“Wait, wait, wait!!!” I hear you regular readers cry, “Doesn’t Richard usually do a top 20 films of the year?”, he usually does, yes, but despite the fact that I saw around 90 films at the cinema this year I could only scrape a list of 12 together that I found to be ‘very good’, which is not to say that the cinema year was entirely lackluster, just somewhat mediocre… or my standards have become more stringent; who can tell? Although I tend to lean towards the former option.
“So why not just do 10?”, you may present as a follow-up question, and it would be a good/valid question, to which I answer, I actually tried to whittle it down to a top 10 list but some of the films where on such an even footing, quality-wise, that I found it impossible to choose one over another, despite the fact that, on some other year, neither may have made the top 20 list.
I’ve quite enjoyed a great many films this year, but when it come to the factor that blows you away, that’s been a pretty rare commodity. In fact it happened less than a handful of times and in every instance it’s been from films I’ve expected little or nothing from, and in two instances these where films I saw at my beloved Mayhem film festival, so may not officially count as films released this year (but I don’t care).
All the films I was really looking forward to, at best, just reached expectation levels (though it must be said, I hold high expectations, even if I am quite easily pleased, which is not as oxymoronic as it seems). I also found it to be the case that despite enjoying some films enormously while watching them, I’ve felt no great need to revisit them anytime soon.
But anyways, before I digress any further, lets roll our sleeves up and get right into this New Year’s tradition with Richard’s top 20 (-8) films of the year, as always, in the order they were viewed in, and feel free to click on the underlined titles to read a full review…
Shaun the Sheep Movie
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Mad Max: Fury Road
Parasyte: Part 1
He Never Died
The Good Dinosaur
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Okay then, so the obvious choices to the list are what were some of the most anticipated blockbusters of the year, which is to say the Marvel and Star Wars stuff, God bless Disney’s little cotton socks. I had a great time watching Avengers: Age of Ultron on the IMAX, but this is the major example of the kind of film I really enjoyed at the time but have not yet been compelled to re-watch. I loved it’s humour and intensity but felt it wasted some of its many and varied ingredients, if a film could have stood to be a little longer this year it was Avengers. Ant-Man on the other hand I was a little tentative about due to it’s troubled production, but other than a few avoidable plot holes and a couple of wasted opportunities, found it to be a most enjoyable segue from the otherwise giant Marvel live-action Universe. Not being as big a fan of Star Wars than I am superheroes I was less excited by of arrival The Force Awakens than many, but liked it very much; yes it’s derivative, but I think intentionally so to better ease us into the new era.
Great year for animation this year, and not from the corners you would expect. In previous recent years Pixar had been found wanting when compared to Dream Works and Disney animation, but Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur, both films that trailed really terribly, in this writer’s opinion at least, proved to be far superior coming of age stories than any trailer could pre-empt, with Inside Out incorporating so many original, thoughtful and touching moments that it stood tall as one of my two favourite films of the year; a total surprise. The same traits that lifted Pixar’s output from the pack where precisely the traits that made Aardman’s Shaun the Sheep feature film so magical. Aimed at a younger audience to be sure, but splendidly told and executed in low-fi claymation that harkens back to the 80s and 90s. It too trailed poorly which can’t be said for the likes of Big Hero 6 and Minions, two animated films that looked set to be excellent and performed very well but were somewhat lacking.
There were some sparks of brilliance with other genre fare too, most notably horror and science fiction, but only a few. Mad Max: Fury Road was pure primeval, non-stop car ridiculousness throughout, with nightmarish design work that I suspect will be quite influential in the years to come. The Martian, a film on the opposite end of the sci-fi spectrum, and much in the same vane as Gravity and Interstellar, was as thought provoking but much more fun than those aforementioned films, taking a wonderful sense of humour and combining it with Ridley Scott’s seamless visual flare; a delight from begining to end.
Less well known than those two pieces of excellent sci-fi was the Japanese, live action manga adaptation Parasyte: Part 1 which added a fantastic twist to the bodysnatchers sub-genre to make it sufficiently entertaining, original and badass. This was one of the films I saw at the Mayhem festival, immediately before He Never Died, a film of startling storytelling and acting style. Low budget but economical, you will never know where He never Died is headed from one scene to the next but you most assuredly will be laughing at the blunt humour, cringing at the graphic violence or dumbfounded at the plot revelation, or all three at once. Needless to say, this is my other favourite film of the year.
Rounding off my selections for the past year are my only drama and comedy choices. Mr. Holmes, not to be taken for a Sherlock Holmes mystery, is in actual fact a very poignant drama concerning ageing and past tragedies, with Sir Ian Mckellen in great form as the ‘real’ Sherlock Holmes. Vacation, a quasi-re-tread of the classic National Lampoons movie, was surprising in its quality, with a pace and style that kept the unexpected laughs coming thick and fast, finding its own identity beyond its predecessor.
It wouldn’t be a true year round-up unless I threw in a few dishonourable mentions, of course, the first one of which is a no-brainer, Fantastic 4. Kicking off much better than the reviews would have you believe, I actually found myself on its side, that was until the second half, when it became clear that the first act had been stretched over an hour and ten minutes, the second crushed into ten minutes and the final confrontation coming from nowhere only to be done with in short order, leaving a mess of a film that satisfied no one. Another mess of a film was the Simon Pegg vehicle Absolutely Anything, helmed by Monty Python’s Terry Jones, what starts as a fairly family friendly romp then degenerates into a ‘comedy’ of inconsistent plots and themes, and dubious morals. A proper waste of budget and talent, keep well clear.
There were also films that just missed the cut. Song of the Sea was another wonderful animation, this time 2D and European in origin, but a little too serious in it outlook. Fast and Furious 7, was the usual high-speed hijinks, full of ridiculous stunts but couldn’t quite outdo 5 or 6. Sisters, the Tina Fey/Amy Poehler comedy, was very funny but slightly too long, and finally Mission Impossible: Rough Nation, Chris Mcquarrie’s rugged take on the M.I franchise was a good movie with a crap villain.
Onward and upward, as they say, to 2016, a year in which, one hopes, I can climb back to my preferred position of being ecstatic about at least 20 film in the year. I already have high hopes for Deadpool, Dawn of Justice, Civil War, Doctor Strange and Star Wars: Rogue One, let’s hope those hopes bare fruit.