Honourable mentions: Jessica Chastain in Crimson Peak, Nina Hoss in Pheonix,Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything, John Lithgow in Love is Strange,Alexander Saarsgard in Diary of a Teenage Girl, Rachel Weisz in Youth, Kirstin Wiig in Diary of a Teenage Girl
I didn't love it as much as the majority of fans (of which I am firmly one) and audiences, but I am still very grateful that JJ Abrams created a solid seventh film that was vastly superior to the prequels and celebrated the charm of the original trilogy. It's just a shame the narrative felt too safe and stuck too close to A New Hope. (I could also have included this film for a variety of its moments including BB8's thumbs up, Rey's dream(?) sequence, C3PO interrupting a romantic moment between Leia and Han, and Adam Driver's performance).
2. Women in film
Is it me or does it feel like a particularly exciting year for women in film? Firstly female-led films were incredibly prominent in blockbusters (The Force Awakens, Mad Max: Fury Road), indie hits (Still Alice, Carol, Room, Brooklyn, Suffragette, Girlhood, Diary of a Teenage Girl) and comedies (Spy, Trainwreck) - all of which were not driven by romantic narratives involving men. Of course there needs to be more women behind the scenes in creative roles, but this has been a solid year. Here's hoping this continues to improve over the next few years.
3. Ireland on film
Whether it has been stories focused on Irish stories (Glassland, Song of the Sea, Brooklyn), filmed in Ireland (The Lobster, The Force Awakens) or Irish filmmakers (Room), this has been a very strong year for Ireland's presence in cinema. Throw into that Viva, shortlisted for the Foreign Language Film Oscar, and Irish movie stars doing well in a range of films (Domhnall Gleeson, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Fassbender) and it seems like Ireland has had a very strong film presence indeed in 2015.
4. Jessica Chastain in Crimson Peak
Although just missing my list of top 2015 performances, I am in complete lust over Chastain's work in Guillermo del Toro's flawed yet charming film. She creates a character who manages to make you enjoy and fear equally her camp yet terrifying behaviour. Perhaps to the detriment to the film as I wanted her to succeed (as much as I like Mia Wasowski who's perfected the odd girl lost persona displayed opposite so many of my favourite actors - Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Glenn Close).
5. Julianne Moore winning an Oscar
What more do I have to say? She has deserved industry recognition for years and has been an important personality in supporting some of cinema's greatest filmmakers.
6. Romance isn't dead
After the live-action reboot/reimagining/whatever of Maleficent, I dreaded all similar endeavours by Disney. The decision, in my mind anyway, to create something that gave Sleeping Beauty more grit and resonance for a contemporary audience robbed the adaptation of the original's charm. Thankfully their next attempt was much more faithful to the naive and simple tale of the original, Cinderella deserves its place in lists of the best 2015 films (like my own in a few days). Let's hope that their future adaptations continue down this road and forego any gritty (and dare I say unnecessary) additions.
7. Spy proving that spies don't have to be misogynistic
I have many problems with Spectre but the main one is its treatment of women. In short, I think it's unforgivable that the series continues to create female characters for ornamentation even when they're initially introduced otherwise. To everyone involved: watch Spy and sort this out. Spy not only puts a woman front and centre of its story, it's also much more entertaining, gripping and rewarding than Spectre. Paul Feig to direct the next Bond, anyone?
8. The Brazil sequence in Jupiter Ascending
Despite popular opinion to the contrary, I am a fan of Andy and Lana Wachowski and didn't think Jupiter Ascending was as bad as everyone made out. It wasn't great but it had some very great moments, including this one inspired by (and featuring!) Terry Gilliam. A blissfully odd and entertaining 10 minutes.
9. Girls being girls
The group of four girls having a night away in a hotel room with stolen dresses and Rihanna in Girlhood. Magical.
10. Love at first sight
There have been many terrific moments representing and celebrating that moment when you meet someone who captures your imagination and excitement. My personal favourite would be Emory Cohen's in Brooklyn but throw in The Force Awakens, Sunset Song, Carol, Youth, Cinderella, The Theory of Everything, Into the Woods and The Testament of Youth.
The Man In the Women's Shoes (Loco and Reckless Theatre Productions Ltd.)
Temple (Donmar Warehouse)
Honourable mentions: Brainstorm (Islington Community Company), High Society (Old Vic Theatre), Jane Eyre(National Theatre), The Motherfucker with the Hat (National Theatre), Tipping the Velvet (Lyric Hammersmith)
1. Nicole Kidman returning to the stage
No explanation required I'm sure. Here's hoping she continues to work on stage and with new material that would otherwise may not find their way to a mainstream audience.
2. Live stream of The Iliad
There have been few theatre events that have captured my excitement quite like the Almeida Theatre's live stream featuring over 60 actors reading The Iliad. It was glorious and undoubtedly will lead to future inspirational uses of digital by arts organisations. Bravo...
3. Programming of the Almeida Theatre
...and that goes for the whole programming at the Almeida Theatre which continues to be the most exciting theatre in London. Under the directorship of Rupert Gould, the theatre creates work that is (mostly) sublime in its combination of ambition, resonance and theatricality. Of course there are some duds (hello Bakkhai!), but that doesn't diminish its highs.
4. Imelda Staunton as Mama Rose
I have been lucky enough to see many exceptional stage performances but nothing compares to this one. Incredible.
5. The set change in Hangman
What a moment. To say more would be to spoil it for those lucky enough to have a ticket for its West End transfer.
6. Caryl Churchill's return
Although it divided audiences, Here We Go is an enticing (and I believe, a terrific) piece by this British playwright who will have a lengthier piece at the Royal Court early next year.
7. Diana Nneka Atuona
Liberian Girl was her first play and that alone highlights Diana as one of the UK's most promising new writers.
8. Dance sequence in High Society
Staging this revival in the round at The Old Vic resulted in one of the most immersive experiences for an audience assigned to a seat. A glorious feeling that brought this slight musical to a full, rich life.
There are many arts institutions that need to review their attitudes towards diversity, and the world took note when Ireland's Abbey Theatre announced a key season of programming that did not reflect the society and subject it claims to represent.
10. Kids doing it for themselves...mostly
The National Theatre has had a solid year but it excelled when it brought Brainstorm to its Temporary Theatre, celebrating the work of young people who created something very special indeed. Theatre practitioners of all ages should watch and take note.
I missed Spy on its cinema release and have just caught up with it on DVD - and what a treat! Not only is it a terrifically entertaining film but it's a refreshing representation of women in a genre (action film) where they are historically under/misrepresented. It's especially wonderful in comparison to Spectre, a film with very poor representations of women. Can Paul Feig continue his great work? And what impact will his trailblazing have on Hollywood? He's made Melissa McCarthy an unlikely leading lady, done the unthinkable by directing a female Ghostbusters and sidelined romance in favour of friendship for his female protagonists - he's a gem in an industry crowded with filmmakers innately unaware of the gifts female-driven stories can offer audiences. Here's hoping producers, directors and writers are taking note.
One of my favourite 'series' on this blog is back. And for a very sad reason - the death of Maureen O'Hara, Ireland's first and most memorable movie star.
Being Irish and a film buff I have always had a fondness for O'Hara, who's personality was as large as her presence on screen. Although it's been on my shelf for too long, I had never watched The Quiet Man until the evening of her death. And what a glorious film it remains. It deserves its status as a classic, and we shouldn't fear an ill-judged representation of Ireland. This isn't a realistic view of Ireland, but its definitely not as poor as more recent examples (PS, I Love You and Leap Year jump to mind...). And, of course, O'Hara is enchanting. As she is in Jamaica Inn, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Miracle of 34th Street and The Parent Trap - the three films I know her best for.
It is a sad loss, but what a life and career. She'll be forever treasured on film.
I can't think of a better way to restart this blog than writing about a film with a story that is very close to my being - a story of Irish immigration and the loss of home. Or you could call it a old fashioned romance, but that's secondary to myself - an Irish immigrant with a forever changed idea of 'home' since moving to London in 2009.
1. Saoirse Ronan
It only seems fitting that we would start by celebrating the film's greatest asset. Ronan has always been a charismatic presence on screen but never has she had the opportunity to play a leading lady in this scale - a performance and character equal to Kate Winslet in Titanic and the late Maureen O'Hara in The Quiet Man (more on her very soon). It is exciting to watch a young actor explore new depths and excel. She is an incredible talent.
2. Nick Hornby's adaptation of Colm Toibin's novel
Sadly, I think Hornby's adaptation is rather too faithful to the source novel and yet focuses on the less interesting element. The film focuses on the romances and hits each of those main beats from the book but this overshadows the actual reason for her homesickness: loneliness. There is little time to settle with Eilis and her homesickness feels meaningless before she is swept off her feet. And there seems little reason why should would remain in Ireland after the excitement of Brooklyn. More than this, Hornby has made each character less complex and robbed the narrative of some bite in the process. Still, this may not seem apparent to those audiences unfamiliar with the book. 3. The boys
How could you not fall for Emory Cohen's Tony or Domhnall Gleeson's Jim? They give good performances representing two very different types of futures for Eilis.
4. Ireland on film
It is exciting (particularly after watching The Lobster a few days ago also) to see Ireland represented so beautifully on film. It's also incredibly exciting to see a genuine Irish story being told by an Irish director with Irish actors, who excel in both leading and supporting roles. And with Lenny Abrahamson doing well with the film adaptation of Emma Donoghue's Room, Irish talent is doing very well in film indeed...
5. Father Flood
...which makes me more frustrated by the casting of Jim Broadbent (an actor I do love) in the role of Father Flood. I know he is an Oscar winner but there are many great and celebrated Irish actors that could have done wonders with this role. Ciaran Hinds, Brendan Gleeson or Stephen Rea to name just three!
6. Audience appeal
Will this film attract an audience? It feels too old fashioned and melodramatic for a mainstream audience, which is exactly what the marketing campaigns seems to be hoping for. I hope this doesn't result hurting the reputation of the film, which deserves to have a special place in the hearts of certain type of audience.
7. Oscar appeal (a running thought for most films over the next few months)
Could this go down well with Oscars? I think they'll be too busy with more 'serious' fare to give this film too much attention other than an Actress and Adapted Screenplay nomination but perhaps I'm wrong? There are 5-10 Best Picture slots after all, perhaps it'll repeat An Education's trio of nominations?
8. Will there be more Colm Toibin on screen?
I hope that the film's success will result in at least one more screen adaptation of Toibin's work. Nora Webster is a terrific novel, with a plumb part for an older Irish actress, which could be adapted wonderfully for television. I hope there's some inspired producer out there with the same thought...
Is a terrible thing. It may not be given the most compelling or engaging portrayal here, but it is certainly a heartbreaking thing. I am glad that I don't suffer it too much any more, but like Eilis this is to do with meeting someone who has swept me off my feet. Is it safe to balance your happiness of such a relationship?
More please. I can't get enough of this type of sweeping, emotional filmmaking with women at the fore - Titanic, Australia, Far From Heaven, Testament of Youth...these films may vary in quality but they all have a very special place for me due to their sensibilities.
That's my excuse for the months of silence on this blog (for the very few of you that may have been reading). And for those of us in love with film, it's one that we see much of in our the lives of our favourite characters. Now I'm returning, with a backlog of films that I have loved over the last few months (A Dairy of a Teenage Girl, Brooklyn, Glassland and Girlhood to name just four) and some significant personal changes that I would have thoroughly enjoyed communicating through film. Most of this I will share for anyone who may care but most of all for me. It became clear how much joy I got sharing my (significant or insignificant) thoughts and feelings of/about film.
How good is it that the Julianne Moore celebration has become a reality?!
If I was responsible for selecting the winners this would have been a season focused on Boyhood but it is refreshing that we have a race for Best Picture that feels wide open. Or at least less predictable than usual...I still think (and hope) Boyhood will take the top prize but wouldn't be surprised if Birdman was to beat it. Or if The Grand Budapest Hotel swept the board.
It's a shame Ralph Fiennes wasn't nominated for Best Actor.
I have shamefully not watched much of the awards ceremonies themselves.
It can't be possible that Eddie Redmayne will win Best Actor, right?!
When will Amy Poehler and Tina Fey be invited to host the Oscars?
It's too much to wish that Dick Pope wins Best Cinematography for Mr. Turner?
I now like Felicity Jones.
2014 wasn't a great year for film. And the award season seemed to ignore some of the better ones (Nightcrawler, Under the Skin). Boo.
I am less excited than usual. Hence a decrease in the amount of blog posts. Sorry.
It is incredibly refreshing (and oh so rare) that a film as great as this will appear so unexpectedly...
...which is an unfortunate scenario for the film which was rushed into British cinemas before a proper route through festivals and finding an international distributor. This film deserves better and I hope word of mouth and a US release will give it the audience it deserves.
This is better than all of the Oscar nominated films on UK release right now.
James Kent (who also directed the wonderful Margaret for BBC TV) is a director with a very exciting future.
As do the majority of this cast. Particularly the always outstanding Alicia Vikander and the charming Taron Egerton.
War is terrible.
Every element of this film is incredibly delicate yet powerful. The cinematography, the performances, the music...swoon.
I can't wait to watch this again.
There are many handsome men to lust over.
Will this film find the audience it deserves with a wider release elsewhere and, no doubt, discovery on British television?
This suffers the same fate of too many biopics and suffers from an unfocused narrative that is more interested in detail than cinematic storytelling...
...yet it has much more heart than many of the other examples I can think of. And it's impossible not to be charmed, even if the mechanics behind the sentimentality are rather too visible.
I like fireworks on film.
Felicity Jones delivers an impressive performance despite a poorly written character. The scene where she presents the newly mute Stephen Hawking with a 'letter board' is an example of great acting. I may now be a fan.
Charlie Cox is very handsome.
I would like to see another version of this film where they focused on the experience of Jane. That is where the interesting element to the 'personal' story exists.
Emily Watson deserves better parts.
Outside of Jones' performance this never feels authentic.
What is the point of this film? There are many references to religion versus science, to commitment, to love, to work and (rather oddly once at the end) family but the film never settles to explore any in great detail. It's a bit of a mess.
This is most definitely an Oscar bait film, but not the worst I've seen.
Best Picture Birdman Boyhood Foxcatcher Gone Girl The Grand Budapest Hotel The Imitation Game Nightcrawler Selma The Theory of Everything
Upset: Into the Woods, Whiplash
Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ava DuVernay for Selma
David Fincher for Gone Girl
Alejandro Gonzalex Inarritu for Birdman
Richard Linklater for Boyhood
Upset: Dan Gilroy for Nightcrawler,James Marsh for The Theory of Everything,Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game
Ralph Fiennes for The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jake Gyllenhaal for Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton for Birdman
David Oyelowo for Selma
Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything
Upset: Steve Carell for Foxcatcher, Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game
Jennifer Aniston for Cake
Felicity Jones for The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore for Still Alice
Rosamond Pike for Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon for Wild
Upset: Amy Adams for Big Eyes
Best Supporting Actor
Ethan Hawke for Boyhood
Ed Norton for Birdman
Mark Ruffalo for Foxcatcher
JK Simmons for Whiplash
Tom Wilkinson for Selma
Upset: Josh Brolin for Inherent Vice,Robert Duvall for The Judge
Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette for Boyhood
Jessica Chastain for A Most Violent Year
Keira Knightley for The Imitation Game
Rene Russo for Nightcrawler
Emma Stone for Birdman
Upset: Laura Dern for Wild,Meryl Streep for Into the Woods
Best Original Screenplay Birdman Boyhood The Grand Budapest Hotel Nightcrawler Selma
Upset: Foxcatcher, Ida
Best Adapted Screenplay American Sniper Gone Girl The Imitation Game The Theory of Everything Whiplash