There are few things that can keep a true film enthusiast out of the cinema. One might be the fear of seeing a film so bad that it drains your belief in the power of the silver screen to inspire. Another might be the arrival of a baby.
Any eagle-eyed readers of my reviews might notice that the usual annual tally in excess of one hundred is a little lower this year, for both of the above reasons. This reviewer has been inspired by his own new arrival in 2014, as much as the new arrivals from the UK’s distributors. But happily, by being more selective in those films reviewed, I’ve managed to avoid the one star films I’ve loved to hate in previous years. And avoiding the worst that the big screen has to offer, frees up time to bring you reviews of the films that will enrich, rather than enrage.
Sticking to the principle that nothing is perfect, no film managed to secure a full five stars out of five, but four came pretty close. In no particular order, here’s what was worth seeing – or not – on the big screen in 2015.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS
GONE GIRL – The most commercial of the set, David Fincher’s telling of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel is an intricately structured, tense romantic thriller, with strong performances from Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, who’s earned herself a number of nominations this awards season.
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL – Another universally acclaimed film from the almost-surreal mind of Wes Anderson, as Ralph Fiennes mentors a young lobby boy at a grand hotel, that has long since fallen into disrepair.
THE DOUBLE – A Gilliam-esque follow up to his directorial debut Submarine, Richard Ayoade’s tale of a shy man who’s usurped by a somewhat bolder doppelganger features a skilful twin-performance from Jesse Eisenberg.
CALVARY – The director and star of The Guard, John Michael McDonagh and Brendan Gleeson, reunite to bring us a desperately dark comedy about an Irish priest whose life has been threatened by an anonymous parishioner who was abused as a child.
INTERSTELLAR – Christopher Nolan’s thematically ambitious, visually stunning (available in IMAX) but narratively less convincing space saga reminds us of Matthew McConaughey’s dramatic abilities while highlighting the promise of the up-and-coming Mackenzie Foy as his young daughter.
MR TURNER – An astonishing Timothy Spall grunts his way through Mike Leigh’s picturesque portrayal of the final years of the master artist JMW Turner.
LUCY – Luc Besson is near the top of his game with the fast-paced thrilling tale of Scarlett Johansson’s title character, who develops unexpected powers as a result of being forced to act as a drugs mule.
WE ARE WHAT WE ARE – Jim Mickle’s version of the Mexican cannibal chiller of the same name is a disturbing, brooding drama about ties to a cursed past.
WELCOME TO NEW YORK – Gerard Depardieu is on top scene-stealing form as a cantankerous, self-important international banker, who’s faced with a sex scandal, in Abel Ferrara’s thinly veiled telling of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn harassment case.
A number of other films just missed the grade, earning three and a half stars, but are still worth a mention as we round up those worth keeping an eye out for on DVD or TV in the future. Last years’s Oscar winning films 12 Years a Slave and Dallas Buyers Club didn’t come out in the UK until 2014. Tom Hardy’s solo performance, trying to sort out all his problems from the driver’s seat on the motorway in Locke was a remarkable achievement, even with a slightly eyebrow-raising Welsh accent. Ken Loach’s historical social drama Jimmy’s Hall was among his more accessible works. A Most Wanted Man is notable largely as the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final leading role. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood gives us an insight into the life of a broken family over a twelve year period. Jim Mickle – again – delivers a good old-fashioned B-movie thriller in Cold in July. Guy Pearce gives a visceral turn in the outback revenge movie The Rover. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Nightcrawler opens the window on freelance news camermen. And The Imitation Game sees the seemingly ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch take on the role of an unsung war-hero whose sexuality was his downfall.
But what of the worst of the year? Among those earning two stars are films that were on the pretentious side, such as David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, didn’t fulfil their potential, among them Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West, or those that took themselves too seriously, such as Darren Aronofsky’s bibilcal epic Noah.
Then we have a handful whose efforts push the disappointment factor to its limits.
ONE AND A HALF STARS
THE ZERO THEOREM – Arguably one of the most imaginative and creative film makers of his generation – so much so that I’ve already added “esque” to his name to describe one of the year’s better films – Terry Gilliam shot blanks in a film that so many of his fans prayed would see him back on form, but he was lucky that his misjudged and messy The Zero Theorem managed to scrape more than Zero stars.
GRACE OF MONACO – Similarly failing to meet the expectations of its director, cast and subject matter, apart from Nicole Kidman’s elegance, this biopic missed the mark at almost every opportunity.
WHAT IF – Getting marked down for having no punctuation at the end of a question, Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe’s foray into rom-com fails on almost every level, not least the fact that it’s neither romantic nor funny; from the moment that it urges us to root for the guy who’s trying to break up a happy relationship, it goes on an incoherent, bitter-tasting downward spiral.
THAT AWKWARD MOMENT – With Zac Efron and Miles Teller as sensitive young men, who try to hide their feelings from their butch drinking buddies, this is a romantic comedy idea that feels fresh on paper, but its delivery is infantile, unbelievable and unintentionally (I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt) misogynistic.
But when we talk about low points of 2015, the lowest were off-screen; the tragic and premature deaths of the actors Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman, an actor so in demand that three of his films have already been released since he died in February, with one more to come.
But back to the best-and-worst list, it’s more than just opinion that distinguishes ours from the annual awards season nominees, as some of America’s best films of 2014 haven’t come out in the UK yet. There’s just two weeks to wait until UK audiences can enjoy the thumping brilliance of the most powerful film this reviewer has seen this year. What a turnaround for young Miles Teller who was in both the worst and the best film seen in 2014; Whiplash is about as far from a car-crash as cinema can be. Look out for it on the list of the best of 2015.
A version of this article was previously published on ukscreen.com