Tag Archives: Ex Machina

Best Films of 2015

I know. We’re hours away from 2017 and I’m only doing my Best Of list for 2015 now. That’s just the way life goes sometimes. Anyway, I finally tabulated all the films I’ve watched with a 2015 release date, and the total number has come to 151! That’s 0.41 movies a day, 2.9 movies a week.

The highest rating I gave was of course 5, and the lowest was 0.5. The average score was 3.05 and the median score was 3, suggesting I was either too generous or the average 2015 film I watched was “pretty decent” (my definition of a 3-star film). And honestly, I feel like that’s a solid assessment of 2015, which garnered the most 5-star scores in I’ve had in a single year since (probably) I started reviewing movies online. The hardest part about this list, as always, was deciding which movies with the same score should be ranked before the other.

Without a further ado, here are my (subjective) top 10 films of 2015, with a few honorable mentions tossed in for fun.

Honorable Mentions

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Steve Jobs, Creed, Inside Out, Spy, Kingsman: The Secret Service

These were movies I enjoyed a lot and I even thought some of them might make the list (until I realised how many other good movies I watched).

Just Missing the Cut

Straight Outta Compton – Never much of a rap guy, even in my youth, but this true story was gripping and explosive.

The Big Short – Sharp, informative, insightful and witty. And that superstar cast is a pure delight.

Spotlight – Superbly made film about an important true story, with brilliant performances all round.

Room – Harrowing, terrifying, yet beautiful film about love and hope.

Amy – I’m not much of a Winehouse fan, but this was one of the best documentaries I had seen in a while. Wish I could have included a doco on the list but I couldn’t push any of the others out.

The List

10. The Stanford Prison Experiment

This was the closest to being replaced with by one from the honorable mentions list, but I really wanted to highlight this film rather than just putting in another lauded movie that appears on most critics’ lists. I was so captivated by this bizarre true story about a university experiment in which some students were cast as inmates while others were cast as prison guards. It was frightening to see how far things went, which was both surreal yet strangely believable. Nice young cast too.

9. Anomalisa

This was one of the most unusual movies I’ve ever seen, and certainly one of the most memorable. The stop-motion animation, the authentic yet purposely fake appearances of the characters, the awkwardness and razor sharp black humour, and the strangely poignant love story — I adored this movie from start to finish. In any other year this is likely in the top 5.

8. Ex Machina

There have been many films about robot, AI and consciousness, but this was just such a brilliant idea and executed so wonderfully. The film rightfully won the Oscar for best special effects and featured a performance by Alicia Vikander that I personally thought was more Oscar-worthy than what she delivered in The Danish Girl (which she actually won the Oscar for).

7. Sicario

Not sure about the sequel coming up because I felt it was near-perfect as a standalone film and should be left alone. This was the only movie I gave 4.75 stars to in 2015 and I still don’t know why I didn’t give it a perfect score. It was intelligent and stylish, and above all, it was so tense and so riveting that I was on the edge of my seat all throughout. This movie is the reason that Arrival (also directed by Denis Villeneuve) is the film I want to see more than any other at this moment.

6. It Follows

The most original horror film of the year. A simple idea but a smart one that takes an otherwise typical horror trope and twists it around— and the execution is incredible. The type of film that makes you put yourself in the shoes of the characters and sticks in your mind long after the end credits roll.

5. Goodnight Mommy

The only foreign film on the list this year, and a highly deserving one for being by far the creepiest movie experience I’ve had in quite some time. It’s slow and not for everyone, but if you like atmospheric horror and want to be creeped out, this is the flick for you.

4. The Martian

My most enjoyable film experience of the year in terms of pure fun and entertainment. I still haven’t read the book, but the film totally nails it, from the performances to the humour to the science (I don’t know how legit it is, but the important thing is that it feels legit). One of the more rewatchable films on this list too.

3. Bridge of Spies

I know some people aren’t that high on this movie, though for me, it’s as close to perfect storytelling as you can get and demonstrates again why Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest directors of all time. I went from being not very interested in the idea of the film to absolutely loving it. Well-deserved Oscar to Mark Rylance too. Humble brag: I called it as soon as I saw the film.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road

This was so close to being my No. 1 of the year. Having never watched the original, I had no idea what to expect, and what I saw blew my mind. The action, the strangeness, the intrigue, the horror—it was simply a jaw-dropping spectacle that has been etched into my memory. Can’t wait to see what George Miller does next.

1. The Revenant

In the end, despite all the great films on this list, the choice wasn’t that hard. The all-time spectacular visuals, the exhilarating, brutal extended action sequences, the Oscar-winning performance from Leo, and of course that memorable bear attack — everything combined to propel The Revenant to the very top of my Best Of 2015 list.

Movie Review: Ex Machina (2015)

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In the superhero era, sci-fi movies these days are bigger, louder and more special-effected (is that a word?), and so I was really looking forward to Ex Machina, the low-budget (US$15 million) directorial debut of career screenwriter Alex Garland, best known for penning the scripts to sci-fi semi-classics like 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Never Let Me Go (and he wrote the novel The Beach, which was made into that movie with Leo DiCaprio and Virginie Ledoyen).

The film received an avalanche of hype as early as last year, and I’m glad to say it does not disappoint. As a pure sci-fi story that goes back to the roots of the genre, Ex Machina delivers. Despite very little action and a deliberately mellow pace, the film is gripping, thought-provoking, tense and claustrophobic all the way through.

Without giving too much away, the film begins with a young programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) from the world’s largest search engine company, Bluebook (basically Google), winning a contest to meet the company’s enigmatic billionaire CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), who lives in a secluded research facility that requires a helicopter to access. Nathan invites Caleb to participate in an experiment involving his latest creation, a beautiful humanoid android named Ava (Alicia Vikander). It’s Caleb’s task, through conversations and observation, to judge whether Ava has consciousness, or whether she’s just simulating consciousness. And so begins an intriguing series of “sessions” between Caleb and Ava as Nathan looks on through surveillance video.

As you would expect, things are not as simple as they appear, and soon Caleb finds himself with a lot of unanswered questions. There are mini twists and turns galore, with Caleb growing more paranoid about both Ava and Nathan, and eventually, himself. Who’s telling the truth and who’s lying? Who’s playing whom? It’s one of those films where you never stop questioning the characters’ motives and what they are trying to achieve, and it’s this mystery that provides the strong pulse to the heart of the tale. It helps that it’s not a hackneyed plot that relies on one massive twist to shock audiences — this is a fascinating sci-fi story from start to finish.

In typical classic sci-fi fashion, there is a surrealistic feel to the experience that is almost dreamlike. The high-tech facility where the bulk of the film is set is grey and sombre, and the windowless walls seem as though they are closing in on Caleb as his paranoia and claustrophobia grows. The facility is juxtaposed nicely with the outdoor scenery the characters occasionally escape to, providing a technology vs nature dichotomy that plays into the film’s layered themes.

The film would not be what it is without the spectacular performance of Alicia Vikander, a Swedish actress whom I had only seen once prior, in the disappointing Seventh SonVikander is a perfect blend of beauty, sexuality and grace, and her dancing background really helped provide the right mix of human and robot to Ava. You believe what she is — a highly intelligent robot who could easily be mistaken for an attractive human but for the see-through limbs and mid-section. Everything about her performance, from the way she moved to the facial expressions and even the way she spoke contributed to making Ava so authentic that she bordered on creepy. Most importantly, she makes you believe in Caleb’s reactions to her. Vikander’s going to be a star, no doubt about it.

Oscar Issac also impresses as Nathan, a genius with demons to exorcise. After seeing him shine in Inside Llewyn Davis, The Two Faces of January and A Most Violent Year, I knew this was going to be the case. Isaac is a chameleon capable of playing anyone, and the intensity he brings to Nathan elevates the character into more than it should have been. Can’t wait to see him in the new Star Wars film at the end of the year.

By contrast, Gleeson is the weakest link. He’s pretty good as Caleb — just not as eye-catching as the other two — though I suspect the burden of suppressing his Irish accent in favour of an American one affected his performance to some degree. Interestingly, the first time I saw Gleeson was in an episode of Black Mirror, the brilliant Charlie Brooker sci-fi series, where he played a life-like android himself. That was a phenomenal story with parallels to this one, and I’d recommend fans of the movie to check out the “Be Right Back” episode of Black Mirror if they haven’t already.

Ex Machina does have a few holes in it as the story veers towards its tense conclusion, a problem common to even the best sci-fi films, though on the whole it’s hard to ask for much more from Garland in his directorial debut. It’s also a fine film from an aesthetics perspective; the special effects are used sparingly but effectively — mostly on Ava’s semi-transparent body — and the cinematography does a solid job of balancing the emotional and visual aspects. This is a fable that will make you think about the inevitable fallibility of human nature and the future of technology, especially in an age when artificial intelligence is making it difficult to distinguish sci-fi from reality. Even Stephen Hawking said recently that he believes “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Now think about that.

4.5 stars out of 5