Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Incredible Suit's Top 10 films of 2015

I'm going to assume you understand what this post is about without a lengthy introductory paragraph, because you wouldn't be here if you weren't colossally intelligent, not to mention devastatingly sexy.

I'm no superhero party pooper but I haven't been remotely moved by the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Iron Man Three, so it was a joy to see something as daft and inventive as Ant-Man fizzing up the screen this year. Freed from the shackles of the rest of the MCU (to some extent), Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish's script - or what was left of it - offered a small-scale adventure which nevertheless delivered big LOLs and impressive set-pieces. Here's hoping Paul Rudd spices up Captain America: Civil War as promised, because Cap's real superpower is boring me to death. Review

Roy Andersson presents his third exhibition of stuffed and mounted examples of the human condition, and it's another litany of drab futility and failure lightened only by the briefest splashes of colourful joy. You could come away from Andersson's films with the impression that he's a terminal pessimist, but that would be to miss the thick, dark seam of LOLs he mines from the eternal crushing misery of existence. And anyway, what he actually is is the proud owner of a unique cinematic vision and the will to spend decades perfecting it for you, the living. Review

Peter Strickland's strange and erotically-charged tale of love, lingerie and lepidoptery is a beautiful and melancholy exercise in taking genre filmmaking and twisting it into something wildly original. Chiara D'Anna and Sidse Babett Knudsen play the lovers both pretending to be something they're not; the Duke of Burgundy plays himself - but only, tragically, in a deleted scene. Review

Imagine if Nora Ephron had written Psycho, and you're part-way to understanding the uncategorisable The Voices. Ryan Reynolds is a revelation as the desperately mentally ill Jerry, a reluctant serial killer whose unmedicated candy-floss world conceals a fetid, violent reality that anyone in their right mind would turn to drugs to escape from. Marjane Satrapi displays the biggest balls in cinema this year with a potentially deeply offensive look at insanity which instead delights, shocks and saddens in equal measure. Review

Societal pressures and the ludicrosity of human relationships come under the knife in Yorgos Lanthimos' tremendously original The Lobster, starring Colin Farrell as a man who - quite understandably - does not want to become a lobster. Wickedly stylised and brutally honest, it's a film you love even though it makes you hate yourself and everyone around you. Also the best film this year starring Léa Seydoux and Ben Whishaw, amirite guys?

Science fiction done right, i.e. with a focus on ideas over budget. A cast you've never heard of pieces together a jigsaw puzzle of a script written and directed by someone else you've never heard of without anyone ever knowing what the picture on the box is. Smart, only occasionally silly and infinitely rewatchable, Coherence is an enormously satisfying throwback to the early career of Christopher Nolan, when wrong-footing his audience to dazzling effect was more important than figuring out where he could squeeze Michael Caine in. Review

The loudest noise in cinemas this year was the thunderous sigh of relief when it was revealed that the new Star Wars film wasn't shit. It's not perfect, but it is bloody great fun, capturing all that was great about the original trilogy (including swathes of its plot) and redeploying those elements for a post-modern blockbuster experience that never winked at its own cleverness. Thrills, revelations, laughs, tears and almost relentless adventure: this is the stuff that Star Wars dreams are made of. Review

Bit of a surprise, this one. There I was, expecting a three-star Sunday afternooner about a bimbling old goat who's forgotten how to solve crimes, when what I actually got was a five-star Sunday afternooner about a bimbling old goat who's forgotten how to solve crimes. Mr. Holmes' genius isn't in its sleuthery though, but in its self-reflexive unpicking of the Sherlock mythology and the labyrinthine look at storytelling. I love that there's room in the world for Holmes films like this, and hope that one day the model might be applied to a certain secret agent popular round these parts. Review

The mythical concept of 21st century masculinity is skewered and butchered like a sacrificial cow in Ruben Östlund's wickedly blunt satire on male ego. If you're a 21st century male with no idea what his place in the world is, then this won't help you one jot (although if you're actively concerned about your place in the world then nothing will, get over yourself). It will, however, blow you away with its clinical, loaded cinematography, flawless performances and merciless inspection of your own pathetic worthlessness. Enjoy! Review

Pixar shatters expectations and emotions with equal brutality in this deceptively whimsical deconstruction of the abject horror of growing up. Inside Out - almost certainly my new favourite Pixar film - brings joy and sadness to the screen on multiple levels and with pinpoint accuracy, never putting a foot wrong in its complex and sensitive peek into the terrifying mental state of the average pre-teen. That it does it in what's ostensibly a kids' film, with impeccable gags and the kind of invention that seems beyond human capability, is all the more miraculous. And I just remembered Bing Bong and now I'm a complete state again. Review

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Obviously I'd hate to be the kind of terrific bore who sees everything through the prism of James Bond, but unfortunately I already am that guy so let me say this about The Force Awakens: it is everything I wanted from Spectre. Or at least I thought it was when I came out of the screening. On reflection, Star Wars v3.1 is actually Skyfall: a crowd-pleasing, carefully-calibrated blend of the old and the new, lighting a new fire of excitement under a franchise I had genuinely become concerned about, and featuring a winning performance from Daniel Craig. Competition isn't fierce, but it's fair to say that what we're dealing with here is the best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back.
"This will begin to make things right," The Force Awakens announces with its very first line of dialogue, in a statement of intent that boasts Death Star-sized balls. It's some indication, were it even required, of all that's at stake here, and that Disney were absolutely determined not to make an absolute Christensen of their new project. And so director JJ Abrams, with co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, have delicately crafted a loving tribute to the original trilogy which all but ignores Episodes I-III: there's no reference to any prequel-specific characters, no mention of midichlorians and a ruthless targeting of middle-aged geeks that shows up George Lucas' claim that Star Wars must be aimed at children as the poor excuse for infantilising the saga that it is.

There's a danger that, in appealing to the fanbase as hard as they do, Abrams and co might have gone a little too far. A lot that happens in The Force Awakens is suspiciously familiar: a hero entrusts vital information to a droid and packs it off to be unwittingly discovered by a simple youth with untapped, supernatural potential; a motley band of rebels attack the spherical, planet-smashing base of an evil army; the de facto leader of that army force-chokes minions and chats to his boss via hologram; fathers and sons have issues that are worked through traumatically, and so on. The film could have done with a little less of this and a little more Oscar Isaac, but to be fair that's true of almost any film ever made.
What's new is what's worth celebrating, because it's good enough to forgive the script its occasional obsequious nod to the glory days, and the first thing to say is how unutterably brilliant it is that the protagonists of a multi-million dollar Hollywood blockbuster - which has the potential to become the biggest film of all time - are a woman and a black man. It's ludicrous that we should even be discussing this in 2015, but here we are, so let's at least appreciate the moment: Daisy Ridley and John Boyega pull off their unspeakably high-pressure roles without the script ever needing to make reference to the fact that they're not white men, and it's impossible to overstate how important that is. Not just that, but they're both bloody great at what they do: Ridley carries off the confidence laced with subtle confusion that her character demands, while Boyega proves his action hero chops and effortlessly displays the lightness of touch required to make the humour work.

Other new characters are equally successful: Adam Driver's Kylo Ren, who could easily have been Diet Vader, is a fascinating addition. The childlike petulance that bubbles away beneath the surface of his fearsome warrior makes him thrillingly dangerous, and his connection to the saga's existing inhabitants adds invaluable emotional depth; a key scene uses literal and metaphorical light and dark to devastating effect. Meanwhile the embarrassingly-named Poe Dameron is the charismatic hero the prequels so tragically lacked, and Oscar Isaac and his magnificent hair have a ruddy ball with him. Speaking of balls, new droid and blatant Christmas toy ad BB-8 is delightful, although he does seem to have ported his vocal software over from a Waste Allocation Load Lifter (Earth class) he evidently met on his travels.
Then, of course, there's the school of '77-'83, of whom Harrison Ford is, quite rightly, front and centre. It's an utter joy to see Han Solo back in action, and almost makes you wonder if J-Jabs shouldn't make Indy 5 his next project. Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill have less to do, but their very presence is enough to warm the cockles of even this stone cold excuse for a heart. Audience investment in these guys is so high that Abrams could, arguably, have just had them stand there for a bit and shuffle about, but he uses each of them with the appropriate reverence - and irreverence - and, thankfully, doesn't try to give C-3PO much to do beyond, well, standing there for a bit and shuffling about. Enormous props too to costume designer Michael Kaplan, who's designed a set of iconic outfits for the ages (Poe Dameron's jacket now, please) and - obviously - John Williams, whose score is the equal of everything else he's done for this cinematic universe. I got chills at two very specific moments: one boosted by an incredible new theme, and one gloriously recalling an old one.

A near-relentless chase movie with a genius MacGuffin and character beats which span every emotion you ever felt watching these films, The Force Awakens successfully completes its primary objective - not to fuck itself up - with knobs on. Its own backstory may be a little vague (the genesis of both the evil First Order and the Resistance are glossed over with troubling alacrity), but what it lacks in exposition it makes up for in just being really, really Star Warsy. Arguably its greater responsibility, though, is to ramp up the demand for two further episodes, plus the Anthology films that will briefly, and hopefully, take the franchise out of its comfort zone. Well I don't know about you but post-Episode VII, four more Star Wars films doesn't feel like nearly enough. I am frothing at the cock for more, and I'm not sure it's a froth I can easily contain. The force has indeed awakened, and it's testing my underpant elastic to its limits.

Are you remotely interested in what I thought about Episodes I-VI? Then step this way, you weirdo