Sunday, 5 July 2015

Mid-year autopsy

An examination of the year so far reveals mostly healthy tissue, with only a few signs of necrosis (Jurassic World was found to be tumorous, biopsy results showing signs of malignancy).

Here's my 13 picks for best of the year so far:

Yann Demange's first feature is a tense, immersive and claustrophobic thriller that strikes a successful balance between white-knuckle action and serious political commentary. Set in Belfast during the most violent period of Northern Ireland's Troubles, '71 manages to largely avoid bias in its depiction of a conflict that many filmmakers still wouldn't dare to touch.

He's known as the writer of the uniformly excellent 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go and Dredd. Now, with his directorial debut (if you don't count his uncredited, allegedly extensive work on Dredd), Alex Garland has firmly established himself as the current master of intelligent, ultra-cool, visually cutting-edge sci-fi. Ex Machina is thought provoking, scary, gorgeous and adult. Garland is the sci-fi auteur to watch.

Gerard Johnstone's Housebound (another impressive first-timer) is a near perfect horror comedy. Like Jackson, Raimi and Edgar Wright before him, Johnstone understands the elements that make the genre work: compelling characters with satisfying arcs, and the importance of genuinely horrific atmosphere and scares.

A delirious slice of violent, kitschy, pop nonsense that's just too much fun to write off. Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman is a reminder of the days when James Bond wasn't so dour, and is proof that 2010's Kick-Ass was no fluke. Vaughn simply knows how to translate the adolescent wish fulfilment of Mark Millar's comics into sheer cinematic entertainment.

George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road is a masterpiece of unhinged cinematic mayhem and unfettered artistic imagination. Amidst an endless parade of disastrous franchise revivals that rely on vacuous nostalgia to sell tickets (the latest being the critically reviled Terminator: Genisys), Miller has shown that not only can you revive a decades old series, you can blow all previous entries out of the water. In terms of its design and visuals, Miller's insane post-apocalyptic vision is a game-changer and a shoo-in for best looking movie of the year. The practical action is bonkers, the characters well developed, and to top it off Fury Road is a hugely budgeted mainstream action blockbuster that passes the Bechdel test with flying colours.

The second outstanding horror comedy to come out of New Zealand this year (sorry Deathgasm, A for effort though). Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi's film succeeds because of the love and respect that it shows for vampire lore. From Stoker and Murnau to Browning and beyond, these guys know their vampires (or did their research anyway), and it shows. What We Do in the Shadows is hilarious, but it also has plenty of heart. It's sweet, romantic and just a little bit sad. Along with Jim Jarmusch's brilliant Only Lovers Left Alive, this vampire comedy proves that there's still life in the old bloodsuckers yet.

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