2014 seems a billion light years ago, but my hazy recollection has it placed above 2015 in terms of overall pop culture enjoyment.
For mine the fault lays with movie blockbuster season. Sure Jurassic World and the Avengers: Age of Ultron made huge bucks and The Martian gave us a compelling two hours of cinema, but will anyone be rushing out to buy the blu-ray of any of those soon? In fact looking at the top 50 films in terms of box-office for 2015 there are only four films I will inevitably purchase. Three of them are in my Top 10 below, and the other is Star Wars: The Force Awakens which *YES GASP* I have not yet seen.
Thankfully with the blockbusters for the most part disappointing TV took a slightly more prominent role in my existence, partially thanks to Netflix, but more thanks to one previously unknown to me gem of an animated series, and another the most welcome return of a beloved – and frankly thought dead – character to the small screen.
But I rarely review TV here, so back to film. Specifically the best films, and the very best – by a long dusty highway – was not even considered a blockbuster until it arrived.
Ultimately 2015 for me will be remembered for the return of two characters who haven’t been relevant since the 1980s… one on the big screen and the other on the small screen.
Mad Max: Fury Road – So get this: A one-armed woman with a crew cut and a mistrust of men takes a bunch of pregnant women for a drive in an old truck. She is joined by a surly man who doesn’t talk much and a paint huffing idiot who won’t stop talking about how he is destined for glory in the afterlife. Eventually some older ladies show up. One of them has a tree. After two hours they end up at the same spot…
Now does that sound like the film of the year or what?
Just know; in twenty years we won’t be talking about Ant-Man, the Avengers sequel or San Andreas, we will be talking about Mad Max: Fury Road, and hopefully lining up for Mad Max 13 and expecting the same quality.
Ex-Machina – A sci-fi with minimal flair and flash that relies on lengthy philosophical conversations between a tech nerd and a robot, interspersed with other chats between the tech nerd and a (potentially alcoholic) billionaire genius.
It’s always noticeable when a director makes so little seem like so much. Rian Johnson started with Brick and went on to Looper, and now he is working on the next Star Wars. Time will tell if Alex Garland sees his career move on a similar trajectory, but with Ex Machina as his first effort I anxiously await the follow up.
Big Hero 6 – Like The Incredibles before it Big Hero 6 shows that it is extremely possible to make an animated action film. This is a fast, funny and often touching flick that tells the origin tale of a superhero group that will surely reappear in cinemas soon.
It’s not often that Pixar doesn’t get the Top animated slot, but this is such a year. As you will see below Inside Out is a fine film, but I know which film I’d rather rewatch.
Sicario – The year’s least flashy, most refreshing film. Sicario opens with a bang and thrusts a capable yet untested young FBI agent into the middle of the drug war. The film crosses both sides of the US/Mexican border and like the combatants takes no prisoners. It is taut, clever and demanding, and like last year’s Prisoners, announces the director Denis Villeneuve as one with a fresh take on action and drama.
Inside Out – A beautiful film about the nuances of emotion and the decisions we make under stress, Inside Out surmises that inside every kid (and adult) is a small team of ‘emotion engineers’ all trying to steer us in the appropriate direction.
And the film too steers us in those same directions, we get happy, nervous, excited and sad… very sad. In fact the very thing that gives the film its emotional heft is the thing that will likely prevent me from revisiting this as frequently. It will make me think twice before berating my kid after a ‘dumb decision’ though (actually probably not).
It Follows – A great twist on the ‘irrepressible oncoming killer’ motif. It Follows has essentially a virus – more specifically an STD – hunting down teenagers with relentless intent.
It’s extremely efficient stuff with a couple great pursuit setpieces, but this requires inevitable comparisons to The Ring and others. That said it doesn’t suffer greatly by comparison, it’s still a smart and well made horror film, but not a patch on last year’s The Babadook.
The Gift – A happy couple moving to the husband’s hometown find an immediate welcome when a man reappears from hubbie’s past. Only the man redefines clingy, and eventually the weight of the straws overwhelms the dromedary.
A taut drama / thriller with a small but excellent cast, The Gift is the same story more or less that comes along every couple years, but rarely is it presented in such a pleasing package.
Creed – With Star Wars: The Force Awakens sold out in my local I decided to check in on my mate Rocky Balboa. Glad I did. Creed manages to maintain the tone of the unexpectedly good Rocky Balboa reboot from a few years ago and actually builds the possibility of its own spin-off franchise.
Even with the tale being largely the same – underdog given one shot – the strength of Creed is the performances and the lack of ‘hooks’ (motorbike wheelies aside). Stallone is weathered and perfect, slipping into the Mickey role that was once Burgess Meredith’s, and while Michael B Jordan sure ain’t no Rocky, but he might be the next Creed.
The gloves have been passed.
Dope – My main gripe about Dope is that of the three young precocious teens sold as ‘nerds’ and ‘dweebs’, two of them would be way too cool to hang out with me at any stage of my life. It’s hard to be the underdog when you’re good-looking, funny, talented and possessing of great taste in 90s hip-hop music.
Nonetheless Dope is clever and creative, with a couple of great sequences – perhaps the best cinematic nudity of 2015 – and a fresh young cast, some of whom we will be seeing again.
And the music. Oh how it delves deep into my every playlist…
Kingsman: The Secret Service – So the church throwdown just might be the best cinematic slaughter of the year, but since I dubbed Kick-Ass my favourite film of 2010 I can’t help but feel that this is a replica of that film, only this time set in a James Bond parallel universe.
The unexpected hero, the off-kilter mentor, even the gratuitous lurid violence and sexual references. Sure it’s entertaining, but it’s hardly new, and frankly I like unlikely super-heroes more than unlikely secret agents, as Spy proves.
10 more meritorious films
Birdman… or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance – I can appreciate Birdman or etc. I can see the care and craftsmanship that went into the tracking shots. The surreptitious editing that makes it all look like one continuous shot. I can see the quality of the acting and the cast largely playing up to, or against, type.
I can hear the cleverness of the dialogue at times and the subtle black humour emanating from characters that contradict themselves at every turn.
There are brilliantly written novels without warmth. There are paintings that are exceptional works depicting normal items. There are note-perfect renditions of songs that while technically proficient leave me cold. There are movies that amass critics plaudits and Academy awards. I can appreciate them, but I cannot love all of them.
Insidious: Chapter 3 – As if to rub Birdman’s nose in it, the next film on the list is a sequel to a low budget horror film. Now only a couple months after watching the third *COUGH* Chapter to a franchise I can scarcely recall, I couldn’t name a significant moment or sequence – but I can remember being unexpectedly satisfied and glad I took the time to watch it.
Still, I’m hardly hanging out for Insidious Chapter 4. But I bet I’ll end up watching it.
Everest – Between this and San Andreas we might have a return to films about Mother Nature trying to kill us, though where that film had The Rock running away from earthquakes, Everest has a large well-known cast attempting to conquer a different The Rock – and by that I mean Mount Everest.
Long standing and as yet undefeated, Everest remains atop many daredevil’s bucket lists. This is a real life story of why circumstances can conspire to bedevil even the best prepared and well equipped. Exhausting and emotional, Everest plays your every emotional chord, but does so expertly.
Predestination – Someone walks into a bar and sparks a conversation with the barman. The story is broad and rambling. It grows increasingly impossible until it becomes somehow possible again. Then it goes impossible again.
Low budget and perhaps a bit clever for its own good, I’d rather a film confuse and infuriate me by trying too much than to be underwhelmed by a man dressed as an Ant charging me thirty bucks to be told Paul Rudd is likeable and charming. (More on this later.)
The Pact 2 – In truth The Pact 2 is here more because of my surprise that it didn’t suck. So often a small budget film arrives with a singular new idea or theme and finds unexpected success.
With this success comes the expectation of a sequel – which inevitably shows that the idea-well is dry. Not here. The Pact 2 is the equal of its predecessor, and while it doesn’t bring much new to the table thematically, the tension and jumps are real.
You could watch The Pact and The Pact 2 back to back and enjoy them both in slightly different ways. That is rare and definitely worthy of praise.
Straight Outta Compton – Far too dry and factual for my liking. Straight Outta Compton just doesn’t feel nearly as ‘dangerous’ as it felt listening to a scratchy cassette of 100 Miles and Runnin’ from a busted old car stereo in the early 90s.
Maybe I wanted to see a backstory that didn’t exist; teens who overcame adversity to reach the top despite the odds being against them. I don’t really care to see the version here; namely ‘very rich young men get fucked over financially by older white guy because they don’t take enough care in reading contracts’.
I mean Ice Cube and Dr Dre seem to have emerged from their utter and complete financial ruin. Don’t they?
Run All Night (John Wick) / Wild Card (Homefront) – Both Liam Neeson and Jason Statham threaten to return to form. For Neeson, it is another revenge film, although this time the bad guys are seeking revenge upon him – not that Neeson deserves it. I mean, how could anyone be mad at him? The reality is that this is good stuff, but has the misfortune of arriving hot on the heels of The Equalizer and of course John Wick.
If you’ve seen those two then by all means check this. Otherwise, light the Wick…
With Statham it’s been more a case of by the numbers for a couple years, so it was refreshing to see a director willing to let him punch guys in creative ways. His best film since Safe, although I subsequently discovered that Homefront is even better.
Actually, watch Homefront instead of Wild Card.
(OGR, retrospectively telling people things years after everyone else for over 6 years.)
St Vincent – Bill Murray playing a drunken gambling curmudgeon who refuses to get along with the world? Sign me up. While the comedy and drama are tilted a little too evenly for my liking, this is another ‘old guy helping a youngster’ coming of age film, though with probably more pregnant Russian hookers than most.
Trainwreck – So apparently even women agree; if you have to watch a chick flick, make it about a woman who acts exactly like the men that you deride and mock incessantly. Try this exercise; he doesn’t want to hang around after sex/ he doesn’t watch what he says in public/ he drinks way too much. In public/ he cannot maintain a relationship, nor wants to…
… Now tell me why putting the letter S in front of all of those sentences suddenly makes them hilarious again.
Still, Trainwreck is pretty funny for the most part, though it is perhaps telling that several of the best lines went to non-actors.
Jurassic World – Add dinosaurs? Check. Rehash the me story? Check. Have a guy and a gal escort kids that aren’t their own away from toothy danger? Check Spend a bunch on special effects? Check.
Have a good preview that reminds you of the last three? Check.
Will I line up for the next one? *sigh* Check. (Also, suddenly Chris Pratt is franchise guy. You’ll be missed Jeremy Renner.)
Still another 10 interesting or noteworthy
Jupiter Ascending – The line between sci-fi fantasy epic or colossal failure is thinner than you might think. Jupiter Ascending is by no means a classic but it possesses some good ideas. It’s crucial error is perhaps The Golden Child theme which has been done to death now, not least of which by the Wachowskis themselves with The Matrix.
Still, I put Jupiter Ascending in the ‘John Carter file’, films that on the right day can be viewed more favourably.
The Theory of Everything – There are a great many biographical films about famous people that don’t prove nearly as interesting as the subject. (See: Black Mass) The story of Stephen Hawking isn’t one of those but it is a little rom-heavy for mine, and when we’re talking about perhaps the greatest mind in the universe, I’m not tuning in for his love life…
Spy – I didn’t fall in love with Kingsman: The Secret Service but I still thought it streets ahead of this. Melissa McCarthy can act and she can be funny – St Vincent proved both of those things – I don’t know why two hours of laughs at the expense or her expanse is hilarious… or even forgivable. John Candy was a big guy, and a funny guy. He didn’t rely on jokes about his waistband for every chuckle.
Funnily enough it is when McCarthy unleashes the potty mouth that I felt the film kicked up a gear. Not enough though to have me side with the practically universal acclaim.
San Andreas – Everest did ‘Mother Nature as mass murderer’ better, but San Andreas allowed you to much on your popcorn without tears. I still prefer The Rock toting a machine gun, but in the absence of mindless violence I think that pitting him vs a massive earthquake is a fair matchup.
Director Neil Blomkamp has fresh ideas and a unique vision, but his ‘body manipulation’ thing that has so far been present in all of his films is done now. He needs to come up with something else. I trust the man because of District 9 however there is another Neil with the surname of Marshall that started strong and faded.
The Avengers 2 – This made all the money but for mine was a confused and painfully thin mess. To compensate JJ Abrams attempts to blind us with a myriad of bright CGI assisted colours and to deafen us with a cacophony of noise.
The Avengers 2 has its moments but possesses the least bang for the buck in terms of budget to entertainment value for Marvel films yet.
Perhaps the most critical thing I can say about Ant-Man is that it wouldn’t look out of place in the X-men universe.
Everly – I would – and have – gone to great lengths to see Salma Hayek jiggle. Placing her in the role of a vengeful hooker in a lurid and incredibly violent film reminiscent of The Raid is an interesting idea.
Greatly flawed as it turns out, but interesting.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – If someone has to churn out reasonably pleasing, mid budget action films for the next decade, might I suggest Guy Ritchie? I mean surely the British gangster films full of quirkily named guys bringing together all of the threads just before the credits thing is done now right?
A reboot of a tv series important to a generation who doesn’t attend the movies might have seemed like a great idea… Actually no it totally wouldn’t. The film is OK without being special though.
Bone Tomahawk – Kurt Russell already had the deluxe facial hair from The Hateful Eight (which will be on the 2016 list but where?), so he churned out an alt-Western with a linear story told in a strange and occasionally graphically violent way.
One look can tell us that this director has a unique vision, time will tell if even he knows what that vision actually is (and whether seeing a guy bisected from the groin up in really necessary).
Worst films of 2015
Even the best year in movies has its share of crap. 2015 was no different.
The Gallows – As a teen friendly horror film The Gallows is painfully dull, with a killer with one of the worst gimmicks – namely a noose – in recent history. As a social experiment about how annoying one obnoxious and incessantly yapping moron can be, The Gallows is unforgettable.
Every year I watch twenty films in which reprehensible teens get what’s coming to them. I’d crawl over all of their rotting carcasses to slap the cameraman idiot who made this film my most regrettable 90 minutes of 2015.
Terminator: Genysis – This is the equivalent to someone agreeing to adopt an impressionable pre-teen who was raised to be respectful and polite, and encouraging them to do nothing but smoke weed and get tattoos depicting American Idol winners.
But hands down the worst thing is taking a franchise that could run for decades with no problems, and hammering every credible plotline until they are unusable. The only way Terminator: The Next One can work is if it starts with Sarah Connor waking up, rubbing her eyes and saying “oh it was only a horrible dream”…
If the moral of this story is ‘don’t wear a clown suit to bed’ then I think most of us are alright. A more salient lesson is ‘don’t watch Clown’. (Also, be very wary of any film using Eli Roth’s name as a reason to watch it.)
Seventh Son / The Last Witch Hunter – I didn’t even see The Last Witch Hunter. I imagine it is just as lousy as Seventh Son, only with Vin Diesel trying to continue his ‘I am Tom Hardy’s stupid older brother’ long con.
Seventh Son is what the cinematic version of one of those 80s ‘Choose your own Adventure’ books would look like – if they followed the book page by page instead of jumping around the chapters. (Ever do that? Wasn’t it stupid?)
And we’ll still watch!?!
The Transporter 2015 – The Transporter Trilogy proved only that there wasn’t sufficient justification to make three films about an uber driver, regardless of how many European hotties and Audis you throw at the lousy premise.
The Statham free reboot takes away the franchise’s only asset and hammers home the point above.
Cooties – A kinda-zombie film where the aggressors are primary school kids and the people under threat are the teachers. This means the teachers must kick crap out of the kids – and we adults must laugh. Apparently.
Might have been more tolerable if they didn’t pause to wink at us every three minutes. Or, y’know, if they tried to be at least a tiny bit entertaining.
Bag guys like Ferrell and Sandler all we want, but they make David Spade’s resume look as small and pasty as he is.
Poltergeist – There aren’t too many 70s and 80s horror movies that stand the test of time. The ones that do work don’t need remaking, especially when you painstakingly sand off anything that could be misconstrued as edgy or different.
There’s nothing wrong with a house that is also a portal to an evil dimension. It’s a crime to make that house this boring.
Also: Didn’t see them. Know they go here.
The best in 2015 in Music
Even less new music for me this year, and to hammer home the point I’ve even started to attend what I have begun referring to as ‘nostalgia’ concerts. Let’s just say that if your biggest hits were released over two decades ago, you fit the criteria…
Shout out to Mark Seymour, James Reyne, Jebediah, Ratcat and the Hoodoo Gurus.
And for the record, I not only regret not one of those gigs, I already have tix for Died Pretty and the Hoodoos (again) in 2016.
But back to recorded new music. As always there are the ones I shilled for and the ones I Spotify sampled.
Paid folding currency for…
Without missing a beat Blackalicious bring back the beats. And the lyrics. And the smooth delivery. Like they never left.
Count me as one that derides most modern rap as lazy hook-seeking dupery. It’s amazing that an underground duo that never garnered the acclaim that they deserved maintained the rage long enough to somehow come back into favour.
(Actually an amazing year, with Living Colour being included on the NBA 2K16 soundtrack and Blackalicious on ESPN ads, my 9 year old is walking around singing along to two of my faves without knowing I wholeheartedly approve.)
Roots Manuva / Bleeds – Lacks the killer standout tracks of his first couple albums, but a surprisingly strong and consistent album with pulsing beats, creative production and the clever self effacing lyrics that Mr Rodney Smith has become known for.
You Am I / Porridge and Hot Sauce – You Am I continue to try to defy the influence of Father Time, but it is becoming more evident that they are the over competitive old guy at the gym playing pick up ball who is trying vainly to keep up and refuses to admit he no longer belongs.
It is genuinely depressing to me that my two favourite You Am I albums since Hourly, Daily are Tim Rogers solo album What Rhymes with Cars and Girls and his collaboration with Tex Perkins T’N’T…
People under the Stairs / Getting’ off Stage – Bought it through the website and it only just arrived, so I haven’t had enough time to absorb it. So far though, a couple classic PUTS party tracks and the same amazing production, samples and lyrics that have been criminally overlooked by the mainstream for twenty years now.
Lamb / Backspace Unwind – Seen ’em live a couple times – and they’re great. But Lamb are no longer so cutting edge that no one has heard of them, but they continue to mine the electronic music, organic lyrics niche that has served us all well for twenty years. Backspace Unwind isn’t as strong as their first go around, but not bad enough to sully those precious memories.
Spotified, not Spent on…
Gary Clark Jr. / The Story of Sonny Boy Slim – Caught this guy on Jimmy Kimmel Live and was impressed with the mastery of his guitar work and the power of his band’s wall of sound. A quick google confirmed that he was indeed also the Live guy from Chef. TO SPOTIFY!
Unfortunately on the album all the fuzz and reverb of the live stuff is polished away. The album has some decent songs but is far too… polished.
In my extremely limited experience with Gary Clark Jr. it very much appears he is the guy to see live, but he has yet to convert that on-stage power to the recorded product.
Ghostface Killah / Sour Soul – Look the guy releases an album every four hours. They can’t all be gold. This one isn’t, but I will say that Ghostface is the most consistent and consistently excellent solo Wu-Tang member and has been since Supreme Clientele arrived at the opening of the millennium.
Lyrics Born / Real People – I’ll continue to drag out my Later That Day album. It’s great. But right now it appears that since Lyrics Born burst on the scene with that excellent debut, he’s deteriorated just as quickly.
I’ve been told that Lyrics Born is amazing live. He ain’t that great un-live at the moment.
Now, they are easy listening electronica, but I guarantee that me saying that would piss them off greatly.
The Year in 2015 TV
True Detective Season 2 came, confused me, and left without an impression. I continue to think that the single season storyline is my preferred method of delivery. I have enough time to get into the show, the characters and the plot, but don’t need to worry about becoming bored or having the show runners become a slave to Big Names. Which brings me to…
Three years of wondering why I still watch The Walking Dead, especially when I cannot name a key death since Hershel or The Governor. In any case there is just enough ennui in my system to keep me coming back.
My favourite animated show ten years ago was The Simpsons. Five years ago probably Family Guy, American Dad or The Cleveland Show took over. It wasn’t until I watched Bob’s Burgers that I realised how stale all of them had become. Sure Bob’s Burgers is hardly a world beater that will convince you to forget The Simpsons’ first decade, but it is fresh and funny with well drawn characters, excellent voice acting and creative storylines.
But then I discovered Archer, and why have I not heard of Archer unit this year? A suave, well equipped, action hero secret agent in his own mind, Archer is really not even the best agent in his own team, and there only seem to be two operatives most of the time. Here is a spy spoof that is profane, anti-PC, sexy, clever and funny as all hell. Not an episode goes by without at least four or five genuine laughs, and the audacity to totally switch up the environment every season or two keeps the show fresh.
Archer also eschews the animated show crutch of having things happen and never mentioning them again. When Archer got a tattoo in one episode it was forgotten, but every time he takes off his shirt there it is. When something happens to someone it stays, and heaven help that character if it was an embarrassing something, as it will certainly be used against them in the very frequent mudslinging sessions that proliferate my new very favourite animated series.
In fact, until three months ago there was little doubt that Archer would be The TV show of 2015, then a funny and scary thing happened…
The Evil Dead franchise is like Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy. Three films similar in tone with the same actor(s) that can be watched and enjoyed independently.
The Evil Dead films might all sound the same, but the first was straight ahead horror, the second a horror comedy amalgam, and the third saw the balance tilted far more toward absurdist comedy and slapstick.
At the centre of all three was handsome, charismatic and sassy Ash. While we ‘deadites’ badgered director Sam Raimi and Ash himself Bruce Campbell, it would seem that their respective careers got in the way. With over two decades passing it seemed more dangerous than sensible to bring a… much older Ash in any capacity. And as far as I was concerned Ash pretty much IS Evil Dead.
So when I found out that the 2015 ‘reboot’ was to be a ten episode TV series I was sceptical, even when Campbell was on the marketing. But I had to watch it and let me tell you…
…it’s fucking awesome.
Nine episodes in without a single let down. Almost every episode can be watched with great enjoyment in isolation, but the beauty of it all is how it fits together. In every Ep there is humour, Raimi-approved fluid and gore, and lashing of Bruce Campbell-isms.
In the most recent episode – there is one still to come – someone held a shotgun to Ash’s chin and said “you say one more dumb thing…” to which he instantly replied “I’m gonna say a lotta dumb things”…
Show of the year and Season 1 is yet to finish.
Bill Burr’s ‘I’m Sorry you Feel that way’ special was his best yet, but it was left in the shade by the return of the master of the one-liner, Mr Dave Attell.
Attell seemingly has no script with his shows. He gives a camera to a random audience member for POV shots, then launches into lengthy riffs which veer off in all directions, often escalating into great chains of jokes each dirtier and funnier than the last.
You think you’re laughing about one joke, before you realise that you’re laughing at six, meaning subsequent viewings give new jokes you missed the first go around because of your chuckles.
Attell is too dirty to ever get a TV gig and too irreverent to build a large audience. He is the perfect club comic, and I only sincerely wish he finds the time and budget to visit Australian comedy clubs before he retires.
There are millions of comics and hundreds of good ones, but only half a dozen necessary working comedians (Burr, Attell, Dan Naturman, Patton Oswalt and Daniel Tosh), but Dave Attell is the one with the highest – and most frequent – high points.
Road Work is wall to wall hilarity. Check it on Netflix now.
Coming in 2016
With Star Wars back in a BIG way all other franchises seem a little less important.
2016 as with every year could be anything. So many questions…
In movies: Will Deadpool suck like I fear it might? Will Zoolander 2 suck like I fervently hope it won’t. How can Batman vs Superman be anything but disappointing? Why have they rebooted The Amityville Horror again? Ditto Friday the 13th? Which blockbusters will actually be good? How many sequels will totally blow yet make money? Lady Ghostbusters? Suicide Squad? What’s Peter Jackson up to? Spielberg? Edgar Wright?
In music: Will Outkast ever come back? Can anyone save rap music from the autotoned, derivative trash that has become? What the absolute fuck us the ‘See me Nae-Nae’ thing about? And why does anyone like it? How can we stop Kanye?
In TV: Have Game of Thrones (Jon Snow) and The Walking Dead (Glen) lost their balls? Will they actually kill anyone off that matters? Why did I only just find out about Archer? Why do I even bother with The Simpsons and Family Guy when Archer and Bob’s Burgers exist. Can True Detective regain its mojo? Will season two of Ash vs Evil Dead be as good?
With all questions the fun – and time killing – will be in the finding out.