Best of 2015: Movies

And documentaries.  A vintage year with a bunch of greatness.  Here’s my top 10 in order.  The winner was a documentary about the South Ameriacn photographer Sebastio Salgado

1.  The Salt of the Earth (Docu)

2. Whiplash

3.  Carol

4.  Interstellar

5. The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson (Docu)

6.  Mad Max:  Fury Road

7.  It follows

8.  Birdman

9. A girl Walks Home Alone at night

10. Steve Jobs

11. Ex Machina

12. Far From the Madding Crowd.

13.  Wild Tales

14. Hector

15. Sunset Song

16. The Lobster

17.  Boyhood

18.  Dark Horse (Docu)

19. The Martian

20. Jurrassic World

Best of 2015: Gigs

I wasn’t at too many gigs this year but what I saw were mostly very good.  I’d pick out the Sufjan Stevens gig at The Playhouse as the best indeed possibly the best of my life never mind this year as it was so brilliantly lit and sound engineered and focussed on my album of the Year Carrie and Lowell.

Special thanks must go to the Edinburgh Fesival for welcoming contemporary music into its bosom

So these were all great…

Sufjan Stevens

The Seaford Mods


King Creosote (doing from Scotland with Love)

Hamish Hawk

Gus Harrower

The Son(s)

The Stranglers (supported by The Rezillos)

I also saw a great jazz band at Bar 38 on Christopher St in NYC.


Best of 2015: Theatre

My oh my what a vintage year for theatre.  My beloved FCT put on two great shows in Barnum and Thoroughly Modern Millie, Lyceum Youth Theatre did a really clever site specific work called Hidden and MGA did a superb end of season Spring Awakenings at The Kings Theatre.

However, this review will focus on professional theatre.  All of the following were extremely good but the pick of the bunch has to be Gipsy featuring the remarkable Imelda Staunton, Caucasian Chalk Circle at The Lyceum, Every Brilliant Thing by Paines Plough and our Ladies of Perpetual Succour at The Traverse (which I also saw at The Brunton – it’s coming back on tour next year.  Do not miss it.)

Gipsy At The Savoy

Featured a remarkable performance by Imelda Staunton that will surely pick up multiple awards.

Caucasian Chalk Circle at The Lyceum

Simply breathtaking musical adaptation of the Brecht Classic with a stand our performance by Sarah Swire.

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour at The Traverse

Hilarious romp with a stunning all female ensemble cast and band featuring the music of ELO like never before.  Filthy, furious and funny as fuck..

Waiting For Godot at The Lyceum

Becket’s classic was utterly hilarious in this take by Bill Patterson and

The Venetian Twins at the Lyceum

Goldoni’s classic was laugh out loud from start to finish thanks to the blinding performance by Grant O’Rourke.

Hedda Gabler at The Lyceum

Yet another classic beautifully styled and carried by the brilliant Nicala Daley in the eponymous role.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime  at The Barrymore, Broadway

Not as good as I’d hoped but a brilliant technical achievement.

Botanic Lights at The Botanics

Not theatre as such but an outstanding performance melding of music and light.

Fiction at The Pleasance Dome

A weird performance of, essentially, a radio play in utter darkness.  Not even emergency lights.  Unnerving.

887 by Robert Lepage at The EICC

Incredible story of Lepage’s life using a tiny house with operating models that was a unique theatrical experience.  Much more intimate than his usual larger than life offerings.

Every Brilliant Thing by Paines Plough at Summerhall

The stand out play of the Fringe about a man suffering from depression and making long, long lists of things that make him happy to self medicate his illness.  Truly brilliant.

Hamlet at The National

The Maxine Peake performance was broadcast to cinemas.  She was electrifying.


Best of 2015: Books

The books I most enjoyed in 2015 in no particular order were as below.  If I had to choose a favourite I’d probably go for the Mitchell book.

The Children Act, Ian McEwan.

A stunning exploration of religion, values and morality as a young Jehovas Witness man turns to a middle aged female judge as her marriage falls apart.

The Narrow Road to the deep North , Richard Flanagan

A brutal exposition of the human suffering that went into the building of the Death Railway during WWII in Burma under the Japanese and Koreans.

The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, Joel  Dicker

A brilliant twist on the usual crime thriller in which instead of the detective work being carried out by the police it’s done by a writer writing about his hero, the accused.

The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell

His most ambitious and complex novel yet.  It transcends genres and even makes ‘fantasy;” readable (for this reader anyway).

Do No Harm, Henry Marsh

An exploration of neurological ailments by a leading neurosurgeon.  Breathtaking stuff in places.

H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald

A hugely moving memoir that deals with the author’s death of her father and her unusual escape from grief at the claws of a Raptor called mabel.

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

An unlikely coming together of a young French Girl and an equally fresh-faced German Radio Operator in occupied France during WWII..  A highly original love story.

Carol. A movie by Todd Haynes.


This is a quite magnificent exploration of sexual awakening unlike anything I’ve ever seen and directed with such a firmness of hand as to be an immediate contender for Best Director at this year’s Oscars.  Fans of MTV series Mildred Pierce will see some similarities, but this is period moviemaking on a peerless scale.

Every second of screen time has a period detail that takes your breath away, so assume an Oscar will also be heading the way of Judy Becker (Design) and Jesse Rosenthal (Art Direction) as well as Sandy Powell’s costumes.  Honestly, it makes Mad Men look heavy handed.  That may in part be down to the gorgeous cinematography by Edward Lachman (Virgin Suicides).  The music by Carter Burwell will also be in the mix come judgement day.  So that’s six Oscars before we even get to the main talking point.

So; Rooney Mara or Cate Blanchett?

This movie is like watching the equivalent of the Rumble in the Jungle –  the two greatest boxers of their generation, one on the ascent, the other at the peak of their powers – so too here. Marra the lady in waiting, Blanchett at a dizzying career high after last year’s electrifying Blue Jasmine performance.

As the title character you would expect her to dominate the proceedings but that wholly underestimates the abilities of Rooney Mara who often, and tantalisingly, is a doppelgänger for Audrey Hepburn.  Consequently  Haynes and Lachman are compelled to hold the camera, long and sure on her utterly beguiling features. Blanchett, by contrast, can only be described as both handsome and regal.

So, the story unfolds as an elder socialite, Carol, totally disgusted with her affluent but corporate married life, and a dark past as a – whisper it because the word could not be uttered in McCarthy’s 1950’s USA – lesbian, sets eye on the virginal Mara in a pre-Christmas department store.  The impact on both is immediate.  The sexual tension starts from that very first moment and builds and builds until finally consummated in a Motel room in the midst of a Thelma and Louise-esque road trip (albeit one that’s driven at a much slower pace).

This ‘forbidden’ love comes with significant baggage; Blanchett’s estranged husband spots it soon enough and uses their 4 year old daughter as a ransom for her to return to the familial home.  This destroys Blanchett and makes the illicit relationship impossible to maintain.

It’s a beautiful celebration of love; what little sex the film contains – with an OTT BBFC statement that it contains infrequent strong sex – is both tasteful and genuinely loving.

Really it’s hard to unpick the complex and symbiotic relationship that these two women have forged on screen.  One performance could not exist without the other and it is to Haynes’ extreme credit that he keeps a hold on it all and guides it effortlessly into the land of classic cinema.

Go see it before it’s too late.