The raison d’être for my ‘top 10 films of 2015’

I have once again been asked to defend my top ten films of year X, where this time the year is 2015.  And yes, I’ve already switched 8 and 9 around.

Small spoilers throughout, but the spoilers for The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and Crimson Peak are big.

The same caveats as last year apply.

Also, most of the films I’ve been down on have failed on the intellectual satisfaction criterion.  The only one where I’ve muttered about technical merit is Spectre (yes, I really hate the faux-Instagram filter that much) and Crimson Peak is the only one that just plain old didn’t work for me.  Hence its position in 10th.

1 – The Martian

Sorry I just loved it.  Every single character in it feels like a real person, doing their best and trying to do the right thing.  It would have been very easy to turn say, Teddy Prendergast into a boo-hiss bureaucratic villain, but they resisted the temptation.  It was beautifully shot, and looked reasonably realistic.  So far none of the space scientists I know have complained about any of the science.

It had my favourite scene of the whole year, the one where the two Chinese Space Agency scientists decide to do the right thing.

Absolutely loved it.

2 – Mad Max: Fury Road

As I said in the original post, 1 and 2 could be the other way round.  Mad Max: Fury Road does a lot of similar things to the Martian and hits many of the same narrative themes that I so love (see also, people trying to do the right thing in trying circumstances).  It also did the same thing of mixing CGI with physical effects to get the most out of both of them – in Mad Max’s case, trying to make something look like hell on Earth and succeeding.

I liked how it let you, the viewer, do a lot of the background heavy-lifting and giving us little breadcrumbs to follow.  I also liked how everyone, good, bad or both, got to be human (see also Rictus and his announcement about his brother).  It was very well spaced, allowing the characters to have character, despite there being so many of them (see Nux and that moment when he fails spectacularly in front of Mortan Joe and despite him chasing after our heroes you just feel so sorry for him).

It’s also beautifully filmed.

3 – Jupiter Ascending

I will be the first to admit Jupiter Ascending is not a good film, and how you feel about it can be guessed by your response to ‘dog-man fights dinosaur in space’ but it’s interesting, and not based on a pre-existing book, film, comic or other entertainment property.  I give points for interesting.

I still think it would have made a much better tv series than film, because I wanted to see all the things they didn’t have time to show in the film and what happened after the film.

Also, I am totally behind any film which gives me ‘dog-man fights dinosaur in space’.

4 – The Hobbit: Revenge of the Hobbit (or Battle of the Five Armies as its real title may be)

Last year, certain people complained that I didn’t have Guardians of the Galaxy higher given that the tree made me cry a lot.  Because I knew what my reaction would be to this, I knew that that was no reason to give a film a higher (or lower) placing.

Because I can tell all the things that are wrong with it, and they are many and I am aware I over-identify with the dwarves.

But I’ll be damned if I didn’t cry for twenty minutes straight when Thorin died.  Actually I shall rephrase that, I started crying before Thorin died, I started going at “Will you follow me, one last time?”  The film got me and good.

5 – Ant-man

I had low expectations for this but I really enjoyed it.  And came out of it wanting my own ant army.*

I don’t get why people say this is one of the silly Marvel films when the beginning is all about the inability of ex-convicts to get decent jobs when they’re released and how this can lead to recidivism, and the threat of someone losing contact with their child due to circumstances.  And there’s some glorious satire about the Western arms trade.  But there are people out there who believe that that’s less realistic than a film where an evil robot drops the mass of an entire country onto the Earth and there’s almost no effect on neighbouring countries.  (I know, talk about the films not the idiot film critics but, they’re so stupid and their opinions are so glib, facile and show evidence of not having watched the films they’re talking about.)

It’s not perfect but it’s a fun way of spending a couple of hours, and Cassie Lang is adorable.

* Without knowing this my Uncle bought me a Hexbug spider for my birthday.  Truly, I am lucky in my family.

6 – Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

This is where I start shading into equivocation.

There is nothing wrong with this film and I appreciate Tom Cruise’s continuing quest to get banged up for our entertainment.  The film did some fun things with it’s theme, especially the whole character of Ilsa Faust (and she is truly awesome and really is the deuteragonist, if not the protagonist), the Prime Minister and I’m always going to approve of them having bits in Vienna.  Especially when they either do film the underground scenes in Vienna or make the mock up look right.

That being said, I think the bad guy goes down a little too easily and it’s mostly a waste of Sean Harris.

(I do also wonder if Simon McBurney as the head of MI6 is a casting joke or a complete accident after he played Lacon in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.)

7 – Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Things in this film’s favour – it’s fun, it’s light, I will willingly rewatch it, the soundtrack and the acting.

Things against this film – it’s just not U.N.C.L.E.  I can’t shake the feeling that I would have adored this if it had been it’s own thing and not claiming to be a different thing that I already love.

8 – Avengers: Age of Ultron

The things I really love (Quicksilver, Vision and Ultron) are outweighed by some truly hamfisted writing, and gratuitous misuse of two of the Avengers (and Rhodey.  Why does Rhodey get no respect?).  And the now-getting-to-be-usual Marvelverse thing of setting up something interesting (i.e. the Insight Program in Cap2) and then ignoring the interesting ramifications of the idea, on this occasion the whole ‘are the Avengers the cause of more trouble than they’re worth’ thing.  If Ultron had stuck to his early thing of not hurting civilians, this would have been significantly more interesting film.

9 – Spectre

I don’t like the camera work, it makes it look like it’s been shot through an Instagram filter and I have major philosophical issues with the plot and themes of the film.  The acting is solid though, but there are things that even Christoph Waltz being gleeful evil cannot make up for.

10 – Crimson Peak

I know what del Toro was trying to do.  It just didn’t work.  It’s was all a bit too much.  Which is what one of my friends says is the difference between Gothic architecture and Neo-gothic architecture in one of those accidentally apt for something else comments.  And that really does explain what the problem is.  Maybe if they’d not gone with *all* of the Gothic literature themes in one go, it would have worked better.

I also find myself sympathising significantly more with Lucille, and the films constant attempts to make me feel sorry for Thomas make me want to go ‘no, he’s useless’ at it.