It’s here, New Years Eve and there’s no better way of wrapping up the year than once again doing my Top 25 Films of the year. Of course it should be stated, this is a selection of the films I’ve seen this year and if some of you wonder why the likes of Birdman and Whiplash aren’t on this list for example, they are not released here in the UK/Ireland area until 2015, actually Birdman will be released tomorrow so I may crawl from my New Years Hangover into the cinema to catch this film and see if it lives up to expectations and the hype from, well, literally everyone that has seen it.
25. Cheap Thrills
Kicking off the list is either the film you’ve heard very little of or nothing about, Cheap Thrills focuses on two old friends, Craig and Vince, meeting on the worst possible night as they meet married couple Colin and Violet, with the former being played by a very game David Koechner (Just imagine Champ from Anchorman but a whole lot darker), as the couple engage them with simple dares at the beginning of the night which results in them paying money to the person who does the dare, then as the night progresses, the bigger the cash and twisted the dares become. It’s a film that still clings onto my brain and it’s been several months since I’ve seen it, that’s much of a lasting impression it has made on me, with an interesting premise, as well as witnessing the two old friends spiralling down a desperate path in order to better their needs and the couple manipulating them to the extreme. Well worth a visit, but you may not return back to the film after viewing it, it’ll leave an impression on you to say the least.
24. The Guest
If ever there was a film to compliment a back to back viewing with Drive, The Guest would be the perfect choice. The Guest follows a soldier named David, who arrives at the Peterson household, claiming to have been in the regiment that their deceased son was a member of when he died in action and as he checks out, he begins to get involved in the families personal problems and pretty soon bodies begin to pile up in the town. Dan Stevens has a blast as David in this film, a character that is a far cry away from his time on Downton Abbey and Maika Monroe is very good as Anna, who begins to suspect that David is not as much of a ‘people person’ as he comes across as. The film itself is so tongue in cheek to the old school horror genre, of which a lot of homage is paid to John Carpenter, when it gets to the final twenty minutes of the film, the tongue has literally pierced through the cheek at this point. I never caught You’re Next, but basing it on viewing The Guest, I’ll be keenly interested to see what Adam Wingard brings us next.
23. American Hustle
On New Years Day release here I caught American Hustle, where David O Russell brought his A-game and all star cast to the fold to tell the story of con man Irving Rosenfeld and his partner Sydney Prosser, being forced to work with the FBI and all the while trying to plan a way to get out of the FBI clutches clean, particularly from Richie DiMaso. The cast gel well together on screen, Christian Bale is great as Rosenfeld but the standout, in my view, was Amy Adams as Sydney, where she gets to a stage where you can’t tell anymore if she’s being genuine in certain scenes or just playing a long con.
22. Lone Survivor
People may only know Peter Berg for the film Battleship but hand him a smaller budget and a personal true life story and he’ll bring you a relentless, no holds bar vision that is Lone Survivor, focusing on the story/novel of Marcus Luttrell’s account of Operation Red Wings, which failed in June 2005 at a deadly cost. Mark Wahlberg plays Marcus Luttrell while the rest of his unit has solid casting in Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch and Taylor Kitsch in the roles of Axe, Danny and Michael respectfully. Some would consider the start to be just slow or be put off by the Navy SEAL montage package, maybe even perceive it as american propaganda but for the 40 minute (around that time) fight sequence that engrosses you throughout to the point you don’t realise how much time has passed. I like the cast and especially the director and think they done a really good job with the material.
Sometimes the simplest premise makes for the best viewings and that was never more relevant here than in Tom Hardy’s virtually solo on-screen premise in Locke. If ever you wondered if it was possible to watch a film about a man’s journey from destination A to destination B, with the back drop plot being about concrete, even though there’s a deeper plot going on and your eyes are firmly on him throughout the entire film’s run then I’ve got good news that Locke is the film for you. Tom Hardy is compelling (as per usual at this rate, the man can’t do no wrong), the direction/cinematography is great, I would recommend at least one viewing.
I’m pretty sure if you look up Food Porn in the Urban Dictionary, Chef will appear as a primary example of the meaning. After the Iron Man films, Jon Favreau takes us back to film school basics, following Carl Casper, a chef who decides to take control of his own life and career after being shackled at the restaurant he worked at before, by buying and refitting an old food truck, to cook the food he wants, his terms. There is great wit and warmth to this film, especially with Carl spending his time on the truck finally getting to connect with his son on this journey that he never would have if he remained where he was. Great supporting cast with Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony, Scarlett Johansson and Sofia Vergara, with the helping of some great food you’ll enjoy this film. Just don’t watch on an empty stomach.
19. The LEGO Movie
At the start of the year when I first heard that there was going to be a LEGO Movie I thought that it was a stupid idea. So screw me for being completely surprised by just how much I ended up loving the film when it was released back in February following the story of ordinary LEGO figure, Emmet, mistaken for being the ‘Special’, joins a band of misfits to stop the evil tyrant Lord Business. The film is chaotic to say the least, with so much going on in the animation, it’ll take a few views to notice certain things going on in the background. Great supporting cast for the voices and with a story in the end that’s heartwarming, it’ll be interesting to see what other adventures Emmet and Co. get up to.
Coming in at number 18 and probably one I’ll get the most flack for placing it either too low or too high is Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. I feel like a broken record for repeating myself with this line, but even if I didn’t appreciate in the final act for the main focus of the story, which is in fact a father doing whatever it takes to get back to his daughter, I did admire the ambition of creating a gigantic original film blockbuster. Maybe in time, after multiple screenings, Interstellar will rank higher, but going by just the one screening I could only manage for Interstellar this is why it’s here. McConaughey is terrific once again, playing Cooper, supported by a terrific young talent in Mackenzie Foy and the elder counterpart of Murph, Jessica Chastain. Big, bold and emotional.
A film that is dangerously border lining overrated at this point due to word of mouth, Snowpiercer is a terrific film that never seen the light of a cinematic release here. Set in 2031, the entire world is frozen except for those aboard the Snowpiercer. For 17 years, the world’s survivors are on a train hurtling around the globe creating their own economy and class system. At the very back of the train, a group of lower-class citizens are led by Curtis, leading a revolt to move to the front of the train and spread the wealth onboard Snowpiercer. Joon-ho Bong brings us a crazy mix of cultures on show with different things in each section, the action shots are well done and seeing a new side to Chris Evans I’ve never seen before, I hope the notion of taking time off acting after his stint in Captain America is just that. It’s definitely at times the weirdest film I’ve seen (the classroom with the teacher playing the paino singalong stunt for one) but an interesting one none the less.
16. Under The Skin
Speaking of weird films, Jonathan Glazer bought us Under The Skin way back in March and yet I still get chills from the original score of the film. Scarlett Johansson plays a mysterious alien creature, disguised in a woman’s body, going around the night roads of Scotland seducing men to lure back to her place, but what happens there stays there. Under The Skin is an interesting, weird, experimental film from Jonathan Glazer, you can’t almost help but feel the a bit of a love letter to Stanley Kubrick here in the way that the film is shot and the way the score compliments the creepy tone of the film. The original score is still as haunting as I remembered it.
15. The Drop
The biggest surprise film of the year for me has to go to The Drop. I didn’t know much going into the film, other than it has Tom Hardy putting on a New Jersey accent and it’s the final role of the late great James Gandolfini. The film focuses on the bar that Cousin Marv (Gandolfini) runs and Bob (Tom Hardy) works at is on ‘money drop’ duty one night and they end up getting robbed. That money belongs to local gangsters and the police begin looking into the robbery, as well as the mob, to find out who ripped them off. It’s a great last performance from Gandolfini as Cousin Marv, basically playing Tony Sopraneverwas, but essentially this is Tom Hardy’s film, playing Bob to the point he seems so easy going that he appears to most simple minded, but underneath all that there’s just a beast waiting to be pushed hard enough to come out. Loved this film.
14. 12 Years A Slave
A raw and emotionally draining a film you’ll see for quite some time in this true story about a man named Solomon Northup, a free man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery and then we follow his story of being a slave for 12 years. McQueen certainly is unapologetic with his approach to the material in highlighting the ugliness of the brutality that slaves faced and a dark period of humanity that still carries scars to this day discussing. Ejiofor gives a performance of a lifetime as Solomon, doing his best to hang on to the dignity of his character whilst surviving in a cruel environment, as well as Nyong’o as emotionally tortured soul Patesy. Though the menacing highlight of 12 Years A Slave is Michael Fassbender’s performance as Edwin Epps, who believes in his heart that black people are nothing more than property and that he can do what he pleases with him.
On Halloween a different kind of monster was unleashed in cinemas, as we were introduced to Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler, a man who one night has an epiphany watching a freelance camera crew on the scene of a car accident and decides that he wants to get into that line of work. He takes a while to get to a incident that he can sink his teeth into but once he arrives at a carjacking films a close-up of he victim and hands the footage to a news director called Nina who is interested in the blood and guts in ‘nice’ areas for the news. Lou obviously has a good eye for a shot, starts to get really good at his line of work as he progresses and then begins to effectively tamper crime scenes for a good shot. Jake Gyllenhaal is tremendously creepy as Bloom, it’s Oscar worthy to say the least. The final act always leaves my jaw on the floor in terms of suspense and delivery.
12. The Grand Budapest Hotel
A writer travels to the Grand Budapest Hotel, where he meets the owner Zero Moustafa. Zero invites the author to have dinner for him and he tells him the story of his life and how he came to be the owner of the hotel, taking us back to 1932 to when Zero was a lobby boy under the command of Gustave H, with tales of an inherited painting and being framed for murder. I don’t watch many Wes Anderson films but I definitely adored this film, especially with Ralph Fiennes as Gustave H, if only the film came out say last month, there’d be more awards talk for Fiennes I believe. Beautifully shot film with the usually terrific supporting cast one would expect from a Wes Anderson film.
11. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
As Kirsitan Harloff would say….APES ON HORSES! APES ON HORSES! The followup to the successful Rise of the Planet of the Apes film, Dawn is just as superior to the film, in terms of storytelling and scale. Following ten years after the Simiman Flu, we see how Caesar’s ape kind are thriving in their environment, we see orangutan Maurice teaching these young apes on reading and things are looking good, that is until them pesky humans show up and we’ve got a tense truce between the two clans and you have the feeling the pot is eventually going to boil over and something’s going to give, it’s just a question of who will move first, and that’s the general outline of the film. I love the different sides to the coin that this film brings within the story as well as the characters. In the first film it was mostly black and white in that area, with humans being bad for the way that the apes were being treated by those looking after them in their cages as well as the way they were being tested on (for the exception for the most part of Caesar himself) and in this sequel we’re in the grey area of how we should feel as both sides have very valid arguments against the other, where some of the apes have a hatred towards them for the way some humans treated them and some of the humans hate the apes as they see them as the reason that most of mankind has been wiped out. On repeated viewing, the humans may not be as interesting as Cesar and Koba, it’s definitely still a very good film.
10. Edge of Tomorrow
It’s been a while since we had a genuinely brilliant film from Tom Cruise (I’d probably go as far back to Collateral) and who would’ve thought from the poorly done marketing for this film (especially the trailers) that the film would be this good? Part Sci-Fi, part war, part Groundhog Day as the ingredients, mix them together and you get Edge of Tomorrow, a very well executed film from Doug Liman focusing on William Cage, an officer or has never spent a day on a battlefield is forced against his will to be on the front line of the last line of attack against an alien race that is wiping out mankind. Once he kills one of these alien creatures known as Mimics, some of it’s blood blends into his and he has to relive the same day over and over again and try and stop the attack from failing and save humanity. Cruise’s role is great in this film as we see the progression of shit scared to warrior and also Emily Blunt is a badass in this film as Rita Vrataski, a war hero who mentors Cage to enhance his skills in the process of these relived days he has. Shame it’s not doing well at the box office but will be a HUGE hit when released on DVD/Blu-Ray after mouth of word spreads.
9. The Wolf of Wall Street
Scorsese brought us the controversial Wolf of Wall Street film that many thought glamourised the lifestyle of Jordan Belfort, even though he eventually loses his business, friends and his wife and kids because believe it or not, he was an asshole. It’s pretty much Scorsese’s greatest hits with the way he shoots particular shots and as a character study of bringing us the true story of Jordan Belfort which is THAT bizarre you can’t help but laugh and cringe at some of the antics that he and his colleagues get up to. Is it a film for everyone? With the amount of sex, drugs and greed, no it isn’t. But with terrific performances across the board from Leo, Jonah and a long way from Neighbours (The Australian TV Show, not the Seth Rogen/Zac Efron film) and holding her own against Leo is Margot Robbie, with a running time of three hours I don’t feel it at all.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy has Marvel Studios taking us to a bring new universe in space, with brand news worlds and characters as we follow the journey, specifically of one man called Peter Quill, who was abducted from Earth and then we flashforward twenty-six years later to a different universe entirely, where we follow a grown up Quill stealing an orb on the planet Morag. Turns out though that orb is wanted by Ronan, a Kree fanatic and the main villain of the film, and is now being hunted by his men and now has a bounty also on his head for capturing it and this is where the other main characters, Gamora and the tag team of Rocket and Groot come in. Marvel took a gamble for a big studio budget film of virtual unknown s to the film going audience and brought the biggest hit of the summer, with good set pieces and a awesome mix of a soundtrack, it’s definitely the best first standalone film from Marvel since Iron Man.
7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The first installment (Captain America: The First Avenger) didn’t overly impress me as much as other films in the Marvel franchise, but The Winter Soldier certainly upped the game in the Marvel universe of how to make the sequel bigger and better (Looking at you Iron Man 2). The Russo Brothers bring us into a superhero world but give us something out of an espionage thriller as Cap tries to keep to his morality in a world that he is alienated in where good and evil is not so clear cut as it once used to be, with the overall theme of these particular characters, including Natasha Romanoff and even Nick Fury, at a crossroads of vulnerability and figuring out where they fit in the scheme of things as Cap tries to figure out who is the rogue element within the S.H.I.E.L.D ranks which lead to a dramatic reveal which will change the landscape of events to come.
6. Gone Girl
Gone Girl is a film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel, directed by the master of the numerous takes in David Fincher. On the day of their fifth anniversary, Nick returns home to see that there appears to have been a struggle in the house, as there’s a broken coffee table and his wife Amy is nowhere to be found. At first, once the media get a hold of Amy’s disappearance, Nick acts awkwardly in front of the cameras and has sympathy from those in the community. But once a few days pass, the media and a few in the community begin to turn on Nick, the question remains – did he kill Amy Dunne? Oddly enough I can’t add anymore but if Rosamund Pike doesn’t win an Oscar I’d be stunned. Stunned.
5. X-Men: Days of Future Past
How do you beat a superhero assemble like The Avengers? Why you assemble the past with the future in X-Men: Days of Future Past. The cast were certainly one of the best assembled in at least the last 10 years, but did the film live up to the hype? For me it’s a resounding yes. The film superbly handles the time travel aspect between the future and going back 50 years into the past to stop the assassination of Dr Trask, in order to stop the creation of the destructive and merciless Sentinels from ever happening. This is definitely the most emotional X-Men film to date, with a young Charles Xavier being at his lowest, mentality, literally being a junkie to a serum that provides him the use of his legs, but also makes him lose his ability. Mystique is linchpin to the film as it is she who kills Trask that causes the existence of his vision of Sentinels and wiping out most of mutant kind and mankind also. There is still a few action set pieces in this film (most notably the Pentagon sequence) but this is as character driven an X-Men film we’ve got since X2. This has me more intrigued/excited as to how they’ll handle Apocalypse in the next film.
Theodore is a lonely man in the final stages of divorce. His job is a letter writer and on his time off work, his time is spent playing video games and occasionally hanging out with friends. One day he purchases the new OS1, the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system. The OS1 introduces herself as Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) to Theodore and the two grow closer together the more time they spend with each other and find themselves in love. Written and directed by Spike Jonze, the film is a brilliant portrayal of where the world is now with online relationships etc without the person being present as well as the feeling of isolation from others, the script is tight and the cinematography and score is beautiful to see/hear.
3. Dallas Buyers Club
A film that earned Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto their Oscars respectfully for their roles in this film, Dallas Buyers Club is indeed a film for the ages, with McConaughey in the lead role as Ron Woodroof, a cowboy with a carefree attitude to live who gets the devastating news that he is HIV positive and has been told he has 30 days to live. Not accepting his fate, Ron goes down to Mexico to receive alternative drugs and medicines to help him fight the disease, then begins to see this as a gateway to smuggle these unlicensed drugs into the US and establish a buyers club, where he sells these supplies to others inflicted like him with the disease, and partners up with fellow AIDS patient/transsexual Rayon. The film asks hard questions about the health system at the time of the HIV epidemic in the 80’s, including showing how some communities were afraid of those that had the disease. Best role McConaughey had to date (Then Russ in True Detective happened) and definitely Jared Leto brings the heart to the film with his performance.
Richard Linklater can literally do no wrong in my eyes. Linklater began shooting this film from 2002 up until last year, merging, as he called it, these short films over the course of 12 years and putting them together as a feature film. With that and keeping the same actors throughout, the film feels so organic, like you are literally watching this family grow up and when certain things go down, you actually feel some kind of emotion toward them. There is no overall structure narrative of Point A to Point B in terms of carrying an overall plot throughout the course of the film, because it’s not that kind of film. It’s just us catching a glimpse of Mason going through these simple moments/milestones in his life, some of them could view them as utterly meaningless yet looking back, they could mean everything as to building Mason’s character. The final ten-fifteen minutes of this film captured that perfectly and it’s telling for a film that is almost three hours long, you want to know what happens to Mason next. Maybe Linklater will pull a ‘Before Trilogy’ and let us come back ten years or so later to see what Mason gets up to in manhood.
1. The Raid 2: Berandal
My number 1 film if the year is The Raid 2. I am a fan of the first one, not as much as some people as I thought it got repetitive towards the end (Tell me honestly that the final fight scene with Mad Dog didn’t run on too long) but The Raid 2 released the shackles that contained The Raid Redemption and have the sequel as an open crime world, now with Rama realising the consequences of his actions in Redemption and now having to go undercover to unravel corruption within the police force whilst being in a crime family known as Jakarta. The Raid 2 proves that when done right, bigger is indeed better as the scale and scope of the film is increased not only with Rama mentality having to deal with his own psyche having to witness some things and do some major asskicking, but also remembering he is still a cop. It will be interesting to see what Arifin Putra’s career goes with this as his character Uco was a standout and pivotal to the plot as Rama has to get to know him in prison in order to get deep into the crime family. Also that kitchen fight scene at the end of the film, one of the best ever.