Film, List, Opinion

2015 IN FILM

Looking back on an amazing year in cinema. 

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The end of the year is almost upon us – and what a year it has been for cinema. My Cineworld Unlimited card was put to good use over the past twelve months and I managed to cram in an impressive number of viewings. Whilst there have been a few disappointments along the way, there were also plenty of high points, and even a couple of masterpieces. I have compiled here my top five films of the year – no easy task – with a few honourable mentions for good measure. Let me know what your cinematic highlights were in the comments section!

TOP 5:

BROOKLYN

Director: John Crowley

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domnhall Gleeson

Brooklyn-Blusih-poster

Chud

It feels like every year cinema is getting bigger and as the MCU and other superhero worlds dominate the box office the human element can be left behind. Richard Linklater reminded us of the extraordinary power of the ordinary with Boyhood last year, and John Crowley has followed suit with Brooklyn – based on the novel of the same name by Colm Toíbín – adding a period setting for good measure. Brooklyn is an understated masterpiece, blending gorgeous visuals with a simple and powerful story, alleviated to near perfect status by the incredibly apt casting  – Ronan has been scooping awards for her central role, and oscar glory is well within reach come February.

On a more personal level, Brooklyn resonated with me much more than I expected it to. The film is about a girl close to my age being torn between her desire to be home with her family and to forge a new life in America, a common struggle that transcends time. Brooklyn is a welcome reminder that a film doesn’t have to have superheroes or CGI to impress.

Read my review of Brooklyn here.

ME, EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

Director: Alfronso Gomez-Rejon

Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman

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Anticool

After the smash hit success of The Fault in our Stars last year, another John Green adaption was a safe bet, and sure enough Paper Towns came along this summer. The film was marketed on Cara Delevingne, who was mostly absent from the largely forgettable flick. However, the genre had some life breathed back into it by Alfronso Gomez-Rejon, who took a script from Jess Andrews (author of the book of the same name) and came up with Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, a film that avoided cliche whilst still packing an emotional punch.

I was not initially hopeful  – the marketing made the film look like a quirky Fault in our Stars rip-off – but it stood out due to its rarely static camera work and the incredibly funny script – it reminded me of 50/50 (2011) in that it manages to be a film about cancer that is funny without being crude. Add this to strong leads, a brilliant supporting turn from Nick Offerman and an incredible soundtrack (which I discussed here), and you have one of the most memorable films of the year.

LEGEND

Director: Brian Helgeland

Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Taron Egerton, Christopher Eccleston

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Trailer Addict

Based on The Profession of Violence by John Pearson, Brian Helgeland takes on the Krays in his biopic, which sees Tom Hardy in the dual role of Reggie and Ronnie. The gangster genre is overcrowded, so its hard to nail the genre in a way that stands out, but the Krays are hugely interesting source material and this film is worth seeing, if only for the technical wizardry of seeing Tom Hardy fight himself.

Legend is not without faults – Emily Browning’s character Frances is used as a narrative device to get to the story of the twins and is criminally underwritten as a result – but it still stands out as one of my favourite films of the year. Mixing the funny with the violent, Legend brings a distinct sense of Britishness to the gangster genre, and is all the better for it.

STEVE JOBS

Director: Danny Boyle

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels

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There is a good chance that audiences – particularly those in the US – are getting Steve Jobs fatigue. Since the Apple founder and CEO passed away in 2011 there has been a slew of material on the man, but it would be foolish to pass on this latest effort from Danny Boyle, with a script by Aaron Sorkin.

With a theatre-like three act structure, Steve Jobs is a far cry from the done -to-death biopic structure, and Sorkin’s razor sharp script blends perfectly with Boyle’s unique eye for visuals, and Fassbender manages to inhibit the character despite not physically resembling him. It’s Fassbender’s film through and through – as the title would suggest, he is the focal point of the entire film – but he is surrounded by a stellar supporting cast with Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels and Kate Winslet all providing fantastic turns in their own right.

Read my review of Steve Jobs here.

KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK 

Directed: Brett Morgen

Starring: Kurt Cobain

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Since his suicide in 1994 Kurt Cobain has been somewhat of an enigma, the voice of dissatisfied youth, and the wealth of unauthorised material produced on the man did little to dispel any of the myths that arose. However, Brett Morgen’s documentary – the first to be done with the agreement and co-operation of Cobain’s family – cuts through the cultural obsession to look at the man. Morgen stated in an interview that the film aimed to:

“….present an American icon – a revered American icon – in a completely naked and honest manner. Without tearing him down and without building him up, but where we can look him in the eye.”

Blending animated segments with interviews, Montage of Heck is a welcome departure from the typical over reliance on talking heads in documentaries, and is without a doubt the definitive account of who Cobain was. The only thing missing is an interview with Dave Grohl, as a member of Nirvana he seems like a crucial person to talk to about that period in Cobain’s life, and his presence is missed.

Whilst it is at times unsettling to see how deep-set his issues were, and knowing what happened to him makes it all the more upsetting,  Montage of Heck is essential viewing for Nirvana fans, and an enjoyable watch regardless.

RUNNER UPS:

DOPE 

Dope manages to be a crime caper, a comedy, a drama and a coming of age story all rolled into one excellent script. Rick Famuyiwa’s film tells the story of Malcom, Jib and Diggy, three geeks obsessed with 1990s culture who accidentally end up with a rucksack full of MDMA. The lead performances are fantastic and A$AP Rocky even shows up for a supporting role. The film is one that is designed to make you think about the role stereotypes continue to play in society, and it will stay with you long after the credits roll.

MISTRESS AMERICA

Director Noah Baumbach and star Greta Gerwig, who penned the script together, are at their best in Mistress America, a screwball comedy that allows Gerwig to shine. Their collaboration, which worked so well in Frances Ha (2012) has been honed to perfection here, and the film is full to  the brim with laughs, as well as raising some interesting questions about the self obsession in the age of technology.

SUFFRAGETTE 

Undoubtedly one of the most important films of the year, it’s hard to believe UK women’s  fight for the vote had not already been committed to the screen. Starring Carey Mulligan and Helena Bohem Carter, with an appearance from the ever-fantastic Meryl Streep, Suffragette is a fantastic period drama made all the more emotive by the fact that it is based on true events.

MOST PROGRESSIVE: 

SPY/MAD MAX:FURY ROAD

It would be madness not to include Mad Max: Fury Road in talks about progressive depictions in cinema, but I have not yet seen it, so alas my comments cannot extend much further than acknowledgement of what is by all accounts an incredible film.

However, I genuinely believe in years to come Paul Feig’s Spy could be looked back upon as a landmark in comedy. Spy is a sign of progress – perhaps the most notable since Bridesmaids (2011) – with women who are capable, independent and not used as the butt of jokes. The film turns everything that is so awful about James Bond on its head – here we have men that are inept, being helped along by badass women (not a damsel in distress in sight) – and it’s about time.

It seems real change is finally on the horizon, and as ridiculous as it is that it is only the case in 2015, that can only be a good thing. Misogynists need not worry too much – Spectre brought the already questionable James Bond back a few steps in the progressive stakes (read more on that here). You win some, you lose some I guess.

BIGGEST LETDOWN:

KILL YOUR FRIENDS 

Based on John Niven’s (who also penned the script) novel of the same name, Kill Your Friends had the potential to be the British American Psycho (2000), but turned out to be a hollow disappointment. Despite the best efforts of the cast, led by an appropriately stoney Nicholas Hoult, the script feels empty and you’ll be hard pressed to remember the film long after viewing.

Read my review of Kill Your Friends here.

BEST ANIMATION:

INSIDE OUT 

A true return to form for Pixar, Inside Out shows the studio do what they do best – blending beautiful animation with innovative storytelling that tackles big themes in a way that is accessible to all ages. The casting is incredibly well sourced – Phyllis Smith was born to voice sadness – and the timeless concept is one that has already solidified Inside Out as a modern animated classic.

WEIRDEST:

THE LOBSTER 

The english language debut of Greek director Yorgos Lanthinmos, The Lobster is without a doubt the most unique film of the year. A hilariously deadpan story about a hotel where single people go and if they fail to find a partner in 45 days, they a turned into an animal. The film satirises social constructs in a hilarious manner, and whilst there is no doubt that it won’t appeal to everyone, I found the film to be one of the funniest I saw all year.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS:

Not forgetting Macbeth, Ant Man, Trainwreck, Ex Machina, The Martian, Man Up, Mr Holmes, Danny Collins, Jurassic World, Irrational Man and so many more…


 

I’ve shared this video before, but it’s so good that I’m going to share it again. Ben Zuk created a 2015 Salute to Cinema on Vimeo, incorporating 164 movies into a wonderful montage that reminds us just how great movies can be. Enjoy!

 


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/147217969″>2015 Salute to Cinema</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/benzuk”>Ben Zuk</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

What was your favourite film of 2015? Let me know in the comments section below!

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Film, List, Music

5 BEST MOVIE SOUNDTRACKS:

The Lord of the Rings score was recently crowned the greatest movie soundtrack of all time for the sixth year in a row. The Classic FM poll listed a whole host of classic in it’s list, including Schindler’s list, Gladiator, Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Soundtrack is one of the make or break elements of a film – would Halloween be anywhere near as terrifying without John Carpenter’s endlessly creepy two note score? Would Titanic pull on your heart strings half as much without Celine Dion giving it all she’s got in My Heart Will Go On? The soundtrack is the often unsung hero of so many beloved films, and whilst I would probably have to agree with the ruling of Lord of the Rings as the greatest ever (probably on Concerning Hobbits alone), I have compiled a list of my personal favourites, a few of which depart from the traditional scoring and focus on pop culture instead.

5- ME, EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (2015)

me-earl-dying-girlDirector: Alfronso Gomez-Rejon

Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler

Soundtrack Highlight: The Big Ship – Brian Eno

Based on the 2012 novel of the same name, Me Earl and Dying Girl has proved to be one of the surprise hits of the year. Pretty much the anti-Fault in Our Stars, the film is a fantastic breath of fresh air for the YA genre. It is especially bolstered by its soundtrack, which largely comes from the fantastic Brian Eno. As well as Eno, there is a real eclectic mix to enjoy, from Roy Orbison to Cat Stevens. It perfectly walks the line of between hipster and accessible and plays a huge role in the films quirky genius, building up to an incredible finale with Eno’s The Big Ship, which was composed especially for the film. I really can’t stress how great The Big Ship is (listen below for yourself) as both a piece of music in its own right an as a perfect accompaniment to the film. It catches the offbeat, touching atmosphere of the film to a tee – without a doubt the best soundtrack of the year, from one of the best films for that matter.

4 – WALK THE LINE (2005)

Walk-the-Line-movie-stills-walk-the-line-13722960-874-904Director: James Mangold

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon

Soundtrack Highlight: It Aint Me Babe – Joaquin Phoenix & Reese Witherspoon

This soundtrack is so good that it won a Grammy, and there is no question why. The 2005 biopic of the late, great Johnny Cash and the love of his life, June Carter is one of my favourite films of all time. This one deserves a place on the list based on the performances of Phoenix and Witherspoon alone – they performed all of the songs themselves, lending the film a sense of authenticity it could never have achieved otherwise. Replicating Cash’s legendary bass-baritone voice is no mean feat, but Phoenix totally inhabits the role and the songs, almost making it look easy. He pays the perfect homage to the man in black with classics such as I Walk the Line, Folsom Prison Blues and Get Rhythm, capturing whatever it is that makes a Cash track so special in the first place. Witherspoon also shines, capturing the charm of June Carter, particularly in her rendition of Wildwood Flower, which is so good it threatens to overtake Carter’s version. There are also some other gems from other artists which perfectly encapsulate the genre and period. The real magic happens when Phoenix and Witherspoon duet on Jackson and It Aint Me Babe, perfectly capturing the chemistry and genuine love that existed between the real life Cash and Carter. Walk the Line is everything you want in a music biopic, and the tunes are everything you want from a soundtrack.

3 – BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)

imagesDirector: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Michael J Fox, Christopher Llyod

Soundtrack Highlight: Power of Love – Huey Lewis and the News

Anyone who knows me will know my undying love (obsession?) with this film, and the soundtrack is a huge part of what makes it so great. This one is a great mix of songs and score, mixing a suitably cinematic sound with some classic and nostalgic tunes and coming up with something pretty close to perfection (I did warn you of my undying affection for this film). The Outatime Orchestra (named after the number plate of the iconic DeLorean) perform the score, which was composed and conducted by Alan Silvestri – a frequent collaborator of Zmeckis – has a very Speilbergian feel to it (he produced the film), which is always a surefire ticket for success. The film also manages to provide a fantastic time-bending blend of the 1950’s and 80’s, with the Power of Love proving to be the signature song an obvious highlight (fun fact – Huey Lewis plays the judge who tells Marty his band is just “too darn loud” when they play a hard rock version of the song near the films beginning).  And who can forget Michael J Fox rocking out to Johnny B Goode? There is just so much to love.

2 – TRAINSPOTTING (1996)

trainspotting_2505786bDirector: Danny Boyle

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewan Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kelly Macdonald

Soundtrack Highlight: Born Slippy .NUXX

Another hugely popular soundtrack, this one sold so well that it spawned another album the following year, consisting of songs that inspired the film. Whilst it is also excellent, it will never reach the dizzy heights of the songs featured in Danny Boyle’s cult classic. From Iggy Pop to Lou Reed, the mix screams 90’s and has been most teenagers claim to cool ever since the film came out. Danny  Boyle has always been fantastic at selecting soundtracks – 2013’s Trance is another highlight – and this is quite possibly the pinnacle of his success. Riding the wave of britpop, the soundtrack is an effective blend of the bands of the decade and their predecessors, the soundtrack (and the film) is a product of its time and a gift that keeps on giving. One of the most effective closing songs of all time is Born Slippy .NUXX, the perfect blend of uplifting and trippy, and the beginning of a lasting collaboration between Boyle and Underworld.

1 – PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (2012)

perks-042_df-07440c (1)Director: Stephen Chbosky

Starring: Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, Emma Watson

Soundtrack Highlight: Heroes – David Bowie

Stephen Chbosky, the author of the 1999 novel of the same name, brought his work to life in 2012 with the film adaption of Perks of Being a Wallflower. Much like Trainspotting, the film is a perfect example of one that captures the era it is depicting. Again it is the early 90’s, but the focus is American high schoolers as opposed to Edinburgh junkies. This is one of my favourite soundtracks ever because it so brilliantly captures the essence of the film – even though there is only one composed piece in the film (Charlie’s Last Letter – Michael Brook) you would easily believe more of the tracks had been specifically written for the film. It is the sort of music the characters listen to, and it allows us to achieve a better understanding of these characters with its mix of soft alt. rock, new wave and dream pop from the late 80’s/early 90’s. Bowie’s Heroes is the perfect song to summarise the main themes of the film, and the tunnel scene where it is played remains electrifying and triumphant on multiple viewings.

Here is a playlist of the 5 best songs from this list, enjoy!

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