PETER GRAY’S BEST AND WORST FILMS OF 2015
…and just like that 2015 has come to an end. Cinematically the year was a mixed bag where it was easier to pick the passable, average, and down-right terrible than it was to single out the grand. When we were given the best, we were not disappointed but when we were given the worst, cinema was pretty unbearable. The long-awaited sequel proved a winning formula for both critics and viewers, Disney came out on top in all aspects, and A-listers like Bradley Cooper, Channing Tatum and Reese Witherspoon brought viewers in (‘American Sniper’, ‘Magic Mike XXL’, ‘Wild’) just as much as they repelled them (‘Aloha’, ‘Jupiter Ascending’, ‘Hot Pursuit’). As we gear up for 2016, here’s a look at my personal picks of the best and worst last year had to offer.
*NOTE: Films on the list are for film released theatrically in Australia between Jan 1st and December 31st 2015*
TOP 10 BEST FILMS OF 2015
10. THE MARTIAN
Based on Andy Weir’s enormously popular novel, and possibly now used as the best recruitment tool NASA has to offer, ‘The Martian’ serves as director Ridley Scott’s most purely enjoyable film in a long while. Likely to be compared to the recent ‘Gravity’, ‘The Martian’ is a real charmer of a feature, and far more family-friendly than the aforementioned Sandra Bullock vehicle which told a distinctively smaller story and relied on its visuals and ironic claustrophobic feel more than its players. Initially coming off like a one-man showcase for star Matt Damon, there’s an air of optimism and inspiration about the proceedings, mirrored in the excitement Damon’s character expresses throughout his predicament, maintaining both the audience’s interest and sympathy.
9. THE DRESSMAKER
Comedy and tragedy go hand-in-hand in ‘The Dressmaker’, a larger-than-life, heartbreaking laugher that benefits from its brave cast and stellar wardrobe selection. Not the warm and fuzzy dramedy some may be expecting based off its trailer, Jocelyn Moorhouse’s adaptation of Rosalie Ham’s novel is a considerably dark affair with vibrant brushes of eccentricity to keep the whole product fresh.
8. TOP FIVE
Chris Rock has indeed brought his A-game with ‘Top Five’, and I’m sure it will be a film that will take many by surprise, especially if you’re expecting a typical Chris Rock feature. A cross between a stand-up feature and a fly-on-the-wall glimpse into celebrity life, ‘Top Five’ is an effortless comedy that’s close to perfect in its execution; as Rock and Rosario Dawson debate “a movie is sometimes just a movie”, in this case it’s so much more.
Though it’s slightly working as a spoof on the spy genre, ‘Spy’ never enters full-blown parody (ala ‘The Naked Gun’) with director Paul Feig’s work acting more as a straight comedy that just happens to be confined within the world of espionage. There are nods throughout but ‘Spy’ operates on its own frequency and leading the charge is Melissa McCarthy who blends her distinct brand of humour without going overboard (thankfully), creating a character that’s compassionate, feisty, comical and, surprisingly, kind of a badass.
6. INSIDE OUT
Speaking to children without talking down to them, ‘Inside Out’ is truly for all ages as it’s impossible not to reflect on your own life throughout, the film likely to trigger your own childhood memories and stir up the emotions attached to them. Parents viewing are likely to experience this on a different level with them not only likening it to their own youth but to their children’s as well. Quite simply ‘Inside Out’ is a beautiful film, one that delicately balances the splendour of childhood innocence with the loss you experience as you grow up.
Deliberately paced so that you are forced to remain alert, even if the film appears to be in no hurry, ‘Foxcatcher’ is an expertly crafted mystery where everyone involved is giving nothing short of their all. It’s sad, uncomfortable, and spectacularly haunting; it’s yet another reason to behold the joy of sophisticated filmmaking.
I found everything about ‘Sicario’ practically flawless in its execution, I dare say it’s a modern masterpiece in the thriller genre, owning its wicked nature and unrelenting passion in the process. Denis Villeneuve has once again proven his worth as one of his generation’s finest filmmakers, and I can only anticipate what he will unleash on us next.
3. IT FOLLOWS
Atmospherically and chillingly executed to perfection, this unique horror experience hooks its audience with its bizarre central theme and runs with it.
I found ‘Birdman’ to be a brilliant piece of art, an operatic analysis on the progression of imagination and the roadblocks we face in our own lives. It’s the kind of film that makes going to the movies a genuinely exciting experience and one that I hope others will enjoy, or at least appreciate.
1. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
This is a film that has been made with so much passion, energy and vigour; it literally explodes on the screen before you. A visceral experience 30 years in the making, this is not only the type of film that proves how effective the action genre can be, but one that cements itself as modern-day classic.
TOP 10 WORST FILMS OF 2015
10. HOT PURSUIT
A clichéd and formulaic road-comedy romp that presents Reese Witherspoon with the kind of material she has far outgrown.
I’ll admit I didn’t hold the greatest hope for ‘Pixels’ on entering the theatre and, against my better judgement, I giggled occasionally at the more high-brow material (if there is such a thing) that seemed to be provided solely by co-star Peter Dinklage, but a periodic laugh or two and an admittance that the effects were impressive aren’t enough to forgive yet another lame script from the Adam Sandler factory line.
8. BY THE SEA
There’s a distinct European sensibility about ‘By The Sea’, Angelina Jolie’s (or Angelina Jolie Pitt as she’s credited here) particularly voyeuristic drama about grief and loss that arrives a decade after she and husband Brad Pitt first set tongues and tabloids wagging with their undeniable chemistry in ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’. Had this movie arrived 5 or so years ago we might’ve been somewhat intrigued to watch these two gorgeous movie stars play a married couple on the verge of divorce, but in 2015, with the twosome settling down and no longer possessing the kind of limitless fascination they once held, this unapologetic vanity project just comes off as listless, unnecessary, and possessing little insight into a relationship worth investing our time in.
What a complicated, bizarre little feature ‘Aloha’ turned out to be. You would think a project helmed by writer/director Cameron Crowe (‘Jerry Maguire’, ‘Almost Famous’) and featuring the usually reliable likes of Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams and Bill Murray would be enjoyable on the most basic of entertainment levels, but in trying to juggle too many characters and tell a particularly simple story in the most roundabout of ways, Crowe has produced a convoluted, contrived, messy little film that may still have a certain charm to it all but ultimately appears too chaotic for its own good.
6. JUPITER ASCENDING
When the right amount of talent works with the correct material it is possible for seemingly outlandish premises to birth coherent products – see ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ for proof – and though it’s difficult to deny the talent The Wachowski’s possess, ‘Jupiter Ascending’, whilst visually pleasing, is a mess of a feature that reaches beyond the stars but ultimately only barely scratches the surface.
5. FANTASTIC FOUR
Oh ‘Fantastic Four’, why are you such a hard commodity to successfully execute? Hollywood has been at a loss with Marvel’s awesome foursome with their attempts in the form of an unreleased Roger Corman production from the 1990’s and two poorly-received (but financially successful) outings a decade ago proving futile. Hoping a reset with a reliable director (Josh Trank – ‘Chronicle’) and a proven cast would somehow right all the wrongs that have so far plagued these particular characters, this 2015 incarnation is sadly neither an improvement over the last big-screen adventures nor a vastly enjoyable movie on its own accord.
4. TAKEN 3
It really is such a shame that ‘Taken 3’ is as low-rent as it is, but thankfully it appears as if this will be the final outing, so we can rest easy knowing a ‘Taken 4’ isn’t waiting in the wings. If you’ve seen the other two films, and now the generally reviled sequel will seem like a classic in comparison to this, curiosity might get the better of you to check this out, but this series doesn’t need any kind of closure, so you could do with skipping part 3 and re-watching any of Neeson’s prior action outings.
3. THE LONGEST RIDE
Like an animated Disney feature or a Marvel Studios outing, films adapted from the schmaltzy pen of author Nicholas Sparks are critic-proof productions, and the latest offering, ‘The Longest Ride’, continues the tried and true formula that has seen his past efforts ‘The Notebook’, ‘Dear John’ and ‘Safe Haven’ (to name a few) graduate to financial fruition. Yet to find a leading duo equivalent to the seemingly unmatchable Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams ‘The Longest Ride’ puts its money on relative unknown Britt Robertson and the ridiculously handsome Scott Eastwood (yes, son of Clint) to challenge. The outcome? Well…Eastwood really is ridiculously handsome.
2. SEVENTH SON
Another franchise that is over before it begins, ‘Seventh Son’ is a waste in every sense of the word; a waste of a film, a waste of its talented cast, and a waste of this reviewer’s time.
1. THE GALLOWS
Tired, boring, and pathetic, ‘The Gallows’ is another example of found-footage “horror” that all but confirms that the sub-genre is ready to be laid to rest.