You’ll see me writing about films here probably more than anything. I’ve always loved films. It was just pure entertainment for me early on (watching nothing but blockbuster movies) but it hit a button in my head when I watched 500 Days of Summer, this was back in 2010. 500 Days of Summer was at that time the first indie film I watched, it blew me away because I felt a connection to it. I could relate to this film and apply its message into my life. That’s when I began to look pass the superficialities of films and examine the messages that they were portraying. Then cinematography mattered, pacing, storytelling, acting, sound design, editing etc. It peaked my interest greatly that I wanted to study cinema and video production for university but financial reasons held me back to pick a Multimedia course with a Filmmaking module in it instead. Every shot and cinematic decision in films has a meaning. There’s a reason why its a tight shot, why its a rack focus, why its on a high angle, why its on a wide lens etc. I try to figure these out when I watch films. I put myself in the directors’ shoes and understand their vision and why this and why that. Anyway, enough with that and let’s get on with the list! FYI these are films that I HAVE WATCHED IN 2014. I’m sure films like The Grand Budapest Hotel, American Sniper, Unbroken, Birdman, Inherent Vice, Ida, Selma and among others will be on this list if it was available to watch. Let’s begin!
You want a coming of age film? Don’t watch Boyhood. Because it is not. A lot of people mistaken it by that; I don’t blame that as the plot suggests it. It follows the life story of Mason (played by Ellar Coltrane) who literally grows before our eyes from age 5 to 18. One compelling aspect of the film is the way it was constructed. Director Richard Linklater started production from May 2002 until August 2013. Spanning over 4,000 days, the film was only shot in 45 days. Linklater treated it as shooting a short film each year and editing it together for the final cut. That is a groundbreaking thing to accomplish. Apart from its production, Boyhood is brilliantly acted. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette gave great touching performances as Mason’s parents. One criticism of the film is its content, many complained of its empty and unadventurous plot. I don’t agree with that because that’s not what the film is trying to achieve. It is simply a re-enactment of familiar scenes in our lives, seeing it through Mason’s perspective; what meant nothing to us at that moment meant a lot to someone else. It’s a reflection of age and our experiences. I predicted that this will win Best Picture come Oscar time.
I went into watching this film without any knowledge of it. No trailers or synopsis. All I knew was that, this was hailed as one grim and violent prison film. There’s a lot of great prison films out there (Shawshank Redemption, Hunger, Bronson) but I think Starred Up stood out because of its underlying theme of a father-son relationship inside a penitentiary system. The story follows rampaging 19 year-old Eric Love (played by Jack O’Connell) who is transferred from a juvenile facility to an adult prison which his equally violent father (played by Ben Mendelsohn) happens to be sentenced in. Clearly no love between the two characters as his father who hasn’t been there for Eric for a good chunk of his life tries to reconcile with his son in his own intimidating and demanding way while an arrogant and uncontrollable Eric is forced into a rehab group to fix his raging problems. Shot with a documentary aesthetic, no flashy editing and not one bit of musical score or soundtrack (until the end credits). The director, David Mackenzie blurs the line between good and bad as I find myself strangely rooting for Eric to succeed whether its to fix his relationship with his dad or to survive in prison.
Many critics would wonder why this film is even on my list. Firstly, it’s a breath of fresh air for the sci-fi genre. It has the premise to make you curious as Nic (played by Brenton Thawties) along with his girlfriend and best friend track a mysterious hacker to an isolated area. Things go awry and Nic blacks out, only to awaken to a man, Damon (played by Laurence Fishburne) in a hazmat suit who tells him that he has made contact with an alien life form. Secondly, the cinematography in this film is breathtaking, it’s visually beautiful. Director William Eubank’s use of lighting and colour lets you know that Nic is not in a pleasant situation. And aside from sci-fi, this film is also a thriller and it does a great job of giving you the thrills. I was genuinely intrigued about just how Nic was going to get out of given scenarios and what the hell happened to him during his blackout. I’m always impressed when tension isn’t built with jump scares but with atmosphere and storytelling and The Signal does it well. Yes the pacing is slow at first but that’s because it carefully weaves out the characters and it methodically unravels the story before all hell breaks loose during the film’s climax.
I’ve enjoyed Joon-ho Bong’s Korean films (Mother, Memories of Murder) and was pumped for Snowpiercer. It’s 2031, 17 years after an environmental disaster froze Earth, a ever-moving train on an never-ending railway is the only shelter left carrying the planet’s last human survivors. The poor and inferior live at the back of the train while the wealthy and elite has a front seat ride. So Captain America himself, Curtis (played by Chris Evans) leads a group of backseat residents to fight through social commentary to get to the front of the train because if you control the engine, you control the train. This film is meant to target the Western audience but trust me, it still is very Korean-ish. The action scenes are nasty though minimal, still well executed. This film is very very gritty; it has a high contrast look with frames filled with grey tones throughout. It compliments the rebels’ mission moving forward in the train as they use grit and grind to achieve their goal. One of the most visually linear film I’ve seen as most shots are mastered horizontally. Yes, it’s another social class struggle like The Hunger Games but the world and atmosphere that Bong creates is unique and the execution of this makes the film. We travel to some beautiful sets of the each section of the train which includes a school, a spa, a night club etc; we have the opportunity to experience each level of the social ladder. We can see how the privileged live their exclusive and prosperous life and how they exploit the poor people. And to those who complain about it’s unrealistic plot, let’s not forget the definition of fiction!
It’s been a long wait to watch another of David Fincher’s work since The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo back in 2011 so I was really hyped to watch Gone Girl; it did not disappoint the standards of Fincher’s work but I can say I expected more from the plot. I am judging it from a movie standpoint since I never read the book. Gone Girl is a great film, don’t get me wrong. Fincher really does bring the best out of it actors and Rosamund Pike will get a Oscar nod for her performance. You’ll get everything you expect from a Fincher film; the cinematography, the editing chops, the score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. It is a thriller, full of mysteries and cliffhangers and that’s all there is. There is a lot of built up which reached no climax, I wasn’t even startled when the twist was revealed. You’ll still enjoy it nonetheless, there are moments when I was glued to the screen with my jaw dropped. This film may come off a little misogynistic but disregard the thriller effect, Gone Girl is a film that looks at gender roles in a typical household marriage and breaks our views on how ideal marriages or relationships should be. I’m probably biased here putting it at #6 just because it’s directed by Fincher.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Best blockbuster of the 2014. And that’s why it deserves to be on the top 5. The plot revolves around Peter Quill/Starlord (played by Chris Pratt) and a group of intergalactic criminals who are forced to work together to stop a genocidal Kree radical, Ronan from taking control of the universe. I was little skeptical about Marvel pulling off another ensemble cast and missing out on character development but I was wrong. Director James Gunn did an excellent job balancing out every character in the movie. Each got their time to shine; especially from Chris Pratt who knocked it outta the park on his performance. The storyline isn’t that great but it’s a character driven movie and it works. Top notch special effects and just 100% hilarious comedy. Marvel is really on a roll after this and Captain America 2. I really look forward to Ant-Man and Age of Ultron!
The Earth is dying and is running out of food. Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a pilot turned farmer who left his family on Earth to join a group of explorers to travel beyond our solar system in search for a new planet that can sustain life. The plot is crazy ambitious nonetheless and so is the film itself. It looks visually great with its top-notch special effects and stunning art direction. The ideas and concepts about travelling through time, space and blackholes are staggering and Nolan explains this intellectually. It has a solid emotional core from Cooper and his family, especially his relationship with his daugther, Murph. I was so invested in their characters that I wanted them to succeed sooooo bad; and the score from Hans Zimmer propels the intensity to another level. Towards the climax of the film, the reveal was done so flawlessly and brilliantly that the long wait for it was so worth it and I felt that the flaws didn’t matter anymore. The emotional impact resonated with me and moved me so much that it overshadowed the issues it had. What are we willing to sacrifice to save mankind? And what’s the one thing that unites humanity wherever galaxy or universe we are in? Nolan explores these concepts perfectly as he takes us on one hell of a journey; from the cornfields on Earth through wormholes on Saturn.
The moment Whiplash ended and the credits started rolling up, I immediately wanted to watch it again. It’s that good! Andrew Neyman (played by Miles Teller) is a promising young drummer who gets a chance to play at a jazz band led by teacher, Terrence Fletcher (played by J.K. Simmons), who will stop at nothing to unravel a student’s full potential. The dynamic between the student-teacher relationship was superb with Teller giving his best performance to date (he actually played the drums in majority of the scenes) and J.K. Simmons, well let’s say he demands your attention the moment he appeared on-screen. This film was a visual wit, no dead frames in it and I especially like the cutaway close ups combined with the quick cuts that rookie director Damien Chazelle used. What’s your passion? What do you want to be great at? Basketball? Singing? Photography? Greatness doesn’t come easily and this film is a perfect example at that. You need hard work, effort and practice and Teller practiced until his hands bled. Whiplash is incredibly powerful. It definitely exceeded my expectations. For the record, the last 15 minutes of this film was amazingly intense!
Not the last time you’ll see Jake Gyllenhaal in this list. Nightcrawler is one of the films that flew under my radar. I’ve read about it but it never really caught my attention. I watched it on a weeknight just to kill time before hitting the sack. I didn’t prepare myself for what’s to come. Lou Bloom (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) frightened me and I’d never ever want to meet him. This would be the baby if Drive, The Social Network and Training Day somehow made love together. Jake plays Lou Bloom, who desperate for work joins the nightcrawlling business; a world where freelance videographers patrols the streets of LA at night and captures footages of crimes. He teams up with his intern, Rick (played by Riz Ahmed) and earns profit by selling it to Nina (played by Rene Russo) who is running a local news station that is hitting rock bottom. Carrying nothing but his psychopathic determination and soulless grin, Lou goes to increasingly greater lengths to climb up top the nightcrawler industry. The plot is refreshing to read but in my opinion, it’s a character driven film. You’ll talk about Lou rather than the storyline. I admire his ambition and his passion for what he does; he has a creepy demeanor that keeps you engaged and Jake portrays him amazingly. I’m surprised he didn’t get an Oscar nod for it. There is never a dull moment in the film, it’s darkly comedic and it’s hypnotically thrilling. First time director/writer Dan Gilroy nailed it; I didn’t have faith in him at first as he is the same writer in awful movies Bourne Legacy and Real Steel. But he proved me wrong.
Not one, not two but three Gyllenhaals in this list. Jake Gyllenhaal has proven to be a terrific actor the past couple of years with smart role choices such as End of Watch and Prisoners. Though he nailed his Nightcrawler performance, Enemy shouldn’t be overlooked. It is a mind-bending, disturbing psychological thriller. Adam Bell (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) is a mundane college history teacher by day and a boring, distraught boyfriend to his maybe-girlfriend at night. His dull existence suddenly changes when he watches a film where he spots an actor who looks identical to him. This strange discovery leads them to meet and their lives irrevocably intertwines. Director Dennis Villeneuve leaves subtle clues throughout the film which makes it such a treat to watch. You’ll almost feel like a detective trying to solve a cold case. The cinematography has a somber look to it matching with harsh lighting; brown hues and yellow tint soaked every shot. This gives the film a moody and dark look it needs. It’s not a film for everyone but it doesn’t mean it’s not a great one. The plot is simple but there is much much more beneath its surface. It’s an unsettling experience to watch Adam go through his existential crisis as it invites us to enter our subconsciousness and face our inner demons; and asks “Who is our real Enemy?”.