Category Archives: top five

Top Five Films of 2014

2014 is coming to an end, and so it becomes time to look back and reflect on the year that has past. It started with the oscars, and to no one’s surprise 12 Years A Slave dominated the awards.

The summer box office saw science fiction, fantasy and superhero movies completely dominate proceedings. One has to go to 13 (Rio 2) before one can find a film outside one of these three genres. Also, although not all the films in the Top Ten were sequels, films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Maleficent (2 and 3 respectively) definitely benefitted from the Marvel and Disney brand recognition. This will continue to be the case, with only a handful of directors (Nolan, Jackson, Scott, del Toro, Cameron) able to get blockbuster levels of funding for original projects. Finally, 3D is dead, or at least paying extra for it is. IMAX is the future now. Expect to hear little about whether a film is 3D or not over the next few years.

Finally, the year ended with one of the oddest diplomatic incidents of recent years, after a Seth Rogen film caused the type of tension normally associated with cuban missiles or the shooting down of passenger jets. The truth of the matter seems somewhat muddied, although what seems to have emerged is Sony relying on alternate streams of revenue to big theatres to ensure a profit. Perhaps The Interview will mark a watershed moment where the simultaneous release of “Video on Demand” for non-blockbuster films is the rule rather than the exception.

Anyway onto the main event, my Top Five Films of 2014:

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5. Frank

I’m a big fan of Jon Ronson’s writing (The Men Who Stare at Goats, Them, and Psychopath Test among his best known). If you’re unfamiliar with him, he has a similar style to Louis Theroux in that he gets to know people on the outskirts of society in a non-judgemental way. Before he was a well-known writer, Ronson was part of Frank Sidebottom’s band. Frank is a fictional retelling of that time told from the point of view of Jon (Domhnall Gleeson).

The film is an exploration of the thin line between being true creativity and madness. Frank (Michael Fassbender) refuses to take off his paper maché head through out the film for reasons that are never completely clear. Jon is determined to make his band a success, despite the protests of the other odd ball members of the band for whom the art is all that matters.

Like its protagonist, Frank is both eccentrically funny yet undeniably tragic. It gets to the heart of the fact that often we want to change the most idiosyncratic of our acquaintances to be ‘normal’ like the rest of us, and yet there is something beautiful and appealing about someone who chooses to live outside those norms.

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4. Interstellar

Christopher Nolan currently stands alone as a director able to command big budgets and do something spectacular and original with it. Standing on the shoulders of Kubrick and Spielberg, he does this with Interstellar which not only looks beautiful but which inspires us to see beauty in the universe we live in.

It’s not a perfect film, and undoubtedly owes a lot to 2001: A Space Odyssey, yet it forces us to look up and out at our place in the universe, a rarity in film and also in sharp contrast to the other big sci-fi success of this year, Guardians of the Galaxy.

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3. Lego Movie

There’s just something joyful and hopeful about this movie that meant it would have been a crime to leave it out. The Lego Movie, like The Muppets or Wallace and Gromit seems to inhabit such a positive, funny, imaginative space that it’s impossible not to want to be a part of its world.

Its rare a franchise film manages to capture what’s so *ahem* awesome about its product, but The Lego Movie managed to perfectly capture what makes the toy such a hit with generation after generation of children since its inception.

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2. Her

On paper, the concept of Her seems like a bad Saturday Night Live sketch: a man falling in love with the “Siri”-like personality of his computer. However, there is a depth and subtlety to the execution of the concept that sends it well beyond its initial idea.

Her explores notions of regret, intimacy, AI, and romance in a profound, funny and endearing way. Like Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, it allows us to think about technological advancement by focussing on the unchanging aspects of human nature. No matter how much the world changes around us, we still need companionship, acceptance and love. However, can we ever experience such things from an articificial being?

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1. Boyhood

There’s nothing original about my choice for Best Film of 2014, however, perhaps that is testament to the quality of the film. Boyhood is a film that transcends the medium and shows us the power cinema can truly have. Filmed over 12 years, Boyhood shows us the growth of a young boy, Mason, into adulthood.

There are so many wonderful moments in the film it’s hard to pick out just one or two. What it manages to capture beautifully though is the changing problems you deal with as you get older. Whether that be an annoying sister who tries to get you in trouble, changing schools, a new haircut, or a new step-father, there’s something simply amazing about the way such an individual story will evoke so many different memories in the mind of each individual viewer. A masterpiece that will be studied and adored for many years to come.

Top Five Films of 2013

2013 has been a year where sequels and franchises have continued to dominate the Box Office. The top five films in the worldwide box office all fit into this category with Gravity and The Croods the only original films breaking into the top ten (although Frozen probably still has some business left to do).

Likewise R-Rated movies (or 15/18 certificate movies in the UK) are virtually dead box office wise. The Hangover Part III at number nineteen being the highest grossing film in this category.

Expect to see these trends continue in 2014 as audiences and studios alike enjoy the comfort that comes from familiarity.

Anyway, in all I reckon I’ve seen 52 of the films released in 2013 so one for each week of the year. I’ve managed to boil this list down to just five. So in true buzz feed style here is: The Top Five Films of 2013 only true movie fans will appreciate.

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Top Five Films of Edinburgh International Film Festival

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So Edinburgh International Film Festival is over another year. The festival has become a time of exhilaration and frustration for me. Exhilaration, in that I get to see lots of amazing independent films; and frustration in that one of the few downsides of having a full-time job as teacher is that I cannot take time off to see all the films I would like to.

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Five Blockbusters That Aren’t Stupid (Hollywood Take Note)

Some recent postings on the site around whether Movie Audiences are Getting Dumber, or if The Movie Industry is close to an Implosion have resulted in a lot of discussion about the current state of Hollywood. Most seem to agree that there are too many dumb, overblown blockbusters out there and they would like to see something more than movies like Transformers, G.I. Joe or Pirates of the Caribbean are giving them.

I think it’s important before we criticize movies like those mentioned, we should always have a better ideal in mind. So if we think Battleship was a load of nonsense, we should be able to name a similar type of action movie that shows that genre of movie can, and should be much better (Aliens for example).

It is also vital we do recognize that there are films out there that do get it right, and that actually if we take a step back, there have been some really fantastic movies released over the past ten years. It is also my opinion that movies are not getting dumber, every decade has had popular films that lack creativity and intelligence. However, it is important that we as consumers do our best to avoid paying for films we know are not likely to challenge our intellect. That is, of course, if we have any interest in seeing things improve.

So with that in mind, I have decided to create a list that studios can refer to when trying to produce movies that not only have mass appeal, but actually contain a little bit of artistic merit as well. To make things even simpler, I have grouped them by genre, and only included movies from the past decade or so. There really is no excuse to EVER resort to desperately raiding your board games cupboard for inspiration for a movie ever again.

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Animated – Wall-E

Wall-E is my favourite of Pixar’s movies. No mean feat, when one considers Toy Story 1-3, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Up could all have an equal stake for this position in the list. Like those movies its brilliance centres in a simple, engaging story and a central relationship we are able to invest in. Its first act in particular is probably as close to perfection as thirty minutes of cinema can ever come.

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Superhero – The Dark Knight

All of Christopher Nolan’s films have than wonderful mix of intelligence and mass appeal. In that sense he is this generation’s Hitchcock. Someone who knows precisely what the audience wants, but also creates films with proper ideas and themes running through them. In The Dark Knight we see the theme of heroics as Batman must make the choice between his reputation and saving Gotham from itself. Rich, dense, but never truly losing its comic roots it is a film that has set a standard for what superhero movies should be.

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Family – Hugo

Martin Scorcese (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Departed) is not a director known for making warm, fuzzy family films, and while Hugo is not a warm, fuzzy film it is nevertheless a lot more life-affirming than most of his work to date. Set in 1930s France it sees the young titular character searching for a key to a mechanical robot which is the boy’s last link to his deceased father. This film, like Wall-E has a superbly written story which is full of surprises, as well as containing characters with proper depth and issues of loss and bereavement that are explored beautifully within the film. Criminally under seen upon release, seek it out if you were one of the many who let it pass you by.

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Teenage – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Like Wall-E I really could have chosen any from this series after the third one. However, I felt Azkaban was really where the series ‘grew up’ and started taking its central characters more seriously. From the simple changes, like the trio’s clothing changing from gowns to hoodies, to the more pronounced as Harry discusses the impact his parent’s death has had on him with Lupin on the bridge. The success of both the books and the films shows the appetite there is amongst teenagers for characters they can care about, get behind and identify with. The Hunger Games is a good example of another series which is carrying the torch for this type of film.

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Sci-Fi/Fantasy – Children of Men

From the same director as The Prisoner of Azkaban comes a sci-fi movie that doesn’t quite feel in the same category as more obvious examples from the genre like Star Trek or Avatar. The future we see is around 20 years from the present day as a disease has prevented humans from reproducing and they only have around sixty years until extinction. The story at the centre of this film is pleasingly simple. However, its themes of hope and survival are intelligent ally implemented. Also impressive is Cuarón’s use of tracking shot, from the scene in the car when one of the protagonists gets shot, to a scene right at the end where a gunfight is brought to a standstill by a startling discovery. Sci-Fi/Fantasy has the ability to take us to other worlds and explore ideas in a way no other genre can. Children of Men shows the importance of making sure there are universal themes and depth beneath the world you have whisked your audience away to.

Top Five Films of 2012

The end of one year gives film fans like myself the chance to reflect upon the past twelve months and consider what has past.

2012 was a year which saw The Artist cruise to Best Picture at the oscars.

The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, and Skyfall all broke $1 billion worldwide showing that sequels/franchises continue to be box office gold. In fact 9 of the Top 10 Highest Grossing Movies of 2012 were sequels or part of an existing franchise.

It also saw films as diverse as Cloud Atlas and John Carter receive a thumping at the box office… or at least the American Box Office, which tends to be the only one reported. John Carter actually made $283 million worldwide against a budget of $250 million. Likewise Cloud Atlas could still break even after it gets a full release worldwide. One unmitigated disaster, however, was The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure which made back only 5% of its $20 million budget. If you’re curious as to why, this article offers a good explanation along with some mind-altering clips.

Anyway, onto the main feature:

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5. The Imposter
I have a suspicion of documentaries that ‘tell a story’ or purposefully withhold information from the viewer, rather than merely showing them things and letting them make their own mind up.
The Imposter breaks this rule, but the way it structures its narrative is such that I didn’t really mind. The story, of a young spanish man who poses as a missing american teenager, is so difficult to believe anyway that telling it like a Hollywood thriller really does suit the nature of the tale.
Finally, getting the antagonist of the film to not only agree to the interviews but be so up front about what he did, gave the whole film a creepy Silence of the Lambs feel that you do not see very often in documentaries. At times astonishing, at times disturbing and at times heart-breaking; make sure you check it out if you missed it.

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4. Looper
Brick and The Brothers Bloom showed the invention of director Rian Johnson, and in some ways are reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s early films like Momento and The Following.
Looper showed what Johnson could do with more of a budget. Like Nolan’s Inception its plot is full of complex twist and turns, however, unlike Inception, the characters, ideas and substance of the film are able to match said complexity.
In making the lead character deal with killing his older self, Looper also manages to do something creative and interesting with the time travel genre, without getting itself too wrapped up in the finer details of how it all works.
Looper was a smart, engaging film which kept the audience on its toes the whole time without resorting to an over-the-top twist or withholding too much information (cf. Prometheus). This year’s best sci-fi film by far.

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3. Cabin in the Woods
Avenger’s Assemble may be the Joss Whedon movie most people saw in 2012, but Cabin in the Woods is the one that shows us just how creative he can be when he is given the space to do so.
Collaborating with fellow Buffy writer Drew Goddard, Cabin in the Woods is a twist on the traditional horror set-up; with five young people going on a vacation that can only have terrible consequences.
With a third act that thrilled like few films can, Cabin in the Woods was one of the most surprising and fun films of the year that is sure to be remembered as one of this decade’s best horror movies.

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2. The Angel’s Share
Ken Loach is renowned for his brand of ‘social realism’ which normally sees things going from bad to worse for his working class characters. The Angel’s Share has moments like this (a scene where the protagonist has to confront a victim of his crimes for example), but mostly it’s an upbeat affair about a young father trying to turn his life around through whisky. One scene in particular had me laughing more than anything else I saw at the cinema this year (the one involving two Irn Bru bottles for those who have seen the film).
Overall the film was ‘feel-good’ without being saccharine, a story where you feel the story and characters have really earned the right to smile at the end.

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1. The Muppets
I grew up watching The Muppets Tonight on BBC and also The Muppet Christmas Carol pretty much every Christmas since it was first released. So when I heard they were making a movie much like the original films/tv series I was very excited.
The film did not disappoint; completely capturing the spirit of the films/series of the 70s/80s whilst creating a tale that made sense of The Muppets absence from popular culture for the past few decades. No other film this year brought me just as much joy as The Muppets, and for that reason it simply has to be number one.

Agree/Disagree? Feel free to provide your own Top 5 Films in the comments below:

Top Five Most Anticipated Movies Of 2011

2010 has had its time (and its Top Five Lists). Now it’s 2011’s turn. So here for you are my Top Five Most Anticipated Movies Of 2011:

5. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
(October 2011)

The talent behind this film is such that I can’t help but be excited. The screenplay comes courtesy of Edgar Wright, Steven Moffat (Doctor Who), and Joe Cornish (off of Adam and Joe). It’s produced by Peter Jackson, and is directed by Steven Spielberg.

If that doesn’t get you excited enough, the motion-capture in this film is supposed to be something pretty special. As yet, there’s no trailer, although hopefully this still will give you an idea of the visual feast on offer:

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4. X-Men: First Class
(June 2011)

Given the disappointment of the last two X-Men films (X-Men 3: The Last Stand and Wolverine), I’d understand why some people may not be too overjoyed by the prospect of another.

This one, however, comes courtesy of the same writer-director team (Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn) that brought us Stardust and Kick-Ass. Expect plenty of fast-paced dialogue and visuals as we meet Professor X and Magneto before they called themselves Professor X and Magneto.

3. True Grit
(11th February 2011)

The Coens’ last movie, A Serious Man, was my favourite movie of 2009. Their next film is True Grit, a remake of the 1969 Western which won John Wayne an oscar.

The Coens showed they could handle the genre in a modern setting with the superb No Country For Old Men. True Grit is set during a more traditional timeframe as Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon help a 14-year old girl hunt down her father’s killer.

2. Super 8
(August 2011)

Not much is known about Super 8 beyond that it’s written and directed by J.J. Abrams, and is intended as a throwback to Spielberg’s sci-fi films of the 70s and 80s. The title also suggests it may be based on ‘found footage’ from a Super 8 camera. (cf. Cloverfield, Blair Witch Project, etc.)

Any more information than that you’ll have to glean from the teaser trailer. Like the original trailer for Cloverfield, this is a masterclass in giving us just enough footage to leave you confused, intrigued and excited about the film:

1. Black Swan
(21st January 2011)

Darren Aronofsky has become one of the most exciting directors of the past decade or so. Films like Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain have given the audiences experiences unlike anything else in American cinema.

Black Sawn seems to use a lot of the fantastical and psychological elements from these two films. We follow Natalie Portman’s tormented ballerina, desperate to take centre stage from her rival, played by Mila Kunis. Those who have seen Requiem for a Dream will know no one does ‘central character going insane’ better than Aronofsky.

The Top Five Movies of 2010

Those of you who’ve listened to this month’s podcast will already know the result of my Top Five Movies of 2010. Nevertheless, I thought I’d include it in text form for those of you who prefer the written word to its spoken cousin.

5. A Single Man

It is Colin Firth, rather than Jeff Bridges, who should have won the Best Actor accolade at the oscars this year. His role as George completely captivated me throughout Tom Ford’s directorial debut.

As he deals with the grief of losing his soulmate, we gasp at the beauty of the cinematography in the frame, while sympathising with the ugliness of the situation Firth has found himself in.

The supporting cast of Julianne Moore and Jamie Bell are equally important, as they attempt to give some comfort to the grief-stricken Firth.

There’s also an attention to detail mirrored in both its main character and the filmmaking that allows us to be enchanted by A Single Man from start to finish.

Winters-Bone-poster.jpg4. Winter’s Bone

Another film with an incredibly strong central performance. This one sees the seventeen year old Bree (Jennifer Lawrence) trying to make sure her family doesn’t lose her home, after her drug-dealing father doesn’t turn up for his court appearance.

Set in the stark, cold, Ozarks, it’s a film with a real sense of place. Aside from the beautifully captured environment, it also gives you a real sense of the community Bree must negotiate to get justice for her family.

This community has its own moral code, its own way of doing things. As she explores it, we as an audience take that journey with her. All of which culminates to give us haunting, beautiful fable sure to earn its lead an oscar nod.

socialnetworkposter.jpg3. The Social Network

Aaron Sorkin’s use of dialogue is second to none in his generation. And that is surely proven with this, his latest project. A film about geeks, court cases, and coding has no right to be entertaining. Yet you never doubt its appeal because of the way Sorkin presents the subject matter.

Words burst and fizzle across the screen similar to the manner of a shoot-out in a Western. Statements and phrases attempting to land the killer blow in almost every scene. It really is a masterclass in writing.

Of course making an entertaining, smart script means nothing if you haven’t got anything to say by the end of it. Thankfully a story about the birth of the most important communication tool over the last decade has no such problem.

As we see the underhanded methods Zuckerberg used to set-up Facebook, we are forced to take sides, consider moral questions, and question how our own views on privacy and friendship have changed since joining our own online social network. A film very much ‘of our time’.

Another-Year.jpg2. Another Year

The only British film on the list tells the story of a settled, contented husband and wife, and their unsettled, dissatisfied friends.

It’s a film which takes place over the course of a year. Showing us one weekend from each of the four seasons. As we move between the times of year, Leigh uses colour filters to bring out the greens of Spring and the harsh greys of Winter.

It’s also a film which takes its time to introduce us to people and their nature. All the information comes very naturally from conversations, and like all of Leigh films, getting to know them is more akin to getting to know friends than characters in films.

Each character has a great sense of self, which makes them both believable and relatable. Ultimately this is quite a sad film. Its title, Another Year, represents a melancholy to the process of growing older and spending an extra twelve months on this earth.

What we experience over the year with the characters, however, has a grounding in reality few films are able to achieve. Leigh, as always, capturing something of human nature in a way few directors can.

movie_10230_extra_poster_0.jpg1. Of Gods and Men

A story of a community of French Monks living in Algeria may seem like a strange choice for Film of the Year.

The movie tells the true story of eight monks who are living peacefully in a small village with the Muslim community around them.

However, their way of life is put tot he test by Islamic terrorists who visit them during the night and make it clear they’re not welcome. The Monks have a choice, to stay and complete their ‘calling’ or leave with their lives still intact.

It’s a movie directed by an atheist yet with a strong sense of the spiritual to it. The director chooses to fully engross the audience in its small community of monks. As we attend services, tend the garden, and treat the sick, we gradually get a very real sense of the kind lives these men lead.

Perhaps this is best summed up by a scene in which the monks share a meal together; the theme from Swan Lake playing in the background. As the camera cuts from face to face to face, we see the emotion of the music unlocking a real and tangible humanity in each of the monks.

The movie as a whole gave me such a fresh and unexpected experience that I feel it is more than deserving of The Film of 2010.

For some differing opinions of the Top Five Movies of 2010, you can listen to this months podcast, where my co-hosts Dave, Steve and Laura give their picks:
http://dl.dropbox.com/u/8634900/ObserveALot6.mp3