Best and worst of 2015: Film

Brody-Mistress-America-690Favourite films of 2015

I see a lot of films, being an unlimited cardholder, although there was a slew of films in the middle of the year that I missed out on due to the whole lack of arms thing, so I perhaps saw slightly fewer than in previous years. My favourites aren’t always necessarily the films that I consider of the highest quality in terms of cinematography, script and so on. Although obviously films that score well in those categories I can also love. What I tend to go for are those films I will want to watch again and again, and that’s how I’ve made my judgements for the most part-with a few exceptions of films that I thought were really good, but may not have a huge amount of rewatch value, for one reason or another.

Mistress America

When I reviewed this a few months ago, I said that it would probably stand out as one of my favourite films of the year-and so it is. It doesn’t seem to be out on Blu-ray in the UK yet, at least not by my quick scans of Amazon and HMV. However, once it does become freely and affordably available, it will be mine. I really enjoyed this unusual accounts of the friendship (or kind of friendship) between two young women, one at the start of adulthood, one in her early 30s (I think?!) And I enjoyed the theatrical nature of it as well. Whilst it wasn’t perfect, it had a degree of originality going for that was lacking in quite a lot of 2015’s fare.

Inside Out

Although the second Pixar film of 2015, The Good Dinosaur, wasn’t quite as bad as the reviews would suggest (it’s fairly standard kiddie fare, but it has a very sweet heart), it couldn’t compare to their most successful film in years. Inside Out was a beautiful film to look at, with its really interestingly realised memory centres and it was also a film that had quite a lot of complex things to say about emotions, memories and the processes of growing up. Anyway, I reviewed it in more detail here, so go check that out if you’re interested!

Whiplash

Although I think this came out in 2014 in America, I’m pretty sure it came out in 2015 in the UK. I’m not sure I can say a lot more about this film than has already been said-although, as a former drummer, it was very interesting to watch it with that perspective in mind. Although part of me does miss drumming, I don’t miss the pain that it used to put you in, and the film do slightly remind me of the physical exertion involved, although I can’t say my experiences of drumming were anywhere near as intense as those depicted in the film. Miles Teller is superb, as, of course, is JK Simmons, who deserved all the accolades he received. This is a film full of raw energy, tension and human drama and was a completely thrilling cinematic watch. I’ve just picked the Blu-ray, I’m intrigued to see if it has quite the same power on the small screen as it did on the big screen.

Ex Machina

Slightly overlooked by some of the other big hitting cult films, this tale of artificial intelligence, gender politics and male rivalries was actually a really smart, interesting and well performed film that deserves more recognition than it actually got. The casting for this was incredibly savvy, with Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander all in lead roles, and probably employed before they got as busy and famous as they have become. It’s a neat little story, although one of the twists is very obvious… but that means another twist comes as more of a surprise.

It Follows

Low-budget horror films tend to be the best, don’t they? I think there is something about the need to really consider what fear is and how to affect that sensation without spending a fortune on special effects that pushes the imagination of creatives in a way that higher budget horrors (often sequels to their well-received, cheaper predecessors) just don’t very often. It follows was probably the horror hit of the year. Again, not perfect, but for the most part, this was scary, well realised, very well acted (even if the lead character looked exactly like someone I know from Sheffield, so that was kind of weird) and a decent length. I think this is one that would work equally well on the small screen as the big screen, and if you missed it at the pictures, I definitely say it’s worth checking out.

Amy

This is on Channel 4 tomorrow night (Friday the seventh) if you haven’t already seen it. It’s no surprise that Mitch Winehouse didn’t like this film, because it doesn’t exactly paint him in the most sympathetic light. What it does do, however, is really put Amy Winehouse’s talent under the spotlight in a way I haven’t seen examined before. I kind of went into this documentary expecting it would be a little bit more sensational, focusing on her private life, her addictions, her relationships and so on. Of course those things are present and correct, how could they not be? However, the singing, the music and the lyrics are the real stars of this film, and seeing Amy’s lyrics displayed on screen really highlights the tenderness, pain, love and talent that underwrote her music. I left this film not just feeling sad at her loss, but with a new appreciation of the music she left. Often those songs have been so overplayed and so overfamiliar that we listen to them without really thinking about them, but I kind of felt like I discovered her music afresh through this film. This is one of those that you wouldn’t want to watch too many times because it’s not exactly a feelgood film, but as music biographical features go, this is one of the best.  Longer review here.

The Lady in the Van

Let’s be honest, everybody loves it when Maggie Smith gets to play a cranky old lady, and she did so better in this than in the syrupy sequel to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. That the story of the lady who camped out in Alan Bennett’s garden for years is true is remarkable in itself, and obviously makes for a very entertaining narrative, but the narrative would not work without the central performances that carry the film. Smith, obviously, is a delight. However, Alex Jennings, as Alan Bennett’s (indeed, as two versions of Bennett), is the real star here. He has a massive job to do, carrying the whole film being the central character-and affects a performance that really is very Bennett like. I don’t recall seeing him in any major roles before, I can only ever remember him as more of character actor (I think the main role I associate him with is Prince Charles in the Queen). I know he’s done a few TV things and a lot of theatre, but I think it’s a shame that he’s never had a breakout lead role like this one, because his performance in this film demonstrates that he is someone who is perfectly capable of carrying a production and he holds his own alongside Maggie Smith really well. I’d love to see him utilised more and recognised for his talent in the way that, perhaps, he hasn’t been has yet.

Force-Awakens-Poster-101815-691x1024

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Obviously, this is the most anticipated film of the year, and one of the biggest cinematic events of the decade. We went to a midnight showing at Cineworld, and I thought it would be quite quiet, with just a couple of screen showing it, given it was a mid week performance. I was wrong. The place was packed, with every screen open and massive queues for everything. The worst bit was queueing in the car park to get out at the end, as hundreds of cars were all trying to get away at three in the morning with work the next day! It was really good to see it is not showing, although it meant that we only saw it in regular 3-D, and I’m kind of interested to see it in IMAX and/or 4DX. overall, I liked this film. I wouldn’t say I really really loved it-certainly, I wouldn’t put it up there with A New Hope or the Empire Strikes Back, but it might be my third favourite of the saga. I liked the nod to the past, I liked the characters (I kind of wish Rey had been a little bit less plummy voiced, as she didn’t seem to have the grit in her voice that she had in the way she was written-Daisy Ridley does give a good performance, but I wish that, vocally, she’d been challenged to do something a little bit more raw. Or maybe it’s trying to tell us that posh people can be gritty too?), I liked seeing the old favourites return, I enjoyed it for what it was, a nice little space from, a buddy film and something that sets up a new trilogy. And I liked that it was a straightforward and I liked I liked that romp, a buddy movie, something that paid homage to the past, but sets up storylines for the future. A good start to the new trilogy, and, whilst perhaps not the most exciting or innovative, one that bodes well for what is to come. Also, am involved in the World Star Wars project and our prerelease surveys still live, with some follow-up work coming in 2016 about people who is now seen the film.

Pitch Perfect 2

I loved Pitch Perfect. Singing, silly comedy, lots of fun, what more could you want? Therefore, the sequel was always going to be a pretty easy sell to me. No, it’s not as good as the original. The storyline is pretty lame this time around, and the singing set pieces don’t quite have the same impact. However, the competitors, particularly Das Sound Machine, are great. Despite the diminishing returns in terms of the storyline and songs, however, this film did have loads more gags in it than the first one. Some of those were very obvious jokes, but not all, and I definitely laughed out loud a lot more than the first time round. I’ve heard that a third one is in the works, it’s difficult to see where that will go, as this film concentrates on the majority of the cast being in their final year at university, and therefore any sequels set in the same group are inevitably going to need a cast reboots bar a very small number of players. That has worked in some franchises-TV wise, Skins would be the obvious example. However, the jury is out on whether a completely rebooted Bardon Bellas is going to be worth a third visit. Still, this was entertaining, silly and warm enough that I will no doubt rewatch it a whole bunch of times.

The Martian

The Martian is one of those blockbusters that smart enough to attract the attention of critics, and no doubt the Academy… maybe Ridley Scott will even take a gong for it? I really liked the premise and execution of the film. In some ways, it was similar to the underrated Moon, but there were quite a lot of core differences-both in terms of the way the plots develop, and in the fact that The Martian does employ a cast around Damon, who are seeking to get their guy back to earth, so although we see a lot of him on his own, it’s not a one-man show entirely. Some of the challenges that come his way get a little bit laborious and obvious as the film goes on, so it could probably have been trimmed to little to lose some of those. However, it’s still a great looking, well-intentioned and thought-provoking blockbuster that has done well with audiences and critics because at the centre of it, it’s telling a good story.

Bubbling under: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay part two; The Diary of a Teenage Girl; The Duff; Jurassic World; Bridge of Spies; Tomorrowland; Spy; The Visit; Insurgent; American Ultra; Trainwreck; Ricki and the Flash; Sisters, The Theory of Everything.

Must try harder

ultron

Star Wars and Avengers merchandisers

The lame excuses that the merchandise teams gave for excluding Black Widow and Rey from everything were laughable. The same was true of the criticisms of the guardians of the Galaxy merchandise that excluded Gamora. It’s really time merchandisers got beyond their fear of putting girls into merchandising deploys. Surely a) girls and boys alike can enjoy such merchandise and b) wouldn’t it be far more positive for boys to have female characters that they look up to and enjoy using in their play than only male characters? Besides, the women are central characters in their franchises, and if you wanted to play Avengers, Guardians et cetera and didn’t have all of the core players, you’d be really annoyed. Hopefully the uproar that these decisions caused has led them to think about how they merchandise in the future and maybe we won’t see these mistakes replicated.

Marvel Cinematic Universe

Let’s be honest, whilst there were some nifty bits in Avengers: Age of Ultron, overall, it was much less than the sum of its parts. As good as the characters are, and as nice as it was to see new additions to the family, the storyline was dull as dishwater and the film was overlong. Given the triumph of avengers assemble, it’s such a shame that this sequel was, whilst vaguely entertaining in its own right, a massive disappointment. Here’s to future films being redrawn in the spirit of the first Avengers film.  Ant-Man, likewise, was a bit of a missed opportunity.  What the MCU needs now is to put soom oomph back in, so that their forthcoming films feel less ‘eh, s’alright’ and more ‘wow’.

Cineworld’s allocated seating policy

Can this not die in a fire already? I might concede that it could be useful at busy times of the week, but on a weekday afternoon, when there’s about 10 people in the whole screen? Everything about this policy is awful. The people who nick your seats, ending up sat next to strangers when you don’t want to be, not being able to just choose your own seats and change according to the comfort/lighting, having to second-guess where other people might choose seats so you can try and not sit next to them, the whole you can’t leave one seat empty policy on the booking screens. Everything about this sucks.

See also: half of the car park being taken out of action or year for the Sheffield Cineworld refurbishments. I’m not kidding, I tried to get to see Sisters four times before I actually managed to see it, because the car park was so overfull with school holidays – having a huge number of spaces unavailable due to the building works was really bad planning on their behalf.

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