In recent years many different trends have emerged when it comes to making movies. Be it franchises being birthed from the pages of popular Young Adult novel series or classic television shows being adapted into gritty dramas (well to be honest that one’s been happening for a while thanks to Brian DePalma). The fact is Hollywood seems to be in a kind of rut lately and while I wholeheartedly disagree with churning out movies with little thought to whether or not they are actually worth making it must be said that the remakes, adaptations and continuations of popular franchises have been remarkably good. The Marvel universe has released two cracking additions to their roster Peter Jackson finished up his Middle Earth adventure with a satisfying but flawed final piece. Overall its been a good year for big budget and a bad one for smaller films, something you may have noticed so far on this list. So here are numbers 30-21, a section of the list devoted to the big budget film it seems.
- Divergent – Divergent has a step up on other YA adaptations right from the get go because its story isn’t something that has been seen in its entirety on film before. The first Hunger Games is a censored version of Battle Royale with some pretentious political trappings and the opening instalment of Twilight feels like any supernatural teen drama you wish to compare it to. Divergent feels new although at a push you could compare it to films like Gattaca and thats not bad company to keep. The ‘choose your own destiny’ storyline works well, the films complex mythology is easy to follow (although remembering peoples names and such may prove difficult) and Shailene Woodley has an instant rapport with her costars as well as the audience. However the most important part is the fact that the film deals in peoples thoughts and dreams and the surreal way it is shot and displayed makes the film hum with a strong sense of tension making me thoroughly disappointed director Neil Burger will not be returning for the sequel.
- Wish I Was Here – There are some things that Wish I Was Here improves upon when it is compared to Zach Braff’s feature film debut Garden State. It’s story is weightier than just young love and regrets from the past. The film follows Braff’s Aidan as he must contend with his dream slowly dying along with his father, his wifes (Kate Hudson) progressing dissatisfaction at how their lives have turned out and his brothers lack of any desire to grow up. His attempts to keep his family ticking over at first seem foolish, his ideas childish but across the course of the film its easy to realise that sometimes the answer to problems isn’t to face them head on, its to make light of them and have a little fun from time to time. Braff writes a compelling story for why being a kid (at least some of the time) is a damn good thing and how it can keep you in check when the chips are down. However the film lacks cohesion and the ending is written by the end of the 1st act meaning everything that comes after feels obvious. That being said the cast keep things interesting and Braff, Hudson and Joey King who plays Braff’s teenage daughter Grace are excellent and well worth taking the time to watch.
- The Equalizer – Who thought an adaptation of a campy 80s television series could be developed into a brutally violent vigilante crime drama thanks to some stunning direction and a great lead in Denzel Washington? Everything about the film is stylised and while that sounds like a bad thing, it really isn’t. The action is dynamic but not the usual Bourne-esque combat you expect from films today as the film uses slow motion to accentuate what is happening, not detract from it through overuse like in 300: Rise of an Empire. The instant camaraderie Washington can create between every character in the film despite the fact some of them he has just come to kill makes Robert McCall one of the years most complicated and delightful characters given his penchant for reading, mourning the past and kicking ass for the little guy. If anything the only part of the film that lets it down is the fact its lead villain is so over the top and obnoxious that its hard to bear any scenes he graces with his presence. Then again it does add to the films ending as watching him get royally screwed over in an almost hilariously dark fashion kinda makes it all worth bearing him.
- The Lego Movie – Truth be told, I really liked The Lego Movie but to get every meta joke or silly sight gag I’d have to watch it again because it was so crammed full of material I’d be surprised if I got half of it. Therefore I can’t really say much about the film apart from there is never a moment that the lego interferes with the action, comedy or any part of the film. It’s fully realised and uses the little bricks to great effect making moments funnier, more destructive and ultimately more entertaining because of it. Cameos by actors like Liam Neeson and Charlie Day keep things lively and surprisingly the film ends on a compelling and unexpected note that really describes why Lego is so important to both children and the families they inhabit. It really is something special.
- X-Men: Days of Future Past – I’ve said it plenty last year to anyone who would listen but here goes again. Days of Future Past is the best X-Men film since X2 and its easy to understand why considering this marks the first time original director Bryan Singer has returned to the directors chair since X2. Be it the well remembered Quicksilver (Evan Peters) moment in the pentagon or the great finale that built to a satisfying conclusion for long time and newly interested fans. The film concentrated heavily on the Magneto/Xavier connection that was sorely missing from The Last Stand and unfortunately First Class, a movie that tried but ultimately failed at recapturing the spark of the original films. The only real downside to Future Past is the inclusion of Mystique in the story. Sure I like Jennifer Lawrence as an actress, especially when she skews away from blockbuster fare but she seems like a cash cow at the minute and Mystiques role in Future Past is limited at best despite the writers trying to convince you otherwise. The film is really a film about a broken friendship and the pointless struggling to regain what is already lost with some badass time travel elements thrown in for good measure and thats why its such a return to form.
- 12 Years a Slave – There is something to be said about a film that is willing to show every little horror of a tale without flinching or cutting away from the graphic nature of it. Then again there is also something to say of overly stylised shots that take you away from what is happening on screen so much that it seems almost fantastical. 12 Years a Slave has this problem as it constantly wavers on this line, dipping its toes in each side of the water until you really can’t decide what the film is ultimately trying to point out, that slavery was a horror we will never truly understand or that slave owners were akin to fictional villains, monsters you find in Brothers Grimm fairy tales. However the film has so many fantastic performers and individual moments its almost easy to forgive its tonal issues as it proves easy to mention scenes from the film as ‘horrific’, ‘graphic’ and ‘gritty. The film ticks all these critical watchwords but never really brings them together but boy is the film a must watch for acting reasons.
- Belle – Another film on the list that has trouble deciding what it is about and yet again the film resolves to tell a tale about race. Belle however tells the story of a mixed race woman who is of noble birth on her fathers side and is brought to live in England but the welcome she receives is one she wasn’t expecting and would never forget. Belle takes a dark and contentious moment from British history and comes ever so close to turning it into a soap opera, a glorified episode of Downton. However what saves the film from its overly sickly ending is Gugu Mbatha-Raw and the way she brings strength and fear to the forefront of her depiction of Belle. She plays the two sides of the woman perfectly and in a less political race she would be up for an Oscar in February despite the films conventional trappings. Tom Wilkinson is also excellent but he gets sucks into the films ending and his conflicted character becomes morally good almost instantaneously as if struck by some divine moment of clarity. Bottom line, watch the film, roll your eyes at the ending.
- The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – This almost made it to the next section of my list but then I watched it again and realised that Peter Jackson despite having made a satisfying conclusion to his Hobbit Trilogy has completely lost touch with what made the series so compelling. The film has many great scenes and the long distance cinematography really displays the gravity of the films final brawl but when the film gets up close and personal CGI combat takes over and none of it looks even remotely real. Jackson’s use of CGI has taken the tension out of the story in a way that he cannot bring it back as the people dying in this tale, we are reminded, never really existed at all. Then again the film saves itself with some personal and emotional side stories such as the burgeoning love between Elf guard Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and pretty boy dwarf Kili (Aiden Turner) as well as the confrontation between Dwarf king Thorin (Richard Armitage) and loyal companion Dwalin (Graham McTavish). Jackson always excelled when he has his feet grounded in the emotions of the story instead of when he is experimenting with technology and despite my qualms there is a lot of emotion here, more than enough to entertain but not enough to love.
- 22 Jump Street – I have to admit, I wasn’t a huge fan of 21 Jump Street. I mean sure it had its moments and the meta comedy was done so well that the film felt original and ultimately special but it just didn’t get me on the edge of my seat, it didn’t have my sides splitting. 22 is a huge improvement on its predecessor as it improves the films undercover tale with an even bigger dose of meta comedy and a bigger focus of Channing Tatum’s Jenko. Cameos by Nick Offerman and The Lucas Brothers provide more than enough laughs while the latter manage to fit themselves into the film’s central plot as Schmidt and Jenko begin to wonder if they really are as close as they believe they are. Tatum and Jonah Hill are just as wonderful as the lovable idiots but the films much more expensive looking action and the faster pace work in the films favour as Benny Hill jokes punctuate the films action. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have one upped themselves and it would be surprising if they can do better.
- A Walk Among the Tombstones – It’s been a while since Liam Neeson did a film that had a serious core to it. Either he has found himself hunting people hunting his family across the streets of Paris and Istanbul or he has stopped crime on airplanes with light bright colours and not a care in the world. A Walk Among the Tombstones reintroduces Neeson to the darkness and he thrives in it. Not only is the film brutal and fast paced, it has a sense of good and evil hidden behind all the violence, macho grandstanding and dismemberments. Neeson plays Matt Scudder, a former police officer and recovering alcoholic who works as a P.I for people willing to pay but when he is hired by a drug dealer to find out who murdered his wife he finds himself returning to the kind of police work that drove him to darkness in the first place. The film deals with the idea of collateral damage and repentance and all the while fitting in a compelling and sadistic tale of murder and psychosis. Directed to perfection, this was one of the big surprises of the year and its more than worth seeing just for a top notch, unexpected Neeson performance.
The next list, numbers 20-11 will include a bit of everything, in fact it is a very varied list where not one film is like the other. Come back soon to see what they are.