As 2014 draws to a close and 2015 opens its doors, we reflect on the big movies that most of us saw; and none of us could avoid from the last 12 months. It’s been a slow year for the box office, so much so that theatre attendances were their lowest since 1995; but a few blockbuster dynamos managed to put bums on seats in style. This list is derived from the best films of this year’s box office successes.
Guardians of the Galaxy Dir. James Gunn
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Zaldana, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker
Plot- A group of misfit criminals unite to break free from prison and save the universe from a crazed tyrant. Guardians is the latest installment to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
James Gunn directs what has quickly become a fan favorite for the MCU due to its enthralling action sequences, humor and witty-banter between far too lovable characters. An all-star cast lead by Chris Pratt - the former lovable sit-com idiot turned 21st century rogue akin to Han Solo - work superbly together as they argue, fight and banter throughout the film, yet are all upstaged by a CGI tree Vin Diesel who can only mutter those three infamous words- “I am Groot”. It is also a golden film for “spot the cameo”, sure the film properly introduced Josh Brolin’s Thanos in a long-awaited small appearance, but see if you can spot or hear cameos from Rob Zombie, Nathan Fillion and director James Gunn as well!
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Dir. Matt Reeves
Cast: Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman and Toby Kebbell,
Plot- The follow up to “Rise” picks up a decade after Simian flu swept the globe, killing a large majority of the human population. As the survivors search for power for their city, the ever-increasing in intelligence Apes face a power struggle of their own emanating from within their own ranks. As the two species struggle to agree amongst themselves war appears inevitable.
Being underwhelmed by “Rise” I expected a similar outing with Dawn, but as I sat in the cinema I recall being utterly overwhelmed by how brilliant it truly was. A Hollywood film that utilized the blockbuster action with art house cinema shooting and pace to bring a film that felt both dynamic and fresh. Michael Seresin’s cinematography is sublime throughout, his best work since Angela’s Ashes in 1999. Serkis and Kebbell make another strong statement in favor of use of performance capture technology to be recognized amongst awards committees. Both give stellar performances as Cesare and Koba respectively, creating a fantastic rivalry between the two would-be leaders of the Apes.
Nightcrawler Dir. Dan Gilroy
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and Bill Paxton
Plot- Lou Bloom - a determined young man - becomes an LA crime journalist; he blurs the lines of morality as he crosses the line from observer to manipulator of events.
Dan Gilroy’s directional debut is a huge triumph, an unexpected cinematic gem; his dark and twisted LA the perfect setting to play out his morbid thriller. Gyllenhaal gives a second glorious 2014 performance following his duel identity in Enemy, here he plays a character so brilliantly vile and grossly disturbed it is his best performance of the year. Not a huge box office earner in comparison to Guardians, but its critical reception was unavoidable online with heavy praise for the film seemingly coming from all angles; praise that is fully deserved.
The Lego Movie Dir. Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Cast: Just about everyone alive but lead by Chris Pratt
Plot- A regular Joe, prophesised to be the “special” one must prevent an evil tyrant from gluing the Lego Universe into an eternal, static hell.
The biggest and best animated film of the year, the brilliantly fun Lego Movie was a huge success both critically and commercially. Led by Chris Pratt as Emmet the Lego group go on a dangerous journey to vanquish the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell). It’s funny, exciting and entertaining; everything you want from Warner Bros. Animated film. This is the film you can actually watch with your kids and all enjoy: as opposed to the dozen or so every year you sleep through while they throw popcorn at each other out of boredom.
Edge Of Tomorrow Dir. Doug Liman
Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt and Brendan Gleeson
Plot- Tom Cruise is dragged into a war against aliens who can restart a day, a skill that is bestowed upon him. With this new ability he must win the war and save humanity.
This year’s Groundhog Day is the resounding return to form for Doug Liman as a director, following flops Fair Game and Jump. Every time I see Tom Cruise’s name above a movie title nowadays I immediately have a look of disgust on my face; but like he has done so many times over the last 30 years, Cruise once again reminds us why we still love him.
Captain American: The Winter Soldier Dir. Anthony and Joe Russo
Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford and Sebastien Stan
Plot- As Steve Rogers struggles to adapt to the 21st century Hydra attacks S.H.I.E.L.D. from within, releasing a living weapon with a close connection to Captain America to act as their executioner.
As a comic lover, the mere idea of The Winter Soldier being the focus of a Marvel movie was a dream come true, but seeing it on the big screen and played out so brilliantly within the context of the MCU was a delight. A far superior film to its predecessor - which frankly fell rather flat - the legendary Community directors produce a superb instalment that acts as a universe-wide game changer for Marvel and just cannot be missed.
The Equalizer Dir. Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chloe Grace Moretz and Bill Pullman
Plot- A mysterious loner with insomnia becomes frustrated with the Russian mafia’s hold on his community and vows to make amends.
Antoine Fuqua is a director I am constantly watching, his work - when at his best - is simply brilliant: see Training Day or Shooter. However, when he is not we are forced to endure the likes of King Arthur and Tears of the Sun. The Equalizer is an understated and underrated film under his belt to follow the somewhat disappointing Olympus Has Fallen. Fuqua enjoys another stellar collaboration with Washington, playing the mysterious and violent Robert McCall - played in the series by Edward Woodward who modern fans may recognize best as Tom, the overzealous CCTV worker in Hot Fuzz. The Sherlock-like manner in which Robert assesses situations and timing for maximum violent efficiency is used strongly and devolves naturally as the conflicts become more immediate and uncontrollable, building an enjoyable level of tension.
22 Jump Street Dir. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Cast: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill and Ice Cube
Plot- Schmidt and Jenko are sent to college to do the exact same thing they did in the first, but equally as hilarious.
This may not be on many peoples’ favourite film lists, but Tatum and Hill have a direct connection with my sense of humor. The first film was a superb adaptation from the Johnny Depp starring show, with his cameo only the tip of the films awesomeness. The second sees the misfits go to college and stop another new drug from hitting the streets. Best bits? First the ridiculously funny Nick Offerman gives a “sequel” speech as he sends the two idiots off to the 22nd that mocks both the idea of Hollywood’s sequel obsession as well as the fans who buy into them so freely. Secondly, Jonah Hill’s romantic arc in the film - in particular Jenko’s reaction to the discovery of her secret. Finally the best end credits all year, with over a dozen mock-trailers made up for imaginable sequels. Funny, clever enough to enjoy as a story and the Tatum/Hill combo just works on every level. To boot it grossed almost $200m worldwide, not too shabby.
X-Men: Days of Future Past Dir. Bryan Singer
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy
Plot- The two X-Men universes meet for a much needed ret-con and drastically required continuity check-up. Oh, it is also loosely based on the classic arc “Days of Future Past”.
I have spent the last 6 months debating whether I loved or loathed DOFP. It’s a great film- in its own right and continuity- but it is also utterly unnecessary to conjoin these two separate worlds into the same franchise. The original X-Men franchise has been dead since someone had the brainchild to let Brett Ratner take over the sinking ship that was the Last Stand, and if it wasn’t for Hugh Jackman in the role of Logan, that universe would have stayed dead allowing the First Class universe to take over. Regardless, DOFP is a shockingly good film, and within itself is almost complete with only a few irritating plot-holes. As part of the entirety of the franchise however, it is filled with contradictions and plot-holes that even the most ardent fans cannot ignore. For its quality as a standalone film it earns its place in my list as it really is a terrific comic book movie.
Godzilla Dir. Gareth Edwards
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Olsen
Plot- When the world is attacked by a malevolent creature empowered by a nuclear reactor, only the ancient monster Godzilla can save humanity.
Godzilla may have only had a fraction of screen time - leading to much criticism from moviegoers – but, the way in which Welsh director Edwards built that glorious suspense for the reveal was masterful. Love it, hate it, ignore it; one thing is for certain and that is that this Godzilla is a huge improvement to Hollywood’s last attempt starring Matthew Broderick. Feeling much more like a prequel to the real thing as opposed to a full film itself; the sequel is due in 2018 right after Edwards shoots that Star Wars project he is working on.