TC’s 10 Best Films of 2015

spooksI watched a lot of films last year. The final tally was 371 – I’ve no intention of even attempting to match that goal in 2016, and to make sure I’m not even tempted, January was largely spent falling behind, through a carefully staged process of slacking off and watching TV series instead.  Despite that volume, I think fewer qualify for this article, mostly due to age. Without a Phoenix FearCon this year (we still took submissions, but stockpiled them for the 2016 fest), I was certainly not up on contemporary indie horror, which provided the backbone of last year’s list. Did actually go to the cinema more often, though this was simply a reflection of more “big” films being out which felt that they justified the expense and the effort [both of which continue to weigh heavily in our decision].

Here’s the top 10. As usual, I have a fairly loose definition of “this year”, so if some of these actually appeared somewhere in 2014, I don’t care.

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TC’s Ten Best Films of 2014

The final tally of films seen in 2014 was 317, which is a handful up on last year. Felt like a better selection, with submissions to the Phoenix FearCon representing a very significant chunk of the top tier. Mind you, they would probably also feature heavily if I did a list of the bottom ten films: there were a number of cases where I seriously had to wonder, in what universe this was a movie you’d show to anyone outside your immediate family. But those are already all but forgotten, and finding the gems listed below, which we’d never have seen otherwise, made up for it. Cinema going continues to decline, with traditional theater visits contributing a whopping total of… Two: Godzilla and Lucy.

In vaguely chronological order of viewing, honourable mentions that didn’t quite make the top 10, either because they weren’t quite good enough, or I couldn’t quite squeeze them in to even my famously loose definition of what constitutes “2014”: Wolf of Wall Street, Cat Run, Daddy’s Little Girl, Final Cut, Die Wand, Nurse 3D, Big Bad Wolves, Sharknado 2 [so sue me, it was fun], The Man in the Orange Jacket, Roseville, Mirage Men, Snowpiercer, Dead Snow 2, 009-1: The End of the Beginning and Gun Woman. Said definition is “got some kind of US screening or release in 2014, in one format or another,” and links go to wherever I wrote the longest review, which may be this site, GirlsWithGuns.org or, in one case, over on AZSnakePit.com.

URSULA ARMADA

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Incredibly Bad Film Show: Manos, Hands of Fate

Dir: Harold P. Warren
Star: Harold P. Warren, Tom Neyman, John Reynolds, Diane Mahree

It’s perhaps surprising, given my fondness for badfilm, that I had never quite got round to watching this, often regarded as the worst movie of all time. At one point, it was thus ranked on the IMDb: though it has now been replaced there (the current incumbent is this year’s Saving Christmas, though I suspect it won’t last, and will eventually return the crown to Birdemic), Manos remains in the bottom dozen. A lot of the responsibility for this has to belong to Mystery Science Theater 3000, who plucked the film from near-total obscurity when they picked it as a target in 1993 – to the shock of the cast, who hadn’t seen it in a quarter of a century. I watched their take on the film the morning after watching the “raw” version, and certainly can’t argue with it being perfect material for their satire. But, on the other hand, nor would I necessarily say I enjoyed it more.

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Unlawful Killing – the Princess Diana conspiracy film

unlawfulDir: Keith Allen

The phrase “banned in the UK” still has a curious lure to me, even though I haven’t lived there now for over 13 years. So, hearing about this documentary immediately piqued my interest, since it was more or less damned as far as any UK release was concerned – lawyers apparently advised the lawyers that 87 different cuts would need to be made, mostly for reasons of libel. Any US release was similarly shelved after it was was deemed impossible to secure insurance against the possibility of legal repercussions. There are reasons to be skeptical of the film, not least that it’s entire budget of $2.5 million was apparently provided by Mohammed Al Fayed, the father of Dodi, and someone who, it’s safe to say, has something of a prejudiced agenda in the case. Virtually since Day One, he has been banging the drum that the British establishment murdered his son and Diana, because they couldn’t stand the prospect of a Muslim being a step-father to the future King – and, hey, what are the odds, the film comes to exactly the same conclusions, both general and specific.

It’s hugely variable stuff. Some of the claims made in the film are basically ludicrous: such as the one that the entire legal system is “corrupt,” because they all swear allegiance to the Crown. Presumably, that would therefore include the likes of Michael Mansfield, QC to Al Fayed. There’s also no mention of Diana’s previous relationship with Hasnat Khan, another Muslim, which lasted two years and apparently met with little or no opposition from the palace. In contrast, Diana had first met Dodi less than seven weeks before her death, and had probably spent little more than three weeks together, so the claim they were intending to get married seems difficult to sustain. The same goes for the allegation she was pregnant: while the swift embalming of her body would indeed have made it harder to tell if that was the case, all the circumstantial evidence seems to suggest otherwise.

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Incredibly Bad Film Show: Rescue Force

rescueforce2Dir: Charles Nizet
Star: Richard Harrison, Bo Gritz, Peter Gold, Keiri Smith

Sing me no song, read me no rhyme
Don’t waste my time, show me!
Don’t talk of June, don’t talk of fall
Don’t talk at all, show me!

Ah, the wisdom of Alan Jay Lerner, who may well have been talking about this movie, which also tries to follow the philosophy attributed to Goebbels: “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it.” In this case, the latter is exemplified by a hellaciously over-frequent use of captions to try to convince the viewer that Nevada is actually a “PLO Fuel and Ammo Depot near the Syrian border.” Saying it doesn’t make it so, any more than pointing the camera at a desk and captioning it, “CIA office, Beirut.” makes that true – though the automatic weapons hanging on the wall behind the desk there, are a nice touch.

The other defining factor of the badmovie style here is a throwback to the days of a high mistress of the genre, Doris Wishman, who couldn’t afford to shoot sync sound, so had entire conversations showing the backs of people’s heads. The same problem affects things here, but Nizet takes a somewhat different approach, getting his actors to mask their mouths with telephones. A lot. No, really: the first half an hour of the film is a rarely-broken string of phone calls, the chief CIA agent, whom the script never bothers to name, shuffling agents around Europe as if playing a game of Diplomacy on crack. Which is where the “Show me” thing comes in. At one point he tells Lt. Col. Steel (Gritz), “The trade center next to the embassy? Blown up about 30 minutes ago – there are bodies all over the place. Both of our choppers were taken out with bazooka shells not less than 10 minutes ago.” A potentially great set-piece, turned into three sentences of bland monologue.

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