Sunday, January 31, 2016

Movie Review: 45 Years

45 Years
Directed by:  Andrew Haigh.
Written by: Andrew Haigh based on short story by David Constantine.
Starring: Charlotte Rampling (Kate Mercer), Tom Courtenay (Geoff Mercer), Geraldine James (Lena), Dolly Wells (Sally), David Sibley (George).

Stephen King has often said or written that every marriage has its own secret language – that only the two people involved truly understand. Outsiders can never really understand what happens between two people when they share their lives together – and every marriage is different in their own way. Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years is one of the best movies I have ever seen about a long term marriage – and it understands precisely what King is talking about.

45 Years is about a seemingly happy, long term marriage that is rocked by the arrival of a letter, that leads to cracks appearing in the marriage. Or, not appearing, really – but being exposed. Those cracks were always there – the two people in the marriage may just not have been aware of them (or, at least not equally). Kate and Geoff (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay) are a retired, middle class British couple – living in the countryside, and seemingly happy. In less than a week, they will be having a large party to celebrate their 45th Wedding Anniversary – yes, it’s a weird number to celebrate, but health concerns derailed plans for their 40th 5 years ago. Everything seems perfectly fine. And then, a letter arrives from Switzerland. The body of Katya, the woman Geoff was involved with before he ever met Kate, and who died in a tragic accident, has been discovered, and the Swiss authorities wanted to let Geoff know (rest assured, this is not a movie about murder – it was an accident, and no one suspects anything else) because he was her next of kin. This causes the first ripple for Kate – who wants to know why he would be her next of kin, and why she didn’t know this before. She knew about Katya, of course, but we get the distinct impression that it’s not something they have ever discussed in great detail. During the week that the film covers, Kate will find out more than she wants to know.

Perhaps the best thing about 45 Years is how quiet and subtle it is – how it portrays how well these two people know each other, and how they can hurt each other by seemingly not doing very much. You expect that at some point there is going to be a knockdown, drag out argument between the two characters – but it never happens. In many ways, the two characters are going through their own, separate traumas – Geoff, dealing with his long buried feeling for Katya, who died more than 50 years ago, but whose discovery has drudged them back up, and Kate, who for the first time realizes just what Katya meant to Geoff, and that perhaps, he would have rather have been with her for the last few decades. Geoff tries, at least somewhat, to explain to Kate just what Katya meant to him – she drags it out of him in drips and drams, before he gives one too many honest answers, and she shuts the conversations down. But he continues to head to the attic – where everything he has about Katya is stored, and eventually Kate will go there as well. In a moment that will go down in cinema history as one of the greatest moments of wordless acting ever, Kate discovers something about Geoff and Katya that destroys her – and her face slowly shows that.

The two performances at the center of the movie are perhaps the best work that either great actor has ever given. Courtenay probably talks amore than Rampling throughout the movie – but he’s that rare actor who lets you see him thinking through those words – trying to figure out precisely the right thing to say, and perhaps more importantly, what not to say to Kate. He’s reeling, but in his way, he is trying to protect Kate. For her part, Kate is needling Geoff in a passive aggressive way in order to get more information to assure herself of the image of the marriage she thinks she has – and only really gets upset, when it becomes clear to her that she does not in fact have that marriage. The final scenes in the movie – at the party – show both actors at their best – Geoff giving a speech, while Kate listens, and highlights the brilliance of both, right up to the final shot in the film – which ranks alongside the final moments of Carol and Phoenix for best ending of 2015.

45 Years is a difficult film to write about in some ways, because it is so quiet. The film was written and directed by Andrew Haigh – I missed his 2011 breakthrough film, Weekend (and will now definitely play catchup) – and it’s remarkable the faith he puts in the actors, and the quiet he allows in the movie. This is a film heavy on symbolism, yet it never feels like overkill – like he’s beating us over the head with anything. It feels natural, and right. 45 Years is a devastating film – just like other films about older married couples, like Michael Haneke’s Amour or Sarah Polley’s Away From Her. Yet, all three films offer different portraits of marriage – different levels of love between the characters, and what it all means. What the three films share is a more complex view of old married people than we expect to see – and that we usually see in movies. In these films, life, love and marriage certainly does not get any easier with age.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Classic Movie Review: Mon Oncle Antoine (1971)

Mon Oncle Antoine (1971)
Directed by: Claude Jutra.
Written by: Claude Jutra & Clément Perron.
Starring: Jacques Gagnon (Benoit), Lyne Champagne (Carmen), Jean Duceppe (Uncle Antoine), Olivette Thibault (Aunt Cecile), Claude Jutra (Fernand, Clerk), Lionel Villeneuve (Jos Poulin), Hélène Loiselle (Madame Poulin).

It doesn’t always help films to become canonized – something that has happened to Claude Jutra’s Mon Oncle Antoine, and is probably the reason I have waited so long to see the film. The film came out in 1971 to great reviews, and although Jutra’s post-Antoine career never lived up to the film, and he died far too young (committing suicide after learning he suffered from Alzheimer’s at the age of 56), Jutra’s film has consistently been named the Greatest Canadian Film of All Time. It topped the first three polls TIFF did – in 1984, 1994 and 2004, before finally dropping to number 2 (behind Atanjuaret) in the 2015 poll. Having that weight associated with being called the Greatest of All Time doesn’t really help films – and when I knew the film was a coming of age film, I assumed that while the film would be good, that I may well be let down by it. I was wrong. While Mon Oncle Antoine wouldn’t get my vote for Best Canadian Film Ever Made (hello David Cronenberg), it certainly deserves to be named in their company. The film is a heartfelt masterpiece – a tragic loss of innocence story, with an allegorical subject that you can completely ignore if you want to (like viewers outside of Canada probably do). Jutra’s film is simple in many ways, but what it accomplishes is far from it. It’s one of those rare films I would call perfect.

The film is set in late 1940s or early 1950s in a small Quebec town. Most of the men work in the asbestos mines, run by a wealthy, and English speaking man, who treats his workers like crap. Early in the film, we see Jos Poulin (Lionel Villeneuve) get chewed out by his boss, and decide he’s had enough. He and his wife have four kids, but he cannot put it up with it anymore. Instead, he heads off into the woods – to a logging camp – leaving his wife to handle the kids while he’s away.

But it’s not Jos who is the main character in the movie – nor even his teenage son, who will play a major role later. It is Benoit (Jacques Gagnon), who gets to see all his small town’s secrets play out in front of him – either while working as an altar boy, and catching the Priest in his digressions, or working (and seemingly living) at the General Store run my his Uncle Antoine (Jean Duceppe) and Aunt Cecile (Olivette Thibault). Their store is the type you don’t see anymore – groceries, dry goods, hardware all sharing floor space together. Antoine is the town undertaker as well. His wife is demanding, his assistant (Jutra himself) a little bit of a goof but basically well meaning. In addition to Benoit, the couple has also taken in Carmen (Lyne Champagne), a young teenage girl from an abusive household. She works at the store, but her father comes in and collects her money. Much of the abuse in her past is simply implied – as is a wordless sequence when the two teenagers are playing, and Benoit places his hand on her breast – provoking a reaction he did not expect.

For the first hour of the film, Mon Oncle Antoine seems to be headed in one direction – a naturalistic, slice of life and coming of age story. We see the type of scenes we except to see – the playful, tentative, wordless flirting between Benoit and Carmen, the Uncle who drinks all day, but doesn’t seem to get drunk, teenage boys sneaking a peak at a woman who thinks she is alone while trying on a bra. The store is the epicenter of the town – and its Christmas Eve, and everyone is coming in. The film was shot by Michel Brault, a filmmaker in his own right, who had got his start shooting documentaries – and the first hour of the film has an impressive mixture of documentary like realism and lyrical nostalgia.

But there are darker edges to some of these – not just the abuse suffered by Carmen, but in other scenes as well. A comic sequence, where the head of the asbestos mine comes through town on his sled, through cheap looking stocking to the children (most of which land in the mud) instead of giving his employees raises, turns into something more when Benoit and a friend throw rocks at him and drive him out of town. Jutra takes this scene to a slightly unexpected place, as he follows Benoit and his friend as the walk down the street to the silent approval of the adults around them. Jutra’s quiet politics are present even in these earlier scenes – although perhaps they do not make themselves as clear until the final passage.

That passage is one of, if not the most, famous sequence in Canadian film history. It’s Christmas Eve, edging into night, and the store gets a call. There has been a death – can Antoine come and pick up the body, which is in the next town over. Antoine has been drinking all day, and takes not one, but two bottles of alcohol with him as he heads out – with Benoit at his side. The ride along in a horse drawn sleigh, a wooden box for the body behind them, thrown the increasing snow and wind. At first, this seems like an adventure to Benoit – but something changes when they arrive at the house to pick up the body, and he is confronted with the reality of the situation. Things get worse on the way home – Antoine has had too much to drink, even for him, and Benoit makes a mistake that has far reaching consequences. When he finally wakes up his uncle, Antoine gives a brief monologue about his life that really does put the movie in a different light.

Viewed simply as a coming of age story about Benoit, Mon Oncle Antoine is a great film – and deserves comparison to a film like Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959). Truffaut was a friend and mentor to Jutra, and the last shot in this film deliberately evokes the famous final shot in Truffaut’s. But Mon Oncle Antoine is not just a coming of age story – it acts as a mirror to Quebec society, and Benoit’s journey reflects the one in Quebec culture from the time the movie takes place to the time it was made. The movie deliberately evokes the dark period after WWII, where Quebec workers were being exploited, and their resources sold off, to English speaking Americans. Benoit has his own “Quiet Revolution” – the 1960s in Quebec – when he starts to push back against the strictures place on him by the older generation, and the Church. The movie ends with Benoit frozen with indecision about what to do next – something many in Quebec felt around the time the movie was made - the October crisis had been in 1970, or roughly while Jutra was making this film. It is said that Jutra supported some sort of Quebec independence – but he wasn’t a hardliner, and the violence of the FLQ was upsetting to him others like him.

Jutra packs all this into Mon Oncle Antoine, and it’s easy to spot to Canadians who have learned all this history – but it’s down with such subtlety and humanity, that it’s easy to miss for everyone else. Jutra knows something that I’ve always thought – that if the surface of the movie doesn’t work, no one is going to care what’s going on under that surface. Mon Oncle Antoine works on one level as the story of a young man’s loss of innocence, and on the other as allegorical history of Quebec. It works on both of them brilliantly. Which is why this is one of the best films in Canadian cinema history. You shouldn’t wait as long as I did to watch it.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

2015 Year in Review: Worst Films

This year, more than ever before, I tried really hard not to watch films that I knew I would dislike – films that got bad reviews, and looked horrible, and so I just didn’t bother. So, if there is a film out there that seems to be making all of the “worst of” lists that isn’t on mine – there’s a good chance I didn’t see it. Having said that, I still somehow managed to see quite a few bad movies including: Black or White (Mike Binder) a preachy, unconvincing look at race relations. Chappie (Neil Blompkamp) a misfire as a comedy, action movie and sci fi film. The Face of an Angel (Michael Winterbottom) a disappointing, and preachy, fictionalized take on Amanda Knox. Fantastic Four (Josh Trank) may not have quite been the god awful film so many seemed to think it was, but it still isn’t good at all. Good Kill (Andrew Niccol) an unconvincing look at drone warfare. Home (Tim Johnson) a by the number animated film for kids that no adult could possibly like that much. Hotel Transylvania 2 (Genndy Tartakovsky) which provided more of the rather lame same in this series. Hot Girls Wanted (Jill Bauer & Ronna Gradus) a documentary on an important subject that it unfortunately doesn’t really dig deep enough. Hot Pursuit (Anne Fletcher) has two appealing leads, and gives them nothing funny to do. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (Francis Lawrence) is needlessly drawn out and not very exciting. The Intern (Nancy Meyers) which wastes two fine performances with bland execution. McFarland (Niki Caro) another inspirational sports movie that failed to inspire. Lost River (Ryan Gosling) which is the type of debut film that shows some real talent – but is horrible on a narrative and character level. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Alfonso Gomez-Rejon) which annoys me more and more the more I think about it. Minions (Pierre Coffin & Kyle Balda) which proves, yet again, why some characters should stay in supporting roles. Paper Towns (Jake Schrier) which seemed to miss the point of the book it was based on. Pawn Sacrifice (Edward Zwick) which has a great true life story to work from, and does nothing with it. Pitch Perfect 2 (Elizabeth Banks) which was worse in every way than the original – which I didn’t even like that much. Poltergeist (Gil Kenan) which failed to scare, or even interest. Run All Night (Jaume Collet-Serra) which should have been so, so much better. San Andreas (Brad Peyton) an instantly forgettable disaster movie. Secret in Their Eyes (Billy Ray) took a great original, and did nothing with it. Ted 2 (Seth Macfarlane) which was just incredibly lazy. True Story (Rupert Goold) which doesn’t really have anything to say about its subject. Woman in Gold (Simon Curtis) which takes a fascinating true life story and drains everything interesting about it out. Z for Zachariah (Craig Zobel) which was simply an uninspired post-apocalyptic indie.

And those are just the ones that I didn’t have room for in the bottom 10.

Bottom 10

10. The Gallows (Travis Cluff & Chris Lofing)
I have sometimes defended found footage horror movies – there is no reason why they cannot work, and work well, as M. Night Shymalan’s The Visit proved this year. But its films like The Gallows that give the genre such a bad name. This film, about four high schoolers in the school theatre after hours, which may or may not be haunted by the ghost of the student who died 20 years in a freak accident doing the same play these students are about to put on is quite simply stupid. It’s not scary, it’s not original, it’s not clever – it does nothing new with the genre, but simply recycles what has worked for other movies before with terrible results. As a horror fan, I often go a little easier on the genre than most – I liked to be scared, and like to see new ways that can be accomplished. The Gallows is a prime example of why many people think the genre sucks. In this case, they’re right.

9. Jupiter Ascending (The Wachowskis)
I really want to like the Wachowskis – they are among the only filmmakers who take huge risks on a large scale, and sometimes they result is amazing. And sometimes, the result is Jupiter Ascending – a rather silly space opera, full of overacting, average special effects, silly characters and a rather dull story. The Wachowskis built this world from the ground up – you have to hand that to them at the very least – but there really isn’t anything in this world that is worth watching. Recent Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne is probably the worst in the cast – but when the films turns charming actors like Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis into complete zombies in terms of performance, it’s hard to blame them. After this and Cloud Atlas – a movie I loved – it’s hard to imagine The Wachowskis getting much in the way of money again anytime soon – and that’s a shame because we need people like them taking risks with blockbusters – the alternative is too dreary to contemplate.

8. Aloha (Cameron Crowe)
Cameron Crowe used to be one of the best writer/directors in Hollywood – with films like Say Anything, Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous and the unfairly maligned Vanilla Sky on his resume. But somewhere along the way, he seems to have forgotten how to make the romantic comedies he was so good at. Or perhaps it’s something similar – which is that his view of people seems to be stuck somewhere in the teenage years, which is why his two best films are about teenagers – and when he writes similar characters as adults, they seem like idiots. Still, there is no excuse for writing and directing a romantic comedy with Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone as your leads, and giving them nothing to do, and saps all the charm from them. He wastes a talented supporting cast – and a beautiful setting in Hawaii as well. The film just seems confused and jumbled – as if he didn’t even really think through the screenplay at any point, and just decided to start shooting figure out what he had later. He had nothing. Let’s hope this is the nadir of Crowe’s career – it would be hard for it to get much worse.

7. Insurgent (Robert Schwentke)
The Divergent books were bad – the movies are perhaps even worse. What makes little sense on the pages of the books, makes even less in the movie – when so much exposition is cut out from it. Shailene Woodley is a fine actress – but she cannot make Tris anything close to resembling a human being – and she’s probably the best one in the cast, aside from a slumming Kate Winslet. The movie has been given a high gloss sheen, typical of YA dystopian crap that they churn out nowadays. Worse of all, the film is boring – you cannot laugh at it properly, because it puts you to sleep. I may have been hard on the final installment of Hunger Games – but if anything, crap like this makes me appreciate what they mainly pulled off in that series – and how hard that must have been.

6. Terminator Genisys (Alan Taylor)
It should not be possible to screw up a Terminator movie this badly. Even if the plot of the movie is horrible – which it is in this case – the idea of robots fighting robots, and Arnold in his signature role, should at least make for an entertaining – if stupid – night at the movies. But in this case it doesn’t. Terminator Genisys falls in the same trap that many reboots and long past sequels do – which is to pay too much respect to the past, and not enough on just making a good damn movie. This movie would be meaningless to people who do not know this series – not confusing, which would at least be understandable – absolutely meaningless, because the movie aims for unearned moments based on what happened before. It doesn’t work. Neither does the action sequences, the performances or anything else about the movie. Hopefully, this movie will kill the franchise.

5. The Gunman (Pierre Morel)
Sean Penn clearly hoped that The Gunman would kick off a run of Liam Neesom-like, late career action movies. He hired the director of Taken after all, and the film really does feel like a clone of that movie. Yet, despite a cast that is far more gifted that it needs to be, the film just never finds its footing. Part of the problem is that Penn – who also co-wrote the movie – also wanted to delivered a message along with the action – so the whole endeavor is preachy and dull. More surprisingly, director Morel – who can usually be counted on for decent action – drops the ball here, meaning that even when the audience isn’t receiving a lecture, they’re bored. The film tanked – so hopefully Penn will get back to doing what he does best, and leave this kind of cheesy action to Neesom (even though he did even worse this year).

4. 50 Shades of Grey (Sam Taylor-Wood)
I feel bad for Dakota Johnson, who I must say is actually quite good in 50 Shades of Grey – as an innocent, virgin drawn into a world of sex and bondage by the billionaire who becomes obsessed with her. Yet, the film cannot overcome its roots – a kinky, creepy Twilight fan fiction, and a lifeless Jamie Dornan in the male lead pretty much kills the movie. Worse, the film doesn’t even operate as a guilty, sexy pleasure – the sex is banal and boring, and not the least bit erotic. At least Gaspar Noe’s Love – not a particularly good movie – was able to get that part right. Johnson is great here – everything else is pretty much horrible.

3. Knock Knock (Eli Roth)
I don’t know why I keep watching the film of Eli Roth – I haven’t liked any of them, and worse yet they are frustrating beyond belief, because there is always a kernel of a good idea to them – a way that you could see just how good they could be, if Roth had the desire (or perhaps talent) to follow through. This film stars Keanu Reeves as a good guy husband and father, alone for the weekend when two sexy young women arrive, soaking wet, on his doorstep – and practically force him to have a threesome with them – and then refuse to leave, and essentially torture him for a couple of days. This could work – there are hints of Michael Haneke in the premise, and the concept of guilt, but Roth doesn’t have Haneke’s skill or discipline – and basically ends up repeating the same scene over and over again, offering no real insight into any of the characters. At least Reeves is having fun – and him yelling about free pizza is a highlight – but once again Roth has delivered a film that isn’t just bad – but offensive.

2. Get Hard (Etan Cohen)
Don’t ask me how two actors as funny as Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell collaborated to make such a laugh free film as Get Hard. It shouldn’t be possible, as both actors will do just about anything for a laugh – so normally, they’ll at least elicit a chuckle or two even in dreck. Not so in Get Hard – which is a film based on stereotypes, that seems to think its subverting them, without actually do any of the hard work of actually doing so. The film is lazy on every level – and actually quite offensive when you think about it for a second or two (which hopefully, you didn’t). I have no doubt they will be funny in something again at some point – but it certainly wasn’t in Get Hard.

1. Taken 3 (Olivier Megaton)
I didn’t really like the original Taken very much – but it was an earnest attempt at an action movie, and had some moments that have become iconic. I liked Taken 2 even less – but the film at least acknowledge, and embraced the silliness of its premise, through coherence out the window, and just tried to be fun and ridiculous in equal measure. It didn’t work, but they tried. That’s why I hated Taken 3 most out of the series – it isn’t just that the film is a cynical attempt to cash in on fans of the series. EVERY series does that eventually. It’s that everyone involved seems to have completely stopped caring. Everyone is on autopilot, just out to cash a cheque, and no one seems to give a shit. That level of cynicism drives me nuts. Say what you want about the other films on this list – for the most part, I actually do believe that people were trying to make a good movie, trying to satisfy an audience – they may have failed, but dammit, I appreciate the effort (even from Eli Roth). NO ONE involved in Taken 3 seems to really care, seems to take what they are doing seriously. So the movie becomes a complete a total bummer to sit through – I didn’t have a more miserable movie watching experience this year.

2015 Year End Report: Most Disappointing Films

This is not a list of the worst films of the year – that will come later, and yes, there will be some overlap. This is a list of the films that I had hoped would be better, than ending up leaving me wanting some more – or something different. The ones that I thought could be great, but weren’t. In many ways this list is more painful than the “worst of” list, which has many films that never really had a chance to be great, but these ones did.

I could have included the following films in the Top 10, but I just didn’t have the room: Avengers: Age of Ultron (Joss Whedon) was still fun, but given the original, a little bit of a letdown. Blackhat (Michael Mann) looked fantastic, but lacked a story or characters that usually are in Mann films. Black Sea (Kevin Macdonald) should have been so good – a great cast and director, and it’s a heist movie on a freaking sub – but was really quite dull. The Face of an Angel (Michael Winterbottom) from the once reliable Winterbottom, is another misfire, which given the cast and subject matter, is a letdown. Far From the Madding Crowd (Thomas Vinterberg) seems to be loved by many, but other than the beautiful cinematography, didn’t do much for me. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II (Francis Lawrence) ended a very good series with a thud. Insidious Chapter 3 (Leigh Whannell) just wasn’t able to scare like the first two did. Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow) was just so by the numbers, that as fun as it was didn’t quite deliver. Lost River (Ryan Gosling) looked great, but had nothing else going for it. Manglehorn (David Gordon Green) was another weaker effort for Green – who did at least seem to be trying something different here. Minions (Pierre Coffin & Kyle Balda) was uninspired and just not funny. The Nightmare (Rodney Ascher) was not as gonzo insane nor as entertaining as his last doc – the great Room 237. Paper Towns (Jake Schrier) was a real missed opportunity to make something slightly different for teens. Pawn Sacrifice (Edward Zwick) was too safe even by Zwick standards. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Roy Andersson) proved there is a limit to just how effective Andersson films can be. The Revenant (Alejandro G.Innaritu) looked amazing, and had much to admire - but was also a long, grizzly journey to nowhere. Secret in Their Eyes (Billy Ray) took what should have been a can’t miss remake and missed it wildly. Ted 2 (Seth Macfarlane) was truly lazy, which the original was not. True Story (Rupert Goold) took what should have been a good premise, and offered no insight. Truth (James Vanderbilt) could have been better if it wasn’t trying so hard to deify its protagonists. Terminator Genisys (Alan Taylor) once again showed why this series should stay dead.

And now, onto the top 10 most disappointing of 2015.

10. Good Kill (Andrew Niccol)
Occasionally, a filmmaker comes along and makes an immediate impression – and then never quite follows through on that promise. I’m thinking about directors like Alex Prays (The Crow and Dark City), Tarsem Singh (The Cell and The Fall), who never quite seem to live up to that initial promise. Andrew Niccol is like that. His debut film, Gattaca, remains one of the best sci fi films of the 1990s – it didn’t get the respect it deserved at the time, but its reputation has grown since. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to make a film nearly as good since – as much as I enjoyed Lord of War way back in 2005. His latest, Good Kill, has a promising premise – an Air Force pilot (Ethan Hawke) no longer gets to fly real planes – but instead, has to fly drone, from a base in Nevada. The reality of what he does is destroying his marriage and everything else in his life. This could work – but Niccol doesn’t really know where he’s going with the film, which just kind of circles for most of its running time, before its ridiculous ending. Hawke is fine in the lead role, but nothing, but not a lot else is. Niccol still has talent – but I’m still waiting for him to reach that potential, that was so clear in Gattaca.

9. Joy (David O. Russell)
Personally, I still want Russell to go back to making films as inspired and original as Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees – but even if I don’t think his recent string of movies isn’t quite as good, there is no denying that The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and even American Hustle (which I thought was a mess, but had some excellent individual moments, performances and scenes) were pretty damn entertaining. Joy on the other hand is just a mess – and one that even the ever charming Jennifer Lawrence cannot completely save (it doesn’t help that she is far too young for the role). All the QVC stuff is gold, but the family stuff is stale and uninspired, and Lawrence cannot play levels that the movie doesn’t ask of her. Russell once again tries to channel Martin Scorsese with his direction – and once again shows that he isn’t Scorsese. I wish he would stop trying – his early career promised originality – and I wish he’d get back to that.

8. Chappie (Neil Blompkamp)
There has certainly been a law of diminish returns on director Neil Blompkamp. I loved District 9 – an intelligent sci-fi allegory, with a terrific action sequence at the end, and real humanity laced throughout. But he hasn’t been able to find the right balance since – I liked Elysium more than most, but there’s no denying that the film is more than a little bit of an inconsistent mess, even if it is kind of fun. Chappie isn’t even that – it’s all mess, no fun (okay, Hugh Jackman is a little bit of fun). Blompkamp’s story a robot, who becomes the first real artificial intelligence should be a lot of better than it is. But once he establishes his premise, he really doesn’t know what to do next – and decides on the most annoying path imaginable. The ideas aren’t as good, the action isn’t as good as District 9 – or even Elysium. Blompkamp is still a promising director – but he better make a good film again next time out.

7. Aloha (Cameron Crowe)
I think we all keep hoping for Cameron Crowe to make a comeback. True, we’re going on 15 years since his last truly good movie (Vanilla Sky) and a little longer since his last masterpiece (Almost Famous) – but writer/directors of his talent don’t just simply forget how to make movies do they? Apparently, they do, because Aloha is the worst film yet from Crowe – yet it is also undeniably his movie – something that his last film, We Bought a Zoo, didn’t really feel like. This has all the Crowe trademarks – and yet none of it works. Part of it is that Crowe works best when writing teenagers – who can be forgiven for some of their more insipid speeches, because, well, they give them. But this movie is mainly about people who are middle aged, and still haven’t come up with anything interesting to say or think. The saddest thing I can say about Aloha is that no matter how bad Crowe’s next film is – I don’t think it will make a future installment of this list – because I’ve stopped expecting anything from him to be good.

6. Z for Zachariah (Craig Zobel)
I loved Craig Zobel’s last film – Compliance – which made my top 10 list a few years ago, and was shocking and engrossing, and brilliantly acted. This meant, I could not wait to see his follow up – Z for Zachariah. Unfortunately, this dystopian sci fi film, in which three people – all of whom may have believed at one point that they were the only one left alive in the world gradually come together. First it’s just religious Margot Robbie (usually so electric on screen – here dull and one note), then along comes Chiwetel Ejiofor, and finally Chris Pine. Even with only three people, jealously, violence and revenge are still in the offing. The film, although it looks beautiful, never really leads anywhere though, and takes a long time to get there. I think Zobel and his cast are going for quiet and understated – when for me, the film just came across as dull. I couldn’t stop think about Compliance for months after I saw it. I don’t think I’ve thought about Zobel’s follow-up since the credits rolled.

5. Mistress America (Noah Baumbach)
Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed Mistress America – at least marginally. However, considering the last two collaborations between Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig were Greenberg and Frances Ha (the latter of which they co-wrote together, as they did with this one), the result was still rather disappointing. The first half of the movie seems to be bidding its time – building to something, and I was intrigued. The second half, tries very hard to go full screwball mode – but Baumbach never finds quite the right tone, the dialogue doesn’t snap the way it should. Gerwig is, as always, a delight – and newcomer Lola Kirke is perhaps even better. Yet, this could have been one of the best comedies of the year, rather than a middling effort for a talented director – and his extremely talented collaborator.

4. Irrational Man (Woody Allen)
I have never been as hard on late period Woody Allen as many critics have been – even though I fully admit that he lacks all consistency anymore, and has made more than his share of stinkers in the last 20 years. Still, when he ventures into his more dramatic murder oriented stories, I usually quite enjoy them – I am really starting to think that Crimes and Misdemeanors is his best film, and Match Point is one of the best of his output in the last 10 years. And him teaming up with Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone and Parker Posey, should have yielded great results. But as good as those three are (and the two women in particular are in fine form – Stone doing it without much to work with). But the film itself is lazy – it almost seems like self-parody at times – and yet it’s all played straight, which becomes deadly as the story becomes more outlandish. As with many late period Woody films, the film probably could have used another rewrite or two to hone it into something much better – which it could have been,

3. Jupiter Ascending (The Wachowskis)
We need filmmakers the Wachowskis to keep trying to do something interesting with large scale moviemaking. Their last film Cloud Atlas had its flaws – but it was fascinating, and for the most part worked for me. Their latest film Jupiter Ascending wasn’t nearly as ambitious – then again, trying to create your own, original space opera, rather than just adapting another comic book or YA novel, should be commended – at least in part. Then again, there is very little to actually recommend this film – and even though the film is an original, it’s a fairly generic one from the creators of The Matrix. I still want someone to give the Wachowskis a lot of money to make their next film – I just don’t think it will happen.

2. Spectre (Sam Mendes)
The last Bond film – Skyfall – may well be my favorite of the entire series – with its brilliantly staged action, amazing cinematography, and actual performances and characters, Sam Mendes and his team delivered a masterwork of the genre. Their follow-up was bound to disappoint somewhat – but this much was unthinkable. The film does have a few great sequences – in particular a one shot wonder in Mexico, but it gets worse as it goes along. The cast is good – but they aren’t given anything to work with, with Lea Seydoux a seemingly great choice to play a Bond girl, but is given nothing to do – Christoph Waltz was born to play a Bond villain – but the screenplay is so heavily indebted to the past Bond movies that it forgets to re-create the character for a new generation. As with a few other films on this list, I didn’t hate Spectre – I kind of liked it actually – but given what came before, this qualifies as a massive disappointment, especially given the fact that it may be Craig’s swansong as Bond.

1. Tomorrowland (Brad Bird)
Until Tomorrowland, Brad Bird had a pretty much perfect batting average as director – The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille were brilliant animated film, and his live action debut – Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was massively entertaining. Tomorrowland was one my most anticipated films of the year – but the result was massively disappointing. The film has a lot of ideas –too many in fact, as none of them seem to be all that thought through. Add this to the fact that all the best scenes in the movie were in Tomorrowland itself – which is quite impressive – but then the movie spends almost all of its time on boring old earth. The film doesn’t really know what it wants to say, and it wraps up this confusion in a rather bland, dull package. Brad Bird is still an immensely talented director – and I’m sure he will bounce back – but this time out, and made the year’s most disappointing film.

2015 Year in Review: Personal Oscar Ballot

Below is what my own Oscar ballot would look like. I didn’t do individual comments this year – it seemed like overkill – but if you really want to know why I chose what for Sound Editing, let me know.

Best Picture
1.    Inside Out
2.    Carol
3.    Anomalisa
4.    Mad Max: Fury Road
5.    The Hateful Eight
6.    Brooklyn
7.  45 Years
8.    Ex Machina

1.    Todd Haynes, Carol
2.    George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
3.    Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson, Anomalisa
4.    Pete Docter, Inside Out
5.    Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight

Best Actor

1.     Paul Dano, Love & Mercy
2.   Tom Courtenay,45 Years
3.     Samuel L. Jackson, The Hateful Eight
4.     Géza Röhrig, Son of Saul
5.     Michael B. Jordan, Creed

Best Actress
1.     Saorise Ronan, Brooklyn
2.   Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
3.     Rooney Mara, Carol
4.     Brie Larson, Room
5.     Cate Blanchett, Carol

Best Supporting Actor
1.     Michael Shannon, 99 Homes
2.     Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
3.     Oscar Issac, Ex Machina
4.     Kurt Russell, The Hateful Eight
5.     Benicio Del Toro, Sicario

Best Supporting Actress
1.     Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria
2.     Jennifer Jason Leigh, Anomalisa
3.     Alicia Virkander, Ex Machina
4.     Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
5.     Elizabeth Banks, Love and Mercy

Best Original Screenplay
1.    Inside Out – P. Docter & R. Del Carmen and M. LeFauve & J. Cooley
2.    The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino
3.    Ex Machina – Alex Garland
4.    Clouds of Sils Maria – Olivier Assayas
5.    Experimenter – Michael Almareyda

Best Adapted Screenplay
1.    Anomalisa – Charlie Kaufman
2.    Carol – Phyllis Nagy
3.    Brooklyn – Nick Hornby
4.   45 Years - Andrew Haigh
5.    Room – Emma Donaghue

Best Documentary
1.    Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
2.    The Look of Silence
3.    Approaching the Elephant
4.    Amy
5.    Cartel Land

Best Animated Film

1.    Inside Out
2.    Anomalisa
3.    World of Tomorrow
4.    The Good Dinosaur
5.    Shaun the Sheep Movie

Best Foreign Language Film
1.    Son of Saul
2.    Phoenix
3.    The Tribe
4.    The Kindergarten Teacher
5.    Eden

Best Cinematography
1.    Carol – Ed Lachman
2.    Mad Max: Fury Road – John Seale
3.    The Hateful Eight – Robert Richardson
4.    It Follows – Mike Gioulakis
5.    The Revenant – Emmanuel Lubezki


1.    Mad Max: Fury Road
2.    Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
3.    Carol
4.    Ex Machina
5.    Creed


1.    The Hateful Eight – Ennio Morricone
2.    It Follows - Diasterpeace
3.    Mad Max: Fury Road – Junkie XL
4.    Carol – Carter Burwell
5.    Inside Out – Michael Giacchino


1.    Dope – It’s My Turn Now
2.    Anomalisa – None of Them Are You
3.    Creed- Grip
4.    I’ll See You in My Dreams – I’ll See You in My Dreams
5.    Youth – Simple Song #3

Production Design
1.    Crimson Peak
2.    Mad Max: Fury Road
3.    Ex Machina
4.    Carol
5.    Anomalisa

Costume Design

1.    Carol
2.    Mad Max: Fury Road
3.    The Duke of Burgundy
4.    The Hateful Eight
5.    Brooklyn

Make-Up & Hair Styling

1.    Mad Max: Fury Road
2.    Carol
3.    The Hateful Eight

Sound Mixing

1.    Son of Saul
2.    Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
3.    Mad Max: Fury Road
4.    Inside Out
5.    It Follows

Sound Editing
1.    Mad Max: Fury Road
2.    The Hateful Eight
3.    Inside Out
4.    Star Wars: The Force Awakens
5.    Sicario

Visual Effects
1.    Mad Max: Fury Road
2.    Ex Machina
3.    The Walk
4.    Star Wars: The Force Awakens
5.    The Revenant