Top 10 Films 2014

As part of EdgarReviews’ 12 Days of Christmas, a Top 10 will be posted every few days from 14th December to 25th December.

2014 has been one of my favourite years for films in a very long time; there’s been a fantastic mix of prolific blockbusters, engrossing indies and offbeat comedies. Due to various reasons, including UK release dates, I haven’t had a chance to watch heavily-touted flicks like Whiplash, Birdman, Gone Girl and Foxcatcher. Therefore this list may appear rather different to any other written so far; though rest assured, all films on this list are deservedly praised; I can’t recommend them enough.

10. CHEF

Chef, directed by and starring Jon Favreau, is a joy to watch from start to finish. While it certainly doesn’t carry a large amount of emotional heft and drama, that’s not the point; Chef’s lack of cynicism is refreshing, where Favreau only intends to take the audience on a culinary journey with a heartwarming family (including a child actor that’s actually good!) and some excellent dishes. The film follows Favreau as he decides to start a food truck business with his family directly after a disagreement at his previous restaurant. As he begins the journey, comedic moments, family bonding and feel-good moments ensue. With a stellar cast (Robert Downey Jr’s cameo a particular highlight), a soundtrack guaranteed to make you smile and succulent meals that will make any sane audience member’s stomach rumble, Chef earns its number 10 spot with aplomb.

9. NIGHTCRAWLER

Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom almost steals the show in Nightcrawler, directed by newcomer Dan Gilroy. Unsettling and intense, the film focuses on Bloom’s pursuit of his twisted version of ‘The American Dream’, where he chooses to start a crime footage business. Hiring a hapless intern, brilliantly played by Four Lions’ Riz Ahmed, the film spirals into insanity as Bloom’s actions grow increasingly more hungry, dangerous and sinister. While the performances are mesmerising at times – Rene Russo’s Nina, a television news producer should also be included in this appraisal – they hardly carry the film; the script is sharp, the pacing is perfect and the cinematography is beautiful – the LA streets haven’t looked this sleek since Nicolas Winding-Refn’s Drive.
Nightcrawler Review here.

8. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS

The New Zealand indie What We Do In the Shadows is 2014’s funniest pure comedy. Taking the recently flooded vampire premise and turning it on its head, the film is a mockumentary that mainly follows three vampires (and later a fourth) through their endeavours and antics while living in a house as flatmates. Performances are strong and the sparse effects are used well, but the hero of this flick is its witty script, producing fantastic one-liners – “We’re werewolves, not swearwolves” and “No, you can’t kill the cameramen. Maybe one cameraman.” – and hilarious situations, including a literal bat fight, that had the audience laughing their heads off.

7. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

As far as blockbuster-esque films go, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (that’s quite am mouthful) is one of the best of the decade. Building upon its predecessor’s success, the film offers more thrilling action sequences, greater special effects, a larger amount of moral ambiguity, and all while maintaining its quality to a vast target demographic. Stunning scenes (a particular 360-degree action shot comes to mind) make up large portions of the film; it follows the struggle between humans and apes ten years after the pandemic that wiped out the majority of humans. The tension between the two parties build, and inevitably boil over as mutiny and treachery unfold. Andy Serkis delivers a stunning performance (though not an Oscar-worthy one, like many claim) that is aided by the remarkable special effects that seamlessly fit into the film.

6. THE LEGO MOVIE

The greatest animated movie since PIXAR’s Up, The Lego Movie is a  hilarious addition to Christopher Miller and Phil Lord’ filmography, proving their worth as one of the best recent writer/director pairs (the Jump Street franchise proves that). The film is beautifully animated, made to look like classic stop-motion; it’s a wise decision that gives the film a stylistic, creative tone and sets itself apart from the current flood of 3D animations. As far as plots go, it’s surprisingly eloquent and meaningful for a children’s film – following a regular guy (Chris Pratt) who’s mistaken as ‘The Chosen One’, he sets himself on an adventure, joined by a crew featuring the voice talents of Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, and a Batman brilliantly written and played by Will Arnett, as they attempt to stop an evil businessman (Will Ferrel) from world domination. The gags are thrice-a-minute, hitting you fast and with little rest. It’s a joy to watch the plot unfold, where its animation, witty script and well-written characters provide the audience with one of the most fun movies to view in ages.

5. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

Released in the UK in 2014, Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the Coen Brothers’ best, featuring a script as achingly depressing and darkly comedic as you would expect from the pair of directors. One of the strengths of the Coens is their ability to create interesting, oft-hilarious characters while maintaining a sense of believability, and that’s no more apparent here as the titular character (played brilliantly by Oscar Isaac) is confronted with such characters as Carey Mulligan’s spiteful ex-lover, John Goodman’s disturbed jazz musician, Adam Driver’s eccentric friend, and Garret Hedlund’s constantly-smoking poet. The array of offbeat characters don’t burden the brooding, droll script; it’s both hilarious and discouraging to watch Davis as he struggles through his life, let down by both his luck and his faulted endeavours. The film is aided by some great folk-songs on display, where Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake are a particular highlight. The cinematography, too, is excellent, capturing a nostalgic atmosphere as well as its brooding tone.

4. THE DOUBLE

Director Richard Ayoade’s follow-up to his critically acclaimed Submarine, The Double more than dispels any doubts about Ayoade’s talent as a filmmaker. The Double is truly excellent, and would be higher on any list if 2014 wasn’t such a fantastic year for films. Jesse Eisenberg plays both Simon James and James Simon – one an introverted slither of a man, another a confident, charmingly dangerous double, his entrance sending Simon James (and only Simon James) into delirium. Simon Jame’s pursuit to befriend and seduce his love interest (Brilliantly played by Mia Wasikowska) is halted by his double’s antics, and a rivalry forms, and spirals out of control. Adapted off of a Dostoyevsky novella, the flick has a suitably bleak and claustrophobic feel that increases tension tenfold. It’s a deeply polarising production that will turn away many critics – its subtle humour and crazed plot points will confuse and frustrate as much as it will entertain, but that’s no matter – it’s an ingenious film that bludgeons the audience with symbolism, wit and an ending that forces the audience to stay attentive. While both the direction and the performances are terrific, they don’t overshadow the striking, musty cinematography (its claustrophobic feel increased by a lack of any sunlight shown) and a pumping, mechanical soundtrack fitting of what the film tries (and succeeds) to present.

3. INTERSTELLAR

Interstellar is not a perfect film. Brimming with exposition, a tendency to force-feed the audience, and clunky dialogue, Nolan’s latest is frustrating at times. Despite all this, watching Interstellar in IMAX 70mm was my favourite cinematic experience of my life thus far; so good, I watched it twice more. Nolan is oft-criticised (though I disagree) with being technically fantastic but emotionally distant. Interstellar serves as an antithesis to this point with some heartbreaking scenes – one particular children-to-father segment being a standout. Yet the director maintains his technical prestige with one of the year’s best cinematography – certainly the year’s best special effects. The effects – accompanied by Hans Zimmer’s amazing score that boasts soulful organs – lead to some amazingly vast and overwhelming scenes – a giant wave captivates the audience magnificently – as does the brooding tension of a perceived antagonist trying to dock incorrectly. As far as performances go, each actor brings a verve and sentimentality about them that allows them to escape their caricature. Interstellar was my most anticipated film of 2014, and it didn’t let me down. It may have left me slightly frustrated, but that’s only because I know its minute shortcomings prevent the sci-fi epic from becoming a masterpiece; the fact that it received such mixed reviews is mind-blowing given how impressive the film was – a clear portrayal of how expectations of Nolan have risen dangerously high.

2. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

Wes Anderson is one of my favourite, if not my favourite modern directors. The Grand Budapest Hotel is my new favourite of his (muscling out The Royal Tenenbaums),a delightful and charming tale of a hotel and its owner (magnificently played by Ralph Fiennes, fitting seamlessly into his against-typecast comedic role), aided by a lobby boy (Tony Revolori, also fantastic) in attempting to steal a world-renowned painting (to which they rightfully own), encountering villainous characters and obstacles in the form of iron bars. It’s deeply funny, with slapstick moments (“Did he just throw my cat out the window?”) and classic Anderson humour (“You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh, fuck it. “) that add to the flick’s breakneck pace. Yet it’s also subtly sorrowful – a war subplot is sparsely mentioned but cuts through the comical facade like butter, hinting at a much more tragic backdrop. The mood isn’t dampened too much, however – eye-globbering visuals, Desplat’s nostalgic score and Ralph Fienne’s off-kilter performance is enough to maintain The Grand Budapest Hotel’s stylistic perfection. There is little to fault with the film, and if it wasn’t being released in the same year as the final film on this list, it would surely make the top spot…
The Grand Budapest Hotel Review here.

1. BOYHOOD

And here we have my favourite film of the year; Linklater’s Boyhood is a moving, fascinating and honest depiction of life – not just life as a boy, as the title suggests, but life as a sibling, life as a father, life as a single parent. The film is a 3-hour epic that feels anything but; it’s reserved and raw, subtle in its portrayal of the important things in life. Events in the film appear as strands – not adding up to anything and simply in a state of being. While this could be perceived as a criticism, it’s quite the opposite – this is life, true life, and not what is shown in the slew of coming-of-age flicks. Each event holds great sentimental value and weight when pieced together – you feel as you are living the life of Mason (Understatedly played out by Ellar Coltrane) – Linklater’s ability to eek out naturalness is uncanny. Boyhood isn’t just ambitious – it’s a structural masterpiece and a film that will be remembered for a very long time. I’ve now seen this film twice and it hit me harder the second time – the mere thought of Coltrane’s life squeezed from an expanded state into a production is oddly profound – a sentiment shared by Mason’s mum (Patricia Arquette in what should surely earn her an Oscar nomination, if not a win for best supporting actress) as she utters the devastating line “I just thought there would be more”. Resonating deeply with me – and most likely many more out there – Boyhood is an eloquent portrayal of life and the moments worth living for.
Boyhood Review here.

Top 10 Movie Scenes 2014

As part of EdgarReviews’ 12 Days of Christmas, a Top 10 will be posted every few days from 14th December to 25th December.

WARNING: This post contains major spoilers for many films released this year.

10. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET – QUAALUDES

Released in January here in the UK, Scorsese’s latest was a fun, if uneven and at times tedious romp that showcased both DiCaprio and Jonah Hill in fine form. The stand-out scene of the film epitomises their performances with a drug-fuelled segment; DiCaprio, after taking too many Quaaludes, hits the deck and limply traverses towards his car, which he then has to try and not damage. He then wrestles with Hill – also affected by the heavy-hitting drugs – in order to protect himself from the FBI, immediately followed by saving Hill’s life to the image of Popeye. It’s an insane scene – even for the film’s vulgar standards – that leaves the audience either dumbfounded or in tears with laughter.

9. 22 JUMP STREET – CAPTAIN’S DAUGHTER

22 Jump Street managed to build on the success of 21 with witty self-references and abundant slapstick; hilarious in equal measures. Its funniest scene arrives at the point where Schmidt (Jonah Hill, yet again) is revealed to have gone missionary on the Captain’s (Ice Cube) daughter. What makes this scene work is the side-splitting reaction of Channing Tatum – showcasing his diversity in acting with a hugely popular comedic performance – where he parades around the Jump Street headquarters with disbelief. Both Hill, Ice Cube and the audience can only watch on as Tatum delivers one of the best comedic scenes of the year.

8. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 -TIMES SQUARE BATTLE

There’s no denying that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 wasn’t that great a film. Even so, it managed to have a surprisingly excellent set piece in the form of Electro and Spider-Man’s (Jamie Foxx and Andrew Garfield respectively) first standoff. Afraid and unaware, Foxx stumbles into Times Square and is immediately bombarded by police; a tragic figure surrounded by foreign faces, Spiderman takes it upon himself to reason with Foxx. A foolish sniper strike quickly puts an end to the discussion and Electro unleashes his fury around all of Times Square – a slow-motion spidey-sense save being a particular highlight. The scene is held together with a fantastic Hans Zimmer score that fully fleshes out the epic scope.

7. CHEF – FAVREAU’S OUTBURST

Chef was the best feel-good film of the year – there wasn’t a cynical bone in its body. All the moments of heartwarming family connection and cuban sandwiches are juxtaposed by scenes of brutal, delicious anger, and Favreau displayed such acts in a scene nearing the end of the flick’s first act – which serves as a catalyst for his decision to work in a food truck. After feared critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) rips into his restaurant’s boring, reserved menu, all the pressure leads to a stunning outburst from Favreau where he spews superlatives at Platt’s face, corrects his culinary knowledge and slams chocolate lava cake all over the table while shouting “It’s fucking molten!” and “You’re not getting to me!”. It’s hilarious and relevant to the film industry and critic system in equal measures – a neat allegory to Favreau’s Iron Man 2 reception.

6. THE INBETWEENERS 2 – POOP CHUTE

Though let down by a lack of fleshed out characters and any fulfilling resolution, The Inbetweeners 2 is funnier than its prequel and it owes that attribute to scenes such as this – Will (Simon Bird) bum-shuffling down a slide away from an upcoming hazard in the form of Neil’s (Blake Harrison) excrement. The chase ends with an unaware Will – thinking that he’s escaped – promptly being smashed in the face by the brown stuff. Cue an outrageously disgusting segment where he helplessly spews into the surrounding pool as sickened tourists flee from the scene. It’s surprising that such a vulgar scene can shock the audience – even when you’re familiar with the antics of The Inbetweeners.

5. BOYHOOD – LETTING GO

Boyhood is a stunning, relatable film that generates its power by resonating with the audience. It’s an understated, subtle tearjerker, made all the more prominent by a particular scene where Mason (Ellar Coltrane) leaves for college and his mum (Patricia Arquette) reacts with devastating rawness, breaking down and displaying every rush of emotion felt at the sending off of one of your beloved. It speaks volume of Linklater’s directorial capabilities when the utterance of the line “I just thought there would be more” hits so deeply with the audience. Boyhood is a great film, and with the inclusion of this scene, is made a masterpiece.

4. NIGHTCRAWLER – FINAL CHASE

Nightcrawler contains one of the best finales of 2014. This scene is a buildup of the brooding LA tension and Gyllenhaal venom that is prominent throughout, and as the bubble bursts following a shootout, a terrifically staged and shot car chase plays out – ending with the betrayal of Lou Bloom’s companion and intern (Riz Ahmed). It’s a scene that encapsulates the film as a whole – dangerous, unforgiving and brutal – Gyllenhaal is here to win the game, at all costs.

3. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL – MUSEUM

There were so many fantastic scenes to choose from in The Grand Budapest Hotel – a cat being thrown out a window, the prison escape and the winter olympics chase. I settled, however, on a brilliant museum scene that follows Deputy Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum) attempting to escape a hitman (Willem Dafoe) through a museum. A shrill score, fantastic use of shadows and Wes Anderson’s signature style creates an intense, suspenseful chase that leaves the audience on tenterhooks. Heart in mouth, and hopeful of Goldblum’s survival, the scene crescendoes with a startling swift shut of a door and sever of the poor Kovac’s fingers – muffled screams signifies the character’s demise. The shocking nature of his death is made all the more surprising by its goriness – a rare sight by Wes Anderson that highlights the fact that he’s not fooling around. Up until this scene, The Grand Budapest Hotel had been an enjoyable, harmless flick. With this scene over, the film is elevated completely with the knowledge that no-one is safe.

2. X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST – TIME IN A BOTTLE

Any reservations Marvel fans had over Quicksilver’s portrayal were quickly put away by the stand-out scene of the film – the remaining runtime seemingly anticlimatic in comparison. With the mutants – Fassbender, Jackman and McAvoy – in danger as guards point their guns towards them and shoot, Quicksilver (Cheekily played by Evan Peters) takes it upon himself to save them and have fun in the process. With the integration of stunning effects, slapstick humour and a fitting, witty song to boot, this scene highlights X-Men’s light-hearted side of affairs, adding relief to an otherwise more serious flick.

1. INTERSTELLAR – DOCKING

Like The Grand Budapest Hotel, there are so many fantastic scenes to choose – from giant waves to tear-jerking messages and extra-dimensional tesseracts, Interstellar was one incredible set-piece after another. However, it had to be the epic docking scene that takes the number 1 spot as this year’s best scene – with the Endurance spinning out of control following Mann’s death, Cooper (McConaughey) decides to match rotation and lock onto the Endurance’s docking mechanism – a feat that is deemed impossible. McConaughey’s response – “No, it’s necessary” – promptly followed by Hans Zimmer’s booming No Time For Caution score creates a scene so epic and powerful that my mouth opened agape for its entire duration – all three times I watched the film. The stunning effects too help to solidify this scene’s colossal scope., and solidify this scene as one of the best in a very long time.

Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2015

As part of EdgarReviews’ 12 Days of Christmas, a Top 10 will be posted every few days from 14th December to 25th December.

2015 is set to be one of the biggest years in film history. The sheer amount of hotly-awaited blockbusters (Terminator: Genisys, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, Avengers: Age of Ultron to name a few) is only one of the reasons why next year will break box office boundaries. The amount of potentially fantastic films is so impressive that there’s no room for the Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain drama, A Most Violent Year, the nostalgic hits of Terminator: Genisys and Jurassic World, David O’Russel’s latest, Joy, and the Marvel centerpiece, Avengers: Age of Ultron.

10: SPECTRE

UK Release Date: 6th November 2015
US Release Date: 6th November 2015

I haven’t been too impressed by the Daniel Craig era of James Bond. Casino Royale was unfulfilling, Quantum of Solace was objectively poor and Skyfall didn’t have the feel of a Bond movie. But I’m excited for Spectre. Very excited. And that’s because of its bolstered cast. Lea Seydoux is the new Bond girl, Andrew Scott joins Craig as an ally, and most importantly, Christoph Waltz is the new Bond villain. Anybody who has seen Inglourious Basterds will know that he’s going to knock it out of the park.

9: THE MARTIAN

UK Release Date: 27th November 2015
US Release Date: 25th November 2015

When it comes to cast ensembles, it’s hard to turn your head away from The Martian. Helmed by Ridley Scott, this film could potentially be a return to form for the wayward director (Prometheus was shunned and Exodus is currently getting lacklustre reviews). The film follows Matt Damon as he attempts to survive while being stranded on Mars with limited resources. Add to that promising premise with a cast featuring Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels and Chiwitel Ejiofor, The Martian has enough starpower to be stunning. If Scott can keep the film running smoothly and not place visual set-pieces over substance then we could be looking at one heck of a film.

8: THE GOOD DINOSAUR

UK Release Date: 27th November 2015
US Release Date: 25th November 2015

PIXAR are, for the first time in their history, releasing 2 films in one year. The first, Inside Out, looks relatively underwhelming. The second however, The Good Dinosaur, shows much more promise. The film tells the tale of an Apatosaurus named Arlo befriending a young boy. It poses the question: what would happen to the Earth if Dinosaurs were never wiped out. With the ingenious premise we’ve come to expect of PIXAR, their sumptuous visuals, and a stellar voice cast (Frances McDormand, Neil Patrick Harris, Bill Hader), The Good Dinosaur is my bet to be the animated film of the year.

7: PAN

UK Release Date: 17th July 2015
US Release Date: 24th July 2015

I’ll be completely honest; until it’s fantastic trailer, I wasn’t sold on Pan beforehand. It seemingly followed a long string of sub-par gritty fairytale reboots (no, I’m not even gonna try and list them all), but I’m hopeful that Pan will break this run. Simply put, the film looks wonderful from both a visual and stylistic perspective. Of course it would; the film is directed by Joe Wright, known for his adventurous directorial style – both Anna Karenina and Atonement were wonderfully crafted. Pan itself follows Levi Miller as the titular character, swept away from his orphanage where he battles against Hugh Jackman’s frightening Blackbeard. Rooney Mara, Garrett Hedlund, Amanda Seyfried and Cara Delvigne also star; Pan is yet another fantastic cast ensemble of 2015.

6: THE HATEFUL EIGHT

UK Release Date: TBA
US Release Date: TBA

The only reason The Hateful Eight is not higher up on my list is because I don’t rate Quentin Tarantino as highly as others do. But anybody who doesn’t look forward to Tarantino’s next flick following the success of Django Unchained worries me. It looks just as bloody, violent and iconic as his previous films; and yup, its cast is also fantastic. Samuel L Jackson, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, Kurt Russell, and potentially both Jennifer Lawrence and Channing Tatum feature. In terms of plot points, it’s being kept under wraps (unless of course you’ve had the fortune of peeking at its leaked script that caused a flurry of backlash and Tarantino to momentarily drop the project).

5: THE SEA OF TREES

UK Release Date: TBA
US Release Date: TBA

Matthew McConaughey has already proven himself as a fine actor, and The Sea of Trees looks to be another addition to the ‘McConaissance’. Featuring both McConaughey and Ken Watanabe, the film follows the pair as they befriend one another following an attempted suicide. Directed by Gus Van Sant, The Sea of Trees is seemingly a gem in the flurry of blockbusters in 2015.

4. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

UK Release Date: 18th December 2015
US Release Date: 18th December 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens had to be on this list somewhere, despite me not being a huge fan of the Star Wars franchise (both the originals and the prequels). Sending nerds into delirium with its announcement, the trailer more than shows that JJ Abrams is comfortable with helming such a huge project. The cast itself is also impressive: Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and the return of the familiar Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford makes this an unmissable film. Whether you enjoy the franchise or not, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a film you need to see in cinemas.

3. CRIMSON PEAK

UK Release Date: 16th October 2015
US Release Date: 16th October 2015

Guillermo Del Toro’s latest project, Crimson Peak, tells the story of a woman (Mia Wasikowska) who mistakenly marries a suspicious character (Tom Hiddlestone). The acclaimed director goes back to his horror roots, which is a welcome sight when you look at his last film, the horrendous Pacific Rim. The cast is one of the best of 2014, with the aforementioned actors plus Jessica Chastain and Charlie Hunman. I don’t usually go for horror, but Crimson Peak has certainly piqued my interest…

2. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

UK Release Date: 15th May 2015
US Release Date: 15th May 2015

Forget Star Wars, Jurassic World, Avengers and Terminator – Mad Max: Fury is the blockbuster I’m looking forward to most of all in 2015. Just look at the trailer – it’s absolutely stunning. Aside from being a visual masterpiece, the film looks entirely engrossing, a rare feat when the plot consists of a 2 hour car chase. Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult all star in the film, though the hero is George Miller, a director that was made famous due to his Mad Max films. If you remain doubtful that Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t going to be excellent, just remember this – the studio was so impressed with the film that they walloped a hefty added budget to reshoot and make the flick even more spectacular.

1. BIRDMAN

UK Release Date: 1st January 2015
US Release Date: 14th November 2014

My most anticipated film of 2015 is also the earliest film released in the list; already released in the US, us UK citizens only have to wait til the start of 2015 for Birdman. I’ve only seen one film from its director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, which was Javier Bardem’s Biutiful, a fantastically morbid and grim look at Barcelona that makes me excited for Birdman. The film has been picking up awards in abundance, is a frontrunner in numerous categories for the Academy Awards, and will most likely grab a Golden Globe. It’s been met with universal acclaim, where critics have especially pointed out Keaton’s performance. That’s not to say Keaton is the only A-list actor in the film – Naomi Watts, Zach Galifanakis, Emma Stone and Ed Norton all put in strong performances. Birdman looks to be a mind-bender of a film, with beautiful cinematography and fantastic camera work – the whole film is made to look like one continuous shot. I’m definitely hyped for it.