You are here
Picks & pans
IN a year when a certain space adventure saga returned to redefine the term "blockbuster", realign the movie universe and relegate the competition to also-ran status, it's worth noting that the Force was strong in other parts of the galaxy. A few films not named Star Wars proved to be big deals on the quality entertainment front, and quiet satisfaction could be found among films in the sleeper section as well.
Meanwhile, numerous duds fell to earth with the usual dull thud. BT Lifestyle's list of the year's best excludes award-winning films from early 2015 while including a couple of names from the first weeks of the New Year because, well, it will be another year before December 2016 rolls around and we do this all over again.
This compelling documentary by Asif Kapadia takes an unvarnished look at star-crossed singer Amy Winehouse, tracking her meteoric rise to fame and her equally spectacular flame-out - unravelling in the full glare of a press pack that hounded her relentlessly. Her outsize personality and otherworldly voice were a joy to behold, and through all her troubles she just wanted to be a great jazz singer. For a brief, shining moment, she was.
This sumptuous romance, handled with delicacy and grace and featuring faultless performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, is about coming of age and coming to terms at a time when society was blinkered to unconventional notions of love. Two women from different worlds connect, break free - and suffer the consequences.
A computer programmer meets the woman of his dreams - only she happens to be a robot. Alex Garland's spare, smart and thought-provoking movie about the possibilities and perils of artificial intelligence makes the grade as the best (earthbound) sci-fi film of the year. All this - and Alicia Vikander too!
Getting inside a young girl's head - and ours - is no mean feat but it's all in a day's work for the creative minds at Pixar, which takes a thoughtful, sensitive look at issues great and small. Sometimes, emotions get the better of us, but how and why can still be a mystery. Poignant and perceptive, Inside Out is a joy ride in more ways than one, and worth much more than the price of admission.
Kingsman: The Secret Service
This light-hearted spy-comedy from Matthew Vaughn showed up early on our radar screens, and stayed there throughout the year. Based on a comic book, starring a young unknown and featuring a stellar supporting cast, the film features action and humour in equal doses and will be remembered for an outrageous, spectacularly offensive scene in which Colin Firth wreaks death and destruction - to a classic Lynyrd Skynyrd song, no less - in a church. Let's hope the sequel (due in 2017) is equally entertaining.
Mad Max: Fury Road
George Miller's high-octane reboot is the extremely noisy, brutally intense and wildly entertaining product of a warped imagination. It's nice to know that after 30 years in limbo the man who created the classic Road Warrior films still knows how to push the post-apocalyptic action-movie envelope. Dystopian, demented - and unashamedly pro-feminist - the film turns Charlize Theron into a kick-ass action star: who would've guessed?
In space, no one can hear you scream but in The Martian - Ridley Scott's not-quite-companion piece to Alien, his gravity-free horror flick from an earlier era - you can see Matt Damon think his way out of a mess, after an accident leaves his astronaut character stranded on the Red Planet. He proceeds to "science the s**t" out of his situation, and we are splendidly entertained watching him do so. Is there life on Mars? You better believe it.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
An upbeat coming-of-age film about death is unusual enough, but a witty script and sensitive performances by a cast of relative unknowns push this film, directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, into the spotlight. A high-schooler whose world revolves around no-budget remakes of famous films reluctantly befriends a terminally ill student who refuses to feel sorry for herself. Quirky and imaginative, the film represents a charming departure from the dull predictability of the genre.
After indulging his arthouse sensibilities with the oddly appealing (and Oscar-winning) Birdman, director Alejandro G Inarritu goes for a different kind of spectacular altogether in The Revenant, a story about a 19th-century frontiersman who endures a brutal series of near-death experiences in the frozen wilderness. The film, a frontrunner in the current awards season, opens here on Feb 4 and features transformative performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.
This dark, intense and harrowing no-holds-barred tale about the drug wars on both sides of the US-Mexico divide follows the exploits of a young and naive FBI agent (played by Emily Blunt) who is caught up in - and caught out by - a raging swirl of unethical goings-on around her. The line between good and bad is irrevocably blurred so that by the end of the film, neither she - nor us - is entirely sure which side of the line we're standing on.
Our vote for the best film of the year goes to a movie that doesn't actually open here until next month, but Spotlight is simply too good to ignore. This fact-based drama, about a Boston newspaper's investigative team working to shed light on sexual misdeeds in the Catholic Church - and the institution's attempts at a cover-up - is ensemble acting at its finest and a first-class depiction of how tenacious and uncompromising reporting can set the story straight.
And now, the winners in the loser's category…
This film, based on the defunct TV series of the same name - which was in turn based on the exploits of homeboy-turned-movie star Mark Wahlberg - shows up several years too late, well after the series' sell-by date. As a result, this fantasy about males bonding in Hollywood is about as fresh as week-old bread - you might say it was toast from the start.
Unlike Ant-Man, which proved that superheroes can come in all shapes and sizes, this origins tale about a scientist and three others who travel to a parallel universe (with unfortunate consequences) provokes nothing beyond an uncontrollable urge to leave their world - and the cinema - at warp speed.
50 Shades of Grey
Quite possibly the least-sexy film in the history of pseudo-erotic cinema, this bestseller-based clunker about two people from opposite worlds translates into an unconvincing blend of kinky sex and romantic slush, making it a definite turn-off instead.
Hitman: Agent 47
The Singapore skyline (both real and imagined) serves as a temporary distraction but this film about a genetically modified assassin with a barcode stamped on the back of his shaved head also features a storyline that could fit on a stamp: it is uninspired, monotonous and dead on arrival.
Seth MacFarlane continues his assault on common decency with a crude brand of R-rated humour. If a trash-talking, beer-swigging teddy bear who cracks penis jokes on cue is your idea of quality entertainment, look no further. And will someone please tell Mark Wahlberg to get his act together?
READ MORE: Bouquets and brickbats of Asian cinema