Over the next couple of weeks we’re going to be sharing our top 5s of 2015, from everyone who writes here at The Lost Lighthouse. This time Adam will go through his favourite 5 films of the year.
I’m taking a quick break from the depths of writing my PhD thesis to write about some of the things I actually cared about this year. This time it’s my favourite films released in 2015. I mostly saw blockbuster films this year, some multiple times. I also have a joint top 2, which is essentially cheating but I really couldn’t pick between the two films.
First up was the second film from Marvel this year, Ant-Man directed by Peyton Reed. Starring the eminently likable and eternally young Paul Rudd, along with Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll and Michael Peña, the film was long in development due to various behind the scenes director changes. One of the things I like about the MCU is the shifting tones and styles between the individual films that maintain a core ethos, largely being making a superhero where everyone takes everything at face value but not too seriously. Superheroes exist in the world, but so does a healthy dose of levity. For Ant-Man, the humour aspect is dialed up (probably because to the average movie-goer ‘Ant-Man’ is a bit of a weird one, but we’re in a post-GotG world now and people will watch whatever as long as it is good) to take full advantage of Rudd, but it’s Peña who steals the show with the funniest scenes and lines.
The film is structured as a heist movie, even down to the musical score, and does this very well, leading to a very fun flick. At it’s core the movie has a lot of heart. This mostly comes from Scott Lang’s relationship with his daughter. As an ex-con, he’s desperately trying to get straight so he can provide for her and be the man she sees him as. This drives him to become a hero, to help save the world and prove to everyone that he can be a good man. The rest of this heart comes from Hank Pym and his daughter Hope, estranged since his wife Janet went missing presumed dead on a mission as the original team of Ant-Man and The Wasp. Everyone plays their parts with genuine emotion, and with the sequel title announced as ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’, with Hope receiving the Wasp suit during a credit cookie, we’re finally seeing an expansion of the MCU with more heroes and importantly, more female heroes.
4. John Wick
I think John Wick was technically released in 2014 in America, but we didn’t get it in cinemas over here in the UK until early this year. I’ve not really shown a lot of interest in any recent Keanu Reeves films, I think the last I probably picked up and watched was ‘A Scanner Darkly’ and that was nine years ago. Despite that, I’m a big fan of The Matrix and Bill & Ted, and to be honest I think he was great in Constantine even if the film barely resembles the Hellblazer comics. I heard about John Wick on the Assemble After Dark podcast, and I respect those guys’ opinions so I thought I’d check it out.
John Wick is a brilliantly choreographed, brutal revenge film. directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. A Russian crime lord’s bratty kid steals John Wick’s car and murders his dog (not a spoiler, it’s the first five minutes and the impetus for the rest of the film. It’s more of a warning to be emotionally prepared. The dog is very cute). His father’s response when he hears whose dog it was?
John Wick wasn’t just the Boogeyman, he was ‘the man you sent to kill the Boogeyman’. A highly trained assassin, he had left that life behind. Until now. What follows is John violently wading through all the bodies that mobster Michael Nyqvist sends at him in an attempt to save his son’s life. Operating out of the mysterious Continental hotel, John returns to a stylish underground criminal world that is hinted at but never suffers from too much exposition or explanation. It just is. And it’s populated by a great cast, including Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, John Leguizamo and Ian McShane. The action is the real star of this film though, with some magnificent sequences of hand to hand combat and gun play.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
The first of my joint top two is Fury Road. We’ve talked a lot about our love of this film here, and for good reason. Until the first trailer hit, the new George Miller directed action film wasn’t even on my radar. That’s really what a good trailer needs to do. I didn’t know anything more about the film other than the simple fact that I now had to go and see it. Starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron as Max and Furiosa, Fury Road follows a group that eventually combines their efforts to escape the Immortem Joe and his War Boys, and deliver his ‘wives’ to the safety of ‘The Green Place’. It’s basically a road trip movie with explosions, as they drive their stolen war rig across the wasteland and fight off various attackers hell bent on retrieving their ‘breeders’.
Fury Road is a non-stop, high octane adrenaline ride that barely gives the viewer a moment to breathe. You’ll be exhausted after watching it, but you also won’t care. The fact that a large amount of the film is done through real effects, with real cars and explosions, makes it all the more impressive. There are so many amazing scenes, but to arbitrarily pick two the sequence where the war rig first goes up to and into the sand storm is stunning to look at, and and the music swells it makes for an excellent cataclysmic moment. The other is the first time Max and Furiosa start working together, after they go through the pass and are fighting off the raiders on bikes. It’s an incredibly kinetic scene that is brilliantly shot, as the camera swoops around the rig cabin with the pair offing raiders and reloading just in time to take out the next guy. The story itself is spartan, largely there from context clues and basic character interactions, which makes for a more rewarding and far less patronising cinematic experience that doesn’t hold your hand through poorly scripted exposition scenes. It’s a tight, simple plot with a lot of weight behind it if you want it and care, and if you don’t then you still get a great action film.
2. Avengers: Age of Ultron
My other joint second favourite film this year is the second Avengers film, for totally different reasons to Fury Road. That film hit me from nowhere, and was a surprise thrill. We knew a great deal more about the Joss Whedon directed Age of Ultron, to the extent where I was trying to avoid more details about it as the film came closer to release. But despite all that, it was exactly what I wanted it to be – a great superhero film. The most comic booky comic book film we’ve seen so far. Seeing the team fully formed and working together was a lot of fun even from that first assault on Von Struker’s Hydra base as the film opened. As the Stark and Banner created AI Ultron starts to develop, the team starts to fracture which leads to a few contrived ally Vs ally fights like the Hulkbuster scene, but mostly we see great team up fights against hoards of nazis and robots. The times when this is most enjoyable tend to be any double team attack from Cap and Thor, but the moment when the shield is thrown to Black Widow so she can smash in a few robot skulls with it is great too.
Incidentally, while I think everyone inhabits their roles in the MCU brilliantly at this point, Chris Evans as Steve Rogers is my stand out favourite in every one of these films now. He just plays is so straight an earnestly that even corny lines like when Tony asks what happens if they fail “then we’ll do that together too” are just totally believable. David Spader is also incredible in this, as the menacing yet crazy Ultron. He just voices the robot with such a gravitas and presence, that disarms when he jokes around a little (courtesy of one of his two fathers) yet chills when he starts to threaten and make good on those threats. As always with the MCU and Whedon, the humour is threaded throughout the film (some say a bit too much, I disagree), my favourite scene of which was unfortunately spoiled by the trailer – when everyone is trying to prove their worthiness by lifting Mjolnir, the way Thor’s face drops when Cap mananges to shift it just a touch is superb, and how he recovers when it doesn’t move again and no one seemed to notice. The action is great superhero fare, even if it is largely CGI in this particular film we’re at the point that it holds up.
There has been a lot of commentary about it online, ranging from how sexist it was that Black Widow ever wanted kids (the internet forcing Joss Whedon off of twitter is why we can’t have nice things) or how there isn’t a good representation of Marvel’s female characters in merchandise (which is fair and true. Not enough Gamora or Widow. I saw a toy of the motorbike and truck scene that replaced Natasha with War Machine on the bike, which is so stupid it’s almost like they are actively trying to piss people off) to the deus ex machina of the ending or the very comic-book style plan of raising an entire city. The thing is, it was a comic book film. Not only is raising a city like that the sort of thing a crazy Marvel villain would do, dei ex machina also don’t bother me if it means we actually get to see our heroes save people. That is the entire point of heroes. We want to look around at the end after they beat the bad guy and see that they at least succeeded in saving most of the people they were trying to (also it was less out of nowhere if you watched Agents of SHIELD). Also, while I agree with the toy complaint, the accusation that Whedon is sexist is absurd and I disagree that Widow is at any point reduced in the film. I thought she was great, and I think we may be reaching a point in our commentary culture where people are just looking for things to complain about, and then those complaints snowball through the medium of the internet.
1. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
I wrote this list before I went to go and see the new Star Wars film, hoping that there would be a place in the top 5 for it but not knowing where. Of course it could have been a trainwreck. I don’t think I ever really believed it would be. At worst I thought the J.J. Abrams directed film would be OK. Which may have actually been worse than if it had been Phantom Menace level terrible. After two showings, I’m certain it is my film of the year. The excitement of getting a new Star Wars film when just a couple of years ago we didn’t think we ever would again, along with the insane amount of hype that both the marketing and the public generated, meant that ultimately The Force Awakens could never live up to what was expected of it. Because it wasn’t the best film of all time. But it was a great film, and more importantly it was a great Star Wars film.
I don’t really want to go into much detail about The Force Awakens, not just because I don’t want to feed into the hype machine but also I think that anyone that hasn’t already seen it really needs to go and experience it for themselves in the cinema. From the first notes of the John Williams score and the opening crawl, I was hooked. The moments where I could feel my heart pounding in my chest were just as impactful on the second viewing as the first, the original trilogy cast were a joy to see again and more importantly I cared a great deal about the fates of the new characters by the end of the film. I left immensely satisfied and excited that for me at least, Star Wars is back. Even if Disney will be making new films long after my death so I’ll never know how it all ends.