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My 12 for ’14: Interstellar and Our Place in the Stars…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

Interstellar is an unapologetically emotional film.

This seems a bit odd, given the reputation that Christopher Nolan has built up as a somewhat cold and clinical film maker. However, that reputation always seemed a little undeserved, based more on his meticulous craftsmanship and tendency towards intricate plot structures than on the material content of his movies. Nolan’s films have always had strong emotional cores buried beneath cynical exteriors. He is one of the few writers to give Batman a happy ending, after all.

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Interstellar tips its hand early on, with Brand proposing love as a universal force on par with gravity. Despite Interstellar‘s keen attention to detail and physics, the final act was all but inevitable. At its core, Interstellar is the story about a father’s love transcending time and space. The actual mechanics necessary to reach that point are intricate and stylishly realised, but they are not the point of the film. Ironically, in constructing a film that repeatedly (and consciously) mimics 2001: A Space Odyssey, Nolan casts off the stock comparison to Kubrick.

Oddly enough, Nolan brings a decidedly old-school aesthetic to Interstellar. Any number of visuals from the film would not look out of place on the battered cover of a fifties or sixties paperback. Filmed using practical effects and on real film, Interstellar‘s style evokes an older style of cinematic spectacle. Even its pacing evokes classic Hollywood storytelling, with Interstellar never feeling too rushed or relaxed as it crafts a three-hour saga. The result is stunningly beautiful piece of work.

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My 12 for ’14: The Grand Budapest Hotel and faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

I have yet to meet anybody who truly disliked The Grand Budapest Hotel.

I’m sure they exist. In fact, I suspect that a couple might make themselves known in the comments. However, for most of 2014, The Grand Budapest Hotel was the safest possible cinema recommendation from “that guy who really thought that Cloud Atlas and The Dark Knight Rises were the best films of their respective years.” Sure, there were people who did not love it, and a few legitimate complaints, but even the most cynical friends, acquaintances and family members warmed to Wes Anderson’s delightfully eccentric European comedy adventure thriller.

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There is a lot to like here. Anderson has always had a style that is uniquely his own, but it feels like the film maker has grown dramatically over the last couple of years. The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel are absolutely lovely pieces of cinema that look stunning and are written with just the right balance of knowing irony and sincere affection. It’s never entirely clear how much Anderson buys into the romantic fantasies constructed by his characters, but that is part of the appeal.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a fantastic accomplishment all round.

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My 12 for ’14: The Wolf of Wall Street and More!

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

Everything about The Wolf of Wall Street is excessive, even its length.

Still, The Wolf of Wall Street never feels like long film. This is somewhat paradoxical. After all, the film does not have too much ground to actually cover. For a film that runs to almost three hours, the movie has a pretty straightforward plot. Cinema audiences are quite familiar with this sort of story: the story of a wealthy crook who inevitably (and spectacularly) implodes. The audience watching The Wolf of Wall Street knows the tale inside out: the arrogance, the hubris, the greed; the consequences, the price, the fallout.

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Of course, our villain doesn’t really implode. It turns out that – despite what we’d like to believe – crime does pay. The Wolf of Wall Street alludes to this uncomfortable truth in its closing scene, as Belfort attracts an audience of people eager (and willing to pay) to learn his financial secrets. The cruel gag extends even beyond the movie’s own narrative into the real world; Belfort has boasted he made more from The Wolf of Wall Street than he did from his time on Wall Street. He has used very little of that money to pay back the victims he swindled.

In many ways, The Wolf of Wall Street plays like a belated companion piece to Goodfellas or Casino, a loose exploration of greed and corruption that avoids a lot of the easy moralising that audiences have come to expect from stories like this. Instead, The Wolf of Wall Street basks in its hedonism, affording its villainous protagonist almost unquestioned control of the narrative. As such, it seems to tease the audience: who would be able to refuse such luxury and such debauchery? There’s something delightful uncomfortable in how the film needles the viewer.

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My 12 for ’14: Gone Girl and the most $£@!ed up people…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

Gone Girl is a surprisingly playful film.

David Fincher is a director who likes to play with his audience, constructing elaborate and stylish labyrinths that might trap the audience as easily as they trap his characters. Gone Girl plays to Fincher’s strengths, as Gillian Flynn adapts her best-selling novel into a pulpy thriller. The news that Fincher and Flynn would collaborate on HBO’s Utopia is fantastic, giving television viewers something to anticipate; one hopes that the collaboration might be as fruitful as that enjoyed by Nic Pizzolatto and Cary Joji Fukunaga on True Detective this year.

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Gone Girl is a story about stories. Most particularly, it is the story of two people fighting to control their own narratives; to try to steer the stories being told around them. Is Nick Dunne a loving husband desperately searching for his missing wife? Or is Nick Dunne a sociopath desperately trying to cover-up her murder? Is Amy Dunne an innocent victim who has worked her way into the heart of the American public? Or is Amy Dunne a manipulative and ruthless (and ruthless) cynic who has helped to turn her marriage into a perpetual struggle?

Gone Girl is a very sleek and stylish film that is lovingly crafted and wryly self-aware. It is a horror story about a dysfunctional marriage, a tale about media fascination and a black comedy about resentment and revenge. More than that, it is a puzzle that competes against the audience, a story that seems to change form at any point where the viewer might finally have come to grips with what they are watching.

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Note: This “best of” entry includes spoilers for Gone Girl. You should probably go and see the movie, because everybody is talking about it. Don’t worry, we’ll wait for you. Still there? Good. Let’s continue. Continue reading

My 12 for ’14: The Lego Movie and Everything is Awesome…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

The very idea of The Lego Movie invites cynicism.

It is the latest in the long line of toy-to-film adaptations that includes such auspicious cinematic magics Transformers and Battleship. More than that, it is a film about a toy that has found particular success licensing existing properties – so it would be very easy to turn The Lego Movie into a collection of recognisable characters having generic adventures while selling their toys to an eager young audience. In a market where studios like Pixar had raised the bar for family-friendly animation, The Lego Movie seemed like it could be cringe-worthy.

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Instead, The Lego Movie is one of the most purely enjoyable movies of 2014. It is a film that appeals to all children, no matter their age. From seven to seventy, The Lego Movie is constructed with such energy and enthusiasm that it is impossible to resist. Even the most hardened cynic and most ruthless pessimism will struggle not to smile at certain points as The Lego Movie marches to its own wryly and playfully subversive beat. The amount of charm on display here should win over everybody.

The Lego Movie is still a feature-length advertisement for a world-renowned brand, but it manages to capture the fun and the excitement of that brand in a way that will feel familiar to those viewers who do remember playing with blocks; no matter how long ago.

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My 12 for ’14: Nightcrawler and Bleeding Leads…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

One of the most compelling criticisms of Nightcrawler is that the almost obligatory comparisons to Network are all too apt; that the film has not really bothered to update its social and political commentary for the twenty-first century. In many ways, this is true. The social satire at the heart of Nightcrawler is pretty familiar at this point. Lou Bloom is a young man who talks like a living and breathing self-help book, willing to do whatever is necessary to get ahead in life. It is just the latest in a long line of searing criticism of American capitalism.

After all, Nightcrawler would make a suitable companion piece to The Drop or Snowpiercer from this year; perhaps it make an interesting double-feature with Killing Them Softly from last year. The decision to focus this tale of exploitational capitalism on the media industry means that Network becomes the obvious point of comparison for Nightcrawler – just as 2001: A Space Odyssey inevitably comes up in discussions of Interstellar. If it feels like the satire has not really been updated, that is because that satire is still largely relevant.

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That said, Nightcrawler is just a stunningly well-produced film. Writer and director Dan Gilroy brings a delightfully kenetic energy to the movie. Cinematographer Robert Elswit helps to give the film a unique style by adopting a hybrid approach to filming the movie – the daylight scenes are shot on film, while the late-night sequences are shot on digital. This helps to create a clear sense of different between the Los Angeles seen during the day and nightmarish version present by Nightcrawler after dark.

However, Nightcrawler largely belongs to Jake Gyllenhaal, who provides one of the year’s most mesmorising lead performances as a young man willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead. Whatever it takes.

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My 12 for ’14: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

The world has always seemed like it was on the cusp of something – like there was a powder keg ready to errupt. The infamous “doomsday clock” has never been further than seventeen minutes from midnight, and – outside of that brief moment of post-Cold War euphoria – mankind has always been living within a quarter-of-an-hour from the end of existence as we know it. Nuclear weapons. Global warming. Biological warfare. Economic collapse. All possible world-enders.

The new millennium has been dominated by the threats of terrorism and of global warming, unconventional opponents that can difficult to engage. However, 2014 brought its own particular brand of uncertainties and discomforts. In February, a revolution in the Ukraine sparked a political crisis in Europe, pushing Russia to loggerheads with Europe and the United States. Since August, Ferguson has been simmering away, the imagery of the protests burnt into the collective unconscious. The Syrian Civil War has faded from the front pages.

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The word “revolution” seemed to simmer away in the background, with certain young activists actively travelling to Ferguson in search of their own revolution. Writing in Time magazine, Darlena Cunha compared the trouble in Ferguson to the civil unrest which gave rise to the American Revolution. Demonstrating no shortage of self-importance, actor and comedian Russell Brand published his own manifesto – helpfully titled Revolution – in whish he pledged to lead a global revolution.

“The revolution can not be boring,” Brand advised readers. They seldom are. Revolutions are typically bloody, brutal, violent, horrific. There is a reason that wars of independence tend to be followed by civil wars and internal strife. Although the idea of revolution holds a romantic allure, history demonstrates that revolutions seldom help those most in need of assistance. “Meet the new boss,” the Who teased on Won’t Get Fooled Again, “same as the old boss.” Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a harrowing and compelling exploration of revolutionary bloodshed.

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