Who knew compiling a list could be such hard work? Writing my list for Santa was MUCH easier 😉 It has been an interesting year for cinema, in that there are no certainties going into the Oscar race. There are lots of films getting buzz (many of which, like Birdman, don’t come out here until next year), but there are no films whalzing in being all ‘we are Oscar bait, so kneel at our feet and worship’. Instead, there were a plethora of interesting and excellent films released this year, from the blockbusters to the small indies, that made narrowing my list down to five exceedingly tricky work. But, just for you guys, I have done it. So here goes: my top five films of the year…
5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier: it will shock no one to see Marvel films featuring on this list – being that I am down with all things superhero. But, I am not just putting the patriotic man out of time in this list because of his Marvel credentials, I am putting him here because the film showed that Marvel can do more than just superhero movies with lots of action and lots of laughs – they can also be super smart and politically insightful while doing it. This film upped the anti in terms of the action – with even me, Miss ‘I will snooze through most action scenes’, being glued to the screen during some tense action sequences, especially early on. I also loved how much screen time – and action time – Black Widow got (and was therefore both gutted and pleased when FINALLY a female led Marvel film was announced, but it won’t be Black Widow). I found this film compelling, insightful, amusing, unpredictable and completely entertaining from start to finish. Simply excellent.
4. The Dark Horse: my god it has been an incredible year for kiwi cinema. Housebound blew me away with it’s humour and horror. Orphans and Kingdoms took a simple premise and extracted drama from every frame. What We Do In The Shadows took vampires and flatting in Wellington and squashed them together for hilarious effect. And then there was The Dark Horse. I saw this at the opening night of the film festival and it could not have been a more worthy film to open with. It tells the (true) story of a former chess champion who decides to take a group of unlikely kids from Gisbourne to a chess competition in Auckland. Although it sounds a little ‘movie of the week’, when you add in mental instability, drug use, and gangs – it is anything but. Although it deals with these very hard core issues, it does so with a level of heart and insight that you will be digging for your tissues, and exercising your laughing gear, on a regular basis – which seems somewhat uncomfortable at times. But, life isn’t straightforward and tragedy and comedy often do travel together, which this film proves to great effect. Cliff Curtis in the main role is simply phenomenal, and the young writer/director duo are one to watch. Highly recommend you watch if you haven’t already.
3. Boyhood: there is a pile of Oscar buzz surrounding this film, and so there should be. Not only did director Richard Linklater do something never seen before in cinema – cast an unknown kid in the main role and then film him for a few weeks every year for 12 YEARS – but in the process he created one of the most profound coming of age films I have ever seen. We follow the titular boy – Mason – from age 5 to age 18, through the various trials and tribulations that many kids face. But it isn’t just about Mason – Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as his parents put in fantastic performances here, and I can see why parents in particular have found this a particularly affecting film. Linklater is a master of relationship examination – as he has proved with his Before Sunset trilogy – and he uses that to great effect here. It comes in at a Hobbit-like three hours, but is compelling throughout, and you emerge feeling a little like you lived through those 12 years yourself. It is a simply beautiful film, worthy of all the hype, and the Oscars.
2. Whiplash: it’s not often, in these days of contracted attention spans, that I am totally and utterly emmersed in a film from start to finish. At some point my mind may wander, maybe not for long – but definitely for a little bit. But with Whiplash I was totally and utterly sucked in from start credits to end credits. No mean feat for a movie about a jazz band. Yes, a jazz band. Though it is about far more than that. It is basically a no holes barred battle between band conductor/professor Fletcher (JK Simmons in an absolutely stand out performance)and up and coming drummer Andrew (Miles Teller, proving there is far more to him than playing the baddie in Divergent). It is both psychologically and physically intense (who knew drumming could be so brutal? Well, probably all drummers…) and it never lets up. The ending is unexpected, as is the entire film really. It is hard to explain it. You just have to go see it. Just beware that you won’t look at JK Simmons (who did such a great job playing the Dad in Juno) in the same way ever again. But that is a risk you should take. Like, now.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy: ah, Marvel, how I love thee. Not only did you deliver your smartest movie yet in Captain America 2, but you also delivered the most fun I have had in a cinema all year (three times over) in Guardians of the Galaxy. Some said this film – about a renegade group of space criminals – was a big risk for the studio, but I couldn’t disagree more. It had all the makings for a hit film – a suave and hilarious leading man in Peter Quill/Chris Pratt, a generally grumpy but hilarious furry sidekick in Rocket Raccoon, and a standoffish and kick arse leading lady in Gamora/Zoe Saldana. Sound similar to another hugely successful franchise? Yep, this is definitely a Star Wars for a new generation. But it has three things Star Wars didn’t have – a talking tree (Groot), a man the size of a tree who doesn’t get metaphors (to hilarious effect) (Drax), and the best 70s soundtrack I have ever heard. I had enormous expectations for this film – being a massive Chris Pratt and Marvel fan already – but they were smashed to smithereens by this film. So much fun I was tempted to run out the other day and buy it on DVD even though I know I am getting it for Xmas (don’t worry Kathryn, I resisted the urge ;-)). Seriously though, this is my film of the year for very good reason. And if you don’t believe me, watch the trailer, then try and stop yourself from running out and renting it. Dare ya 😉
So there you go, my top films of the year. Man, that was hard work. Off to reward myself with a well earned break for Christmas. I will be back with more movie reviews, TV reviews, and political rants in 2015. In the meantime, relax and have fun. And don’t forget, no one likes a Grinch 😉