Monday, February 23, 2015

Top 10 Films of 2014

2014 was an amazing year for film. Plain and simple. The big award season pictures normally are films that try to invoke emotions and nothing more. It makes it hard to re-watch them. As good as films like 12 Years a Slave are, let's face it, you aren't going to be watching them in a hurry. 2014 changed this. So many of the big films this year are re-watchable classics that still leave an impact. They do more than just exploiting our emotions and create engaging films with a variety of acting talent. Now, we're going to take a look at my personal top 10 of the year.

10. Gone Girl
I admit it was hard to pick between Gone Girl and X-Men: Days of Future Past however I ultimately picked the film that made the bigger impact. As fantastic as Quicksilver's scene in X-Men was, Gone Girl has Rosamund Pike leave us with a chilling performance as well as Ben Affleck winning back his recognition as a good actor. The story is gripping as I had no idea what direction it was going to go and highlights everything wrong with modern day society. Along with The Hunt and Watchmen, Gone Girl joins the list of films that anger me yet are just too good to pass up. Social commentary at its finest.

9. Big Hero 6
A surprising choice for best animated feature at the Oscars but I suppose that there is good reason for this. Big Hero 6 has the very same vibe that The Incredibles had and follows its example of what makes an engaging film: the characters. Disney deliver us a great cast of characters so enjoyable that it's actually hard to pick a favourite. Baymax would be probably be mine as he is a loveable companion who Scott Adsit's voice fits perfectly. Hiro proves to be one of the more complex Disney heroes with Yokai also proving to be a complex villain. Disney have been doing immensely well since The Princess and the Frog and show no sign of stopping. I can consider this part of a new Disney Renaissance.  

8. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Apes riding horses...with machine guns. That is one of the best visuals we've seen all year. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes kind of seems like a forgotten film for 2014 and that is a shame. Andy Serkis acts his heart out as the ape Caesar who is now the leader of a tribe of apes who have now encountered humans after several years of absence. The complexities that go into trying to negotiate peace between cultures is what holds the film together with strong characters on both side of the fence. Tony Kebbell excels as Koba, an ape who wants the apes to live on their own with the eradication of humans. This is a deep, deep film that engages audiences with a very strong story and some wonderful performances.

7. The LEGO Movie
I know! It's one of the biggest Oscar snubs in recent film history. Honestly, the fact that it is kind of proves that this film works. The LEGO Movie knows that it's different and embraces this. No-one knew what to expect when the time came to see a film based entirely on plastic bricks but we were given pure joy and surprising depth. It's important to note that this isn't just film told through LEGO people, it is a film that dedicating itself to WHY we love LEGO and why it has made such a huge impact on us while delivering a hilarious, and I mean hilarious, adventure with fresh jokes, an enthusiastic cast and one of the best twists of the year. EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson has a very unique approach to film making that I admire. He even managed to convey his style in his animated film Fantastic Mr. Fox so, at this point, I was looking forward to his most recent offering. The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of the more enjoyable films of the year and easily the best comedy with smart humour and a more subtle tone. Ralph Fiennes is delightful as the hotel manager Gustave accompanied by newcomer Tony Revolori playing his lobby boy Zero. It's a zany film with many fun quirks. Wes Anderson hands us a delightful romp displaying the mad adventures of Gustave and Zero. Also everyone is in this film. Just everyone. Think of an actor and they're probably in this film. 

5. How to Train Your Dragon 2
Shrek the Third and Shrek Forever After aside, Dreamworks are great at sequels. Shrek 2, Kung Fu Panda 2, Madagascar 2 and 3 and now How to Train Your Dragon 2 prove to be some of the company's best works. This film's strengths are found in the idea that the film builds strongly on the foundation that the first one provided. It's good to see the characters we already know grown up, the animation is just gorgeous and the relationship between characters is strengthened. The score is just as good as the original's (which was already beautifully put together) and I was incredibly invested in where the plot was headed. I actually look forward to a third instalment.

4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Another year, another million Marvel films. Where Captain America: The Winter Soldier's pros lie are in its story. The plot of this film could've very easily been used for the next Avengers film however they restrained it and instead we are left with a tightly written espionage film. The ensemble cast do a wonderful job of reprising characters we've come to know as well as new additions such as Anthony Mackie as Falcon fitting in perfectly. The tone is perfect and the action is just a joy to watch. Secrets about the Marvel Cinematic Universe are spilled and delivers us some much needed depth to the universe as a whole. A big step up from Captain America: The First Avenger.

3. Birdman
As you may know by now, this was the best picture winner for this year's Academy Awards and it is very clear to see why. I am curious as to what the script is like for Birdman because the main idea that drew me in was that there were very little cuts. It flows as one long take and keeps things coming in order to keep the attention of the audience. Michael Keaton makes a bombastic comeback into stardom as a washed up super hero actor trying to tackle Broadway. Keaton is also accompanied by some great performances from the likes of Emma Stone, Edward Norton and Zach Galifianakis. Birdman gives us a twisted look at the world of acting and, as this is my background, I can see some of the dilemmas that the film addresses. It's just good to have Michael Keaton back!

2. Guardians of the Galaxy
The worst thing about Guardians of the Galaxy is that it came out the same year as number one on this list. I really wanted to put this as number one'll see why next. Guardians of the Galaxy continues to prove that the Marvel Cinematic Universe can do no wrong (although Ant-Man looks like it could be a first) as we are thrown across the stars in a music filled joy ride. The cast mould into their characters perfectly and deliver some of the best characters we've seen all year. Incredibly quotable, memorable, hilarious, action packed and even some heart is squeezed in. It's amazing that Marvel Studios continue to deliver hit after hit especially with what was originally seen as a rather stupid idea.

1. Whiplash
Guardians of the Galaxy had secured my number one place for the entire year...until Whiplash came along. All I have to say is: J.K. Simmons. Simmons carries this entire film and delivers hands down the best performance of the year. You hang onto every word that he throws at an also great Miles Teller as we see the highs and lows...and further lows of what it takes to be the best in the music industry. Wonderfully performed and gives from great insight into a harsh reality that J.K. Simmons lingers over. It's his film and no-one can tell him otherwise. The music is implemented beautifully as we are delivered nothing short of a spectacular film.

Monday, February 9, 2015

X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer, 2014) Review

2014 was just the best year of comic book fans. Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier proved that Marvel Studios continue to do no wrong (although I'm keeping an eye on Ant-Man), Sony continued their reboot with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (for better or for worse), Batman hit the screens LEGO form and, lastly, we have X-Men's contribution, X-Men: Days of Future Past. X-Men has always been a puzzle to me. I've enjoyed their recent offerings of X-Men First Class and The Wolverine yet I haven't really liked them in the past. The original trilogy was very fforgettableand X-Men Origins: Wolverine destroyed one of my favourite fictional characters (he's getting his own film now so that's a plus. Don't screw this up, Ryan Reynolds) and since this new entry was combining both, I was sceptical. How does it fare? Let's find out.

50 years after the creation of robots designed to hunt mutants known as Sentinels were created, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his team of mutants try their best to face off against the army of Sentinels. However, they can adapt to whatever mutant power that is thrown at them and, now seemingly unbeatable, Xavier must go back in time to stop their inception. Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) has the ability to send people's consciousness back in time to their previous body but the only person who will make the trip is Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Logan wakes up in 1973 where we must team up with a younger Xavier (James McAvoy), Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to prevent the creation of the Sentinels at the hand of Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage).

You with me still? I know, that was one hell of a convoluted plot. Naturally, you'd think that this would be a huge issue as it would just be too much for the audience to take. Actually, I think the plot is well done. Like I said, I prefer all of the stuff set in the past and that is where the bulk of the film is set. The future scenes only act as framing devices for the real plot, the 70s, and the film is more engaging as a result. It's good to see James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender work off each other again and now we have Hugh Jackman thrown into the mix to deliver us a great trio. My only real gripe with the cast is Peter Dinklage. Now don't get me wrong, I adore Peter Dinklage but he was wasted here. In this franchise with so much potential he plays...a guy in a suit...who sits in meetings..really? That's the best they could give the great Peter Dinklage? On the flipside, however, is Evan Peters as Quicksilver. Good God, Quicksilver is the highlight of the film and is easily one of the best characters in the entire franchise. The best scene of the film is the breakout in the Pentagon as it shows off, in a wonderful way, the speed at which Quicksilver can run accompanied by a great song. The combination of music and visuals make this one of the most artistic scenes i've seen in a comic book film and I would love to see more in the future. I suppose the only bad thing about this is that it still damage Avengers: Age of Ultron which is set to have their own version of Quicksilver which I can guarantee will not be as good as this one.

It's rare that the best thing about a comic book film is the acting. Now, I know that there are some fantastic performances in comic book films like Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight and Sebastian Stan in Captain America: The Winter Soldier but when has it ever been THE best thing. Ledger was amazing but so was the rest of the film. When I think of X-Men: Days of Future Past, I instinctively think of the actors. The combination of the old and new actors is also a highlight as it shows the strong progression and development of these characters side by side. It's very insightful and shows how much of an impact X-Men First Class made.  The special effects are also great mostly down to the use of the Sentinels. The Sentinels, while only making minor appearances at the beginning, are thrown at us full force in the last third and it is a great thing to watch. They could've gone further and made an all out war between mutants and Sentinels but the two battles are still a blast.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is definitely the best X-Men film and I think will be forever the best one. not in a way that "it's hard to top this" but in a way that I don't think future instalment will have such strong chemistry between actors nor will they have the artistic element unless they bring Quicksilver back (which they HAVE to) and even if they do, i doubt lightning will strike twice. The ending of the film should please the angered 'fans' who hated the trilogy and sets up a positive future but I feel this is the best it's going to get.

The best the series has to offer and paves the way to a brighter future for the X-Men franchise.