The 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015

Good times are here again, dear readers, because it’s December 1st and that can only mean one thing: advent calendars. Specifically, the fourth annual 100 Films in a Year Advent Calendar!

And this year, there’s double the fun: not content with providing you with my precious insight on a single cinematic wonder each day, for my 2015 advent calendar there will be two reviews every day. Or, to look at it another way, one review every 12 hours between now and Christmas Day.

Each day at midnight: a speedy little drabble nightcap.
Each day at midday: a full-length review lunch.
(Sorry, none of these metaphorical meals contain chocolate.)

(This isn’t at all doomed to fail, is it…)

Also of note! As per last year, my advent calendar will serve, in part, as a kind of ‘review of 2015’, looking back on some of the year’s biggest and most significant movies (that I’ve yet to review). Such delights may include Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ex Machina, Force Majeure, Mad Max: Fury Road, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, the Shaun the Sheep Movie, Spectre, Terminator Genisys, Tomorrowland, as well as the biggest film of the year (so far), Jurassic World, and the one that may yet surpass it, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. (No guarantees, mind — I’ve not written some of them yet. Heck, I’ve not seen some of them yet…)

Plus! A series of reviews dedicated to Star Wars in the run-up to the release of Episode VII. All will be revealed on Monday 14th (or now, if you look at my coming soon page — they’re pretty obvious).

Anyway, let’s get started. Should be pretty clear which are the drabbles and which the full reviews.

December 1st

December 2nd

December 3rd

December 4th

December 5th

December 6th

December 7th

December 8th

December 9th

December 10th

December 11th

December 12th

December 13th

Star Wars Week

December 14th

December 15th

December 16th

December 17th

December 18th

December 19th

December 20th

December 21st

December 22nd

December 23rd

December 24th

December 25th

Merry Christmas!

An inside out pair of shorts

Pixar’s latest opus, Inside Out, was naturally accompanied by a short film in cinemas. On Blu-ray (out today in the UK), it’s accompanied by two. These are they, reviewed in nice quick drabbles.

Riley’s First Date?
2015 #179a
Josh Cooley | 5 mins | Blu-ray | 1.78:1 | USA / English | U / G

In this ‘sequel’ to Inside Out, Riley is going to hang out with a friend… who turns out to be a boy, which sends her mum and dad — and their anthropomorphised emotions — into paroxysms of worry. Is this the 12-year-old’s first date?

The straightforward story is built on clichés of male and female parental reactions to their kid growing up and encountering the opposite sex (mum tries to be cool, dad gets protective), but then it’s only got four minutes so needs that shorthand. Nonetheless, it manages roughly as many laughs as the feature, even if they are easy targets.

4 out of 5

2015 #179b
James Ford Murphy | 7 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | USA / English | U / G

The short that accompanied Inside Out in cinemas is essentially a music video for a folksy ballad about a pair of volcanoes who are in ‘lava’ (read: love) with each other.

It’s quite beautifully animated, with realistic CGI (apart from, you know, singing volcanoes) that eschews stylisation without giving in to the urge to shallowly emphasise its photorealism, but other than that I didn’t much care for it. The story and song — inspired by an underwater volcano that will one day merge with Hawaii — are a little too twee. It’s not really sweet, nor sickly, just kind of uninspiringly quaint.

3 out of 5

Contagion (2011)

2015 #108
Steven Soderbergh | 102 mins | streaming | 16:9 | USA & UAE / English | 12 / PG-13

Director Steven Soderbergh takes the methodology he used to depict the drug trade in Traffic — an ensemble cast divided among a portmanteau of colour-coded storylines to examine different aspects of the theme — and applies it to the outbreak of a devastating global pandemic.

It’s a little bit terrifying because it feels pretty plausible, riffing on real-world ‘false alarm’ viruses to suggest there may be a time we’re not so lucky. It’s not as focused as it could be, with some threads too melodramatic and eminently cuttable (one with Marion Cotillard in particular), but it remains sporadically illuminating and largely engrossing.

4 out of 5

The Theory of Everything (2014)

2015 #114
James Marsh | 123 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | UK / English | 12 / PG-13

Biopic of genius cosmologist Stephen Hawking and his wife/caregiver Jane, on whose memoir the film is based.

Felicity Jones gives a first-class performance as Jane, building genuine poignancy by being impeccably understated. Eddie Redmayne contorts himself into the form of Hawking with uncanny accuracy, a truly remarkable performance of a truly remarkable man.

Unfortunately, it’s an unremarkably-made film — not bad, just clichéd biopic. Occasional moments of filmmaking flair rub shoulders with bizarre choices, like dousing random sequences in extreme colour.

But the focus remains on the characters, and with people as extraordinary as these — Stephen and Jane both — that’s warranted.

4 out of 5