Welcome to the third, annual Wayward Wolf film review of the year; an opportunity to recall and reflect upon the cinematic hits and misses of 2015.
Which brings us on to the Wayward Wolf Annual Film Awards, better known as (I’ve just made them up) The WWAFAS – what do you mean you’ve never heard of them? – a self-indulgent selection of self-congratulatory nonsense which, as far as I’m aware, nobody has ever successfully been able to summon up the resolve to read through from start to finish.
What a year it’s been! In fairness, that line is trotted out each and every year, but in light of the fact that I can barely remember what happened this morning, let alone anything prior to that, 2015 does indeed seem to have been a particularly strong year in the world of film.
The WWAFAS are very much in the spirit of supporting the cinema-going experience, and as ever, only take into consideration films that a) had a UK release date in 2015 and b) I managed to see on the big screen in 2015.
It’s been a year in which I’ve finally broken the 50 film barrier, with a staggering – yes, staggering – 56 films viewed between January 1st and December 31st, 2015*
*Actually, two of those films were watched on the 1st and 2nd of January, 2016, but I’m including them in the 2015 run through for the sake of continuity.
Can’t handle that? Speak to my lawyer.
So, without further ado, strap on your incontinence pants in case it all gets a little too much, and let’s just see exactly what unfolded in the remarkable year that was 2015 because… here come The WWAFAS!
The Best Male Performance (Lead or Support) WWAFA goes to:
Winner: Michael Keaton – (Birdman)
Runner-up: J.K Simmons – (Whiplash)
Best of the rest: Michael Shannon – (99 Homes)
Best Female Performance (Lead or Support) WWAFA goes to:
Winner: Maggie Smith – (The Lady In The Van)
Runner-up: Cate Blanchett – (Carol)
Best of the rest: Charlotte Rampling – (45 Years)
Best Music score WWAFA goes to:
Winner: Johann Johannsson – (Sicario) – Johannsson’s soundtrack is gritty and raw but relatively sparse adding both impact and drive where necessary, yet leaving adequate space for the film to breathe. A really powerful, affecting soundtrack.
Runner-up: Atticus Ross – (Love and Mercy) – Granted, this was not an entirely original soundtrack, but the inventiveness of Atticus Ross’s re-imagining and ‘affecting’ of Brian Wilson’s music fits perfectly here. A wonderfully inventive, ‘kind of’ original soundtrack.
The Wayward Wolf Annual Film Awards: Worst Film of the year, 2015:
In all honesty, of the fifty-six films watched, I can honestly say that not a single film absolutely stunk the gaff out. Yes, some were forgettable, but none were truly awful which ether tells you a lot about the quality of films released in 2015, or maybe something about my own impeccable viewing habits?! You decide.
If I must single one or two out under duress, then it’s probably the following (in reverse order):
3. Listen Up Philip:
It all looked so good on paper and this is one that I went out of my way to track down a little while after its initial run had ended in London. Wish I hadn’t bothered. All rather self-indulgent, overly stylised and above all way too drawn out. It’s also barely funny at all which, considering the key to dark comedy is usually laughter of some description, is probably a bit problematic I’d say.
2. Terminator Genisys:
Easily the worst of the Terminator franchise to date. Unconvincing on most levels and all rather dumbed down for the 12A generation. Not terrible, but as I mentioned in the full review, a bit of a slap in the face for the die-hard Terminator fan base.
And the WWAFA for the WORST FILM OF 2015… Goes to:
1. Fifty Shades of Grey:
A bit of an easy target admittedly, but not nearly as bad as I had feared. Forgettable nonsense which drastically held back on the explicit sexual content – the one thing that of course could possibly have saved it or at least made it slightly more interesting – but it’s quite a slick and well put together effort overall if the truth be told, if utterly throwaway, and surprisingly, there were just a handful of evacuees bolting for the exit during the particular screening that I attended.
There’s a sequel planned too. Oh joy…
So, that’s the worst dealt with, but what about the cream of the 2015 crop?
The Wayward Wolf Annual Film Awards: Top Ten Best Films Of The Year, 2015 – (In reverse order):
Grizzly goings on exposed in long, drawn-out takes that really ramp up the suspense levels. Emily Blunt is excellent in the lead role and together with the equally excellent Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score, it all comes together to give Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario real impact.
An emotionally poignant documentary superbly realised, sympathetically handling both Amy’s joy and hardships, but ultimately giving us all food for thought.
8. Ex Machina:
One of the very finest science fiction films since Spielberg’s A.I. Oscar Isaac is tremendous and Alicia Vikander is spellbinding as Isaac’s very own A.I.
7. 45 Years:
Never has the adage that there’s no fool like an old fool been so true. Charlotte Rampling, playing alongside Tom Courtenay, is simply superb as Kate, somehow remaining stoic in the face of historical revelations and emotional upheaval.
6. Force Majeure:
Truly excellent Swedish film that poses the question: “How would you react if…?” A Swedish family on a hard-earned skiing trip is about to discover the answer to that very question exposing the fragility of their domestic situation.
5. The Tribe:
Brutal, savage, gritty and relentlessly bleak and all achieved almost entirely without dialogue. An incredibly powerful piece from director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky. Seems to have been totally overlooked which is quite frankly outrageous.
Michael Keaton, once flying high as a popular actor, is now desperately seeking credibility in New York’s unforgiving theatre land. Brilliant.
3. 99 Homes:
With the building trade hit by the 2008 U.S recession, Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) needs to make some tough decisions to support his soon to be evicted family. Ramin Bahrani’s absolutely superb, low-key indie gem almost sneaked under the radar. To miss this would be a crime.
2. The Lady In The Van:
Maggie Smith is absolutely sensational in Nicholas Hytner’s wonderful, mostly true tale of the eccentric homeless Madam that parked up on Alan Bennett’s driveway.
And the Wayward Wolf: FILM OF THE YEAR, 2015, WWAFA goes to:
- Whiplash: I suspected that Damien Chazelle’s enormously excellent Whiplash would be hard to beat as this year’s film of the year when I saw it. There have been some tremendous films this year, but nothing has quite gripped me and had me right on the edge of my seat the way this did. Ultimately, we all go to the cinema for entertainment and to feel totally engaged in the film that we’re watching, and to find ourselves asking just where the time went once it’s over. Whiplash is almost over before it’s begun and there is not a single moment when it wasn’t completely enthralling. For that reason and umpteen more, it just had to be my film of the year. Ruddy, bloody great.
Here is the complete Wayward Wolf run down, of each and every film seen in 2015 – (in order of preference):
- Whiplash: (See top ten summary above)
2. The Lady In The Van: (See top ten summary above)
3. 99 Homes: (See top ten summary above)
4. Birdman: (See top ten summary above)
5. The Tribe: (See top ten summary above)
6. Force Majeure: (See top ten summary above)
7. 45 Years: (See top ten summary above)
8. Ex Machina: (See top ten summary above)
9. Amy: (See top ten summary above)
10. Sicario: (See top ten summary above)
11. The Look of Silence: The follow up to 2014’s The Act of Killing is no less devastating in dealing with similar, blood-chilling subject matter.
12. Grandma: An excellent slice of life indie offering. Quirky, amusing and crucially, refuses to preach.
13. Me & Earl and the Dying Girl: Amusing, but above all whole-hearted tale of teen angst in trying circumstances.
14. Carol: Blanchett and Mara are absolutely breath taking in this stylish adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel.
15. Brooklyn: A stand out performance from Saoirse Ronan in this fantastic tale of love, loss and hard decisions.
16. Mommy: More hard hitting cinema from brilliant young director, Xavier Dolan.
17. Love and Mercy: Surprisingly good Brian Wilson biopic with stand out performances and a superbly re-imagined Beach Boys soundtrack.
18. Bridge of Spies: Spielberg and Hanks on form with this tense, Berlin cold war saga.
19. Sherpa: Strong Himalayan documentary highlighting the hardships of these Nepalese mountaineering saviours.
20. Suffragette: Powerful dramatisation of the Suffragette struggles. A film crucially with mass appeal.
21. The Theory of Everything: Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are wonderful in this biopic of the scientific genius, Stephen Hawking
22. The Lobster: Bizarre, off the wall concept of a Big Brother society that frowns upon those of single status. Loses its way a little in the latter stages, but very few films will boast as tense a finale.
23. X + Y: Rafe Spall provides the standout performance as dry witted, laugh-out-loud funny maths tutor Martin in Morgan Matthews’ sweet tale of a young reluctant maths prodigy’s rise to prominence.
24. Still Alice: Predictably strong performance from Julianne Moore, a woman suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
25. Legend: Tom Hardy ‘doubles up’ to portray both Ronald and Reggie Kray in this rather reverential biopic of London’s favourite gangsters
26. Jurassic World: Could have been awful, but a surprisingly strong reboot of the much loved dinosaur franchise.
27. A Most Violent Year: Oscar Isaac convinces in this scaled down gangster flick set in early 1980s New York City.
28. Spectre: Sam Mendes’ reign as Bond director continues to be fruitful with a strong follow up to 2014’s excellent Skyfall.
29. While We’re Young: Ben Stiller here puts in arguably a career best performance in Noah Baumbach’s excellent middle age crisis comedy.
30. Mississippi Grind: Two gamblers head south along with their considerable emotional baggage.
31. Everest: A respectable attempt to shoe-horn the entire 1996 Everest disaster story into two hours of cinema.
32. American Sniper: Clint Eastwood’s patriotic, chest-thumping biopic of America’s finest ever military marksman.
33. An Irrational Man: Joaquin Phoenix impresses in Woody Allen’s existential tale.
34. Star Wars (The Force Awakens): J.J. Abrams manages to salvage some respect for everyone’s? favourite sic-fi franchise. One to please both die-hard and newbie fans, alike.
35. In the heart of the sea (3D): Beware the 3D overdose! Typically fast-paced, Ron Howard swashbuckling sea yarn.
36. Sunset Song: Terence Davies’ adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel is an exquisitely shot, wistful tale of love and hardship in the beautiful Scottish countryside.
37. Danny Collins: Al Pacino turns on the charm in this warm-hearted tale of a washed-up old pop star.
38. Black Mass: Straight froward gangster ‘epic’. Nicely enough put together but nothing genre-defining.
39. Alive Inside: Thought provoking documentary which should serve, as much as anything, as a governmental call to action.
40. Dark Horse: Engaging tale of unlikely rags to riches for a Welsh community.
41. Mistress America: Typically acerbic Baumbach piece but a little too self congratulatory at times.
42. Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation: Tom Cruise on top form. High action nonsense. Good fun.
43. American Ultra: A surprisingly fun, darkly comedic offering with loose MK Ultra overtones.
44. Southpaw: Overhyped and ultimately a little too formulaic to stand out, though still powerful in places.
45. Blood Cells: Ethereal and gritty tale of a loner, wandering aimlessly through broken Britain.
46. A Walk In The Woods: Lightweight adaptation of Bill Bryson’s best seller, but still amusing to those of a certain vintage.
47. Phoenix: A Jewish lady in post-war Berlin seeks to be reunited with her husband with emotional consequences.
48. Selma: A tremendous performance from David Oleyowo in a film that crucially seems to lack a little of that ‘something special.’
49. Mad Max Fury Road: Reboot of the obscure 80s franchise. High octane entertainment.
50. The Martian: An interesting concept with a great lead performance from Matt Damon in a film that ultimately is chalked up as a missed opportunity for Ridley Scott.
51. Steve Jobs: Danny Boyle’s intelligent telling of the impressive Steve Jobs’ story, is very dialogue heavy – too heavy in fact.
52. Palio: A well put together documentary chronicling the yearly Palio horse race in Siena, Italy. Hard to care too much about silly tribal boys’ games, however.
53. The Falling: Interesting concept, but overly long and tiresome. Mark Kermode, film critic has real passion for this film and it makes me feel that I’ve maybe missed a trick here? Deserves a second viewing, if ultimately only for an impressive performance from the excellent Maisie Williams.
54. Listen Up Philip: (See Worst films section above)
55. Terminator Genisys: (See Worst films section above)
56. Fifty Shades of Grey: (See Worst films section above)
Until next year folks…