Best Movies of 2014

Another year gone by. Has it been a good year for film? I’d say so. We said farewell to Middle Earth; The Hunger Games reached its penultimate feature; Tom Cruise and Michael Keaton are back on form and audiences exploded from anticipation waiting for Interstellar. Here are my top five from the year gone by.


#5. Edge of Tomorrow (Dir. Doug Liman)

I like Tom Cruise. At times, I feel audiences go too far with their criticisms. He hasn’t had the most illustrious career ever, but he is an outstanding actor who brings huge amounts of dedication, enthusiasm and charisma to his roles. Edge of Tomorrow—which is based on a Japanese sci-fi novel by Hiroki Sakurazaka—is a film I expected to enjoy, but not one I thought I would love. A military officer named Cage gets caught in a time-loop during an invasion from near unstoppable alien creatures dubbed ‘Mimics’ and may be Earth’s only hope in ending the threat. Read like that, it comes across as rather bland—perhaps even cliche—but Edge of Tomorrow is engrossing from the get-go and both Cruise and Blunt excel. The designs of the Mimic creatures were impressive (in the manga adaptation, they’re rather hilarious) and considering the amount of repetition, the action sequences never dulled. It’s a well directed, intelligent, captivating and at times very original sci-fi feature; far more absorbing than Interstellar.


#4. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Dir. Peter Jackson)

As a fan of the work of Tolkien and someone who holds director Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings adaptations in very high regard, to say I was looking forward to The Hobbit would be an understatement. Having recaptured Erebor, the Dwarven company vie to retain their stronghold and homeland from enemies on many planes. Probably my most anticipated film of the year, The Battle of the Five Armies didn’t disappoint, though there were a couple of aspects I wasn’t too keen on. Nevertheless, it remained an engaging, enjoyable watch; a fine farewell to Middle Earth — or is it? We may be revisiting it in thirty years; copyright for The Silmarillion expires in 2044 where—from then on—it will pass into the public domain. Maybe by then remakes of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit will also be in the pipeline.


#3. Gone Girl (Dir. David Fincher)

Gone Girl was one of those rare movie experiences for me; I hadn’t watched any of the trailers; I hadn’t done any prior research; I didn’t even know what the film was about. The only thing I knew was that it was helmed by David Fincher. I went to see it on the off-chance one night and was completely blown away. Tired husband Nick Dunne see’s the media spotlight turned on him following his wife’s disappearance, when people begin to suspect he may not be so innocent. It’s a plot that could fall flat given the wrong performances, but the characters were completely enthralling. I have always liked Ben Affleck, but his acting calibre expanded tenfold here. Despite that, though, Rosamund Pike stole the show. A riveting film — wonderfully shot, fluently directed, with stimulating performances and a story so spellbinding I’m glad I had the pleasure of seeing it with no prior knowledge.


#2. Nightcrawler (Dir. Dan Gilroy)

The trailer was my first exposure to Nightcrawler, but Jake Gyllenhaal was the main selling point. He delivers an outstanding, entrancing performance as Lou Bloom; a fledgling journalist who blurs the line between observer and participant. I’ve seen people speak of his career peaking years ago, but I believe he’s on the top of his game right now. Nightcrawler was mesmerizing from the opening sequence all the way through to the stunning climax; a remarkable film with a hugely satisfying pay-off. A debut feature from Dan Gilroy — I hope to see much more from him in the future.


#1. The Theory of Everything (Dir. James Marsh)

I thought Nightcrawler would be my favourite of 2014, until I saw The Theory of Everything. Chronicling the relationship between master physicist Prof. Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane Wilde, both Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne have—thus far—delivered career defining performances. Redmayne is masterful — he completely absorbs himself in to the role. I was moved to tears a number of times by the emotion and powerful subtleties of his performance. Not only is the film superbly acted, but the score by Jóhann Jóhannsson is near flawless. Certainly my favourite of the year and likely one of my tops of the decade so far.

So, there are my five stand-out features from the year gone by. In terms of performances, I believe Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) and Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) have delivered the best this year. Jóhann Jóhannsson (The Theory of Everything) has without a doubt produced the best original score and, though its namesake hasn’t been released yet, Lana Del Rey’s Big Eyes is my favourite original song. Another film released in the United Kingdom this year that almost made the list was The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman. A debut feature from Fredrik Bond, it had a phenomenal soundtrack and an outstanding performance from Shia LaBeouf, who attracts many disgruntled internet warriors, but is actually a very capable actor. However, technically it is a 2013 film, so I excluded it.

In terms of the most memorable excerpts and sequences, above all else I adored Nightcrawler‘s climax along with a number of scenes from The Theory of Everything; most notably the ‘Forces of Attraction’ sequence, along with the croquet scene and Hawking observing everybody eat at the dinner table. The latter was such a powerful, striking sequence. Definitely something I’ll remember for a very long time.

What were your favourites of 2014? Do you think it has been a good year for film, or are you much rather looking forward to next year? Thank you for reading!

Movie Talk: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Title: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Director: Peter Jackson
Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage
Released: Dec 2014 (US & UK)

There’s a degree of dissatisfaction surrounding The Hobbit trilogy, but following the outstanding success of The Lord of the Rings, it was inevitable. Peter Jackson’s work will—for better or worse—often be compared to his first Tolkien adaptations and many will view The Lord of the Rings as the peak of his career (which is of course not a bad thing). However, for all the magic The Hobbit lacks when viewed alongside its pre-made follow-up, it’s still a well constructed, enjoyable and engrossing trilogy and The Battle of the Five Armies—while at times bloated and strained—is a strong finale that satisfyingly completes both the trilogy and Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth saga. Here are some things I liked and others I wasn’t too keen on.

Warning! Spoilers below.

I liked how the film delved deeper into Thorin’s psyche. Richard Armitage was completely captivating and his performance ever-impressive. The actor’s calibre is on prime display and I was ultimately very pleased with how he portrayed Thorin.

I liked the pace, which was predominantly on point. The film felt neither too long nor too short and the battles were balanced well with the quieter, more dialogue-driven sequences. Considering the Battle of the Five Armies takes place in a single chapter in Tolkien’s book—despite some degree of boat—I generally found it to be well adapted.

I liked Tauriel. Original characters in adapted work don’t often sit too well with audiences, particularly fans of the source material, but I felt Tauriel was well implemented. I enjoyed Evangeline Lilly’s performance and Tauriel as a character; though I feel she should have been killed off to tie up loose ends.

I liked the connections to The Lord of the Rings. I know this is an aspect many are disgruntled with, but I thought the nods were a nice touch. Sure enough, Thranduil urging Legolas to seek out Strider did come across as rather forced (and doesn’t make much sense), but Sauron’s reveal and Saruman’s dialogue about pursuing him, along with the lead-in sequence to The Lord of the Rings at the very end were welcome additions. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are connected and I’m glad Peter Jackson and his writing team made an effort to allow The Hobbit to seamlessly lead into it’s follow-up.

I liked Billy Boyd’s The Last Goodbye. It was a very touching piece to close the trilogy with. It evokes all the wondrous journeys through Middle Earth and fills the listener with a bittersweet nostalgia. I didn’t think they would be able to match Annie Lennox’s Into the West, but it seems inviting Boyd back did the trick.

I wasn’t too keen on how certain characters got conveniently lost at times. After Fili and Kili’s demise, with Thorin was Bilbo and Dwalin. Thorin engages in combat with Azog, Bilbo is knocked unconscious and Dwalin is dispatching enemies, though Dwalin disappears for what appears to be a rather lengthy period of time. The Eagles join the fray, Bilbo eventually awakens from his dizzied state and both Azog and Thorin die in combat — just what is Dwalin doing during this? He was practically beside Thorin, but handily disappears so Thorin can die, then reappears later alongside all of the remaining Dwarves as they bid Thorin farewell.

I wasn’t too keen on some of the special effects. In general, I feel Weta continue to do a stellar job on The Hobbit, but some sequences looked rather odd. The lips on Dain came across as particularly artificial and Legolas running up falling rubble—as fantastical as it may sound on paper—was just rather silly and looked very awkward on film. Also, though I enjoyed Azog as a villain, he was nowhere near as authentic and menacing as someone like Lurtz from The Lord of the Rings.

I wasn’t too keen on the sound editing. There seemed to be somewhat of an over-reliance on Shore’s score. During the final act—specifically Thorin vs. Azog—the music faded out for a short period as the battle intensified and the sounds all became diegetic, with the sound of Azog’s mace crashing into the ice building the atmosphere tenfold. What is sometimes lost in large-scale productions is a sort of ‘fog of war’ perspective. Swooping overheads of exaggerated armies pumped with orchestral greatness are all well and good, but sometimes it is far more thrilling to be in the heat of a single battle — no interruptions, no music, just combatant vs. combatant. I would have like to see a larger focus on the sound and the vehemence of a showdown; that short moment in Thorin and Azog’s confrontation was one of my favourite sequences.

At the end of the day, Peter Jackson is keen to label himself an ‘entertainer’ and The Hobbit trilogy definitely delivers in that respect. It lacks the emotional pull and investment of The Lord of the Rings, but still has a certain charm to it. However, I do believe the book would have been better adapted as just two films. As a whole, the trilogy did feel as though it was dragging at times and the overarching story could have been more tightly woven. Nevertheless, the Hobbit trilogy was an enchanting, wholly enjoyable journey and The Battle of the Five Armies is a fine farewell to Middle Earth.