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.
I spent a lengthy time over the last few days looking at other lists compiled by fellow film fans and what I found was plenty of love for films released late into the year and the odd few summer blockbusters. However the next 10 films on this list were mostly summer releases that made me laugh so here are numbers 40 – 31.
Warning Spoiler Alert
How to Train Your Dragon 2 – It cannot be overstated how much I adored the first How to Train Your Dragon. It was smart, cute in just the right ways and most of all it had a great insight into the idea of the relationship between fathers and sons. The sequel expands upon this idea of distorted families but by expanding the world Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) spent the majority of his time changing it feels almost like a step back. The introduction of many new dragons with their own unique personalities took time away from Hiccup and Toothless and therefore made their interaction less special. That being said, the sequel is still beautifully animated and thought out and a major twist late into the films run has just the right emotional weight to work but it is followed up by a rushed finale that while poignant doesn’t feel complete. Then again those looking for some adorable Toothless antics will not be disappointed and although the film doesn’t hold a candle to its predecessor its a darn sight better than most films out this year and although I quibble about some points this was still more than enjoyable enough to make the list.
What If – When Harry Potter ended I assumed much like Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe would just return to some hole in the ground, never to be heard from again. However in the years since he has made a name for himself with some impressive little indie pictures like The Woman in Black and Horns. What If also fits into this category. While some may see it strictly as a rom com, What If is a clever little character study of friendship and the complications that can arise from any kind of camaraderie. The film follows Radcliffe’s Wallace as he pines for Chantry (Indie darling Zoe Kazan), a girl he meets and instantly connects with but is in a relationship. What makes What If so captivating besides the great turns by Radcliffe and Kazan is the friendships they have outside of their own. Be it Wallace’s disturbingly sexual conversations with Allan (Adam Driver) or Chantry’s bitchy yet loving conversations with sister Dalia (Megan Park), the script manages to make each character charming in their own way, warts and all. Although you can predict the ending from the very start the film is all about the journey and the milestones in each relationship and the memories that cling to you even if you don’t want them to.
If I Stay – Although the central premise of If I Stay is a little played out it cuts together its story in a delicate and heartfelt way that makes it more than worth a watch. The film follows Chloe Moretz’s Mia as she is forced to watch the aftermath of a tragic car accident that takes the lives of her entire family from a place between life and death. The films title and central premise is whether or not she should move on with the rest of her family or stick around to be with the remainder of the people who love her, including her grandfather (an excellent Stacy Keach) and Adam (Jamie Blackley), the boy she loves. It’s all very high school but there is a delicacy to the story that raises it above your average manipulative drivel. Moretz grounds the fantastical story in a sense of realism and the constant cuts to the past to add colour to Mia and everything she has lost in one horrific moment frame the film in a way that transitions the film through various stages of grief. If there is anything negative to be said its that the ending, although expected would have been much more powerful without that final moment. Her awakening damages the films overall message and the viewers interpretation of the film despite giving you a happy ending. Sometimes they just aren’t needed.
Draft Day – This Kevin Costner starrer may be a family friendly film but it shows a character at his very lowest without him even realising. The film follows the day of the NFL draft and General Manager Sonny Weavers attempts to get his team out of the dog house that he found himself in after taking over from his father. The film may seem to be about football but in my eyes it was a film about guilt, the guilt Sonny has for pushing his father out of a job he loved (even if it was for the best of reasons), the guilt he has for the way he has treated his girlfriend and fellow co-worker Ali (An understated Jennifer Garner) as well as how he has cut out his employees and avoided any kind of constructive criticism. Sonny isn’t the best of company but everyones assumption that he isn’t a decent guy are completely wrong. The film dives into his character completely through his love of the game that he has worked so hard to celebrate during his tenure at the Cleveland Browns. It doesn’t hurt that the last 30 minutes are rip roaring fun as the draft kicks off and Sonny goes to the races with trades and manipulations until he has everything he could ask for. The side story about his impending fatherhood feels tagged on but ultimately it doesn’t impede the story or the filmmaking it just another aspect of a surprisingly deep film.
Need For Speed – Most critics loathed Need For Speed because it was either a unnecessary video game adaptation or the films story could be shoehorned into about 30 minutes of an over 2 hour film. What they failed to see was a film that didn’t care how much story it had to tell as long as it told it well and accompanied it with some excellently filmed car chases. Sure the film has the perpetually bad Dominic Cooper in it as the main villain but watching him get royally screwed over is enjoyable because well, he’s just that bad. In fact the film works because the actors involved look like they are having a whale of a time making the movie and it adds another layer of fun to the film despite the dark revenge fantasy that lead character Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) is playing out. Imogen Poots is also an entertaining addition to the film as the assistant to a motor mogul but really the film is all about fast cars, ridiculously over the top crashes and a whole lot of constipated driving faces and thats why its so damn entertaining.
A Million Ways to Die in the West – This is another film many were unsure about when it was released but for the average viewer its a hoot. Sure a few jokes don’t work and fart humour never really works in the way people want it to but the film has two excellent performances by Seth MacFarlane and Charlize Theron as two born in the wrong era jokesters that hate the west and everything it conceivably do to you and not for you. Be it the ridiculous cameos from the likes of Ryan Reynolds and Ewan McGregor or the out of time references, there is plenty here to find entertaining and as a follow up to Ted it avoids most of the expectations by changing up the genre but not the humour. Sure it probably would have been funnier with a talking teddy bear as well but it does its job well enough without and MacFarlane has plenty of fun spoofing the western genre while ensuring he doesn’t play into Blazing Saddles territory too much.
Veronica Mars – The first of two Kickstarter funded movies on the list, Veronica Mars brings back a much loved television character but this time on the big screen and while the film does feel like an extended episode of the show there are many reasons to praise it also. Not only does that cast return from their extended hiatus on top form but creator Rob Thomas hasn’t lost Mars’ distinctive voice and sass along the way. The film may have been made on a shoestring budget thanks to donations from people all over the world but it doesn’t look it, in fact it looks just like any other big budget picture with a whole new colour tint to go with it. The shows bright shiny yellows are replaced with a darker blue to represent the darker Neptune that Veronica (Kristen Bell) is returning to. The film feels like the next step, the logical progression for this new grown up Veronica and while she will still be good for a snappy one liner this Veronica doesn’t seem as cynical and yet she also isn’t naive either. She could always think for herself but the film does a good job of showing how much she has grown in the time she’s been away. Although a side story within the film about corruption in Neptune is brought up and dropped from time to time as if its groundwork for a sequel if Warner Bros see fit to make one, it doesn’t really add to the feel of the film. The darkness in this world we once remembered so fondly has crept in and we don’t need an attempted murder to tell us that, we can see it all over the characters faces. Overall though, I loved the series and I liked how the film acted both as a progression of the series and as its own entity for anyone to enjoy so I advise you do.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – I have to admit I hated Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I hated almost everything about it from James Franco’s smug scientist to the way suddenly all apes were intelligent just in time for the big action set piece despite the fact it took Caesar years to gain his knowledge. An action set piece I might add that looked like it was designed on Flash. Dawn however is a far superior film and a damn enjoyable one at that. Not only are actors like Gary Oldman and Andy Serkis doing incredible work in it but it has an entertaining parable about good and evil and the ways intelligence has brought about a primal kind of evil in the Apes that the humans oddly enough had tried to suppress all this time. The film flips the idea of the end of the human world on its head as the apes start the inevitable conflict that many saw coming but hoped wouldn’t. Director Matt Reeves must be commended for a finale so bold and action packed and human light that this finally felt like an Apes movie and not some drivel designed to line James Francos pockets with gold. But Dawn will always be remembered by most for a giant ape riding a horse at a tank, dual wielding machine guns and looking like hes having a blast doing it and why shouldn’t it be remembered for it, it looked awesome.
Lets Be Cops – I’ve never been a huge fan of Jake Johnson as an actor, he always reaches too far with his acting and his comedy always feels ever so slightly smug but his portrayal of man child Ryan in Let’s be Cops is a stroke of genius. It’s equal parts tragic, hilarious and smug that it works perfectly opposite Damon Wayans Jr’s cowardly Justin. The two of them decide to pretend to be cops for a costume party and it spirals out of control from there. Sure the film is childish but so are they and the comedy works because they give themselves over to the films stupidity completely. Be it Justin trying to infiltrate a weapons dealers hangout while tripping out on crystal meth or Ryan trying to avoid wrestling a 300 pound naked man, the film manages to make fresh some very basic comedy. Where the film falls down is how its side characters are represented. They are almost as stupid as this duo of slackers and the fact they play into their delusions that they are in fact good enough to be cops is almost enough to ruin the film but Wayans and Johnson make it work well enough to ignore the idiocy of the premise. Another plus is a cameo by up and coming comedian Keegan Michael Key whose rastafarian gangster is the opposite of what you would expect in all the right ways. The film works just right if you block out your sense of reality and just enjoy the ride.
Bad Neighbours – I didn’t know what to expect from this Seth Rogen starring comedy and although the first 20 minutes made me expect one of the worst films of the year with almost no comedic moments at all it suddenly perks up when Zac Efron and Dave Franco show up and outshine Rogen at his own game. Featuring one of the funniest fight scenes I have seen in a long time, Bad Neighbours really shines when the film concentrates on the fraternity that moves in next door to Rogen’s family and starts causing mayhem. Be it Franco imitating Robert DeNiro with surprising skill or Efron impersonating batman, the film works when they share the screen. However it must be said that Rogen is equally entertaining when riffing with Efron as well as he appears to bring out the best in his costars, much like he does in That Awkward Moment. The only weak note is Rose Byrne who tries her hardest to keep up but never really feels part of the fun despite her many scenes to suggest shes just as fun as the rest of them. The film may start badly and 20 minutes is a long time in comedy to go without laughing, the rest of the film is more than enough to stick around for and more than enough to make it onto the list.
The next part which will hopefully be up tomorrow barring complications is a mixture of all kinds of films including the first Superhero movie, an oscar winner as well as a Young Adult adaptation that really surprised me. See you then.
In my worst film list for this year I wrote that this hasn’t been the best year for film and that it may reflect in my 50 best films of the year list. Thats not to say that any of these films are bad, they just aren’t perfect and while I’d expect some disagreement about some of the early choices (and some of the later ones knowing the internet) I will tell you that I enjoyed all these films, some just a little more than others. So here is the first 10 films of my 50 best films of 2014 list.
Warning Spoiler Alert
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 – I’ve never been a huge fan of The Hunger Games series, be it the first films avoidance of the dark elements the film should have concentrated on or Catching Fire’s decision to just rinse and repeat the events of the first film with no changes or way of differentiating the two. Mockingjay Part 1 however is my favourite of the series as it moves away from the trappings of the games in favour of the brewing rebellion that Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has become the beacon of hope for. The film uses the politics of war as a jumping off point and delves into the darkness of propaganda as President Snow (an excellent Donald Sutherland) starts an all out political war against Katniss and master political manipulator Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who will appear again later on this list). The film worked because it was different, it didn’t pretend that the characters were fearless in their resistance as Katniss and fellow Hunger Games survivors Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) and Finnick (Sam Claflin) suffer from the aftershock of their experiences. The film is all about the little things in war we forget and while the film loses steam in its final act this is a top notch way to really make us care for the films characters before we enter the final act.
Under The Skin – Its hard to put into words the reasons I liked Under The Skin, a bizarre little feature starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien given the task of seducing unsuspecting men for nefarious purposes. From that description you might expect a conspiracy film with some reporter or police officer looking for answers into the various disappearances. Thats not the kind of film Under the Skin is, in fact there is nothing conventional about it. There are long moments where no dialogue is used as we must try to enter the mind of this creature as best we can as she begins to see the beauty and terror of our world for the first time. Her time away from completing this endless mission allows for our culture and sensibilities to seep into her (it?) influencing her journey in the final act where she encounters all the good and bad that this world has to offer. The film, i believe at least, serves as an allegory for us on the whole as we are dumped on a world we know little of and must crawl and scratch our way into understanding only to be ripped out of this world when we still have so much to do/learn. The idea that our time here is important is taken from us in the final moments as the creature’s presence is literally burned away to be forgotten by this planet as if she never existed in the first place. The film may seem to be saying that everything is meaningless but I believe its telling us that no matter what we do the outcome is the same so we should brave every experience and learn for us, not for what we want people to see us as.
Maleficent – Although I am reaching my breaking point when it comes to fairy tales being reimagined with new aspects due to a huge quantity of them in recent years I can’t help but find myself ever so slightly enamoured by Maleficent, a new take on the story of Sleeping Beauty. First off the film doesn’t take itself too seriously like other reimagined tales (I’m looking at you Snow White and the Huntsman) and it doesn’t treat you like a child like others (Jack the Giant Slayer), it finds the right blend of drama and comedy to find a workable balance. However thats not why the film works, it works because Maleficent (A surprisingly impressive Angelina Jolie) is a far more interesting character than Aurora (Elle Fanning). The film ultimately turns Aurora into a two dimensional presence early on in the film by dictating what and who she will be through magic (you’ll understand if you see it) where as Maleficent is allowed to flit back and forth with her emotions and actions, be they good, bad or somewhere in between. Jolie tucks into the role and yet manages to imbue the villain with enough pathos for you to truly care about her and the role she has to play in Aurora’s slumber. While Sharlto Copley pops up to chew scenery and annoy viewers he is barely around long enough to cause any lasting damage but the film does feel a little long and never really manages to lose its fairy tale persona, no matter how hard it tries. The film tries to avoid it but you will always remember what this story is really about which might leave you cold at the films sunny ending.
Fury – This Brad Pitt starring war flick is a complicated pick as when I first left the cinema I was conflicted as to whether or not I actually liked it. David Ayers latest exercise in morbidity is a clever film in the way it manipulates its viewer but there is no denying that is what it does. The film tries to convey the horrors of war through its characters but all it really does is lead you to conclusions instead of allowing you to interpret the film. The ultra violence doesn’t add to the film in the same way as Saving Private Ryan as the moments it is used are over the top (someone literally explodes from what looks like the inside out) and it almost ruins certain action sequences. There is a lot to critique in Fury but the film is full of excellent performances, a bone chillingly brutal ending and some stunning visuals including a tank battle that is wonderfully executed. It’s true the film tries to enter the ring with Spielberg’s classic thanks to where the film is set but it manages to separate itself enough to be its own monster and I’d be impressed if you weren’t completely shocked and impressed by an extended sequence in the middle of the film that really cuts to the core of war in a new and unique way, one that feels as devastating as it should and connects you to the characters in a way that the preceding 30 minutes somehow failed to do. All in all Fury isn’t about war, its about being proud of yourself when the end finally comes around and for most of the characters in Fury, the end inevitably comes.
The Purge Anarchy – The first instalment of The Purge wasn’t perfect because it tried to convince people it was a horror film when it really just wanted to be an action film and by the end thats exactly what it became. Anarchy takes a different tack where it sticks itself firmly in the thriller camp and it manages to thrive because of it. The world that has been built around this idea that crime is legal for 12 hours every year is wonderfully realised and yet harrowing at the same time. The way the rich, the poor and everyone in between respond to this exercise in barbarism is part of the fun of the series and while concentrating on one family in the first film was an interesting way to introduce the concept there was much more to be seen. The open world aspect of Anarchy really brings the series to life and the idea that crime can be used for good is more believable this time around as the unnamed Sergeant (Frank Grillo) searches for vengeance but finds redemption instead while racking up one hell of a body count. A sequence in the middle of the film threatens to ruin the film thanks to its racist undertones but thankfully it wraps up quickly and the film gets back into the exploration of this world. Most of all, Anarchy is balls to the wall entertainment and even if you liked the horror aspects of the first film, you will still find plenty here that you can sink your teeth into.
3 Days to Kill – I’ll put it out there first that 3 Days to Kill is one of the cheesiest films of the year. The film follows the story of a CIA agent (Kevin Costner) who is forced into retirement due to an incurable disease and must return to his estranged family to make amends. However when a mysterious woman offers him a cure he must go on a 3 day killing spree across Paris to catch a terrorist while trying to reconnect with his teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfeld). What I haven’t said about the film is that it has an extremely dry wit that director McG plays into with some playful direction. Be it Costner interrogating a cowardly Italian only to require his help with pasta sauce or him asking for help from his latest targets teenage daughters when his goes missing, the film takes every chance to humanise him. However the film really works because of the chemistry between Costner and Steinfeld who make the films cheddary moments seem more bearable thanks to their believable interactions. In fact I’d go so far as to say you will go into it for the action but stay for the surprisingly heartfelt story of regained family. A massive improvement on McG’s last film, the horrendous This Means War.
Out of the Furnace – When I watched this in January I thought this would be one of those films that would stay in the list until Oscar season but would promptly drop off once the truly great stuff emerged. Unfortunately this is 2014 so it clung to the list. Thats not to say its a bad film, in fact it has some killer performances from an almost unrecognisable Woody Harrelson and Casey Affleck that elevate the film above its very basic vengeance storyline. The parts that make the film worth watching is the way it presents a small town community on the brink of bankruptcy and the shocking underbelly that has emerged to fill in the gaps. The film both embraces the beauty of the rural area around the industrial town as well as the dilapidated centre. The film makes a powerful point that these kinds of towns are reverting back to the rural areas they once used to be as the local factory looks to be on its last legs and everyone has reverted to fending for themselves in a very primal way. The only real downside is the film tries desperately to make you care for its lead character played by Christian Bale and by the films end you can’t really understand why you ever could. Be it that or the presence of perpetually bad Zoe Saldana this film is a mixed bag but its photography is stunning and you can relax and take it in like a soothing balm to the other problems.
That Awkward Moment – This Zac Efron starring relationship drama isn’t the most original of films, it tells relationship stories that are as old as time but the way the characters walk, talk and interact with the world around them is so real and well thought out that it just had to be on the list. The trio of leads, be it Efron, the underutilized Michael B Jordan or Miles Teller, are fantastic as they mix the script and their own improvised ideas into one coherent story as they each try and court a different girl, each of whom has fun playing with the films style as well. The film however really belongs to Efron whose misogynistic party boy character is a delight from beginning to end even if he does some pretty questionable things along the way. His struggles feel important and his relationship with Imogen Poots Ellie is the best part of the picture, not only because they play off each other so well but because of the way the simple thread of commitment issues feels fresh when in the hands of these performers. It might not be the most unique idea but if you do something right it doesn’t have to be.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom – This is a bittersweet film for many different reasons, be it its story of a man willing to compromise his beliefs for his people but not for his family or the way the film glosses over some of the more interesting elements to paint a particular picture, one that might not shine a light on the real Mandela. The early moments concentrate on the cosmetic elements of the man, his likes, his dislikes. Lets be honest, when we think of a film about Mandela we don’t particularly want to know he was a fan of boxing, it just doesn’t feel relevant to the story. It does paint him as human but to be honest so does the fact that HE WAS HUMAN. The film’s final moments also gloss over the man in favour of the myth, the man we all hear about but know nothing about. It’s the middle of the film that matters and that really hits home, be it his time in prison while his family flounders on the outside and his wife (Naomie Harris) is punished more harshly than the man serving a life sentence. She is emotionally tortured and while hard to watch it is captivating at the same time. In fact Harris is the main draw, not to diminish an excellent Idris Elba, but the heart of the film comes from the unintended side effects of Mandela’s idea of freedom. By the end he had caused huge change in a country that needed and corrupted the soul of the one person he held dear to the point where she was unrecognisable to him. The film doesn’t delve into their divorce and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture of Mandela’s reaction to seeing what his wife has become but you can feel the pain, the hidden impact has become more than real thanks to Harris and Elba.
Transformers: Age of Extinction – Ok, bear with me on this one. I can tell many of you are thinking what the hell is this guy smoking for putting this up here but hear me out and I’ll explain. The 4th instalment in the Transformers saga is arguably the best of the bunch as it carries on the tradition of exquisite action set pieces but manages to give them a much more human touch thanks to an actor who actually wanted to be in the films. The film follows Cade (Mark Wahlberg), a wannabe inventor who finds himself embroiled in a plot to destroy the planet when he comes across a powered down Transformer. What makes the film worth watching isn’t robot dinosaurs although they are fairly entertaining. What makes it worthy of the list is the fact that director Michael Bay has actually given the various characters (both human and metal aliens) personalities and character traits beyond the fact they are big, loud and capable of destruction on a massive scale. Although there is all of that you actually care about people in the film. The budding relationship between Cade’s daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) and boy racer Shane (Jack Reynor) should have been cut for its gag inducing elements but beyond that this is just pure entertainment and a cameo performance by T.J Miller provides some much needed comedy early on.
Come back Sunday for part 2 of the list which includes a big dollop of comedy as well as the first of 3 animations to grace the list. See you Sunday.