Jan 022016


December is always one of the busiest months of the year. Work is wrapping up, which means deadlines move forward and new year strategies and goals are set. There are Christmas functions and various festive events, including a bunch of screenings for the film media. Distributors try and show outlets as many of their January releases as they can, so there are often 3-4 viewing options per week throughout December. I attended about half of the sessions I could have here, but still kept very very busy. I was lucky because I ended up seeing some of my favourite films of the year, which aren’t released until Jan.

In addition to finishing the The Last of Us, an absolute masterpiece of a game, I wound down the year by watching a few easy-going festive films, read a few novels and started playing Grand Theft Auto Five. 

I revealed my 25 Best Films of 2015, but I also wanted to acknowledge here some great films I watched for the first time in 2015 that weren’t released then – Risky Business, Goldfinger, Dr. No, Velvet Goldmine, Winnebago Man, Wet Hot American Summer, Red Road, Re-Animator, The Secret of Kells, Toys, Swingers, Frailty and Baadassssss!

I ended up watching 345 films in 2015 – 20 short of one film per day, a feat I have eclipsed over the last three years. I caught 27 films in December – you can see how I ranked them after the jump:


In-Cinema Viewing

The Revenant – Some films, as you are watching them for the first time, feel like they are immediately amongst the greatest films you have ever seen. The Revenant created that feeling in me, and I left the cinema so shaken I could barely speak. A few others to ignite such a feeling – There Will Be Blood, Stalker, Playtime. It joins an elite class of film. This is a starkly beautiful, purely visceral, astonishingly merciless survival-come-revenge spectacle from a filmmaker who is working at the peak of his abilities. It is unfathomable that Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, whose remarkable film Birdman cleaned up the Oscars last year, would return with another masterpiece so swiftly. Especially one with a production like this. Leonardo DiCaprio, who deserves the Oscar this year (I know I said that after The Wolf of Wall Street, but I honestly don’t know what else the guy can do), looks like he gets dragged through hell. I was so immersed in DiCaprio’s journey here and astounded by Emmanuel Lubezki’s breathtaking cinematography that I could have watched this for hours more. The soundscape created by Ryuichi Sakamoto is another overwhelming feature, while Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter all must be recognised for their supporting work, despite this being the DiCaprio, Inarritu and Lubezki show. A violent, grueling and often distressing film, for me this is what the cinema is all about. (5/5)

The Big Short – Adam McKay achieves an improbable task here with The Big Short; turning the dauntingly impenetrable catalysts for the 2007-08 Global Financial Crisis (GFC), and the terrifying-to-consider effects, into a tremendously entertaining comedy-drama. He also never ignores the tragedy of the event and isn’t afraid to dig deep into the world of complex mortgage derivatives and use inventive approaches to make it accessible. The film is a damning indictment of Wall Street, from the angle of men who saw the crash coming and who begin to realise what their unexpected profit opportunity meant for the U.S financial system, and the rest of the world. Based on the Michael Lewis’ (Moneyball) best-selling 2010 book of the same name, the film details the GFC that spawned from the housing and credit bubble, built by large-scale fraudulent activity within Wall Street’s corrupt financial institutions. It’s qualities include the breathless pace, the phenomenal ensemble cast (led by Steve Carell and Christian Bale), Barry Ackroyd’s shallow focus camera that captures the claustrophobia and the emotional tension of the closed-door meetings, and the fabulous soundtrack. The surprise of the year. (4.5/5)

Carol – The last film I watched before compiling my Best of 2015 list and a film that I still haven’t completely unpacked yet. It is an exquisite, remarkably restrained piece of work that took my breath away. I am likely to still be obsessing about sequences from this film for months to come. Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven) doesn’t make too many films, but he is a master director who always creates fascinating female characters and examines them in wonderfully complex ways. This beautiful production – stunning 16mm film compositions, an authentic recreation of the 50s, and a lovely score from Carter Burwell – tells the transcendent, heart-swelling attraction between young department store clerk Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) and an elegant older woman, Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), and the complicated consequences that follow. The two leads – who should both be Lead Actress Oscar-nominated – are absolutely radiant, but every frame of this film is a work of art. (4.5/5)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – “It’s another Death Star, but bigger.” This is pretty much A New Hope, but bigger and with bits and pieces from Empire and Jedi. This works both for and against The Force Awakens, which is very enjoyable spectacle cinema, and clever fan service, but it doesn’t leave a whole lot to chew on. I was never completely geeking out, either. There are substantial issues, let’s be honest. But, I loved the newbies. Ridley, Boyega, Isaac, BB8 (!) and Ford all have a playful rapport, and there are many great character moments. The story feels safe, and familiar, but it manages to achieve both the desired nostalgia and insert the fresh energy that adequately sets up the new direction of the franchise. (4/5)

SpotlightA solid, competent, understated drama I expect to appreciate more in time (and perhaps on a repeat viewing). Journalistic authenticity is apparent and cast is tremendous, but it is also remarkably uncinematic. Ruffalo the stand-out, but McAdams (who has had a great year) and Liev Shreiber are also very good. (3.5/5)

The Night Before – Hilarious, laugh-a-minute antics and will likely become a Holiday classic to relive again. I can’t believe there are people out there that don’t like Seth Rogen? Those monsters. (3.5/5)

Sisters – Fey and Poehler are the perfect team, but I loved how generous this film was with its supporting cast. I laughed throughout, but with such a substantial runtime one does have to endure some rough patches. Also, it has mother of all crazy middle-aged house parties. (3.5/5)

Joy – 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 Hustleor 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. (3.5/5)

Meru Expedition, Garwhal, India

At-Home Viewing (usually I write some comments about these, but it is New Year’s Day and I am too lazy)

Meru (4/5)

White God (4/5)

Kajaki (3.5/5)

The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials (3/5)

San Andreas (3/5)

A Very Murray Christmas (3/5)

Get Santa (3/5)

Wild Tales (2.5/5)

You Only Live Twice (2.5/5)

Vacation (2.5/5)

Beasts of No Nation (2.5/5)

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Magic Mike XXL (4.5/5)

Inside Out (4.5/5)

The Martian (4.5/5)

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (4/5)

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (4/5)

Ricki and the Flash (4/5)

Home Alone (3.5/5)

Surviving Christmas (3/5)



Jessica Jones S1 (E5-9) (4/5)