Before I post my Top 30 list for 2015, I wanted to do a post highlighting some films that are unlikely to make many critics’ best-of lists, but which I think have been generally underrated by that community. Maybe if I were bolder I would put them on my own, but instead here they are languishing mid-table.
Buttercup Bill (2014) was apt to be discounted as a Southern gothic erotic mood piece, set in a Louisiana hothouse atmosphere of sex, deceit and the pervasive threat of violence. Yet it’s a gorgeous film with a lot of subtle charms, not least the central characters (the woman of whom is the film’s co-director), who seem to be drinking and smoking themselves to oblivion.
Jupiter Ascending, on the other hand, is a film that entirely eschews subtlety for a bold and rich cinematic world that ascends from toilet cleaning to the ruler of the galaxy. It also has the only Eddie Redmayne performance I’ve enjoyed so far; he’s absolutely compelling. It got a critical kicking, unfairly I think.
Fidelio, l’odyssée d’Alice (Fidelio: Alice’s Odyssey, aka Fidelio: Alice’s Journey) (2014) was surprising to me in that it seemed from the outset like the kind of middle-of-the-road two-handed relationship drama that French cinema excels at boring us with, yet has a lot more potency to it (closer to Catherine Breillat’s twisted heroines than ‘cinema of quality’ blandness). Ariane Labed is also making a claim for this year’s best new screen presence for me. It’s about fidelity, as you might guess from the title, but it’s told from the woman’s point of view, and it doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying overly about the men’s sense of sexual entitlement.
Insurgent follows last year’s Divergent as part of yet another film adaptation of a dystopian young adult novel cycle, but where that earlier film was just fairly stupid, this second part seems to take it in a more interesting, more politically complex direction (as opposed to another teen dystopian series which finished this year and which in my opinion started strongly but got progressively weaker). I mean, yes, it’s silly and ultimately quite easily forgettable, but in a way that this kind of filmmaking should be, and so seldom isn’t. It helps that Kate Winslet and Shailene Woodley are such excellent actors, too.
Wild Card joins a long list of Jason Statham films that made little to no critical impact, but for my money this is one of his strongest entries in recent years, even better than his more overt attempt at ‘serious’ acting in Hummingbird. It has a morally compromised protagonist, a Las Vegas gambling setting, and a punchy script from veteran William Goldman.