The Films 2015 : wack, wack, oops

oscarsOh, come on. How difficult can it be? Every week, watch a film and write about it in an interesting, informative and (if appropriate) amusing way. But, for the second year in a row, I have failed in my challenge to view 50 movies in a year. I only managed 31. Actually, it is 31.5 as I fell asleep half way through ‘A Little Chaos‘ this evening – sorry, Kate (Winslet).

Part of my failure has been that I was also trying to read 50 books during the year, and reading is my first love – I’d rather read a novel than watch a film. Nevertheless, there have been some great viewing moments over the past 12 months and I’ve ordered the movies I did see into the following list, best to worst. Just for fun, there is no critical appraisal here!

What was your must-see film this year? I started 2015 with ‘The Theory of Everything‘ and Eddie Redmayne re-appears in ‘The Danish Girl‘, released tomorrow. I’m planning to get to the cinema to see it – and maybe 49 other films in 2016!

1 Theory of Everything (The)
2 What We Did On Our Holiday
3 Imitation Game (The)
4 Amy
5 Mona Lisa Smile
6 Still Alice
7 Pride
8 Boyhood
9 Life of Pi
10 Insurgent
11 Vera Drake
12 Les Miserables
13 Road to Perdition
14 Talented Mr Ripley (The)
15 Lion King (The)
16 Finding Nemo
17 Amazing Grace
18 Young Victoria (The)
19 Lucy
20 Rush
21 Vanilla Sky
22 Fast and Furious 6
23 The Descendants
24 Hunger Games (The) – Mockingjay Part 1
25 White House Down
26 Maze Runner (The)
27 Parkland
28 Secret Window
29 Girl, Interrupted
30 Saving Mr Banks
31 Spy

 

 

 

Film No 15 (2015) : Les Miserables

les mis 2You know when they do those Christmas special programmes, the ‘Top 100 Top Gear Moments’ and the like? Well, I hope that when ‘The Top 100 Best Movie Moments Ever’ is made, that a scene from the 2012 screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Misérables’, is right up in the top 10. My vote would be for Anne Hathaway as Fantine singing ‘I Had a Dream’. Although I liked Susan Boyle’s BGT rendition, it wasn’t a patch on Anne’s.

I first saw ‘Les Miserables’ at the cinema and having watched it again on Netflix this week, I think it needs a big screen to do it justice. It is an epic movie with virtually no spoken dialogue. Instead, the plot is progressed via the action, the lyrics of the songs and a musical script. Not a format everyone enjoys, but the musical score of the film is so strong that I was swept along.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) has served his sentence for stealing a loaf of bread and is released on parole. But he skips parole and chased through the years by police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). Valjean succeeds in making some sort of life for himself and rises to the position of mayor in Montreuil. When Fantine, a worker in one if his factories, is driven to prostitution and later dies, Valjean agrees to take care of her daughter (Cosette). The course of Cosette’s life does not run smoothly; she falls in love with a young revolutionary called Marius (Eddie Redmayne) whose eventual predicament leads Valjean to an act of courage and devotion which ensures the young lovers can be together.

The themes of the story are biggies; isolation, fear, love, poverty, freedom. The only slight reprieve from the gloom comes from the grotesque but nevertheless comedic characters Mr & Mrs Thénardier (played by Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen).

Other than that the film is, as the name suggests, miserable. It is difficult to pinpoint an occasion when it would seem like a good idea to settle down to watch 158 minutes of toil and trouble, when there are so many more light-hearted options available. But despite the melancholy, or maybe because of it, ‘Les Miserables’ is compelling as it examines the bleakness of the human struggle. It is one to watch – but probably not if you have just had a row with your partner or opened your bank statement. Unless, of course, you just need a really good wallow!

Film No 4 (2015) : Boyhood

boyhood

With the 87th Academy Award winners ceremony taking place on 22 February 2015, I am on a bit of a mission to try to see as many of the top Oscar hopefuls as possible. I still want ‘The Theory of Everything‘ to Win Everything, (even in the categories for which it hasn’t received a single nomination), but it’s good to see who Eddie is up against.

I bought ‘Boyhood‘ on DVD, the cover of which proclaims that this is ‘the most impressive film ever made‘. Really? The Most Impressive Film Ever Made? That seems like a big pair of boots to fill. When the film starts, young Mason would barely fit a pair of size 10 junior sneakers. By the time the film ends and he is a lanky teen, his Mom probably leaves the shoes and makes him wear the boxes. But ‘Boyhood’ is about growth in far more than shoe sizes. Directed by Richard Linklater and filmed over 12 years, it explores the growing-up years of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from age 6 to 18.

This is not a film you watch for the plot, which is really only a loose framework on which to hang Mason’s childhood and adolescence. The beauty of the movie is in its exploration of what it is to be a child, but also a parent. Whilst I watched, I had to admire the ambitiousness of the project, its remarkable consistency and attention to detail, as well as the commitment it must have inspired in all those involved. That was what I was thinking, with my head. But with my heart, I was feeling about parenthood and childhood. I found this film totally emotionally engaging, touching on how we might think we know our children but, from a very early age, they develop an independence which takes them a little further away from us every day.

Like Mason’s onscreen Mom (Patricia Arquette) I am the mother of an older daughter and younger son, and the scope of ‘Boyhood’ really struck a chord with me. If you are the mother of a teenage daughter, my guess is that you cried at the ‘Slipping Through my Fingers‘ scene on the morning of Sophie’s wedding in ‘Mamma Mia‘. I did. Meryl Streep’s interpretation of losing her daughter to adulthood echoed my own fears exactly. In the same way, of course Mason knows his mother is being over-dramatic when he heads off to college: she is convinced that meaningful life is over now her child-rearing skills are obsolete. But I have a sneaking suspicion that when the pangs of empty nest syndrome strike me, those scenes from the film will come back to haunt me.

I doubt this is The Most Impressive Film Ever Made but it is absolutely, definitely worth seeing. But not if your kids have just left home.

Film No 1 (2015) : The Theory of Everything

Theory of EverythingThe first film I have seen in 2015. I wouldn’t care if I don’t see another film until 2016. ‘The Theory of Everything‘ has given me enough to think about for 52 weeks and I doubt if anything else I see this year will match it.

Professor Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (also known as Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS) in 1963 when he was just 21. He had already met Jane Wilde and, despite Stephen having been given only 2 years to live, the couple were married in 1965 and went on to have three children. Director James Marsh attempts to tell the Hawkings’ story from Jane’s point of view (the story line is adapted from Jane’s memoir ‘Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen’). Whilst it does loosely document Hawking’s extraordinary scientific career, including the writing of his 10-million copy selling ‘A Brief History of Time‘, the primary focus of the movie is his marriage to Jane and their family life.

Eddie Redmayne‘s transformation into Stephen Hawking is awe-inspiring: the decline in his dexterity, physical posture, speech and facial expressions as Hawking’s disease progresses, are totally agonising. Felicity Jones is captivating as Jane Hawking, displaying determination and despair with equal flair. But to my mind, Redmayne owned the screen; I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Hawking has apparently said himself that the film is ‘broadly true‘ and there were times during the screening when he felt he was watching himself. He was sufficiently impressed with the movie to allow his own synthesised voice to be used in the final version.

I didn’t learn much about physics, or cosmology, or black holes from this film. Instead, I came to understand something of the life of a remarkable couple, but even more about truly great acting. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones will wipe the floor with all the contenders for the major film awards and accolades in 2015. Eddie Redmayne has surely given the performance of a lifetime as Stephen Hawking; his portrayal of the scientist shows absolute mastery of the craft of acting.