Tuesday, 29 December 2015

The Best and Worst of 2015

Well, it's that time of the year when everyone is doing their 'best and worst of' lists, so here is mine. I'm going to list the books and movies I read/watched in 2015 and then pick my favourites. This isn't restricted to what was new in 2015, but what I actually watched and read - some of these items might be very old indeed.


I read the following in 2015:

Georges Simenon – Mr Hire’s Engagement
Adrian Tomine – Shortcomings
Anna Kavan – Who Are You?
Alison Littlewood – A Cold Season
Yoshihiro Tatsumi – The Push Man
Aldolfo Bioy Casares – The Invention of Morel
Gary Couzens – Out Stack and other places
Anna Kavan – A Scarcity of Love
Jean Teule – The Suicide Shop
Richard Yates – A Good School
Machado de Assis – Philosopher or Dog
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa – The Leopard
Raymond Queneau – We Always Treat Women Too Well
Nina Allen – A Thread of Truth
Delacorta – Diva
John Wyndham – The Seeds Of Time
Richard Balls – Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Life of Ian Dury
Gareth L Powell – Ack-Ack Macaque
Paul Auster – Moon Palace
Megan Abbott – Bury Me Deep
Sheri S Tepper – Grass
Heinrich Boll – The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum
Paul Auster – The Music of Chance
Stephen Volk – Whitstable
Jim Thompson – Nothing More Than Murder
Andrew Crumey – Mr Mee
Helen Marshall – Gifts For The One Who Comes After
Christopher Priest – The Affirmation
Mike O’Driscoll – Eyepennies
Pascal Garnier – The Front Seat Passenger
Robert Dellar – Seaton Point
Raymond Chandler – The Little Sister
Tadeusz Borowski – This Way For The Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen
Danilo Kis – The Encyclopaedia of the Dead
Jeff Koons: Conversations with Norman Rosenthal
Edited by Max Brod – The Diaries of Franz Kafka
Blonde – Joyce Carol Oates
Annihilation - Jeff Vandermeer

That's worked out at 37 books this year, quite a few less than last year but then both the Kafka and the Oates each took me three months to read! Definitely the worst of the bunch was Sherri S Tepper's "Grass" which I couldn't read beyond 60 pages (it's very rare that I don't finish a book). There were several books I found simply 'ok' which I had higher expectations for: "The Encyclopaedia of the Dead" by Danilo Kis being one of those. Special mentions to "The Little Sister" by Raymond Chandler which was wonderfully quotable, "The Front Seat Passenger" by Pascal Garnier (again, a great little crime novel), "Eyepennies" by Mike O'Driscoll, and "Out Stack and other stores" by Gary Couzens for which I wrote the introduction.

As usual, I'm going to base my top three from my Goodreads review. Normally this would be straightforward, but a surprising six titles got 5/5 from me this year: "A Scarcity of Love" by Anna Kavan, "Diva" by Delacorta, "The Music of Chance" by Paul Auster, "Nothing More Than Murder" by Jim Thompson, "The Affirmation" by Christopher Priest, and "Blonde" by Joyce Carol Oates. This makes my decision a little harder. I have a lot of affection for "Diva" as I love the movie adaptation of the same name. The Jim Thompson book is also a perfect crime read. However I think I have to choose books which gave me some additional emotional depth. The Anna Kavan comes close, but I also found it hard-going and irritating despite it's brilliance. For those reasons, here are my top three:

In reverse order:

"The Music of Chance" by Paul Auster

Auster is fast becoming one of my favourite authors (I also read "The Moon Palace" this year which got 4/5 in my review), and this book is a delight. Fast-paced and thoughtful, Auster takes me to places that I love and the twists and turns in this book were a breath-taking delight.

"The Affirmation" by Christopher Priest

Priest's themes are close to my own preoccupations in fiction: the nature of reality, identity, memory and immortality. The alternate realities in this book intersperse seamlessly and the final sentence is utterly brilliant. I loved it.

And the winner is:

"Blonde" by Joyce Carol Oates

If you spend three months with a book (this is 932 pages) then it's somewhat inevitable you'll have some kind of affair with it. This is a fictionalised biopic of Marilyn Monroe which is a colossus in size, in scope, in adaptation and in emotion. I hadn't a huge interest in Monroe prior to reading this but it has immeasurably altered my perception of her. It's a bittersweet read, a heartache. I couldn't fault it and highly recommend it.


I watched the following in 2015:

Under The Skin
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Black Orchid
Jeune and Jolie
The Princess Bride
The Double
Tokyo Sonata
Ruby Sparks
The Way
The Dallas Buyers Club
The Life of Pi
Shadow of a Doubt
Grave Encounters
The Abominable Snowman
Apres Mai
The Tingler
The Woman In Black: Angel of Death
Upstream Colour
Blue Is The Warmest Colour
Marina Abramovic The Artist Is Present
Grave Encounters 2
Strangers On A Train
The Woodsman
Frances Ha
Guardians of the Galaxy
Beavis and Butt-head Do America
The Hide
It’s A Wonderful Life
A Dangerous Method
The Girl Next Door
Evil Dead (remake)
Beneath The Valley Of The Ultra-Vixens
Les Amants

Thanks For Sharing
Gambling House
Avengers Assemble
The Act Of Killing
Slow Motion
I Saw The Devil
Requiem For A Dream
The Great Beauty
Short Term 12
Chasing Ice
Romeo & Juliet
Gangster Squad
As Above, So Below
The Goob
The Wrong Man
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
Good Vibrations
The Filth and the Fury
Walk The Line
Jackie Brown
Radio On
This Is Spinal Tap
God Help The Girl
The Life Of David Gale
The Imitation Game
The Bat
The Road
Kiss Of Death
Wolf Creek 2
Cinema Paradiso
The Conjuring
The Most Dangerous Game
On The Road
Children Of Men
Tiger of Bengal
Tomb of Love
Ju On: White Ghost/Black Ghost
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas
Little Children
The Hourglass Sanitorium
Lake Mungo
Nightmare Alley
Naked Lunch
I Am Big Bird
It Follows
Donnie Darko
The Red Shoes
Pacific Rim
The Monk
Dial M For Murder
Cyborg She
The House of the Devil
Tell Me Something
Mulholland Drive
Scarlet Street

Interesting to see the impact having a young child who has started nursery school on movie watching. Last year we only saw 47 movies because she would go to bed too late for us to reasonably start watching something. This year we've seen 116 because she's knackered early! Of course, that makes the choice particularly difficult as there are some great movies in that list.

As usual when picking my top three I'm discounting movies I've previously watched. So that knocks out "The Tingler" which I was glad to see at the cinema on a big screen, "Strangers On A Train", "Vertigo", "Donnie Darko" (which I've seen numerous times), "Primer" and "Children Of Men" which I love. Out of those which remain I watched a large number of appalling horror films ("Ouija" and "The Conjuring" spring to mind), but some of those were enjoyably inventive: I really loved "As Above, So Below" for inverting - literally - horror expectations, and "The House of the Devil" which carried its 1970 horror vibe well. And my favourite horror movie this year has made my top three.

I watched a few SF movies: "Under The Skin" was minimally brilliant and hypnotic, by contrast "Lucy" (also with Scarlett Johansson) was marvellously insane. I loved them both. "Interstellar" was also damn good, but for some reason I can't quite pinpoint has not made my final selection. For non-genre movies I was pleasantly surprised and engrossed by "The Imitation Game". "Jackie Brown", with its fantastic opening titles, has probably become my favourite Tarantino movie but again not quite made the cut. And "Blue Is The Warmest Colour" was devastatingly poignant - the relationship between the two main characters vivid and raw, a honest portrayal of love.

I get the feeling that on another day "Lucy", "Blue Is The Warmest Colour", "Interstellar", "Jackie Brown", and "Under The Skin" might have made the final list, but - today - here are my top three movies seen in 2015.
Again, in reverse order:

"Lake Mungo" - Joel Anderson

I had heard good things about this supernatural movie but it surpassed all expectations. Subtlety and wrong-footedness are the keys to this picture. Ultimately it's about understanding grief rather than being a shocker, which means the result is both believable and tragic. I loved it's delicate twists, and how looking at the same thing several times yields different interpretations.

"Upstream Color" - Shane Carruth 

I have little idea what this movie was about and it probably needs a repeat watching. I also saw it almost at the beginning of the year and nearly bypassed it in my roundup because of that. But it has to make my top three because my sole recollection is that throughout the entire movie neither my partner nor myself uttered a single word. It's a perfect slipstream movie.

And the winner is...
"The Great Beauty" - Paolo Sorrentino

This seemingly simple movie follows aging socialite, Jep Gambardella, as he muses on his life, his first love, and a sense of unfulfillment. He is a writer who subsequently lost his way. Whilst this might not appear particularly interesting on the face of it, the movie is astonishingly directed. Some of the shots and framing are almost unbelievable in their execution and are quite simply breathtaking. It's perfect in each and every way and tantamount to confirming how great movies are also great art. A sumptuous and inspiring feast. Brilliant.
Looking forward to reading and watching more in 2016!

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