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A Savagely Partial Look At The Films Of 2015

December 28, 2015

Welcome to a round-up of ALL THE FILMS OF 2015 – that is, all the films of 2015 that I, a human man with a job that does not require me to watch films and two children who positively prevent it, have seen this year. It’s myopic to the point of irrelevance, but I’ve been doing it for years and momentum carries me onwards like time to the abyss. Also, spoilers: Star Wars is the fucking best.

 

WhipJanuary retained its regular air of parochial self-importance – the greasy manager of a second-run fleapit, probably played by Michael Palin – as a well-dressed set of Oscar hopefuls arrived weeks after their American release. These latecomers varied from the politely empty – The Theory Of Everything was the second film in as many months to celebrate a Cambridge man doing maths – to the actually evil, as American Sniper uncritically flag-waved remembrances of a life spent ending others, and couldn’t have celebrated America’s erection for technology and killing any more gratuitously if it had simply featured Bradley Cooper fellating a .300 Win Mag for two hours. Better was Foxcatcher, another true story digging into dark American pathology – this time “letting rich white dudes do whatever the fuck they want even when they’re fucking crazy” – which sadly mistook flat storytelling for a gripping stillness, and better again was Birdman, a film which, among many other things, pitted our current age of superhero mythologising against wrinkling mortality and an urge to do something meaningful while we can. Best of all, though, was Whiplash, a film ostensibly about drumming but which used the fitful dramatics of rhythm to say something primal about compulsion, potential, and – like Birdman, which slithered to its own frantic drum score – performance.

 

Ex-Machina-Download-Wallpapers_0Outside of the awards crowd Enemy was a controlled and atmospheric tale of dopplegangers with the slightest tang of dystopia, and Taken 3 continued to be a series in which women can only be owned and men can only do violence or – at a push – cry when they can’t do violence fast or good enough to stop their women being dead. In contrast Ex Machina was a piercing piece of science fiction that not only dismantled the construction of femininity in both literal and theoretical ways, but also featured Oscar Isaac, a man who spent 2015 being in really great films, another of which was A Most Violent Year, a New York crime drama just surehanded enough to stay afloat amid the flood of classics it conjures. The month was seen out by Kingsman: The Secret Service, which had a certain swagger but was also an extended rimjob of institutionalised privilege, so fuck it in the eye, Inherent Vice, which was vague and vacant enough to be nothing in particular, and Big Hero 6, which might have been about robotics, Blade Runner-esque cultural fusion and a conspicuously marketable novelty character, but was nevertheless a more convincing embodiment of traditional Disney values – family, hope and friendship – than we’ve seen for ages.

 

Duke Of BIn February Jupiter Ascending was a terrific throwback to the age of true fiascos – an over-exuberant dazzle of preposterous science fiction and runaway production that resulted in the nearliest blockbuster since Dune (I loved it, but then I love all films in which Sean Bean plays a bee. Bee-n). Further Oscars overflow arrived in the welcome shape of Selma, a determined if slightly staid civil rights drama that broke all irony meters everywhere when it was accused of not giving white lawmakers a fair shake. The Shaun The Sheep Movie was bright, eager and able to have fun without making fun – a fading art – while Coherence was a people in a room sci-fi thriller with a low budget and a big enough imagination to stop me from describing it as a “feature-length episode of the Twilight Zone with swearing” even though it basically was. Blackhat was the application of Michael Mann’s towering boner for all things man and manly to the world of cyber espionage, a film which essentially just added an extra bullet-point to the CV of the same hero that he’s been making films about for 30 years: “Professional, straight-talking, emotionally unavailable, great at shooting, can program a little”. The fractured eroticism of The Duke Of Burgundy prised open a world of poised power relationships and meaning and then – like Strickland’s previous, Berberian Sound Studio – lacked the smarts to do anything with it except to point and say “look”. Predestination was a strange, circular time-travel drama that might be a complicated way of calling Ethan Hawke a wanker, Catch Me Daddy was a grim and probably over-brutal story of honour killings in bleakest Yorkshire and the only film I saw this year in which someone gleefully pisses over their own hands, and Focus was the movie made by God to convince me that Will Smith really isn’t watchable in anything, especially if that thing is a Vegas day-tripper’s conception of a convincing con-artist drama in which aside from the Olympic-standard acrobatics deployed to simply lift fucking watches nobody mentions that stealing things is a bit of a dick move. Luckily the month was seen out by It Follows, a horror of spare style and insistent anxiety that riffs on the ever-present Jungian fuck-yous of the genre – sex, death, and the urge to do one even while the other watches from a dark corner.

 

chappieSome really fucking stupid films were released in March. Chappie put another dent in the idea that Neill Blomkamp is a lo-fi sci-fi visionary, a clumsy bit of existential philosophising that basically amounts to thinking about batteries running out and screaming “WHY?” Insurgent continued the vapid Divergent series, a self-deconstructing YA dystopia that lays bare the cycle’s tropes through uncushioned exploitation (“I’m different! I’m special! I’m DIVERGENT!” – fuck off). Slightly less worse was Run All Night, a daft tough-talking gangland thriller that at least gave Liam Neeson a chance not to be in Taken for a while, and then there was Home, an aliens-on-Earth story starring an entire race of rubbery, calculatedly mis-speaking stress toys I would happily genocide in a vat of pure fuck.

 

End of F7April brought with it Fast And Furious 7, the latest in a blockbuster series that has thrown off the prevailing laws of Hollywood and indeed reality so completely that this most recent instalment plays like a lunatic’s daydream of how it might feel to be Vin Diesel while simultaneously over- and under-acting in the role of himself. It’s strange, awful, fun and touching, and has tapped into something so inexplicably lucrative that it’s unlikely to ever stop – this is, after all, the film that digitally resurrected Paul Walker in order to have him perpetuate the very speed, cars and hard-ons culture that killed him. Speaking of killing, Keanu Reeves did lots of it in, John Wick, which is similar to the Fast films in that it’s rubbish for long stretches but has its star do the thing the audience will forgive most other things to see (fighting and acting spaced out, in the case of Keanu). And finally The Avengers: Age Of Ultron did not repeat the glorious synthesis of the first film, suggesting that we might be desensitized to scale and novelty and that some new escalation is needed to keep Marvel’s balloon expanding.

 

Mad MaxFor my birthday in May I got Top Five, a walk around New York with Chris Rock and Rosario Dawson that has a mix of contrivance, romance and light intellectualism that might make you think of Woody Allen if thinking of Woody Allen wasn’t really fucking depressing these days. I also got Pitch Perfect 2, a competent sequel to a brilliant film that adds nothing except a few low-hanging fat gags, Tomorrowland, a lovingly over-ambitious interrogation of the faded optimism of Disney’s 1950s, and Mad Max: Fury Road, a film which somehow recaptured the peculiarly Australian grotesque of the original trilogy and packaged it in an action film that was relentlessly and repeatedly right, like having an amazing conversation with somebody awesome who keeps saying brilliant, world-altering things you agree with, and the things are on fire.

 

ENTOURAGE-facebookJumbo-v3Spy arrived in June not only to remind everyone that Melissa McCarthy is brilliant, but that when he isn’t headbutting thought itself Jason Statham can be really funny. Jurassic World followed soon after and, if the original film was an investigation of provocative speculative science constructed from a classic cinematic vocabulary, then this was a parade of growling action figures justified by idiot size and Hollywood’s enduring belief that just because it can remake things with better effects it should. It wasn’t the worst film of the month, though, because also released was Entourage, the empty howl of five awful men trawling through the cloudless hell of LA for fame and money, a deathless worship of skin and status where the purpose of consciousness is reduced to  successfully convincing people to touch your cock. In contrast Minions was a Bergmanesque essay on virtuous mortality, although really it was a set of yellow bollocks with funny voices taking money from your children, and so thank rigorous fuck for Slow West, which arrived at the end of the month, a meditative and wry odyssey across the plains that was reminiscent of the Coens without really trying to be.

 

TerminatorIn July Arnold Schwarzenegger was allowed to age, twice: first in another retread of Terminator, a series so full of cynical revisionism that Terminator Genisys basically feels like playing skip-rope with timelines, and then in Maggie, a zombie drama apparently starring Arnie as a weathered, plaid-wearing dad protecting his infected daughter from the apocalypse, but which was actually just him watching her die slowly for a couple of hours. Ant-Man was the smallest and best Marvel film of the year, Inside Out was the best thing Pixar have made for several years – layers of fantasy deployed to give an honest account of how it feels to grow up – and Mission: Impossible 5 – Rogue Nation passed like pleasant scent of millions of dollars on the air, a huge production that folded away into nothing as soon as it was seen.

 

UncleAugust brought its own remake of a ‘60s spy show, The Man From UNCLE, in which Henry Cavill displayed the obscene looks and suited sophistication that should have made him a brilliant Clark Kent, while the film itself played period charm against a knowing irony to be – what? – quite good. Not good were either Fantastic Four – hardly the cosmic catastro-wank billed, but a stroppy teen drama filmed in a tin can – or videogame invasion comedy Pixels, which pulled its arcade characters into reality with unexpected imagination but needed more from Adam Sandler than whatever the fuck this was in order not to be awful. Seeing out the month were two films about love and life: Diary Of A Teenage Girl was a dark film brightened by the energy of its adolescent, comic book-inspired presentation, a story of the excitement and inequalities of sex; and Trainwreck was lust on a more equal footing, Amy Schumer writing and starring in the kind of autobiographical, pop-psychological romcom that director Judd Atapow regularly turns out with samey men, here sharper, fresher and funnier from the less-seen perspective.

 

MartianThanks to September’s Building Jerusalem I have cried at every film I’ve seen featuring Jonny Wilkinson, a record unlikely to be broken any time soon. Legend, meanwhile, was a flaccid celebration of charismatic violence, a dwindling sparkler jammed into the cock hole of Tom Hardy’s affliction acting and bravely helicoptered to underwhelming effect. Much more enjoyable was Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, another contrived YA prison of tests and status mutated into an unexpectedly not-shit zombie thriller, while gardening sci-fi The Martian proved Ridley Scott still knows when less is more, even if he forgot while he was making Prometheus.

 

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We are nearly finished. In October I saw Sicario, a drugs war drama that’s sleek and nasty like a shard of glass between the ribs, and then I saw Crimson Peak, a beautiful ghost story from Guillermo del Toro that was an authentic piece of Gothic fiction, in as much as it featured oppressive architecture, inscrutable spirits, and I was bored way before the end. I nearly loved The Lobster, which presented a desparing, absurdist satire of the tyranny of both being in and out of a relationship, and then ludicrously gave up on it halfway through and sat in the woods in a mac.

 

Star WarsIn November I only saw one film, Steven Spielberg’s Bridge Of Spies, which re-re-re-reconfirmed Tom Hanks as our Jimmy Stewart, and Steven Spielberg as our Steven Spielberg. And then Star Wars: The Force Awakens arrived in December, giving me back a piece of myself I’ve gotten used to pretending I didn’t mind was missing.

 

And that’s everything. The things I feel stupidest for not having seen are Force Majeure and Brooklyn, and the most fun I’ve had at the cinema was either seeing Blade Runner at a near-empty late-night screening, or High-Rise at the Bath Film Festival (or actually it was walking out of Star Wars – my second time – with my children alight with excitement like I’ve never seen at the movies). The best TV I watched this year was probably The Jinx, the extraordinary HBO documentary about Robert Durst which edged its way slowly into the story it presented, and Netflix comedies The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Master Of None, which is patchy but beautiful.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Keith permalink
    January 10, 2016 7:12 pm

    Really good run-down. Picked up a couple of leads on things I missed this year, thanks 🙂

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