accomplished film to date with its raw and unflinching method of storytelling making for an engaging drama.
Roy Andersson returned for the final part of his trilogy examining what it is like to be human with A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. Though it is certainly a film that could be considered an acquired taste, for those willing to go with Andersson’s uniquely surreal and unconventional style, it is a very funny and thought provoking film of infinite ideas and rewards.
French film Les Combattants (review) has been cynically marketed as a ‘feel-good comedy’, but there is far more to it than that as it overcomes a few initial narrative contrivances to emerge as a truly engaging character driven narrative that offers that something different that unfortunately can only be found away from the mainstream these days.
Though it is admittedly not as bad as it could have been, Spy (review) seemed to receive consistently high praise, and though it had some funny moments and lead Melissa McCarthy was not as abrasive as she can be, it still contains the Apatow-esque ill-discipline of most mainstream comedy. It will certainly be intriguing what director Paul Feig and his star McCarthy will do with next year’s Ghostbusters.
For me without a doubt the most overrated film so far this year has to be American Sniper (review); this poorly made propaganda piece is a predominantly uninvolving and boring snooze-fest and its huge box office success, universal praise and long list of award nominations truly astounds me, and worst of all it is from a director that should know better!
THE BEST SOUNDTRACKS
Not only was it a completely bonkers film, but it also had a suitably stonking soundtrack from Tom Holkenberg which only complemented the on-screen insanity and so far Mad Max: Fury Road is for me the best film score of the year. Best listened to with the extended versions of the tracks, the Zimmer-esque rousing strings and pounding drums make for very immersive and pulsating listening experience.
On the subject of Hans Zimmer, Hugh Jackman’s mullet may have been the most memorable thing about Chappie, but the modern master did put together a great score.
J.J. Abram’s composer of choice Michael Giacchino seems to be going from strength to strength with two great John Williams-esque scores. For his score to Jurassic World Giacchino merged some of William’s famous original themes, and his own frantic string arrangements that have been so effective in the two Star Trek films, and his score is one of the film’s stand out elements.
Though it was very messy, the Wachowski’s Jupiter Ascending was a self-proclaimed ‘space opera’ and Giacchino delivered with a wonderfully immersive and dramatic score that was happy to use the trademark choral and dramatic string arrangements of William’s Star Wars scores but in his own unique way. Of course with J.J Abrams directing The Force Awakens it would seem to be natural progression for Giacchino to be composing for that, but from what I can see John Williams is doing that very much alone.
Another very memorable score was by Philippe Deshaies, Lionel Flairs and Benoit Rault (collectively referred to as Hit+Run) was Les Combattants, a really uplifting electro funk score in the vein of M83 that only enhanced the film’s immersive qualities.
On the subject of film scores I feel need to pay tribute to James Horner who died at the end June in a plane crash. I was a great fan of his film scores and he featured in my personal top 10 favourite film composers of all time (to read that click here). His score was in my view the best thing about Avatar and I am very intrigued to see who they enlist to replace him.
FILMS TO AVOID
It would be impossible for me to do a rundown of the very worst films of the year so far as previously mentioned, there are many films I am yet to see, especially as I am simply not willing to dip into my limited disposable income to pay to see certain films at the cinema. I will get to see them when I can rent them in time for a worst of 2015 at the end of the year. I have a few films in mind that I expect to feature in that list, but I shall refrain from mentioning them as I will of course watch them with an open mind (as I do every film of course!). However there are still some rubbish films from this year that I have had the misfortune of seeing and would strongly recommend to those that are yet to see them to simply avoid them.
Though it is a slight improvement on the horrifically bad second one, Taken 3 (review) is still yet another dreary and shameless cash-in featuring an increasingly dull plot and dull set pieces made even duller by the narrative predictability of a seemingly indestructible Liam Neeson.
Playing the lead in a slick con-man thriller like Focus (review) would in theory be a good call for Will Smith after the abysmal After Earth. Well despite Smith’s natural charm and charisma this dull and predictable film has such an abysmal script, predictable ‘twists’ and a constantly inconsistent and conflicting sense of ethics it is a con to expect people to even invest time to watch it.
I make no secret of the fact I cannot stand Vince Vaughn and I cannot stand the crude mainstream comedy that comes out these days, but I was willing to give Unfinished Business (review) a go. Though he was bearable in last year’s Delivery Man, this was a return to his usual irritating form. This film misfired in a very bad way with ‘humorous’ moments that simply are not funny mixed with cynical attempts at sentimentality so we route for Vaughn’s character and offensively casual depictions of some very serious subjects. Utterly vile!
It was always going to make a lot of money despite the inevitable flurry of bad reviews, but Fifty Shades of Grey (review) is even worse than predicted. It knows it does not even have to attempt to be good and most certainly does not, with a plot and script taken from the blandest of mainstream rom-coms, but taking away the comedy element and replacing it with extremely mild whipping. Its stoic tone does make it unintentionally funny, but it is so incredibly dull.
After the abysmal misfire that was Transcendence, Johnny Depp must have felt it necessary to go back to playing supposedly quirky characters, and so he opted to be a lazily stereotypical English aristocrat in Mortdecai (review). However this wannabe caper is so badly written and acted, it has the charm and humour of a very bad smell.
THE BEST FILMS OF 2015 SO FAR
10. Foxcatcher (review)
A unique and haunting experience; Featuring some exceptional performances, Bennett Miller’s extraordinary drama is a deeply involving and unforgettable examination of power, ambition and control that lives long in the subconscious of the viewer after watching.
9. Kajaki (review)
A low budget war film that puts so many of its bigger budgeted counterparts to shame; Based on a true story, Kajaki takes what is quite a simple initial narrative premise and becomes a story of survival and comradery that is one of the mot genuinely gripping and intense experiences of the year.
8. Kingsman: The Secret Service (review)
Mathew Vaughn’s pastiche to the spy thriller, and the Bond films of yesteryear in particular, is one of the most outrageously entertaining cinematic experiences of the year. Its self-awareness allows it to get away with genre tropes it is more than happy to embrace, and with the great cast in top form and some exceptional set pieces (refreshingly featuring 15 rated violence) it is a fun, frantic and often hilarious experience.
7. Force Majeure (review)
Ruben Östlund’s darkly comic exploration of the collapse of the family unit is one of the most unique and most intelligent films of year. It is often bleak, at times depressing and has plenty of moments that are very funny, and is also wonderfully shot with the unforgettable central avalanche sequence all done in one take. It is often very subtle in its depiction of its ideas and themes, often leaving them open to interpretation, and is only the more memorable for it.
- The Duke of Burgundy (review)
Peter Strickland’s latest is yet another immersive and intoxicating visual experience where all is not what it seems. Despite its premise and unconventional structure, it features not only an intriguing, involving and deeply relatable examination of power and control between two people, but also is a stunning and unique visual experience.
5. Whiplash (review)
Cinema for all the senses; despite its occasional narrative contrivances, Damien Chazelle takes a very simple premise and turns it into one of the most gripping cinematic experiences of the year. Featuring two power house performances, incredible editing, camerawork and sound, Whiplash is an unforgettable tale of ambition, control and psychological warfare.
4. Wild Tales (review)
Damián Szifron’s film features six completely separate tales that all linked by the theme of ‘revenge’, of which all six are very different in tone, structure and length, and suitably allowed to develop on their own terms. Each of the six stories are deeply engaging and, with the humour ranging from dark and over the top to extremely dark and subtle, it is a wildly entertaining exploration of the dark side of humour nature.
3. Ex Machina (review)
In his first foray into directing as well as writing, Alex Garland’s sci-fi drama is a wonderful example of how to nail a genre that is extremely difficult to get right. Taking on the very pertinent and thought provoking ideas surrounding artificial intelligence and the weakness and unpredictability of human nature, Ex Machina is a deeply intelligent and thought provoking drama, and when it looks like it may become clichéd, delivers an unforgettable ending.
2. Birdman (review)
I was so relieved to see Birdman pick up best picture instead of the overrated Boyhood, it is not only an incredible technical achievement, but an extraordinarily written and acted modern masterpiece that is filled to the brim with thoughts and ideas with multiple viewings reaping new rewards.
1. The Look of Silence (review)
Joshua Oppenheimer’s companion piece to the unforgettable documentary The Act of Killing is just as emotionally devastating and very much just as essential viewing. Looking at the Indonesian genocide from a more personal perspective, The Look of Silence examines the thought process human nature has for attempting to justify some atrocious acts in only a way that documentaries can. There are no superlatives that do justice to the bravery of everyone involved in the making of this film and opening the eyes of the Western world to its subject matter.