Films of the Year 2015

I couldn’t decide on just ten films this year, so I went with twelve instead.

Birdman: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
UK release date: 2nd January 2015
Review: “There are some brilliant moments of hilarity in here, some surprising and well-handled special effects and a few intensely emotional back-and-forths from actors giving their everything to their art. The first truly great film I’ve seen this year. I can’t recommend it enough.”

The Theory of Everything
UK release date: 2nd January 2015
Review: “Redmayne’s performance was astonishing. He completely nails it, working as both a great piece of acting and an uncanny impersonation. The frustration that must be felt by the thousands of sufferers of MND is channelled directly to the viewer by coupling some intimate close-up camera work with some exceptional acting. If Redmayne wins the Oscar next month it will be because of the latter parts of the film.”

Whiplash
UK release date: 16th January 2015
Review: “In the history of cinema, there have been a small number of characters so full of evil they barely resemble human beings anymore. We’re talking Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched, Ian McDiarmid’s The Emporer. I think we can add another one to the list after seeing Whiplash.”

Big Hero 6
UK release date: 30th January 2015
Review: “The animation is the really mind-blowing element of a film that scores highly across the board. It’s fast-paced without ever feeling like it’s trying to lose you in action. The detail given to the plethora of uniquely designed characters is notable, too, and this serves to make each character feel worthy of your investment. If they’re going to spend that long making Hiro’s hair look so awesome, he must deserve a bit of attention on an emotional level too.”

The Duke of Burgundy
UK release date: 20th February 2015
Review: “A highly satisfying, twisting and twisted tale that deserves a wide audience.”

listenupphilip

Listen Up Philip
UK release date: 5th June 2015
Review: “Each character is introduced to us from a position of imbalance and for the most part they spiral into a world of depression and failure. Schwartzman is in fine form throughout, in a role not too dissimilar to others we’ve loved to hate him in. Irritating and overly-confident characters are something of his forte, which is funny if not just because he comes across as anything but irritating in interviews he gives.”

Inside Out
UK release date: 24th July 2015
Review: “This is truly up there with the best Pixar films, no easy achievement given they have been responsible for so many of the best animated films over the last twenty years. It’s the perfect emotional rollercoaster to ride on whilst celebrating reaching the start of their third decade in the motion picture business.”

Irrational Man
UK release date: 11th September 2015
Review: “There are six listed cast members here, but there really are only two stars here. Phoenix and Stone make a formidable pairing. He may have put on some weight for this role, but Phoenix’s allure is still very much there and his convincing lost soul act is enough to make his appeal to the much younger Stone quite believable. It doesn’t quite reach the joyful heights seen in Midnight In Paris, though is streets ahead of the unfathomably popular Blue Jasmine. Well worth checking out if you can find it.”

Orion: The Man Who Would Be King
UK release date: 25th September 2015
Review: “Orion is a documentary worth watching, and it’s an experience enhanced if you know nothing about Ellis. It goes a long way into intimately portraying a man torn between being forced to hide behind a mask and enjoying the limited success he was achieving. It is balanced and as such avoids over-celebrating Ellis, concentrating on his personality rather than his success.”

Suffragette
UK release date: 12th October 2015
Review: “This is a powerful piece of cinema and a relevant work of art. It is essential viewing for all women, any of the 33.9% of the UK public who decided not to vote in the 2015 general election, and anyone with a passion for excellent cinema.”

Bridge of Spies
UK release date: 27th October 2015
Review: “This is an ode to traditional storytelling and any movements it makes to remind us of Spielberg’s supreme talents are trumped by its underlining of Tom Hanks as one of the greatest living actors. This is not a story about espionage, politics or the Cold War. It is a film about one man’s unwavering desire to stick to his principles.”

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
UK release date: 17th December 2015
Review: “J. J. Abrams has managed to pull off a minor miracle. In just over two hours he has erased most of the memories of the prequel trilogy, reminded us of the best of the original trilogy and set up a new storyline that has the whole world anticipating where the next steps will take us. The prospects for the future of the franchise all of a sudden look extremely rosy.”

Academy Awards 2015 – Full List of Winners

Here’s a simple list of all the winners of Oscars at the 87th Academy Awards last night. I’ve not included the other nominees as I think the lists elsewhere have become cumbersome. Keep it simple!

Best picture
Birdman

Best director
Alejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman

Best actor
Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything

Best actress
Julianne Moore for Still Alice

Best supporting actor
J. K. Simmons for Whiplash

Best supporting actress
Patricia Arquette for Boyhood

Original screenplay
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo – Birdman

Adapted screenplay
Graham Moore – The Imitation Game

Best documentary feature
Citizenfour – Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy, Dirk Wilutzky

Best foreign-language film
Ida – Paweł Pawlikowski

Best animated feature film
Disney’s Big Hero 6

Best animated short film
Disney’s Feast – Patrick Osborne, Kristina Reed

Best live-action short film
The Phone Call – Mat Kirkby, James Lucas

Best documentary short subject
Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 – Ellen Goosenberg Kent, Dana Perry

Best production design
The Grand Budapest Hotel: Adam Stockhausen, Anna Pinnock

Best original song
Glory from Selma – Lonnie Lynn (Common), John Stephens (John Legend)

Best original score
Alexandre Desplat – The Grand Budapest Hotel

Achievement in sound mixing
Whiplash – Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins, Thomas Curley

Achievement in sound editing
American Sniper – Alan Robert Murray, Bub Asman

Achievement in costume design
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Milena Canonero

Achievement in makeup and hairstyling
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Frances Hannon, Mark Coulier

Achievement in visual effects
Interstellar – Paul J Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter, Scott R Fisher

Achievement in cinematography
Birdman: Emmanuel Lubezki

Achievement in film editing
Whiplash – Tom Cross

So there you go. I was really disappointed that “Everything Is Awesome” from The Lego Movie didn’t win Best Song, not least because the eventual winner was pretty dreadful (I talk about them here). I was happy about the Disney double of Big Hero 6 and Feast – both are excellent and I’ll no doubt be reviewing them on here when I get around to it. The really obvious ones won, of which for me there was only three: Eddie Redmayne for Best Actor, J. K. Simmons for Best Supporting Actor and Birdman for Achievement in Cinematography. That’s how tight it was elsewhere.

I’m thrilled that Birdman won Best Film over Boyhood and American Sniper. Birdman is a seriously effective piece of cinema and a work of art. It has things that appeal to the Academy: the struggling actor struggling to cope with his own relevance, a technically excellent piece of cinematography that (sort of) uses one shot, some fantastic performances from a range of excellent actors and actresses.

So today is for everyone to digest the results and look back on a fantastic year for cinema. Here’s to the next one.

Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2015)

Wow. I just left the cinema after watching Birdman and I was blown away. It’s easy to see why it has been so heavily rewarded in both the Golden Globes and BAFTA nominations, and I would be surprised if the Academy Awards doesn’t follow suit.

Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, an ageing actor who has enjoyed massive cinematic success some twenty years prior portraying superhero Birdman. In a bid to reignite his waning career on a more critically reputable path, he is directing himself in the lead role of his own rewrite of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. Also starring in it are Broadway newcomer Lesley (Naomi Watts), Riggan’s romantic-interest Laura (Andrea Riseborough) and late replacement actor and seat-filler Mike Shiner (Edward Norton in excellent form). Also in the mix is daughter Sam (Emma Stone) who is now working as Riggan’s P.A., and Zach Galifianakis as Brandon Vander Hey, Riggan’s lawyer.

It’s a film that’s hard to pigeonhole and I’m not sure I really want to. I’d hate to call it a comedy, only for someone to read this article and feel hard done by by the lack of belly laughs. Then again, it’s hardly a superhero film and you’d be bitterly underwhelmed should you think this is what you’ll be getting.

2015/01/img_0157.png

One thing that will strike you when you watch it is the use of long single-shot scenes. Actually, the film is essentially edited to look like a complete one-shot, though there are some subtle cuts where scenes have been interlinked. Whilst this technique is something I favour (for a great example of this you should take a look at the excellent opening sequence of Orson Welles masterpiece “Touch of Evil”), it can also be used as a means to show off by a director. I’m a big fan of theatre, so since this film deals with the run up to the opening night of a play, on a basic level I can make a connection with the desire to not have a cut between scenes as they run into each other. That’s clearly not what the director is doing here though. For me, in fact, the purpose of these long takes is to build up the relentlessness of the pressure Riggan is under as portions of his life blur into one another and his less-than-clear thoughts are muddied by his unwanted past as a Hollywood superhero and furthermore by an unexpected pregnancy. It’s a really effective method of storytelling and they completely nail it.

I find the casting of Keaton in this role as a masterstroke of genius too. Whilst he was one of the first big-screen superheroes, his subsequent roles have never looked like troubling the box office as much as his turn in Tim Burton’s Batman, released in 1989. Only Christopher Reeve had been part of a bigger superhero success when he took on the role of Superman, and Keaton’s career trajectory ended up mirroring somewhat Reeve’s problematic career post-Kent. There have been a smattering of successes (Jackie Brown, Toy Story 3 and The Other Guys), but with this in mind I don’t think Birdman’s likeness to the 1989 Dark Knight is a coincidence. This all makes Keaton’s portrayal of a man on the edge of a nervous breakdown (or worse) all the more effective, as he struggles to find relevance amongst his peers. It is ironic that this film is doing exactly that for Keaton.

The real-life-to-character comparisons don’t stop with Keaton. Edward Norton’s Mike Shiner is a character whose talent is only marred by his reputation for being difficult to work with. It’s almost as if the Norton and the screenwriting team of Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo are having a bit of a chuckle at our expense. Norton recently had another reflective statement when interviewed by NPR about his experience when pulling out of the Avengers series of films, which ironically was the reason he was able to schedule in this film (along with both Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel). Clearly the fear for him was that his life would be consumed by a cycle of filming and promoting, when he could instead be part of several films that are both critically successful and reputable. The feeling I got when watching Shiner develop as a character was they had written him as the person everyone thinks Norton is, rather than what he is really like. With both Norton and Keaton both seemingly playing characters criticising the downsides of the superhero film franchises they were involved with, I wonder how Emma Stone, and more so her boyfriend Andrew Garfield, feel about the underlying commentary.

I’m going to single out Zach Galifianakis’s performance as a highlight. People know him very well for his character Alan Garner in the Hangover trilogy, which he effectively reprised in Due Date and The Campaign, and I was a little sceptical of his casting here. Harking back to Keaton, this is Galifianakis shedding his skin as proving he can take of a serious role with great aplomb if given the chance. A great choice for him at this stage in his career.

Of course, this multilayered overthinking of all the characters is all well and good, but the film has to be good to justify it. Otherwise you end up with something like David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE, which I will go on record as saying is one of the worst films of all time. Fortunately it’s completely not the case with Birdman.There are some brilliant moments of hilarity in here, some surprising and well-handled special effects and a few intensely emotional back-and-forths from actors giving their everything to their art.

This is the first truly great film I’ve seen this year. I can’t recommend it enough.

Birman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance is out now at cinemas across the UK.