2015 in Film: a Retrospective

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We’ve almost reached the very end of 2015, and it is time for one of the great traditions of every end of year: a retrospective. Since this is a film blog, of course this will mainly be regarding films and experiences from 2015, but also about films experienced in 2015 for the first time.

I cannot I’ve seen all the films that came out this year. I haven’t even seen the most popular ones. But still, I feel like I’ve had a very productive year in terms of cinematic experiences because I discovered new passions, fascinating films, and went out of my comfort zone more than once, which is good when you’re stuck in a rut. I have also made decisions regarding how to approach film released over the next few years, which I’m sure you don’t care about, but which have facilitated the way I think about what is coming out and whether or not I should go see it (namely, superhero/comic books films.)

Now let us begin our journey through 2015. The year started out triumphantly for me, with the release of Kingsman, which I absolutely loved, though I did not review it here. The film had what so many comic book/graphic novel adaptations often lack — a soul. It had a spark to it, brilliantly acted all around, and it had been a very long time since I’d experience such fun at the cinema. It was a good omen for the year to come, kicking off 2015 with gusto. Following Kingsman at the theatres for me was Ex Machina, aka one of the best fucking films ever. Oscar Isaac and Domhnal Gleeson? Check. Simple, streamlined sci-fi plot? Check. Subtle hints at horror? Check. All the marks of a fantastic film, practically tailor made for me. There is something extraordinary about Ex Machina, and it might indeed be how simple yet clever it is. It doesn’t over-explain nor does it pander, it gives use some information yet leaves us wondering. It builds proper tension, which has vanished from modern science fiction and horror mainstream releases of late, and it is a gorgeous-looking film to boot.

I was slightly brought down from my THIS YEAR IS GREAT high when I watched Pitch Perfect 2, which I was really looking forward to, as I saw the first one eight times when it first came out. I wrote a somewhat unfavourable review of it, and many people have disagreed with me on this, but to be honest I stand but it. It was a wreck of a film. Clumsily directed, terribly acted and awfully written. The racist jokes were offensive (obviously,) and Fat Amy was (way) more than a little grating. The film fails because it tries to go to big when there isn’t much story to tell in the first place. It is one of those films that you hate more and more the more you think about it (like, say, Star Trek Into Darkness.) And it’s a right shame, too, because it is so rare to have a film where all the main characters are women and which is directed BY a woman, so of course I wanted to be supportive because Hollywood needs more of that. Unfortunately, it failed to deliver.

However, none of it mattered, because on the very next day, I went to see the best film of the year, Mad Max: Fury Road. You can fight me on this, it was the best film of the year. I didn’t write the review for the blog, but rather a feminist commentary on how amazing the film is, titled “Furiosa Road” (terribly clever, I know.) It was a refreshing film to watch, because while it was an action film filled with enormous action-packed chase sequences and set-pieces, it was never dull or boring or exhausting like most films like that often are. Fury Road is exciting, it gets your blood pumping, it, like Ex Machina, builds tension in all the right places, and it had some brilliant performances by Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy, along with the entire supporting cast. George Miller is truly a genius, because he managed to make a film which is entirely a car chase scene but it doesn’t feel like you’re stuck in the same spot forever. The film highlights the beauty and danger of the desert landscape. But it is as its most effective when Furiosa and the Brides are at its forefront because they are the (ahem) driving force for the film, and each of them are their own individuals who work synergistically in order to achieve their goal: freedom. Definitely the best film of the year for me. And it is only May!

In June, I volunteered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, where I had the opportunity to catch some brilliant films. And some pretty awful ones. It was a wonderful experience that I was happy to repeat from last year, because being surrounded by people who are just as excited about cinema as you are is exhilarating. I talked to journalists, sang “Bohemian Rhapsody” in a room full of strangers, and met Freema Agyeman at the Filmhouse bar, but still the films made the most impact. The entire collection of reviews I wrote can be found here, but because this is a retrospective and we’re suppose to retrospect, I’d like to talk about some of the films I loved the most from the festival.

Amy, of course, it up there with the greats of the year. A wonderfully moving documentary about Amy Winehouse, it shows exactly how effective documentaries can be, and it is also painful to everyone who has caught himself slightly judging Amy Winehouse, or any other famous person, because you ever know what goes on behind closed doors. Seeing how broken and damaged Amy was aside from being one of the biggest geniuses of our generation was heartbreaking, and it is with regret that that film leaves a mark. The only other film to leave a similar mark was Love and Mercy, the story of Brian Wilson told through two separate timelines. John Cusack and Paul Dano share the role to fantastic results. The story of mental illness, abuse and love is something that tugs are your heartstrings but also leaves you happy for Wilson because he managed to be freed from it all and remains successful to this day. It was up there with my favourite films of the year for sure.

There were many more films that I loved in the festival, though, like Welcome to Me, The Overnight and The Summer of Sangaile. What surprised me, however, was the response from the films I didn’t like. There were three films I absolutely hated in the festival: Brand New-U, which is so terrible it doesn’t even deserve a second review; Meet Me in Montenegro, which was probably the most bored and angry I’ve ever been simultaneously while watching a film; and finally, Uncanny, which has gotten people angry at me for saying it’s a poor-man’s Ex Machina, even though it is. AI is a very popular trope in science fiction, of course it is, and it’s a shame for the people that made Uncanny that a far superior film was released three months prior HOWEVER it does not excuse the fact that it was a boring, irritating, predictable pile of nonsense with no characters to speak of and an utter misuse of Rainn Wilson. Fortunately, it is also terrible bland and incredibly forgettable, so I doubt anyone will be thinking much about Uncanny in 2016.

A film which premiered at the festival but which I (regrettably) didn’t see until it came out on DVD was Turbo Kid. It is a fantastically gory 80s throwback film, Mad Max on BMX, many critics called it. It is set in the post-apocalyptic future of 1997, and it follows the kid as he and his friend Apple are thrown into a plot to fight against Zeus, the evil boss who rules the landscape with an iron fist (which is ironic considering he is played by Michael Ironside.) It features some brilliant actions sequences and chase scenes on bikes, and it will have you falling in love with Apple instantly I assure you.

I also discovered a proper 80s classic on blu-ray this year (unlike Turbo Kid, which is a classic in the making.) Arrow Video recently re-released The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, and watching this film sparked for me the craze of watching old b-movies. If you haven’t seen it yet, please do, it’s amazing fun, and it features pre-Robocop Peter Weller, pre-Jurassic Park Jeff Goldblum, and pre-Back to the Future post-Star Trek Christopher Lloyd. Buckaroo Banzai is proper crazy, a batshit sci-fi film about aliens and Orson Welles and reincarnations and terrible rock music and even more terrible haircuts. Oh, and Jeff Goldblum dressed as a cowboy. What’s not to like? Exactly. A large part of this year for me was discovering things from the past that I had no idea about, and it was great fun to begin this ride with the help of Buckaroo Banzai.

The journey of discovery also featured John Carpenter and David Lynch. Now two of my favourite directors, I can sadly say that before this year I hadn’t seen anything by either of them. But after long marathons, I am confident in saying my education is almost complete (if only I could sit through Inland Empire!)

John Carpenter was easier to get started with, because I knew where to begin. The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, and Escape from New York were the obvious choices. I love me some 80s Kurt Russell! Following that, I watched They Live, Halloween,and The Fog, and even managed to get a hold of Dark Star, which surprised me quite a bit. I’ve still got a long way to go in terms of John Carpenter films, but I’m looking forward to it because his films are always fun to watch. The way he uses music is so interesting, and there is something about the quasi-guerilla way they shot Halloween that really warms my heart.

David Lynch was a bit more difficult, though. I started off with Twin Peaks because I might be the only human being alive who hadn’t seen it yet. And I was instantly hooked. Small town murder mysteries are one of my favourite things, and you add to that a fantastically weird Dale Cooper and some brilliant cinematography, boom, I’m sold. After a week of intensely watching Twin Peaks, I moved on to Mulholland Dr and Blue Velvet. That was all in November, and I had already seen Eraserhead during my Halloween marathon (coming up, hang on…) so I got a really good feel of what David Lynch was about. I tried watching Inland Empire, but the mindset wasn’t right at the time. As with John Carpenter, I’m not even close to being done with Lynch’s work, but I can really appreciate his I-do-it-for-me attitude towards filmmaking, which truly resonates and makes for fascinating films that are slightly odd and very mind-bending.

John Carpenter and David Lynch actually come together in one of my other favourite films I’ve seen the year, if unknowingly. Jodorowsky’s Dune, the documentary about the pre-production and failure to produce Alejandro Jodorowsky’s epic sci-fi masterpiece is brilliant. It begins with Jodorowsky’s background, how he became a filmmaker and how he made El Topo and The Holy Mountain, and how he got into the idea of adapting Frank Herbert’s epic into a film. This was before Alien and Star Wars, before science fiction was a thing. He gathered this incredible team of creators to help him make this film, from the French cartoonist Moebius, to H.R. Giger who end on to design the Xenomorph from Alien, and Dan O’Bannon, who Jodorowsky approached because he loved Dark Star, and who went on to write Ridley Scott’s Alien. Many more people were involved, from Mick Jagger to Salvador Dali, to Jodorowsky’s own son. The documentary retells all, in perhaps a slightly romanticised fashion, but I really enjoyed it, especially at the very end when Jodorowsky is so happy to proclaim that David Lynch’s Dune is actually crap, because that is just hilarious. Of all the documentaries I watched this year, that was probably the best, even better than Amy, I’d say.

Halloween, though, was where my film-watching reached an all-time high, as I decided to take on the 31 Days of Horror challenge, which you can experience in full here. During the entire month of October, I watched at least one horror movie per day, and it was the best. I’d stopped watching horror films for a few years because of a really scary experience (ahem Shutter ahem) but my love for them came back in full force. I watched The Evil Dead again, the Romero zombie films, got into some Stuart Gordon, and revisited The Thing three times. I also watched Eraserhead which kinda fucked me up. And, of course, I attended the All Night Horror Madness marathon at the Cameo: nine hours of horror films, from eleven in the evening until eight in the morning. It was brutal and probably the most fun I’ve ever had. I discovered films that I will love forever (Pieces and Shivers) and experienced The Evil Dead in all its 35mm glory. October was a very successful film month, indeed.

Still, it all came to this. Star Wars. Nothing else mattered. Ten days ago, Star Wars: The Force Awakens finally, finally came out, and I was there at the midnight release, in order to review it here before the day dawned. If you’ve read my review, you can probably tell I loved that film. The characters were great, the film looked brilliant, and it really did feel like a Star Wars film. It was my childhood all wrapped up in a nice shiny new package, and if that isn’t the best Christmas gift JJ Abrams could have given us, then I don’t know what is. I almost forgave him for Into Darkness. Almost. Point is, The Force Awakens was truly a great way to wrap up the year for me. I won’t be seeing anything new until the new year most likely, so this was a nice way to end 2015, being happy with how Star Wars turned out, because I was genuinely skeptical of it. I’m going again this afternoon for my second screening (I’ve been busy!) and I can honestly that I’m looking forward to what 2016 will bring.

Happy New Year, everyone!

post by Mariana Duarte

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