Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top 10 Films of 2015

As 2015 comes to a close, it is once again time to have a look back at the year in film that was.

Every year we experience the highs and lows of film and film making and 2015 has been no exception. In order to have the good, we must have the bad and vice versa. One thing to always remember when watching an incredible amount of films per year like we here at Movie Critical do, is that you tend to embrace the mediocre films as much as the brilliant films as they make you appreciate the latter even more.

This year we watched 72 films which were part of the 2015 Australia cinema release schedule and the following are our top ten films from those that we viewed. Please note that some of the films which are included in this list were not necessarily made in 2015, but were released in Australia in the calendar year.

Stay tuned at the end of the list for our bottom five films of 2015! We would also love to hear your feedback or what films were your favourite for 2015.

Happy New Year!

10. Trainwreck
Release Date: 6 August 2015
Amy Schumer's semi-autobiographical Trainwreck has been hailed by many as the comedy of the year with it's incredibly witty, hilarious and highly 2015 relevant screenplay. The Judd Apatow directed film catapulted Schumer to superstardom and made her a household name, and it is clear to anyone who has seen the film why. She is the perfect leading lady for the times and shows her versatility with not just a hilarious performance, but one that is also raw, emotional and real. Bill Hader is also incredibly convincing as her leading man and the cameos are a great deal of fun.

9. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Release Date: 17th December 2015

The most anticipated film of the year which is currently breaking every box office record it possibly can is also one of the best films of the year. Star Wars: The Force Awakens excels as a standalone film and not just as a franchise film. While it is an absolute treat for all those loyal Star Wars fans, it can be enjoyed by those who are not typically sci-fi film fans for it's incredible action sequences supported by impressive special effects and interesting and well-rounded characters. The Force Awakens also takes full advantage of having a strong female lead in Rey (Daisy Ridley) which is what movie goers have been calling for and Star Wars has answered.

8. The Martian
Release Date: 30 September 2015

The Martian is an incredibly intelligent film which is also a whole lot of fun at the same time. Unlike many other smart sci-fi films, it explains itself so well that the audience understands the how and why of everything that occurs during Mark Watney's (Matt Damon) desertion on Mars. Based on the novel by Andy Weir, the screenplay written by Drew Goddard is surprisingly witty and comical which gives an overall feeling of fun as well as intrigue. Matt Damon also gives a brilliant one man performance.

7. Inside Out
Release Date: 18 June 2015
Only Disney Pixar could make a film about emotions as lead characters and have it be not just the best animated film of the year, but be right up there with the best films of the year. Inside Out had many grown men openly admitting that they sobbed at the end. The pure emotion extracted in the closing scenes of the film struck a chord with many and there is so much beauty in how pure and innocent it is. With a wonderful screenplay with beautiful and creative visuals, one has to believe that Inside Out must be the front runner for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards this coming February.
Release Date: 6 June 2015 (Sydney Film Festival)
2015 was a massive year for documentary and this will be one of the most interesting categories at this year's Academy Awards. Documentary mastermind, Alex Gibney's Going Clear: Scientology and The Prison of Belief is an incredible piece of non-fiction film making. It takes you on an intriguing ride through the world of Scientology where the viewer is firstly informed as to the origins and doctrine of the cult and then they are challenged by a wave of emotions that leaves them feeling utterly shocked and terrified. Going Clear is incredibly well researched and compiled on film which also informs as well as challenges.
5. Selma
Release Date: 19 February 2015

Ava DuVernay's Selma is an incredibly powerful piece of cinema that chronicles Martin Luther King's historical march from Selma to Montgomery in the name of equal voting rights. Shocking, but at the same time rather beautiful, Selma is a triumph with it's stunning cinematography and stellar performances, especially by David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King.

4. Macbeth
Release Date: 1 October 2015

Justin Kurzel's adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth is a hypnotic, beautiful cinematic triumph that does something exquisite and creative which the much told tale of the king gone mad. Visually, the 2015 Macbeth is nothing short of absolutely stunning with stellar cinematography, amazing costume design by Jacqueline Durran and beautiful period set design. Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are absolute perfection as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth with both giving emotional performances and delivering the Shakespearean dialogue with ease and beauty.
Release Date: 6 June 2015
Listen To Me Marlon is a documentary like no other. With the discovery of a number of personal tapes in which Marlon Brando recorded himself talking about his life and movies, we are given the incredible opportunity to learn about one of cinema's greatest and most complex figures straight from the source as though he has risen from the grave. One comes to understand Brando in a way never thought possible with the aid of his own personal recounts accompanied by archive news and film footage. A must for any classic film or Brando fan.
Release Date: 1 January 2015
Morten Tyldum's The Imitation Game is an incredibly entertaining and enjoyable film which serves as a biopic of the mathematician Alan Turing which focuses primarily on his little known role in World War II. The screenplay by Graham Moore, which took away the Oscar for Best Screenplay last year, is extremely tight and strong with brilliant dialogue and moments of both emotion and hilarity that gave it's stars the opportunity to turn in spectacular performances. Benedict Cumberbatch  shines as Turing and is supported by an incredibly strong cast which compliment each other perfectly.
Release Date: 15 January 2015
Our favourite film of the year is also the film that earlier this year took away the big one at the Academy Awards. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) has it's share of lovers and haters and many will probably disagree with our choice to have this as Movie Critical's best film of 2015, but we see Birdman as being an all-round brilliant piece of cinema. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's direction is exquisite, the editing is brilliant and acting by all involved superb. The film indeed relishes in it's quirkiness as it knows what it is and what it is doing and it is this creative quirkiness that gives it it's intrigue and makes for an incredibly entertaining cinematic experience.
Movie Critical's Worst Films of 2015
5. Jupiter Ascending
4. Aloha
3. Fifty Shades of Grey
2. Penguins of Madagascar
1. Seventh Son

Monday, December 28, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 135 minutes
Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers: George Lucas (characters), Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt (screenplay)
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis, Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong'o, Anthony Daniel, Max von Sydow, Peter Mayhew

Could Star Wars: The Force Awakens have been anything but a success both critically and at the box office? With any other film the answer would have been that failure is always possible, but failure was never an option as far as The Force Awakens was concerned. With the incredibly high expectations placed on the new film and after a set of prequels which divided opinions, it was hard to imagine that the film makers wouldn't do absolutely everything in their power to make Episode VII the best film it could possibly be. While breaking box office records all around the world, The Force Awakens is an extremely solid and impressive addition to the Star Wars universe that fans will rejoice in as it gives further excitement to the upcoming films in the saga and remains respectable to it's predecessors.

Three decades after Darth Vader and his empire were destroyed in Return of The Jedi, there is a new threat to the galaxy by the name of the First Order who are trying to wipe the existence of the Jedis. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has disappeared and his sister, Leia (Carrie Fisher) is desperate to find him. The missing piece of the map to where he can be found is hidden by the Resistance fighter, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) in the droid, BB-8 just as the Resistance comes under attack by the First Order and the formidable Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). BB-8 comes across scavenger, Rey (Daisy Ridley) who together with the help of renegade stormtrooper, Finn (John Boyega) seek to escape those looking to harm them. The three find themselves caught up in a war with a family they have only heard rumours about, but find themselves involved in ways they could have never imagined.

In the best possible way, The Force Awakens is hugely glorified Star Wars fan fiction on the big screen and this is in no way an insult. J. J. Abrams has made no secret of his love for the franchise and has commented in the past on the way the first films shaped his film making. While there was early talk about how Abrams was too obvious a choice for director of Episode VII due to past projects, he was and still is the perfect choice due to his admitted inner passion for Star Wars which gives him invaluable knowledge about what is desired by the ever loyal fans and what is seen as respectful towards the past films. Yet, those who have not seen the previous six films are not ostracised by the story. However in saying this, it does help if one has seen at least one or two of the Star Wars films as there are references to the George Lucas told stories and of course to the characters themselves, especially Han Solo, Leia, Luke Skywalker and brief mentions of Darth Vader. There is also a feeling a deja vu of past Star Wars films (particularly A New Hope), which may be an annoyance for some.

The Force Awakens brings the intrigue back to the franchise with much discussion to be had afterwards that will continue till Episode VIII is released in 2017. Like Episodes IV and V, there are many questions left unanswered which is all tactical rather than careless. Unlike many other franchise films, Star Wars is not based on official existing literature where fans can read what will happen in the future films. So one can translate certain aspects of the film in numerous ways, but all will not be revealed until later films and therefore increases the intrigue of the film. The Force Awakens carries this intrigue throughout the whole film without any lulls or scenes which slow down the action or story. The value placed on every moment of the film and the anticipation of information this brings increases it;s suspense and unpredictability.

As is to be expected, The Force Awakens takes full advantage of what is available to films with spectacular budgets in 2015. The film launches straight into high intensity action and establishes itself early as a visually extravagant piece of work that admirers will be easily besotted by. The action sequences are extremely impressive with the combination of incredible CGI, powerful sound and expert cinematography. John Williams returns to provide the soundtrack once again for Episode VII and although his work is as strong as it consistently is, it doesn't have the same iconic feeling as his previous Star Wars work (yet).

The casting decisions made for The Force Awakens are seemingly safe choices as they cover all bases to make sure that they cannot be criticised for any reason. Yet here safety pays off with some stunning performances by all involved. They may not be Oscar winning performances, but each actor portrays their character to the very best of their ability and pulls everything from the role that they can. Daisy Ridley emerges from being a relative unknown to giving a wonderful and strong performance as Rey. The film itself had a tremendous opportunity with Rey, as movie lovers this year have been calling for more strong female characters in film and they have absolutely made the most of this opportunity. Rey is a young woman who does not rely on anybody else for anything (regardless of whether they are male or female) and has no hesitation fighting for what she wants. However, she is not a forced character in that she is not the typical action woman associated with strong females in film, particularly those in such a genre as Star Wars is in. Rey does possess the same strong will as Leia did in the previous films, but perhaps in a more physical sense than Carrie Fisher's Leia. However, while there is much love for the female power of Rey, it is a shame that Gwendoline Christie's Captain Phasma doesn't have the right amount of screen time to have the same sense of power in the film and is rather a wasted opportunity.

As for the male side of the Star Wars casting, there are solid performances all around. John Boyega makes his entrance into the Star Wars universe and feels particularly 2015 while doing so with a modern sense of humour and use of language. He works well with Ridley and Harrison Ford and easily liked among audiences. Adam Driver as Kylo Ren has a tremendous presence about him and Domhnall Gleeson also shines as General Hux, although one would love to see more of the formidable character during Episode VII. Harrison Ford is also as heroic as is remembered and his presence is adored.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a success in every way and not just in figures at the box office. It remains extremely respectful to it's older relatives and an absolute treat for those loyal fanatics, yet has the potential to attract new loyalists to the fandom.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

In The Heart of The Sea (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 122 minutes
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Nathaniel Philbrick (book "In The Heart of The Sea: The Tragedy of The Whaleship Essex"), Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (story), Charles Leavitt (story and screenplay)
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Benjamin Walker, Tom Holland, Michelle Fairley, Paul Anderson, Frank Dillane

In The Heart of The Sea is now showing in Australian cinemas and is distributed by Roadshow Films. Opening in the United States December 11 and the United Kingdom December 26.

Ron Howard's ambitious tale of survival, In The Heart of The Sea is a visually stunning film that gives only momentary suspense, intrigue and emotion and when it does, it is more at the hands of the majestic sea creatures featured rather than their human counterparts.

Based on the incredible true story which inspired Herman Melville's classic novel "Moby Dick", In The Heart of the Sea is the recount of the disaster of the whaling ship, the Essex in 1820 as told by survivor, Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) to Melville (Ben Whishaw) many years after the event took place. Nickerson was just a young cabin boy when he was aboard the doomed ship that was captained by George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) who clashed with the First Mate being the more experienced shipman, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth). The Essex, which set out to retrieve whale oil, hears of a recently discovered whale hunting ground where they were sure to obtain more oil, but ignore the warnings of a monstrous, dangerous whale who is not intimidated at all by humans. The crew's voyage takes a disastrous turn upon meeting this mammal and then turns into a struggle for survival.

In The Heart of The Sea is a glorious film visually with wonderful special effects and breathtaking marine panoramas. The concept of bringing the story of the ill-fated Essex to the screen is an extremely ambitious project which could not have been achieved in a believable fashion until the right cinematic techniques were made available. The creation of the world beneath the surface is spectacular and brought to life with clean cut cinematography. It is the giants of the sea that are the true stars and highlight of the film. Despite being a product of CGI, one is entranced by the majestic nature of the beasts and feels greatly for them, including the "devil". This can make watching the characters participate in the act of whaling during the film rather distressing. The film itself does not glorify whaling, but rather presents it as an activity that was accepted as normal in order to obtain oil. Yet, this act does draw more emotion for the whales than for the crew of the Essex as they battle for survival.

The emotion felt for the humans of the story is rather weak in comparison to the whales. Their survival techniques are indeed tragic, but they are not felt on an emotional level and are merely just acknowledged by the viewer. The suspense in the film is rather sporadic and are reserved, once again, just for the scenes involving the whales. It is true that the ending of the film is known right from the start as Melville is interviewing a survivor, but this is not an adequate reason to lose it's sense of tension as many films with a known conclusion are able to hold tension for the majority of it's run time. The lapses in tension are also lapses in intrigue and this leads to the film feeling rather slow, especially during the opening scenes which make the film appear slow to get going.

It would seem that with In The Heart of The Sea, Howard directs the natural world better than he does his actors for the large part. Brendan Gleeson is the stand out as his character of the older Tom Nickerson evolves from being hostile and extremely guarded to opening up to Melville and believably releasin years of inner torment. While Chris Hemsworth is top billed, his performance can be described as just fine. He is solid, but it is not anything we haven't already seen from Hemsworth in previous films and does not break any ground for him as an actor. However, Hemsworth remains likable and a fine leading man. Cillian Murphy is very good, but does not have as much screen time as he should to make a proper impact in the film.

In The Heart of The Sea is a film that could have been made years ago had it not been for it's need for the specialised CGI and special effects that are present today. However, these features are truly the best things about the film and it's spectacular scenes with the whales will be what it s remembered for.