It is time to reveal the four best films of 2015, and who is getting inducted into the Fake Geek Hall of Film.
Birdman Or: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu takes a simple story and uses it to present one of the boldest and original film visions in recent memory.
Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) would have been a noteworthy film anyway, with a strong blackly comic script ruminating on issues of creative fulfilment, parenthood, sanity, self-worth and atonement; but two factors raise it higher into the status of a modern classic. Firstly, the casting is inspired. Michael Keaton is Riggan Thomson, a washed-up superhero movie star staking the last bit of his money and last ounce of his reputation in writing, directing and starring in an off-Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver. Many actors could have played the part well, but Keaton’s own past as Batman and the struggles he endured with typecasting since then allow him to play the part with added pathos. His is a truly remarkable comeback. Edward Norton is the self-obsessed cinema luvie, the star-name who steps in late to save the day and there is a fantastic performance from Emma Stone as Riggan’s vulnerable and troubled daughter. Amy Ryan stands out from further down the supports and there is a surprisingly controlled turn from Zach Galifinakis as Keaton’s lawyer and close friend.
The second factor is the artistic style Iñárritu chooses. He uses editing to make the majority of the film appear to be shot in one long take. This isn’t just artistic experimentation or a homage to films like Hitchcock’s Rope or Zinnemann’s High Noon which have (near) minute-by-minute real-time sequences. On one level this represents Riggan’s theatre production making the viewer watch as if he were following the action continuously on stage; but it is a way into Riggan’s head: we’re living events at the same speed he does, experiencing his reactions and emotions as he does. He also chooses to have a jazz cymbal beat drum near constantly; sometimes sporadic and quiet, sometimes crashingly loud and over the diegetic sound. Again this is to get us into noise of Riggan’s mind, the cymbals distant and quiet in his calm moments and wild and thunderous in his moments of frenzy.
It’s exactly this nonconformist and experimental style that means Birdman isn’t a film you can watch every day and sometimes the technical achievements leave you wondering how a shot was pulled-off or edited together rather than truly engaging with the story; but as a piece of film-making this is bold and inspired stuff.
Ridley Scott’s creation is much more than the ‘cast away in space’ label that some critics have labelled it with/ Matt Damon is ‘the martian’, not just the character, but the entire film. Its success is entirely dependent on his performance and this is what makes it so enjoyable. Damon manages to keep audiences entertained and engaged with a mixture of sarcasm and science, which Scott frames expertly within a beautifully presented vision of Mars.
Computer programmer Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) wins a week long visit to the secluded home of Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) – the found and CEO of his place of work, and all ’round tech wizard. Bateman has been working on artificial intelligence and wants Caleb to deliver a Turing Test to his latest creation, Ava (Alicia Vikander).
While the official cast list runs to ten people, the film is all about Gleeson, Isaac and Vikander, who share about 95% of the screen time and dialogue between them. While Gleeson is really good in the role of the inquisitive, relatively shy outsider, he is outshone in equal measure by the other two. Vikander rightly received rave reviews over her nuanced performance, while it should come to the surprise of very few just how excellent Oscar Isaac is (2015 was his year, with excellent showings in this, A Most Violent Year and Star Wars: The Force Awakens).
One of the true triumphs 2015, Ex Machina showed that you could be a accessible sci-fi film without the need for excessive CGI. Special effects were pared back, predominantly used only for Ava’s body. At its core, Ex Machina is less and science fiction and more an ideological introspective about exactly what makes us human. Are we as unique as we believe ourselves to be? Can it be replicated? Should it be replicated? One thing is for sure – this is one of the finest British films for a long time.
The Fake Geeks Film of the Year for 2015
This tension filled standoff is woven like a tapestry of madness. It can be simply summarised: Andrew Neiman merely wishes to prove himself to famed Jazz instructor Terence Fletcher. What could be a mundane and contained story slowly unfurls into an entire world of relentless passion. Like tectonic plates of ambition and artistry, our two characters battle for what they believe defines them – musical purity.
Both Miles Teller and J.K Simmons blaze through the screen with searing charisma and intensity. Whether you have any musical interest or not the sacrifice and psychological warfare in this movie will indiscriminately wrench you in and keep you there. The script, pacing and direction sets the tone for this crescendo of ambition. By the end of the film you will be exhausted and invested as the film’s message and the characters goals become all that matter – everything else is background noise.
In the end, it wasn’t even close. Whiplash was the #1 film on 3 out of the 5 ballots (as well as securing a 5th place on another) , to finish a whopping eight points clear of The Martian and Ex_Machina. Rightfully, it is inducted in the Fake Geeks Hall of Film as the best film of 2015.
Thank you for taking the time to read our Top 20 this year. Did you see any of the films listed above? What do you make of our commentary and their placement? Too high/low? Please leave us a comment below.