As part of my work, I consume an enormous amount of visual media. This year I conducted an experiment to find out just how much. Since 1st January 2015 I have been recording every film and television series I have seen. In total, I have seen 121 TV series, 61 short films and 464 feature-length films (65 of which I have seen previously). I'm not going to include a list of everything I saw here, but given that this is the season of “best and worst” retrospective lists, here are some of the highlights and low-points of the year.
The feature films that I’ve seen previously were mainly staples such as Die Hard, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Taxi Driver, Alien, Back to the Future and so forth, which do not really need commenting on. Some of those were Blu-ray remasters. I heartily recommend the Masters of Cinema remasters of Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as well as the restoration of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: they each offer notable improvements over previous DVD editions.
Perhaps less “obvious” films I repeat-watched this year include May (2002, Lucky McKee), Triangle (2009, Chris Smith), Evil Dead (2013, Fede Alvarez [review]), and Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse #41 (1972, Shunya Itô), each of which are must-see films in my opinion. I also have a soft spot for The Heat (2013, Paul Feig [review]), which I saw twice this year… needless to say, I am looking forward to the Ghostbusters reboot.
The short films were mainly dominated by the Astron-6 collection and Buster Keaton’s two-reelers. I enjoyed both collections (with the exception of the Roscoe Arbuckle shorts, which are far less effective than Keaton’s work with Eddie Cline). However, the highlight of the year is the extraordinarily fun Kung Fury (2015, David Sandberg), which is available to view online here.
The feature films that I saw for the first time in 2015 include a number of movies that I ought to have seen before now, but I have only just managed to catch (or at least only just managed to see all the way through). These included Waiting For Mr Goodbar, Death Wish V, City Lights, Timecop, Top Gun, The Apple, Code Unknown, Fight For Your Life, Lost In Translation, Rain Man, Performance, The Sorcerers, Rebel Without A Cause, and Abbott And Costello Meet The Mummy. My nominee for the worst of the bunch is Robocop 3 (1993, Fred Dekker): I should have listened to the general disdain for this scrap-heap. For the first 15 minutes or so it is fine, but it quickly degenerates to a level of cartoonish absurdity that is more than even the Robocop franchise can handle. My favourite of this bunch was Blind Beast (1969, Yasuzô Masumura), which is a powerful psychosexual horror classic.
Many of the films I saw were mediocre, which is unsurprising given the volume of features I saw in total. This year, my time was wasted by a variety of bland horror movies (the Carrie remake, The Curse, Old 37, Cooties, Smiley, The Last Showing, Tales Of Halloween, the Poltergeist remake, Camp Dread, The Exorcism of Molly Hartley), found-footage flicks (Paranormal Asylum: The Revenge Of Typhoid Mary, Sx_Tape, The Houses October Built, The House On The Hill, Afflicted, American Guinea Pig [review]), derivative thrillers (Fissure, Green Zone, Pound Of Flesh, 12 Rounds 3: Lockdown, The Roommate, Kill For Me, Say Yes, ATM, Grand Piano, Cornered), disappointing comedy-dramas (Baby Mama, Behaving Badly, The Interview), British crime films (The Guvnors, Jack Said, Payback Season, We Still Kill The Old Way), and dull dramas (A Dangerous Method, Gerontophilia).
There were a number of films that disappointed me, principally because I was expecting more from them. These include:
- The Stray Cat Rock series (1970-71, Toshiya Fujita and Yasuharu Hasebe): there were some highlights, but the series is best consumed as a curio. Revel in the spectacular fashions of the era rather than the tame thrills on offer
- The Green Inferno (2013, Eli Roth): the narrative is straight-forward enough, but Roth’s film is so tonally erratic that it is unsatisfying to watch. The Green Inferno’s combination of FGM, poop jokes and (supposed) economic satire comes off as the product of indecision and immaturity.
- The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears (2013, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani): aesthetically stunning, but utterly vacuous. This is a series of extremely pretty images in desperate need of a substantial story.
- The Human Centipede III (Final Sequence) (2015, Tom Six): after the grotesque but commanding second entry, this was disheartening. Six appears to have either pulled his punches here or he has forgotten how to play the “shock” card.
- A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014, Ana Lily Amirpour): stylistically and visually interesting, but I was taken aback by how sparse the narrative was (particularly given how favourable the reviews have been). Maybe it is just that I am not interested in vampires. I need to revisit this one sans preconceptions.
- Tokyo Tribe (2014, Sion Sono): I love Sion Sono’s movies and kung fu flicks. I also have a partiality for rap, so Sono’s “battle rap musical” should have been right up my street. It just didn’t grab me. It didn’t help that many of the cast members cannot rap on the beat.
- Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015, Gregory Plotkin): this is nowhere near as bad as the critics are making it out to be, and it has some neat moments. Still, having re-watched the series this year, this entry is noticeably stale compared with the first three movies.
- The Conjuring (2013, James Wan): after hearing so many good things about this film, I was deflated by its standard ghost yarn. As is the case with virtually all contemporary supernatural movies of this ilk, I found the first half hour creepy (particularly the ‘clap hands’ sequences), but as soon as the investigative team enter the house, the whole project falls flat. This may be one reason that I enjoy the Paranormal Activity films more than others; without the sustained presence of figures who understand and know how to handle the entities, the protagonists remain relatively helpless and the unknown remains a mystery.
Few films annoyed me as much as the pretentious, morbidly self-absorbed semi-documentary Tarnation (2003, Jonathan Caouette), which was easily the worst film I saw all year.
Others swing so far as to land firmly in the “so bad they are entertaining” camp (and they are all pretty camp):
- Nurse (2013, Douglas Aarniokoski): which is so terrible that even its star Paz de la Huerta wants her money (and career) back
- Basic Instinct 2 (2006, Michael Caton-Jones): which contains one of the boldest opening sequences committed to film, and manages to squeeze abysmal performances out of a surprising number of (usually) good actors. The film maintains a gloriously hysterical pitch throughout. Much more entertaining than Fifty Shades of Grey (2015, Sam Taylor-Johnson).
- Nativity 3: Dude Where's My Donkey? (2014, Debbie Isitt): which has a plot so nonsensical that the film-makers do not even try to resolve its gaping holes. The smartest thing about the film is that it demonstrates how ludicrous tales of Santa and the nativity are by having children explain those narratives to an amnesiac: by establishing that we readily accept those barmy sounding Christmas stories, the writers ask us to accept Nativity 3’s load of old cobblers too. Still, even Martin Clunes (who puts on a brave, blank face throughout) looks embarrassed during the climax. A cult classic in the making.
- The Asylum (2015, Marcus Nispel): which has one of the most bizarre opening halves of any film I’ve seen this decade. It has the feel of a movie that suffered some terrible technical or financial mishap leading to much of the footage being lost, and leaving an editor to piece together what remained in the edit. An entertaining mess.
Some of the films were “near misses”:
- Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010, Oliver stone) is quite compelling considering that it is a film about economics and the depressing financial meltdown that we are all too familiar with, but the ending is a disaster: in order to close the film, the writers manufacture what looks like a resolution, but the reunions simply do not follow from the preceding events. A down-beat ending would have been preferable. As an aside, I obtained a copy for free by eating Pringles, then bought the Blu-ray for 50p: go capitalism!
- Predestination (2014, The Spierig Brothers) deserves points for ambition. For the most part it works well, but it relies on the audience failing to spot a plot-twist that is fairly obvious from the early stages of the narrative.
- Open Windows (2014, Nacho Vigalondo) is also overly ambitious. The conceit is refreshing (especially compared with the glut of insipid found-footage films around at the moment), but the plot stretches too far, spiralling into convoluted madness by the final reel. Until that point, it is enthralling in spite of its ludicrousness.
- I Spit on Your Grave 3: Vengeance is Mine (2015, R.D. Braunstein) tries to provide an alternative to the first two films, swapping from rape-revenge to a vigilante plot. The film’s most problematic aspects stem from how this film undercuts Jennifer’s resilience in the first movie. Its cack-handed commentary on coping with victimisation is also quite disturbing.
I will not comment in detail on my favourite films of the year, simply because it is probably best to watch these without preconceptions. They range from the thematically rich to the formally adventurous, from the sweet to the disquieting, from the smart to the fun, from the poignantly life-affirming to the emotionally devastating, from the exciting to the intriguing. Each is worth visiting on its own merits if you get a chance:
- Air Doll (2009, Hirokazu Koreeda)
- Amour (2012, Michael Haneke)
- Babycall (2011, Pål Sletaune)
- Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014, Alejandro González Iñárritu)
- Black (2005, Sanjay Leela Bhansali)
- Brain Damage (1988, Frank Henenlotter)
- Call Me Kuchu (2012, Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall)
- Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009, Phil Lord and Chris Miller)
- Coherence (2013, James Ward Byrkit)
- Confessions (2010, Tetsuya Nakashima)
- Cop Car (2015, Jon Watts)
- Dead Snow 2 (2014, Tommy Wirkola)
- Enemy (2013, Denis Villeneuve)
- Fast and Furious parts 5, 6 and 7 (2011, 2013, 2015, Justin Lin and James Wan)
- Gravity (2013, Alfonso Cuarón)
- Hiruko the Goblin (1991, Shinya Tsukamoto)
- Holy Motors (2012, Leos Carax)
- Kotoko (2011, Shinya Tsukamoto)
- Locke (2013, Steven Knight)
- Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976, Jimmy Wang Yu)
- Miss Meadows (2014, Karen Leigh Hopkins)
- Nightcrawler (2014, Dan Gilroy)
- Oculus (2013, Mike Flanagan)
- Senna (2010, Asif Kapadia)
- The Decline of Western Civilisation 1-3 (1981, 1988, 1998, Penelope Spheeris)
- The Final Girls (2015, Todd Strauss-Schulson)
- The Editor (2014, Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy)
- The Equalizer (2014, Antoine Fuqua)
- The Scribbler (2014, John Suits)
- Tokyo Sonata (2008, Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
- We are the Best! (2013, Lukas Moodysson)
- White God (2014, Kornél Mundruczó)
The series I saw include narrative and sketch comedy (five seasons of South Park, nine seasons of The Office, three seasons of Inside Amy Schumer, two series Fist of fun, five seasons of Key and Peele, two seasons of Regular Show, Louie season 5, Lucky Louie, Veep season 4, Sean's Show series 2, Wilfred season 1, Campus), drama (seven seasons of Californication, Girls season 1, Wentworth Prison season 1, Justified season 4, Better Call Saul season 1, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit season 15, This is England ’90), action (24: Live Another Day, Hunted, Daybreak, seven seasons of Burn Notice, four seasons of Nikita), and various horror/fantasy series (The Strain season 1, five seasons of Being Human, two series of Black Mirror, five seasons of Warehouse 13, four seasons of Game of Thrones, Scream season 1, The Walking Dead seasons 4 and 5, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles season 1).
The highlights were Community season 6 (return to form), Hannibal Season 3 (R.I.P.), two series of Inside no.9 (brave), four seasons of Arrested Development (witty), seven seasons of 30 Rock (bonkers), and Orange is the New Black season 3 (consistently brilliant).
All in all, it has been an interesting experiment working out just how much I consume in a single year, and it has helped me to recall exactly what I have seen over the last 12 months. I won't will repeat the experiment next year as I will be drafting my next monograph, and so I will be repeat-watching numerous films and sections of films. I haven’t posted as many updates as I would have liked to in 2015, so I will endeavour to post more “15 second reviews” in 2016.
In the meantime, happy New Year.