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Simon Thompson's Top 10 Films of 2015

Posted by Stuart OConnor | Wed, 30/12/2015 - 18:00

By Simon Thompson

Picking a Top Ten for 2015 was much harder than I thought it would be:

The Theory Of Everything
Forget Inside Out! There are few films that moved me as much as The Theory Of Everything did in 2015. Every single person in the movie gave superb performances but Eddie Redmayne’s Stephen Hawking was beyond remarkable. It’s like watching a masterclass. It really is a phenomenal film that deserves all the praise it got.

If you thought Mad Max: Fury Road was the hardest rage on screen in 2015, I’d say you were wrong. Whiplash – a dick-swinging battle of blood, sweat and tears – is a film so tensely wound that you find yourself holding your breath. Visceral, sharp, raw and passionate, Whiplash is an astonishing piece of cinema with career-best performances from Miles Teller and JK Simmons.

Mad Max: Fury Road
Relentless, noisy, stylish and brash, watching the brilliant Mad Max: Fury Road was like being put in a box and thrown down a flight of stairs while someone screamed in your face then pulled you out and kicked you in the nuts. Absolute madness, utter brilliance and an experience that you won’t forget.

Man Up
Quite simply a romantic comedy that is unaffected by cliché and feels natural. Damn funny, authentic, sharply scripted by Tess Morris and infinitely rewatchable, it was an absolute crime that this wasn’t the biggest comedy of the year. It’s the best thing that Simon Pegg has done in years - he shines alongside the exemplary Lake Bell. So good and a zillion times better than Trainwreck. Hollywood, take note!

Marvel and Disney really excel with their superhero movies when they lighten up and have fun, especially with their lesser known entities. Like Guardians Of The Galaxy, Ant-Man is fast and funny and fun… the F-word that so many of these movies forget to be. Paul Rudd is perfect as Scott Lang/Ant-Man with a first class ensemble cast backing him up. Intelligent, knowing and totally on point for action and comedy. Hugely enjoyable.

Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy go to town in a restrained but hugely impactful as The Krays, Ronnie and Reggie. A deft blend of brutality and also, at times, humour really help this perform like no other telling of this classic London story. Special mention though to Taron Egerton as Mad Teddy Smith who owns every scene he’s in.  Wonderfully nasty.

The Martian
Ridley Scott’s reminder that he can make great movies that both entertain AND visually impress audiences. After Nolan’s bloated Interstellar it was great to see a dramatic space film could also have fun without losing any of the tension or impact. The ensemble cast nailed their performances even if some of them did feel under-used or slightly surplus to requirements at times. One heck of a ride with atmosphere by the truckload.

All too often these days action movies and thrillers deliver one or the other, action or thrills, but often not both and sometime not neither. Sicario was a film that seemingly came out of nowhere and exploded onto screens, gripping audiences and blowing them away. Emily Blunt goes hard and delivers in a whole new way for her. A film that needs to be seen.

Beautiful. Cate Blanchett is never anything less than great, but here she turns in one of her best performances to date. A critical success but not as big of a financial winner as it deserves to be, the dramatic sensuality makes this an intoxicating watch and the pairing with Rooney Mara is a stroke of genius. Powerful and flawlessly constructed. Up there with Far From Heaven as director Todd Haynes’ finest work.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Purely for delivering what it promises and what fans, and even non-fans, wanted to see, this has to make it on to the list. Sometimes movies are just about having fun and this absolutely delivers that and doesn’t over-egg it or overstay it’s welcome. Another of the, sadly, all too-few and far between, endlessly rewatchable films of the year wih familiar faces and instantly likeable new ones. A masterstroke for a battle-damaged franchise.

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Tom Mimnagh's Top 10 Films of 2015

Posted by Tom Mimnagh | Tue, 29/12/2015 - 20:30

By Tom Mimnagh

It’s that time of year again. No, not Christmas or even New Year, but time for the annual Screenjabber Top Ten movies of the year. 2015 was an amazing year for film, and of course reviews of all of the films on this list can be found in our review archives. So, as we reach the end of the year, here are my top 10 for 2015, in no particular order:

Mad Max: Fury Road
In the current climate of remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings it was lovely to see a revitalised franchise making a comeback with something on a level with it’s predecessors. A simple but effective story, some great cinematography, and one of the most intriguing characters in recent memory in the form of Furiosa make this one of the top releases of 2015. Absolutely thrilling from start to finish, and a worthy successor to the previous Mad Max films.

Drumming is hard, jazz drumming especially. However, Whiplash is about so much more than music – it’s a stunning look at the human condition, the drive to succeed and ultimately the relationships between the demanding teacher and the eager student. It’s not a new story by any stretch, but Miles Teller is excellent as Andrew, while JK Simmons swallows up whole scenes with his excellent, borderline psychotic composer Terrence Fletcher.

Ex Machina
Ex Machina is enthralling and bizarre in equal measure. Rarely do we as an audience get such an intriguing look at the potential pitfalls of artificial intelligence, and our relationship with machines. Alex Garland’s directorial debut is smart, funny, and mind-blowingly beautiful in places. The CGI effects used for Ava are brilliant, but somehow understated, with Alicia Vikander bringing a real sense of humanity and endearing naivety to the character, which helps the film’s balance immeasurably. However, for me the star of the show is Oscar Isaac as unstable, eccentric millionaire Nathan, brilliantly shifting from unhinged to insane and back to normality with a deft touch and a subtlety that genuinely brings chills to the audience. Phenomenal.

What more is there to say about a film that won Best Picture at the Academy Awards? Michael Keaton is brilliant as the washed-up former superhero actor banking his last chance at clawing back his career on a Broadway play, also bringing some weight to the part given his previous role as Batman. The "one shot" pseudo single-take technique used was a nice change of pace, with some frankly brilliant sound design, as well as a number of increasingly odd appearances from some Hollywood A-listers (Ed Norton in particular is wonderful here) making for an excellent film.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
I’ll keep this one brief to avoid spoiling anything for anyone who might not have seen it yet. The Force Awakens is very heavy on nostalgia, but it also manages to create a new generation of characters for the audience to invest in. It’s a fine line, but JJ Abrams manages to walk it effortlessly, culminating in a film that has not only relit a fire of enthusiasm for Star Wars fans after that dismal set of prequels, but also makes the story accessible for those with no prior knowledge of the series who want to use this as a starting point to the Star Wars universe. The Force is very much awake, and very much a part of one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen in the past 12 months.

When it was announced  that Michael Fassbender was playing the titular character in a big-screen adaptation of Macbeth, directed by Justin Kurzel and co-starring Marion Cottilard, it felt like this could be something very special - and the film does not disappoint. While it is, of course, abridged somewhat from the source material, Kurzel manages to maintain the essence of the play and keep the material most pertinent to the plot at the forefront. Fassbender is, unsurprisingly, brilliant in a role he seems born to play: the mad king slowly coming to terms with the madness, and the guilt over his actions, but desperate to maintain control over what is his. With huge battles and incredible scenery, Macbeth is a visual delight, vivid and haunting in equal measure.

The Martian
What do you get when you combine a best-selling novel, an adaptation of that material by the phenomenal Drew Goddard, Matt Damon in the lead role, with support from Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, and Jeff Daniels among others, and the legendary Ridley Scott on directing duties? Something incredible. The Martian is a dramatic thrill ride, with some lovely moments of levity mixed in at just the right time. Damon is brilliant as the man trapped along on Mars, while the supporting cast help to convey the gravity of the situation with aplomb. It’s nerve-wracking and terrifying at points, but that it manages to gain that level of engagement based on a story that chiefly features one main character that interacts with very few others is a testament to how good this film is.
As a huge Marvel fan, and equally avid admirer of Edgar Wright’s work, I was initially very excited about Ant-Man. However, following Wright’s departure I lowered my expectations significantly. Luckily, Ant-Man very much surpassed those expectations, and perhaps even the initial level of anticipation I had. Paul Rudd is excellent as the everyman who gets amazing abilities thrust upon him, Michael Douglas is excellent in the mentor role as Hank Pym, and while Corey Stoll oozes evil intentions as Darren Cross.  However, the biggest star of this film for me is Michael Pena, whose hilarious delivery of his lines provides a great sense of comic relief. Ant-Man is far from your average Marvel movie, at points sharing more in common with an Oceans Eleven-style heist movie. It’s big (and suitably small) on action, and delivers really big on all fronts.

It Follows
Clearly heavily influenced by John Carpenter’s work (the synth soundtrack alone is a dead giveaway), It Follows was a refreshing change of pace for the horror genre, presenting something slightly more abstract than the lazy "found footage", or "disturbed slasher", or "ghostly apparition" plotlines that seem to dominate the genre. The teenagers are believable, the threat is unusual, and the filmmakers don’t feel the need to hit you over the head with every story beat as it happens. The information is teased, extrapolated, or in certain instances left for you as the audience to interpret. There is no reliance on gore, and the story has an effective pay-off, marking it as one of the best films of its type in a number of years.

The story of the fabled Foxcatcher amateur wrestling camp, and the tragic circumstances that occurred there are well known, and I had my doubts about how this would play out on screen. With Steve Carell taking many of the plaudits for this film (which I agree with to an extent), Channing Tatum is the real star for my money, putting in an amazing performance. Foxcatcher is dark, disturbing in places, and bizarre at points due to the nature of the relationship between DuPont and first Mark, and later Dave Schultz. One of the most affecting psychological crime dramas I have seen this year.

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Louise Bolotin’s TV Top 10 for 2015

Posted by Louise Bolotin | Tue, 29/12/2015 - 15:15

By Louise Bolotin

It was truly a golden year for the small screen in 2015, with so many groundbreaking new dramas and high quality documentaries to enjoy. For a TV reviewer I watch surprisingly little for myself at home, but I do make a point of checking out the new shows and hope they’ll keep me hooked, rather than losing interest after episode one. My top 10 this year, in no particular order, is mostly drama – these are the ones that kept me switching on and tuning in week after week, or made a date on the sofa for the standalone plays.

Russell T Davies returned to chronicling modern gay life for the first time since his 90s hit Queer as Folk. Like the latter, Cucumber was set in Manchester’s bustling gay community, with a raggle-taggle cast of oddballs and eccentrics surrounding the pair of middle-aged lovers, Henry and Lance, at the heart of this tale of older men negotiating love in a milieu that worships young guys. There was much to laugh at – Davies is a dab hand at comedic flourishes – but there was also the brutal and shocking murder of Lance towards the end, notable for its extraordinary graphic detail, a genuinely breath-catching moment. Alongside was Banana, short standalones that revealed the lives of the minor characters in more detail. Altogether deft, dazzling and a delight.

The Bridge
This has always been my favourite of all the Scandinavian cop shows we have taken to our hearts, but series 3, just ended, cranked everything up to new levels of brilliance. We still had the complex plots with fiendish serial killers and red herrings aplenty, but the departure of Danish cop Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia) offered an opportunity to take the show in an inspiring different direction. We got backstory in spades about why Saga Noren (Sofia Helin) is so emotionally stunted and it was, simply, brilliant. It made her more human, made us love her even more. No spoilers, in case you’ve not seen it yet, but the shocking penultimate scene and surprise ending leaves even greater scope for fresh adventures for Saga and new sidekick Henrik. Roll on series four!

Doctor Foster
Suranne Jones starred in this dark tale of adultery in a seemingly perfect marriage. Jones was the eponymous GP who suspected her husband was having an affair after finding a single stray blonde hair on a coat. Her portrayal of a woman on the edge, fighting for her sanity and her marriage as she sought the truth, was gripping and felt rooted in truth, the truth of discovering betrayal and the pain it brings. It briefly teetered on the edge of farce as Foster sought revenge on her straying husband (Bertie Carvel), but redeemed itself in the final episode with a satisfying tying up of loose ends and a credible ending.

No Offence
Fast, furiously frank, funny and often filthy – that was, in a nutshell, the comedic police procedural from the pen of Paul Abbott (Clocking Off, Shameless and State of Play). Another one set in Manchester, and with a refreshingly female-led cast, the detectives at the fictional Friday Street police station set a new bar for realism and laugh out loud set pieces, from the opening scene in which DC Dinah Kowalski chases a suspect on foot only for him to trip up and get splattered under the wheels of a passing bus. The scathing DI Viv Deering (Joanna Scanlan) was a terrifying caricature of your worst boss but also very human, with some great comic touches such as the scene where she mixed up aerosols and sprayed hairspray up her skirt then deodorised her hair. Some of the best scenes were set in the station loos, the setting for impromptu case conferences, sneaky cigs and bitchfests. A massive ratings hit for Channel 4, which has had the wit to recommission it.

The Scandalous Lady W
Natalie Dormer starred in the true story title role of Lady Worsley, a Georgian aristocrat escaping her ghastly marriage, in which her husband Sir Richard forces her to have sex with other men for his entertainment. She elopes to London with his best friend only for her husband to take revenge by suing her in a very public court case after she becomes pregnant by her lover. Among all the skirt hitching and corset ditching was a powerful, deeply affecting story of a woman fighting for her dignity, her autonomy and custody of her child.

The Game
A cool and classy spy serial set in the 1970s at the height of the Cold War. Brian Cox starred as the MI6 supremo tasked with dealing with a deadly plot revealed by a KGB defector. It was a classic piece of Le Carré-style territory – the will they, won’t they hook, the frantic manoeuvrings of internal committees and their petty departmental rivalries, the big themes of trust and fear. It was well written, well acted and well directed, and it looked good, with fabulous attention to the period details. It was also gripping to the last, with a surprise twist or two in the final episode.

Safe House
Christopher Ecclestone, Paterson Joseph and Marsha Thomason led a fine cast in this quality police thriller, in which Ecclestone played a retired detective who had turned his remote Lake District cottage into a safe house for those who need protection. The family he was shielding had unwittingly become caught up in a violent situation, with a sub-plot concerning Ecclestone’s former boss and a police protection witness he’d failed to save. From the off it was brutal, scary and tense and despite a couple of minor improbable plot twists, it stayed riveting to the end.

James Graham’s feature-length play about the 2010 election outcome was a well-crafted dramatisation of the events behind the scenes as all three party leaders scrabbled to form a working coalition after voters produced a hung parliament. Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) was the focus figure who he was catapulted to king-maker, his advisers telling him to go with the Tories after Gordon Brown refused to accept terms and conditions. It showed how personality clinched who Clegg would ultimately partner with and all characters were portrayed with some empathy, even George Osborne. It was well researched, with tight scriptwriting and top-notch acting – a scene-stealing Mark Gatiss was particularly good as Peter Mandelson.

Aidan Turner had a lot to live up to in this remake, after Robin Ellis made a very sexy fist in the 1970s of playing Cornish aristocrat Ross Poldark. Returning in 1783 from fighting in the American war of independence to find his father dead, his fiancée engaged to someone else and his estate in ruins, Poldark set about rebuilding his life, including an affair with peasant lass Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson). Turner didn’t disappoint with his strong performance, although doubtless his brooding, matinee idol looks and many topless scenes helped keep the ratings high. There was plenty of stunning Cornish scenery to enjoy too and a second series has been commissioned.

Rick Stein from Venice to Istanbul
Stein’s epic food travelogue explored how the Byzantine empire, which once stretched from Turkey to eastern Italy across the Balkans and parts of eastern Europe, had influenced the cuisines of those countries, particularly in the use of spices. It was a fascinating ride – part history programme, part cookery show and an exploration of certain food cultures that rarely make it to the small screen: Croatia and Albania in particular. Stein’s enthusiastic and interested schtick mimics the late, great Keith Floyd’s – find the best local cooks and learn from them before demonstrating very accessible recipes.


London Spy
I wanted to like it, I really did. It had everything on paper that screamed it would be good – Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling in a secret service thriller about the murder of Whishaw’s gay lover. Despite sticking with it to the bitter end, I was baffled by midway and as the credits rolled on the final episode I had a sense of being cheated, with no understanding of what was happening in an over-complicated plot. A big meh.

Series one was grown-up, clever without being knowing, and suspenseful – a riveting masterpiece. The sequel – exploring how the close-knit seaside community was still ripped asunder by the murder of young Danny Latimer, with a looming trial – was, however, as damp as a used beach towel left on the shore. The court scenes were farcical – technically disgracefully inaccurate and emotionally playing very fast and loose with credibility. A total letdown.

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David Watson's Top 10 Films of 2015

Posted by Stuart OConnor | Tue, 29/12/2015 - 12:00

By @filmthug

Ho, ho and, as Santa Pimp might say, mudderfreaking ho!

‘Tis the season when every superior, self-important, movie geek who can string together a sentence or three without using the word “Awesome!” smugly imparts the benefit of their wisdom by ramming their top films of the year list down your throat secure in the knowledge that, barring the occasional sneak entry, it’s almost identical to everyone else’s.

While I’m both smug and superior, I’m also a huge snob and somewhat contrary, just enough of a square peg in a world of round holes to believe my opinion is alternative enough to matter, to offer something refreshing in an expanded MCU. But always remember gentle reader: opinions are like arseholes! The uglier and more upsetting they are, the more we want to share them. Read on…

As Big Arnie says in Total Recall: “This is the best mindfuck yet!” My first thought after watching Predestination, the Spierig Brothers’ thrilling, stylish, morally complex, mind-boggling, Mobius strip of a movie was: WTF did I just watch? Predestination is the best film I saw this year. Or last year. Or maybe it was two years from now I saw it. Almost impossible to review without spoiling some aspect of its intricate plot, Predestination is a time travel movie that makes you wish you could travel back in time and watch it again for the first time.

Lyrical, spare and shockingly visceral, Aussie director Justin Kurzel’s bloody and beautiful Macbeth at it’s dark heart is a war movie, as much about grief and the emotional and psychological cost of war as it is about envy and ambition, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth equally steeped in pain and loss as they are in violence. Grieving for a lost child, numbed by death and loss, and obviously suffering from PTSD why not murder the King, if only to feel something for a moment? And anyone who complains of not understanding either the accents or the iambic pentameter? They are a window-licking idiot and it’s your duty as a sentient human to smack them in the face.

The Closer We Get
You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family! Unfolding more like a detective mystery as filmmaker Karen Guthrie digs ever deeper into her family’s relationships, documentary The Closer We Get is reminiscent of Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell; a quietly shattering, ultimately hopeful, portrait of redemptive love.

The Lesson
Former actress turned writer/director Ruth Platt creates a sub-genre all of her own, the kitchen sink torture porn movie, with the bleak, claustrophobic, slow-burner The Lesson which for me was the highlight of this year’s FrightFest.

Gorgeous, visceral and thrilling. In Blackhat, Michael Mann succeeds in creating an arthouse action movie that marks a welcome return to form.

John Wick
Sad Keanu turns Mad Keanu – mad as Hell – in what may just be the best American action movie in decades, the stylish, neo-noir John Wick.

Life is no cabaret in Christian Petzold’s devastating, noirish, Holocaust drama Phoenix as a Jewish woman reclaims her lost identity in the ruins of post-WW2 Berlin. Drawing on the likes of A Woman’s Face and, most obviously, Vertigo it’s a subtle, woozily wistful piece built around Nina Hoss’s mesmeric central performance.

The Signal
Fascinating, enthralling and ambitious, The Signal is a smart, thrilling head-scratcher that like the best sci-fi is more concerned with who and what we are than laser battles and anal probes. Though there is a wicked exploding cow.

Wild Tales
Is just wild; a darkly hilarious, subversive collection of short stories satirising life in modern Argent

Love 3D
If you ever tell a woman “I wanna make movies out of blood, sperm and tears.” only a French woman would respond: “That’s so sweet.” With Love, Gaspar Noe has created a raw, devastating crywank of a movie that captures the bittersweet taste of a soured romance.

Of course, two of my favourite films didn’t even get a release in 2015, writer/director Simon Pummell and producer Janine Marmot’s brilliant, paranoid Brand New U, a Sci-Fi/Love story that out-Dicks Philip K Dick (that just sounds rude!) with fantastic, raw performances from Nora-Jane Noone and Lachlan Nieboer and S Craig Zahler’s stunning Western/Horror Bone Tomahawk. In the year ahead, if you can only see one violent Kurt Russell Western, make it Bone Tomahawk.

The best almosts:

The Clouds of Sils Maria
Kingsman: The Secret Service
The Forbidden Room

You can’t define the best films of the year however without offering up a prayer/curse for the worst. Here’s mine. Probably reads like other people’s Top Ten:

A film so obnoxious you wish it would shut the hell up and get the hell back in the closet.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron
I have started watching Age of Ultron three, count ‘em, THREE, times. Three times I have quit around 20 minutes in when the heroes are partying and fannying around with Thor’s hammer. If I can’t get further than 20 minutes in to a film, it’s a bad film. I managed to watch 50 Shades Of Grey in one sitting. I made it through Child 44. True, they weren’t free press screenings, in both cases I paid between nine and 11 of your English pounds for the privilege, so had I walked out I’d have wasted my money. I also paid for two of the three screenings of Age of Ultron. Walking out was the best money I spent all year.

Mad Max: Fury Road
God is in the details. If you convince me of the smallest, least consequential detail of a world, I’ll swallow the biggest lie. In the original Mad Max movies, society had degenerated to the point where petrol is a precious commodity. I believed it. I bought into that world I don’t need to know who drops an A-bomb on Manhattan in The Divide because I believed in the pressure cooker world of those survivors in that basement. Regardless of how ludicrous it may be, if anyone is gonna punch a wolf in The Grey, it’s gonna be Liam Neeson. I believed it. The Book Of Eli convinced me so well of the power of the written word that I never realised the hero was blind. I believed in that world. Fury Road expects me to believe in a world where the local economy is based on breast milk. That the heroes can drive around the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Australia in an unrefrigerated lorry brimming with boob juice that never goes off. That the hero can shower in breast milk then sit two feet from the heroine in a hot, sticky truck cab and never once be accused of frankly stinking like diseased feet. Mad Max: Fury Road, I don’t believe that. I don’t believe in that world. In fact, in the world of Fury Road, as post-apocalyptic as it gets, I believe there’s probably still pavement cafes in Europe.

Tom Hardy, arguably one of the most talented actors working today, is awful in stereo, somehow managing the no mean feat of having zero chemistry with himself as the Kray twins in an amateur East End production of Of Mice And Men. The scene where the brothers come to blows is a comic set-piece funnier than any of the Summer’s comedies and less convincing than a similar scene where JCVD kicks JCVD in the face in ‘90s actioner Double Impact

Buttercup Bill
Smug, self-indulgent and pretentious, Buttercup Bill feels like a hipster retelling of Georges Bataille's The Story Of The Eye with all the dark, taboo, twisted sexuality cut out. And what’s the point of that? Writer/director/star Remy Bennett’s frequent nudity is bold and challenging for all the wrong reasons. Mainly because she looks like her grandfather Tony Bennett with his tits out.

Johnny Depp plays a coked up Terry Thomas.

Imagine a shit remake of '80s sci-fi comedy Short Circuit where Johnny 5 bags a machine gun, some bling and banters with Afrikaaner hip-hop twats Die Antwoord. 

The Gunman
It’s rare that you watch a film and find yourself musing: “You know, that film could’ve done with more Ray Winstone.” Arguably, Ray Winstone doesn’t even watch films and think they could do with more Ray Winstone. Argy-apologist and all-round Hollywood bleeding heart liberal Sean Penn fails to pull off a Liam Neeson-style actioner, going full retard as an Alzheimer’s-suffering international assassin in The Gunman; a po-faced, humourless, self-indulgent and ludicrous vanity vehicle which skimps on punching foreigners in favour of building them wells.

The Human Centipede 3
If you hate humanity but appreciate caca and sexual abuse, you’ll probably like The Human Centipede 3. It’s the same as the first two films but more…and much less…

A show about douchebags made by douchebags for douchebags becomes a film for douchebags.

It’s probably a little obvious that one of the biggest films of the year, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is missing from both lists. That’s because it’s simply too big for a Top Ten of 2015 list.

Some of us, we’ve been waiting for this film for more than 30 years, since Return Of The Jedi. So here’s the best flicks, as ever, in my opinion and, in no particular order, since 1983 when Return Of the Jedi was released.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
The Right Stuff (1983)
Ran (1985)
Martyrs (2008)
Betty Blue (1986)
The Terminator (1984)
King Of New York (1990)
Heat (1995)
Blue Velvet (1986)
Kontroll (2003)

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Mark Searby's Top 10 Films of 2015

Posted by Mark Searby | Tue, 29/12/2015 - 10:34

By Mark Searby

The epitome of unrelenting tension. This look at the war on drugs at the US/Mexico border is a film you endure – 121 minutes of sheer endurance.  Hugely impressive and intense action set pieces. Deakins cinematography is a character in itself. Masterful work from everyone involved especially Blunt’s gung ho FBI agent and Del Toro’s grey area-ed Sicario.

It Follows
A real kick up the arse for the horror genre. A terrifying movie about strange encounters and the unshakable non-stop burden of trying to escape the inescapable. If you want to put kids off having sex then show them this film.

A Most Violent Year
A gangster film that doesn’t revert to typical guns blazing. Instead, it’s all about what’s said and not said that implies the real terror of New York mafia ruling. Subtle yet powerful performances from Isaac and Chastain make you care about the family and their oil business when you have no right to.

Crimson Peak
A beautiful and heartbreaking gothic romance with the occasional scare. Beautiful costumes and incredible sets give this a wonderfully creepy style. Chastain oozes old fashioned matriarchal attitudes, while Hiddleston plays the romantic sub-dom. As if Gone With The Wind was mashed with the Universal horror movies of the 1930s/40s with an added dash of Daphne du Maurier.

A straight down the line romance film. There are no fancy gimmicks here; this is pure emotional storytelling about a female caught between two lands (Ireland and the US) and two men. Full of charm, wit and love. A stunning lead performance from Saoirse Ronan ensures humility and heartbreak are more real than the movies ever make them out to be. There will be tears.

Danny Collins
Al Pacino plays it fully for laughs in this comedy/drama about an ageing rock star trying to reconnect with his son. The last 20 minutes remove the comedy and replace it with raw human emotion. Tear jerking comedy with Pacino back on full form.

Kill Your Friends
A dirty, filthy look at the inside of the music industry during the 1990s. It would be funny if it wasn’t still true. Hoult’s Stelfox is a deliciously sarcastic drug fuelled bastard. American Psycho for music fans.

Song Of The Sea
Tomm Moore’s film is a wonderful piece of Irish folklore coupled with sumptuous visuals. It’s a feast for the eyes, the mind and the heart. If Studio Ghibli is to close its animated doors (as reported this year), then Cartoon Saloon is more than capable of filling the vacated position

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Nostalgia may play a big part in this, yet who can honestly say it wasn’t a special moment when that slow crawl started? JJ Abrams has made the Star Wars film we have been waiting for since 1983. A thrilling blend of old and new that has led us back ... home!

I Believe In Miracles
An uplifting and inspiring football documentary about the underdogs. Fifteen players and a one of a kind manager took a lowly provincial team into the upper echelons on European club football. A feat never done before and never replicated since. This is real football. 

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Nick Bown's Top 10 Games of 2015

Posted by NickBown | Mon, 28/12/2015 - 18:00

By Nick Bown

This has been an interesting year for video games. We've had some great new games as well as reissues and remastered classics, and the developers have finally got to grips with the next-gen consoles and DirectX 12 for the PC gamers. But we've also had a considerable number of delayed releases, the slow creep of micro-transactions into full-priced games and the continuing trend of dubious quality DLC, the development of which seems to be based more around selling season passes rather than creating enjoyable new content for the game.

So, without further ado (and in no particular order), here is my gaming Top 10 for 2015:

Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt (PC, Xbox One, PlayStation4)
Expansive, beautiful, heart-breaking; there are so many ways to describe the latest in the Witcher series. With a massive, beautifully-detailed world, hundreds of quests and a great combat system, there are many reasons to like Witcher 3, but what stands out the most if the quality of the storylines. Sometimes fantastic, sometimes heartbreaking, the quality of the writing is highly unusual in a video game and rightfully earned the game a number of "Game of the year" awards.

Sheltered (PC, Xbox One, PS4)
Although it's not the most well known post-apocalyptic game of the year, Sheltered is a great indie game based around keeping your family safe after a nuclear armageddon. At the start of the game you find a rather decrepit shelter with basic amenities, which you make your base of operations, but as food, water and fuel are limited, you soon have to travel out into the irradiated wastes in search of new resources. With old-style pixel art graphics, the game is a mix of adventure, strategy and resource management and you can find yourself making some very tough and emotional choices; should you risk giving your children contaminated water to drink or send someone out into the wastes and risk their lives in the hope that you find some clean water, for example?

The Handsome Collection (PC, Xbox One, PS4)
Guns! Aliens! Space! There is very little not to like about the rerelease of Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-sequel in the Handsome Collection bundle. Both games are a sublime mixture of co-op shooter, action and humour, based on the viscous wasteland world of Pandora or on, or around, its moon. Both games are huge with great storylines, masses of quests and enough guns and action to keep the most die-hard shooter happy for hours.

Tales From the Borderlands (PC, Xbox One, PS4)
And once you've completed The Handsome Collection (or want a more gentle introduction to the world of Borderlands), Tales from the Borderlands is an episodic, quicktime event (QTE) based story game which sees you cast as a hapless Hyperion junior executive trying to further his career after the events of Borderlands 2. The plot and characters are fantastic and are a great way to enjoy the world of Borderlands if you're not a fan of shooters or simply want to know what happens next.

Rock Band 4 (Xbox One)
Time to release your inner rock star (and upset the neighbours) because Rock Band is back and this time on a next gen console. Although it's "more of the same", Rock Band 4 does have some new features, including freestyle guitar solos and drum fills. You can import your old songs and, by using a special adapter, you can use your older instruments as well, which is a great feature. Whether you're a music fan or just enjoy chilling out with some friends, Rock Band 4 has plenty to offer.

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood (PC, Xbox One, PS4)
Released as a kind of "expand alone" (too big to be DLC and too small for a full game), Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is two mini-campaigns set before the events of it's predecessor, Wolfenstein: The New Order. As before, the game looks beautiful and runs well on all platforms. Although the storyline is less poignant than the first game, the second part delves into some new areas, giving it a different feel from the first part and giving you two games in one.

Mad Max (PC, Xbox One, PS4)
Mad Max was a bit of a surprise to me. Loosely based on all the films, but not particularly favouring any of them, the game stands on it's own and is a great mix of adventure, brawling and vehicular combat. Add to that a worthy story, breathtakingly beautiful landscapes and a huge open world, and you have an absorbing game which managed to provide hours of gameplay. The only slight glitch is with the truly awful controls, which take a bit of getting used to!

Xbox One backwards compatibility (Xbox One)
OK, so it's not a game, but backwards compatibility for Xbox One was a very welcome, and totally unexpected, addition when it was announced in the summer. Even though the number of supported games is currently quite small (and popular titles such as Red Dead Redemption, Skyrim and the Modern Warfare and early Black Ops games are missing), Microsoft has promised others will follow and, as it's free, what's not to like?

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege (PC, Xbox One, PS4)
Packed with frantic, heartpounding close combat, Rainbow Six is a fantastic game to play with a group of friends. Its short rounds and co-operative play are highly addictive and the mix of game types give players a chance to be both attackers and defenders as the special forces or terrorist group. The graphics are impressive with the micro terrain destruction (allowing you to bash holes in walls to shoot through) and smoke effects looking particularly good even through the match-making system leaves a little to be desired.

Fallout 4 (PC, Xbox One, PS4)
It's been six years since it's predecessor was released, so Fallout 4 was met with excitement by the fan base and it was certainly worth the wait. Set in Boston 200 years after a disastrous nuclear war, the game offers hours and hours of open world discovery and adventure in the familiar Fallout world. New features include founding and managing settlements, weapon and armour customisation and it wouldn't be a Fallout game without Power armour!

So these are the gaming highlights of 2015 for me and I look forwards to what 2016 will bring. With titles such as Tom Clancy's The Division, Xcom 2, Farcry Primal, Mirrors Edge Catalyst, No Man's Sky and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided among many others, we have a lot to look forward to.

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Jessy Williams' Top 10 Films of 2015

Posted by Stuart OConnor | Mon, 28/12/2015 - 11:00

By Jessy Williams

Mad Max: Fury Road
Undoubtedly the most exciting and breath-taking cinema experience of the year was Mad Max: Fury Road. Its blend of stunning visuals, non-stop furious momentum, fantastic storytelling, perfect performances and sheer re-watchability makes this a worthy best of 2015.

The Voices
This may not make many people’s favourites of the year, but I personally, found The Voices to be a touching, visually delightful and surprising addition to horror-comedy with a flawless performance from Ryan Reynolds. Its ability to manoeuvre from laugh-out-loud comedy, to shocking horror and through to heart-felt drama makes this a must watch.

John Wick
Keanu Reeves returns to the badass roles he strives in with John Wick, a beautifully violent and striking tale of revenge. Its neo-noir visual style and electronic musical score make this one of the most stylish and impressive action films of the year, if not, decade.

Turbo Kid
The loosely termed "horror" film Turbo Kid may not be the scariest film of the year, but it’s one of the most fun and ultimately heart-felt films of the year. Its 80s-throwback vibe is perfectly pitched and executed, making Turbo Kid a wonderfully silly and magical little film that deserves a lot of love.

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead
If you’d like a unique, modern and Aussie spin on the zombie flick, then Wyrmwood is for you. It’s one of the bloodiest and best horror films to be released this year and it’s brimming with great performances, gore and scares.

is a technically astounding and original "superhero" film that pokes fun at Hollywood’s obsession with those comic book heroes and heroines. It’s funny and dark, led by a magnificent and sometimes hilarious performance from Michael Keaton. A well-worthy winner of the Best Picture Academy Award.

This one was at my No.1 for much of the year, but on a second watch it didn’t pack as much punch. Nonetheless, it’s a heart-pounding and exhilarating cinematic endeavour which should be placed in everyone’s Top 10 films of the year.

Crimson Peak
Crimson Peak
is a beautifully dark fairy tale which is basked in a sumptuous exterior that is a real treat for the eyes. Guillermo del Toro is a master of storytelling, and this marks a welcome return for the director to horror. A truly special and unforgettable experience, Crimson Peak is a real stunner.

It Follows
It Follows
is a genuinely terrifying and unpredictable horror gem that puts a fresh and exciting twist on 80s’ slasher cinema. A wonderful mix of supernatural terror and physical threat, this is top-notch horror film-making.

Wild Tales
Wild Tales
is a hilarious anthology film where each short is as awesome as the last. It’s difficult for an anthology flick to be a consistent joy, but Wild Tales manages the tricky task and becomes one of the best, darkest and funniest films of 2015.

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Trailers of the Week

Posted by Stuart OConnor | Sun, 27/12/2015 - 15:00

By Stuart O'Connor

Each week, the Screenjabber inbox gets overloaded with emails containing new film trailers, or clips of films or upcoming Blu-ray/DVD/VoD releases. Here are a few of those trailers and clips that caught our eye this week ...

Deadpool Trailer #2

Sleeping With Other People UK Trailer

Everybody Wants Some Trailer

Dirty Grandpa Trailer

Creed: Finding Family

The Forest UK Trailer

Joy Trailer #3

Kung Fu Panda 3 Trailer #3

Ice Age: Collision Course Trailer #1

Le Mépris (New Trailer)

The Ones Below UK Trailer

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Festive Small-Screen Jabber

Posted by Louise Bolotin | Wed, 23/12/2015 - 08:30

By Louise Bolotin


A year ago, Charlie Higson brought children’s classic Professor Branestawm to the small screen and he’s back with a follow-up - Professor Branestawm Returns (BBC1, 5.20pm). This is proper family viewing, with Harry Hill reprising his role as the eponymous boffin, now entering an invention contest in the village of Pagwell, but he’s up against arch-rival Professor Algebrain (Steve Pemberton), an evil genius who will stop at nothing. It’s fabulously fun and the A-list cast includes Diana Rigg, Simon Day, David Mitchell and Sophie Thompson.

Not exactly a documentary but All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride (BBC4, 8pm) is oddly soothing. BBC4’s making quite a thing of its Slow TV and this won’t disappoint – it’s two hours of commentary-free cameras following a reindeer pulling a sleigh in the snowy wastes of Norway. The landscape is beautiful, just the thing to have on in the background as you wrap presents, open some wine and relax.

The traditional Carols From Kings (BBC2, 5.15pm) is always the first to kick off the religious side of Christmas. Cambridge’s world-famous King’s College Choir presents its annual selection of carols, starting as always with a soloist singing Once in Royal David’s City. Later, Aled Jones presents Christmas Carols on ITV (ITV, 11pm), in a candlelit but more modern concert setting. Midnight Mass from St George’s Cathedral, Southwark (BBC1, 11.45pm) will take you into Christmas Day with a live service.

Must See Movie: It’s a Wonderful Life (C4, 2.15pm). The ultimate Christmas film, James Stewart stars as small-town businessman George Bailey, facing ruin and about to kill himself before guardian angel Clarence shows him how much he touched people’s lives. Have tissues on standby.


It’s all about the specials today. Doctor Who (BBC1, 5.15pm) sees the time lord doing his utmost to avoid Christmas on the remote colony of Mendorax Dellora, but when he gets an urgent call for help he finds himself unexpectedly reunited with his wife River Song, who fails to recognise him. Cue a fast and furious chase across the galaxy as River tries to heist a priceless jewel from her other husband, King Hydroflax. Call the Midwife (BBC1, 7.30pm) always knows how to yank your emotional chain. This year, Sister Monica Joan disappears, triggering a crisis among the nuns and nurses at Nonnatus House. There’s also a measles outbreak in Poplar and a tussle with the BBC, which wants to film a Christmas carol service in the neighbourhood but not with the poor in shot (sound familar? CtM is always topical...). And now it really is the finale of Downton Abbey (ITV, 8.45pm), with a two-hour episode set in New Year’s Eve 1925. The big question is, will magazine tycoon Lady Edith finally wed her beloved Bertie, who dumped her after discovering she was an unmarried mother? Other storylines are also brought to a conclusion and you’ll be reaching for the Kleenex long before they sing Auld Lang Syne.

Composer Bizet is the focus of the Royal Ballet's latest production, Carlos Acosta’s Carmen: the Farewell Performance (BBC4, 7.30pm). The legendary Cuban ballet dancer is retiring at 42 and plays soldier Don José, who is seduced by the sultry Carmen who eventually betrays him by by having an affair with the handsome toreador Escamillo. Darcey Bussell presents Bizet’s classic opera, choreographed for ballet, from the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden.

Last week’s shock winner result bamboozled fans of Strictly Come Dancing (BBC1, 6.15pm) but this celebrity special shouldn’t disappoint. It’s packed with former champions – Harry Judd, Abby Clancy and Tom Chambers, Shirley Bassey belts out one of her classic hits and there are some stunning sequences filmed at Hogwarts Castle. Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman present.

If you can’t make it to church, the Christmas Day Service from Bath Abbey (BBC1, 10am) is live, with the Eucharist conducted by the rector the Reverend Edward Mason, and Reverend Claire Robson, plus the Abbey Choir sing traditional carols.

Must See Movie: The Muppet Christmas Carol (C4, 1.45pm). The puppet version of the tale of Scrooge is a real Christmas cracker. Michael Caine stars as Scrooge but is naturally upstaged by Kermit and Miss Piggy as the Cratchits in this fun retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which stays poignantly true to the message within.


Charles Dickens was the father of modern soap, writing his novels in short instalments with a cliffhanger so his readers would have to buy the next issue. So it’s no surprise that EastEnders creator Tony Jordan has written Dickensian (BBC1, 7pm, 8.30pm), a 20-episode sprawling drama centred on some of Dickens’ most well-known characters depicted here as living together in a neighbourhood and interacting just like in a soap. There’s an all-star cast that includes the A-list likes of Stephen Rea, Pauline Collins, Omid Djalili, Caroline Quentin and Anton Lesser. And the action kicks off on Christmas Eve, with Jacob Marley chasing his debtors. Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery And Then There Were None (BBC1, 9pm) has a star-studded cast too – it includes Aidan Turner (above), Charles Dance, Anna Maxwell Martin, Sam Neill and Miranda Richardson. The mysterious Mr and Mrs Owen invite 10 guests to their home on a remote island, but are nowhere to be seen. And gradually the guests, who all have skeletons in their closets, get killed off one by one... It’s laced with tension, has some very lush cinematography and will have you gripped with suspense. Unmissable.

Stanley Tucci and Paloma Faith star as Captain Hook and Tinkerbell in Peter and Wendy (ITV, 8pm), a retelling of JM Barrie’s classic story Peter Pan. Teenager Lucy has a serious heart condition and is admitted to hospital for life-saving surgery. Picking up a copy of the book, Lucy is soon gripped by her imagination and drifts between the real world and the fantasy of Neverland. It’s far too long at two hours, but as easy family viewing and suitable for older children, it still ticks lots of boxes. Comedian Russell Howard both penned and stars in A Gert Lush Christmas (BBC2, 9pm), an hour-long comic drama in which he takes his girlfriend home to meet his dysfunctional family for the first time. Sophie Thompson plays his nervy, over-enthusiastic mother, Neil Morrissey is his father, dressed as a “pervert elf”, and Greg Davies is Dan’s drunk uncle Tony. Girlfriend Lisa (Hannah Britland) legs the madness at the first opportunity, so his family rally round to save Dan’s relationship.

Must See Movie: Skyfall (ITV2, 8pm). Sam Mendes pulls out all the stops for Daniel Craig’s third outing as James Bond, from the classic opening sequence in which 007 chases a train (watch him straighten his shirt cuffs). After a mission goes wrong, Bond turns up for duty drunk but is charged with saving national security when villain and ex MI6 agent Raoul Silva (a superb Javier Bardem) starts to settle old scores with M.

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Trailers of the Week

Posted by Stuart OConnor | Sun, 20/12/2015 - 19:39

By Stuart O'Connor

Each week, the Screenjabber inbox gets overloaded with emails containing new film trailers, or clips of films or upcoming Blu-ray/DVD/VoD releases. Here are a few of those trailers and clips that caught our eye this week ...

The Other Side of the Door Trailer

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Teaser Trailer

Star Trek Beyond Trailer #1

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Trailer #1

Youth Trailer

House of Cards Trailer

Fuller House Teaser Trailer

Storks Trailer

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride Trailer

Synchronicity Trailer


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