The Best of 2014: A Year in Review

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As the year comes to a close we’ve many things to look back on fondly, and so with that in mind, the TV&Film writing staff here at XXIV have tasked ourselves with picking the a best film of the year each. Miraculously we’ve each of us picked a different film, which is lucky as the alternative would have made for a fairly boring read.

So without further ado, here, in no particular order, are our picks for the best film of 2014.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Bill Peel

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Despite having the most unwieldy title of the year, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the best movie I’ve seen in cinemas in a long time. Not only did it manage to bring some compelling characters, interesting twists and turns, and some outstanding emotional scenes to the table (I swear to god, there was something in my eye), it might just be the most insane, balls to the wall action flick that I’ve seen in cinemas. Not just this year, but maybe of all time. I’m serious.

Okay, fair warning, there may be some slight spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen DotPotA (god that acronym looks terrible) yet, I implore you, remedy that immediately, and then come back and give us more page views. Thanks.
Anyway, you know how the sheer concept of ‘apes with machine-guns on horseback’ sounds just a tad ridiculous? It should sound ridiculous, because it is, but the movie pulls it off with such bravado and confidence that it’s impossible not to find it totally fucking amazing as its happening in front of your very eyes. Think of something awesome ape-related and it will probably be in this movie. An ape straight up surprise-murdering a bear with a spear? Check. An ape single-handedly seizing a tank and storming a fort? Check. An acrobatic ape-on-ape fight on top of a tower that is imminently going to collapse? Motherfucking check, man.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a Zack Snyder film here, this movie isn’t just about looking good, the overarching theme of the folly of nationalism is something that really makes this film stand out from the herd. Couple all of that with the almost overwhelming tension that every scene brings and absolutely magnificent performances from Andy Serkis and co, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is, in my opinion of course, the best movie of 2014.

Into The Woods – Angelique Komninoglou

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As a self-confessed musical junkie (well, at least those that don’t involve Russell Crowe trying in vain to prove his singing ability) my film pick of the year would have to go to Disney’s ‘Into the Woods’. Although opinions will be mixed on this one, being a Sondheim adaptation whose transition to the big screen was always bound to be a little rocky, I enjoyed watching a film that doesn’t only show characters reaching the famed happily ever after but exploring what happens afterwards, and bringing meaning to the phrase ‘be careful what you wish for.’

I loved that the classic tale was surprisingly undiluted, with major events staying true to the original and production not opting to venture down a more Disney-fied, cliche route. I found the dialogue hilarious, the visuals stunning (as we have come to expect from Disney) and the seemingly too-diverse-to-ever-work cast proving near perfect for their roles – particularly acting royalty Meryl Streep’s impressive rendition of the evil witch neighbour as well as Johnny Depp’s short-lived, yet flawless, cameo as the creepy big bad wolf. The cast also did a great job at performing the award winning soundtrack, with the addition of some other songs wrote solely for the film. Anna Kendrick showed haters she can sing something other than the cup song, and Chris Pine proved that he can sing at all!

The film was full of life, colour and catchy music and following its success so far, I’m hoping this marks the beginning of a new era where many more musicals are being kept alive through film adaptations – I’m personally awaiting Broadway sensations Wicked and Spring Awakening. Now heres to hoping that choruses of ‘Let it go’ will finally be replaced with some fresh material!

Read our Into the Woods review here.

The Grand Budapest Hotel – James G Stewart

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Like some sort of hipster Jesus, Wes Anderson has commanded a cult following since his debut, Bottle Rocket. Whilst not always palatable for a general audience, Anderson has successfully developed a world of his own, filled with motifs, recurring actors and trademark shots. While he is a film student’s wet dream, I have found myself wanting more from his movies – something I feel justified in saying since I saw Rushmore in the cinema…hipster Jesus, remember? There’s something of a trap that auteurs fall into and it seems to be the jack of all trades, master of none conundrum. Anderson has not suffered too badly from this, but the holes that appear in some of his work would not be forgiven in a lesser-made picture. I never hoped for him to follow the commercial whitewash road of Joss Whedon, or the lesser imitation of his own work (yes Zach Braff, this means you); still there was, in my humble opinion, something missing. Thankfully The Grand Budapest Hotel changed all of this.

From the opening sequence, to the Russian dancing through the credits, the film’s whole being was on point. The brilliant use of actors portraying characters so fantastic but still so human let you into the world of Wes; but this time it was as if everything was working together in unison. A fictional biography, reminisced and remembered from a time that could have existed; it is a story filled with love, life, death and sex, all the time managing to keep the gentle nature of Anderson’s style. No more pronounced was this than in M. Gustave, the most gentlemanly leading man in a very long time. Referencing a fictional Europe of the grand tourist/fascist crossover the aesthetic subjects of the film were complimented by the truly impressive shots and the calibre of the writing. Whether or not Anderson will reach this same pinnacle again can only be left to be seen, however this is to-date far and away his best work.

Guardians of the Galaxy – Jamie Doran

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Whether you know your Marvel from your Mighty Mouse, think the only DC around is drinkable or have a very firm opinion on Aquaman, there’s a chance that Guardians of the Galaxy was on your movie radar in 2014.

Comic book fans and casual moviegoers alike flocked to see Marvel’s latest installment,  Guardians of the Galaxy starring a beefed up Chris Pratt, pre-pregnancy Zoe Saldana and unrecognisable Bradley Cooper in an arguably hilarious sidekick role, a far cry from his upcoming American Sniper form. Grossing over $94 million in it’s opening weekend alone (that’s a serious chunk of change!), Marvel did what it does best – cast a stellar lead, an outstanding supporting cast, produce a high octane, action packed script, teased the world with tidbits, and then sat back to watch us flock to the cinemas in droves.

It’s a pretty good formula as far as franchises go, right?

We watched as Peter Quill (aka Star Lord) stole the mysterious orb and then created his band of misfits to protect what we then learn is an Infinity Stone, fighting the bad guys along the way, but what else made Guardians of the Galaxy such a great popcorn film?

• Great cast? Check.
• Engaging and action-packed storyline? Check.
• Marvel-must-have Stan Lee cameo? Check.
• Humour? Check, check. (Two checks because aside from Chris Pratt flexing his comedic muscles, in true Marvel style, the one-liners and comedic setups from the rest of the cast are done with true class and style)
• Kick ass soundtrack? Total check. The Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack (Awesome Mix Vol. 1) has been nominated for an American Music Award and if you didn’t leave the theatre humming Hooked on a Feeling, then you’re doing it wrong.

One of the great things about Guardians of the Galaxy was that as a standalone film, it’s a fun ride. However, as part of the Marvel-Avengers-Superhero world, it builds more excitement for what Phase Three will bring: Aside from one more Avengers, Thor and Captain America film each, we’ll have to wait until 2017 for more of our favourite Star Lord.

Read our Guardians of the Galaxy review here.

Gone Girl – Amy Planner

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This year was a film surprise and so was my immediate love of Gone Girl. Given, my irrepressible lure to all things Ben Affleck geared me up to expect something fantastic, I was absolutely astonished by the brilliance of a story well told. With no preconceptions of the plot, I was captivated throughout and came out of the cinema (even after the second time) thinking ‘That was intense and kind of disturbing, but man I freakin’ loved it’.

It was utterly captivating and I had decided half way through that I was giving it two thumbs up. It was very episodic, David Fincher creating a world of uneasiness and suspense fuelled by a love gone askew. The realm of the suburban elite becomes a chilling and sometimes satirical territory where no one can be trusted but everyone seems legitimate.

Ben Affleck is the questionable Nick Dunne. There is real skill in having the audience question what a character is thinking as we are generally slapped in the face with every mind-numbing thought that trickles through. Affleck has really taken this on and has you questioning who he is, what he wants and whether or not he murdered his wife. He is at times creepy, relatable, hateful, mean, and sexy – sometimes all of them at once. High praise goes to Mr. Affleck on this one.

He did it…. no he couldn’t have… yes, he did it… wait that guy might have done it… but what about her… no, no, he did it FOR SURE… ok I have NO idea – pretty much sums up the film and how there was no certainty about how it was going to turn out until the credits rolled which is the mark of a great psycho-thriller.

Even with a few close runners up, Gone Girl is my pick of the year even if it was my Affleck-preoccupation that got it over the line.

Read our Gone Girl review here.

Fury – Timmy Bartel

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The year of our lord two thousand and fourteen was a year for discovery in film, and the film industry in general. We discovered that Marvel can make even their most obscure properties mega-successful (re: Guardians of the Galaxy), we discovered that the “big twist” in a movie can come halfway through and still hold our attention till the end (thanks Gone Girl!) and we discovered that chimps riding horses while firing machine-guns is exactly as bad-ass as it is ridiculous sounding (you know what I’m talking ‘bout)!

But for me the biggest discovery was this: Shia LaBeouf can act. Like really act.

Fury, by David Ayer, is a film set during the dying months of World War II that sets itself apart from many of its peers by focusing less on the brutality of war itself and more on what war does to those involved; military and civilian alike.  Don’t get me wrong, the brutality is there and is shown with nothing held back, but this isn’t a focus, it’s just the reality. Bodies are piled high, and friends are killed in an instant; it’s as hard to watch as it sounds, but that’s because it is portrayed unflinchingly as something that tired soldiers are simply used to now.

The film is an exploration of how tank commander Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) and his four crew members (Logan Lerrman, Jon Bernthal, Michael Peña, and LaBeouf) deal with this reality, and each turn in career high performances.  Bernthal  seemingly dehumanizes himself, LaBeouf turns to religion for solace, and Peña attaches himself to whoever is yelling the loudest at any given moment, but regardless of how proud and big-talking these men are, the truth that connects them all, is that they are not ok; they’re only human and they’ve been pushed further than anyone should be.

Fury pulls no punches, nor do any of its players.  Grab a box of tissues and settle in for a war film up there with the best of them. They didn’t get any better than this in 2014.

Read our Fury review here.

Nightcrawler – Tobias Handke

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No film has equally entertained and creeped me the hell out this year like Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut, Nightcrawler.

Set in the picturesque Los Angeles, the film follows the escapades of thief Lou Bloom (a fantastic Jake Gyllenhaal) as he begins shooting footage of accidents and crimes, selling them to local news channels for money. As he discovers the more bloody and horrific the crime the higher the pay off, Bloom begins to interfere with crime scenes and sabotage other cameramen, leading to a pulsating final act that will leave you breathless.

Much credit must be given to Gilroy, a long time scriptwriter who’s crafted a tight and taunt character study that delves into issues of voyeurism and the media’s impact on glorifying violence. Of course none of this would succeed without Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of the Bloom.

Hiding a sinister side under his calm and pleasant exterior, Gyllenhall lost over 30 pounds for the gaunt looking Bloom. Gyllenhaal totally nails the character, with comparisons to Robert De Niro’s psychotic Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver) quite evident. The other star of the show is the city of Los Angeles. Similar to what Michael Mann did with Collateral, Nightcrawler was shot digitally and with film, creating a beautifully dangerous urban setting that only heightens the films tension.

The rest of the support cast is terrific, with Rene Russo as the TV director dealing with Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed as his offsider and the always reliable Bill Paxton as a rival freelance cameraman.

A thrilling and sleek ride through downtrodden LA, this is a brilliant film anchored by the performance of a lifetime from Gyllenhaal. This is one film you don’t want to miss.

Read our Nightcrawler review here.

 

So there you go

What a year it’s been. Happy New Years from the XXIV Film & TV team, and we’ll see you in 2015. Play us out Leo!

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Atta boy!

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