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The best and worst films of 2015

There were some wonderful surprises among the industry-churned pap this year, but TEODOR RELJIC finds that the duds more than matched the gems

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
28 December 2015, 9:00am
More human than human? Alicia Vikander stars in Alex Garland's wickedly brilliant AI thriller
More human than human? Alicia Vikander stars in Alex Garland's wickedly brilliant AI thriller
Click on the film titles to read our review

THE WORST

5. The Face of an Angel, dir. Michael Winterbottom

Michael Winterbottom is a great filmmaker. Just how he wrung this turkey out into production is possibly a mystery even more compelling than the film itself. A fictionalized take on the Amanda Knox case which sets out to explore the tenuous links between reality and conjecture, but that just ends up a mess groping for thematic relevance, and your attention.

 

 

4. Everest, dir. Baltasar Kormákur

A group of climbers of varying degrees of skill decide to take on Mount Everest. One of them (Jason Clarke) has a pregnant wife back home. Why are we expected to feel sympathy for them, exactly? Various reasons are offered, but none of them are convincing nor compelling. It’s not a cautionary tale, and there isn’t a shred of psychological depth to the characters either. So what’s the point, exactly?

 

3. No Escape, dir. John Erick Dowdle

Owen Wilson takes on a role normally doled out to Liam Neeson as he protects his family from Evil Non-Americans in this derivative and disgustingly racist thriller that would have landed in the straight-to-video bin (or streaming service) had it been shorn of its star power ­– which in this case also includes Pierce Brosnan. An eleventh-hour apology for Western interventionism does nothing to save this questionable – and worse still, not entertaining at all – trudge through stereotypes of all kinds.

 

2. Terminator: Genysis, dir. Alan Taylor

When it comes to pointless reboots nobody asked for, this gets top billing. A hollow exercise in unnecessarily confusing time-travel tomfoolery, topped off with an appearance by Mr Charisma Vacuum himself Jai Courtney, and you have a recipe for nothing much at all. No amount of duplicated Arnies, or even Khaleesi herself (Emilia Clarke) can mask just what a cynical exercise this all is.

 

1. Jurassic World, dir. Colin Trevnorrow

It may have broken box office records and tickled the nostalgia itch for some, but this Jurassic Park reboot is a product of the same cynical machine that gave us ‘Genysis’, and no amount of meta-jokes about how “the old park was better, hur hur hur” will make this studio-committee-produced pile of garbage any more acceptable. Bereft of heart, soul and show-stopping set pieces, this is the Jurassic Park we deserve. A lazy re-tread through familiar story beats with CGI dinos that put its predecessors to shame.

 

 

THE BEST

 

5. Kingsman: The Secret Service, dir. Matthew Vaughn

It’s not the pinnacle of cinematic good taste, but Mark Millar/Matthew Vaughn’s second collaboration after the equally brash and violent Kick-Ass ­– another story that travelled from the comic book page to the screen – is a joyous treat for precisely that reason. Like a James Bond movie as directed by Quentin Tarantino, with a satirical bent that could be described as aggressively reactionary (but is more likely simply proof of a childish desire to piss off as many people as possible) it rips through from one ludicrous set piece to another ­– each of them orchestrated to devilish perfection. A sequel is in the offing, and for once this doesn’t actually feel like a threat or a box-ticking franchise obligation.

 

4. Ixcanul Volcano, dir. Jayro Bustamante

Screened at this year’s – first ­and excellent – edition of the Valletta Film Festival, this French-Guatemalan production is a searing indictment of cultural sidelining. Depicting the stark division in Guatemalan society, it focuses on a young farmer girl who hopes to escape the confines of her upbringing. Director Jayro Bustamante proves to be a worthy successor to Werner Herzog in his raw, documentary-like approach, which reveals beauty and ugliness side by side through a sensitively rendered approach to nature. The stark shift to an urbanized landscape jolts our viewing experience, and as the inevitable approaches it becomes clearer and clearer that the twain may never meet.

 

3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, dir. J.J. Abrams

A delight for both Star Wars fans as well as casual fans looking for a fun space adventure romp, ‘Episode VII’ of the beloved saga is on top form thanks to the efforts of director J.J. Abrams who, with the help of a great visual effects team and veteran Star Wars screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, erases the horrible memory of the prequel trilogy by making the world feel grimy and lived-in, and the pace light and fun. But it differs from the prequels most of all in that characters are top priority, and newcomers Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Adam Driver have pluck, charisma and pathos to spare. It does rely too heavily on ‘old trilogy’ tropes and references, but it also bodes very well for the future.

 

2. Ex Machina, dir. Alex Garland

The artificial intelligence trope has been done to death in science fiction. From 2001: Space Odyssey to, indeed, the Terminator saga, sentient robots have always been part of our conversation about the future. But it took novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland, in his directorial debut, to really tease out some quietly disturbing themes from the subject which, perhaps most notably, eschew the ‘evil robot killing machine’ route. Instead, here it’s the flesh and blood humans (played by ‘The Force Awakens’ colleagues Oscar Isaac and Domnhall Gleeson) who are questionable – that includes various degrees of misogyny – and the Alicia Vikander’s AI is ultimately presented as a pragmatic but sensible alternative to their prying and rapacious ways. Ex Machina is also a great genre movie in its own right: a tight sci-fi thriller in a remote location with no more than three characters at its centre.

 

1. Mad Max: Fury Road, dir. George Miller

Nobody was expecting this kind-of reboot of the Mad Max franchise to be any good. Or at least, this good. But returning director George Miller more than justifies the release of this long-gestating passion project. Clearing the air by telling a story of fairy tale simplicity and one-upping the completion by injecting a feminist parable into the mix, Fury Road ultimately charmed audiences by its old-school approach to spectacle (practical effects and real stunts aplenty) and inspired production design. It certainly has the look and the hook – but it has heart too. The thankfully already-announced sequel can’t come soon enough. 

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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