The best and worst films of 2015… that I didn’t review

Jeez. 2015 was a stinker. Mostly, it was a year racked with cinematic let-downs – as a long list of franchises made big budget returns to the screen only to disappoint. Like going through the motions with a former lover, Jurassic Park, Star Wars, Terminator, the James Bond franchise all reused their same stale old tricks while sadly tarnishing the memories of a pristine and exciting affair from long ago. And yes, I appreciate Star Wars 7 wasn’t an utter disaster. But really, can you look me in the eye and tell me it worked as a standalone film? If this were the first one you saw, would you be queueing outside Odeon in the bleak December cold waiting for tickets to its sequel? I doubt it. Anyway, I digress – Star Wars was not really interesting enough on either end of the scale to register on this list. The rules are the same as last year, “definitive best and worst lists are so impossibly selective, and rely on a reviewer seeing literally everything in order to be credible. This is not that.” So here goes, the best 3 and worst 3 I never reviewed – and one of each that I did. Let’s make the best of what was a disappointment of a year, and hope that surely in 2016, things can only get better.

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3 good films I didn’t review:

Mad Max

Who wouldn’t love Mad Max? Well apparently pretty much everyone. It infuriated men’s rights activists, who felt the film had been ‘castrated’, and that the testosterone-fuelled action of Mel Gibson’s original performance was side-lined to make Tom Hardy’s incarnation of Max a glorified gun-rack. Furiosa meanwhile was central to a plot about freeing a breeding-caste of women who were being held captive by a gang of post-apocalyptic creeps. But despite the apparent embodiment of what it means to be an ally – particularly the previously mentioned scene where Max symbolically presents his shoulder for the one-armed Furiosa to fire her rifle from, not doing the liberation for her, but supporting her and her self-defined route to liberty in the process – voices within the feminist community likewise hated the film. The phrase white-feminism was thrown at it, perhaps understandably considering it is almost exclusively staffed by white actors in the Australian outback. The thing is, while it should have been elaborated further, there are hints as to why Aborigines are absent from the racial make-up of the apocalypse. The ghost of an Aborigine man haunts Max, urging him to help those in need, rather than abandoning them to his fate – and the gang of antagonists seem to have based their society off Aryan-esque mythology that preaches the virtues of an afterlife in Valhalla. Putting two and two together, it’s probably safe to assume this new society where women are literally enslaved as breeding stock are also white supremacists, and there was an unopposed genocide in the region. If you want a chilling depiction of society if the forces of socialism do not win out, this film is unflinching in that respect. If you want equal representation, this film will not provide it – but if its aim is to not only warn us of the dangers of a fascistic future, but to reflect the inequalities of modern Australian society (where Aborigines are still treated as second class citizens by swathes of the population) then arguably, it shouldn’t seek to place a band-aid on that inequality through ‘equal’ representation. Everything is not ok – and in amongst the adrenaline fuelled carnage, Mad Max shows that in a way that most modern apocalyptic like The Hunger Games is a little shy about.

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John Wick

“A man just goes mental and shoots everyone because his dog died.” When somebody at work seemingly impersonating Barry Shitpeas told me about this film it sounded like a joke. A film made out of irony, with a cynical heart, where a man goes on a killing-rampage over something trivial. John Wick was not that film. Keanu Reaves is brilliantly cast, as a grieving widower struggling to rediscover his feelings after the death of his wife. Before her death she buys him a dog specifically for this reason; to help him heal. The son of a Russian mob-boss; a cynical, materialist who is used to having the world at his beck and call having never earned anything for himself, destroys this possibility after John Wick refuses to sell him his car. The brat needlessly murders the puppy, for the sake of asserting his own virility, having been made to look impotent despite his money earlier. The following carnage is anything but meaningless though, and indeed seems to seek to comment on the millions of similar shoot-out films; that many of them are utterly vacuous despite focusing on seemingly grander topics like ‘honour’, ‘nationality’ and ‘family’. They push a toxic brand of masculinity; and the gangsters Wick offs over the course of this gloriously gloomy, synth-drenched film embody that very brand. It’s the film the world needed to cleanse its palate after Taken 1, 2 and 3.

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It Follows

I’ve always said it; you know you have seen a good horror film when you’re still checking over your shoulder long after the credits have rolled. This stripped-back horror delves into the very heart of the genre and focuses in on its core element to chilling effect. What if something is always creeping up on you from amongst the shadows? Slow, but sure, impossible, but unstoppable. From this simple yet extremely effective premise, the strong characterisation helps build in strong critiques of victim blaming, sexual shaming and patriarchal society. It is by far the smartest horror of the year, if a little unoriginal.

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1 good film I did review:

Inside Out

My film of the year. Hands down, the best film animation or otherwise to come out of 2015; it’s smart, funny and packed with feeling. Read the full review here.

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3 terrible films I didn’t review:

Spectre

Ok, so I’m bending the stick here, because technically I reviewed this in the Norwich Radical, which you can read here, but there were a couple of things I wanted to add. The franchise in general seemed to be desperate for reinvention – but it was a reinvention that is literally only skin-deep. This film epitomises this shift from the very beginning; featuring a series of sanitised tourist spots for Mexico, who reportedly paid Spectre’s producers an absurd amount of money to be featured favourably and “improve the international image of Mexico” without the government having to enact any meaningful change that would challenge cartels or improving the lives of its impoverished people in the process. Like the Mexican government, Bond is still the same inexorable arsehole that he ever was; an interminable sexist who routinely pressures vulnerable women for sex, and apologist for an analogue surveillance state, falsely juxtaposed as a progressive alternative to a digitised totalitarianism.

And even if you can ignore those not-so-subtle rose-tinted endorsements of ‘the good old days’ of British imperialism and unchecked secret policing, which apparently most critics were happy to – the film is so utterly poorly made, you cannot even argue, in the way that is usual for 007, that it is at least good fun. This film was cobbled together in such a rickety, half-cocked fashion that it literally seems like they only realised half-way through filming that Daniel Craig really meant he wasn’t making another film for them. As a result, in what can only be described as the most embarrassing plot-twist outside of M Night Shamylan’s cinematic canon, Christoph Waltz’s Ernst Stavro Blofeld is shoehorned into the previous three films plots without any reference being made to foreshadow this in any of the other films. The only way this plot development could have been more excruciatingly embarrassing is if it had turned out “it was all a dream”. And yet it received glowing reviews. Mark Kermode, and the general caucus of British critics should be ashamed of themselves for endorsing this movie – it is an utter shambles and nothing more… and yet somehow… somehow it is still not the worst of 2015.

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Pixels

It is a comedy that is bereft of jokes, and a concept bereft of originality of invention. I pirated this film. I encourage everyone else to do the same and will happily go to jail for that if necessary. It is not even the case that this film was made, as I initially suspected, by a group of people who saw Wreck It Ralph but missed the point. This is purely a cynical cash-in. Alleged comedian, certified cretin, Adam “I endorse the ethnic cleansing of Palestine” Sandler proved once again that there actually was more of the barrel to be scraped in this epically dull piece of licensing porn. This is not a piece of warm nostalgia, where we reminisce about the child-like wonder of a penny-arcade, or the collective experience of video-gaming – this is a shameful bellow of self-entitled nerd-tantrum, wherein a number of ‘failed’ dorks (one of whom grows up to become President… but hey, if Trump can do it so can anyone, right?) protest that “women only like bad guys, and we are good guys – albeit only with a view to having sex with those women.” The one thing keeping this from being the worst film of 2015 is Sean Bean.

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The Boy-Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

I once described the BBC’s touching zombie drama In the Flesh as the lovechild of Ken Loach and George A Romero. The Boy-Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is like the godless lovechild of Judd Apatow and a septic tank. The film bothers me on many levels, but one gets to me more than any other. Sure, this tediously sexist frat-house humour stopped being relevant in 2001, and sure this kind of mis-step has been made enough times since (Without a Paddle, Dodgeball, Piranha 3D, etc etc) that it should itself have appeared within the Boy-Scout’s guide to film-making to forewarn them from this epic failure – but the thing that riles me most about this joyless caper is that there is no love for the genre itself here. Zombies have been at the centre of some of the most cutting-edge social commentary in cinema for half a century – even in a desensitised Resident Evil era where cynical audiences find it hard to find them scary unless they can run or mutate – they deserve better than this predictable cash-in on their lumbering zeitgeist. Save yourselves a 90 minute mistake, re-watch Shaun of the Dead instead. A film that at least cares about the cinematic pedigree behind the objects of its ridicule.

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1 terrible film I did review:

Terminator Genisys

Pure concentrated liquid evil. Unquestionably as bad as it can get. A film about murdering a child of your own creation for fear it may grow to be smarter than you. This is Frankenstein without a conscience. Here is the full review. I’ll see you all in 2016. Here’s hoping it can’t get any worse than 2015.

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