Friday, 8 January 2016

2015 - A Year In Film In 140 Characters Or Less.

2015 is like so last year already! But for my own benefit more than anything else, here's all my mini-reviews I published on my Twitter account for films released last year handily gathered together in one place. This is by no means every film I saw, but just the titles which I felt compelled to post a succinct '140 characters or less' verdict upon. For my latest Twitter reviews you can follow me here: @M_R_Movie

In Alphabetical Order:  

Aaaaaaaah!: Unique British spin on Planet Of The Apes. Anarchic, absurd, a one note animal instincts joke unlike anything ever seen before.

A Christmas Horror Story: Multiple concurrent narrative takes some keeping abreast of, but it's great grisly fun full of Xmas (mean) spirit.

Age Of Kill: Raises zeitgeist issues of racial tension & terrorism in a thriller format, but is neither thrilling & as a polemic it's vacant.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night: Hypnotic, narcotic, darkly romantic. Striking monochrome visuals & a haunting, ageless dreamlike quality. Special. 

American Sniper: Excels at raw, visceral, tense action, but at the expense of the human drama or any political or ideological standpoint.

American Ultra: Mis-sold as stoner comedy it's more a violent action / romance. Leads have real chemistry but film is discordant & unengaging.

A Most Violent Year: Steeped in gritty '70s cinema heritage, uniquely a crime film about resisting the lure of gangster morality. Impressive.

Amy: Candid, tragic, warts n' all portrait of a tortured soul girl. Supremely talented, but a walking contradiction. Life as a losing game.

Ant-Man: More comedic & yes...smaller scale than usual Marvel fare. Rudd is inspired casting & Douglas adds gravitas in a charming, fun romp.

Area 51: The movie equivalent of an alien anal probe - a horrible, confusing experience & thoroughly painful to endure.

Awaiting: Strong performances & a tragic edge in a gritty n' grisly slice of rural Britsploitation taking its cues from Misery & The Loved Ones.

Backcountry: Languid build-up full of suggested menace shifts into graphic horror, all the more gruelling due to earlier character investment.

Bait: Dwells on punishment prior to payback.A brutal, bloody revenge thriller with blackly comedic streak which extends to the post credits animation.

Beasts Of No Nation: The loss of innocence, the cruel cost of conflict. A harsh, haunting depiction of the evil that men (& boys) do.

Big Eyes: A more low-key, reserved & reflective diversion from Tim Burton's usual output. Adams is terrific, Waltz is terrifically hammy.

Big Game: Enjoyable nonsense. High concept, stunning location & winning chemistry between leads helps mask just how utterly ludicrous it is.

Big Hero 6: This Disney / Marvel dream team brings the best of both worlds. Great action, charming characters & stunning animation / design.

Birdman: Illusion, delusion, ego & art. Theatre as pure cinema, a savagely satirical fantasy & a stunning directorial tour de force.

Black Mass: Meh-fellas. Solid cast on a well-trodden gangster movie path. A one dimensional Depp evokes Pesci's "funny how?" act throughout.

Blackwood: Decent, atmospheric, if somewhat venerable ghost story. Has a refinement & rustic charm absent from its Hollywood counterparts.

Bone Tomahawk: The Searchers meets Cannibal Holocaust. Classic Western scenario mutated into uncompromising, shocking & visceral horror.

Bridge Of Spies: Assured, enthralling, dry wit & drama by masters of their craft who make this look effortless. Spielberg's best in a decade.

Burying The Ex: Playful zom-rom-com with affable cast & trademark Joe Dante genre-referencing japes, including the customary Dick Miller cameo.

Chappie: As tonally conflicted & uneven as some of its haircuts. Feels like two completely different films haphazardly crow-barred together.

Cobain Montage Of Heck: An intimate, haphazard scrapbook of a life - as chaotic, unfocused & fractured as its gifted but conflicted subject.

Cooties: The kids aren't alright in reasonable paedophobic horror / comedy with some decent one liners, grisly setpieces & amiable cast.

Cop Car: Very much in Coen's territory with dark humour, flawed protagonists & twitchy tension. Bacon is ace, the kids even better. Terrific.

Creep: Lo-fi, low budget shoe-gaze psychological shocker which is all stalk & no slash. Found footage, lame jump scares, utter tedium.

Cub: A twisted rites of passage fable which shifts tone from breezy boys own adventure into dark & disturbing horror mythology. Impressive.

Dead Within: Cabin fever in a crisis. A slow-burn psychological meltdown in a study of harrowing isolation, anguish & disorientation.

Deathgasm: Deranged & demonic. In your face splatter & metal up yer ass. The new wave of New Zealand genre cinema delivers another winner.

Demonic: CSI meets Most Haunted via flashback, found footage & jump scares aplenty. Bit disjointed & formulaic but not without its moments.

Digging Up The Marrow: Meta creature feature in mock-doc form. Wickedly inventive & cleverly executed, an open love letter to monster movies.

Dismembering Christmas: Strictly amateur hour seasonal slasher trash. Fleeting gore scenes & performances of the level of a school nativity.

Everly: Owes a debt to hard-hitting Asian cinema, with style & sadism of Oldboy. Virtually plotless, but dishes out brutality by bucket load.

Ex Machina: A new world of Gods & Monsters, a cerebral, unpredictable three-hander thriller of perception, deception & manipulation. Superb.

Extinction: An unusual spin on the zombie genre. Downbeat & drawn out, snowbound & slow moving. An austere, intimate apocalyptic drama.

Fantastic Four: All build-up & no payoff. You can see what Trank was aiming for but the result is clearly severely compromised & truncated.

Fear Clinic: Good looking low budget horror. Promising concept rather under-explored. A film of fears & phobias which isn't very frightening.

Final Girl: As much Hanna as horror. A smart tables-turning meta slasher, Breslin ace as Little Red Riding Hood who chews up big bad wolves.

Foxcatcher: Three career best performances in a film laden with dread which wrestles with themes of power & control but it failed to grip me.

Fractured: Memento meets Jacob's Ladder. Disturbing nightmarish visions & graphic violence abound in a rather confused & confusing film.

German Angst: Urban underground anthology of hardcore horror. Misery, suffering, Nazi cruelty, guinea pigs & the year's messiest demon sex.

GirlHouse: A contemporary slasher mix of Big Brother & Babestation. Certainly delivers on eye candy, sleaze & frequently nasty violence.

Good Kill: Personal & ethical conflict over an impersonal & voyeuristic military conflict. More provocative & balanced than American Sniper.

Goodnight Mommy: Genuinely twisted & unnerving. A dysfunctional family nightmare peppered with disturbing imagery. Final twist is a stunner.

Hard To Be A God: Somewhere between visionary masterpiece & endurance test. An allegory of oppression / regression majoring in misery & squalor.

Hellions: Teen pregnancy cautionary tale in guise of blood moon-hued Halloween horror. Trick R Treat meets Inside with a pink filter fetish.

Howl: A few obvious cliches & plot contrivances aside, this is solid pulpy B movie fun with a great basic premise & well crafted atmosphere.

Human Centipede 3: Like a wailing, attention-seeking child desperate to offend & antagonise, insufferable, puerile trash for morons.

Inanimate: Good to have a new slime & spittle-dripping creature feature, though this drags initially & is little more than The Thing on a boat.

Inherent Vice: Shaggy, baggy, borderline incomprehensible rambling paranoid stoner noir. It's a garbled & sprawling patience-tester.

Inside Out: Intelligent, imaginative concept beautifully executed & stunningly animated. Not Pixar's very best, but puts them back on track.

In The Heart Of The Sea: Old fashioned matinee adventure yarn in scope, updated with state of art FX. Entertaining, but I was firmly #TeamWhale 

It Follows: Night Of The Demon reworked as an STD. Has a nice line in disorientating dream logic, but crucially not the slightest bit scary.

John Wick: Threadbare plot, massive body count, cool cars, sharp suits, oozes neon style. Plays like the video game adaptation you longed for.

Jupiter Ascending: A deranged DNA splice of The Matrix & Dune. Visually opulent, largely incoherent, madder than David Icke on crystal meth.

Jurassic World: Lacks wow factor of original & characterisation is minimal, but has great setpieces & tries new ideas with a limited format.

Kill The Messenger: Fine cast & a fascinating true story, but doesn't dig too deep beneath surface. Very much All The President's Men lite.

Kingsman: Thankfully more like Kick Ass than Kick Ass 2. Tonally all over place, but it's a lot of irreverent, energetic, ultra-violent fun.

Krampus: Less Rare Exports, more a Charles Band Demonic Toys with a budget. Not quite Gremlins levels of twisted Xmas spirit, but good fun.

Last Shift: Supremely spooky ghost story in unusual setting. Brilliantly builds dread & unease. Genuinely creeped me out more than once.

Lost River: Somewhere over the rainbow to Lynch / Refn territory. Visually arresting, abstract, devoid of identity. A directorial dog's dinner.

Mad Max Fury Road: Like injecting a speed ball directly to your brain, a visually stunning feast of vehicular carnage played out at amp-blowing levels. Astonishing.

Maggie: An intimate, emotional apocalypse. Bleak, brooding - a slow rot wallowing in doom & despair. Arnie emotes, but it's Breslin's film.

Mississippi Grind: Evocative slice of 70's tinged Americana. Has the smokey bourbon aroma of sleazy back road bars. Both leads on top form.

Monster Hunter: With its winter palette & convincing depiction of isolated community, this is a superior slow-burn, solemn creature feature.

Ouija: Not great, but no worse than all the other mainstream 15-rated horrors. Tame & predictable, it's just extraordinarily ordinary.

Out Of The Dark: Odd hybrid of paedophobic horror & environmental conspiracy thriller. A few effectively eerie moments, but nothing special.

Phoenix Incident: Like Battle LA in a desert, a found footage alien / war film with a shoestring budget, nosebleed editing & migraine visuals.

Pod: For much of its duration all paranoia, angst & hysteria & a bit of a slog, rescued by a macabre final act with added Larry Fessenden.

Poltergeist: Lacks the spectacle & rollercoaster quality of original. Not entirely worthless but incredibly generic & instantly forgettable.

Preservation: Deliverance for the smart phone era. Dull hunters get hunted set-up redeemed by unexpected assailants & gritty final girl action.

[REC]4: Doesn't reinvent the ship's wheel, but high seas setting is used well with a nice line in maritime weaponry. A few nods to Braindead too.

Red Machine: Erratic pacing aside a decent & frequently nasty wilderness romp with a strong cast getting eaten by a really pissed off bear.

Rendlesham UFO Incident: Mostly it's generic found footage wandering around in woods tedium, but scenes on the airbase have an eerie quality.

Selma: Dignity in the face of bigotry, bravery over brutality. A powerful portrait of historical events rather than a comprehensive biopic.

Seventh Son: Entertaining tosh with over-qualified cast. Less po-faced than other recent fantasy romps. Bridges on top scenery-chewing form.

Sicario: A morality minefield as the rules of engagement are twisted. Blunt is ethical beat in heart of darkness, but it's Del Toro's film.

Slow West: Hugely enjoyable revisionist Western assembled via colourful characters & quirky setpieces. Bittersweet, brutal, blackly comedic.

Son Of A Gun: Solid unpretentious B movie. Not much depth to it, but as part prison drama / part heist caper it delivers enough gritty action.

Spectre: Retains the maturity of Skyfall but crucially remembers Bond is about escapism too. A mix of old & new, my fave Craig era entry.

Spring: A Lovecraftian love story. Poetic & potent, a haunting, heartbreaking meditation on the bliss, beauty & brutality of nature. Superb.

Star Wars:The Force Awakens: Perfect symmetry between past & present. Passing the torch to new generation with maturity, spectacle & wit. Magnificent.

Stonehearst Asylum: Classy production values, stellar cast & rich Gothic atmosphere. A venerable drama which explores a twisted conundrum.

Straight Outta Compton: Overlong & oversimplified. The first half captures vibrancy & danger of the music, second half descends into soap opera.

Stung: Enjoyably trashy creepy-crawly creature feature. More '80s infused than SyFy schlock, this is gooey, gory & slimier than a Tory MP.

Suburban Gothic: A scattershot Scooby Doo inspired spooky spoof. Quirky & quick-witted with great character work, it's a lot of madcap fun.

Taken 3: Utter nonsense obviously & edited to the point of incoherence, with sanitised violence, but as an undemanding action romp it's about passable.

Ted 2: The deafening sound of silence through lack of laughs audible over the noise of a barrel being scraped. Charmless, witless, TED-ious.

Terminator Genisys: Part reboot, part reworking, subverts previous timelines to point of incoherence. Has its moments but incredibly messy.

The Asylum: Grungey, gory, populated with largely unlikable characters. It's Night Of The Demons with grim aesthetic of the Evil Dead reboot.

The Avengers Age Of Ultron: Overlong, spins too many plates & Whedon's individual stamp feels absent, but in terms of global scale, scope & spectacle a triumph.

The Atticus Institute: Above average mock-doc, overdoes obvious jump scares, yet cultivates growing sense of events spiralling out of control.

The Dead 2 - India: Sparsely plotted but captures the chaos, carnage & confusion of an outbreak against an impoverished backdrop. Decent.

The Demon's Rook: Feels like it was buried alive in the '80s & has just clawed its way out. Bursting with retro rubbery FX & surplus splatter. Ace.

The Diabolical: What initially appears a generic paranormal chiller deviates into sci-fi territory & becomes far more intriguing & original.

The Editor: Part tribute, part irreverent giallo spoof. It's Berberian Sound Studio as pure exploitation with the emphasis on blood, boobs & butts.

The Entity: Peruvian found footage horror possibly loses much in translation. It's confusing & covers familiar ground, but has a decent twist.

The Falling: Amorphous, enigmatic mystery / fringe horror creates dreamlike off-killter aura via subliminal imagery & unsettling ambiguity. Terrific.

The Final Girls: The smartest, sharpest, wittiest meta slasher since Tucker & Dale. Inspired genre subversion via film within film format.

The Hallow: Outsiders encounter rural superstition & fear in part fairytale / part supernatural Straw Dogs. An eerie, assured creature feature.

The Interview: Scatological, wildly misjudged lowbrow drivel desperately lacking in satirical bite. Freedom of speech has a lot to answer for!

The Invitation: Slowburning & sinister. Relentlessly builds paranoia & tension towards its shocking & savage endgame. Stunning final shot.

The Lazarus Effect: Slick & spooky in places, if nonsensical mainstream chiller. Not bad, although essentially a mad science spin on Pet Semetary.

The Martian: A '50s B movie plot with blockbuster credentials. The science of survival, visually arresting, emotionally gripping, great fun.

The Mirror: Found footage variant on the haunted mirror horror standard. Takes a while to find its feet, before its macabre & grisly payoff.

The Salvation: Traditional western with timeless themes of vengeance & redemption, but a contemporary flavour. Brutal, visceral, impressive.

The Samurai: On the edge of a dark forest & the periphery of sanity a modern twisted fairytale dripping with surreal psychosexual symbolism.

The Theory Of Everything: A biopic of a life & love rather than a career. Skirts close to soap opera at times but performances are flawless.

The Treatment: Complex police procedural. Tackles its controversial subject without compromise. Gruelling, gripping, but a VERY tough watch.

The Tribe: A brave, brutal trip into the human abyss played out in sign language & subtext. Stylistically & thematically a tough proposition.

The Visit: Pointless use of hand-held video footage. Intensely annoying child stars. Obvious twist. Still M Night's best film in a decade!!!

The Voices: Deliciously demented fusion of Psycho & Dr Dolittle - tonally rotating humour, pathos & genuine darkness. Reynolds is revelatory.

The Walk: The climactic walk is pure white knuckle spectacle, pity the rest of film is Allo Allo comedy French accents & dodgy CGI seagulls.

The Witch: Fading light, blighted land, an ancient evil lurking in the shadows. Overwhelming dread & utterly unnerving. Believe the hype.

These Final Hours: Solid, stylish, bittersweet apocalyptic odyssey, but lacks gritty impact of The Road or emotional punch of Miracle Mile.

Turbo Kid: Genre-blending splice of VHS-era cultdom. Just about gets away with a curious mix of sweet-natured sentiment & explicit splatter.

Vendetta: What the Soska's prison-based revenge drama lacks in believability it makes up for in bone-crunching violence. Dumb, brutal fun.

Wax: Cheap, clunky ode to sleazy euro gothic horror. Graphic torture, gratuitous nudity, cannibal surgeons & Paul Naschy. Watchable trash.

We Are Still Here: Genre veterans add touch of class to eerie indie which nails a retro vibe, faithfully riffing on Fulci, Romero & Raimi.

Werewolf Rising: A turkey in wolf's clothing. Low budget lycanthrope tedium which could easily pass as one of those schlocky Howling sequels.

We Still Kill The Old Way: A film where psychotic old time gangsters are the good guys ', I've no idea! Utter bilge.

When Animals Dream: Solemn, portentous & angst-riddled. The drama mirrors its bleak backdrop, but hits its horror stride for the final reel.

Whiplash: Blood sweat & tears in a musical bootcamp. Jazz as a white-knuckle warzone. Simmons superb as tyrannical ball of seething rage.

Wild: What could’ve been an overly sentimental journey to redemption is grittier & underpinned by grief & trauma. Witherspoon really goes for it.

Wild Card: Low-key mix of downbeat drama & bone-crunching brutality capturing an austere '70's infused vibe thanks to William Goldman's involvement.

Wolves: Far less Twilight-y than I feared. Decent action, strong supporting cast & stylish direction. A minor, but watchable werewolf entry.

Wyrmwood: Anarchic Australian splatterpunk zombie romp. Ferociously full-on, frantic paced, frequently insane & relentlessly gory. A blast.

Young Ones: A desolate, downbeat, dystopian drama in three acts. Has the serious tone & austerity of pre-Star Wars '70's science-fiction.


Friday, 1 January 2016

The Best Films Of The Year 2015

What with the growing choice of release formats - cinema, on demand, home rental and multi-region physical media, plus the proliferation of both major and smaller regional film festivals (particularly the increasing number of horror related events), it's getting increasingly difficult to keep track of what movies get released where and when during a specific calendar year. So for this, my annual end of year countdown, instead of sticking to just confirmed UK releases as I have previously done in the past, I'm changing the rules from here on, so this year I'm basically allowing any new release film (excluding re-releases or rep screenings) which I have seen in 2015. Therefore any new release films which I logged on my Letterboxd diary since January 1st 2015 are fair game. In other words, one-off festival screenings are now eligible for consideration, as are films perhaps not yet released in the UK, but are available online via the likes of U.S. itunes and similar readily accessible on demand and streaming platforms. Just for the record, according to my Letterboxd diary HERE I watched 312 films in 2015 (5 less than 2014, which at least is fairly consistent I suppose?). 

As ever, I've not seen anything like every new release worthy of inclusion, but I think I've caught a fair cross section of the most important and popular films of the year, and hopefully this round-up reflects that. Worth noting I think what a particularly strong year it's been for science-fiction / fantasy cinema - half of my Top 10 including my entire Top 3 films of the year fall under this category. Also an impressive showing for Westerns (3 included), which continue to make a welcome comeback with both The Hateful Eight and The Revenant due to open here in January (and therefore may well make this list in 2016). A solid and particularly diverse year for horror cinema too - as ever I have dedicated a separate list to the genre on Letterboxd to highlight its rich variety of offerings this year. You can check out that particular list HERE:


Apocalypse Wow!
Part reboot, part sequel, part tribute to the original trilogy played out on a different tangent, the thirty year gestation period between the disappointing Beyond Thunderdome and the insanely anticipated Fury Road has afforded director George Miller ample time to expand his vision of the post-apocalyptic Western he was largely responsible for in the first place. And whilst technology has moved on in leaps and bounds since his original Mad Max trilogy, Miller to his credit uses modern CGI and special effects sparingly, preferring instead to unleash an eye-popping orgy of practical effects and death-defying physical stunt work which makes the Fast And Furious series look like a sedate Sunday afternoon drive. What he's come up with pretty much renders all previous action cinema obsolete and antiquated in two brilliantly bonkers hours of undiluted nitrous-fuelled mayhem. Fury Road is like injecting a speed ball directly into your brain, a visually stunning, insanely choreographed maelstrom of motorised carnage played out at amp-blowing levels. Here's a film which is as unhinged as it is adrenalised, it begins with our hero eating a live two headed lizard, before hurtling headfirst into a frenzied bout of motorised madness. It then shifts up half a dozen gears, floors the accelerator pedal, fires up the nitrous and rockets along at an unrelenting breakneck pace which leaves your head spinning, ears ringing and eyes bulging out on stalks like a delirious Looney Tunes character.
Essentially the climactic tanker pursuit from Mad Max 2 turned into one frenzied feature length chase movie, Miller's genius here is using the relentless action itself as the propulsive plot mechanism - there are brief moments of respite and backstory, but much like James Cameron's original Terminator, there's zero baggage or exposition, everything is done on the move like a sleek, cinematic shark - if it loses momentum, it's dead in the water.
That's not to say there's no characterisation here - Tom Hardy's take on Max is more physical, if perhaps less charismatic than Mel Gibson's previous incarnation. But you get the sense Hardy's Max would be a survivor out there in the brutal, barren wastelands - he's a primal, feral, imposing presence, and with his flashbacks, grunts, gruff demeanour and gecko diet, certainly merits the 'Mad' tag of his character name. And yet Hardy finds himself usurped in his own film by Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa, a shaven-headed, hard as nails, alpha female giving the film a commendable whiff of oestrogen amongst all the testosterone, heading up a cast populated by several impressively rounded, strong female characters.
With astonishing production design and meticulous attention to detail, stunningly shot throughout, with an incredible use of colour and lighting - at times the startling choice of blues and reds makes this feel like a Mario Bava movie on crack, whilst there's one blissful moment of candlelit beauty amidst the chaos, which is simply sublime. Fury Road will leave you giddy on exhaust fumes with its relentless, teeth-rattling spectacle, a high-octane vehicular Valhalla, which doesn't just move the goalposts of action cinema, it transplants them into a whole new arena! The world doesn't belong to the mad. In 2015 it belonged to a seventy year old called George Miller, the undisputed King of carmageddon.


A new world of Gods And Monsters - writer turned director Alex Garland's debut feature is a stunningly assured slice of cerebral science-fiction which explores themes of artificial intelligence, consciousness, singularity, sentience and attraction. Despite its ambitious themes and weighty ideology, at its core Ex Machina is a surprisingly lean, stripped down film - essentially a three-hander thriller set in a single stylish location.
Ex Machina unravels as a totally gripping and utterly unpredictable thriller of perception, deception and manipulation. You are never quite certain of the motivations or believability of any of the key protagonists, as hints and clues of sinister undercurrents are revealed. Who can be trusted? Who is playing who? Blessed with three fantastic central performances from a trio of actors whose stars are very much in the ascendancy, Ex Machina is visually stylish with incredible special effects work given its modest budget (the early incarnations of Ava with her translucent torso, and balletic artificial movements are particularly striking), has a terrific incessant electronic score, moments of idiosyncratic oddness (a strangely disturbing dance sequence), and is proud to pay homage to its B movie exploitation roots (let's just say there's a lot of artificial flesh on display). Alex Garland may have covered some of this territory before, particularly so in the superb and criminally underrated Never Let Me Go, but he arrives here in the director's chair with a stunning statement of intent, as a natural born filmmaker delivering what I honestly believe may just be the best science fiction film of its kind since Blade Runner.

Breathe a massive sigh of relief, for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the most eagerly anticipated film of 2015 is the perfect symmetry between past and present, going back in time to advance into the future, passing the torch to a new generation with maturity, spectacle and wit. Whilst Lucas was always a better merchandise salesman than director, he was right that his original vision was for a film aimed at children, and it wasn’t his fault adults liked it too. JJ Abrams and his writing team’s masterstroke is to deliver a film for all age demographics – there are still cute droids and crazy creatures aplenty to appease the younglings, but now there’s a sophistication of storytelling evident, jettisoning all the convoluted taxation and trade mumbo jumbo of the prequels and the often laughably inane dialogue which has always blighted Lucas’s screenplays from the saga’s very outset. Characters old and new are more rounded, more believable, more ingrained with emotion and purpose. The visuals are frequently breathtaking, less reliant on CGI, the sets and set pieces have a tangible physicality and location, there’s an epic sense of scale and style on show.
It’s not perfect admittedly; but I laughed, I had several huge euphoric shivers down the spine moments, and yes I had a lump in my throat at the ‘no spoilers’ scenes. JJ Abrams has spectacularly wiped the memory of those much maligned prequels in one beautifully realised reboot. This is the film Star Wars fans have waited over three decades for. 

“Chewie.......we’re home.”

Fading light, blighted land, nature in retreat, a Puritan family falling apart through superstition, stubbornness and sin, and an ancient evil lurking ominously in the shadows. Played out beneath slate grey skies and sparse interiors barely illuminated by flickering candlelight, the way The Witch builds a malevolent air of darkness, doom and despair is impeccable. Awash with overwhelming dread and utterly unnerving, here is a film that genuinely left me feeling on edge and uneasy, the obvious comparisons are the likes of the original Blair Witch Project in the way it cultivates an aura of something insidious and evil in the background, whilst its folk horror credentials bring to mind classics of the genre like Blood On Satan's Claw and Witchfinder General.
It's a slow-burning and stunningly shot fable, with flawless turns from its small-scale cast, including some of the most convincing performances from child actors I've witnessed in some time. Creepy as Hell, compulsive and a film where somehow a goat called Black Phillip became the year's most iconic horror character. Very possibly a future horror classic, believe the hype, and be sure to catch this when it officially opens in 2016.

Those bemoaning the lack of quality and originality in modern horror cinema really need to cast their gaze further afield than the latest mainstream conveyor-belt produced Paranormal Insidious clones. There have been some remarkable genre offerings of late, largely from the independent or international end of the market. Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead's Spring is the latest picture to add to that ever expanding list. Their second feature, coming after their admirable but flawed debut Resolution, this is a massive leap forward in terms of ambition, scope and ability.
Spring is a film which is best appreciated with as little prior knowledge of its deceptively simple, but strikingly unusual and twisted plot as possible. Safe to say it's a Lovecraftian love story, a gorgeously shot travelogue which gently veers off down ever stranger and more sinister paths. It's both poetic and potent, a haunting, heartbreaking meditation on the bliss, beauty and brutality of nature. A film which delivers a truly enthralling and unexpected central relationship, which gradually builds via an impending sense of doom and portent to a remarkable climax, the resolution of which hangs in the balance to the very end, in a textbook example of how to evoke tension and dread simply through having characters you genuinely care about.

Blood, sweat and tears in a musical boot camp, jazz as a white-knuckle war zone. Whiplash may not break much new ground in terms of narrative or structure, with its basic mentor/student dynamic and triumph over adversity storyline, but it builds with such tightly wound intensity and melodramatic potency that it transcends its cliches and plotting pitfalls - like its entire final act hinging on a huge coincidental meeting for instance.
At the pulsating beat of its frantic rhythm is Oscar winning J K Simmons, magnetic as tyrannical New York academy teacher Terence Fletcher, a sadistic, sinewy ball of seething rage and splenetic perfectionism. Simmons has taken his cantankerous J.Jonah Jameson persona from Sam Raimi's Spiderman trilogy and turbocharged him into some sort of vexatious, acid-tongued R Lee Ermey tribute act. His fearsome, foul-mouthed band leader bully utterly dominates proceedings, although latest protege/victim Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller), a precocious and ambitious young drummer more than holds his own as tutoring turns to torturing in a psychological test of endurance and stamina.
On paper, Whiplash sounds pretty unremarkable, not helped by the fact I hate jazz music, but thankfully that's a mere backdrop to the central searing relationship, which writer/director Damien Chazelle tunes into with increasing intensity and gruelling emotion. And frankly, any film which can survive the biggest crime against music - a five minute drum solo, and still enthral and excite has to be special. Whiplash really is! Far more than just a "good job."


A morality minefield as the rules of engagement are twisted and torn apart. Denis Villeneuve's borderland drugs war thriller was one of the standout films of the year and further cemented his reputation as one of the most essential filmmakers currently at work in Hollywood.
Sicario is a film which deliberately keeps its narrative cards close to its chest, it's a film of secrets and lies, ethical and professional duplicity, trust and mistrust, hidden agendas, personal vendettas and deadly retribution. It kicks off with an incredibly visceral and stunningly choreographed house raid which almost turns into pure horror cinema by its shocking climax, which leads to Emily Blunt's idealistic FBI agent being recruited by Josh Brolin's shadowy task force charged with "shaking the tree" of Mexico's ruthlessly violent drug cartels. Blunt is the ethical beat in the heart of darkness, kept at arms length by Brolin and enigmatic right hand man Benicio Del Toro (who has rarely been more charismatic or compelling, and totally owns this film), she becomes the audience's conduit, as much in the dark as to the mission, methods and questionable morality as the viewer, as her crew head south of the border and violence begets violence with terrifying results.
Here's a film which although hardly treading new ground (Traffic amongst several other films have been here previously), manages to be a pulsating, powerful and often nerve-shredding exercise in tension. An early elongated action sequence which is basically an insertion behind enemy lines to extract a prisoner, is a stunning example of a director at the top of his game as we follow a militarised convoy deep into cartel territory where mutilated headless bodies swing from bridges like some hellish vision of drug-fuelled Dystopia, more a deadly Middle Eastern war zone than an impoverished Mexican border town. This all leads to one of the year's finest sequences - a thrilling example of pure cinema, a border crossing traffic jam where perspiration pours, nerves jangle and trigger fingers twitch with anticipation as surrounding vehicles ominously appear as laden with potential gun-toting targets ready to engage with deadly force in the blink of an eye. Spectacularly shot by the masterful Roger Deakins (who simply must finally be due an Oscar for this?), the film looks jaw-dropping - one review I read described his cinematography of the arid desert landscapes here as so huge and panoramic you can actually see the curvature of the Earth.
Sicario is simply a terrific, taut, often terrifying and frequently thought-provoking film, and although I personally loathe the idea of any sort of sequel to Blade Runner, if we must have one, right now I can't think of another filmmaker better equipped to make it something special than Denis Villeneuve.

Birdman is theatre as pure cinema. A savagely satirical fantasy of illusion, delusion, ego and art. Primarily it's a blackly comedic ode to actors, their eccentricities and insecurities, and the disposable nature and duplicity of the entertainment industry, with terrific performances throughout its star-studded ensemble. And yet while theatre is very much an actor's medium, Birdman despite its cast at the top of their game, proves film is very much a director's platform, with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu shedding the doleful, ponderous tone of his earlier films, to deliver a dazzling directorial tour de force. Accompanied by Gravity's cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Inarritu uses the same conceit as Hitchcock's Rope, presenting Birdman as if filmed in one seamless continuous take (it's not obviously, but the illusion is a convincing one). The camera literally takes flight - soaring in and out and around the theatre set, sweeping through rooms and corridors, spinning around the stage and stairwells, and hovering around the play's protagonists with flawless fluidity.
From a purely visual and stylistic perspective this is simply a jaw-dropping creative and technical marvel. I've read accusations of it being over-stylised and pretentious, but as far as I was concerned I found this to stay just the right side of smug showmanship. Yes, it's self-knowing, its meta credentials are writ large - Michael Keaton plays an actor past his prime, best remembered for his role as a screen superhero. Edward Norton plays a confrontational and challenging method actor. You get the idea? But despite the bickering and bile and breakdowns there's a warmth and wit and wonder at play in a film full of ideas and invention and frequent moments of offbeat is afterall a movie which opens with Keaton levitating several feet above the floor in some kind of hypnotic transcendental state as if to underline the fact this isn't going to be any kind of run of the mill film. In fact, it's a fabulous, frenetic, unusual, ambitious, cinematic sleight of hand and got 2015 off to a high flying start.

Essentially what we have here is a 1950's B movie plot with modern day blockbuster credentials....think Robinson Crusoe On Mars with Matt Damon instead of Adam West and state of the art technology in the place of a chattering monkey. Working from a tight script which blends pathos, humour and plausibility (although there is some artistic license for dramatic narrative effect of course), this is Ridley Scott's best work for some time, and although it may not have the unwieldy ambition of say Prometheus, it's a far more engaging and ultimately thrilling film.
Damon is terrific as the Mars marooned astronaut, relying on resourcefulness and determination to survive against seemingly overwhelming odds in a triumph of the human mind and spirit over adversity. A particularly star-studded ensemble provide what are essentially minor supporting roles (Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor to name but a few), in a film which is a textbook example of how to squeeze every last drop of tension and trauma out of what appears a deceptively simple premise, which you would mistakenly presume would soon hit a narrative dead end. It's the science of survival - visually arresting, emotionally gripping, and crucially, tremendous fun. 

I always try and include a lesser seen hidden gem of a film in my end of year Top 10, in the hope of encouraging others to discover its delights, and this is 2015's choice. Set in a strict English girl's school in the late 1960s, Carol Morley's film is an amorphous, enigmatic mystery / fringe horror which expertly creates a dreamlike off-kilter aura via subliminal imagery and unsettling ambiguity. It has a strangely offbeat vibe of things just not being right. A film unafraid to drop hints and indications as to its true meaning and direction without ever delivering any solid answers or confirmation of whether it was all psychological, supernatural, mass hysteria or simple mischief. With an ethereal, hypnotic style it's a film which shares similar DNA to mysterious movies like The Wicker Man, Don't Look Now and especially Picnic At Hanging Rock, and was one of the more pleasant and interesting discoveries of the year, and definitely one to rewatch at some point to search for clues and context.




28) BIG HERO 6

32) AMY

41) CUB


BEST COMEDY: SPY (Not one single comedy made my Top 50 - a very poor showing!)