(originally published 7-28 January 2016
Addendum: More waffle! Starting off with my ‘so bad, it’s good’ list
So this film is actually one that was produced, shot and released all in my local area, and I am acquainted to people who worked on it. If they happen to read this, please don’t take this personally, as I have to let my honesty as a(n aspiring) critic get the best of me when I say that I thought this movie was awful.
The pacing is weird, the sound quality is all over the place. There’s this really awkward montage that looks more like a music video, is a little uncomfortable and goes on wa-haaaay too long. None of the characters have even the remotest of personalities outside of one or two, with the exception of the villain and his various accents. Also, the movie turns into a horror movie halfway through, which is the obvious intention (it’s marketed as such), but the transition is way more jarring and awkward than I think they intended it to be.
And oh man is it funny as hell!
The general weird pacing and stilted dialogue just creates this hilarious scenario when it’s not testing your patience. The villain is side-splittingly hilarious and the movie loses something when he exits. There are bizarre hallucinations of what I’m assuming are public domain cartoons, and weirdly edited creature shots on what I have to admit is some pretty damn impressive make-up. Also dodgy CG ahoy!
The film is clearly a labour of love, especially as it was independently funded and took forever to come out. If you’re more forgiving than I am, you may get something more out of this than I did. However, if you’re a mean snarky bastard like I am, I definitely recommend this one as it’s one of the most entertaining films I have seen all year.
Beyond the Reach
Michael Douglas has been on a bit of a comeback after recovering from cancer. While this movie may not have garnered the attention that Behind the Candleabra or Ant Man did, Douglas is credited as one of the producers, so he clearly had a lot of faith in the project. So, let me once again shit on somebody’s hard work and effort to say that this is one of the dumbest things I’ve seen in quite a while.
So Douglas plays a game hunter (aside: I watched this around the time the Cecil the Lion controversy arose, it was quite jarring) who accidentally kills a man on a hunt. His tracker, played by Jeremy Irvine, tries to report what happened, but Douglas insists on not doing this and, after blackmailing and then trying to bribe the young man, forces him to strip down and just decides to stalk him until he dies from exposure.
It’s hard to explain why this doesn’t work without having to see it, but Douglas’ deliciously hammy performance just makes this a hoot. He’s moustache-twirling evil here, and the amount of conveniences and resourcefulness Irvine has at his fingertips is eye-rollingly ridiculous. Maybe this premise would have worked if they didn’t take it so damn seriously, but as soon as you get to the slingshot bit, you may as well just sit back and enjoy the dumb ride, because this movie has plenty of them in store.
Children of the Night
So this one kind of left me…dazed. The premise itself could be made into a really interesting film. Missing children get rounded up in a colony called Limbo (YA GET IT?!?!?!?!?!?), having been turned into vampires and in need of care, and a journalist is contacted to tell their story. Despite the complete lack of budget and how ugly the cinematography is, you can really make something unique and creepy with this idea. It’s just…this thing is incomprehensible and batty. In just the best way possible.
It has similar budgetary issues as Beau Diable, but it also has an insane sense of ineptitude that makes it just a hoot. Whoever hired the caretaker deserves a medal because it is one of the strangest goddamn performances I’ve ever seen. The film decides to take its pretty loaded premise and set up and add a war between the colony and the descendants of Bram Stoker (I’m not kidding), Dracula’s grandson is one of the main characters, and his dad’s a cat. Also, the journalist has a creepy quasi-romance with one of the vampires there who she has a connection with from her childhood. Also, it has the line ‘They just cannot get over their addiction…to curry powder’ (possibly paraphrasing here), and it’s said with a completely straight face.
I really wanted this to work based on the idea alone, but it’s so utterly comedic in its ineptitude that I’m kind of glad it exists. I want to own this film and watch it every Halloween-it’s perfect fodder for midnight screenings! I’ll give it points for being unique, and it certainly took this idea in a direction nobody would have seen coming. But it also has a chirpy EDM song accompanying a vampire massacre. So yeah.
I’m sorry, I think the fact that Paul Walker died in such a horrific way is pretty heartbreaking, especially as he was so young. And while the ending of this film is jarring and a little out of place, I cannot deny the sincerity of it. I also cannot deny that this movie is stupid as fuck.
Okay, it’s apparently aware of how stupid it is. Fine. Is that supposed to excuse the fact that it doesn’t know which of its billion and one plots to focus on? Or how tacked on Jason Stateham’s one feels? Or the fact that it has a weird over-reliance on the continuity these movies now have and doesn’t implement it that well? Like, am I meant to care about Michelle Rodriguez’ memory loss or the fact that they killed off a character who wasn’t even in the movie beforehand to raise the stakes? Or how, outside of the set piece on the mountainside, none of the action has anything more going for it than ‘Let’s out-stupid the last one!’? Or the fact that if you played a drinking game of taking a shot every time Vin Diesel says ‘family’ you’ll be hospitalised in the first 20 minutes? Or that the machismo gets so ridiculous at this stage they punch through (admittedly broken) concrete to get to another level, and The Rock flexes to break a cast? I mean, that’s absolutely amazing, but still!
And maybe that’s it. You’re not meant to take all this that seriously and just, and I apologise in advance for this, enjoy the ride. Fine-it’s still not a good movie, not even close. If this was a Twilight flick, critics would be lining up to take the fucker down, and for good reason. It’s great to see Kurt Russell, and Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel are just loveable guys, but that doesn’t stop this from being a macho goof fest that I will proudly put on this list of my own snobbery. Good day, sir!
The Green Inferno
The sun sets, the earth rotates, and Eli Roth made a critically panned film.
Now, this one is hard for me to suss, because I don’t know what is meant to be comedic and what is meant to be horrific, or if any of it is meant to be either/or. I mean, he’s gone on record to say it’s written to attack “social justice warriors”, though the actions of the characters kind of misses why those people are attacked (Note: Or what I thought people perceived an ‘SJW’ is, but it’s a goddamn perjorative used to attack anyone with even remote sensibilities towards left leaning or social activist ideas, so I don’t take it seriously when people use the term in serious context anymore, especially with the last year. Sue me). There’s a lot of comedy and jokey moments in the first half that are obnoxiously painful and annoying. The second half, however, is where the real comedy begins.
I’m not sure why cannibalistic gore is meant to be funny, but good lord is this one a riot. All the characters are so unlikeable (deliberately so), but they are downplayed enough so they don’t annoy you, meaning they’re bearable to watch and everything that happens to them is extra hilarious. Nothing about this situation shocks or appalls me; it’s too goddamn over the top to have any sort of effect like that. It’s just terrible tribalism nonsense that’s so silly and overtly gory to be anything other than funny.
It may not be for the more sensitive of ye, but for those with a gross and darker sense of humour, once you get past the painfully boring and obnoxious set up, this movie is a complete blast and will entertain you right up to the closing scene.
So this one has a unique sort of set up…kind of. It’s shot entirely on iPhone! But it’s a found footage movie. Bah.
So if watch this and, like me, you are completely and utterly irritated by the two leads so much that you are waiting for them to just die already, stick with it. Like Green Inferno, as soon as the ‘horror’ element kicks in, it’s goodbye misery, hello comedy.
Everything that happens as soon as the two enter the house is an absolute riot, and you’ll be going from pissed off to rolling all over the place in no time. The stilted acting and unconvincing scares just creates this wonderfully crazy atmosphere and it’s so much goddamn fun that you can forgive the first half hour.
There’s not much else to say on this one, except that I wish something as unique and revolutionary as shooting an entire movie on an iPhone was reserved for a better movie. Maybe a better one will appear in the future…As for now, though, grab your mates and throw this one on, it’s a surprisingly fun ride.
I don’t really know what to say about Jupiter Ascending that hasn’t already been said (including what I said in my review of it from the start of the year). It’s inept, horribly realised, takes itself way too seriously, the acting ranges from bored to whatever the hell Eddie Redmayne is doing, and everything about it is so deliciously entertaining that all is forgiven.
The Wachowski Starship (Note: Now Wachowski Sisters! Good for them) are a mystery upon themselves at this stage. They’re clearly very imaginative and actually want to use science fiction as a platform to talk about these dense and complex ideas, and they have succeeded in the past (I will defend Cloud Atlas to my dying breath). It’s just that they cannot be left too far off the leash or their ambitions far outreach their abilities. While the movie was butchered in post, they clearly had a lot of control in the ideas and production stage, and if this really is the studio-compromised version, can we please see what their original cut was like if such a thing exists?
This film does have a good deal of defenders, and I’ll give them credit, in this current platform of big genre movies being nothing but sequels, reboots and adaptations that they at least tried something original. It’s just a pity it’s this bloated, glorious mess. May the bees recognise what a royal craziness this truly is.
The best way I can describe this one is imagine if Lord of the Rings was directed by Tommy Wiseau.
I mean, I could just leave it at that, but I guess I’ll try to explain why this failure of classic fantasy just doesn’t get off the ground. It’s always great to see Jeff Bridges, but he’s paradoxically amazing and horribly miscast in this role (also he seems to be doing an awful Ian McKellen impersonation). Julianne Moore seems to be competing with Eddie Redmayne in the ‘Lets see which one of us makes the Academy regret their decision faster’ game. The rest of the cast are either asleep or wasted, and this doesn’t even touch on how ridiculously horrible the effects are. Or the fact that the plot is both poorly explained and makes very little sense. Why is there some taboo against humans and witches is every principle character is or was in a fecking human/witch relationship?! This isn’t dramatic storytelling if you do it about four times.
This movie is very silly, and while it’s not as over the top as Jupiter Ascending is, it’s certainly entertaining enough to be worth a look over. It’s a shame that the traditional fantasy genre seems to have halted outside of the Hobbit trilogy, but this was definitely not the film to reinvigorate it. As it stands, throw it on for some old-fashioned movie failing hilarity.
Worst Films of 2015
Addendum: Christ, I’m wordy! Again, have to have seen the movie (duh, Pas Dan) has to be legally viewable in Ireland during 2015 (so if a movie got a main release in 2015 but was shown somewhere legitimately in 2014, it doesn’t count. So onto dishonourable mentions:
Aaaaaahh!, American Ultra, Bound, Boychoir, Cake, Chappie, Christmas with the Coopers, Danny Collins, Fant4stic, Hot Girls Wanted, In the Turn, The Interview, The Invitation, Knock Knock, Pale Moon, Project Almanac, Rigor Mortis, Salvation Army, Soaked in Bleach, Southpaw, Terminator: Genisys, Victor Frankenstein, The Visit, X+Y
A rather cynical attempt to cash-in on the trend of mdoernising fairytale classics, ‘Pan’ goes that one step further in adding a rather unnecessary and terribly contrived origins to the literary hero. Filled with not-so-subtle visual references to the Disney film as much as Warner Bros can get away with, everything about it reads half-assed. From the tacked on tragedy of Peter Pan’s backstory, to the incredibly awkward modern day song insertions, to the ‘chosen one’ narrative that every movie seems to need to have nowadays, it’s as formulaic and tired as one would expect. What really brings this film down is the absolutely lifeless lead performances from Pan and especially Hook, whose relationship is so transparently sequel baity it makes the final line even more hilarious. Hugh Jackman is entertaining as the villain (the second time, the first being Chappie, his antagonist has been the highlight), but it doesn’t stop this from being a perfect example of everything wrong with film by executive design.
- By the Sea
So what happens when one of the most powerful couples in Hollywood decides to make a movie about their seaside holiday? They turn it into a psychosexual drama that’s neither psychological nor sexy. Nor dramatic. This painfully dull vanity project from Angelina Jolie-Pitt and her husband (I think his name is Barry or something?) tries to be a send up to 70s arthouse flicks but proves to be naval-gazing pointlessness. The Pitts showcase that their legendary chemistry is pretty much null and void on the set, and they fail to bring across a compelling narrative for depression or a damaged marriage. Combine that with a horribly insulting twist and you have one of this year’s biggest failings on artistic introspection. It may be beautiful to look at (serious props to cinematographer Christian Berger), but be wary that this picturesque picture will burn out your retinas.
(Note: This is taken on an extra layer of awkward hindsight now that they’ve separated. I jokingly said that that’s what they they get for making this film. I’m a wonderful human being)
- True Story
(Note: I can never get over how desperate this title is. IT’S A TRUE STORY, PLEASE TAKE US SERIOUSLY!!!!!!!)
Now here’s a compelling idea for a thriller-something akin to Silence of the Lambs meets Capote. Utterly wasted by a bizarre and terribly miscast James Franco. True Story tries to legitimise a bond between Franco’s Christian Longo, a man accused of murdering his family, and Jonah Hill’s Michael Finkel, a journalist whose identity Longo stole while on the run, but fails to find any common connection between the two. The comparisons to Capote are plentiful, and all they serve is to remind you that you could be watching a more competent film with this kind of theme and with much more compelling acting. Coupled with a plodding and predictable script and completely flat and passionless direction from Rupert Goold, this true story fails to garner any honesty.
How do you manage to take a concept about optimism and looking to the future and make it this painfully cynical? You take a popular actor and utterly miscast him, open your story with a framing device that only adds to bring annoyance and rob the film of any weight, take a bright and fun opening segment and fail to ever reach that sort of whimsy again, cobble it together with a clichéd villain whose motivations should be interesting but aren’t, and a writer that clearly has absolutely no idea how to make something rich and compelling without amping up the mystery factor and…that’s it, really. This film should be joyous, fun and exciting in the way that only Disney can provide. Instead it’s listless and terribly contrived, with an unsettling subplot involving George Clooney and a robot, and spending about 10 minutes in the titular Tomorrowland and thinking the audience would much prefer a dull runaround with a terribly realised cast. Brad Bird’s excellent direction sadly cannot save a movie whose promise of Tomorrowland cannot be fulfilled today.
I have never seen Amy Schumer’s show, but I’ve heard she is a very funny, raunchy and standout comedienne (Note: She can be, as sacrilege as it is to compliment Amy Schumer on the internet). None of this talent or energy are seen here. Outside of being a completely bog-standard comedy with nothing new to bring to the table, it’s coupled with lazy direction and incredibly forced attempts at humour. All the non-actors seem to give funnier performances, as the cast seem to be half asleep. It has mixed messages about how it portrays its lead, which makes its horrible attempts at emotional catharsis and conflict never really hit home. Also this thing needed a more stringent editor badly, as no way did it have to be as long as it is. This is Schumer’s script, so she clearly carries a lot of the blame as to why this supposed trendsetting and provocative comedic film is so bland and regressive, but one thing is for certain that Judd Apatow is not the kind of person that should be working on this, or anything that isn’t considered cutting edge of comedy in 2005.
This little known debut feature tries to tell a shocking and disturbing drama that fails to really be either. Outside of the naturalistic handheld cinematography completely taking you out of the moment, it fails to make the lead couple even remotely real and we spend most of the relatively brief runtime treated to creepy and stilted interactions with the couple and the man’s incredibly protective mother. I was almost willing to give the movie a pass as being a valiant first attempt, with some decent ideas and performances here and there, and then the ending hits you with how desperately it wants to provoke its audience. It fails at being anything other than ugly and try-hard, and here’s hoping that people don’t read artistry into this.
So here’s a movie bursting with imagination let down by a lot of things really. It’s hard to describe what exactly doesn’t work about it, but it seems to intercut its own ideas with baffling explanations and gaping plot holes. For example, the fact that they communicate in body language is deflated by them reaching an area with higher oxygen and having a lot of the communication given by the elders who can speak. It both asks to be taken seriously as a science fiction movie and then looked as an arthouse piece and never really manages to achieve either. It’s a shame, as the director is clearly wants to say a lot, but is let down by over-ambition and not having a budget to match this. It’s a confused, meandering mess that hopes its promise will make you ignore its execution.
I could make a snarky remark about how this regresses your intelligence, but this film is not worth even that stupid a joke.
There are certainly a lot of stories you can tell about the‘Satanic Panic’of the 80s and early 90s, but building your entire mystery around it fails to drag the audience in. Anybody with a cursory knowledge of the phenomenon knows where this is going, and those who don’t will be bored stiff because nothing happens until the last 10 minutes. Regression wastes its talented principle cast on a lifeless and ill thought out story and wastes our time and the protagonist’s on misleads and chasing smoke in order to hide the ending twist, which is backwards, tone deaf and unsatisfying. This is another film that fails to live up to its promise, and shows that sometimes the most interesting thing you can do with your story is not keep the only interesting angle you have with it until one of the last scenes.
- Buttercup Bill
Yet another psychosexual drama on the list, and this one has the added bonus of not being that visually interesting. This film seems to want to take the visual poetry and Americana sensibility of Terence Malick and marry it with the psychological intensity and nihilistic tone of Roman Polanski, and fails to reach either due to the film focusing on two characters and actors who bring nothing to this. It’s tonally deaf, with a meandering pace that never quite hooks you into these two’s story, leading to the teased mystery reveal to be utterly underwhelming. Plenty of films can get away with being light on plot and heavy on mystery, but like Regression this fails to get you hooked.
- The Woman in Black: the Angel of Death
While The Woman in Black was not a huge success, it did manage to make up for its lagging pace or limited characterisation by being perfectly atmospheric and deftly edited, standing out from other horror films. The sequel decided to take these elements away because apparently going backwards is the way to go for a follow up. Tacking on a tired World War II narrative to facilitate the plot and do an overdone simile, this follow up manages to soak out any of the creativity or sense of dread the original had. It’s the same dreadfully slow pacing and lacklustre characters (even moreso, as there’s less development and more of them), but now it’s not frightening, creative or moody. It’s a ghost story dead on arrival, as is using the war to try to scare us further.
- The Falling
Maisie Williams is an incredibly talented actress hopefully with a bright future ahead of her. While she certainly stands out as the only decent performance in this period drama about a fainting epidemic, that’s sadly all that can be said about it. It manages to be tiringly by-the-numbers while also being superbly overwitten, talking up the issues rather than exploring them. The dialogue is too clunky and flowery to feel like I’m watching a genuine story, not helped by how stock the characters feel. Overwrought ideas and trying way too hard to be profound, The Falling just utterly fails at being gripping and thought-provoking drama and succeeds at being tedious and irritating.
- No Escape
Sometimes it can be hard to sum up exactly what makes a movie not work. It could be something intricate in the writing, tone, presentation, structure, production, a philosophical mishandling or even a botched message. Thankfully, No Escape made this pretty easy for me-it’s just shit.
Owen Wilson could not be more miscast; he may seem out of place, but in no way that actually helps the story. Speaking of, they’re so quick to get this thing out of the way that the pacing doesn’t allow any sort of tension or suspense to build up, it just goes and never stops to make you care about any of it. It has some of the most laughably poor escape sequences and former James Bond Pierce Brosnan seems oddly unfit for action. The cultural supremacy is just gross and unsettling. Yes, the trailer misconstrued it, but it still doesn’t help that the only non-white characters given any sort of personality are comic relief and the whole premise is based on the ‘other-ness’ of a very Caucasian family going to Asian Town, Asia. This film is simple in its ineptitude, it’s an absolute mess, and the more we allow this culturally inappropriate shitheaps to make ten times their budget back, the more shitty out of touch movies Hollywood will continue to make.
- American Sniper
So, yes, ignoring the real life Chris Kyle and how they tend to glorify him in this, it’s still terrible. Bradley Cooper continues to make me wonder how this man was nominated for an Oscar three times in a row, not that this dull as hell stand-in for any patriotic American gives him anything to work with. The jingoistic patriotism is maddening, especially from a filmmaker usually more thoughtful than this. Similar to No Escape, this others the people of Iraq as just ‘the enemy’ and nothing more, completely demonising them and making them appear monstrous, except people actually think this portrayal is accurate. All of this, on top of the horrible cheapness of the production is what makes American Sniper just a flawed and misguided piece. It may have had a vocal following when it came out, which bordered on problematic, but now that the hype has died down, this work can be remembered for the utter failure that it is.
- Clouds of Sils Maria
Juliette Binoche is one of the most talented actresses working at the moment. Kristen Stewart, while not as talented, is very much underappreciated because she couldn’t make the blank slate that is Bella Swan compelling. These are two very talented women, in a script written for Binoche, and they have some very fine chemistry. So is there a reason why this stupid film just doesn’t work?
A meditation in how women have to pay the price for aging in Hollywood, Juliette Binoche plays an actress doing the version of a play that made her famous, but playing the older part while a younger woman plays the part she did all those years ago. An interesting idea that gets drops unceremoniously to mess around at a country house until the tail end. Her relationship with Stewart, who plays her assistant, is not interesting enough to carry the story, and it’s mostly just meaningless conversations that try to pad out the runtime and result in nothing. The word ‘pretentious’ has lost all meaning in film criticism, but it fits perfectly in this case: there is no merit in anything that occurs. An absolute waste of all the talent involved, and a waste of your time.
- The Face of an Angel
You know that whole ‘dropping the point’ thing that Clouds of Sils Maria does? Well, it’s an absolute meditative and well-focused masterpiece compared to this film.
So the story is centred in Italy and revolves around journalists and a documentary filmmaker going there to cover a murder case. The entire thing is an obvious facsimile to the Amanda Knox case, and its focus seems to be on the media circus surrounding the case and how instrumental it was to forming public opinion. An examination on that would have been amazing, as questions of media construction and how trails in the court of public opinion may not be the healthiest outlook certainly relate to this story. It even goes out of its way not to state whether the Knox stand-in is guilty or not.
It’s a shame then that it seems more interested in Daniel Bruhls character’s cocaine addiction and domestic issues, and his relationship with a woman who shows him the inner workings of the Italian town the case is taking place in.
Michael Winterbottom is an acclaimed filmmaker and this topic he’s focusing on here is nothing new for him, but its complete lack of direction and tepid, meandering storytelling just robs this premise of any nuance or introspection. From the slimy tabloid journalist to the finger-on-the-pulse Italian blogger, none of these characters feel authentic, and that wouldn’t even matter if they actually chose to focus on the plot. On top of that, the cinematography feels ugly, even in moments where it wouldn’t be appropriate like the ending and the daft dream sequence. Many of these films wasted great ideas, but this is one of the most apparent and frustrating. Hopefully down the road somebody can give this case, and this concept, the examination it deserves.
- Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse
You know, I’m not really surprised that this wasn’t exactly a masterpiece, but it fails on even being fun. It seems more focused on doing what other whacky genre comedies did like Shaun of the Dead rather than actually being its own thing. The cast are stock; Mud’s Ty Sheridan is particularly wasted on an incredibly loathsome ‘horndog’ character. A lot of the set-ups are weak gross-out gags or dumb attempts at jokes that either miss or are…really strange (the Britney Spears bit comes to mind). Also, not to belabour what’s a very juvenile ‘boyish’ comedy on its depiction of women, but its attitude towards relationships and what it means to be ‘empowered’ are a little awkward and tacked on. Not much to say about this one, it’s just a failure of a comedy and gives further fuel to the ‘too many zombies’ crowd (the anti-zombie zombies, if you will).
There is a lot you can say about Pixels and why it just doesn’t work. The horrible attempts at humour, further aggravated by the fact that Adam Sandler doesn’t even seem to care at this point. The entire commercialisation of a charming idea, from the tacked on product placement to the pop culture references that go from painful to bizarre. The incredibly strange and stupid plot with enough holes drive a bulldozer through. The awful waste of an extremely talented cast (I thought I’d hate breathing before I hated Peter Dinklage in anything, but here we are). How I cannot emphasise enough how irritating Josh Gad is, and do I need to go into how unsettling that subplot with the warrior game character ends is? And Kevin James is the President of the United States.
But you know what? It’s done. It was made. People gave it money so Sandler can continue appealing to the lowest common denominator and make shitty movies whereas the ones he actually makes an effort in go ignored. We can continue on hating Pixels, Sandler, and they probably deserve it. But here is a link to the original short (and I hope the guy was well compensated for selling the rights). It’s got more creativity, humour, style and substance in less than five minute than this two+ hour monstrosity has. Let us celebrate something creative and let the cash grabbing version of it in the dust while we wait to see how else Happy Madison will not attempt to make anything remotely salvageable.
Probably a controversial opinion, but the original National Lampoon’s Vacation I only found okay. Chevy Chase pretty much holds the entire thing up, but it’s rather dated, the jokes seem to miss more than hit, and the ‘forced family fun’ aspect they try to push doesn’t have as much impact as it should given to the fact that none of the other family members feel that well-defined. So it says a lot when I feel insulted for the legacy of a film I’m not too crazy about.
This is the textbook definition of painful. No joke works, not one made me crack a smile. I wanted Ed Helms and his irritating family to die at various points. It keeps making dark jokes involving the younger brother being borderline homicidal and a character being heavily implied to be a child abductor, and it doesn’t even register disgust, just irritation. It tries to be a continuation, soft reboot and remake of the original movie and fails on all fronts, made further insulting by Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo cameoing near the end. None of the modernisations help makes it feel fresh, none of the lampshading helps soften the blow, it’s just an annoyance all the way through. Here’s hoping this cast doesn’t do Christmas Vacation, or things are really going to go south for this clearly dried up franchise.
While plenty of movies this year have failed to live up to the promise of great premises (try saying that ten times fast), here’s one with a great framing device. Told entirely from the POV of the protagonist, we follow her story as she interacts with her friends through her laptop screen. We see her open and close tabs, switch out (affordable) song choices on iTunes, browse the web and write messages she sends people on private chat and Facebook. The horror element comes when a random user in their Skype conversation decides to attack them through their online activity.
It’s a shame then that this great idea is wasted on such a horribly written, produced and acted mess. A lot of the sound effects and software functions don’t actually line up to how they work in real life and destroy any immersion this premise has. Worst still are the characters; they are all stock and incredibly unlikeable. Any motivation you could have for following these people is not there, not even the satisfaction of seeing them die.
There is a great movie to be made out of this idea, and hopefully this won’t be the last to implement it, but if this proves anything, it’s that any clever idea to suck an audience into a story can be turned to shit in the right hands.
- The Gambler
Mark Wahlberg plays a literature professor. Need I say more?
In all seriousness, The Gambler is a perfect sway to try to modernise a classic movie and remove any kind of intrigue or relevance it had. A terribly paced story with a boring and unsympathetic lead, the entire experience is peppered with everybody trying their best not to care. The one exception of this being Jessica Lange, whose amazing performance adds further insult to injury that nobody else decided to even attempt to reach her level.
Coupling this with poor direction, a non-existence sense of urgency or pace, an incredibly weak and awkward romance subplot with Wahlberg and his student (Brie Larsen), and a script full of every boring gambling clichés you could find, you have one of the weakest and pitiable entries into the cinematic oeuvre all year. Not much to say about this one, it wears its ineptitude on its sleeve.
- The Boy Next Door
Jennifer Lopez plays a high school English teacher. Need I say more? Wait…
So this thing feels like a Lifetime movie taken way too seriously. An absolutely atrocious script with no real understanding of how human beings act at all, coupled with actors and direction that seem to be on the same wavelength of the scriptwriter. Jennifer Lopez’ character seems both demonised and coddled for her actions, her character just has the oddest sense of motivations, and a ton of contrivances are put in place to get her to sleep with somebody much younger than her which seem wholly unnecessary.
And then we move onto the actual ridiculousness of the ‘thriller’ part in this erotic(less) thriller. The switch in Ryan Guzman’s character after Lopez sleeps with him is beyond ridiculous, and he’s so freaking terrible that it makes everything he does laughable instead of scary. This would honestly be okay if most of the film wasn’t just so terribly dull; the flat direction and characters not exactly devolving into farcical actions (Guzman notwithstanding) makes the events feel lacklustre instead of entertaining. The Boy Next Door is a snorefest, and even one entertainingly awful character is enough to salvage it as trashy fun.
- Lost River
Ryan Gosling’s debut feature that rather infamously got booed at Cannes Film Festival. And yeah, too good for it.
It’s a confused and meandering little arthouse piece in the style of Malick, Lynch and even Gosling’s contemporary and former collaborator Nicolas Winding Refn. However, the entire enterprise completely lacks of sense of uniqueness or a strong leading voice, and the results is a tedious runaround in a bizarre plot without anything profound or interesting to give.
The direction is sadly amateurish and proves that young Gosling has a lot to learn about this craft. His who’s-who of actor buddies are serviceable, but don’t have a lot to work with and their strengths seem to come more from their own talent. The exception being Matt Smith’s Bully, who is so embarrassingly bad in this that it leaves you in this stringent state of discomfort whenever he’s onscreen.
This feels more like a misfire than an outright indication that Ryan Gosling should quit while he’s ahead. He’s clearly got a vision and he could have a great film within him. However, that doesn’t save this over-ambitious clusterfuck of a movie. Let it be booed away as the failure that it is.
- 50 Shades of Grey
The movie adaptation of the global phenomenon (that later became the world’s most abandoned book) lives up to the book’s reputation and more. Or less as the case may be.
Gone is the general trashiness and hilarity of the novel, and replaced with this dry, try hard ‘romance’ drama that tries to class up and take a very silly and poorly written story with a great degree of seriousness. All this tends to do is make the questionable and disturbing ways Christian Grey treats Anastasia Steele more to light, and you will go from tittering at how terribly written and strange everything is and pretty damn offended and annoyed by what is being presented as a legitimate BDSM relationship.
The actors have absolutely zero chemistry together. I’ve seen planks of balsa wood that want to have sex with each other more than these people. Jamie Dornan is barely passable given how awful his role is, but Dakota Johnson is just extremely miscast and looks pretty uncomfortable about the entire situation. Everything about this film is dry and pedestrian, leaving its creepier and more disturbing undercurrent become all the more apparent (here is a video that compares Christian Grey’s ‘persuasions’ to cult indoctrination). There is absolutely no enjoyment to be gotten out of this terrible adaptation of a terrible book.
Kevin Smith, a maverick director in the 90s, further proves to be a flash-in-the-pan filmmaker with every post-Askewniverse film he makes, hence him constantly returning to that well. I would say Tusk is his worst movie, but that would imply I watched Jersey Girl and Cop Out all the way through, so the jury’s still out.
This strange and toneless body horror comedy fails to be anything substantive outside of stupid Canadian jokes. Justin Long’s obnoxiously loathsome lead is so terrible that not even the joy of seeing him being turned into a walrus is enough to keep you invested all the way through, not helped that the rest of the cast are kept mostly to the side. The exception being Michael Parks, who is the only saving grace of this mess.
Combining all this with some truly awful effects and flat, ugly cinematography and the entire thing is pretty hard to watch. Then in comes Johnny Depp to make the transition to unwatchable. This is one of the most embarrassing performances I have seen in a movie in 2015, to the point where words cannot do it justice. Just imagine the most ridiculous Depp has been in any part he’s played and multiply that by 150.
Depp’s part is there to set up the next movie in Smith’s ‘North’ trilogy, including having the two men’s daughters in a scene. If Tusk is anything to go by, the rest of the trilogy is better to be skipped.
- Absolutely Anything
With the reunion of the surviving members of Monty Python on the big screen for the first time in 30 years, along with this being the final credited role of Robin Williams before his passing in 2014, you’d think that Absolutely Anything would be something special. That it’s this bad makes it hurt all the more.
Outside of how miscast Williams feels, the entire process has this feeling of ‘been there, done that’. None of the jokes hit, the premise itself feels overdone, the effects on the aliens is laughably terrible and the Pythons themselves are given nothing funny to say or do in this awkward and stilted script. The characters aren’t even annoying or unlikeable-they just barely register as anything. The complete detachment from anything entertaining or compelling makes you wonder if anybody in the crew really cared about this film doing well. It’s just a by-the-numbers outing with no sense of passion or comedic wit.
It’s a poor reunion of the Pythons, a woeful final performance from Williams, another disastrous comedic vehicle for Simon Pegg, and indication that Terry Jones, his first movie in nearly two decades, just doesn’t have it like he used to. They could do absolutely anything and handed us crap.
(Note: This film took on an extra level of depressing as this is likely the final movie Terry Jones ever makes [sans an economical documentary he made with his son] as it was revealed he is suffering from dementia)
- Saving Christmas
This film caused some buzz last year simply because of how awful it is, plus its star Kirk Cameron starting a (failed) campaign to get its Rotten Tomatoes score up. Having now seen the film, that RT rating was a bit too fair.
There’s a massive undercurrent of cynicism with this propaganda piece. Instead of going against people who ‘try to take the Christ out of Christmas’, it wants to fight against Christians who are sick of the commercialisation of the holidays. They’re not being Christmassy enough I guess. This seems to be built to celebrate buying stuff and keeping on tacky traditions, and how those doubters are doing Jesus a disservice by not fully embracing this fake sense of celebrations and social pressuring by seeing it in however they wish to. It’s like Kirk was paid to get people to buy crap.
Ignoring all this, it’s just a terribly made movie in its own right. It’s cheap looking, horribly paced, and so painfully padded that getting it down to the meat would make it about 10 minutes long; a lot of this is clearly there to justify feature length. The ‘meat’ takes place almost entirely in a car, cutting away to fantasy scenarios where Kirk ‘defends’ modern Christmas tropes and tries to place them in the canon of the Bible and history of Christendom. These scenes are terribly arranged, as there are a lot of long and painful pauses that could have been easily cut out, and Kirk’s ‘yay Christmas trees!’ speeches are enough to make you want to boycott the holiday every December. Also there’s a scene where a Lord of the Rings-style Santa beats the shit out of somebody to a dubstep track. Yeah…
Celebrate Christmas however you want, and be sick of how soullessly commercial it’s all become if you so wish. Just don’t listen to this misguided, terribly produced propaganda shit centered on a guy who lost any sense of self-awareness years ago. One to avoid like awkward conversations with relatives around the season.
This is my first interaction with one Tarsem Singh, director of pretty films that don’t mean anything. Hopefully, this is my last for a while.
This insufferably terrible sci-fi film takes whatever interesting ideas it could potentially take from the premise (of wealthy older people ‘buying’ new bodies) and takes every goddamn predictable route you could take with it. Every move in this poorly thought out and lifeless script is telegraphed so badly, you’re amazed the director doesn’t come on screen and go ‘THIS IS WHERE THIS IS GOING!!!!’.
On top of the plot taking too simple a route, everything about the movie looks tacky. There are some decent shots, but most of it is let down by gaudy production values that are as unsubtle as possible (HIS HOUSE IS GOLD BECAUSE HE IS RICH AND THEREFORE UNCARING!!!!!!), and the lab facility at the end is laughable. Even with the attempts at lavish setting, one wonders where its 26 million actually went. Also Ryan Reynolds kills a man by slamming his head into a toilet and breaking it. This doesn’t really fit with what I was saying here, I just thought I should mention it.
It’s a science fiction movie that goes out of its way to be unremarkable and unfulfilling. Terrible script, a bored cast who all feel wrong for their parts, awful set designs, lighting so bog-standard it looks more like a shampoo commercial than a film, and a crazily average director who has no idea what he is doing with any of these elements he has to play with. Here’s hoping that Tarsem Singh can either learn how to develop and implement a great premise in the future, or just stop working in movies.
Even seeing this pretty early on in the year, I thought it would be my worst movie of 2015.
Everything about this movie is emblematic of various trends in Hollywood just crashing together and creating a beautiful mess of shit. A huge cast of named actors to try to get people in seats, an adaptation of a popular novel AND a revival of a classic story, a unbearably bright and cheery tone, a clear attempt at getting a franchise off the ground and an actor’s attempt to get back into the good graces of the public after several critical failings, and none of this works at all. The direction by frequent scriptwriter David Koepp is annoyingly over the top and fails to capture any sense of adventure of fun. The plot is a complete shambles, and you’ll be hard pressed to remember anything that really happens in the film, even while you’re watching it. Johnny Depp manages to compete with…Johnny Depp as the worst performance of this year, the difference being he’s in this a lot more. He has absolutely zero chemistry with Gwenyth Paltrow, who stands around daydreaming about what to have for dinner that night. Its camera work is annoying, its effects are annoying, its characters are annoying, its score is annoying, everything in it is annoying. It’s the cinematic equivalent of nails on a chalkboard, and if I never think of this wretched, obnoxious disaster again, it’ll be too freaking soon! The worst film of 2015, and one of the worst films I have ever seen, let it rot in a certain part of cinematic hell where it deserves to stay.
Best Films of 2015
2015 was quite a fascinating year for film. While the mainstream and highly marketed hits were mostly average or forgettable, the really interesting stuff in the movies were more off the beaten track. There were some highly creative and experimental films released, with the usual great thoughtful character pieces or even fun run
I really wanted to check out Victoria and Dheepan, but missed them (Note: Saw both. Dheepan is fucking great even if the ending kind of lost me, Victoria was more impressive for its techical aspects than its story, but I still enjoyed it highly). Some films I saw this year that I loved were Mr. Turner, Winter Sleep, What We Do in the Shadows and A Doctor’s Sword, but they technically came out in 2014 so they don’t count. I only mention them because you should check ‘em out.
Addendum 1: Cut a little-don’t mind some of the points I made, and my recommendations.
Addendum 2: Unfortunately, I discovered recently that Whiplash did play in Ireland in 2014 and, in accordance with my rules, is no longer eligible for this list. Of course, Whiplash is amazing and I actually think I had it down too low anyway, so please check it out if you already haven’t. Highly, Highly recommended.
Addendum 3: Five movies have been moved on the list, and will be noted as such.
And, as always, some honorary mentions before moving onto the main list:
Call Me Lucky, Crimson Peak, The Duke of Burgundy, Ex Machina, The Gift, John Wick, Joy Kevin, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, The Lobster, Love and Mercy, The Martian, Mia Madre, My Love Don’t Cross that River, Song of the Sea, Spring, Theeb, The Theory of Everything, Toto and his Sisters, The Wanted 18, White God, Wild Tales
27. The Salt of the Earth
This powerful documentary looks at the life and work of Brazilian photographer Sebatiao Salgado. His career has spanned over four decades, and he has taken photos all over the world. His work tends to be pretty political in nature, and while that does seep into the film, it keeps the story focused and trust its viewers to take in the horror of the places and events he has captured.
Director Wim Wenders is a legend, and one I’m sad to say I haven’t seen a lot of despite him making one of my favourite movies. He is on top form here, giving everything a heavy sense of majesty while never losing a sense of intimacy. It was also co-directed by Sebastio’s son Juliano Riberio Salgado, and while the parts he focuses on are noticeable, they blend well together and offer a familiarity to the subject we may not have otherwise gotten.
Despite it being about the horrors and inhumanity that this photographer tends to capture, it has a legitimate sense of optimism and belief in the human spirit. Without giving too much away, Salgado’s accomplishments are amazing and he’s truly an inspirational figure. While it can drag in places, and the repetition of seeing reels of Salgado’s work can get tiresome, this truly is a special film. It’s a rare documentary focusing on the world’s ills that doesn’t leave you feeling numb or defeated, as well as an excellent character piece on a remarkable man.
26. Goodnight Mommy
This Austrian horror movie is definitely one of the most uncomfortable watches of the year. The plot focuses on two brothers who begin to get concerned about their mother, just out of hospital for facial reconstruction surgery, and whose behaviour is quite erratic. To say anything else would spoil some of the amazing and frightening events the film has to offer, but believe me when I say that it has some of the best build-up and pay off. Everything is intense and extremely uneasy, helped by some excellent cinematography and tight, careful direction.
While they do dip into ridiculous and contrived territory near the end, and some of the acting from the two boys (who otherwise do an excellent job) can be slightly off, this is one of those beautifully rare horrors that plays on your expectations and densely unnerving atmosphere rather than ‘Boo!’ scares and gratuitous gore (though they aren’t afraid to get gory). It’s an extremely nihilistic story that will make you afraid for humanity.
25. Back Home (Acasa la tata)
Taking place all over one day, this heavy drama focuses on a man forced to come back to his hated hometown and reunite with old faces he hasn’t seen in years. Probably the strongest thing about this movie is that everything feels so natural: the script is so interwoven and carefully planned out that all the conversations feel layered with history and a sense of connectivity. It truly buys that ‘fish out of water’ idea of somebody coming home after a long time. The cast are amazing too, feeling authentic and comfortable in their roles.
What compels you to watch to the end is just how awkward everything is. It certainly makes you question life’s purpose and how people can change as they get older and life makes them harder and more jaded. It’s an honest but also quite funny portrait of a man completely lost in his own childhood home. Carrying the film is wonderful direction from Andrei Cohn; it’s great just how consistent the timeline is, and the bleak shooting and static moments throughout truly give a sense of isolation and disconnect. Not a lot of people are talking about this one, or likely even heard about it, but it’s great and worth checking out if you like taut, depressingly realistic outlooks into how unsatisfying day-to-day life can be, and how you sometimes cannot escape this monotony even if you’ve convinced yourself you have.
From an all-too-ordinary scenario to one that’s far from it.
There have been some surprisingly great Westerns out this year considering how difficult it is to stand out in the oft-done genre. While people have been praising the more traditional and incredibly well made Slow West, this one just captured my imagination more with its unique pacing and surreal sense of wonderment.
It stars Viggo Mortensen as an army captain who has to find his young daughter through a strange desert after she ran off with a soldier. Most of the story just follows Mortensen through this treacherous terrain filled with dangerous people as he desperately tries to rescue his daughter from harm. It’s deliberately sluggish and agonisingly slow, but it’s done to play off a sense of isolation and dread as anything could attack our lead, including the inevitable fatigue of his possibly fruitless quest. This is until the final act, however, where the story takes a turn into the surreal and unexplained. The ending is fascinating as it is frustrating, and will leave you pondering until long after the credits roll.
Combined with some wonderfully restrained performances, beautifully sharp and harsh cinematography, an offbeat sense of humour in parts and a hauntingly beautiful score, Jauja is one to be remembered and looked into for years to come. It has the makings of a staple for those who love challenging and cerebral cinema, and has probably the best single shot in any film I’ve seen all year. It may be hard to breach, but its well worth the journey.
Where Jauja hides its eccentricities from the surface, Crumbs bathes in them.
One of the most original and creative sci-fi movies in years, especially on a budget it has, Crumbs looks at a world devastated by war and has society completely focused on a strange spacecraft in the sky. Our hero seeks out Santa Claus in order to try to figure out how to go onto the ship, believing himself to be an alien that once inhabited it. He lives in a bowling alley with his beautiful girlfriend, and routinely barters items with a local merchant.
It’s a film that is both bizarre yet utterly in tune with our obsession with commodities and pop culture, bringing these to their natural conclusion as only sci-fi can. The ways they organise modern day figures and products into religious idolatries and coveted items is hilarious, but is quite reflective on what history has made of our own relics, except that these will be more preserved thanks to their plastic textures and sturdier quality.
Outside of it being an intelligent and biting commentary, it’s a wonderfully realised world. The cinematography is stunning and the characters are all likable and fully realised. What brings it down is the plot, which is pretty meandering and not well thought out, though the story does have a fairytale-like quality to it. Whether you want to watch a crazy sci-fi flick, a metatextual commentary on man’s consumerism and the futility of idolisation, or just a funny little wander in a strange dystopian future, Crumbs has a lot to offer, and is a unique little Ethiopian venture.
22. The One I Love
(Note: Moved from 16)
This movie has one of the most ingenious and well-executed set ups I have ever seen. I just kind of want to leave it at that, just go check it out yourself and see if it works for you. All I’ll say about the plot is that Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss play a long-term couple who go to a getaway cabin in order to fix their relationship issues. They soon find out that it’s not all what it seems.
This movie kind of reminds me of The Gift (another great film this year just barely missing this list) in terms of tone. It’s a seemingly normal situation, but it has this sense of awkward discomfort that only becomes more apparent as the film goes on. What really sets The One I Love apart, however, is how perfectly the reveal offsets the characters’ arcs and really informs their story. It’s clever and twisted, and will always keep you guessing as you’re going along.
Aside from that, the performances are great. Duplass and Moss bring a lot to pretty challenging roles and their subtle nuances really help sell the story. It’s got perfect pacing, taking great use of its 91 minute run time to really delve into the complexities of this story without feeling like information overload. It’s got a great, isolated setting, the writing is just incredibly revealing all around and the tension keeps on racking up before its manic climax. It’s a hidden gem I mostly found out of a recommendation, and is well worth checking out what the real issues relationships can face.
21. Inherent Vice
(Note: Moved from 15)
This was a polarising one. This is anecdotal, but a lot of people I know really didn’t like this film. Self-satisfied as it is for me to say this, but I really don’t think people appreciate how clever and subversive this movie is.
Based on the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name, Inherent Vice is a story based entirely around incompetence and anti-climax. The reason the story seems so complex and spread out is because nobody really seems to know what is going on, particularly Juaquin Phoenix’ detective character Larry “Doc” Sportello. At one point, he just seems as strung along for the ride as the rest of us are, only really motivated to help his ex-girlfriend and figure out what the hell is going on.
From there, it’s insane, drug-fueled, mullet-haired craziness with the kind of panache and loving tribute that only Paul Thomas Anderson can really pull off. Doc is just a really entertaining character; as competent as he is pathetic, he has the odd mannerisms and jerky reactions we expect from this stoner PI the second we meet him. Juaquin Phoenix just envelopes himself in the role, matched only by Josh Brolin’s Detective “Bigfoot” Bjornsen as the stringent, uptight officer hot on Doc’s trail.
The 70s glint is fully embraced, landing viewers into this madcap, almost dreamlike faux-noir tale of backstabbing, set-ups, drug busts, manipulations, occultisms, crazy car rides, and everything you’d expect from a stoner comedy disguising itself as a detective noir. It’s hilarious and seriously clever, with some excellent filmmaking from a master, as well as a wonderful cast who seem as lost as we are. It’s convoluted, somewhat pointless and deliberately underwhelming narrative may not rub people the right way, but this inherent vice still holds up despite the strange and unstable threads holding it together.
20. The Wolfpack
This incredibly immersive documentary focuses on a family of seven children who were confined to a New York apartment by their father and act out scenes from their favourite movies as an outlet. It’s a treat for film fans out there, as the kids’ ingenuity in props and fiery enthusiasm can resonate with a lot of people who have done this or wanted to. Besides that, it’s a pretty harrowing story about trying to break free and the crippling effects of forced isolation. None of the family members are portrayed in a positive or negative way-it just follows them for five years as they slowly try to explore the world outside of their apartment. The direction is excellent, with the passage of time clearly marked by improved equipment and how many family members are willing to participate in it (even the father starts giving interviews eventually). It’s a wonderful example of low-budget filmmaking.
While there have been questions about the ethics of the film, particularly when it comes to the father’s mental state and how young the children were when filming started, it’s an honest and quite provocative story that gives a rather uncomfortable picture of how people can live in this rather unhealthy conditions. Whether that makes up for what could or could not be moral issues in how the story was told and filmed is a call you make yourself, but I thought it was great and well worth checking out. It’s a powerful movie about the power of movies.
19. Turbo Kid
(Note: Moved from 18)
This one is just a blast, it’s balls to the wall 80s fun.
There was massive hype toward the trailer for Kung Fury, a glorious takedown of 80s action tropes. And while that short is certainly fun, it feels more like a scornful derision of 80s films. This is a freaking love letter. It gets everything that makes a movie from that decade down: practical effects, lighting, cinematography, score, excessive but not gratuitous violence, and a crazy plot about dystopian future.
While it’s 80s to the extreme, what it also remembers to be is a really good story. It’s well paced and has a lot of heart to it. The two leads are well-acted and very likable; you don’t just watch this for a throwback, you genuinely want to see them pull through. On top of that, the villains are suitably menacing and incredibly bad-ass. Michael Ironside is always a treat, and here he’s loving the hell out of playing the main antagonist.
Turbo Kid has everything you want in a successful throwback: fun and funny, while also remembering to be sweet and driven by story rather than nostalgia. It’s oozing with charm and everything you could want from an 80s flick and just a flick in general.
Amy Winehouse is a figure of great significance and reverence even over four years after her tragic demise at 27. This movie takes a rather revealing look at the soulful and troubled artist to paint the portrait of a woman with a lot of passion and zest for life that was destroyed by her own success.
This is from the same director of the excellent Senna, Asif Kapadia, and his use of interview dialogue over archived footage is fantastic. It truly puts the audience in this reminiscent state as if we’re experiencing the memories with the people who knew Amy. This along with his splicing said archived footage with personal and home videos really creates a fascinating timeline of who this woman was from the eyes of the public and those who loved her. It carefully shows her succumbing to the pressures of fame and drug addiction, painting both a hardworking and damaged human being that the press often ignored.
I only have a few minor complaints about the movie. Some of the editing in one scene was choppy and took me out of the moment, plus some of the transitions could have gone a little smoother. Outside of this, however, this is a beautifully realised portrayal of a woman who was funny, heartfelt, talented, soulful catty, flawed, famous and human.
17. The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Isao Takahata is one of the unsung heroes of Studio Ghibli. While a lot of well-deserved attention is paid to his contemporary Hayao Miyazaki, Takahata has a skill for storytelling and emotion that Miyazaki cannot reach. This is Takahata’s latest movie, and it’s absolutely spell-binding. Adapting an ancient Japanese folk tale, it adds a lot of heart and humanity to the original story. Kaguya herself is a wonderfully realised character-adoring the natural beauty of the world, but resentful of the place enforced on her by her father. At the same time, he’s not portrayed as wholly in the wrong, clearly doing what he thinks is best for his daughter.
It’s hard to talk much about this film that spoils the experience, so believe me when I say it’s a treat. The animation is absolutely spellbinding-very downbeat and muted, but expressive and bright in its own unique way. There’s a moment where the style changes, and it’s one of the most visually perfect representations of confusion and frustration I have ever seen in animation. It’s a gorgeously told movie, magical and emotionally driven. It manages to pay tribute to its classic origins while being an accessible telling all on its own. Be sure to sit down and hear this masterfully realised tale of the Bamboo Cutter.
16. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
There have been a lot of great movies out this year directed by women about women. What I really appreciate about this one is that it keeps its more feminist leanings to the side; you can enjoy it as a critique about a woman’s place in a male-dominated society and how pushing all men into that one category is not the healthiest or smartest attitude, or you can just enjoy it as an atmospheric little vampire movie.
Described as ‘An Iranian Vampire Spaghetti Western’, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is the feature debut of Iranian-American filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour. Despite being shot in California, the film is in Persian and immerses itself in its depraved modern world of people using people and looking for the best possible way to find happiness.
It’s beautifully directed; every shot is perfectly thought out and all the sequences work brilliantly. The tone is pitch perfect, having subtle moments of comedy and levity that work really well with the starkness, it thankfully never takes itself too seriously. The acting is fantastic, particularly from the two leads. They play two people desperately wanting to escape their darkened world in the best way they know how. But what really makes this movie is the soundtrack. It has the best soundtrack I have heard all year, and every track works perfectly to every scene it’s used. The scene in the bedroom is one of the most magnetic and powerful scenes in any film I’ve seen.
It’s a great debut and I look forward to seeing more of Amirpour’s work. You may be sick of vampire films at this stage, but I urge you to check this one out, it completely embraces its own unique nature.
(Note: Moved from 19)
If you need any proof that anybody can make a great film nowadays, here it is.
This downbeat comedy-drama focuses on two trans women prostitutes as one finds out from the other that her drug dealing boyfriend cheated on her while she was in prison, and goes to confront him about it. The entire production was made essentially guerrilla-style, shot all around Los Angeles on an iPhone. The fact that it looks this good is impressive, but it has some absolutely gorgeous shots I’m amazed they got on the equipment they shot with. Some major props goes to the cinematography on display, and it shows a clear talent in framing and blocking. Setting up some of these angles and scenes could not have been easy.
Not only is it hilarious and quickly paced, but it tackles issues of transphobia, prostitution and the dangers of inner-city living, while also showing the struggles of people trying to break away and make something better for themselves (the LA setting is very appropriate). Until the final scene, most of this is not brought up on the surface, and the film has a fun and pretty frantic build-up, leading to a climax I will not dare ruin here. The leads, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, are both trans women and give fantastically layered performances. This is both their first major roles and I hope to see more from them in the future.
This is a shining example in progressive filmmaking, both technically and socially, and is one of the most important to come out all year. Thankfully, it’s hilarious and very entertaining without being too heavy, so it’s a blast to watch.
- Hard to be a God
I’ll be honest, this movie may be higher if I had more time to think about it. (Note: Clearly not, but it’s still great!)
This is probably one of the best made, best realised, and best executed movie to come out this year. If you thought Inherent Vice was narratively impenetrable, however, give this one a skip. This may seem like a weird recommendation for a film I apparently love, but trust me when I say when you’re in the right mood for this film, it’s a goddamn experience.
This incredibly clever science fiction piece is based on a novel from the 60s where a scientist goes to an alternate universe where the Medieval Age never ended and enlightened or progressive thinkers are executed. He is disguised as a lord and has to help them progress without outwardly interfering with their world. It was the final film by Russian filmmaker Aleksei German, who is a legend in his country despite having very few films under his belt despite working since the 60a. If this one is anything to go by, I need to look into the late man’s work.
What really makes this is the immersion; you feel every squelch in the mud, you almost smell the filth and decay. Huge props goes to the production and sound editing, it’s damn near perfect. Outside of that, it’s an intelligent and probing story about watching the folly of mankind and being powerless to stop it. What would you do if you were in this situation? How hard is it to be a god?
I’m not saying too much about it, and its 3-hour running time may be another turn off, but It’s well worth it for those who have the patience for its grander ideas. The camera work is sweeping and really encompasses the surroundings. Its premise is brilliant and says a lot of uncomfortable things about humanity and our frustrated passivity as the world (figuratively) burns. It’s also one of the best realised ‘alternate’ worlds I’ve ever seen, perfectly capturing what it would be like if the Medieval period of our history never ended. It’s grossly beautiful and I highly recommend you go check out for something different and quietly powerful.
- Mad Max: Fury Road
What a flick, what a lovely flick!
It’s not exactly hard to see why Fury Road got such a massively positive reception when it was released. It was initially just seen as a cynical cash grab of another popular 80s franchise, but returning series director George Miller helped this be a much smarter creation.
Similar to Road Warrior, he attached a social message prevalent in the modern day cultural vernacular, and managed to underplay that by giving us a kick ass action movie that’s perfectly designed, paced, framed, and (apologies for the pun) executed.
Tom Hardy is great in the role. He really knows how to play up that quiet intensity of Max while never feeling like he’s aping Mel Gibson’s portrayal. Who really steals the show, however, is Charlize Theron as Furiosa. She’s driven, hot-headed, tactical, quick-witted, single-minded and very broken, but she rises above that to be a true heroine in her own rights. She’s one of the best female characters to be put onscreen, and I hope to see her in future installments.
I mean, what else can I say to the three people who haven’t seen it, and the even less people who loved it? This is how you make a summer blockbuster: subtly political, constantly action-packed, great characters, wonderfully creepy villain, never letting up and always keeping you engaged all the way through. It’s a lovely ride down the fury road.
So Love may be the most flawed movies on my list. Inasmuch as it’s got some odd performances due to the actors being inexperienced and the dialogue being mostly improvised. You can see the little quirks and foibles that these decisions make. However, this is all deliberate, as Love is also one of the most honest movies on my list.
Love is an exploration of Gaspar Noé himself through the lens of 70s sexualised psychodramas. Similar to last year’s also flawed Nymphomaniac, though it’s not as self-indulgent and this one seems to focus on the director himself rather than just his work. It’s a melancholy, direct and haunting piece, similar to his previous works, but this one just feels so much more raw and personal. Like he put a part of himself onscreen, and no, I’m not referring to *that* scene.
Even without the subtler metatextual commentary, it’s a great exploration into the power of sexual desire and exploration, and how somebody can be led by it. Our lead, Michael, is a very selfish and pretty despicable protagonist (again, not new material for the director), but his feelings and thought process feel very human and well rounded. Our female leads are similarly well developed, particularly Electra, and the actors do have a decent amount of chemistry despite being unknowns.
This film may not win everyone over, but it’s emotionally and sexually charged, intelligently subtle and a fascinating insight for anybody who is a fan of the polarising director. It’s bare bones and in your face both psychologically and with its sexual content.
11. Taxi Tehran
(Note: Moved from 6)
Jafar Panahi is an Iranian filmmaker who was arrested for crimes against the state and given a 20-year ban on filmmaking. It’s lucky for all of us, then, that Jafar Panahi doesn’t exactly see eye-to-eye with the terms of his sentence.
This is the third film the politically-charged artist has made since this ban and he frames the way he gets around this as part of the story. You see, Panahi plays…himself, as a taxi driver, driving around Tehran while everything is shot with the security camera our ‘driver’ liberally spins around to get more of our surroundings. It is a middle finger in just the best way, as it also provides us with one of the most astute and carefully thought out takedowns on government censorship and the social issues of the country, while also critiquing narrative and the ways a film can be made. Par for the course for this daring and brilliant auteur.
My hero worship of this man aside, it’s a wonderful runaround that looks at gender, religion, film fanaticism, morality, pretty much whatever problem Panahi finds in his taxi. The docudrama aspects are extremely well-implemented as it constantly plays on your expectations and what exactly is ‘real’ in the world of the movie, if any of it even is. Props to the blocking as well, as there is a lot of kinetic movement without it ever feeling overloaded.
This is political filmmaking as its most daring and intelligent; defying a harsh ruling while also being a profound and multi-layered work all on its own. Everything’s framed carefully, the actors feel both authentic and fake depending on what our maestro wants to emit. It’s a great dichotomy of the art and on how it is controlled by certain forces, and I urge you to watch it if you have any wonder how film can be revolutionary.
10. The Witch
Goddamn, this is an amazing debut feature! One of the creepiest, most unnerving and most mentally exhausting horror film I’ve seen all year, everything about The Witch feels natural. From its less flashy cinematography to most impressively its amazing dialogue. The script was based on writings from the 17th century time period the movie is set in (around the Salem Witch Trials) and that little extra effort really sells its authenticity. It’s not just a period piece where people speak ‘old timey’, they really sound like they’re from the period.
On top of that, it’s a powerful and quite scary examination on the impact of religion and how it tears down this family and reinforces their actions in the worst way possible. The cast are incredible, particularly newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy who has to carry a lot as the focus of the story and does so admirably. Special mentions goes to the fantastic performance by Harvey Scrimshaw, and you’ll see why once you watch it.
Not much else to say on this. It’s a beautifully realised period horror piece with some great effects and even greater dialogue. Allow it to transport you back to the puritan times of old and be ready to be afraid of every little oddity it has to offer.
9. Cobain: Montage of Heck
It has been a great year for musician documentaries, and this one was my favourite. Rather than obsess over Cobain’s death (in fact it never explicitly goes into it), it instead chooses to focus on Cobain’s life, what made him him and a well-rounded insight into a fascinating life.
There’s a great sense of intimacy here. Outside of some really personable and honest interviews about the man, there are a lot of his private notes and drawings found and even animated. Whoever did the animation for the longer, more detailed segments honestly deserves an award. They are moody and stunning to watch. The story Cobain tells about an encounter with a disabled girl will stay with you.
This documentary has garnered a lot of controversy and suspicion on its authenticity (particularly Courtney Love’s involvement), and I can’t imagine you’ll learn anything more about Cobain’s life from it. They tend to focus more on an emotional/psychological outlook than a purely analytical fact-based one. I’d say give it a chance and draw your own conclusions, because there are points in it that aren’t as black and white as people are claiming they are. It’s a lyrical, beautiful portrait of a man who was the figurehead of a generation.
Sometimes the best way to break down damaging racial stereotypes and modern day ghetto problems is to have a laugh about it.
While this may sound insensitive or overbearing, Dope plays this smart by having its political nature mostly stand in the background and tell a hilarious tale. A tribute to 90s urban films while being a great one itself, it follows three nerds as they inadvertently become involved in a drug deal due to a series of mishaps.
It’s a coming-of-age tale primarily focused on Malcolm, played by Shameik Moore, one of the breakout stars of the year as far as I’m concerned. Most of its humour comes from characters’ wry and hilarious observations, and it constantly remains witty and fun with some excellent delivery and timing.
Not to mention its great pop culture savviness and use of modern day ephemera that does not feel forced. These guys aren’t just comic book/computer geeks, they’re 90s hip hop geeks and that’s a really cool way of showing how ‘geekiness’ has expanded well beyond its former limiting nature in our culture. Every character feels nuanced and human, there are no stock clichés. This movie set the template of how I will judge modern day comedies, even ignoring its more serious themes and elements.
When it comes to the climax of this film, it doesn’t pull punches and delivers one of my favourite speeches of the year. Dope stands out at being a subtle and excellently thoughtful film about breaking down societal expectations and playing the system to come out on top. It’s not afraid to be dark, and it’s definitely not afraid to be funny. Also, the soundtrack kicks ass.
7. Inside Out
After being the champions of animation for over a decade, Pixar took a bit of a slump in terms of quality. While their later release, The Good Dinosaur, may indicate it’s not exactly out of the doghouse, Inside Out is a true return to form and one of their best movies overall.
The premise is incredibly innovative (note: NOT original, before I hear a murmur of ‘Herman’s Head’) and can be taken into several directions as per the writer’s whim. True to form, Pixar take a rather fascinating and poignant path by telling the tale of a girl growing up, facing new challenges and understanding that emotions are not always built to be straightforward and easy to decipher as she thought as a child.
Never have I seen a children’s movie with the outright stones to say that sometimes sadness is necessary to life. Joy and Sadness’ arcs are all about accepting that you can’t be happy all the time, and being afraid or negative about sadness is naïve and unrealistic. It actually makes Joy kind of unlikable in certain parts of the story, but she’s never outright loathsome as she just wants Riley to be happy. It’s a mature and incredibly touching message, helping children come to grips with how complex emotions can be and a lesson even some adults could take to heart. Also, goddamn, some of these scenes will break you, man! I won’t say which, but believe me when I say you’ll know the moments everyone cried at.
Outside of that, it’s really funny and creative! They use every possibility they can with the premise, delivering some killer jokes and a lot of really clever background features and observational humour that Pixar is known for. Al the characters feel well-rounded, even the emotions (though they, of course, resort to their default states for a lot of scenes). This world inside Riley’s head is built excellently, and has such imaginative and hilarious places (the abstract bit is so goddamn clever) that I wish we could just keep on exploring. I don’t think this movie really needs a sequel, but if it gets one, I can’t say I’d be overly disappointed.
This is easily Pixar’s best since Toy Story 3. It’s brimming with heart and creativity, with a great voice casts and moments that will make you laugh and cry in equal measure. It’s joyful and sad and everything in-between.
Dope takes a biting but humourous look at racial issues in America, Selma is a rallying call to resolve them.
A biopic focusing on Martin Luther King’s legendary walk across Selma, Alabama, director Ava DuVernay gives us a bold and provocative take on how he operated. Rather than sanctifying the man, she is willing to show him as politically savvy, manipulative and flawed, and this makes him so much more a hero. The lengths he would go for his cause, despite it hurting his personal life, is admirable and inspiring, helped all the way by David Oyelowo’s overlooked but powerful performance. This was easily my favourite performance of 2015, as he shows why Doctor King was a man worth following as well as very human.
What also makes Selma stand out in terms of other biopics is its willingness to make parallel to how modern racial issues are fought. The idea of ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same’ is not a happy one, but it never feels defeatist or hopeless. It’s charged in a way that doesn’t feel false, helped by one of the major linchpins of the film being the relationship between Doctor King and Lyndon B. Johnson. Tom Wilkinson really embodies the role without making it clichéd, and has excellent chemistry with Oyelowo. In a way, their interactions set up what the movie is all about: a force of revolution taking on a force of political power that is seen as more in the right in the eyes of the public than this ragtag group are. The subplot with Oprah Winfrey felt a little out of place at the start, but the more I thought about it, the more it really shows who really suffered in this conflict and from this sense of political normalcy.
Structured like a debate: a contentious topic, a conflict of interest, a reasonable assertion, a counter, a rebuttal, a complete dismissal, a larger display and a triumphant resolution with not everything left resolved, Selma will get you talking and thinking about how issues in the 60s can still be seen today. It’s one of the best biopics I’ve ever seen, and is powerfully active as it is brilliantly presented.
- 45 Years
So yeah. This is probably one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever seen.
The premise revolves around a retired couple as they plan their 45th wedding anniversary that’s a week away. After the husband (Tom Courtenay) is faced by something from his past, his wife (Charlotte Rampling) discovers this secret he had never told her in the decades they have been together. As we count down the week, the wife begins to question every facet of their marriage.
This is one of the most perfectly real examples of a long-term married couple I have ever seen. The two actors have such a rich and layered chemistry that I truly believe they have a history we are never privy to. The limitations of their age are also played up, in both frustrating and frankly embarrassing ways. This movie is directed by Andrew Haigh, and after this and the seminal Weekend he’s quickly becoming one of my favourite directors. He knows exactly how to capture the aching drama in mundanity, and the interactions with these two while Rampling’s character Kate struggles with this revelation feels utterly natural. You forget you are watching two actors interact.
Not only that, the framing device of the week is cleverly used as well. It offers a ticking clock to a marriage that has now revealed to be a sham, punctuated by random and strange weather. This could just be a symptom of living in England, but it really helps symbolise how erratic and tumultuous the situation is. Everything is shot with this beautiful sense of reality, while also giving us some stunning shots that help everything feel more like a tragic tale. As with Weekend, everything is made to feel more theatrical and grandiose than it actually is without every losing its quiet and contemplative nature.
Charlotte Rampling (who recently got nominated for this performance) and Tom Courtenay give career-best work, and Haigh has cemented himself as a great British talent to keep an eye on. This is an achingly beautiful and melancholy piece of how easily a marriage can crumble, and the depressing realities that keep it afloat. It’s touching in a way that feels like you’ve known this couple all your life, and it hurts all the more when the movie concludes.
- Diary of a Teenage Girl
This is a teen coming of age comedy-drama. And from the second our lead ‘marks’ her much older lover (read: statutory rapist) with her hymen blood, you know right from the off that it’s not exactly one that wants to sugar coat the experience.
Set in the 1970s and based on a play that was based on a comic book that was partially self-biographical, it follows the life of 15-year old Minnie, played expertly by newcomer Bel Powley, and her escapades after losing her virginity to her mother’s much older boyfriend Monroe, played by Alexander Skarsgard. The casting in this movie is great, included Bev’s neglectful bohemian mother Charlotte by Kristen Wiig at the top of her game, but what truly makes it shine is the atmosphere. It is soaked in the sexual politics and messed up culture of the 70s, and actually shooting in San Francisco helps get that cultural melting pot vibe out so perfectly.
The animation is also stunning and really well handled. Minnie herself is an artist, and it truly evokes the complexity and artistic ambitions in her head and fits the tone extremely well. Despite taking on some pretty heavy subject matter, they manage to keep a bit of a soft and fun-loving tone while also earning its darker, dramatic moments. This is mostly due to it being focused more on Minnie’s perspective, and while you may not have had a teenage experience like hers (or maybe you did. I don’t know you), you had the mindset she has.
It gets perfectly that kind of faux-maturity and strive for experimentation that propagates the teenage world while seeing it through an adult lens. If you’re creeped out by Monroe’s predatory behaviour, don’t worry, so does the movie. He is a fascinating character in of himself: in a constant state of adolescence and refuses to think about his actions, but never do you forget how creepy and pathetic he really is.
If the graphic sexual content or casual drug use of the teenage characters turns you off this, I can get that. But this is a perfect coming of age story that matures with its character, and it’s refreshing to see a young girl with that kind of sexual confidence and self-assuredness not often given to women, but she also has room to learn as she slowly begins to realise that all these things she craved whilst growing up don’t give her the satisfaction or fulfillment she needs. It’s one of the best character studies of a young girl simply growing up in a confused time surrounded by confused people, and is one of the best reasons to be uncomfortable this year.
Here’s another one that will make you uncomfortable, but for seriously different reasons.
Denis Villeneuve is a dominating force in Hollywood at the moment, and is making some of the most intelligent and thought provoking thrillers in the industry. This is his latest one, and goddamn is it a doozy. It has the best tension I have felt in any movie-every frame is so tightly thought out and set up that it comes together to put our lead, and you, into a situation we are completely unsure of. The way cinematographer Roger Deakins manages to weave the establishing shots into the mood and tone of the piece is just artistry, and his trademark eye for an effective colour palette helps characterise this movie in a way it wouldn’t have achieved otherwise.
It’s not just the visuals or technical prowess that make this, however. There have been many works both in fact and fiction that have tackled the Mexican war on drugs, but I have not yet seen it looked at with this sense of honesty or discomfort. It’s about accepting how principles are not always what is needed to fight something as socially fueled as this drug culture is, and it gives us one of the most nuanced and carefully planned character studies in Emily Blunt’s Kate Macer. While this is her movie and she owns it, the other two leads are pretty amazing too-every actor is on the top of their game.
Without saying much, the pay-off for everything happening in the story leads to some of the best cinema of 2015. The pacing, the tone, the character dynamics on display, how it amps up the tension to uncomfortable levels-to say anything else would just give it away. Just watch it.
Sicario is the best thriller of the year, and one of the best in a long while. It says a lot of uncomfortable things about how we can exacerbate an international crisis, and gives us some excellent characters to help guide us along this path. This film wold have been great otherwise, but it’s that last 20-30 minutes that really turns this into a must watch. If you haven’t seen it already, do so as fast as you can.
It’s hard to look into the complex dynamic between parent and child without coming across as disingenuous or schmaltzy. Mommy manages to deliver not only that, but something even more complex; dealing with a child with severe, dangerous mental issues.
Xavier Dolan’s humanistic drama focuses on a woman who, after losing her social status due to her husband dying, is being forced to take back in her unpredictable son after he gets kicked out of a detention centre. They befriend a neighbour who home schools the boy, Steve, as she is on sabbatical from her teaching position. From there, the entire story locks into these three characters, and god bless how great they are, because it absolutely soars based on their performances. They all equally share the story and show what it’s like to live after the fallout of a horrific life altering event. None of the characters seem to want to improve, and their struggles to just live their lives is so compelling.
The dialogue is very colloquial and really grounds the movie, despite it being a little bit more theatrical than grounded. The script has great punchy moments and, like all great scripts, isn’t afraid to be controversial for the sake of its story. The soundtrack is also amazing, again, in how colloquial it is. Dolan didn’t just get random obscure artists whose rights were easily available, there are some pretty well known, popular tracks that give this story a sense of character. It made a Dido song work in context, that says at all!
Now the film is framed in this tight aspect ratio, almost like portrait mode on an iPhone. Don’t let this deter you; it’s used in an incredibly intelligent way that pays off narratively, and is not just thrown in for the sake of it. A lot of the framing techniques and shots are very carefully chosen to reflect something subtler about the story, showing that this director really knows how to play on his audiences’ emotions. This comes to a head with a certain scene near the end-trust me when I say you’ll know when you get to it.
Mommy is a beautiful, funny, moving, at times kind of disturbing, movie about how strong the bonds you make in life can be, and how they may not be enough in the weight of what life has to offer you. The performances are amazing, and it has one of the most dynamic and interesting mother/son relationships I have seen in quite a while.
- Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Yeah, it’s no surprise this was my favourite movie of 2015.
Why is it, you may ask? Because it has so many elements I just love about filmmaking. The script is intelligent and rarely strays off point. Riggan Thomson is one of the best characters in cinema; a self-centered actor trying to regain the glory he will never have again. I use the term ‘career best’ a lot, but there are FOUR career-best performances in this flick! Aljeandro Inarritu is a master of framing and staging, managing to work around his ‘one take’ trick like a dream. The cuts range from obvious to mind-bogglingly clever. The score is great; a nice jazz feel to fit the tone of the Broadway show (same with how the oner almost recreates the active energy of a play).
At its heart, it’s a story that anybody can relate to but nobody can. It’s a man who wants to recapture the glory of a past that he doesn’t even seem to look back fondly at. He just thinks relevance will make him feel better, not realising it likely won’t. I know a lot of people hark on its commentary and criticism of superhero movies, but it really is critical of all forms of artistic expression as narcissistic self-aggrandising claptrap filled with people trying to be adored and beloved by a fickle, uncaring public (great use of social media and even the city of New York to get that across).
Is the movie essentially making fun of itself? Well, probably; I never feel it wants to be put on a pedestal. It’s a comedy, and a pretty dry and sharp one at that. It’s clearly building itself up as one of those arthouse flicks it itself wants to take down on top of a theatrical production. Fancy text sitting around the place, staging to get a sense of realness in an unreal state; it constantly flips back to this unreality, and it’s a truth Riggan desperately wants to escape.
Birdman is the best movie of the year because I haven’t scratched the surface of how intelligent and well-crafted the whole thing is (like how each character represents a part of Thomson himself, the film’s relationship to the superhero genre, or the use of Raymond Carver’s story, etc.). It’s a work of art that hits me on several levels, and yet manages to be a subversive and cynical comedy that I can really get behind in terms of humour. It’s got the magic of the stage and completely shits on it, and it wouldn’t have it any other way. For it stones and its wit, I gladly call this my favourite film of 2015 and I look forward to rediscovering it page by page, as if flicking through a comic book of a sad man’s lonely life surrounded by everyone.