Dec 302015
 

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Why is making an end of year list so agonising? While some years are certainly stronger than others, by the time I start putting my list together, it’s always tough. This year I’ve gone for a top 25, but it could have easily been 40.

There are less foreign films than usual – I am not sure if it’s because I’ve seen less of them, or they just haven’t been as memorable. There are also more blockbuster/wide appeal films, which is awesome. While it’s not on my list, I had a heap of fun with The Force Awakens.

My list is composed of new films I saw for the first time in 2015. There are a mix of 2016 & 2015 titles, as well as some festival only films. Some popular 2015 titles I saw in 2014, check out my 2014 list to see which.

As always there are titles you miss. Some of the films I didn’t round to seeing this year include: Southpaw, Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem, Black Mass, Son of Saul, Theeb, Junun, Holding the Man, The Hateful Eight, Grandma, Sherpa, Horse Money, Timbuktu, By the Sea, The Look of Silence, and The Good Dinosaur.

While these didn’t make my 25, they’re all great and deserve a shout out. Honourable mentions go to: A Most Violent Year, The Big Short, Knight of Cups, The Lobster, Lost River, Necktie Youth, and Tehran Taxi.

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 Posted by at 08:09
Dec 292015
 

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2015 has been a year of understated performances, actors not necessarily making huge physical transformations to lose themselves in characters (though there are some, such as Jake Gyllenhaal for Southpaw). As we head into awards season there are not the same group of big, showy performances we usually expect. Some of these performances were recognised at last year’s Oscars (and in the case of Eddie Redmayne, winning), but I witnessed them all for the first time in 2015. Most of these performances have been praised by others than myself throughout the year, but in case we forget about them I wanted to remind you of how great they are. Maybe it will inspire you to catch up with the films if you missed them.

After the jump, find the long-list of my favourite performances of 2015. The actors are listed in rough order of how I experienced their work for the year, with some personal awards at the end: Continue reading »

Dec 282015
 

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So ends another year of film. A year of ups-and-downs, but the comforts of the cinema have remained frequent. To note this year: there have been less 4.5 and 5 star films for me – truly great ones – but a consistent stream of very good films. I can’t remember a year of such incredible depth. International films were certainly weaker this year. Perhaps it was the fact that not so many were available to me, but many of my favourite films last year (Two Days, One Night, Force Majeure and Ida for example) were international films. But, American cinema has been stronger than usual year, with some terrific mid-budget productions. Selecting this 25 (a number I have liked using for some years now) was a challenge that took many hours of deliberation and jostling, so I hope you appreciate the consideration and respect the high esteem of quality I place in these films.

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Dec 232015
 

45 Years Still

This was a year of so many wonderfully inclusive, sweet, exciting, different, heartbreaking and magical films. And if you were to think for a second that statement is an exaggeration – I believe that the top six films on this list are better than any film I saw last year. It was the year of smart, fun, thoughtful and strong women as protagonists in films. It could always be better, there’s always room for improvement, but I hope that the films on this list in some way represent the amazing women in film this year and my feelings regarding that.

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Dec 222015
 

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Boxing Day is usually one of the most loaded cinema days of the entire calendar year. While there are still a diverse selection of films on offer for the holidays this year, December has been barren so far and a lot of distributors have taken their headline titles out of 2015 altogether with the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Here are what remain on offer, should you wish to watch something other than Star Wars for the third time: The Good Dinosaur, Joy, Suffragette, Youth, Daddy’s Home, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip and The Belier Family.

The Good Dinosaur – What if the cataclysmic asteroid that forever changed life on Earth actually missed the planet completely and giant dinosaurs never became extinct? The latest film from Pixar, their second in 2015, has battled through some serious production problems. Reactions have been (modestly) positive, praising the visuals but claiming the story just doesn’t come together. Minor Pixar. More for the little ones than the universally appealing Inside Out, this will still likely prove to be charming escapism.

Joy – This is the wild story of a family across four generations centered on the girl who becomes the woman who founds a business dynasty and becomes a matriarch in her own right. Betrayal, treachery, the loss of innocence and the scars of love, pave the road in this intense emotional and human comedy about becoming a true boss of family and enterprise facing a world of unforgiving commerce. Allies become adversaries and adversaries become allies, both inside and outside the family, as Joy’s inner life and fierce imagination carry her through the storm she faces. David O. Russell’s latest film is tonally odd and structurally erratic, typical of the filmmaker, and is anchored by a magnetic performance from Jennifer Lawrence. It isn’t particularly funny or possess much dramatic tension (features of both Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle) or and yet it never ceases to be interesting. It is an American Dream story about the persistence of ideas and a determined woman who fought the disposability of fame, success and mops.

Suffragette – In early 20th-century Britain, the growing suffragette movement forever changes the life of working wife and mother Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan). Galvanized by political activist Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep), Watts joins a diverse group of women who fight for equality and the right to vote. Faced with increasing police action, Maud and her dedicated suffragettes must play a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, risking their jobs, homes, family and lives for a just cause. Carey Mulligan’s fiery and passionate performance makes this just watchable, but the sacrifices of this one fraction is not amplified to the national movement as a whole with Mulligan’s character a far too convenient ride through this very important slice of history. Every man in this film is “LOATHSOME”, and though the washed-out hand-held photography is a risky, but understandable, aesthetic choice it is beyond irksome.

YouthExplores the lifelong bond between two friends vacationing in a luxury Swiss Alps lodge as they ponder retirement. While Fred (Michael Caine) has no plans to resume his musical career despite the urging of his loving daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz), Mick (Harvey Keitel) is intent on finishing the screenplay for what may be his last important film for his muse Brenda (Jane Fonda). And where will inspiration lead their younger friend Jimmy (Paul Dano), an actor grasping to make sense of his next performance? Paolo Sorrentino (This Must Be the Place and The Great Beauty) has become a bit like a drug for me. I need his films in my life and I get high on the visual and audio pleasures (and their perfect collaboration) lathered throughout his films. This is a serene and mesmerising meditation on ageing; memory and the past, a study of what drives commitment to vocation and the security of legacy. The performances by Caine, Keitel and Dano are especially wonderful.

Daddy’s Home – The story of a mild-mannered radio executive (Will Ferrell) who strives to become the best stepdad ever to his wife’s two children, but complications ensue when their freewheeling, freeloading real father (Mark Wahlberg) arrives, forcing stepdad to compete for the affection of the kids. I think anyone who has seen the trailer for this knows what they are in for, but it comes down to a decision of whether the superior supporting cast of Linda Cardellini and Thomas Haden Church are worth the effort.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip – Through a series of misunderstandings, Alvin, Simon and Theodore come to believe that Dave is going to propose to his new girlfriend in New York City… and dump them. They have three days to get to him and stop the proposal, saving themselves not only from losing Dave but possibly from gaining a terrible stepbrother. Another one? None of them have been good.

The Belier Family – The whole Bélier family is deaf, except for sixteen year old Paula who is the important translator in her parents’ day to day life especially when it comes to matters concerning the family farm. When her music teacher discovers she has a fantastic singing voice and she gets an opportunity to enter a big Radio France contest the whole family’s future is set up for big changes. This film has been a big hit in France and won a bunch of Lumiere and Cesar Awards. Looks rather charming.

Recommendations: Contrary to what I was expecting there is actually something for everyone here. Families have The Good Dinosaur, Alvin and Daddy’s Home (depending on the age of the kids) as options, and older audiences will probably go for Youth, Suffragette and The Belier Family. Joy will also attract a solid BO, considering the success of Russell’s last two films and the star power of Jennifer Lawrence. While Star Wars remains the most attractive option, and I am sure many will venture back for another (and another) viewing, it is also the strongest film currently in cinemas. Even if you aren’t a Star Wars fan I think you’ll have a good time. I also enjoyed Youth and Joy.

Dec 212015
 

Star Wars

The inevitable result of George Lucas’ $4 billion sale of his beloved creation to Disney, The Force Awakens was a seventh installment that seemed initially unnecessary. When viewed from The Phantom Menace to The Return of the Jedi, The Star Wars Saga tells a complete story of corruption and redemption as the sins of a father are righted by the faith of a son. Can a film seemingly crafted as a corporate exercise with crushingly high expectations ever hope to satisfy both true believers and naysayers?

If you do not want to read anything about the characters or story DO NOT read ahead. Assume minor spoilers & proceed with caution. [Ed]

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Dec 202015
 

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We don’t just watch movies here at An Online Universe. Music is an integral part of my daily life and depending on evolving taste there are always new albums that have an emotional impact in different ways. So, here are 15 albums that I adored in 2015 – containing tracks that have given me much-needed energy, accompanied me on my walks to work, made me happy, and helped me through frustration. If nothing else, I hope this selection brings some awareness to these albums and encourages you to give them a spin if you’re looking for something new to listen to.

Honourable mentions: Wildheart – Miguel, Divers – Joanna Newsom, Undertow – Drenge, Viet Cong – Viet Cong and Why Make Sense? – Hot Chip Continue reading »

Dec 182015
 

Adapted from The Taliban Shuffle, journalist Kim Baker’s account of her time as a journalist in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot looks to be much lighter and more playful film than average tale of life in the war-torn region.

In the film Tina Fey plays Kim, a journalist who balances reporting with the crazy after hours social antics and absurd politics of life in the region. This role appears to be completely suited for Fey, in fact the NYT remarked in their review of the The Taliban Shuffle in 2011 that Kim “depicts herself as a sort of Tina Fey character, who unexpectedly finds herself addicted to the adrenaline rush of war.” Ha!

As well as Fey, the film stars Margot Robbie, Billy Bob Thornton, Josh Charles, Alfred Molina, and more.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot will be released in Australia on March 17, 2016.