Director: John Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, John Favreau, Jacob Batalon, Zendaya, Laura Harrier, Donald Glover, Tony Revolori, Jennifer Connelly
For almost a decade now Marvel has been the dominant player in the superhero movie market. Bet thanks to a pre-existing licensing agreement with Sony, they have done so without the use of their most iconic character, Spider-Man. While Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films were instrumental in launching Hollywood’s present fascination with superhero movies, Sony’s more recent efforts have paled in comparison to what Marvel has been achieving and left many fans wondering ‘what if.’ However, a recent license sharing agreement between Disney and Sony has seen everyone’s favourite web-slinger enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe fold, and after a scene-stealing appearance in Captain America: Civil War, we now get his first solo outing, the appropriately titled Spider-Man: Homecoming. From the opening moments of the film, in which an orchestral version of the classic Spider-Man cartoon theme song plays over the Marvel Studios title card, there is a palpable sense of glee at having their trump card back in their hand. Continue reading
Director: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci
Revelations of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, and the institutional cover up which protected its perpetrators, have rocked communities all over the world. The effect has been particularly devastating in cities where the church and the wider community are almost inseparable. Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight takes its title from the small, four person investigative team at the Boston Globe who, in 2001, uncovered a scandal in the local archdiocese which started a snowball effect which would be felt around the globe and earned the newspaper a Pulitzer Prize.
The Boston Globe has a new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). Baron has worked at the New York Times and the Miami Herald, so he has serious credibility. But he is Jewish, unmarried, and doesn’t even like baseball. In other words, he is not Boston. In his first meeting with the Globe staff he draws their attention to a small column buried deep in the paper about a local priest who has been convicted of child sex offences and decides that this will become the next target for the Spotlight team Continue reading
1. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)
Thirty years on and Max is still king of the road. It is not often that you see an action movie at the pointy end of lists like this, but in 2015, at the ripe old age of seventy, George Miller took the world’s directors to school. Mad Max: Fury Road showed that a singular creative vision can elevate the action film to the level of art. Miller effectively tapped back into that part of his imagination where Max resides and delivered a visually stunning, kinetic action masterpiece. Tom Hardy steps into Mel Gibson’s shoes but Charlize Theron is the real star. Full review
2. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Alejandro G. Iñárritu)
It is exciting to see something you have never seen before, an entirely original cinematic vision. There is no other way to describe Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman. While much was made of its visual style, with the whole film appearing to be one continuous shot, Birdman is so much more than a single shot gimmick. Birdman has complete unity of form and vision. Every cinematic element, without fail, is consistent with Iñárritu’s vision and the thematic concerns of the film. The casting of Michael Keaton and subsequent critical acclaim for his performance also made for one of the stories of late 2014/early 2015. Full review
3. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Alfonso Gomez-Rejon)
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a special little movie, an indie which won over audiences on the festival circuit before getting a theatrical release. It is a coming-of-age story about an insecure high school senior, and aspiring filmmaker, whose mother insists that he befriend a girl from school who has been diagnosed with leukaemia. Genuinely funny without ever undermining the seriousness of its subject matter, touching and poignant without being schmaltzy or overly sentimental, the film is a beautifully affecting piece of cinema brimming with youthful creativity. Full review
4. Ex-Machina (Alex Garland)
The directorial debut from screenwriter Alex Garland, Ex Machina is great small science fiction. A young programmer is invited by his enigmatic boss to put a humanoid robot he has created through a Turing test, a series of interviews intended to determine whether she has achieved artificial intelligence. With only three real characters, Ex Machina is an impressively performed chamber piece which draws its drama out of conversations and dialogue. Shot on a modest budget, that money has clearly been spent in the right places because the visuals are outstanding, with the robot, Ava, being one of the year’s best CG achievements. Full review
5. The Martian (Ridley Scott)
After a pretty underwhelming last decade, Ridley Scott returned to form with The Martian. Following the fight to survive of a botanist left stranded on Mars, it is a different type of science fiction film, one that turns on the solving of problems and seeks to excite us more with its intellect and ideas than with explosions. Carried by the charismatic performance of Matt Damon, The Martian is enjoyable, irreverent and absorbing, a much lighter film than you might expect after reading the one line synopsis. It also features a great disco soundtrack. Full review
6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams)
In the hands of a director, J.J. Abrams, who grew up with Star Wars and understood what the fans loved about it, The Force Awakens managed to recapture the look, feel and fun of the original trilogy. A transitionary film, it allowed us to catch up with beloved old characters while also introducing a collection of engaging new ones who will carry the franchise forward. Faced with almost impossible levels of expectation, to have people walking out of The Force Awakens not underwhelmed would have been a victory. That audiences have come out of not just satisfied but genuinely excited is a testament to how good it is. Full review
7. Creed (Ryan Coogler)
Sometimes a film gives you something you didn’t even know that you wanted. There were very few people openly hoping for a seventh Rocky movie, but writer-director Ryan Coogler’s Creed, functioning at the same time as a sequel and a remake, was the pleasant surprise of the year. The first Rocky film not written by Stallone, Creed offers a fresh take on the material, knowing when to lean into the cliché and when to turn it on its head. While Rocky himself is only a supporting character in this story, Sylvester Stallone delivers a career best performance. Full review
8. Inside Out (Pete Docter & Ronaldo Del Carmen)
Taking us inside the mind of an eleven year old girl with a cast of characters made up of anthropomorphised emotions, Inside Out arguably represents the zenith of Pixar’s bold originality. Co-directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen employ sophisticated visual metaphors to simply and effectively explain how memory, personality, subconscious and dreaming all work. Deceptively simple yet deeply profound, Inside Out is a beautiful film about growing up, farewelling the simplicity of childhood and learning to appreciate the full gamut of emotions that bring depth and texture to life. Full review
9. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)
Finally The Big Lebowski has a friend in the ‘stoner noir’ subgenre. Inherent Vice is the most flat out enjoyable of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films (a filmmaker whose work in the past I have tended to appreciate rather than enjoy). Set in early 1970s California and featuring some magnificent costumes, Inherent Vice is an aggressively, unapologetically confusing mystery which will require a second or third viewing to comprehend the ins and outs of its multiple narratives. But if you can embrace the confusion and go with the flow, it will only take one viewing to enjoy this humorous head-scratcher. Full review
10. Listen to Me Marlon (Stevan Riley)
Not the most high profile doco of the year, but it was the pick of them for mine. During his life Marlon Brando made hundreds of hours of audio recordings of himself: memos, memories and recollections, self-hypnosis tapes. Listen to Me Marlon uses these recordings to narrate a biographical documentary on the legendary actor. The result is practically a posthumous autobiography, an intimate exploration of a brilliant but tortured soul. Amusing, intriguing, sometimes funny and often quite sad, it is a unique documentary befitting a unique talent. Full review
The Next Best (alphabetical): ’71 (Yann Demange), Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg), The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum), A Most Violent Year (J.C. Chandor), Selma (Ava DuVernay), Trainwreck (Judd Apatow)
The Worst Movie of the Year:
The Interview (Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg)
If there was one winner out of the Sony hacking scandal it was this horrible film. Cyber terrorists demanding that Sony not release this comedy about an attempt to assassinate Kim Jong-un was a sure fire way of turning a film that would otherwise have shuffled quietly into obscurity into one of the must-sees of early 2015. Attention grabbing concept aside, The Interview did not warrant this spotlight.
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Starring: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts
As someone who watches a lot of films, there is nothing quite so exciting as when you see something you have never seen before, an entirely original cinematic vision. There is simply no other way to describe Birdman – full title Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – the new black comedy from Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu (the director of Babel, 21 Grams and Amores Perros who has here rebadged himself Alejandro G. Iñárritu).
Birdman centres on Riggan Thomson, a middle aged movie star who is living in the shadow of the superhero character he played in three blockbusters in the early 1990s. Birdman has become Riggan’s tormentor. As he slowly but surely breaks down, it is Birdman’s voice he hears personifying all of his insecurity and self-doubt. In an effort to regain his significance and artistic integrity, Riggan has gone all in, writing, directing and starring in a Broadway adaptation of the Raymond Carver short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Days before opening night, an accident serendipitously befalls Riggan’s weak co-star and the opportunity arises to introduce Broadway superstar Mike Shiner into the cast. Continue reading
Director: Joseph Ruben
Starring: Michelle Monaghan, Michael Keaton, Barry Sloane
Sara is a former photojournalist who lost her sight when she was victim to a suicide bomber while on assignment in the Middle East. She now lives a reclusive life in a luxurious New York penthouse with her boyfriend, Ryan. One New Year’s Eve she arrives home from doing some shopping to find, eventually, her Ryan murdered and the killer still in the apartment. It appears Ryan used to be involved in some shady business with some bad men and made off with a fortune worth of diamonds. They have now come back to collect.
Home-invasion thrillers tend to involve small casts, minimal locations and short time frames, and the best of this genre of films use those elements to create a claustrophobic feeling. Despite having these key elements, Penthouse North doesn’t quite manage to establish that atmosphere and therefore doesn’t succeed in truly unnerving you as a viewer.
With such a small cast, the majority of the film only involves three characters, a greater than usual burden falls on the actors to carry engage the viewer. Michael Keaton is the highlight. He has always had a manic, unhinged quality – he has the crazy eyes – and this has served him well in the past in playing characters like Beetlejuice and Batman. It is enjoyable seeing him play a villain and he does quite well here, giving his character a real sense of menace. The others perform solidly, but never really grip or intrigue you. As Sara, Michelle Monaghan tries valiantly, but it is hard to not see her as someone pretending to be blind.
This is director Joseph Ruben’s first film since 2004’s The Forgotten, and is strange choice of drought-breaker. David Loughery’s screenplay goes through the motions without offering any surprises, and the result is a film that lacks tension and suspense. Despite a reasonable cast, Penthouse North is unremarkable, even if it never actually becomes bad.
Rating – ★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean