Welcome to the JSHmoviestuff REVIEW OF 2015: “so much bigger than the little pieces.”
These lines spoken by Jessica Chastain in Liv Ullman’s MISS JULIE, sum up the collection of films I’ve chosen for the JSHmoviestuff REVIEW OF 2015. In these movies, even if the connection between the characters seems small or inconsequential at first, you gradually begin to realise the repercussions of the events we then witness are epic. So, from a toxic relationship between three men with a desire to win to a businessman fending off rival companies to make his mark in the harsh America of 1981, from a woman desperate to make any kind of human connection to a potentially washed-up actor struggling to make a fresh start, from a fateful encounter between two men in the midst of a housing crisis to a young girl possibly finally finding her place in the universe, it’s been a thrill-a-minute ride.
Let’s get started. Drum roll please for the movies that – in release date order – bowled me over in 2015. For my full reviews, simply click on the movie’s title.
Riggan Thompson, a once-famous movie actor in a superhero franchise called BIRDMAN is struggling to make a new start in his career and feels staging a selection of Raymond Carver’s stories on Broadway is the way to remake himself in the public’s eyes. But with only a few days to opening night, Riggan will have to deal with nightmarish visions, troublesome fellow actors, and his own ego if he has any chance to soar to glory. I loved it! Absolutely loved it. Seeing it in the opening days of 2015, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s film really propelled me into the year in enormously creative and imaginative fashion. From dizzying and dazzling camerawork by Gravity Oscar-winner Emmanuel Lubezki to a quite dizzyingly brilliant cast, including rightly Oscar-nominated Edward Norton and Emma Stone in the supporting categories, to ‘Best Actor’ nominated (and a career-best performance) Michael Keaton as Riggan, this was bliss cinema.
John du Pont, a rich and eccentric multi-millionaire, is fascinated by wrestling and in order to make his mark in the sport, he thinks brothers Mark and Dave Schultz, Olympic gold medallists, are the key to his success. Creating a training facility on his huge FOXCATCHER estate in Pennsylvania, he invites them to join him and work towards achieving similar greatness at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. But du Pont cannot be challenged, otherwise, you must suffer the consequences. Bennett Miller‘s stunning new film follows his other two Oscar-nominated features – Capote and Moneyball – in examining extraordinary true-life stories, here creating a deeply disturbing and tragic portrait of these three men, all superbly played by an Oscar-nominated Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo. Watch and weep.
Abel Morales is on the cusp of greatness. An immigrant who’s married a mobster’s daughter but has built a successful and more importantly, a legitimate business finds himself suddenly beset by vengeful competitors and very soon, his livelihood is on a knife-edge. In the cutthroat world of New York in 1981, it may well turn out to be A MOST VIOLENT YEAR. The writer/director J. C. Chandor has created two thrilling pictures in his career so far that I’ve loved – All Is Lost and Margin Call. He’s one of my favourite American directors right now and here, he delivers a quietly powerful story of ambition and betrayal with two actors at the absolute peak of their powers – Oscar Isaac is Abel, whose seemingly calm exterior hides a tough moral code and Jessica Chastain is his wife Anna, a beautiful and ruthless woman who while fighting to escape the violence of her upbringing, can’t quite resist bending the rules to get what she wants. Terrific stuff.
Lonely, frustrated and desperate for attention, MISS JULIE the daughter of landowning gentry in late 19th century Ireland, is a young woman whose playful but sometimes cruel behaviour to anyone not in her class, sees her heading for a fall but no one could predict how spectacular and tragic that fall will be when we start this story in the late afternoon of a gorgeous midsummer day. By dawn, the next morning, her life and those of her father’s valet John and the maidservant Kathleen are utterly changed forever. The play on which Liv Ullman’s new film is based is considered to be Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s masterpiece but it’s also one of the most difficult to pull off successfully but Ullman delivers a masterclass in building the almost unbearable tension between the three principal characters and she’s served by some quite outstanding acting from Samantha Morton as Kathleen, Colin Farrell as John and giving one of my favourite performances of the year, Jessica Chastain as Julie. Dynamite.
Dennis Nash is having to face up to the frightening truth that he’s in a downward spiral caused in some part by the economic crash, from which the only outcome seems to be losing his home. A fateful meeting with Rick Carver, the real estate agent who repossesses Nash’s house, soon sees the young father on Carver’s payroll, making money by evicting people from their foreclosed properties and heading towards the goal of 99 HOMES he’s been set by his boss when Nash will be back on his feet again. But at what cost to his integrity? What a shot in the arm this was. I’d heard great things about the movie from its premiere at the Venice film festival but it really blew me away. Blistering performances from its two leads, Andrew Garfield as Nash and Michael Shannon as Carver, gave Ramin Bahrani’s movie an urgency that gripped you to your seat, as you watched this brutal and upsetting morality tale play out. The film also had one of the best soundtracks of the year, with Antony Partos and Matteo Zingales’ pulsating music superbly matching the action at every step. Ace.
Kate Macer likes to do things by the book. As an FBI agent, that’s how she was trained and that’s what makes sense to her. But all her training and ideals are tested to the very limit from the moment she discovers a crime scene that’s a horrific example of the cost of the ongoing drug war between Mexico and the U.S. Emboldened by what she’s seen and keen to bring those responsible to justice, Kate joins a team of agents tasked with eradicating the cartel leader and showing the drug world they are not afraid to use any methods to try and end this war. That makes the presence of the mysterious Alejandro in the team all the more dangerous, as the actions in his past seem to reveal him as a SICARIO or hitman. Part fascinated, part repelled by Alejandro and the lengths to which her colleagues will go, Kate is heading on a very dark journey of the soul. Denis Villeneuve created a completely exceptional movie here and with the masterful Roger Deakins as his cinematographer (oh, those aerial shots!), made it the best-photographed film I saw in 2015. Taylor Sheridan’s taut script was beautifully realised and it also had another of the top scores of the year, this time by Johann Johannsson. Villeneuve cast the movie superbly with Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and a fantastic Benicio Del Toro (you got it wrong Academy for not including him in the ‘Best Supporting Actor’ category!) doing astonishing work as the three leads. And finally, although I don’t normally pick one in my yearly review, this was my film of the year. Now it’s out on DVD and Blu-ray, it’s time to relish it all over again. Fantastic.
30 years is a long time and although it seems as though a lot has changed, maybe that’s not true. The Empire has gone but now The First Order seems to be growing in power and may even be more dangerous than its predecessor. The Rebel Alliance has become the Resistance and is still fighting the good fight but without their talisman Luke Skywalker, who’s disappeared, how will they ever vanquish these new forces of evil? Perhaps the galaxy’s salvation lies in a young girl, Rey, seemingly abandoned as a child by her family on a remote, desert planet but whose spirit and courage will now leave everyone stunned because, with her, the force awakens. Oh my goodness, yes! STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS was 30 years in the waiting but when watching J. J. Abrams’ sensational new addition to that saga of a galaxy far, far away, was so totally worth it. New stars, Daisy Ridley, the amazing Adam Driver and John Boyega, delivered bravura performances alongside the wonderful old guard of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill in a deliriously entertaining thrill-ride of a movie from that wunderkind Abrams. That’s all that needs be said on this one apart from it’s so great to have it back!
So there you have it. I found there to be some pretty top movies out in 2015.
The unofficial 8th movie on my list would be Dheepan, the incredible new film by Jacques Audiard. I was lucky enough to see it in 2015 at the London Film Festival but it doesn’t open in the UK until 15th April next year and so as I don’t include movies that haven’t yet been released here, more on it then. And whilst they didn’t make my official list, I did also enjoy Antoine Fuqua’s Southpaw for its emotional punch and Jake Gyllenhaal’s transformative performance as boxer Billy Hope and the final part of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – parts 1 and 2 with the ever-mesmeric Jennifer Lawrence, was an astonishing end to a thrilling story.
I’ve also finally managed to see a movie I’d had on my radar from its late Spring release in the UK, French filmmaker Cedric Jimenez’s crime thriller The Connection, with the wonderful Jean Dujardin and Gilles Lellouche playing cat n’ mouse as cop and gangster respectively in 1970’s Marseille. It’s superb and I should probably write a post about it but until then, just watch it. And I’ve still to catch though German filmmaker Christian Petzold’s intriguing noir mystery Phoenix with the fabulous Nina Hoss in the lead, as it eluded me on its limited theatrical release this year but with it now available to watch on-demand, it’s top of my list for 2016.
Let’s see what other delights await in the cinema in the coming year. Popcorn, please!