Continuing the tradition, I’ve been making notes about all the films I’ve seen over the year and ranking them as I see fit. And here’s the list.
I will remind readers that they are purely in order of *where I wanted to put them*. Not how good they are, not how clever they are, not how much they made me laugh. Just my subjectivity. So that’s why Bridge of Spies, which is clearly excellent, didn’t make the top ten, and why Mortdecai, which everybody else thinks is a pile of stinky poobags, is in the top five.
1 to 10
Ex Machina – The one with the see-though girl-bot. I really enjoyed “The Machine” last year, which has much the same premise. but nobody else saw that. I was expecting Ex Machina to be a high-budget pale imitation, but it isn’t – it’s special, and largely for two reasons. Firstly, the special effects, which are so utterly real that you forget about them within literally minutes, despite the fact that for the entire film you can see through the lead actress’s body. That’s *so* much more impressive than watching a robot fight a fucking tornado or whatever the next lazy cock-buster is going to be about. Secondly, the plot cleverly sets up so much suspicion that they could literally have filmed the final reel with five completely different reveals and they would all still have made sense. I thought I had it pegged from about minute 20 and was watching carefully for little corroborations of how I thought the story was going to pan out. They were all there – and I was still wrong. I love that.
Frank – Still not really sure what to make of this one but it was a marvellous watch. It’s about a musician who wears a big fake cartoon head all the time. Weird, but not as weird as it sounds. Actually rather touching and great in a way I don’t pretend to understand. And I think this might be the first time ever that the same guy was one of the leads in both of my top two films (Domhnall Gleeson – the Hitler-type guy in the new Star Wars). Not only that, he was in last year’s favourite Calvary too!
Shaun the Sheep – Just delightful. No dialogue, just sheep made of clay. Bit weird that they hired Omid Djalili to do the “voice” of the bad-guy, when all he did was grunt. You have to wonder what his script looked like.
The Lunchbox – You may have heard of the lunch services in India that deliver meals daily from the homes in which they’re cooked into the offices of the workers and then deliver the empty tins back to their origin in time for the next day. They operate with a phenomenal accuracy rate, far better than we can manage in this country. The Lunchbox describes one of the rare glitches in the system – the surly and inscrutable office chappy communicates with the mysterious cook by way of notes in the lunch tin. It’s a quiet film and one that demands your attention – if you try and do something else with this on in the background, it won’t work. I was curious why so much of the dialogue (but not all) is in English. Maybe that’s how it works over there. I don’t know. It doesn’t detract from anything though – it’s great.
Mortdecai – Johnny Depp once again single-handedly makes a movie through his comedy characterisation. You need to be in a good mood for this one, because it’s very flimsy and will turn you off if you let it – but I got lucky on the day and I loved it. Johnny channels his Jack Sparrow magic and had me tittering all the way through with his posh English berk routine. Paul Bettany plays against type and helps with some sharp lines, and Ewan McGregor and Gwyneth Paltrow are … also there. Be warned though, I seem to be one of the only people on the planet who really enjoyed Mortdecai. The reviews have been shocking.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – More of the same from the delightful wrinkly cast. Judi Dench and Maggie Smith are just magical, again. This time Richard Gere comes along for the ride too, but he just looks like a smug carpet in this lofty company. Just as well there’s so much quality in the rest of the cast.
Big Hero 6 – I didn’t feel any draw to watch this one, even when it won Best Animated Oscar when The Lego Movie wasn’t even nominated. I was only geed into seeing it when I found out one of the main characters in it had the same name as someone I knew. And whaddaya know, I ended up loving it! The plot doesn’t matter, it’s nonsense. But it’s warm, it’s fun, it’s funny, it makes you feel better about being alive. That gives it more of a reason to exist than some of the *people* I know. Try it.
A Field in England – I didn’t watch this black-and-white curio back in 2013 because it sounded like it was set on a battlefield and I can’t be doing with all that nonsense. But it isn’t really – I mean, it *starts* in a battle back a few centuries in Cromwell-ish England, but then the protagonists wander off towards the pub and have a bit of a mini-adventure of their own. Much funnier than I expected – then I noticed it was directed by Ben Wheatley, who did the excellent Sightseers, and it started to make sense. I lost it a bit towards the end but it’s still good dark, weird fun.
The Martian – Matt Damon on his own on Mars. Way better than it sounds.
Inside Out – I’m surprised I’m not putting this higher, because I did love it. It’s the Pixar one with little chaps inside a little girl’s head representing her subconscious drives. Really clever and totally engaging, but not quite the best-ever that other people seem to be calling it.
11 to 20
Kingsman: The Secret Service – Part James Bond, part comedy, part teen-Hunger-Games-thingy, Kingsman sounds like an awful mish-mash but it works under Matthew Vaughn’s direction (he wot did Lock Stock). Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Samuel L Jackson and Mark Strong headline the cast and make it such jolly good fun that I didn’t mind the plot being desperately un-thought-out and the expositions being painfully obvious. I think it’s for kids really, but the violence is pretty strong in places (Tarantino-strong).
Mississippi Grind – I don’t know why I liked this film so much. Gambling films are usually so wanky, but I really got into this one. It did the Ex Machina trick of sending me the wrong way (several times), but there was more than that. There was great characterisation, respect to the audience and a real *mystery* that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The only bitch I have is about one line that was so mumbly I couldn’t hear what it was… about bingo and a “sweet old lady” … I wound it back five times and listened to it again. Still don’t have a fucking clue what that line was. But it felt significant.
Spectre – Some friends have been slating the latest James Bond but I thought it was great. Not quite as good as Skyfall but a country mile ahead of Quantum of Bollocks.
Minions – Just as good fun as you would expect, and no more. Failed to recognise many of the celebrity voices. Adorable little yellow dudes.
Spy – Melissa McCarthy wobbles amiably through this James Bond spoof, supported by Jude Law and Miranda Hart. One of the funnier comedies of the year.
The Lady in the Van – Maggie Smith is always brilliant, and watching her irritate Alan Bennett is lovely.
Vacation – Remember National Lampoon’s Vacation with Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo? This is the next generation doing the same thing. Chev and Bev are both in it (briefly) and it’s pretty much the same but with slightly updated humour. I found it really funny.
Legend – I wanted to boycott this film because it’s just *wrong* that disgusting people like the Krays should make money from their lives of evil. But then I found out that there aren’t any Krays left alive to profit, and despite being called Legend, the film doesn’t portray them in a particularly flattering light. And of course, Tom Hardy is great in everything. It’s surprisingly funny, too.
While We’re Young – Childless couple Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts meet young and vibrant Adam Driver (the deviant angular bloke from Girls who is now horribly miscast as mini-Darth in Star Wars) and Amanda Seyfried. It’s never going to set the world alight because it doesn’t try to – its main strikes are subtle and clever, so that’s alienated half the audience right there. But I liked it.
Big Eyes – Tim Burton directs painter Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz taking the credit for Amy’s paintings. Rich and pleasant to watch, yet strangely surreal in places, flippant without being funny. It’s different to Burton’s usual style and intriguing because of it, but I think the writing could have used a slight tonal shift.
21 to 30
Dumb and Dumber To – Low expectations helped with this one. The original was pretty funny (I thought) and the Jim Carrey / Jeff Daniels team works well again here, not taking anything at all seriously and just having lots of fun with being dim. I think you need to be in a good mood though, as it’s fish-in-the-face humour rather than Shaun the Sheep. If you’re feeling a bit petulant then you’ll hate it.
The Theory of Everything – This is the one about Stephen Hawking’s life. The main problem with it is that Hawking and co are still alive, so there’s no freedom to do a warts-and-all version of the story. As a result, the film feels a bit sycophantic and, although it captures some of the struggle of motor neurone disease, does rather trivialise Hawking’s work by making the plot a love story. Hmmm. But, having said that, unfamiliar face Eddie Redmayne does a magnificent job of portraying the disabled scientist, and the film is still very good. It’s just that The Imitation Game (the Alan Turing one) is much better.
The Falling – Feels so Nordic that I was quite surprised when I noticed actually there aren’t any subtitles and everyone’s clearly English. Schoolgirls start fainting and nobody knows why. Go in with the knowledge that nothing’s going to get resolved or explained and it makes a lot more sense – and becomes rather good.
Birdman – I kind of love this and kind of don’t. With one notable exception, the *entire* movie is one single shot. I don’t mean it all takes place in 90 minutes – we span several days and change locations – but the camera never breaks away. There’s continuity in the shot all the time. When someone leaves the room, the camera leads them away, when time passes we look at the sky for a bit while the sun moves – but the shot never breaks. I can’t remember any other film to do that. And the techie-cleverness doesn’t stop there – we often pan across a mirror which, the first time it happened, had me shocked out of my reverie thinking, “where’s the camera?” because it should be showing in the mirror. In fact I’m not sure any of the mirror reflections we see are real – some of the reflected images are in the wrong place, for example. That always bugs me in TV shows, where the guy’s pretending to be looking at his own reflection, but the camera’s angled to the mirror and yet *we* can see his reflection. If we can see it, he can’t! But that’s the movie’s biggest problem – it’s saying, “hey, look how clever I am!” I’ve seen it twice now and neither time did I get even slightly immersed in it, I just watched the techie shit. The shot-joins are very easy to see the second time round, almost like they’re not trying to hide them, and it all feels very, very luvvie. There’s a scene early on that involves finding an actor for their play – they go through Woody Harrelson, Michael Fassbender, Jeremy Renner … but that dangerous move makes me fantasise that they’re going to suggest that dude who played Batman against Jack Nicholson’s Joker … and then where are they going to go? He’s IN the movie! It’s like EastEnders mentioning Coronation Street. You CAN’T. It messes with the magic. I still give it lots of credit for doing something new. But Oscar for Best Picture? Ludicrous.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. – It’s a Guy Ritchie film but doesn’t feel like it. Henry Cavill (Superman) is Napoleon Solo, Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger) is Illya Kuryakin and Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) is the girl. Starts badly but gathers speed. Daft but knowingly so, it’s OK.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – I have no time for runny shooty action nonsense, but this one was OK. Utterly barking mad, of course, but jolly good fun nonetheless.
Ant-Man – It really helps in superhero movies where you *start* with a ludicrous premise. Then the rest of the nonsense is easier to take. But even so, the sloppy plotting gets in the way in Ant-Man. At one point the super-fast ant dude just stands there while all the baddies run out the room and makes no move whatsoever to stop them, until they’ve made their escape and THEN he starts the chase. Pathetic. But having said that, I quite enjoyed this silly Marvel superhero film. Paul Rudd takes the lead, who you might recognise as Phoebe’s boyfriend in Friends and from Judd Apatow movies such as The 40 Year Old Virgin and This Is 40, and he’s really good. Michael Douglas is the wise old dude, with a very distracting opening scene with rather obvious CGI to make him look 20 years younger. It looked like a cut-scene from a video game – very stilted and weird. It gets a bit shit once the action starts (don’t they all) but it’s fun enough up to that point. Lots of people are saying, “I don’t usually like Marvel films but I quite liked this.”
Bridge of Spies – Actually this was excellent: Tom Hanks / Mark Rylance / Amy Ryan, direction by Spielberg and writing credits for the Coen Brothers – how can it be anything else? It’s only way down here because it’s a bit dry and now I’ve got home from the cinema I’m not in a particularly fluffy mood because of it. Were I judging on merit, this would be top three material.
Burnt – Bradley Cooper as a chef chasing Michelin stars. Everybody else in the viewing party said this was superb but I thought it was merely OK. It’s a dead giveaway when you start noticing the odd continuity errors (e.g. an omelette that gets bigger and smaller again between shots as Bradley eats it) rather than being captivated by the movie magic. I guess I suffered because I really can’t be doing with all the wankiness surrounding Michelin stars. Who cares if the waiter doesn’t notice a fork on the floor?! Who cares if the spacing of the carrots isn’t millimetrically perfect?! Pretentious knobheads, that’s who.
Wild – Reese Witherspoon walks 1200 miles across America. I was on the verge of turning off after the first tickle, in which Reese can’t even lift up her backpack but 2 minutes later she’s not only got to the end of the street but has walked 5 miles with it on. And then when the plot revealed she’d done no planning whatsoever and was clearly going to make it on luck alone, I went to make a cuppa. And I was beginning to wonder if anybody in Hollywood had ever *seen* hair that hadn’t been washed for a week, given how Reese Witherstylist was shaping up. But then all those things put themselves right and it got quite good. I mean, there *was* a bit of cod new-age bleurghiness at the end, but it was never going to end with her being eaten by a bear, now was it? So it won me over. Almost.
31 to 40
Inherent Vice – I want to say this has Twin Peaks levels of weirdness, but that’s not quite right. How can I explain it? If you’re an uncultured slob like me, you’ll only know novelist Thomas Pynchon from his appearance in The Simpsons, in which he wears a paper bag over his head. That’s a reference to his famous rejection of celebrity, which has led to him not allowing any of his books to be made into films – until now. Paul Thomas Anderson is the man in the chair, who has given us wobbly but always interesting stuff such as There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love. The draw of a director who makes “cool” films has tempted Joaquin Phoenix into the lead, with Benicio del Toro, Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin and Owen Wilson cropping up in various supporting roles, who are all watchable and COMPLETELY impenetrable. And that’s the key. I saw Mark Kermode’s review before I saw it, and he said you’re not really expected to follow the plot. Oh my god, that was such great advice. Armed with this little gem, I just let it wash over me, and I ended up rather enjoying it, despite not really knowing what the hell was going on. It’s no wonder there have been media reports of mass-walkouts from cinemas. The dialogue sounds like it’s coming from the mouths of politicians. You understand all those words in isolation, but somehow the sentence has finished and you’ve learned nothing new. Much like the characters, it’s a stoner movie! The feel is right, but the detail is all a blur. So weird! But curiously not shit. I can’t explain it.
Time Lapse – A group of friends discover a machine that takes a photo 24 hours *in advance*, so then having seen the photo they’re forced into acting out the scene in the photo, otherwise THEY DIIIIEEEEE! What? Hmmm. Somehow not terrible but let’s not try and think about it. At all.
American Sniper – Clint Eastwood’s latest true-ish story about an army sniper is a mixed bag. Bradley Cooper is very good, but he and his co-SEALs mumble their drawly yankishness so deeply that I lost at least 20% of the dialogue. The story doesn’t seem to know where it’s focused – I found myself starting to understand post-traumatic stress for the first time ever, then like a kid with ADHD it dropped that subject just as it was grabbing me and wandered off to shoot holes in people’s heads again. Who, of course, despite doing the exact same job as our hero, are worthy of being shot because they’re on The Other Side. I’ve had enough of that crap. I found the whole thing utterly depressing. It’s only as high as it is because of the PTSD section. Oh, and watch out for the scene towards the end in which Bradley Cooper is holding *easily* the least realistic pretend-baby I’ve ever seen. It’s like they didn’t even bother to try and hide the fact it was a doll. So unbelievably amateurish.
A Walk in the Woods – Robert Redford playing real writer Bill Bryson as he attempts, unprepared, to walk The Appalachian Trail. A very similar plot, you’ll notice, to Wild. The latter is only a few places higher in this list but it’s a LOT better. This one is pleasant to watch but very low-rent, especially considering the big-name cast of Redford, Nick Nolte and Emma Thompson. Some of the scenes are clearly in a studio, which gives the whole thing a low-budget feel that drags it down. You could call it Wild-Lite.
Whiplash – I have a lot to say about Whiplash and I’m not quite sure how it’s going to go. Let’s see. You may have seen the trailer in which bandleader JK Simmons is a massive dick to young and ambitious drummer Miles Teller (such a jazz name!). Refreshingly, most of the trailer is in the first few minutes, which is a *brilliant* thing as far as I’m concerned, and star Teller is wonderfully un-Hollywood-looking and highly convincing, so it’s all ticks so far. Furthermore, the (largely orange) cinematography is excellent and any drummers in the audience will be practically jizzing in their pants at the musical content. And the central performance by JK Simmons is so powerful that even in the first few minutes I found myself thinking, “I’ve always liked his performances, but he’s never broken through,” before I had a rare moment of self-awareness and realised that no, actually, I *hadn’t* always liked him. I thought he made the newspaper editor his own in Spider-Man 2, in a daft comedy kind of way, but since then he’s just been that baldie-who-I-know-from-somewhere. But his performance here is *so* strong that it actually bent my memory and made me think I’d always seen him that way. Yes, it’s *that* good. So if I have all these good things to say about the film, why is it way down here? Well, because the plot is AWFUL. The first half of the film is full of one-dimensional knobheads who don’t understand what’s important in the world, which I can live with in a film even if it won’t engage me, but the second half is just fucking stupid. I thought for one glorious moment that it was going to go all Million Dollar Baby and I actually sat up in my seat and said, “here we go!” but no. Fucking no. Mr Penis Scriptwriter decided to consult his 15 year old drama student cousin and came up with the stupidest final reel I’ve seen since Thor vs Independence Day. OK, I might have dreamt that film, but trust me, it had a *bad* plot. And this plot is just as bad. Nobody else seems to have noticed this.
Selma – The story of Martin Luther King, but without his words, because Steven Spielberg owns the rights to those. Yes, really. So although lead actor David Oyelowo does a very good impression of the man himself, we don’t get to hear the famous speeches. Oh, and it’s as boring as Lincoln.
Mr Holmes – Ian McKellen carries this slow tale of a geriatric Sherlock. Watchable only for him.
Cake – Jennifer Aniston’s bid for awards glory is actually not bad, but it’s nowhere near high enough standard. To be fair, she’s pretty good, but I found it a bit weird that we’re clearly supposed to be impressed that she’s prepared to appear on screen in an unglamorous role, yet it’s still bloody obviously Jennifer Aniston, so she still looks like a Hollywood superstar – just one who hasn’t washed her hair in a week. It took me ten minutes to notice she had scars on her face. Not *nearly* dowdy enough, Jen. Think Charlize Theron in Monster. That’s where your award will come from.
The Equalizer – Denzel Washington takes Edward Woodward’s role in this very shallow but quite stylish Death Wish homage, directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day). If Stephen Seagal had played the lead, this would have been utterly, utterly appalling, but Denzel saves the day again. Still rubbish, but watchable rubbish.
The Last Witch Hunter – Vin Diesel in nearly-terrible, effects-led magic nonsense. Michael Caine is under-used, CGI is *way* over-used.
41 to 52
Child 44 – Pretty good until the end. Tom Hardy is excellent, but it’s really fucking depressing so it’s way down here.
Entourage – I never watched the TV show; it looked a bit shiny and smug. And indeed so is the movie. Many times somebody pops up who is so awful at acting you know it must be a celebrity I’m supposed to recognise doing a cameo. There were a few funny moments, but not enough to carry the 100 minute running time that felt more like 150. Then the credits rolled and the lights came on, so everyone walked out, then a final scene pops up, that takes MINUTES – so we’re watching that standing up in the theatre. And it wasn’t even a good scene – just an excuse to squeeze in George Takei’s cameo. But the real reason I’m down on Entourage is because Piers Morgan is in it. And for that reason only, it needs to be burned, with fire, until it no longer exists.
Tomorrowland – George Clooney and Hugh Laurie support in this daft drivel that introduces an interesting premise and then shits all over it in the very next scene. Quite fun if you’re in the mood for it. I wasn’t.
The Interview – Call me suspicious but I don’t buy all the media hoo-hah about the Sony hack by North Korea. I’m calling bullshit on that. The Interview really isn’t very good – James Franco being particularly out of control – but oh look, now it’s been the centre of controversy it’s made a ton of money. How convenient. It’s OK but it would’ve sunk without a trace without the publicity.
The Gambler – Stylish but ultimately a bit shit.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay part 2 – Vacuous, depressing tweeny tripe.
Avengers Age of Ultron – Stupid action shit.
Jurassic World – Shit. You’ll love it.
Fantastic Four – Completely unnecessary and rubbish remake of the quite good 2005 Fantastic Four, starring the young drummer from Whiplash. There’s really nothing to recommend here, it’s just generic superhero pap. The final fight scene was particularly head-in-hands terrible, seemingly written by a 14 year old chimp.
John Wick – Ah, that rarest of beasts: a good Keanu Reeves movie. People have been saying that this is one of those unicorns, but by Christ it isn’t. I mean, the shooty bits are more fun than usual, but that only raises it from 2/10 to 3/10. It’s very, very stupid. And although I *so* want to like Keanu Reeves because he seems like a lovely bloke, he still looks like he’s practising for Bill & Ted’s 3.
Foxcatcher – Critically acclaimed but I’m really not sure why. Steve Carell plays real-life rich weirdo John Du Pont as he coaches Olympic wrestling gold medallist Mark Schultz – I’m yawning just writing about it. I *think* Steve Carell was moving carefully and deliberately to show he was aged and arthritic – but it looked like he was just worried his fake nose was going to fall off. Mark Ruffalo seems to be wearing an ostrich egg on his head, and Channing Tatum keeps jutting his chin out, which I can only assume is Acting School Technique to make himself look stoopid. At least that bit worked. Finally after nearly 2 hours it suddenly got interesting, and then the movie ended. You bastards.
Taken 3 – I think we can all agree the original Taken was really rather good. I think we can also all agree that Taken 3 is a pile of shit. Not even Forest Whitaker can save it. Luc Besson co-wrote it, and clearly he’s gone batty, given last year’s appalling Lucy and this crock of gizzards. In future I’m going to avoid anything with his name attached. Starting now.
So there we have it. Only 52 films this year – I made 108 last year. I must try harder in 2016. Every year I look at this list and think, “NO WAY!” No way can it be *less than a year ago* that I saw Foxcatcher, or The Lunchbox, or The Interview. It CAN’T be. But it is.
I’m also reminded of how massively significant my state of mind is when seeing a film. I’ll go back to Mortdecai again – that’s a really daft film. If I hadn’t already been in a good mood *and* wasn’t already on the side of Johnny Depp hamming it up a la Jack Sparrow, I could so easily have detested it like so many reviewers seem to have done. But because I loved it, I’m now going to be able to see it again and again – and each time it will bring back the feelings I experienced the *first* time I saw it. So even if I’m in a bad mood, my reaction to the film has been anchored by the mood I was in back in January when I first saw it. Humans are strange.
Films I missed
I failed to see a ton of great-looking films this year for a number of reasons. Particular missed highlights that I will be trying to rectify in 2016 include:
- Max Max: Fury Road
- Second Coming
- A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
- Slow West
- The Legend of Barney Thompson
- Mia Madre
Chances of me catching up on all those in one year? Not great. But I’ll try.