If 2014 will be remembered as one of the best years in modern cinema, 2015, despite having a throng of big marquee releases, will go down as something of a disappointment. With Star Wars' shadow looming large over theatres, it was as if cinema gave up fighting the inevitable and waited for The Force Awakens to conquer all.
Low expectations were at least met. As anticipated Fifty Shades of Grey was about as titillating as a rectal exam with one of the worst scripts ever greenlit by Hollywood. Pixels was just as bad as the trailers made it look, whilst Poltergeist was yet another pointless horror remake, Entourage quite rightly drew one of critic Mark Kermode’s most severe tongue lashings, and Pitch Perfect 2 lazily repeated the fat jokes and soulless warbling of the somehow popular part one.
Away from these predictable turkeys, some of the year’s most anticipated releases struggled to hide their ‘just give us your money’ raison d’etre. Jurassic World offered up an uninspired re-run of the original with man-of-the-moment Chris Pratt thrown in to appease the masses and the implausible twist of ‘trained’ Velociraptors and communicating dinosaurs sprinkled on top. Arnie’s return to the franchise that kick started his superstardom with Terminator: Genisys was a menace free movie, redoing the highlights from the first two films to poor effect. John Connor was relegated to slapstick sidekick alongside a whiney Sarah Connor, whilst Arnold was left to provide nonsensical exposition at regular interludes. It didn’t help that James Cameron’s 1984 original was re-released the same week. It only showed how far the series has fallen.
The Fantastic Four was an absolute mess and was whipped back out of theatres quicker than any major release in recent history. Following Skyfall it seemed most critics were afraid of pointing out the shortfalls in this years Spectre. What Bond 24 turned out to be though was an aimless globe trot trying to protect Mr. White’s daughter from the bad guys, only to let her walk off on her own down a dark London alley at the films climax with nary a shrug and the villains still on the loose. The film world’s worst kept secret, that Christoph Waltz was actually playing Hans Landa (sorry, Ernst Stavro Blofeld), felt anticlimactic and not even the finest minds on Earth have managed to explain how he engineered all of the events in the last three films, or why, if his scheme was to monitor all happenings on Earth via an ICT system he had to set it up in the middle of an oil refinery in the desert.
Even those films the critics championed weren’t quite the promised land of cinema we were led to believe they were. Whiplash was essentially The Karate Kid (1984) behind a drum kit with J.K. Simmons creating such a bastard of a character it was tough to see him as anything but two dimensional. Selma touched on an essential subject, but forgot that it also had to be entertaining, while The Theory of Everything rather conveniently glossed over the less celebratory aspects of Stephen Hawking’s life, but still won Eddie Redmayne the most forgone conclusion Oscar since Al Pacino lost his sight for Scent Of A Woman (1992).
Amy was another fabulously revealing documentary from Asif Kapadia but was far too uncomfortable a watch, which was probably the point. The Martian was the extended cut of Matt Damon’s Interstellar (2014) scenes, and Mission: Impossible 5 enthralled more than any of the previous outings but still failed to live in the memory after the final scene rolled; I still can’t tell you exactly what it was Ethan Hunt was meant to be doing in the film.
It was therefore left to less anticipated films to keep 2015 rolling. The Duke of Burgundy provided the films finest BDSM movie (though competition was hardly stiff or fierce), It Follows was the best new horror movie for some time, with a unique concept and genuine atmosphere, Still Alice quite rightly won Julianne Moore the Best Actress Oscar, while Slow West and Macbeth should see Michael Fassbender get at least one nomination when the statuettes are handed out in March.
Jupiter Ascending got a critical mauling but slowly turned into something of a cult classic, while San Andreas invoked the very best aspects of seventies disaster flicks, with added spectacle courtesy of eye-melting CGI carnage, Dwayne Johnson for the ladies and Alexandria Daddario for the lads. Spy produced one of the biggest surprises of the year as Jason Statham put on a masterclass in how to steal a film, gloriously sending up his tough-guy movie persona, and Furious 7, a franchise that Hollywood still insists is classless, showed real class by giving the late Paul Walker a genuinely moving send off.
And out of all of that, FilmsFilmsFilms presents the best ten movies of the 2015, the year of unexpected delights.
- BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE)
The Academy loves actors playing real-life figures from history. They also love an actor playing someone with an affliction or personal struggle. Glue those two elements together and you’ve got cast iron guarantee for Oscar success. And as good as Eddie Redmayne’s Stephen Hawking impression was, this year’s Best Actor award should have gone to Michael Keaton for his magnificent portrayal of Riggan Thomson in Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Birdman. It seemed like simple savvy casting to have the one time Bruce Wayne in the role of a former comic hero movie star now struggling to prove his acting chops on Broadway (Thomson comments that he hasn’t played Birdman since 1992, the same year Keaton last played Batman in Batman Returns). Keaton showed is wasn’t just a gimmick though and made Thomson the most layered character of the year. Despite his failings you want Thomson to achieve greatness on stage as much as you want Rocky to defeat Apollo or Luke to topple the Emperor when the opening night of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love arrives. This was no mean feat when Keaton had the likes of Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Zach Galifianakis turning in career finest performances as well. Supporting the cast was one of the best atypical soundtracks courtesy of Antonio Sanchez, and direction from Inarritu which simultaneously made the whole movie feel like a stage play itself and reminded audiences what great direction can really be; witness the single shot roving intro scene that never seems to end.
Tasty Morsel - Despite having echoes of Keaton's own career, the actor remarked that personality wise, Thomson was the most dissimilar to himself of any he has played.
- MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
There was a tanker full of cynicism circling around Mad Max 4 before it finally made it into theatres. One of the longest and most talked about gestation periods in recent Hollywood history saw the film earn a “troubled production” tag. When Mel Gibson moved on things looked particularly dire, but the series creator George Miller ploughed on regardless. Still, fans were sceptical, noting that Miller’s only significant work in the past twenty years were the Babe and Happy Feet film series, a world away from Max Rockatansky and his dust coated, chaos riddled struggles. There was also the large issue of whether a modern Hollywood studio would bankroll a film as mad and pessimistic as Mad Max (1979) and Mad Max 2 (1981). A wonderful thing happened in May though when Mad Max: Fury Road hit cinemas. Risk-averse Hollywood had given Miller a free pass to go as crazy as he liked, and the director ensured he got his monies worth. Fury Road is the most gloriously demented and visually frenetic movie of the last twenty years. Tom Hardy was allowed to remain mute for most of the film, but still managed to create a new Max that is the measure of Mel’s, while Charlize Theron crafts the best onscreen heroine since Sigourney Weaver first went to space. Pleasingly, despite all the odds staked against it Fury Road went on to snag $375million at the box office, proving to Warner Bros. that it does pay to trust creative minds. Two more sequels are now in the pipeline.
Tasty Morsel - Pleasingly Miller decided to forgo CGI as much as possible, relying instead on practical stunts and effects. Computer graphics were only used to remove stunt wires, create Theron's prosthetic arm, and enhance the landscapes.
- JOHN WICK
There’s such a drive these days for blockbuster films to be ‘clever’ there’s now a gap in the movie market for films that can simply settle for being a good action movie, witty dialogue and sharp plot twists be damned. Step forward John Wick. A revenge story with a tongue-in-cheek injection, director Chad Stahelski took all the tropes from the best noir thrillers of the thirties and forties and updated them for the twenty-first century by blending them with the best aspects of Asian and European action classics. Keanu Reeves plays the titular anti-hero, a retired hitman seeking revenge for the theft of his favourite classic car and the murder his puppy, given to him by his late wife. Flying under the radar of most movie fans and critics, John Wick’s popularity grew in the classic way to, via word of mouth as thoroughly entertained patrons recommended the little known film to friends. A meagre $20million budget eventually grew into an $80million box office take, and surprised critics stepped forward with praise, most of it directed at Stahelski’s lead man. Seen as a ‘comeback’ for Reeves, with a new franchise now being discussed, Wick fans eagerly await the coming of John Wick 2.
Tasty Morsel – Director Stahelski was Keanu Reeves’ stunt double for all three of The Matrix movies.
What goes up must come down, and there are some strange folk who can’t wait for the wheels to fall off of the Marvel movie phenomenon. Many of them had Ant-Man pegged as the start of the studios demise. Like Fury Road it was another 2015 release with a difficult production, the script originally placed in the hands of British director Edgar Wright. After a long development phase Wright stepped away from the project, stating that he wanted to take the story of Hank Pym in a different direction to the one Marvel movie mastermind Kevin Feige envisioned. Somewhat disappointingly the project was handed to director Peyton Reed whose last project had been the dull Yes Man (2008) seven year prior. Coupled with the fact that Ant-Man was the first Marvel hero that the average cinemagoer had very little knowledge of, played by an actor only known for his comedy performances, and things looked bleak. Despite all this, Ant-Man surprised everyone by arriving as perhaps the best Marvel movie to date. A tight script that didn’t outstay its welcome, kicking into touch the new predilection for bum-numbing three hour epics, Pym’s origin story was perfectly told and threaded with the best combination of drama and comedy seen to date in the ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’. Plaudits need to go to Rudd, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly for creating a fine trio to carry the story. Plot twists were also pleasing, resulting in a conclusion that was at once gripping and very funny. The only downside was Corey Stoll’s villain Darren Cross / Yellowjacket who was yet another carbon copy of the Norman Osborne / Obadiah Stane / Aldrich Killian power crazed industrialist.
Tasty Morsel – Paul Rudd purchased an ant farm prior to filming to study their behaviour and movement. He was so fascinated by the creatures he decided to keep the farm after filming was complete.
Following in the tradition of previous FFF films of the year recommendations Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and Argo (2012), Canadian director Dennis Villeneuve won the unofficial award for most tense film of the year with Sicario. Forgoing introductory exposition in favour of kicking the viewer straight into the deep end, we immediately join FBI SWAT agents Emily Blunt and Daniel Kaluuya on the worst crime scene bust this side of Se7en's (1995) air-freshener sloth reveal. It’s a rough start and things don’t get much better from there, as Blunt joins Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro in tracking down drug baron Manuel Diaz in the roughest parts of Mexico. But exactly why Blunt has been assigned to join the under-the-radar operatives remains unclear and as the group journeys ever further into the drug trade underworld she begins to question her position and career choice. As scripts go, the plot turns aren’t particularly difficult to predict. But even so, Sicario (Spanish for hitman) manages to grip the viewer tighter and tighter as the stakes grow higher and higher; the extraction of one of Diaz’s men via convoy through heavy Mexican traffic is one of the most taut set pieces in film history. The main players themselves aren’t a particularly likeable group, but it’s a credit to all the actors involved that they remain worthy of our sympathies. Blunt and del Toro in particular should be celebrating Oscar wins in March if there’s any justice in this world.
Tasty Morsel – When Jon Bernthal attacks Blunt, his ‘This is on you, it’s you that did this’ is a tribute to the same line spoken by his Shane character when he attacks Rick in the television smash The Walking Dead.
- INSIDE OUT
2015 wasn’t a particularly marquee year for children’s movies, with only Big Hero 6 providing Pete Docter’s Inside Out with much competition. Even so, Docter’s first movie since Up (2009) could stand up against kiddie flicks from any year and still be one of the best ever made. Featuring one of the smartest scripts of the year, we follow young girl Riley who is on the cusp of teenhood as her parents move her from the comfort of her Minnesota home to the unfamiliarity of San Francisco. Accompanying her on this journey are the five internal characters that make up Riley’s subconscious, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, Anxiety and Joy. An extension of the Angel on one shoulder, devil on the other personality notion, Riley’s quintet of personal attributes is a marvellous story trope. Extended to include an internal world built around all of Riley’s adolescent likes and memories (ice hockey, her imaginary friend Bing Bond, a literal train of thought) this surreal but at once recognisable world is used as a mirror canvas to all the unsettling turn of events that befall Riley as she struggles to cope with her new home and the impending funk of becoming a teenager. Perhaps more than any children’s film before it creates the finest combination of perfect-for-adults-and-kids-alike that the best kids movies strive for, being colourful and funny enough for children, but still poignant and amusing enough for the grownups.
Tasty Morsel – The original outline script included 27 different emotion characters. This was later reduced down to 5 to make the story easier to follow.
- KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE
If it was slim-pickings on the children’s film front, things looked much brighter in the comedy movie genre through 2015. Ted (2012) received a fantastic follow-up, Ted 2, that worried less about storyline and focused more on dirty jokes and hilarious set pieces, Spy arrived with little fanfare but provided some of the best giggles of the year, and Trainwreck gave Amy Schumer a long overdue lead vehicle and won cameo of the year for an uproarious turn from WWE star John Cena, “I will fuck you, alright? I’ll enter you!”. The standout comedy of the year though was Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, based on the Mark Millar created comic mini-series. The early running didn’t look promising, with a trailer that seemed to saddle suave superspy Colin Firth with an uber annoying tracksuit wearing chav. Spending ninety minutes in the presence of an “innit bruv” spewing troglodyte seemed like the worst idea in movie history. The opposite turned out to be true though, as despite the chavy get-up Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin was created as one of the most championable characters of the year by Taron Egerton, sticking it to both his fellow lower class pub dwellers and his upper class snob competitors in style. Couple that with Samuel L Jackson doing his best Chris Eubank impression on villain duties and Colin Firth putting forward the best case yet that he should be the next Bond, and Kingsman started to move away from the 2015 movie also-rans. What pushed the movie into best of the year territory though was a surprise ridden script that wasn’t afraid to be smart and on the nose, “You dirty little … fucking prick…”, and a series of balmy set pieces that had to be seen and heard to be believed, including a graphic church brawl to the Freebird, a psychedelic exploding head Land of Hope and Glory tribute, and a concluding global meltdown to the upbeat sounds of KC and the Sunshine Band's Give It Up. It all sounds like it shouldn’t make sense, but it really does. Sequel please.
Tasty Morsel – Aaron Taylor-Johnson was originally offered the part of Eggsy, but turned it down.
- INHERENT VICE
As 2015 progressed it became clear that those films that were standing out from the pack were nearly all movies with little fanfare. The likes of Kingsman, Spy, Ant-Man, Inside Out, and John Wick weren’t particularly high up on most people’s must watch lists at the start of the year. Attaching Paul Thomas Anderson to any project though elevates it way above most other films. The director may only six movies to his credit over a twenty year period, but it’s a sextet of class and quality. Teaming Anderson with famed novelist Thomas Pynchon for an adaptation of the writer’s 2009 work Inherent Vice promised much and delivered. Joaquin Phoenix led the year’s best ensemble cast, supported by Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, and Martin Short among others, as the pot smoking private eye Larry “Doc” Sportello. Doc gets dragged into the criminal underworld of 1970’s Los Angeles as he digs into three interrelated cases tied together by the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend and her partner. Plot wise, Inherent Vice lollops along with little care for conventional scripting, but rather than a self-indulgence, it creates the perfect vehicle for Doc’s and his with it one minute, gone the next nature. Average moviegoers might find the technique frustrating but fans of Pynchon and aficionados of atypical cinema were thrilled. With so much to soak up, Anderson’s movie was 2015’s best film for repeat viewings. Cult status will surely follow.
Tasty Morsel – Robert Downey Jnr. was originally lined up to play Doc, but Anderson decided against it for the opportunity of working with Phoenix again. Downey Jnr. though believed it was because he was too old for the part.
- IT FOLLOWS
With the exception of The Babadook (2014) it’s been some time since a horror film has even come close to grazing an end of year top ten. Horror films being typically cheap to make, once the genre finds it’s next big hit it repeats the formula to death, be it slasher movies or gorenography flicks. Unlike other genres then, the horror film well dries up very quickly. With just his second full length feature American writer and director David Robert Mitchell added something new and chilling to the genre and offered up the best horror film in years. A subtle spin on the stalk and slash sub-genre with shades of Ringu (1998) thrown in, Mitchell took the incessant plod that made Michael Myers such a nightmare and wrote an entire story around the relentless pursuit angle. Our ‘final girl’ heroine is Jay (Maika Monroe) who is stalked by a supernatural essence after a sexual encounter with a boyfriend she realises she barely knows. The spirit stalker passed on to her inhabits all manner of creepy figures from hospital gown clad old ladies, to urinating assault victims, and towering men with black pits for eyes. Not knowing when they will hove into view lays a thick cloud of tension over the whole film; you don't need to wait for the tell-tale horror film signposts of a night-time storm to grab a sofa cushion, these fiends can appear at any time, and do. Adding a welcome nod to early-eighties slashers, the soundtrack is a synth-filled delight, scaled right back to an ever quickening boom when the spirit figures creep closer to Jay. A beautifully shot setting that looks like a crumbling Haddonfield and an ambiguous conclusion completes a brilliant package. A $20million take on a $2million budget ensured the horror genre sniffed out its next bandwagon, and the studio Radius-TWC immediately started planning a sequel.
Tasty Morsel – Monroe’s character was named Jay, short for Jamie, as a tribute to the original slasher queen Jamie Lee Curtis.
- STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
It was a forgone conclusion that the return to the original Star Wars timeframe was going to clean up at the box office. It had been thirty three years since we’d seen Luke, Leia and Han, and the anticipation was even greater than it had been for The Phantom Menace (1999). A year long drip feed of teasers, TV spots and trailers built expectation even more. But there was an underlying nervousness amongst fans; they’d been this excited before and had been burnt by Phantom and its super dull trade embargo taxation plot. The saving grace this time was a change in the captain’s chair. After flogging Star Wars to Disney, George Lucas stepped aside and let J.J.Abrams do for his universe what he already done for Star Trek. And to the collective relief of movie fans the world over Abrams did just that. There were some minor quibbles that The Force Awakens was just a carbon copy of A New Hope, but noting that the biggest complaint with Phantom was that it was too different tonally from the original trilogy, Abrams wisely played it safe. New fans got their own “I am your father” moment with Han Solo’s big bridge scene, and old fans got to sit in the cinema with their own kids and relieve the magic of three decades ago. It’s a rare piece of art that brings together so many people of different generations. Away from the impact of the release, the movie itself was a perfect popcorn film. It was close to an hour before the first classic character showed up, but to the credit of the new cast Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver and the rest, you don’t miss the old guard; the movie zips along fine without Leia and Han thanks to a frantic pace and a great script. The humour and excitement in the story really is night and day when compared to Phantom. And with a final shot that won’t fail to bring a lump to the throat of any true movie fan, its clear that The Force Awakens is the movie that Phantom should have been and the start of another history making Star Wars trilogy.
Tasty Morsel – The secret that Daniel Craig played the stormtrooper Rey mind controls is now out, but word is that other Hollywood A-listers such as Tom Cruise and Chris Pine also donned the white and black.