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Ranking The Academy Awards Best Picture Nominees 2017

Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time available to see Hidden Figures. With nine Best Picture nominees and limited time and budget, it was inevitable, so I chose to miss out on what looks like the nominee that I’d find the least engaging/interesting. Not to say that it’s the worst of the bunch, and it almost certainly isn’t, but I mean, c’mon, it looks like a made-for-TV movie.

8. HACKSAW RIDGE

Hacksaw Ridge is the American Sniper of this year’s nominees: an absolutely tepid and disengaging war flick devoid of cinematic comprehension or comprehension of any kind, really. As has been pointed out by its detractors, and with good reason, Mel Gibson’s latest is wildly bipolar, swinging from a twee, flimsy romance to a comically gutsy and over-the-top portrayal of the horrors of war. There’s no progression, no middle ground, and so when the battle begins, the first instinct is to laugh out loud. Yet, in a way, this change in tone can be seen positively: it saves the film from the corny schlock and mindless plot contrivances of the first half. It’s as if Gibson doesn’t know how to direct, attempting to recall 90s tack via inane uses of slow-mo and hammed-up character traits. When the war gets going, it’s still terribly made, the situations incredibly far-fetched (a Vince Vaughn-being-dragged scene in particular), but it’s terrible in the fun kind of way that makes you at least able to laugh at the film if nothing else. How this got nominated is beyond me, but I can at least take solace in the fact that there’s not a chance in hell it wins. They don’t make ’em like they used to, and based on the evidence of Hacksaw Ridge, maybe there’s a reason why.

7. FENCES

I’d make a pun that Denzel Washington’s third directorial effort swings for the fences and misses, but that would be lying: it doesn’t even try to. Fences is a creatively bereft and ultimately pointless retelling of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play that functions infinitely better on stage. Denzel Washington uses the play as a vehicle to show off how well and how much he and Viola Davis can act, forgetting that acting is only one component of a film. Fences is ugly, framed with little cinematic verve and stuttering camera work that only knows how to zoom in on people’s faces during heavy, tiresome monologues, and not how to cohesively portray an argument; the camera wanders and jilts distractingly, seemingly unaware of how to make the dialogue interesting to sit through. And there’s a lot of dialogue, too, all of which must be endlessly fascinating to experience live on stage, but dreadfully dull to watch on screen. The plot never escapes the trappings of its setting, and Washington has no interest in designing Fences as a worthwhile adaptation rather than a shameless medium to win a Best Actor Oscar. Shamefully, the one moment of abstraction that breaches Fences’ stagey confines also seems to justify the actions of a horrible man.

6. HELL OR HIGH WATER

Hell or High Water is an okay movie. It’s adequately made in every department, the camerawork kinetic, performances solid, and narrative largely satisfying. But it’s just okay. It’s a modernised western-thriller that plays out exactly as you’d expect to, missing the toppling emotion or daring moments that the films placed higher on this list all possess. Save for a few speeches that ram its themes of modernisation and exploitation down your throat, a few missteps in dialogue (a waitress scene that most people seem to love comes across as incredibly false in a film that at least appears to be going for realism), and characters that are, despite being fleshed out, largely dull, Hell or High Water is a film without any distinct and unsalvageable problems. It’s well-written, and astutely directed, but the film suffers from the same problems I have with another critical darling of 2016, Sing Street: we’ve seen these narrative beats before, this is a well-made film, but can we have something a little different? Hell or High Water is still an enjoyable ride, but it’s simply that: it doesn’t have the emotional or thematic heft required to justify a nomination.

5. LION

Lion is a lovely film. It tells the story of a young Indian boy stranded and adopted to live in Australia, yearning for home and striving to find his family again. We know the basic structure of the narrative so all that’s left is to find out is whether it’s executed well. Thankfully, it’s that and more, an effectively affecting tearjerker that contains some astonishingly cathartic scenes and an adorable child actor in Sunny Pawar. His scenes, a tour of Indian culture that make up the first half of the movie, are truly exciting to watch, and while we know where he ends up, we still feel afraid for his safety. Which makes it all the more frustrating, then, that the second half of Lion makes its story’s shortcomings clear, in what is essentially an hour of Dev Patel frantically using Google Earth to locate his family. Thanks to a superb score and a genuinely upsetting premise, Lion still manages to irk out the tears, and many of them, but it also occasionally botches its delivery, blunting out the idea of recollection rather than trusting the audience. What’s more, Rooney Mara’s role is nonexistent, relegated to conflict fodder when more time could’ve been spent on Sunny Pawar’s development with his new parents. Still, this is a film that attempts to be as emotional and resonant as possible, and achieves just that. Yeah it’s manipulative, but it doesn’t draw attention to the fact that it’s manipulative, by coming across in a genuine, heartfelt manner (aside from an odd sing-song shared between children). Think Brooklyn levels of sweet sentimentality rather than Room’s cloying guff.

4. MOONLIGHT

Moonlight, at least according to Metacritic, is the best-reviewed film of 2016, and it’s not difficult to see why. It’s an important drama, sprawling and contained in equal measure, detailing the experiences of a gay black man, Chiron, through three stages in his life. It’s a narrative structure used by Derek Cianfrance (more effectively, though) in A Place Beyond the Pines, and it’s use is necessary to convey Chiron’s progression in the face of abuse. Moonlight hits all the components of an Oscar movie but conveys them in a refreshing, artistically interesting manner, deep hues of blue and purple smoking the screen and signifying the film’s presence as not-your-everyday racial study. The score is suitably aching and powerful, the acting formidable at every turn, and its themes are appropriate and necessary. Sadly, however, Moonlight can’t help but feel like less than the sum of its parts, the message vital yet never truly impactful. This could be in part due to the fact that I live in England and this is a wholly American movie, but this is also due to the fact that Barry Jenkins takes some easy narrative decisions that serve to cheapen the plot, and that each act of the story never properly ties in to one another. It’s a film that I’m thankful for, if not truly taken aback by.

3. LA LA LAND

The hot favourite for Best Picture places third on my list, and with just how dazzling and enjoyable it is, I wish it placed higher. It’s a showy, starry faux-musical, a romance that’s more mature and developed than people give it credit for, a catchy playlist and potentially a criticism of Hollywood ambition that’s managed to disguise itself as just the opposite and propel itself to a hefty collection of accolades. I’d sing La La Land’s praises, but you’ve already heard it all before. Sure, it has its problems: it’s thematically confused, unable to firmly direct a central message at the audience without contradicting itself, and I’m not quite convinced Gosling and Stone’s amateurish singing and dancing is on purpose when every other role manages to sing and dance just fine. But that’s besides the point: we as an audience ignore La La Land’s shortcomings due to just how enamoured we are by the showmanship and talent on display, and with an ending that leaves you with an incredibly complex mixture of emotions, they’re easy to forgive and forget about. With Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to Whiplash, he more than sticks the La La Landing.

2. ARRIVAL

Denis Villenueve’s passionate, intelligent sci-fi, like this list’s number one spot, contains a moment that turns the whole film on its head. It’s an astonishing revelation of a scene, and one that’s earned almost as much controversy as it has praise. That’s not to say Arrival hinges on this scene: the film is still expertly written and beautifully photographed beforehand, the narrative tense and reluctant to reveal its secrets. Yet it’s this scene that propels the film from an interesting science fiction to a superb study on humanity and connection. Backed up by Johan Johansson’s appropriately otherworldly score, a rich Amy Adams performance, and the daring necessary to portray such an ambitious story, Arrival hardly puts a foot wrong. Villenueve’s next film is Blade Runner 2049, and based on the evidence of Arrival, it’s going to be great. You can read my Arrival review here.

1. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

Despite how unassuming a film Kenneth Lonergan’s latest effort is, it’s by far the best film nominated for Best Picture: Manchester by the Sea is one of the most mature examinations of the human condition in quite some time. The film follows Lee (Casey Affleck), a handyman forced to parent his nephew (Lucas Hedges) after his brother’s (Kyle Chandler) untimely death. As Lee experiences the trepidations of being a parent, his past unravels via various flashbacks seamlessly interwoven with the narrative. The film feels small, owing to its understated camerawork, yet still astonishes – a powerful revelation halfway through sheds new, brutal light on Lee’s restricted mannerisms. Affleck, like the rest of the cast, executes his character perfectly. It’s a reserved, heartbreaking performance, aided by a script that refuses to manipulate. For all the potential for Manchester by the Sea to become cloying tedium, Lonergan has created a mellow masterpiece. I saw this film in October at the London Film Festival, and if anything, it makes more of an impression now, burrowing deeper into my mind. Is there anything quite as extraordinarily moving as Manchester By The Sea in the last few years? I doubt it.

-Gus Edgar

Top 20 Films of 2015 (10-1)

(This list is based on UK release dates.)

To read Top 20 Films of 2015 (20-11), click here.

10. CRIMSON PEAK

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Beware of Crimson Peak…“. Guillermo Del Toro’s follow-up to his explosive, terrible Pacific Rim is a more grounded, luscious tragic-romance disguised as a dramatic gothic horror. There may be brilliantly-designed ghouls terrorising the mansion in which the bulk of Crimson Peak is set, but the film’s priorities rest within the doomed romance between Mia Wasikowska’s Edith (fast making a name for herself) and the dubious baronet of whom she’s captivated by, Tom Hiddlestone’s Sir Thomas Sharpe. Whisked away to England after their marriage, she endures a torrid time at the hands of Jessica Chastain’s Lady Lucille, sister of Sharpe. The film’s suspense is sustained by the mystery involved within the manor Edith resides, and the film plays out in gloriously gory, melodramatic fashion, where sweeping thrums of piano-heavy scores and impeccable production design fuel the sombre, sinister atmosphere. The film’s pacing is effortless, culminating in a jealousy-fuelled showdown that’s incredibly involving. Critics have criticised Crimson Peak‘s sparse plot, but I couldn’t disagree more; it’s an intentional choice to allow the beauty of the film – and it really is beautiful – to flourish.

9. THE FORBIDDEN ROOM

Forbidden Room Maria de Medeiros Credit: Cecile Janvier Maria de Medeiros in a scene from The Forbidden Room.

Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room is a cinephile’s ecstasy, a delirious traversal through everything that niche-cinema has to offer. It’s visually incredible and persistent in pummeling your senses with startling imagery and thundering sound design; it’s not so much style over substance, but the film’s plot is deliberately incohesive and dreamlike, an underlying theme that proudly ignores formulative storytelling. It begins with a man giving a lecture on how to take a bath, quickly transitions to men trapped in a submarine who use the air pockets in potato-cakes to conserve oxygen, and follows unrelentingly in a similarly bizarre, engrossing fashion. We watch a song about a man’s addiction to bottoms unfold (entitled ‘The Final Derriere), the memories of a moustache in its dying moments, and a parable regarding the god Janus, told through the vivid dreams of a volcano. It’s all nonsensical, unintelligible stuff, but it works, and importantly, it’s extremely funny. With moments of wit and slapstick spread throughout, it rises from excellent to euphoric, the film containing incessant imagination and beauty – often profundity – that will either astound, like it did for me, or tire; as some critics purport, The Forbidden Room is ‘too much of a good thing’. Regardless, any film as daring and wild as Maddin’s latest is surely deserving of a watch – perhaps for the ‘Book of Climaxes’ scene alone.

8. BIRDMAN

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My most anticipated film of 2015, last year’s Best Picture winner is an eccentric meta-film that was a refreshing champion amid the abundance of precious biopics. Functioning as both a criticism of Hollywood cinema and critics, and a weighty odyssey of one man’s decision to risk everything for success, Birdman has a sharp script and some excellent performances to emphasise the themes of the film. It helps, too, that the film’s characters mirror their real-life counterparts – Keaton and his involvement with Batman, Norton and the tales of the notorious difficulty to work with him – affording Birdman some much-needed realism to contrast with the glorious segments of surrealist fantasy that are interspersed in the narrative. The film’s editing is admirable, where long-takes are spliced together to form a film that appears to be shot continuously without any cuts, accentuating the film’s structural spiral out of control. Keaton is fantastic as Birdman’s Riggan Thompson, the character uncertain and unhinged, hell-bent on proving his self-worth, surrounded by the doubt of Ed Norton and Emma Stone’s lively characters, each giving a performance deserving of their respective Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress nominations. As a criticism of modern blockbusters, it stumbles slightly due to the fact that its reasoning isn’t fully fleshed out, but as a portrayal of a desperate man on the brink of success and on the cusp of defeat, Birdman soars.

7. INSIDE OUT

Inside Out

Pixar’s recent slump in form (for their standards, at least) led many to view Inside Out with a sense of apprehension. Following Cars 2, Brave, and Monsters University, had we finally witnessed Pixar’s recession to mediocrity? As Inside Out demonstrates, the answer is: no. Following on from the animation studio’s fascination with ‘what if ___ had feelings?’, their 15th story elaborates on the concept, ‘what if feelings had feelings?’. And it achieves this with hilarious, inspiring, heartbreaking success. It’s one of Pixar’s saddest films to date – which is no small feat when you consider Up‘s 10-minute opener – but the poignancy doesn’t feel abrupt; instead earned. The plot’s structure allows for tragic reminiscing and -potential spoilers- a lack of a defined antagonist, while the plot’s concept allows for a devilish inventiveness that’s been sorely missing from Pixar’s recent films. And in the wake of this inventiveness arises the eloquent, powerful emotion that forces through a refreshingly non-padded moral message at the film’s core. Inside Out deals with depression and its effects in a unique, accurate manner, ridding the harmful myth that sadness is synonymous with the illness.  To expand on this theme any further would be heavily implying the crux of this film, and diminishing Inside Out‘s thoughtful potency. The animation is incredible (but that’s to be expected from Pixar), and the score is mesmerising and melodic, perfectly capturing the sense of wonder and creativity – and the idea of letting go of certain memories – that the film evokes. Inside Out manages to get inside your head as much as its central protagonist.

6. BEASTS OF NO NATION

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The first film I saw at 2015’s London Film Festival was also my favourite; Carey Fukunaga’s feature film directorial debut is an insight into West-African child soldiers and an urgent criticism of our reluctance to prevent the cause. Idris Elba is receiving all the Oscar buzz for his brutal, manipulative – yet fragile – portrayal of the group’s ‘Commandant’, but Abraham Attah is the star of Beasts of No Nation, conveying that otherworldly tragedy of war and the harrowing, weary effect it enforces on him. The film is shot beautifully, by Fukunaga himself, using similar techniques to his acclaimed True Detective camerawork, and flawlessly captures the bleak, sprawling chaos of war in Africa. Beasts of No Nation deals with sombre themes in a brave, sensitive manner, where Fukunaga is unafraid to highlight the bloodshed and horrific nature of it all when showing the film’s more upsetting scenes. It’s 2015’s feel-bad movie of the year, a film that’s even more disconcerting when you acknowledge that the events on screen are taking place abundantly in real life.

Read EdgarReviews’ Beasts of No Nation review here. 

5. WHIPLASH

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Another feature film directorial debut, Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash is exhilarating, adrenaline-fueled, and will keep you captivated from its opening scene to its final, bombastic moments. The film follows Miles Tellers’ Andrew Neiman, an aspring drummer who eventually feels the brunt of his drum instructor’s wrath, played in scintillating fashion by J.K. Simmons. The two actors’ chemistry is wonderful, where Teller’s tenacity and arrogance is combatted by Simmons’ bullish intensity, helped by a smart, punishing and often hilarious script. Even if you’re not a fan of jazz (but really, who isn’t a fan), the essence of this flick lies not on what’s being played, but how it’s being played. The film’s iconic scene, where Simmons rages at Teller in harsh spittle over whether he’s rushing or dragging, is exceptionally executed, in no small part due to Whiplash’s terrific editing. This editing allows the film to seamlessly build up tension and structure the struggle between Simmons and Teller, where weighty themes of how a student should be taught to reach their full potential are explored. Chazelle shows a real craftsmanship and love for his subject matter in Whiplash, and you only have to look to the flick’s incredibly exciting, powerful ending to realise the extent that the director will go to create one of the best films that focuses on music in cinematic history.

4. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD - 2015 FILM STILL - CHARLIZE THERON as Furiosa and Photo Credit: Jasin Boland © 2015 WV FILMS IV LLC AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINMENT LLC - U.S., CANADA, BAHAMAS & BERMUDA © 2015 VILLAGE ROADSHOW FILMS (BVI) LIMITED - ALL OTHER TERRITORIES

From the year’s best thriller to the year’s best action, the hotly anticipated Mad Max: Fury Road exceeds all expectations, and has become a surprise Oscar contender, juxtaposing a flurry of hefty dramas. You can see why it’s received critical acclaim, too: the action is monumental, the choreography is stunning, the acting is impressive, the score is vigorous, the cinematography is gorgeous, and the world-building is Miller at his very best. The film takes place in a dystopian future, where water is scarce and the tyrannical Immortan Joe rules over the Citadel, the hub of the area’s prized commodities. Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron in a role of real venom and desperation, disagrees with Joe’s method of ruling and sparks a chain of events leading to a near-2-hour car chase akin to Road Warrior that’s thrilling throughout. The plot is kept refreshingly simple (though not non-existent or thin, as some people foolishly state), where universal themes of  survival and dictatorship are brought to the forefront, and allusions to the ‘Four Horsemen’ parable are integrated. Director George Miller’s decision to prioritise practical effects over digital (though digital cannot be avoided, and is embraced in a magnificent sandstorm scene) adds a strong physicality to the fights and chases that has been sorely missing in recent action flicks; watching Mad Max: Fury Road in IMAX was my best cinematic experience of the year, and a film that I look forward to watching time and time again.

3. THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY

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2015 may have given us 50 Shades of Grey, but The Duke of Burgundy reigns supreme as the BDSM flick to watch. Peter Strickland’s previous feature, Berberian Sound Studio, was an odd, atmospheric, quietly ingenious thriller, and Strickland builds on his acclaim with a lesbian romance that’s extremely touching, extensively daring and fantastically entrancing. The film, despite the functionalities of the romance, is an exploration of the dynamics of any relationship, of the lust for control, of each partner’s individual content. In The Duke of Burgundy, there’s no antagonist – the film’s conflict arises from unhappiness within the two character’s own relationship, and the effects it has on them. The characters, by the way, are played brilliantly by Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna, where Knudsen especially gives a frailty to her performance that she hides until the film’s final act, in a terrifically stirring manner. Yet it’s the film’s technical aspects that place it as my 3rd favourite film of 2015: the score, by band Cat’s Eyes’ is grand and minimal at the same time, its throes of vibraphone evoking a nostalgic, European atmosphere that alludes to Strickland’s intense love of pastiche 70s cinema. The film is continuously beautiful, the camera sprawling among the motif of moths (don’t ask) and focusing on the character’s aching faces, its use of angles literally portraying two sides to the character’s relationship: who’s truly in control? The film also flourishes when hiding the character’s interactions during their more sexual exploits; to delve more into that topic would be spoilers. From sitting on each other’s faces to constraining themselves in tight boxes, who says romance is dead? With The Duke of Burgundy,  Strickland makes a good case that it’s more alive than ever.

2. MOMMY

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Midway through French-Canadian drama Mommy, the previous 1:1 aspect ratio opens up slowly, portraying the full width of the screen for the first time in the film. It’s a euphoric moment, perfectly capturing the relief and jovial freedom felt by the film’s characters after a prior hour of claustrophobia and entrapment. The genius behind Mommy, and behind this scene? 26 year-old Xavier Dolan, achieving more at his age than most directors can in their entire career. The film focuses on a teenager inflicted with ADHD, and his mother’s struggles to deal with the intensity of this character. Antoine Pilon as the teenager Steve is exceptional, his goofy mannerisms and melodramatic, exaggerated anger heightening the tragedy of the story. He’s a character that does a lot of wrong, but you can’t help but love him. The mother, Diane (or ‘Die’ for short), performed with extreme talent by Anne Dorval, is a character that attempts to do a lot of right on the other hand, her endeavours engrossing and doomed. Their relationship forms the centerpoint of Mommy, and over the course of the run time it evolves from discontentment and admiration to hatred and love, the film increasingly evocative. Utilising that 1:1 aspect ratio, where the picture is box-shaped, the audience immediately knows where to follow, increasing the attachment to each character tenfold. It’s once again another fascinating film to look at, the beauty contrasting with the potent ugliness of the film’s content. Dealing with themes of maternal love and what the extent of that love is capable of, you’ll be sobbing uncontrollably by the time the end credits roll.

1. INHERENT VICE

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My favourite film of 2015 goes to Inherent Vice, acclaimed director Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest. Detailing the turn of the 70s and the end of hippie culture, the film follows – though perhaps ‘follows’ is too strong a word – Doc Sportello, played in a reliably humorous and confused fashion by Joaquin Phoenix, and his misguided attempts to traverse the murky criminal underworld and uncover the secrets regarding the enigmatic ‘Golden Fang’. The plot hardly matters, however – Inherent Vice is more intent on focusing on its moody, mesmerising atmosphere. It’s everything: a neo-noir, a 149-minute drug trip, a ballsy comedy, a misty romance, a sociopoltical statement on capitalism. It’s deeply funny, but also deeply sad, the sense of melancholy a prolific undercurrent that only rises to the forefront at the very end. And so with this conglomeration of themes and tones, it’s the best kind of film: a film that sets out to give the audience a rapturous, rhapsodic experience and achieves that aim impeccably. The acting is uniformly excellent, the soundtrack evokes that 70s atmosphere in faultless style, the grainy texture of the film used is palpable, and the journey is a superb microcosm for the yearning of the past. Inherent Vice may be impenetrable, but that’s not by coincidence: you’re experiencing the film from Doc Sportello’s point of view, and that experience is ecstatic, hilarious and bittersweet.

Read EdgarReviews’ Inherent Vice review here. 

-Gus Edgar

Top 20 Films of 2015 (20-11)

(This list is based on UK release dates.)

2015 is at an end, and what a year it’s been for films; perhaps no film arrives as daring and magnificent as last year’s Boyhood, but the year has been both consistent and generous in its steady thrum of excellent films. My top 20 of 2015 only scratches the surface of what this year has had to offer – it contains octane-fueled action flicks, melancholic romances and moody period pieces, but I can’t begin without mentioning a few films that barely missed out on a place in this list:

The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos’ dark comedy, boasted a hilarious script and some wonderful, quirky ideas, while Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a heavily energetic if somewhat familiar return to the beloved franchise. Another film high on energy was Chappie, unfairly criticised by many critics; I thought it was a wonderful return to form from Neill Blomkamp, depicting the birth of AI in a captivating and touching way.

Avengers: Age of Ultron was a well-handled, extremely entertaining superhero caper with some fantastic humor integrated in seamlessly. A more serious film came in the form of Ex Machina, a more cold and calculated look at AI that was shot and performed deftly, its themes mature and wonderfully explored. And the last of my honourable mentions goes to London Road, a mundane musical that was both poignant and hopeful.

And now, the Top 20.

20. TOKYO TRIBE

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An exhilarating offering from Sion Sono, Tokyo Tribe is quite possibly the greatest battle-rap martial arts musical I’ve ever seen. It’s as all-over-the-place as it sounds, but I’d be lying if I said it isn’t extremely entertaining. This is partly due to the cinematography, production design and soundtrack that Tokyo Tribe uses – flourishing camera movements and unbridled neon add to Sono’s incredible knack for world-building, giving the film’s portrayal of an alternate Tokyo a dusky, neo-noir feel. The heavy drum beats and how the raps are structured into the film are all masterful in their execution, serving to maintain its adrenaline-fueled plotting that surprisingly never becomes tiresome. The ideas, too, are fresh and startling – from pale naked bodies used as furniture to a giant rotating vacuum-blade in the middle of a fight sequence, Tokyo Tribe feels new and exciting, a film that breaks conventional genre boundaries. And amid the stark emphasis on tone and atmosphere in comparison to plot, you genuinely care for Tokyo Tribe’s central protagonist – an accomplished feat when considering the flick’s stylised B-movie grandeur.

19. IT FOLLOWS

it follows

I admit I’m not one of the horror genre’s most adoring fans, but that fact only serves as testament to It Follows and its place on this list; as a horror flick, it may not be as intensely haunting as several critics have purported, but it’s most certainly thrilling and exceptionally well-crafted. Taking place during a non-era that’s fantastically retro, the film centers on a teenage girl (Maika Monroe, fast-becoming one of my favourite actresses) and the nameless creature that follows her relentlessly after she has unprotected sex. An unsubtle STD metaphor, sure, but the actions thereafter and the mechanics surrounding the creature all serve to heighten the suspense and overbearing sense of dread that’s created. And I can’t talk about It Follows without mentioning the John Carpenter-esque score that’s frightening and involving in equal measure, allowing the palpable tension to be maintained throughout the film’s running time, only diminishing during a bombastic climax that’s hugely enjoyable and edge-of-the-seat jittery, but contradictory to the flick’s previously secretive content. Still, It Follows is a film that will linger in your mind for days on end.

18. SICARIO

SICARIO Day 01

If there ever was a film that was hopelessness in cinematic form,  Sicario may very well be it. Dark and intensely disturbing, Denis Villenueve’s latest has won universal acclaim among a wide range of critics, and justifiably so. Centering on drug cartels across the Mexican border, the tense subject matter isn’t shied from; it’s allowed to flourish with a fantastically bleak score, Deakins’ polished cinematography and an array of hard-hitting performances – Emily Blunt as a helpless FBI agent and Benicio del Toro as a Mexican mission leader with dubious morals especially excel. The plodding script is overcome with terrific direction, a real sense of atmospheric urgency maintained throughout. This isn’t even mentioning one of 2015’s finest scenes in the form of a high-tension border crossing in Juarez, the intensity tangible; I don’t think I’ve recovered from it yet. It’s a simple story expertly portrayed, and deserves all the plaudits its currently receiving.

Read EdgarReviews’ Sicario review here.

17. FOXCATCHER

FOXCATCHER - 2014 FILM STILL - Channing Tatum as Mark Schultz and Mark Ruffalo as Dave Schultz - Photo by Scott Garfield/Sony Pictures Classics © Fair Hill, LLC. All rights reserved.

When I first saw Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, I passed it off as a competent if underwhelming insight into dark subject matter surrounding wrestling, and its theme of masculinity. Since then, the film has stuck with me, and after dwelling on it, Foxcatcher is truly a great film. Each film I’ve mentioned beforehand in this list has generated mood and atmosphere with fantastic technical skills, and this film is no different; the ambience is less showy and more sombre, conveying a despairing tone with a droning, melancholic score and visually discoloured cinematography. It’s brooding, calculated, and perfectly matches the film’s content, at the expense of appearing distant. That could not be further from the truth, however; Tatum’s determined, sympathetic performance as wrestler in question creates the right amount of empathy towards the character that counteracts this coldness. Ruffalo, too, gives the stand-out performance as Tatum’s brother, his unease with Carell’s also-terrific wrestling team leader John du Pont intense, the chemistry building in an expertly-paced manner and climaxing in a perfectly disturbing, sorrowful way. It’s a powerful film that has remained vividly memorable since January.

16. SELMA

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Yet another early-2015 release, Selma, as opposed to the previously mentioned films on this list, focuses on its thematic content and politically-hefty plot instead of placing prominence on stylistic vigour. It’s fixating, highly-relevant subject matter that manages to feel crucial rather than preachy, a success managed due to director Ava DuVernay’s mature handling of the storytelling; the film surrounding MLK’s actions in Mississippi. The 2015 Oscars were swamped with controversy after Selma was snubbed, the attention directed at DuVernay’s non-presence in the Best Director category. Yet it’s David Oyelowo’s performance as the Civil Rights leader that features as Selma’s main attraction – he’s an empowering, flawed figure that stirs a sense of wonderful urgency; the tragedy and hopefulness surrounding the events he leads would not be evoked as strongly without Oyelowo’s performance, and Selma would be all the worse without it. The film, aside from expertly acted, is incredibly moving, emotionally involving and quietly inspiring. And best of all, it’s a biopic that shies away from melodramatic tendencies and pretentious directing.

15. LOST RIVER

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Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut is an entrancing, invigorating delve into a Grimms fairytale-like world, where buildings are either in ruins or being used as perverse gore-fetish facilities. Lost River is luridly beautiful and extravagantly arthouse, a film that neglects plot for a haunting, dreamlike mood – a choice that has proved to have many detractors, though I’m not one of them. This is exactly my type of film: vividly nonsensical, brilliantly imaginative and wonderfully rewatchable. Its sociopolitical parallels to the run-down Detroit is lost among Gosling’s fancy for visual storytelling, but my, it looks great and sounds great. Gosling has clearly taken inspiration from many of the directors he’s worked with (and, in turn, many of my favourite directors), where elements of Cianfrance and Winding-Refn’s styles are clearly visible. Lynch and Malick feature too, the concoction conveyed intensely gripping and surprisingly balanced. As a result, Lost River serves as Gosling’s homage to these directors, and a showcase of his potential as one himself. I gladly await his next film.

14. A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE

A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE - 2015 FILM STILL - Viktor Gyllenberg - Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures Magnolia Pictures Release.

The third installment from the trilogy “about the human condition”, following on from Songs from the Second Floor and the superb You, the Living, Roy Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch… is surreal black comedy at its finest, an exploration of loneliness, of guilt, of mourning and of greed. Its scenes are essentially disconnected, aside from the underlying theme of what makes humans human, and Roy Andersson depicts this theme in such a humorous way that it’s easy to forget how poignant the subject matter is – though a few juxtaposing scenes, such as a rotating torture chamber reminiscent of Auschwitz serves to jolt attention back to this deep sadness. In another scene, the 1800s’ King Karl XIII and his men roam through the modern streets of Sweden, stopping at a bar to demand a drink. It’s baffling and beguiling stuff, and creates a sense of generational interlinking that conveys the universality of such human emotion as entitlement. It’s shot uniquely and imaginatively, too: the camera remains at a fixed point until the scene ends, allowing the action to unfold from a position of helplessness; the human condition has never looked this beautiful.

13. THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E

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In a year saturated with spy capers, (Spy, Kingsmen, The Bridge of Spies, MI5, Spectre), Guy Ritchie’s latest ascends to my definitive favourite over the course of its runtime. Like a few of the aforementioned spy flicks, it’s a hugely enjoyable romp, but unlike the rest, it maintains this bombastic sense of fun throughout, helped by a charming soundtrack, moments of hilarity and Ritchie’s signature showy style. Following Henry Cavill’s CIA agent Napoleon Solo through a significant era during the Cold War, we are thrust into the world of espionage as Solo smuggles Alicia Vikander’s Gaby Teller, daughter of an important missile-creator, out of Berlin with Arnie Hammer’s trained member of KGB Ilya Kuryakin in pursuit. The sequence is dizzyingly  fun, and leads to the reveal that Solo and Kuryakin must work together to recapture Teller’s father and prevent the Cold War transitioning from mere threats to action. It’s a fantastic premise with potential easily fulfilled, Hammer and Cavill’s chemistry a large reason behind this success. It may not have stunned other critics or set the box office alight, but it’s a highly rewatchable flick with an excellent 60s atmosphere and a terrific sense of fun. The torture scene alone is worth checking this film out.

12. ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

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Free from the shackles of cynicism, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a mature and film-loving portrayal of the repercussions of being diagnosed with cancer at a young age. It breaks conventional stereotypes with every scene – for one, the film follows Thomas Mann’s Greg rather than the titular dying girl, and how her illness affects his life. The film’s plotting is formulaic and predictable, but director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon takes its familiar story and crafts it in a wholly unique and fulfilling way. Flashy camera movements and scenes of witty dialogue add a quirky, Sundance-esque tone to the proceedings; so much so it’s almost as if it won Sundance. The involving camerawork makes each character more accessible, but the bulk of the legwork for that feat is managed by Thomas Mann and Olivia Cooke’s performances, their little facial movements and delivery of weighty lines of dialogue – a long take depicting an argument between the two a fine example of this – allowing key character development and an insight towards their self-loathing and despair in turn. It’s deeply funny, too, visual gags where classic films are riffed upon acting as a love letter to all things film, and giving Gregg and Earl’s characters substantial background. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl deals with its subject matter in an eccentric, endearing manner, without ever hindering the content’s potency.

11. TOMORROWLAND

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If there was a film on this list to spark a flurry of controversy and debate, then this is probably it. The marketing campaign may have been misleading – the titular world of invention and wonder barely features in the film – but that doesn’t prevent Tomorrowland from being another superb accolade in Brad  Bird’s filmography. Tomorrowland brought me back to my young childhood, to the days of Spy Kids or Indiana Jones, in a way no film has achieved this year. The reason for this isn’t the performances – though Clooney is reliably-charming, and Raffey Cassidy a rising star, but largely due to the imagination and hopeful yearning for a bright future on display. It’s a film that’s wholly optimistic and managed to put a smile on my face at the start that never dropped throughout its runtime. It’s a film with an overbearing moral message that has clearly put many viewers off, but which I commend; Hugh Laurie’s monologue putting into perspective how warped our views have become on the world we live in, how devoid of motivation we are to make a difference. Critics are forgetting that this is a story aimed at children, and a story that successfully inspires these children. If we can’t admire Tomorrowland for that, then we’re no better than the cynical, miserable figures that Laurie’s almost-villain depicts us as.

To see my Top 10, click here.

– Gus Edgar

My Ten Controversial Film Opinions of 2015

1. Kingsman: The Secret Service doesn’t deserve all its praise…

Director Matthew Vaughn has a very accomplished track record;Kick-Ass is a breath of fresh air amid the abundance of Marvel superhero flicks, X-Men: First Class is a hugely entertaining romp that serves as the franchise’s finest, and Stardust, despite being rarely mentioned, is a competent and non-formulaic addition to the fantasy genre. You can imagine my disappointment, then, at Kingsman: The Secret Service, a spy caper devoid of any heart or wit that we have come to expect of the director.

Read rest of review here.

2. Tomorrowland is one of the best films of the year…

Suffering from a poor marketing campaign, Tomorrowland represented one of Disney’s worse box-office flops. The trailers promised a world of wonder and excitement, but what we got instead was a 2-act buildup to that world – only to find out it was in ruins. Yet the wonder and excitement hadn’t diminished – Tomorrowland brought me back to my younger years, where I was caught up in the fascination of Spy Kids, or, heck, Star Wars – it’s a film that really tapped into my youthful core and I love it for that. It’s innocent, poignant, brilliantly acted (Raffey Cassidy is a revelation), expertly paced and at its centre is a strong, resonant moral message, wonderfully conveyed by Hugh Laurie’s not-quite-villain.

3. Amid an abundance of spy flicks, The Man From U.N.C.L.E reigns supreme…

2015 has been the year of spy films. Other than Kingsman, which I’ve already touched upon, there was MI5, Spectre, and The Man From UNCLE, a hugely entertaining romp helmed by the reliable Guy Ritchie. Mission Impossible 5 was enjoyable and contained some ridiculously impressive set pieces, but suffered from a third act lull. Spectre fared worse, much worse, and my sentiments can be found in my review here. The Man From UNCLE, however, held my interest all the way through, had a great script, and its soundtrack just asserted its position as this year’s best spy caper.

4. Jupiter Ascending is one of the most entertaining films of the year…

Moving from the six sprawling, genre-muddling stories of Cloud Atlas, to bees that sense royalty, planetary dynasties and wing-craving wolfmen of Jupiter Ascending, the film’s individual concepts are mind-boggling bonkers; as a whole, they combine to make a ludicrous, intense cinematic extravaganza that slightly crumbles under the weight of each idea floating around. But heck, it’s entertaining, and the Wachowski’s show real ambition.

5. Big Hero 6 is decent enough, but really shouldn’t be anywhere near its Best Animated Feature academy award…

There’s been talk of a Disney renaissance; hot off the heels of Frozen’s commercial – and critical – success, the studio released Big Hero 6, a charming flick that was met with a similarly superb response. So much so, it went on to beat the likes of The Lego Movie and The Tale of Princess Kaguya to the Best Animated Feature Oscar. The accolade was clearly indicative of the golden period Disney now finds itself in – away from the depths of the 2000s; the award was sweet, a success story, a signifier of great things to come. The award was undeserved.

Read rest of review here

6. The Martian is a step down from Ridley Scott’s ‘Exodus’…

The return of exciting, hard-sci-fi flicks has been a refreshing occurrence in the film industry. Christopher Nolan got in on the act last year with Interstellar, and Ridley Scott now has his turn with The Martian, a film much more ‘sci’ than ‘fi’. The visuals are fascinating, the dialogue beforehand irritatingly artificial, and Scott’s film continues in this manner along the film’s lengthy 142 minute runtime. The Martian is amusing and relatively enjoyable, but nothing more than that. Scott goes for ‘feel-good’, and while he succeeds in doing so, it diminishes any emotional resonance that the film could have. Exodus was a brutally entertaining epic that had something The Martian was lacking – heart.

7. Minions is one of the best animations of the year…

Cynics beware, Minions is a bundle of joy that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and you shouldn’t either. The plot is generic but irrelevant – it’s used as a vehicle to display the titular characters in all their Minion-y glory. There’s been a lot of hate thrown towards these characters recently – due to their saturation in everyday life – but that shouldn’t detract from a wonderfully written animation that’s beautiful, charming, and – crucially – hilarious.

8. Jurassic World suffers from a lack of ambition…

Breaking a myriad of box-office records, Jurassic World arrived with a bang – but perhaps it should have stayed prehistoric. From the writing, the plot, the acting – everything is mundane and average and one-note, and there’s nothing that actually stands out about the film. It’s a very safe, well-marketed film that’s evidently designed for maximum profit; the flick is harmless enough to draw masses to its screenings, but I can hardly remember any of it as I’m typing this.

9. Gosling’s Lost River is right up there with the best of the year…

Lost River, Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, is sitting at a measly 30% on Rotten Tomatoes. Thankfully, it’s right up my street – artsy fartsy, perplexing, and stunning to look at, it’s an admirable effort that captivated me and entertained me massively. The story isn’t needlessly bloated, Ben Mendelsohn is reliably terrific, and the imagery conveyed is hauntingly beautiful.

10. Chappie is a return to form for Neil Blomkamp…

Poor Neil Blomkamp – he just can’t win. Expectations were high after his debut, District 9, and Elysium did little to satisfy that. Surely Chappie would return him to the sci-fi heights everybody hoped he would hit? I think it did – though it seems like the whole world thinks otherwise. The characters are interesting, the special effects are superb, and most importantly, the story intertwines sentimentality and action perfectly. Not as politcally-charged as Blomkamp’s prior efforts, but a lot of people don’t seem to realise that it doesn’t have to be.

-Gus Edgar