2015: A year in movies

I don’t track all my movie-viewing quite as well as I do my reading (although this blog should in theory change that!), but I do know that I saw 47 movies at the cinema this year (not including live broadcasts) – got to love that cinema pass!

Beginnings

The first cinema trip of 2015 was to see Into the Woods. The mix of musical and fairy tales did suit the holiday season, although I can well believe that something was lost in the transition from the stage show – it all just felt like it was missing something. The duet between Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen as Cinderella’s and Rapunzel’s Princes, respectively, was a comedy highlight, though!

Endings

Along with many, many people, I suspect, my last cinema trip of the year was to see the behemoth that was Star Wars: The Force AwakensAnd I liked it 🙂 Still a few too many ‘hmms’ to have made it to my top 5 of the year (see below), but maybe deserves it for making Star Wars fun again.

Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better

Two movies stand out as being too big for their own boots: Jupiter Ascending, and Tomorrowland: A World Beyond. Both left me with a sense that the audience was supposed to just be so bowled over by the sheer spectacle, that flaws in the plot and characters would be overlooked. Nope! Oddly, the former struck me as too manic, and the latter too sedate – one unsure, and one overly sure, of its own ‘magnificence’.

Superheros Still Reign

Hard to believe that this juggernaut is STILL expanding, but 2016 looks even more chock-full than 2015, which saw Big Hero 6, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, and Fantastic Four. And says a lot about me that the first three were my only repeat viewings for the year! Looking at that list, I’d suggest the quality dropped as the year went on – BH6 was just wonderful; FF was awful! Doesn’t bode well for the coming year…!

Sequels

By my reckoning, 16 of my cinema trips were to see sequels – okay, a couple of ‘re-imaginings’ with the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road, I suppose, and the odd status of Terminator: Genisys, which I apparently really liked at the time but am not remembering that fondly! Insurgent, The Scorch Trials, and Mockingjay part 2 all carried on YA adaptations, and none impressed me as much as previous installments, likewise Fast and Furious 7 or the dire Transporter Refueled.

I did, however, really enjoy the very fun Minions (okay,that was more a prequel), and Spectre, Jurassic World, and  Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation all added something positive to their respective franchises, in my opinion.

Don’t Look – There’s Spies Everywhere!

Talking of Mission Impossible, there were no shortage of spy movies – serious and otherwise! – around this year. I hugely enjoyed the wonderful subversion of Kingsman: The Secret Service back in February, and June’s Spy let Jason Statham send himself up perfectly! And unlike all of the new installments/reboots, the period aspect of The Man From UNCLE is what allowed an otherwise okay-ish movie shine a little brighter in the pack.

Lows

Quite a few disappointments this year, but special mentions for In The Heart of the Sea (far less emotional impact than it should have managed), and Gravity (2013), which I caught up with very late and was a bit meh away from the big screen visual impact. However, the chosen turkeys of the year, in reverse order, are:

  • The Good Dinosaur – sorry Pixar, but why did you bother? Makes the list as expectations were so high.
  • Chappie – almost had good points. Almost.
  • The Scorch Trials – disappointing follow-up.
  • The Transporter Refueled – it was bad; as if I could have expected much else!
  • Fantastic Four – how to kill a franchise in one step – it was actually WORSE than the previous adaptations!!

Highs

Mad Max: Fury Road is making so many year-end lists, but somehow didn’t appeal to me as much as all that – enough to get an honourable mention, right enough. Both Mississippi Grind and Macbeth were excellent, if dark; Big Hero 6 was also wonderful, but not my favourite animation of the year. So the golden hummingbird statuettes go to:

  • The Voices – sadly seen by few, it veered between very black comedy and leaving me feeling uncomfortable for laughing – but I still did! Altogether now: “Sing a happy song, sing a happy song…”!
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service – so much fun, much of it inappropriate, I’m already looking forward to a repeat viewing!
  • Sicario – harsh, brutal even, but oh so well done.
  • Inside Out – Pixar makes the bottom and top lists! Such a lovely, spot-on film with this one, for all ages.
  • The Martian – surprising myself putting this at the top of the list, but it was actually better than the book imo, and how often can you say that?! Perfect popcorn fodder.

2015: A year in books

I started keeping a ‘commonplace’ book as one of my new year’s resolutions for 2015, a way to capture some interesting snippets for my own writing, plus stop myself instantly forgetting everything I read ! This blog followed in June, adding more of a review slant to my notes. Over the full 12 months, Goodreads tells me I managed to read 65 books – bang on my chosen target.

Beginnings

I started the year very well, with the wonderful Golden Fool (followed by Fool’s Fate) by Robin Hobb. The Farseer (or Assassins) series remains one of my all-time favourite fantasy series, although I was slightly disappointed by the change in viewpoint in the follow-up series, The Liveship Traders. However, The Tawny Man trilogy was back with Fitz, and back on form for me – I was enthralled.

Endings

My final book of the year was from another fantasy series – Rise of a Merchant Prince, book 2 of the Serpentwar saga by Raymond E Feist. I bought this series back in 2000, and that I’m just getting around to reading it perhaps tells you all you need to know!

Novelty

I’m quite pleased with my more experimental reads this year – I sampled (fiction) works from 15 new-to-me authors. These included classics (Dying Earth, Gateway), award winners (Life After Life, How to be Both), books with big buzz behind them (The Martian, The Goblin Emperor, Ready Player One), and random finds (The Invisible Library). Biggest ‘find’ though, was probably Victoria Schwab, who I was lucky enough to meet in person – just after I’d read and loved A Darker Shade of Magic, the review of which kicked off this blog.

Rereads

With the Goodreads challenge only counting new reads, I had very few rereads in 2015 – which can be something of a shame, I feel. I last read Generation X when I was a teenager, so I was curious to see how it had changed – or rather, how I had. I picked up Garth Nix’s Sabriel again to read along with a few people in my writing group (what happened to the follow up, guys?!), and the best bit was the casting game we played, trying to slot a random list of people and places into the book’s narrative. And finally, I picked up Jim Butcher’s Cold Days to remind myself where we’d left Harry Dresden ahead of the new volume, Skin Game.

Metrics

Talking of Goodreads, I’m not going to do a number-of-books-read challenge this year – it’s a poor metric for me. Instead, my ‘goal’ is going to be tackling some of that TBR mountain of unread books already on my shelf/kindle. In 2015, I read just 16 books from my own shelves, compared with 37 borrowed from friends or library – should be easy to beat this year!

For other stats, 13 books were from 2015 (and one from 2016!), 13 from 2014, and 13 from 2010-13 – spooky, eh?! 😉 Two were older than me, the oldest only from 1950. Gender split, 19 were by women plus one co-written and one I assumed was female (KJ Parker) but turned out otherwise. Only 2 were by non-British or -American writers, which I hadn’t realised until I went to research this post.

Lows

Biggest disappointments of the year were Tales from Dying Earth – a classic of the sci-fi genre that just left me cold – and Land of the Headless, another sci-fi offering that really didn’t do justice to the great idea. I was also thoroughly under-awed with the much-hyped Wicked, the ‘re-telling’ of The Wizard of Oz from the witch’s point of view. And I became much more wary of the nonsense people can and do post as freebies on Amazon these days!

Highs

And finally… favourite book of the year! Drum roll please – I’m going to go for… hah hah, as if I could pick just one!

  • Fantasy: joint A Darker Shade of Magic (V.E. Schwab) and Sharps (K.J. Parker) – very different kinds of fantasy
  • Urban fantasy: Skin Game (Jim Butcher)
  • Sci-fi: Seveneves (Neal Stephenson) just edges out Gateway (Frederick Pohl)
  • Fiction/other: Life After Life (Kate Atkinson)
  • Non-fiction: joint Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives (Gretchen Rubin) and Plot & Structure (Jamie Bell)