Thursday 31 December 2015

Ten Best Films of 2015

Amid the widest variety of blockbusters and mega-franchises we could have asked for, 2015 showed some real potential in how the film industry could be moving forward. While we still saw our fair share of soulless, cash grabbing, franchise baiting nonsense, we also saw some blockbusters transcend their financial roots to become pure works of art. We further blended the line between what an awards worthy picture could be and found ourselves praising action movies and animated features just as much as prestige pictures. This is not to say that prestige pictures were not raising the bar as it was though, with some equally strong contenders to make this a solid year for all walks of film.
Of course, before I count down the best ten of the year I have my usual honourable mentions to give:
You can say whatever you want, but no other film felt like a more complete cinematic experience for me than ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’. It’s a triumphant return to form for the franchise, reinvigorating it with good old fashioned filmmaking. JJ Abrams loving yet energetic direction allows the film to recall its past glory while proceeding forward with renewed energy. Along with a brilliant display from old favourites, new cast members like Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver to give us assurance that for now, that galaxy far, far away is in safe hands. It was joyous, heart pounding and utterly amazing.
While I don’t think ‘Anomalisa’ is quite the transcendent masterpiece some critics are calling it (it’s somewhat oddly paced and ends rather abruptly, as well as somewhat muddled over what it wants to be), I feel that Charlie Kaufman’s film is unique and remarkable enough to be worth mentioning here. In previous films Kaufman has denied his audience any easy answers, but here it seems he isn’t even letting us know what he’s asking to begin with. But it’s beautifully animated, oddly profound and utterly encapsulating.
The Revenant’ is such a unique cinematic experience that I could never imagine not mentioning it here. Boasting an Oscar winning performance by Leonardo DiCaprio (it feels so good to finally say that) it’s a story of astonishing endurance told with some of the best directorial prowess I have witnessed all year from Alejandro Inarritu and some breath-taking cinematography to say the least.
 It is truly difficult that ‘Son of Saul’ was a debut directing effort. But then on the other hand Laszlo Nemes film does hold such a unique voice that feels unmarred and untouched by the industry around it that it does make sense when you consider it for a moment. It’s a story told with such raw intensity and unmitigated honesty that at times it almost feels cruel to make the audience see this subject matter. But confronting it head on is the best and only way to show this kind of story. The film possesses immediacy and intimacy on a level that few others have this year.
I was under the impression that Pixar were past their golden age, but with ‘Inside Out the animation house brought forward what may be my favourite film of their yet, which is saying a lot. The beauty and versatility of its animation is only topped by the beauty and versatility of its emotions, telling a coming of age parable that is universally resonant and endlessly complex. It is an emotionally driven film in every sense of the word.
10: The Assassin
Hou Hsiao-hsien’s quiet and meditative martial arts film is certainly not for everyone. But where some viewers will be left cold by its staunch distance and uncompromising style, I found it to be a masterfully engaging and atmospheric piece of cinema. This is what happens when a director is well and truly able to reinvent a genre with his own style and while I’m sure typical action oriented martial arts films will continue to dominate the genre, that only makes ‘The Assassin’ all the more unique for its stunning cinematography, quiet landscapes and artistic depth. It is a film that is more interested in observing human behaviour than blotting it out with action. It almost feels poetic in its resolve, being both beautiful and mystifying.
9: The Hateful Eight
I am aware of the faults with ‘The Hateful Eight’, from its odd pacing to its tonal inconsistencies, but even if I still take those into account the film as a whole is simply phenomenal. It is both monumental and intimate at the same time, captured beautifully on its glorious 70mm print. Like all of Quentin Tarantino’s films it is unapologetically bold in its vision, calling back to the tropes of classic cinema in the way it dissects, merges and subverts genres like few others are capable of. It’s intense and enthralling, being less of a western and more of a murder mystery set with the archetypes of Tarantino’s favourite western tropes, like a kid playing with his favourite toys and boy do I love it. Some argue the film lacks sympathetic characters, to which I’d argue that Tarantino was never one for sympathy, he was always more interested in empathy and ‘The Hateful Eight’ has that in droves.
8: Tangerine
The future of filmmaking is here. While I wouldn’t count on a revolution of any kind the concept of being able to shoot an entire film on your phone is now a sign for independent filmmakers across the globe, anything is possible. The choice of camera never puts a limit on director Sean Baker’s vision as he crafts his film with a brilliantly unique style. Its technical achievements alone would be ground-breaking, but its subject matter and casting choices never fail to raise progressive and boundary pushing topics. But putting all of that aside, the film is simply a delight, wonderfully humorous, thoughtful and profound. It strikes a perfect balance and never ceases to amaze.
7: The Martian
As well as Pixar and Lucasfilm, another creative force to make a welcome return to form in 2015 was director Ridley Scott. With ‘The Martian’ he proved that despite the misfires that were ‘The Counsellor’ and ‘Exodus’ he was still wonderfully in touch with humanist filmmaking. The fact that ‘The Martian’ is an excellently written, exquisitely shot, fantastically directed and highly epic in scope would be good enough on its own. But the fact that it turns into a humane story and a terrific character study by letting its characters exist as three dimensional people, creating more empathy from the audience and generating more urgency for the situation at hand makes it even better. It also allows Matt Damon to deliver one of the best performances of his career as well as the rest of its ensemble cast. It’s wonderfully entertaining, massively uplifting and touchingly profound.
6: Sicario
The central theme that lies at the heart of Denis Villeneuve’s latest thriller is that of borders, both of the geographical and moral variety. ‘Sicario’ is a gritty and brutal film, uncompromising in its portrayal of its subject matter. But that unflinching realism is just one of many factors that distinguish it an astonishing piece of cinema. Emily Blunt’s confident and powerful performance turns what could have been in invincible superhuman into a vulnerable and empathetic character, while Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro tread an eerily thin line of morality that keeps you constantly questioning their motives and allegiances. But the most valuable player is Villeneuve himself, who is so utterly in control of his craft that ‘Sicario’ only further proves he is one of the finest directors working today.
5: Ex Machina
2015 saw a number of impressive debuts, but none seemed more bold or impactful than Alex Garland’s striking break out hit, ‘Ex Machina’. Despite being an independent film it has a more polished and visually stylish look than a majority of studio films, and balances its visual beauty with heavy themes and complex ideas so well that it almost defies belief. Like the best science fiction films it acts as a reflection of our current society as it examines human interaction, gender roles and personal identity. But at the same time it acts as a remarkable character study, playing out like an intricate stage play as it places three very different characters together and asks us observe them, it never steers us to one particular argument, it just asks us to observe. Those characters in question are all brought to life brilliantly by Domnhall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander. It’s intellectually engaging, refreshingly original and masterfully crafted.
4: Spotlight
One can only imagine the pressure that must be on a filmmaker when handling a subject like this. To tell a story such as the catholic priests’ abuse scandal without ever coming across as exploitative or melodramatic would seem near impossible. However Tom McCarthy’s restrained and respectful drama handles the subject in good taste, and is clearly focussed more upon the human drama than simply racking up awards. It puts you in the mind-set of its characters so well as they painstakingly uncover one piece of evidence at a time while opposing an all-powerful organisation that is centuries older than the very country they reside in. Its ensemble cast bring forth a sense of honesty that does not lionize or glorify these real-life characters, which combined with the tender direction and sharp screenplay make ‘Spotlight’ a brutally honest tale.
3: Carol
Many films that try to address the subject of homosexuality ultimately, despite their good intentions, end up placing their statement above their story or characters. Todd Haynes is not that kind of director though, and ‘Carol’ makes that obvious. It paints a portrait of two complex, layered and hugely empathetic characters falling in love, who just happen to be two women. Those two women in question are played magnificently by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, who are at once strikingly different and unique but also brilliantly convey the sense of attraction and love as their relationship develops. Impeccably designed, beautifully shot and stunningly directed by Haynes, this is a unique vision expertly realised.
2: Mad Max: Fury Road
Nearly thirty years after we saw what we thought was the last of George Miller’s wasteland saga, he made one of the most spectacular returns in cinematic history with this post-apocalyptic action masterpiece. ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ is not only a lesson to future filmmakers in good visual storytelling, fantastic action and the benefit of practical effects over CGI, but it also bears a terrific example of how to subvert conventions and defy expectations. It has the sense of being crafted by a master filmmaker, well in command of his own ability, and given all the necessary resources from which to unleash his glorious vision. As subtly brilliant as Tom Hardy is in the title role, it is Charlize Theron who steals the show with an empathetic and layered action hero for the ages. It is hard to believe that what is essentially a two hour car chase could become one of the most beautiful, artful, character driven and thoughtful films of the year, but here it is and it’s absolutely fantastic.
1: Room
In a year where we returned to a galaxy far, far away, recounted scandals that shook the world and ventured to Mars and back, the most emotionally impactful film of them all is set primarily within a single room and revolves mainly around two characters. ‘Room’ is an emotional powerhouse that leads you through so many twists and turns that you could go from being on the edge of looking away in horror to weeping tears of joy. It may seem a far cry from Lenny Abrahamson’s previous directorial effort ‘Frank’, but he makes the transition to comedy to drama masterfully. He balances the various emotions so brilliantly from the tension and horror to the joy and wonder. His direction brings forth the subtlest of emotional turns and utilizes his location perfectly. At times the room in which Ma and Jack are imprisoned seems as claustrophobic as one would expect, but the way Abrahamson directs can make it feel vast and spacious whenever he wants it to be. It also helps that Abrahamson is given two hugely talented actors, each delivering a phenomenal performance. Jacob Temblay brings forth a complex and layered character, who is both oblivious to the world around him but also craftily intelligent and perceptive. Then you have Brie Larson, whose performance is one of such raw intensity and honesty that it never fails to evoke empathy in this brave and frighteningly relevant story. I could talk about ‘Room’ for much longer, but to do that would deprive anyone the chance of discovering it for themselves.

The Before Trilogy: 20 Years On....

At the end of 2014 I chose to look back and celebrate the anniversary of the Dollars Trilogy as it turned 50 years old. I thought I would maintain this annual tradition (a tradition of one article and counting) by looking back on another trilogy reaching a milestone. Although to be fair, far from being long over this trilogy only ended three years ago in 2013, having started 20 years ago in 1995. If you hadn’t worked it out I am talking about Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy.

‘Before Sunrise’ (1995), ‘Before Sunset’ (2004) and ‘Before Midnight’ (2013) chronicled the long running and tumultuous relationship between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as Jesse and Celine. In ‘Before Sunrise’ they are thrown together by a bickering middle aged couple (foreshadowing much?) sharing their train carriage as they each make their way back home. They spend the night together in the Austrian Capital (not in that way!). They simply roam the streets of Vienna, discussing life, love and loss as well as death, the city around them, life back home, from the obscurest detail to the broadest and most philosophical topic, they walk and talk for the rest of the night. That’s as far as it goes plot wise, but we all know that for certain movies, the plot is not even half the story.

The movie treats the passage of time as a looming presence over the two of them, slowly drawing their interval together to a close. Every time it’s referenced your heart sinks a little as even though the current conversation is enjoyable and entertaining, there is that undeniable sense of defeat as the Jesse and Celine must soon part ways. This is one area that Linklater excels at as a writer, he makes you want to spend more time with his characters and though you were happy to be given a window into their lives, you wish you could spend more time there. In ‘Dazed and Confused’ I always find myself wishing that the film will just continue, that I can watch the four friends go to the Metallica concert and watch what happens upon their return to school. The same can be said for ‘Before Sunrise’ as in a surprise ending, Jesse and Celine really do part ways, choosing not to stay together.

If you watched that in 1995, you would have to wait until 2004 to get that wish for more time fulfilled. Nine years later the couple reunite, which was odd, because though ‘Before Sunset’ was emotionally engaging and ambiguous in its ending, there was really no call for a sequel, as if this chance encounter was impactful but not significant, just one small space of time in their lives that physically means very little. However Jesse used that night as inspiration for a novel which makes him a renowned author, and at a book signing in Paris, they meet again. This encounter is similar, but subtly different. Both characters are more cynical now, contrary to feeling as if anything was possible in 1995, they now have commitments and responsibilities.

One remarkable thing about this film, even more than the previous, is how effortless it feels. The first was permeated with moments of awkwardness between the two but now the conversations flow at a much faster and relaxed rate. They know each other now, they are not strangers and that romance seems to have been suppressed slightly. But that does not mean it does not exist. St the same time though they do not rush into revelations, they take their time to come to certain conclusions that we already know, why? Because real life is rarely as spontaneous as the movies say it is, and Linklater knows that.

Another nine years pass, and we reach ‘Before Midnight’ in 2013. Jesse and Celine are now parents and wrestling with the issues of a long term relationship. Harkening back to their first meeting eighteen years ago, they are now that bickering middle aged couple that caused their first meeting. There is still a sense that time is running out as they revel in the last day of a family holiday before a return to normality. It echoes the moments of the past as the two struggle to reconcile and never fails to feel genuine.

Though it would have been easy to romanticise this third chapter, Linklater offers such a truthful view of this mature relationship that you are equally enthralled once again. It feels painful whenever they argue and sometimes depressing, because the film exploits your connection with these characters and uses it against you whenever they argue. It could be quite disconcerting but by retaining similar tones and themes of the previous films it simply feels like another chapter in their story, one that is equally powerful and seductive as every other instalment.

One last thing, I’ve celebrated a few anniversaries this year such as ‘Heat’, ‘Back to the Future’ and ‘The Breakfast Club’. But there are a few I didn’t get around to celebrating like the twentieth anniversary of ‘Seven’ and the thirtieth anniversary of ‘Ran’ and the fortieth anniversary of ‘Nashville’. But above all of them, one endearing absence is Scorsese, given that 2015 marks the 35th anniversary of ‘Raging Bull’, the 30th anniversary of ‘After Hours and 25 years since the release of ‘Goodfellas’. This cannot go unnoticed, but given that 2016 represents 40 years since Travis Bickle first asked if we were talking to him in ‘Taxi Driver’, as well as the new release of Scorsese’s long awaited passion project ‘Silence’ I think next year is a good enough time to do a new series of reviews, going through the director’s very best films and trying to reach an answer to the question ‘is he the best director of all time?’. Find out next year.

Top 5: Scenes of 2015

2015 is coming to a close, and though I still have to rundown the top ten films of the year, before then I have another list of the top five moments of the year. From tension to comedy, heartbreak to happiness these scenes were the ones that had me on the edge of my seat, laughing more than any other or even cheering at the screen.

5: Spotlight (6%)

 Having called a psychiatrist who has spent the last few decades researching the psychosis of priests abusing children, the spotlight team receive news that leaves them stunned beyond words as the expert tells them he has deemed it a genuine ‘psychiatric phenomenon’ and concludes that he estimates that 6% act out sexually, equalling 90 priests in the Boston area alone (opposed to the team’s estimates of 13). The reporters sit in stunned silence, the actors expressions conveying all the emotions and the subtle direction and use of silence further drawing attention to them. Powerful and deeply shocking.

4: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Hunt’s plane flight)

 Rarely has spectacle and comedy been mixed together so well. The setup is simple, the plane is taking off with valuable cargo and the IMF must stop it. Options are quickly suggested and dismissed, leaving Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) with no option but to jump onto the wing of the plane and pleads for Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) to open the door. The pane takes off with Hunt clinging to the outside, and as the huge rear door opens, Hunt screams ‘The other door’. It is amazing how such a simple idea becomes so magnificent to watch and is so comedic, the impossibility of the situation, the fact that it really is Cruise on the side of a plane and the snappy dialogue all come together magnificently.

3: Kingsmen (the church scene)

 What is it about watching Colin Firth murder an entire hate church that is so satisfying? While in context it is a superb scene just from the script alone (with Firth finding the perfect way to annoy the community, and then having that annoyance amplified by Valentine’s devices) it’s the way in which Vaughn directs in what resembles one continuous take, only broken by the horrified expressions of Taron Edgerton as he watches it unfold. A fast and ferocious display of action, violence and comedy all within the space of a few minutes.

2: Steve Jobs (Woz and Steve’s final confrontation)

 There are many amazing moments in ‘Steve Jobs’ particularly in its third act in 1998, acting as the emotional climax of multiple storylines. Perhaps the most impressive is Woz (Seth Rogan) once again asking for a shout out for him and his team during Jobs’ (Michael Fassbender) newest product launch. He refuses and what follows is an entire working relationship laid bare, accompanied by such a sense of experience and frustration as they each have their reasons for their actions. Accompanied by Sorkin’s superb dialogue and Boyle’s marvellous direction it becomes an astonishing display of filmmaking. Perhaps the most impactful line comes when Woz states ‘I’m tired of being Ringo, when I know I’m John’.

1 Sicario (the bridge scene)

 During their investigation into a drug ring operating in the Mexican border, Emily Blunt and her team are crossing back into the U.S, but are halted by a traffic jam. Without any obvious prompting, no dramatic or sudden developments, both the characters and the audience become aware that they are in great danger. Cars slowly crawl past them and the tension continues to rise. Denis Villeneuve employs a masterful sense of direction as he plays with perspectives and viewpoints to disorientate you and leave you stunned as the action unfolds at a painfully slow pace. Even when the threat is discovered there is a lasting sense of dread as you want to know what happens next, even though you are already sure of what will. The fact that Blunt, a competent professional, cannot contain her panic only hammers in the point. Tense and slow, yet somehow immensely enthralling and pulse pounding, that one scene from ‘Sicario’ is better than a dozen feature length films released this year and is the standout moment of the year.

Wednesday 30 December 2015


"They knew and they let it happen, it could have been you, it could have been me. It could have been any of us."

Michael Keaton has now starred in two films with actors who have portrayed the Incredible Hulk given that last year he was acting alongside Edward Norton in ‘Birdman’ and now he joins Mark Ruffalo in ‘Spotlight’. The reason I bring this up is because ‘Birdman’ went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture, and ‘Spotlight’ could well do the same.

Having read a small column concerning abuse within the Catholic Church and potential cover ups within the organisation the new editor of the Boston Globe encourages his investigative journalism team (called spotlight) to look into the story as their next project. What they discover will lead to a scandal more complex and large scale than they could have imagined that is unlike any other in recent history.

For a subject this sensitive one would of course have to be cautious going into ‘Spotlight’, can they handle such an incident with care and attention without side stepping the details and drama of the situation. They most certainly can. This film is not bent upon recreating the actual story itself, it seeks simply to reveal how the truth was thrust into the forefront and made public, the work that these journalists did against immeasurable powers. At the risk of being similar to everyone, I can only compare it to films such as ‘All the President’s Men’ and ‘Zodiac’. In the simplest of descriptions they are films about Watergate and serial killers and in this case the abuses in the Church, but in reality they are about truth, obsession, courage and investigation.

They are not necessarily themes that inspire a thrilling film, especially one where the investigation process occurs over many months and years (the spotlight team’s work is at one point halted by the turmoil of 9/11). But ‘Spotlight’ is remarkably riveting and gripping throughout, not only that but it is also shocking and surprising on multiple occasions. The full magnitude of their findings escalates to an astonishing level and is able to reach the reporters on an intimate level so frequently that it is continually astonishing. One such example is when Brian d’Arcy James’ character discovers one priest suspected of abusing children but was never brought to public attention, lives on his street, he runs to the man’s house in the middle of the night and simply stares at it, his entire world outlook warped dramatically. This is just one occasion in which ‘Spotlight’ takes this gargantuan story and uses it to reflect the personal struggles of its characters with their own emotional reactions to what they are discovering.

These characters are not glorified or idolised either. We get snapshots into their lives beyond the newspaper (though we instantly know that for them work comes before home). We see the small ways in which the church has permeated their home lives as they now work to uncover its ugly secret, Rachel McAdams finds it more difficult to attend church every Sunday with her family as the film progresses, eventually refusing to go. These glimpses do not obstruct the main story as this portrait is achieved with such minimalism and suggestiveness that the film can plough through its own story and convey this drama simultaneously. Everything from Tom McCarthy’s direction to the production design and even the acting is intended to create a world with the subtlest of techniques. We know these people and this story.

Then there are the tiny details that add an air of ambiguity to the process leading up to the investigation. We discover at the start that the Globe’s readership is down, their new editor is considered an outsider to the Boston culture, as one previous writer points out ‘He’s the paper’s first Jewish editor’. It avoids condemning anyone without justification, one key question that permeates the film is ‘how many knew?’ Did this scandal really go all the way to the Vatican? We are unlikely to ever know for sure, and the film knows that. It focuses more on the personal truth, the psychological trauma the victims undergo and how it plagues them into their adult life. How some have yet to tell parents, friends, partners and children as well the ones that did tell only to be suppressed by the same people. It even takes time to focus on the effect the news has on horrified supporters of the church.

It falls upon the actors to convey all of this in a realistic way, not to exaggerate or emphasise their emotional output, just to capture a realistic and gripping scenario. They all succeed perfectly from the frustration felt when obstacles are put in their way (even to the extent of a photocopier being unavailable for the next twelve hours feeling like a minor tragedy) to the sheer disbelief of what they are uncovering. Mark Ruffalo may be giving the best performance of his career here restrained and dogged for the first half of the film but as the story becomes more complex he becomes a man desperate and determined to break the truth, impatient with the slow pace of their investigation, tired of the obstructions to his work and Michael Keaton is utterly fantastic again.

Subdued when it needs to be and sometimes disturbing, ‘Spotlight’ conveys a sense of realism that few films do. It allows its actors to disappear into their roles, lets the direction build entire environments with incredible subtlety and remains completely gripping throughout.

Result: 10/10

Tuesday 29 December 2015

Ten Worst Films of 2015

It is time to start talking about the best and worst films of 2015, to look back at what entertained us and enraged us. However I always like to end on a high note, so for that reason I am deciding to publish the list of the worst films of the year before ending with a celebration of the best. I’d much rather leave the year feeling as if I have recommended ten films that I consider excellent rather than having to think about the monstrosities again.

Before I get into the actual countdown, I have a few dishonourable mentions. For me the year’s biggest disappointment may have been Blomkamp’s ‘Chappie’. ‘Big Game’ also stands as one of the worst, maybe its badness is intentional but I don’t buy it. In the trend of poor teen dystopia movies I can add both ‘Insurgent’ and ‘Maze Runner: Scorch Trials’ to the list and finally one must not forget Adam Sandler’s ‘The Ridiculous 6’ which is quite possibly the worst film of the year, but at least they had the decency to not release it in cinemas so it lands here instead. But now on to the worst of the worst.

10: Jupiter Ascending

 Few wanted this film to succeed more than me. To everyone that complains about a lack or original blockbusters in Hollywood, this film is why there is a lack of original blockbusters in Hollywood. The Wachowski’s space opera is ludicrous in every way, from its plot, design, characters and acting. Far from being the action heroine of a generation, Jupiter Jones spends the entire film being saved by Channing Tatum, rarely thinking for herself and being utterly useless. The fact that another certain space opera with a strong female lead was dominating the year only makes things worse.

9: Poltergeist

 In the realm of utterly pointless remakes, this one stands as one of the most shameful and most inane of them all. The original ‘Poltergeist’ is still an amazing film (take that from me because I watched it immediately after watching this one) and this remake does not add anything new to the story in any way. There are still ghosts in a suburban setting, there are still creepy clown dolls, there is still a child pressing her hands against a TV and saying ‘They’re here’. It’s the same, but worse.

8: Taken 3

 It may not be a remake, but Taken 3 is an equally pointless endeavour in filmmaking. Although, I say it isn’t a remake, but it does borrow its plot from ‘The Fugitive’ and its logic from ‘The Naked Gun’. The directing may be the worst I’ve witnessed this year, it may be news to the director of ‘Taken 3’ (I can’t be bothered to look up his name) that shaking your camera and making your scenes incomprehensible does not make good action, I don’t care what you learned at Michael Bay’s school of action movies.

7: Mortdecai

 The least entertaining and least humorous movie of the year, I honestly laughed more while watching ‘Sicario’ than I did while watching this. It represents a definite low point in Johnny Depp’s career (pray that ‘Black Mass’ leads to better things). But despite that, the most disturbing thing about this is that there are 6 films that are actually worse than this.

6: Terminator 5

 I refuse to call it by the title it was given by the studio. Perhaps the worst thing about this film is that for a while it tricked us into thinking it was decent, that first trailer looked promising, James Cameron gave his seal of approval to the film… and then we saw that second trailer, which is practically seeing the film anyway. The fact that this was advertised as the sequel/reboot to two of the best action films of all time only makes its uninspired, nonsensical and dreary nature even more painful.

5: Pan

 Sucking the magic and joy out of Peter Pan is a difficult task (for all of the faults in ‘Hook’ it was undeniably fun) but this ludicrous retelling manages to be idiotic and boring at the same time. The acting is atrocious, the design is dull beyond belief and nothing is unique or imaginative in any way. You probably didn’t see it, in which case you were very, very lucky.

4: Fant4stic

 The first 40 minutes of ‘Fant4stic’ is actually fairly decent. But from then on it becomes an utter disaster. Whether it was the studio interference, the tumultuous production or budgetary issues virtually nothing from this film felt original. It resembled a checklist for a studio desperate to start a franchise, sewn together from remnants of what may have been a decent film. Rest assured, one day there will be a movie about the making of this movie.

3: Accidental Love

 Speaking of a movie cobbled together out of dismembered body parts, what was once a David O Russel satire somehow mutated into this monstrosity of moviemaking. Wilfully unintelligent and unfunny as well as completely without meaning, ‘Accidental Love’ is the worst kind of romantic comedy that even manages to lack the sentimental schmaltz that makes them mildly appealing.  

2: Pixels

 In a parallel universe, where Adam Sandler never became a terrible comedian, this was an enjoyable summer blockbuster. But unfortunately we live in this universe, where Sandler’s tired clich├ęs, idiotic humour and terrible plot permeate this film that tries to appeal to retro gamers, yet contains jokes that a five year old would call immature.

1: 50 Shades of Grey

 It is not just the film that is bad, but everything leading up to the inception of the terrible novel it is based upon to the production of the horrific movie seems destined to infuriate me. The fact that it started as ‘Twilight’ fanfiction, before having the characters names and locations changed to become an awful book full of grammatical errors and appalling writing that somehow became one of the bestselling books of all time, the fact that it was then turned into a hideous film that starred a relative of someone who once worked with Alfred Hitchcock (that’s too close a relation for how terrible this film is to anything Hitchcock made) and how that film made $570 million, stealing the profits of Matthew Vaughn's ‘Kingsmen’ in the process and was over two hours long, that is what annoys me. As well as the fact that this film is utter garbage. It represent everything that is wrong with modern cinema, jumping on whatever popular trend regardless of how good it is and not bothering to put any effort into it anyway. There is no excuse for how dreadful this movie is, not in a year where the fifth film in the ‘Mission: Impossible’ franchise was amazing, a year where bestselling books like ‘The Martian’ were adapted into brilliant films, a year where Quentin Tarantino still made an effort to deliver fantastic results and JJ Abrams used more than just the 'Star Wars' name to achieve greatness. We can do better than this vomit inducing, boring, terribly acted, horrifically scripted, sequel establishing, generally appalling piece of crap.

So what are your least favourite films of the year, leave a comment below, thanks for a great year and be sure to come back soon for the best of the year list.

Monday 28 December 2015

The Hateful Eight

"Move a little strange, you gonna get a bullet. Not a warning, not a question, a bullet."

Quentin Tarantino. Now that I have your attention…. Because that is the way it works with his movies, whatever it is about, whoever is starring in it, whenever it is taking place, we need only hear that name and we, as a movie loving audience, will watch it. His directorial filmography is littered with one masterpiece after another (and also Death Proof) so it is safe to say that ‘The Hateful Eight’ has a lot to live up to, especially as this film was originally shelved due to a leaked script, then reinvigorated which would immediately suggest that there is something very special to be found within this outing.

As a bounty hunter (Kurt Russel) escorts his prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to prison he picks up two other passengers, a fellow bounty hunter (Sam Jackson) and a local sheriff (Walton Coggins). From there they arrive at a lodge and are greeted by an aging Confederate General (Bruce Dern) as well as three other strangers (Michael Madsen, Tim Roth and Demian Bichir). Tensions run high as they wait out a blizzard and it becomes apparent that someone has an ulterior motive for being there…

Though ‘Django Unchained’ was his first foray into the western genre, ‘The Hateful Eight’ is Tarantino’s tribute to it. From the Ultra Panavision film to the score by Ennio Morricone and the fact that it is three hours long (similar to another western you may have heard of ‘The Good the Bad and the Ugly’, QT’s favourite film of all time), it feels like it came from the 1960s, without any of the limitations that might stifle some of the blood and profanity used throughout this. But despite that gargantuan running time the film never feels long or drawn out and that is mostly down to QT.

 Despite the fact that it takes place primarily in one location, Tarantino utilizes every inch of the space. It feels isolated and claustrophobic as tensions slowly climb to boiling point, even then the characters are bursting through the walls of the lodge as it becomes apparent that the building cannot contain their personalities. The intensity of their interaction only increases and once I had a profile of the building’s geography, I subconsciously started to worry about which specific character’s whereabouts in the room. Then there is the script, and while it suffers slightly from some familiar elements such as a less than graceful non-linear section. Aside from that it is as fantastic as you might expect from Tarantino. The usual blend of violence, dark humour and compelling character studies are all on show.

Like the greatest westerns Tarantino also sneaks in a few political allegories as well. He addresses race relations and the tumultuous state of a nation that has just recovered from tearing itself apart. But if this sounds too heavy handed do not despair, there is no shortage of fun to be had with ‘The Hateful Eight’, I felt as if Tarantino himself was loving every second of being able to make this movie.

His decision to film it with 70mm film is a bold one and it more than fulfils the promise. It may seem ironic that such a wide format is used for such a confined environment, but with the cinematography of Robert Richardson it captures every detail of the settings and displays the frozen wilderness of the American frontier in stunning detail.

The cast is superb from top to bottom. Kurt Russel is completely captivating as notorious bounty hunter John Ruth, as is Walton Coggins as well as Tim Roth, Bruce Dern and Channing Tatum. Samuel L Jackson is also magnificent, in what may be his best work since ‘Pulp Fiction’. But the true standout could be Jennifer Jason Leigh as the rabid and feral Daisy Domergue, a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination.

What these cast member all have to do, and succeed at, is conveying a subtle sense of mistrust as they establish their own character profile, only to up haul that profile later on in the movie. Even the seemingly reliable characters have secrets to hide because, despite its western setting the film has heavy influences from mysteries of an Agatha Christie nature as the true motives and obscurities unfold as the film marches forward. I felt compelled to continually guess and try to judge each character’s position concerning the situation at hand, and Tarantino still managed to defy all of my expectations and surprise me.  

‘The Hateful Eight’ stands as one of Tarantino’s best films, it is as ruthless, entertaining and humane as one could possibly hope for.

Result: 9/10

Sunday 27 December 2015

In the Heart of the Sea

"Centuries before, sailors feared sailing off the edge of the earth. But we were heading for the edge of sanity."

With so many differing incarnations of the Moby Dick story, it would seem that going back to the story that inspired the book would be a good way to explore new themes and characters to differentiate oneself from the original novel and multiple adaptations. The main problem that accompanies that is unwanted comparisons to the book, which in itself is a double edged sword. If the film is too different to the book people feel cheated as the primary advertisement was the fact that this story inspired Moby Dick, but if you are too similar then what was the point of using this story instead of just making a literal adaptation?

A former crewmember recounts events that took place in the winter of 1820. The Whaleship Essex is attacked by an aggressive sperm whale and the remaining crew must fight to stay alive against the unstoppable force of nature.

From the look of the trailer one could assume that this would be Ron Howard’s biggest directorial outing so far, full of destructive and epic scenes of a gigantic proportion as we witness an epic showdown between man and nature, a struggle for survival and nothing but a lone and damaged vessel as man’s weaponry. That is not the movie we are getting here. Primarily because that other movie that I just described sounds, at the very least, interesting even if it lacks depth and development. ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ in neither interesting, nor does it include a substantial amount of depth or development.

 That is slightly unfair, as there is a good portion of the film (at least a third) that is enthralling. As the whale attacks the ship Howard’s direction is nothing short of magnificent as he injects a sense of fear and claustrophobia amid the destruction, he switches between hand held camera work to capture a sense of panic only to use a wide and steady shot of the destruction to maintain a sense of scale and magnitude, but also to remind you how isolated the ship is in the vast blue ocean, completely separated from human civilisation with nothing to support them. So many separate emotions conveyed during that portion of the film that it feel completely separate from the tedium that permeates the rest of the film.

Not only that, but the film manages to be incredibly convoluted in its tone, theme and story. ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ begins as a meditation on corporate ethics, before switching to a story about an action packed tale of man against nature but then shifts tones again as it takes a contemplative stance on survival. It shifts rather disconcertingly between these varying states and never underpins them with a captivating character. While the main actors Chris Hemsworth (only faltering slightly with an unreliable accent), Cillian Murphy and Tom Holland do a fine job of reeling in their own emotional perspective of the situation in front of them, they never quite develop beyond their simplistic forms. If they even come close it only occurs within the final act, and that it too long to deny emotional connection with a character.

Outside of the scenes of destruction the direction and cinematography takes a much less inspired tone. Like the film itself it seems overly crowded and uneven instead of trying to focus on any one thing throughout, that would be fine in moments of chaos but whenever the film tries to feel meditative it lacks focus and depth even in its visuals. Howard seems to lack the introspective directorial qualities to convey that for a sustained amount of time. That’s not a criticism of him as a whole, his films often need a sense of adrenaline, conflict and competitiveness in their tone to bring out their full potential. Just look at ‘Apollo 13’, ‘A Beautiful Mind’ or ‘Rush’ as films that exaggerate those themes and apply them to their narrative. While there are moments in which that can be exploited during ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ they are only briefly available and are replaced by the relatively uninteresting nature of the rest of the film.

 ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ lacks a sense of focus or depth to create anything other than a disjointed and simplistic film that moves ungracefully from one set piece to the next.

Result: 5/10   

Thursday 24 December 2015

Top 5: Christmas Movies of the 21st Century

It’s Christmas, as said by Slade. And we all know it just isn’t Christmas until you see Hans Gruber fall out of a window, Shane Black’s latest action film and Steve Martin drop the F-bomb so many times that a family expecting it to be in a similar vein to ‘Home Alone’ (given that both are written by John Hughes and feature John Candy, I may have gone on a tangent).

But do you notice a trend, all of those movies are from the 20th Century, what if you wanted something to represent modern cinema on behalf of the Christmas spirit? Well you are asking way too many unnecessary questions (really, do you have the attention span of a three year old to reject everything from the past). Who exactly I am addressing at this point I don’t know, but what I do know are five Christmas films from the 21st Century that are actually, quite good, in fact some of them are excellent. Such as;

5: Joyuex Noel

 Better known as the feature length version of that Sainsbury’s advert from last year. In all seriousness though, tis German film does recreate that famous truce of 1914 and the film finds its strength from briefly capturing the bloodshed and violence of war in its first act, only to draw them into sharp contrast by the almost surreal event that is the famous football game between British and German troops. Not only that but the movie even captures some unknown and unfortunate consequences such as officers and priests that were punished for supporting and participating in the event. While it lacks the brutal punch of other war films it has an endearing message of peace and forgiveness that many forget at this time of year (look at that, I went all Charlie Brown on you).

4: Arthur Christmas

 Some of you may not think much of this Aardman Animation before viewing it but that really is a tragedy as this is one of the funniest recent Christmas films as well as the only one to capture the spirit of Christmas in a completely impartial view. The son of Father Christmas (Arthur, played by James McAvoy) must race to return a present to a child that was missed, with the help of his grandfather and former Santa (Bill Nigh). But his older brother (Hugh Laurie) wiching to prove himself to their father (Jim Broadbent) also wants to deliver the present, as the current Santa also tries to do so to prove he still has what it takes to continue the job. As well as its thick and fast comedy the film also offers three generations’ perspectives on Christmas, tradition, efficiency and spectacle. It’s also immensely commendable for viewing the entire thing in a non-biased way, not branding anyone as a villain, just people with differing perspectives. The result is a film with a timeless message that is superbly crafted and immensely entertaining.

3: Tokyo Godfathers

 Another animated movie that hardly anyone has heard of, but it is similarly underappreciated as ‘Tokyo Godfathers’ is fantastically innovative and intelligent. This story centres around three homeless people, who on Christmas Eve find a lost infant and set out to return it to its family. Japanese animation is of course renowned for often transcending the genre of children’s films and this one is no different, being both harrowing and heartfelt when it needs to be. To combine a sense of melodrama with hard boiled action so well, with the addition of some heavy themes is a remarkable achievement but by also including a truly unique animation style that somehow creates a sense of realism and surrealism simultaneously is frankly astounding. In short ‘Tokyo Godfathers’ is essentially a huge mashup of multiple juxtapositions, as we experience misery and merriment all at the same time.  

2: Tangerine

 Once again this film goes under a more common name, as ‘Tangerine’ is also widely known as ‘the movie that was filmed on an i-Phone’. Though that is true and represents a huge achievement in the indie film business there is still a lot more to this film than just its production. The film follows a duo of transgender prostitutes on Christmas Eve and although that sounds as cheerful as that long conversation with the uncle you haven’t seen in a year on Christmas Day, the comedy shines through in every scene, even in the most tragic ones. It explore themes that even the most outlandish filmmakers would be weary of touching, and characters that are compelling, first and foremost. While it sometimes verges on the tragic, don’t be mistaken by this films power to uplift through friendship and unity, even in the darkest of times.

1: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

 If you know how much I love Neo-Noir, this should not come as a surprise. Shane Back has now crafted a reputation for buddy comedies at Christmas (even ‘Iron Man 3’ was a buddy movie disguised as a Marvel movie) and from the looks of his upcoming ‘The Nice Guys’ he is not stopping any time soon. One that stands out from the 21st Century is ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’. Following Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer as a method actor and amateur detective who find themselves embroiled in a plot of murder in movies, Black’s film manages to be a satire and homage to both the noir and buddy genres simultaneously with plenty of quick quitted, tongue in cheek humour that blends together so seamlessly, as comedy is derived from both situation and character. The benefit of it being set at Christmas is…. I honestly don’t know. Black has said that he thinks it helps bring a sense of unity to his characters and audience, I just think it makes for some rather amazing holiday viewing.