The ultimate Christopher Nolan mash up

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30 Shades of Great: THE films of 2014

So that was 2014, a year when a comedy compromised the free world, when a tree and a raccoon stole millions of hearts, and when Gilliam, Scorsese, Godzilla and Jack Ryan returned to cinemas, but what, you may yawn, was THE film of the past 12 months?

30: Dallas Buyers Club: Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto’s Midnight Cowboy for the selfie generation. Deserving of awards aplenty.

29: Pompeii: Enjoyable swords and sandals saga, with an uber hammy Kiefer Sutherland. Paul WS Anderson‘s best film in years, which, given the calibre of his Resident Evil movies, probably isn’t saying much.

28: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit A JEEP of a thriller – just enough essential parts to get from A to C.

27: Gone Girl: David Fincher‘s workable who and whydunit marred by a weak third act.

26: The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Too many villains, but Garfield and Stone were more electric than Dr Manhattan clone Electro.

25: The Maze Runner: Enjoyably dark YA dystopian fantasy. Lord of the Flies style.

24: The Raid 2: Overlong, but epic stunts.

23: X-Men: Days of Future Past Bryan Singer and more of his levitating shenanigans. The Quicksilver scene was masterful.

22: Frank: Michael Fassbender‘s sublime turn in this version of Jon Ronson‘s loosely fact-based yarn. Surreal, affecting and brilliant.

21: Edge of Tomorrow: Refreshing Groundhog Day-style sci-fi adventure let down by a generic finale. Tom Cruise playing against type in the first act was a welcome change.

20: Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Enjoyably paranoid superhero epic let down by a generic finale.

19 Divergent: Enjoyably dark YA dystopian fantasy Hunger Games style.

18: Noah: Bonkers visionary epic with some great money shots.

17: American Hustle: Over hyped, but a powerhouse perf from Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro’s best turn in ages.

16: Locke: Car-centric drama with Tom Hardy on top form. Writer director Steven Knight confirming his status as one of Blighty’s best creative forces.

15: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Bleak but stunning sequel. Andy Serkis delivers another Oscar worthy mo-cap turn.

14: The Lego Movie: The first of two hilarious offerings from Lord and Miller – the saviours of American comedy movies.

13: 22 Jump Street: The second from Lord and Miller – gloriously stupid.

12: How To Train Your Dragon 2: Moving, epic, entertaining fantasy animation at its finest. Toothless soared. Again.

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Photo: Roger Crow

11: Interstellar: Chris Nolan’s mash up of 2001, The Right Stuff and AI. Pure cinematic spectacle.

The final countdown…

10: The Knife That Killed Me: Wonderfully inventive hard-hitting British drama. Kes meets Sin City.

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Image: Green Screen Productions

9: Godzilla: From its redacted opening titles to its final apocalyptic showdown, this was a masterful epic reminiscent of classic Spielberg.

8: The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies: Peter Jackson redeemed himself after the pointlessly lengthy first two Hobbits with a rewarding finale.

7: Nightcrawler: A powerhouse turn from Jake Gyllenhaal made this a Taxi Driver for the rolling news generation.

6: The Grand Budapest Hotel: Wes Anderson‘s masterpiece was well worth checking out. Rafe Fiennes – comic genius. Who knew?

Hang on, it’s almost over…

5: Her: Joaquin Phoenix and Spike Jonze‘s love letter to sentient OS systems. Here’s another letter: A

4: The Wolf of Wall Street: Scorsese and DiCaprio firing on all cylinders. The funniest comedy drama of the year.

3: Paddington: Achingly sweet family entertainment at its finest. The film Paddington Bear deserved, and more.

2: Under the Skin: Haunting, mesmerising sci-fi shocker. Scarlett Johansson utterly compelling as she was in Lucy.

My number one of 2014. The highest grossing film about a talking tree and his mates since the Ents in Lord of the Rings. Buff Chris Pratt, sexier than ever Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, a duck called Howard… we are Groot. Marvel‘s biggest gamble paid off dividends.

1: Guardians of the Galaxy:The most enjoyable ensemble sci-fi fantasy adventure since Star Wars. Witty, thrilling, bold and a great soundtrack. Aptly for a Galaxy-related movie, several stars were born.

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Photo: Roger Crow

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – The Review

So that’s it then, the final chapter of Peter Jackson’s so-so Hobbit trilogy, and the good news is this TBOTFA is better than the last two episodes put together.
Essentially one long clash between assorted races – dwarves, orcs, elves and others.

Opening with a terrific showdown against gold-crazy dragon Smaug, whose fiery wrath against Laketown is a terrific opening, it makes up for the hugely disappointing second episode which ended on an annoying cliffhanger.

At the heart of the first two acts is Thorin Oakenshield’s own obsession with precious metals.
While his fellow dwarves clash with orcs, he’s holed up in his mountain lusting after gold.
Thankfully he finally snaps out of it and leads his companions into battle.

We also happily witness the return of other key characters who attempt to rescue Gandalf from the forces of evil.

Okay at times the movie looks like 130 plus minutes of eclectic forces hitting each other, but it’s usually done with such style there’s rarely a chance to get bored.

For the most part the effects are excellent. Alas, a scene with battle goats (yes, really) scaling a mountain looks awful, and a key character traversing a collapsing makeshift bridge could have done with work, but it scarcely matters.

One contributor to a key film podcast hit the nail on the head recently when they said ’I LOVE Lord of the Rings. I like The Hobbit.’
I’d share that sentiment.

However, what Jackson and his own army of filmmakers have done is remarkable, not least the look of the movie – like a luscious Alan Lee watercolour.

Howard Shore’s score is also arguably the best of this trilogy, a soaring, grandiose assault on the senses, while LOTR veteran Billy Boyd signs off the saga with a great closing theme. And In IMAX 3D the whole thing was a feast for the eyes.

I have little interest in seeing the other Hobbit movies again, but I’d quite happily return to this adventure.

Was The Hobbit worth three movies? No. Two at most (as it was originally planned), but one day it would be good to see Jackson produce a standalone version combining the best elements in one feature. It might be four hours long but could be a greater challenge than the overlong padded adventure he’s created here.

The cast, including Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage are great, but a final mention goes to Martin Freeman, easily the strongest asset of this massive enterprise as Bilbo Baggins; without him the saga would have collapsed like the bridge of khazad-dum after having a boulder drop on it.

Letting Go Of Star Wars

I just made my wife watch Star Wars.
We stayed quiet for most of it, her probably bored, me waiting for the sucker punch moments that affected me before so many times.

There were a few touching moments while the CGI jiggery-pokery pokery from 1997 was one part effective and two parts annoying.

One of the great things about Jaws was Steven Spielberg lacked the technology to make the shark appear for the bulk of the movie, and that ‘less is more’ approach worked a treat. The same was true of the original Star Wars, but then it all changed. Annoying robots here, more aliens there, too many storm troopers the next minute.

It’s years since I’ve sat through the entire movie and it still held together remarkably well. Though it’s impossible to convey how fresh and innovative that movie was when it first appeared in the late 1970s. Like the first time fire was created on a dark night millennia ago.

Truth is Star Wars: Episode 4 is a good not great movie. The ADR is often awful, the 1997 CGI additions intrusive and the lack of reaction when Luke first kills a storm trooper is lost in an orgy of gunfire. Yes, it’s petty to address such things in a fairy tale but a slight reaction wouldn’t have hurt.

Thankfully John Williams’ score hasn’t dated a jot. It’s as glorious as ever, but after 37 years of imitators, it was bound to be overshadowed by the very films it inspired.

By the time episode 7 is released in December 2015, it will be compared to six other movies, at least three of which were any good.

We all know JJ Abrams will knock this baseball out of the park; he’s just a better film maker and better storyteller. And when that happens, the childhood ties which bind me to episode 4 will fray a lot more.

Will I ever watch it again? Maybe, but like an old girlfriend, some ties are better being severed. They can do you more harm than good.

Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler

When Jake Gyllenhaal made Donnie Darko in 2001, it marked the arrival of a major force in the movie business.

Of course we didn’t know it at the time. That cult time travel offering could have been a fluke and Jake could have never made another movie.
But as the years went by, he went on to make a string of compelling offerings, from the stunning Zodiac (one of the most gripping thrillers of the past decade) to Prisoners.

The latter looked like it would be the most generic Hugh Jackman movie of recent years and yet turned out to be one of the most absorbing.

Which brings us to Nightcrawler, Jake’s latest stunning performance.

He plays a petty thief who makes a living stealing. However, he has the drive of a young man who could make it big in whatever business he chooses. And after witnessing a crash one night, the proverbial light bulb goes on over his head. He decides to start filming disasters and sell the footage to news companies with the simple philosophy of “If it bleeds it leads”.
Rene Russo plays the seasoned news boss who knows she needs Jake’s spectacular footage. He does a good job of convincing her, but he’s not the sort of bloke to obtain it without breaking a few rules.
Like moving a dead body to get a better shot or filming a couple of killers as they leave a property, then withholding the footage from the authorities in the hope of getting an even better story by trailing the killers and contacting the cops.

Nightcrawler is a brilliantly scripted, superbly acted drama, which could stray into the realms of satire or black comedy, but thankfully avoids the obvious pitfalls.

A development in the third act looked as obvious as night following day, but thankfully the movie strayed away from that inevitable cul-de-sac.

If Gyllenhaal isn’t in the running for Oscars and Baftas I’d be amazed, though stranger things have happened.

As a recent convert to the world of professional video news (having done a works training course and a trial by fire filming in the Azores), I was on the edge of my seat throughout. My wife however was less than thrilled by the movie.

Then again I can be in hysterics watching some films and she can look at me like I’m having a strange turn. Each to their own.

Nightcrawler is a contemporary classic which is bound to be compared to Drive – an urban, largely nocturnal take of an anti hero clashing with murderous types – but I feel the host of movies it inspires will soon generate the tag lines ‘This year’s Nightcrawler‘.

Good support comes from the ever reliable Bill Paxton, and Blighty’s own Riz Ahmed (Four Lions) is excellent as Jake’s minion.

Awaiting-the review

I like thrillers that take their time and avoid the obvious cliches. Fast cutting and overly stylistic lighting can detract from the finished movie. Above all I like a cracking tale well told.

Awaiting ticks all of those boxes.

Admittedly I am a little biased having spent a day on set, and I was nervous that it would let me down.

The plot centres on Jake, an unconscious lawyer (Rupert Hill on top form) who is brought to a remote Yorkshire farmhouse by Morris, an intense single dad (the ever reliable Tony Curran).

He’s naturally protective of his beautiful daughter Lauren (Diana Vickers) and a little wary of the newcomer in their midst.

What unfolds is a gradual descent into darkness as the family home becomes the arena for a clash of wills.

Awaiting is reminiscent of Alien in its pacing; it takes its time unfolding for the first half and then grabs you by the scruff of the neck and doesn’t let go until the end.
Writer/director Mark Murphy is clearly a fan of certain movies; I won’t reveal which, but while Awaiting may follow certain themes, it stands on its own two feet.
My fears of being let down melted away, especially during the third act – one of the most gripping I’ve seen all year.

Being a movie lover, one of my favourite things is seeing how rising talent craft cracking yarns with relatively modest budgets. Murphy is definitely a face to watch in the future because his script thankfully avoided many of the cliches that usually set my teeth on edge; the visceral effects are wince-inducing in all the right places, and the score is utterly glorious – that includes a terrific closing track from Ms Vickers.

I now have to peel my hand from the side of my face and hope I can sleep.

It was well worth the wait.

:: Awaiting is due for release early 2015