Friday 18 December 2015

The Gizzle Review's Films of 2015

I definitely haven't seen enough films this year. That needs to change imminently. Still, 2015 saw the release of some awesome cinematic gems that I did manage to see...

10. The Lobster

The second half turned out to be pretty bleak and depressing, but The Lobster sticks in the mind for its sheer weirdness. A film about humans turning into animals if they fail to find a romantic partner, its deadpan delivery makes for a hilariously satirical movie that poses some difficult questions about love, romance and the pursuit of 'the one'. It's an extraordinary, if disturbing, watch.

Gizzle said: "As a surreal satire of love, relationships and the modern obsession of finding our match, The Lobster is an extraordinary film. It explores the extreme lengths that people will go to in order to find love and asks us to question whether it’s easier to fake love when trapped in the wrong relationship, or to hide your true feelings for someone when you’re unable to commit."

9. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Part II)

It's always a surprise when a film series can surpass the books it's based on, but that's exactly what director Francis Lawrence has achieved with parts I and II of Mockingjay. Together, they form a grim yet compelling narrative that explores the psychological impact of war - not your typical young adult storyline. The ending is a confusing mess that disappoints, but with tense action sequences, a sombre outlook, strong performances (from Jennifer Lawrence especially) and a genuine point to make, this is a thrilling climax to the YA franchise of the decade.

Gizzle said: "What began as a series condemning the media, reality TV and class divides has evolved into a comment on war, its futility and its psychological impacts – something far beyond the aspirations of most emo young adult novels/films."

8. It Follows

The plot of It Follows is a thinly veiled metaphor for venereal disease, where the only way to stop being killed is to have sex and pass on the curse of impending death. It's a collection of horror tropes that preys on teenage sexuality, but they're twisted into something that feels fresh and original. The low-fi indie feel and general sense of ennui lend it the quality of an urban legend come to life that's genuinely tense, ensuring this is one of the best horror films in a long time.

Gizzle said: "It’s certainly silly at times, with plenty of illogical plot decisions being made. Yet that’s just one of the many horror tropes the film pays homage to, lovingly referencing teen horrors from Halloween to Scream. It’s a film that therefore works on multiple levels: horror pastiche, psychosexual exploration and a frighteningly good time."

7. Sicario

Sicario manages the impossible - turning a traffic jam into a tense action sequence. But that's just one example of director Denis Villeneuve keeping us on the edge of our seats. This is a brutal, bloody and gripping military thriller with mesmerising cinematography, a bold performance from Emily Blunt, and an ambiguously feminist twist that lingers long in the mind.

Gizzle said: "One shot in particular stands out: the soldiers filmed in silhouette sinking into an unknown horizon. It's a shot that sums up the danger and mystery of the film, the descent into a dark, murky underworld. Is this really suitable for a woman?"

6. Spectre

It disappointed some, but Spectre is a return to the old formula whilst maintaining Daniel Craig's brutal, modern Bond. It's got all the classic elements and plenty of throwbacks to 60s style, but delivers ferocious violence and spectacular action - even if the directing doesn't quite have the flair of Skyfall. It can't quite compete with that most successful film of the series, but it's a fitting end to Craig's tenure in the spy's sharp suit.

Gizzle said: "Spectre is often a thrilling retro ride with all the quips, glamour and tense action you’d expect, but it’s also somewhat predictable and doesn’t advance the formula it adheres to in any meaningful way..."

5. Inside Out

Visually, Inside Out isn't the most distinctive of Pixar's oeuvre, but its narrative still packs an emotional punch. As we venture inside the head of the young Riley, we witness a colourful world of pop psychology that seems complicated but is expertly unveiled, the quest of Joy and Sadness to rebuild Riley's mind paralleled with Riley herself learning to grow up. It's an effortlessly relatable drama that, as with the best of Pixar, adults and children will adore equally.

Gizzle said: "Inside Out doesn't quite have the distinct aesthetic charm of Pixar's best - the characters feel a little too generic - but it tells a thought-provoking story that's joyful and sad in equal measure. You will probably shed a tear."

4. Carol

If the two female leads in Todd Haynes' moving same-sex romance don't get nominated for Oscars next year, it will be a tragedy. Rooney Mara already won the Best Actress gong at Cannes for her portrayal of Therese, but Cate Blanchett's performance as the titular woman is equally engrossing. The setting and cinematography are beautifully done, but it's the performances that really draw us in to this study of love, its intoxicating allure and its devastating power.

Gizzle said: "Carol is exquisite. The 50s costumes are exquisite. The sets and furniture, the sense of time and place, are all exquisite. And so too is the acting."

3. Birdman

Few films are as cynical yet enjoyable as Birdman. Seemingly filmed in one continuous shot, it's an inward look at the acting profession with plenty of self-knowing references and jokes. Yet there's so much more to this densely packed film, as it explores the mindset of an actor on the edge, where (method) acting and reality collide with dire consequences. Throw in a maddening percussive soundtrack and incredible performances from the likes of Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone, and Birdman is easily one of the most unique and thought-provoking films of the year that thoroughly deserved its Oscar recognition.

Gizzle said: "Birdman is a divisive film. Some may even call it self-indulgent, but when the film's subject is vanity and self-obsession, that's somewhat the point. And it's all presented with a deliciously dark and knowing sense of humour."

2. Mad Max: Fury Road

In a year of edge-of-your-seat action films, it's Mad Max that delighted most for the sheer non-stop intensity of its action. It takes a fetishistic view of vehicle battles, explosions and savage violence that quite literally whips up a storm, all accompanied by THAT guitar player. The biggest surprise? That Mad Max is actually a pro-feminist film - Max might be in the title, but it's Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa who proved to be the film's main driving force. Most of all, it's just the coolest film of the year.

Gizzle said: "This Mad Max defies its marketing and the expectations of the audience - it's a macho action film, but with women pushed front and centre."

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Yes, I'm a fanboy. Bite me.

Fellow nerds will come for the nostalgia hit of seeing the world they grew up with come to life all over again, the reuniting of special faces and the myriad nods to the past. Newcomers will come for the chance to start the series afresh with a compelling narrative and likeable new cast. Both will stay for the swooping space battles, glorious cinematography and the most adorable cinematic robot since Wall-E. And if you're not into Star Wars, who even are you?!

Whatever camp you fall into, The Force Awakens is undoubtedly the biggest cinematic event of the year, an event that thoroughly lived up to the hype.

Gizzle said: "The Force Awakens, then, is everything fans could want it to be – an absolute thrill that will have you grinning non-stop throughout. Though it doesn’t stray too far from established convention, this is a throwback to the best of the series whilst laying ground for the future in a cinematic passing of the torch from old to new."