AS the end of the year rapidly approaches it’s time to look back on some of the cinematic highs and lows of 2015. This year’s been solid, yet slightly unremarkable at the multiplex in my opinion, Jurassic World dominated box-offices across the globe, Pixar once again proved they’re the masters of fine storytelling, Sir Ridley Scott returned to form with The Martian and just as The Hunger Games franchise came to an end, Star Wars returned from a galaxy far far away.
Fifty Shades of Grey hit cinemas in February and the sight of Jamie Doran’s bare bum proved so overly stimulating for some cinemagoers that certain cinemas across Belfast had to employ bouncers to ensure their over-excited patrons behaved themselves on site; I’m not surprised as I saw three incredibly drunk women fighting amongst themselves in the Movie House at Dublin Road on the opening night and their behaviour was something you’d expect to see at a nightclub not in a cinema.
Despite all its promise of ‘kinky fuckerey’ Fifty Shades was rather tame for some viewers; I’m no expert on all things S&M related, but I found Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy much more enjoyable. Unfairly dubbed ‘the thinking man’s Fifty Shades, The Duke of Burgundy explored similar ideas to E. L. James’ trashy source material, but with none of the inner goddess nonsense the author insisted on cramming down people’s throats. Strickland’s film had clear nods to sleazy European movies from the 1970s, but this female-centric feature which didn’t feature any nudity onscreen whatsoever, beautifully explored the power dynamics within a submissive/dominant relationship.
Much has been made about the number of films tackling LGBT issues this year, with films like Carol, Grandma and Tangerine to name but a few, It’s a sign that studios are feeling more confident in tackling this issues in a non-superlative, over-the-top, serious manner. Tangerine, fantastically shot and edited on a ‘modified’ IPhone is a brilliantly funny comedy and Carol is a touching, beautifully shot, love story; they both deal with issues and problems that all viewers can relate to and it’s great to see studios treating these relationships in such a normal manner.
2015 also saw no sign of Marvel’s Box-Office dominance slowing down with Age of Ultron bringing an end to their second phase of their cinematic universe; if truth be told the film left me slightly underwhelmed, it wasn’t a bad movie, not by any means, but it just didn’t do anything for me and lacked the wow factor of its predecessor.
Yeah it was great to see the Hulk and Iron Man facing off against each other and James Spader was perfectly cast as the unhinged robotic villain; but much like Iron Man 2, I just felt like the writers were too preoccupied with introducing new characters and setting up plot strands for future movies, rather than tell this film’s story. Marvel’s other release Ant Man was much more enjoyable, possibly because much like The Guardians of the Galaxy, I knew very little about the comic-book character in the first place.
Many critics heaped praise on George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, myself included, at the time I praised it heavily and called it a pure cinematic spectacle. It’s a two-hour chase movie that plays out at an unrelentingly breakneck pace, it would’ve featured within my Top 10 for the year, until I recently re-watched it on Blu-Ray; much like Gravity the film looses its ‘wow’ factor when it’s watched on a smaller screen. Don’t get me wrong it’s still a great film, Charlize Theron in particular is superb as Furiosa, but just like Alfonso Cuarón’s Oscar-winning feature it needs to watched on the biggest possible screen to be truly appreciated.
Jurassic World returned to the cinema 22 years after Steven Spielberg’s summer blockbuster defining original. Sadly despite all its global success this instalment just didn’t work for me at all, nostalgia is a dangerous thing for a film critic (I’ll come back to this later), but It’s impossible not to compare Trevorrow’s film with the original. It has it’s little moments, but Jurassic World never managed to reawaken my 10-year-old self who was captivated by Spielberg’s film in 1993; admittedly it’s an impossible task, CGI and special effects have moved on a lot since then, so it’s understandable that the dinosaurs onscreen will have lost their ‘wow’ factor; but my problem lies with a screenplay that was just all over the place and never settled on an interesting story.
Without doubt my favourite movie from the year has to be Pixar’s Inside Out, a film that once again showcased the studio’s ability to tell a story that appealed to all ages. This wasn’t a globe-trotting disaster movie, but the story of a young girl going through the stressful process of moving home. I loved Inside Out, it twice it reduced me to tears and on one of those occasions I had to be offered a tissue from a 5-year-old girl sitting beside me in the cinema.
Admittedly Pixar’s film probably had more to offer older children and adults, but any film that tries to tackle gags about abstract thought and at least attempt to make it accessible for younger viewers, must at least have their efforts applauded. I’ve spoken to some parents throughout the year who’ve said their children preferred Minions, a film I can’t say I didn’t laugh at, but I was a little bored by the end. It’s true that a fart joke and onscreen silliness will always get a laugh; but I just feel Pixar’s Inside Out had much more substance and more importantly it tries to tell younger viewers that it’s ok to feel sad.
Controversially (well according to some of my BanterFlix colleagues) I really enjoyed Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs. This wasn’t a bio-pic that tried to tell the entire life story of Apple’s late CEO, but more so a film that wanted to see what made the man tick. Sorkin’s screenplay would’ve been more at home on the West End or Broadway, but Boyle’s visual flair and frantic energy meant the film didn’t feel overly stagey. Steve Jobs is a film which is all about the performances and Irish actor Michael Fassbender excels in the film’s central role, donning Jobs’ iconic turtleneck and embracing his inner bastard with clear relish.
It’s also been a solid year for my beloved horror genre, I loved David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows. It’s a clever horror movie with heavy nods to John Carpenter and Wes Craven, playing out like Hideo Nakata’s Ringu mixed with a hint American Pie the film’s plot sees promiscuous teenagers hunted by a shape-shifting, paranormal presence that can only they can see. With it’s 80’s tone and fantastic score, It Follows was just a real nostalgia fest for me, reminding me of all the movies I watched when I shouldn’t have, but I was old enough to know I shouldn’t have been watching them.
I also really enjoyed Ana Lilly Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, although not really a horror movie, it was nevertheless billed as the first Iranian Vampire Western. It’s a wonderfully stylish black and white feature, that effectively mashed together a variety of cinematic genres and did so in such an effortlessly cool and accomplished way it’s hard to believe it was Amirpour’s directorial debut.
No film this year has been as divisive as Spectre, the latest instalment within the 007 franchise; personally I loved it, describing the film as ‘quintessentially Bond’ in my review earlier this year. Much like Skyfall, Craig’s fourth outing as Ian Fleming’s creation had heavy nods back to the early Connery era.
Beautifully shot and featuring some staggering set-pieces, Spectre worked for me because it felt old-fashioned; it wasn’t trying to match the Jason Bourne or Mission impossible franchises, it just did what Bond did best. Yes there were flaws, the revelation about Christoph Waltz’s character just didn’t work and Monica Bellucci was criminally underused; but I still liked Spectre even if it didn’t quite reach the heights of Skyfall. It’s a fitting swansong for Craig as 007, but hopefully we’ll see him don the tuxedo at least one more time.
Just as the Hunger Games came to an end, a franchise which emerged post Twilight and evolved into something so much more, Star Wars returned from a galaxy far far away with the Force Awakens. As I mentioned earlier nostalgia is a dangerous thing and whilst I’ve a huge fondness for the original trilogy, the prequels left a really bad taste in my mouth, so to say I approached this latest instalment within the franchise with trepidation would be a bit of an understatement.
Overall though I really enjoyed Abrams film, unlike any of the three prequels it felt like a Star Wars movie, a return to the edgy sci-fi western tone set within a used universe; the first 40 minutes of the film in particular were just perfection and reminded me of everything I loved about A New Hope, The Force Awakens works best whenever it’s dealing with the newer characters, particularity Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, but when the older characters start to appear the narrative does become a little clunky. That said Episode VII is a solid benchmark from which to launch this new trilogy, but hopefully the next instalment will have a slightly more original story.
Of all the films I’ve seen this year some have left me disappointed Inherent Vice, Age of Ultron and Jurassic World etc. but only one film has truly offended me. I can honestly say I hated the Will Ferrell comedy (trust me I use the term loosely) Get Hard, a piss-poor comedy which was sexist, racist and just terribly unfunny. It’s a horrible film with an even worse concept that see’s Ferrell’s character preparing for life in prison by hanging out with Kevin Hart’s character, because you know every black guy ever has been to prison!
I honestly sat through that press screening and couldn’t even muster as much as a titter of laughter throughout the entire movie, I just felt like I was on one of the planets from Chris Nolan’s Interstellar where time passed at a slower rate. It’s a shame because I’m a huge Ferrell fan, but his recent string of recent stinkers he’s quickly becoming as funny as Adam Sandler in my opinion.
I know everyone hated Terminator Genisys, the latest attempt to reboot the franchise, but I went in with zero expectations and whilst I can’t say I enjoyed it or thought it had any real redeeming qualities, I just didn’t hate it anywhere near as much as some of my BanterFlix colleagues. It was great to see Arnie back at the iconic T-800 and I liked the whole ‘old but not obsolete’ idea that was going on, but there’s no denying Genisys was a stinker and possibly the death nail on the entire Terminator franchise – they couldn’t’ attempt to bring it back again could they?
Anyway that’s enough of my ramblings for this year, I’ve tried to mention as many films as I can; tomorrow I’ll reveal my Top 10 films of the year.