Artwork by Chloe Leeson
Despite it’s general awfulness, 2015 has been another fantastic year for film, with some real ground-breaking and genre-defying films in the mix. As is tradition amongst every film-critic platform on the planet, some SQ contributors are here to tell you their best and worst of this year.
BEST: Me, Earl and the Dying Girl
2015 has for me, re-defined genre movies. Mad Max: Fury Road has completely changed action, and It Follows has re-vitalized the tired horror genre. So this year, as I’ve just turned 20 and exited my teens, I have found solace in the teen movie.
Me, Earl and the Dying Girl brought everything I love about cinema into one film: teens, deadpan comedy, self-deprecating characters, a dash of pretentiousness, narration, new and fun camera angles, and lots of name dropping. As much as some people found Thomas Mann’s character Greg annoying for his complete hatred of everything, I could relate. I relate to the guy that does nothing but complain the entire movie, always trying to find a new film to watch and trying to get his Werner Herzog accent down to a T. I get it, and I love it. This was a teen movie for film lovers, an ode to the Criterion Collection and film-makers that only Film Hoes would know; it made me feel deeply appreciated in an industry that I love so much. Every last character was hilarious and joyous and exuded a brilliantly British sense of humour that I’ve always enjoyed, the soundtrack is divine and the final scene turned me into a puddle of joy and sadness in a way I have only ever felt once previous.
Me, Earl and the Dying Girl has essentially changed the coming of age genre for me entirely, and also gave me a serious kick up the butt; after seeing Greg and Earl’s films, I decided to apply for film school- and got accepted.
CLOSELY FOLLOWED BY: Mad Max: Fury Road, Just Jim
WORST: The Gallows
BEST: Magic Mike XXL
If you’d have asked me in January what I thought my favourite film of 2015 would have been, it absolutely, categorically would not have been ‘Magic Mike XXL’. However, whatever will be will be and this stripper (sorry, male entertainer) comedy with a heart of gold stands heads and shoulders above the other (mostly excellent) films I’ve seen this year. It’s not because it’s better (though it is really, really good), it’s just because it’s the most fun I’ve ever had seeing a film. The two hours I spent watching this film were probably amongst my happiest hours this year. That sounds too tragic but the film is a JOY.
It’s incredibly entertaining. You’ve probably heard about the Backstreet Boys gas station dance scene, which had me and the 7 other people in the cinema at 4pm on a Friday afternoon in stitches. The story, which basically traces the Tampa boy’s journey from commercialised drudgery to artistic self expression and self confidence, is earnestly heartwarming. I’ve honestly never cared about ‘bromance’ more – I wanted these nearing middle-aged male entertainers to create a dance routine they could really be proud of. ‘Magic Mike XXL’ is a film about the fulfilment of female sexuality (of a deliberately diverse range of women) in the least misogynistic way imaginable and it’s ridiculously refreshing. Basically, all you need to know is that Mike (Channing Tatum) says he thinks God is a woman. Magic Mike XXL to win all the awards this season, please.
CLOSELY FOLLOWED BY: Mistress America, Straight Outta Compton
WORST: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
BEST: Ex Machina
Ex Machina is one of the most daring, original and creative films of the year and one of the finest sci-fi films ever made. Domhnall Gleeson (of Harry Potter fame and most recently a baddie in Star Wars) plays Caleb, a shy computer programmer who wins a contest to stay at the CEO of his company’s luxurious mountain estate. The CEO, Nathan (played by Oscar Isaac, whose career is exploding also thanks to Star Wars) is a brilliant recluse with obsessive and controlling behavior, whether via exercise or with his creations of artificial life. Therein lies the reason for Caleb’s stay, he must interact with Nathan’s robot (played by the brilliant Alicia Vikander, who moves and speaks with an otherworldly grace) and perform the Turing test. In other words, Caleb serves to evaluate the robot’s intelligence as indistinguishable from a human. Ex Machina uses incredible practical effects and minimal CGI to craft a haunting realism. The gorgeous mountain exteriors and clinical futuristic interiors swiftly juxtapose the themes of nature vs. technology. The twist and turns of the story will leave you breathless and electrified. Ex Machina is a small film, almost like a play with its four-member cast, with big ideas. Ex Machina deftly explores the questions of ‘what is humanity? Is it merely the confines of our body or does it lie within the mind? Does the mind have a gender? Can societal gender roles extend to intelligent life?’ And, most importantly, it has Oscar Isaac disco dancing.
CLOSELY FOLLOWED BY: Brooklyn, Room
BEST: Mad Max: Fury Road
Mad Max: Fury Road was everything it should have been and more. It was explosive, chaotic, out of this world and at times repulsive. The contrasting visuals that you’re bombarded with, for example the ghostly white war boys and the jet-black war-rig, made it at times, a sensory overload.
I am so grateful that George Miller was handed control completely and that the studio just rolled with all of his ideas – if he hadn’t had the amount of control over the film as he did, I strongly believe Fury Road would have lacked substance and more importantly, the rebellious vibe the previous films had.
The characters were what made Fury Road that extra bit special though – the casting of Tom Hardy was the best thing to ever happen and Max himself was everything I wanted and more; quiet, quirky and of course just that bit mad. His relationship with the phenomenal Furiosa (who well and truly owned the movie) added just that bit of extra depth – and their friendship grows out of mutual distrust, which makes a change from the norm. The notion of a female-heavy action film is unfortunately an uncommon occurrence within the industry – so Fury Road’s mere existence makes it special.
CLOSELY FOLLOWED BY: Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, The Man from U.N.C.L.E
BEST: Slow West
“Once upon a time, 1870 to be exact, a sixteen year old kid travelled, from the cold shoulder of Scotland, to the baking heart of America to find his love. His name was Jay – her name was Rose.”
A quirky fable stirs within the smoking landscape of John Mclean’s gritty Western; bristling under the heat of a boiling blue sky. Set in the sweaty, cut-throat world of the Wild West, a man’s survival was dependent on how fast he could draw his gun. Most films released this year proved to be no match, now lying cold in the dusty wake of Slow West; with its pistol still hot, it strides off into that glossy horizon of classic movies, transcending time.
Compelling, shocking and brimming with beautiful dark humour, the story revolves around the profound journey of teenager, Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and outlaw Silas (Michael Fassbender), who trek across the vast American West; a land now crippled by violence and territorial turmoil in pursuit of Jay’s childhood sweetheart. Though, unbeknownst to Romeo, his Juliet is being hunted down by those who seek to gain a pricy reward…
An intoxicating, rustic moodiness interweaves within the gentle padding of hooves on sun burnt forest floors and peaceful golden corn fields that sway to a modernised, bluesy guitar score. It’s also full of fantastic performances that breathe life into characters that could potentially be derived from the melancholic, folklore lyrics of a Dylan song. Gutsy, sharp and brooding with a hard edged Cohen Brothers feel – Slow West is the film of the year for me! A stunning, concise, offbeat thriller infused within a surprisingly touching love story. Dry dirt mixed with blood… this film is the stuff of legend.
CLOSELY FOLLOWED BY: Amy, Carol
WORST: Sunset Song
I shouldn’t be allowed to make ‘Best Of’ lists—not ever. I’m entirely too indecisive for list-making, and besides, most of what I watched this year was Jessica Jones on a constant loop. My pick for 2015 is another Netflix release–Advantageous, directed by Jennifer Phang and written by Phang and Jacqueline Kim. Advantageous tells the story of Gwen, a hardworking and devoted mother of one who serves as a spokesperson for the Center For Advanced Health And Living. The Center specializes in cosmetic procedures which make one’s outer form better reflect their inner form, whatever that means. Beyond the Center, the economy is failing for all but the elite. We’re not really told how things got so bad, but we know businesses have been steadily edging women out of the working sphere in hopes of driving them back to the home. Gwen is suddenly presented with an opportunity to provide for her daughter, and she takes it. At its core, Advantageous is a fairly traditional story of a mother’s love and sacrifice for her child, taken to technological extremes. I’m a sucker for mother/daughter films. I’m also a sucker for Jennifer Ehle, who plays the CEO of the Center. Several times in the film, Gwen’s daughter Jules asks her mother why she’s here on earth—why she’s alive. Gwen’s response varies each time, but the core of her message remains the same, placing value on kindness and empathy. Other critics have described Advantageous as slow-moving, but I’m left wondering why that’s such a bad thing. The film felt intentional—a deliberate balance to the pace of the world portrayed within.
CLOSELY FOLLOWED BY: Spy, The Falling
WORST: Jurassic World, Love