Best & Worst Films Of 2015
At the birth of film there were stories about great achievers, from Nelson to Washington. Last week I watched a film about a woman who invents a mop and manages to sell it on QVC. Not exactly Scott of the Antarctic. Joy is directed by David O Russell and stars Jennifer Lawrence. The performances are nice, but God it’s long. And it’s about a mop. Which is fine. It delivers if you wanted a warm pro-capitalist film featuring a lot of grit, spunk and hard graft. But I kept thinking; shouldn’t we have subtler ambitions than this?
In studio terms it’s a ‘woman’s picture’, albeit about female empowerment (this year’s key theme). The men got Steve Jobs, which I thought was a definite candidate for Best Picture, marred by a sentimental ending. Divided into three acts and structured like a stage play, it was anything but – a fascinating depiction of ambition – and you need know nothing about technology to enjoy it.
Meanwhile there was Jurassic World, which nuked the fridge when Chris Pratt, (formerly porky but still ginger) named and tamed the raptors, instantly undermining everything we knew about them. And then it nuked the fridge again when Bryce Dallas Howard squealed and ducked behind him because she’s just a gurl, and again when he kissed her because she knew how to fire a gun, and again when he actually described himself as an Alpha Male. To dinosaurs.
The film summed up the worst of 2015, which featured films that played like K-Tel Greatest Hits packages instead of movies, as Terminator Genisys did. As indeed will Star Wars 7, although we’ll all see it at least five times. In these times there’s no room for experiment. I didn’t even make it all the way through the trailer for Batman VS Superman. Or is it Superman VS Batman? Does anyone really, really care? The studios must know there’s nowhere to go from here, so maybe they’ll come up with something fresh, which would be nice.
Meanwhile I saw The Big Short. A film in which bankers explain how sub-prime mortgage insurance works should be staggeringly boring but director Adam McKay – the Anchorman helmer was not previously known for films like this – has fashioned a sardonic, intelligent satire that gut-punches so hard in its closing minutes that it leaves a bruise.
The film is based on Michael Lewis’ book about how four businessmen foresaw the American housing crisis and ensuing financial collapse. By following their stories it places the viewer in an uncomfortable position. Are these guys, led by low-spectrum autistic financial wizard Christian Bale and loud, rude, morally outraged Steve Carrell, heroes or villains? After all, they’re out to make a fortune by betting that the American Dream is about to turn into a nightmare. They’ll be profiting from human misery, and they know their jobs are poisoning them. Only Brad Pitt has got out and gone back to nature, distancing himself from the whole horror show.
But McKay doesn’t leave it there. He digs through the layers from the top of the decaying, self-deluding anthill to the regular folks at the bottom who are being kicked out of their substandard housing. The breadth of the collusion is breathtaking; names are named and blame is squarely placed. However, this isn’t a documentary, it’s a thriller, and it may just be All The President’s Men for the new century.
Spotlight, about the Boston Globe investigating the paedophile priests scandal, was nowhere near as enthralling as this (or Philomena) and was flatly shot and acted. Where were the comedies? Oh, that would be another Judd Apatow movie. Except Trainwreck was a car crash, trying to shock but actually playing horribly tame and lame. I think the scene in which Amy Schumer overshares about a condom getting stuck to her cervix was meant to be funny but I still can’t be sure.
Netflix made Beasts Of No Nation, about a young boy kidnapped by central African rebels and raised as a soldier, starring Idris Elba, featuring astonishing performances in a tale that rang gruesomely true and stayed with me long after the ending.
Which just left arthouse, the most overrated of which was The Lobster, a deadpan half-hour short stretched to feature length, and A Pigeon Sat On A Branch… which played like a series of comatose tableaux. And why did everything look so cold? The strapline should have read; ‘See ‘A Pigeon Sat On A Branch’…and bring a jumper.’
Flat-out guilty pleasure went to Mad Max Fury Road, which knew exactly how excitement is generated and did it brilliantly. Veteran director George Miller created some great female roles while translating the action into accurate spatial planes that allowed viewers to empathise and feel the visceral impact; younger action directors take note!