"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times......"
Hey, happy new year everybody.
2015 was a pretty remarkable year, but it’s time to lay it to rest and look back as some of the movie highlights and lowlights in the yearly list I love, for whatever reason, to call The Good, The Bad and the Fugly.
It’s always a sign of an awesome cinema going year when the movies I think will be my top choices end up getting lower and lower in the list as other films I see exceed my expectations. It’s equally surprising when films that I thought might do quite well end up on the other end of the scale.
I don’t really expect anybody to agree with my list (that’s why I have the website’s Facebook page set up) – this is a personal choice based on my reaction to seeing the films in question, then a lengthy mull over whether film A was better than film B, and the list I submit as my top 10 for Starburst magazine. Some of it might be a little controversial, but hey – you guys have been reading my stuff long enough to know I’ve never been one to shy away from speaking my mind – right?
So before we head off to the good list, let’s take a quick look at the three movies who need to be named and shamed.
There – I’ve said it. In a year that was pretty much the years of the spies on screen, it’s strange that the latest Bond film wasn’t on the other list. Thing is, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. isn’t a bad film, but it does stretch the whole story arc started way back in Casino Royale to snapping point. That arc, of Bond’s beginnings and how he became the smooth super-agent, had, I assumed, come to a satisfying close in Skyfall. But now, we have Blofeld’s origin? And he’s Bond’s adoptive brother? Really? That’s as weak and contrived as Spock having a half-brother in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier who had never been mentioned throughout the TV series or the previous five films. Great set pieces, and hopefully we’re going to get a standalone film next time that doesn’t mention Bond’s brief relationship with Vesper Lynd. Enough already, guys. Let’s move on.
2) Fantastic 4
Holy crap, this was a bad Fantastic Four film. It wasn’t a bad film as such, but it missed the point of being a Fantastic Four movie completely. By his own admission, director Josh Trank didn’t read the comics and had no idea what makes the FF tick, he wanted to make HIS version of a Fantastic Four film, therefore he wasn’t qualified to make the movie, as far as I’m concerned. What he made, instead was maybe Chronicle 2?
But we knew this was going to be bad. I'll probably buy it on DVD just for its sheer comic ineptness. That’s why it didn’t get the number one spot.
Nope, that goes to a film that I never, ever want to see again.
1) The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
I was always a huge fan of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in my childhood. I remember its TV debut in the sixties. Books and DVD box sets have kept my love for the show alive. I remember Brian de Palma was trying to get a film version off the ground many years ago, but then opted for the other huge sixties TV spy show, Mission: Impossible.
But this? This is just sad and tepid. Napoleon Solo is an ex burglar now a CIA agent. Illya Kuryakin is a genetically enhanced KGB agent, and they reluctantly team up to undergo a mission to spring someone from behind the Iron Curtain.
U.N.C.L.E. isn’t even an organisation, it’s the code word for them working together as a team. No special guns, no pen radios, no triangular badges, secret entrances through a tailors’ shop, no opening of channel D.
Despite the swinging sixties setting, and some jarring anachronisms, the film flops around like a fish out of water, ignoring all the settings and trappings that made the series great. Basically, it’s a slap in the face to all of us who’ve loved the show for decades.
The only great thing about the film is that it opened up an opportunity for me to write a lengthy retrospective article about the series for Starburst magazine, and I had a blast doing it.
And now……..the good, the great and the simply awesome.
10) Terminator: Genisys
Actually, this is only marginally above Mad Max: Fury Road. It gets to be a nose ahead to make the top ten list because it’s a well-crafted story that not only retells and reboots the original films and the whole Terminator story arc, but hey – it brought Arnold Schwarzenegger back to his most famous role and that’s never a bad thing. (Mad Max, dropped a spot because it’s basically a long car chase – also not a bad thing – but SCHWARZENEGGER, man.
9) Project Almanac
This was my birthday movie. I love time travel films that speculate on the rippling butterfly effect of altering something that might seem inconsequential at the time and seeing what changes happen as a result in the future. Add to it that it’s done in the style of a found footage film and we have a winner.
There was a lot of hype around this at the beginning of 2015, I could never figure out quite what it was that we were being sold in the trailer, but Brad Bird’s amazing looking film was always going to be worth watching. Then, it tanked dismally on its release and had come and gone from the multiplex before I had a chance to see it. I caught up to it on Blu-ray. (It was one of the first Blu-ray discs I ever bought). It’s a positive, affirming story that left me with a feeling of happy optimism. But the concept of the film is definitely a hard one to sell in a short trailer. Hopefully this is why the film tanked at the box office, rather than the awful prospect of today’s audiences just being too cynical for an upbeat message.
I think it’ll find its audience on DVD and subscription services, and be recognised as a cult classic, unappreciated in its time pretty much like TRON did back in the early eighties. Personally, I can’t wait to play the disc again with some friends around and get their reaction.
And so Marvel’s Phase II comes to an end, though I’d thought this was the beginning of Phase III but I stood corrected. Ant-Man was every bit as much a sheer goofy delight as I had hoped. I mean, come on, you can’t take a guy who shrinks as seriously as, say, a green rage induced berserker, a Norse God, or a patriotic soldier out of his time, or a guy wearing a robot suit – right? So the tone HAD to be lighter. Paul Rudd made an excellent reluctant hero being manipulated by an equally excellent Michael Douglas. We’ve already seen the beginning of an interplay with The Falcon, which will no doubt become a factor of this year’s Civil War. And who would ever have thought that Thomas the Tank Engine would be a serious threat in a superhero film?
6) The Theory of Everything
New Year’s Day – year started traditionally with a visit to the multiplex. We saw The Battle of the Five Armies, which was a satisfying conclusion to The Hobbit trilogy and vast improvement on the second part (come on – Desolation of Smaug dragged on and on – even I felt desolated) and we decided on impulse to see The Theory of Everything on its opening night.
The film was a revelation – I knew very little about Stephen Hawking and as a rule, I tend not to see many biopics, but this was worthwhile. As I walked out of the screening, I knew I had seen an Oscar winning performance. Not to put too fine a point on it, films rarely manage to portray disabilities accurately. The performances are either toned down to a degree that makes the nature of the disability unclear, or they play up the disability to the degree that it’s practically a pantomime performance. Eddie Redmayne actually nailed every nuance of Hawking in this film, the level of his frustration and suffering evidently increasing as his body was failing over the years was sensitively and realistically shown. Ultimately, I think this film is a worthy tribute to a truly great man.
5) Jurassic World
So many happy memories came flooding back when I saw this with Steve. He was obsessed with dinosaurs as a child and that was because of Jurassic Park. To get to visit the park twenty years later, in both real time and the story’s narrative was a lot of fun for both of us.
I was struck by the small touches – the splash zone in the amphitheatre, the sounds of the theme park. It took me straight back to Orlando, Florida. As far as the story direction is concerned, yes, I could totally buy into the need for bigger and better dinosaurs. The needs of commerce and turning a profit by keeping the target audience’s attention at the risk of creating something that couldn’t be controlled was all too believable, as was the military interest in using trained raptors for stealth missions. But the final scenes, the showdown, the opening of THAT particular paddock? Goosebumps, man. Goosebumps all the way.
Although the hallmark of executive producer Spielberg is evident in every single frame, director Colin Trevorrow has learned from the master and I can’t wait to see what he does in the next Star Wars film. Bring Episode VIII ON!!!!
4) Avengers: Age of Ultron
Trust me – I’m as surprised as you are, seeing this at number 4.
There had been long, detailed discussions before the film. Steve and I speculated at great length on how this film would pan out, how it would play into the upcoming Civil War, the addition of new characters Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Why was Stark wearing the Hulkbuster armour in the trailer? Was this the point where the original Avengers would fragment?
Well, yes and no. Through trying to do good, Stark created an evil that threatens to wipe out humanity. Seriously Tony, watch those flippant remarks when an artificial intelligence program is listening. Especially if it takes everything you say literally and turns it into a mission statement.
A pleasant surprise was that although the Avengers swing into action to save the world again, with everybody playing their part – the mid-movie focus was on Hawkeye and the Black Widow. The least powerful of them. That worked well. In fact, the overall film worked so well, it was one of two movies that we saw twice in one day – once in 2D and the other in 3D. To be honest, 3D made not one ounce of difference to our enjoyment. Marvel movies rock in whatever dimension you watch them.
Ready for the top 3????
3) Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Ah, the fifth of the franchise. I still think the marketing dept. missed an opportunity to shorten the title to MI-5.
But imagine a year where there were plenty of high profile spy blockbusters around – including 007, and Bond didn’t get the top spot of all of them. Mission: Impossible, as a franchise has, in my book, overtaken and overthrown the Bond series as the number one spy franchise of choice, and a large part of that is Tom Cruise’s recklessness of his insistence in performing his own stunts. We had heard and seen that he had hung on to the outside of a plane taking off and had assumed that scene would be the money shot near the end of the film. Nope – it was the opening of the movie, and Cruise’s stunts would only get crazier from there as the story unfolded. For a couple of months, M:I Rogue Nation was my film of the year, assured of at least second place. But then….. something else came out. Something that I hadn’t banked on
2) The Martian
October/November seems to have developed a pattern of being the month for a really good science fiction film. Bear in mind, I’m not talking science fantasy – but fiction. It’s plausible and basically within the realms of fact or theory. The year before last, we saw Gravity. Last year it was Interstellar – this year, it’s The Martian.
It just happened by coincidence that earlier in the year, I had finally found and bought Robinson Crusoe on Mars on DVD. (It’s a mid-sixties film based around the classic story, with the twist that he’s on Mars.) When I heard about The Martian, I figured remake – but wrong, wrong, wrong!
NASA themselves offered technical advice on how a person could sustain themselves if they were stranded on the red planet, the climate conditions, the kind of equipment the astronaut could expect to have, the feasibility of rescue missions and the duration of time to get there.
It’s a fascinating study of man against the elements, racing against time. The effects are staggering – to the extent that despite my frequent misgivings about and disdain for 3D, I kind of wished I have booked a 3D screening of this. Matt Damon gives a powerhouse performance as the lone astronaut, and again, this was so head and shoulders above everything else I had seen that it held my number one spot for several weeks. I kept saying that to beat this, ANY other film would have to be absolutely huge.
Then THIS happened on December 17th......
1) Star Wars Ep VII: The Force Awakens
This could well be dismissed as pretty obvious, because it has the words “star” and “wars” in it. But to be honest – I’m not THAT easy. The last three films, though I’ve enjoyed them, weren’t as good as the previous three.
Yes, I’ve successfully defended even The Phantom Menace over the years, but there’s just no denying that the prequel trilogy is inferior to the originals.
Now we have the sequel trilogy that follows thirty or more years after Return of the Jedi – and suddenly, with physical effects and location shooting – Star Wars is bristling with life again. Bristling? It’s positively crackling and sparkling. Once again, Star Wars is a global phenomenon and it’s due to great storytelling, great performances and great effects. In fact, there isn’t anything about this film that ISN’T great.
We knew the ultimate ending of the prequel trilogy, it was a three film exercise in getting us to the point where we had jumped in, back in 1977. We knew Anakin was going to become Vader, it was all inevitable because we already knew the end of the story, thus, no real surprises. Once again, all the gloves are off, and people – NORMAL people even, are speculating what’s going to happen in the next film.
I think the best summing up of how I feel about this film was made by a friend of mine who, when he heard that we were seeing it for a third time, remarked “It’s like 1977 all over again for you, isn’t it?” and actually he had hit the nail on the head.
And that’s it for 2015, roll on the magical moments of 2016.
Please feel free to hit the Facebook page and discuss and let me know YOUR top 10.
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