Tag Archives: Letterboxd

The 10 best movies of 2015, as voted by my friends and colleagues

There are always far too many films out every year to make any kind of sweeping judgement on the perceived quality of the work released in that arbitrary period.

Yet as winter rolls around, out come the end-of-year lists to fit 2015 into a neatly-cut box and let everyone know just how great our tastes are. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, but this year I thought it might be fun to try something different.

Instead of listing my 10 favourite movies from 2015, I polled a number of friends, colleagues, filmmakers and critics for their top ten lists and compiled a Sight & Sound-esque “definitive” ranking from the results. You’ll see these after the jump, along with comments from some of the contributors and myself.

[A note for pedants: “films from 2015” in this instance means films that were released theatrically in the United Kingdom between 1 January and 31 December this year.]

This is a people’s vote, not a cinephile senate, which means that blockbuster fare ended up occupying more of the top spots than I anticipated. While there is some overlap with S&S‘s end-of-year list, it’s interesting to note that many of the films missing from ours will likely never be seen by some of the pollsters.

Myself? I want to see everything from the arthouse to Roadhouse – and I don’t believe that the final goal of a film should always be to entertain – but I can totally appreciate the populist escapism for which most audiences go to the movies, and I think the following list reflects that…

…While also managing to slip a couple of modern masterpieces in there. Continue reading

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Letterboxing: Trainwreck

[This review originally appeared on my Letterboxd page as part of an ongoing effort to watch 365 new movies in 2015. Yeah, I know.]

[via Collider]

I really expected more. Trainwreck is a conventional rom-com dressed up in the edgy honesty of Amy Schumer’s humour and the obscuring improv of Judd Apatow, and neither of them does either of those as well as they should.

Any film over two hours long needs to fight for your attention more than others, but Apatow (directing from Schumer’s first feature script) lets most scenes run far longer than they should and the result is often tedious. If you’re going to have a scene in which tertiary characters are the only ones speaking, at least make it semi-relevant to the story, maybe?

Schumer is fine in her first leading role (and it is incredibly refreshing to see a woman of her body type as the romantic lead. She’s not particularly strange or different, other than the fact that she looks like a real friggin’ woman) but brings little her stand-up material doesn’t already exhibit.

For the record, I think she’s a great comedian, but her script is a real sheep in wolf’s clothing. She starts out a confident, independent character (albeit an alcoholic one) and finishes up compromising pretty much her entire way of life for one man. The film takes the archaic stance that ONLY MONOGAMY CAN WORK and anyone who takes multiple partners must be either morally bankrupt or have serious character flaws based largely in daddy issues.

I love Brie Larson – she’s steadily becoming one of my favourite working actresses – but in this she’s simply reduced to an oasis of morality: get a husband! Have a kid! Paint your next kid’s room pink BECAUSE THAT’S HOW WE KNOW SHE’S A GIRL! (That particular piece of heteronormativity was eye-rollingly outdated.) She does well with the material as does her husband played by Mike Birbiglia, who gets to perform some of the rare moments of genuine discomfort in the film. These are what makes it worth watching; moments when characters butt heads about what is and isn’t socially acceptable.

Unfortunately this makes up very little of Trainwreck as Schumer’s character (conveniently also named Amy) lets most everyone force their morality upon her. It’s not about what Amy will do with her life; it’s about when she’ll fall in line with everyone else’s.

Yes, I did laugh a few times, because, well – have you seen the cast? – but I grimaced a hell of a lot more.

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Letterboxing: Nights And Weekends

[This review originally appeared on my Letterboxd page as part of an ongoing effort to watch 365 new movies in 2015. Yeah, I know.]

How much you enjoy Nights and Weekends will largely depend on your tolerance for quirky facial tics, soul patches and clumsy nudity.

The more Joe Swanberg films I see, the harder it is to categorise exactly what it is he’s doing in each one. This time he shares directing and starring duties with sometime co-writer Greta Gerwig, who brings a languorous approach to the teasing out of insecurities and cracks in the lead couple’s long-distance relationship.

It’s very much a film of two halves, which is to say that I enjoyed the latter half much more the latter. Exploring the Not Long Before and Quite Long After of a break-up, Nights and Weekends rarely shows Swanberg and Gerwig apart, despite the fact that they live in different cities, and it’s a good choice; the forced intimacy of such an arrangement results in sometimes stilted conversation, petty fights and occasional shafts of brutal honesty breaking out of the relaxed facades of the leads.

There’s plenty of emotional wretchedness to be found here – especially in the excruciating pauses where both leads are clearly silently deciding whether or not to keep fighting for the doomed relationship – but there’s also a fair amount of tedium. I’ve recently been on a voyage of mumblecore discovery so I’m no stranger to the appearance of dullness in a film like this, but I usually have more patience for it. This may be due to the fact that there are almost no secondary characters so I couldn’t wonder about what they might be doing while Gerwig and Swanberg talk about whether or not they’re going to shower together, and the film becomes a chamber piece that just doesn’t have enough narrative momentum to carry you all the way through readily.

I found the second half of the film, in which the former couple reunite, first as friends and then almost as lovers, much more engaging, though more perhaps due to my own personal identification with that situation than anything else. That still counts, mind, and it was impressive to see Swanberg and Gerwig’s willingness to display the absurd dance former romantic partners do for all its naked (both figuratively and very literally) self-deceit, discomfort and ultimately sadness.

…Shit. I’ve just turned over those two scenes of Gerwig and Swanberg crying on their own in my head. (In the latter Gerwig’s present, but she was done mourning this relationship a while before he will be.) There’s a lot of truth in those moments – when a relationship ends, you don’t get that shoulder to cry on any more. You’re alone, even when the person you used to care for is right there. Greta Gerwig can run the full emotional spectrum in a single take without ever seeming insincere or contrived (or, rather, her myriad contrivances make her that much more real), and as a result I identified far more with her than Swanberg’s character. She wants to believe things can go back to the way they used to be, but she’s nowhere near optimistic or dumb enough to think that things could ever last.

A sympathetic anti-romance and an interesting curiosity for both directors’ careers (especially Gerwig, considering I just saw the luminous Mistress America which she co-wrote with current beau Noah Baumbach), Nights and Weekends nevertheless fails to hit hard where it wants to and by the end can’t muster a thematic statement stronger than Sometimes Love Doesn’t Work.

Which is true, but that doesn’t make it poignant.

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Letterboxing: 22 Jump Street

[This review originally appeared on my Letterboxd page as part of my ongoing efforts to watch 365 new movies in 2015. Yeah, I know.]

As a dramatic device, The Bromance is fairly limited. There’ isn’t a whole lot you can do with a platonic relationship between two heterosexual men once you’ve established them as BFFs.

Unless, of course, your name is Phil Lord (or, um, Christopher Miller. Or both? Wow, this went sideways real fast). In which case you can have Cate Blanchett to do whatever comes to your hyperactive, joyfully imaginative mind(s) and push the concept of the bromance to – and beyond – its logical limits. The relationship between Shcmidt and Jenko is pitch perfect, not least because of the a-game performances from Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. This is a big-budget, balls-out and downright hilarious Hollywood romance between two guys that cherishes the value of characters you understand and care about. And for a movie about undercover cops at college who shoot people and blow things up for a living, I’m as surprised as anyone that it works as well as it does.

But that’s the magic of Lord & Miller: they can take the goofiest, most soulless concepts and fill them with heart and humour because they so clearly love telling entertaining stories. Shout-outs are clearly due to the 5+ screenwriters who worked on the script, but you can bet your sweet ass that the directors were all up in that thing too.

What about specifics? Well, for a a sequel that spends so much of its first act thinly veiling jibes about how rubbish and full of unnecessary spectacle most sequels are, 22 Jump Street pulls off both making things bigger for the sake of an inflated budget and telling a story with the same characters that isn’t just a greatest hits of the first movie. That’s a tough job, but they pull it off with aplomb.

But the real question you, unknown but probably attractive reader, really want answered: is it better than the first movie? Well…no. 22 couldn’t beat 21 largely because it didn’t have the surprise factor a Jump Street reboot actually working the original had. That said? In my book, 22 Jump Street is exactly as good as the first movie. My life won’t ever be changed by either of them and I’ll never experience any profound revelations regarding friendship (or, for that matter, police work) from watching these movies, but they’re such good company that I love them all the same.

[Actually, I might have regained some respect for Ice Cube as an artist purely because of that facial expression he delivers to Jonah Hill’s character in one delicious scene.]

Oh, and it should go without saying that this film contains about 18 of the best credits gags in movie history. (But I said it anyway.)

Can’t wait for 2121 Jump Street.

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The Sweet Pain of Power Pop

Sometimes I don’t think I’ll get over my romantic obsession with wry, melodramatic but utterly sincere power pop that threatens to destroy me with THE POWER OF EMOTION whenever I listen to it too much.

But then I discover a band like Trust Fund and realise there’s no need to get over it.

You can listen to their debut album at that link up there. Or here if that’s too far. I’ll let the music speak for itself, as I’m usually really bad at selling bands I like to other people.

That said, I have been seriously toying with the idea of writing an account of my relationship history in parallel with Los Campesinos!’s album releases.

Because that’s the kind of thing I consider fun, obviously.

In other news, I wrote some more reviews for Nerdly. Blackhat and Jack Strong, which it looks like very few people will actually see, were kind of a mixed bag. Similarly with the FrightFest Glasgow screeners I got for [REC]488 and The Atticus Institute, although they were at least consistently entertaining. And one of them has Ethan from Lost in it!

Even if I wasn’t blown away by the fare I saw, the lineup for FFG still got me psyched for the main event in London later this year. I’ve been doing a lot of solo cinemagoing over the past few weeks (yet I’m still way behind on my Letterboxd challenge) so it’ll be nice to attend a huge community film event for a couple of days before returning to the hermitage of the multiplex.

I’ve seen a lot of bad thrillers and horror movies recently, but one of them may actually end up making the list of my favourite films of the year. That film? The Boy Next Door. My review should be out soon, but don’t bother reading it if you have the opportunity to go and see it; just do it. You will not regret a second or penny spent, I assure you. Thank me later.

And thanks for reading. You’re my favourite.

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