The 2014 Recap
Cinema Elite picks out the best of awesomeness in the movie stratosphere
And here we come, trying to pick the best of the big and the strong of the strongest. Yes, the best-of-the-year list inaugurates itself on Cinema Elite! And while we have more to come, we’re only excited to bring you what we thought were the best of the lot.
But of course, compressing a whole set of good films into a list of ten was not just a difficulty; it would in turn be a crime not to appreciate the films that most required the appreciation of the viewers. This is why we decided to spin a three part feature series on what was the best of the year that whizzed by. Of course, each part signifies a certain type of film. Not that our classification is the sole form of decisive film classification, but here’s how we decided to put it, by giving each type of film a reason and a space to shine.
Top 10 in Mainstream Cinema
Lets start with the big guns first (figuratively more than literally). These have been the films that – despite their mainstream appeal – have given the audiences a touch of crazy in their own respective ways. From David Fincher to Doug Liman and Christopher Nolan, we’ve got a host of films for you to check out:
Why: Christopher Nolan’s two best films (in my opinion) were products of such ingenuity that most of his other dazzlingly popular films couldn’t even come close. But Interstellar was one film that I had faith in – it was that film that I really wanted to like even more than Following and Inception. Now while I couldn’t put it there, it’s definitely a film I took home and ruminated in the philosophy of. As a rather emotionally intimate effort, Nolan finally broke the barrier of cold emotion in the rest of his films, unfortunately at the cost of focus. Nevertheless, the film was still one of the greats of the year, attempting to tackle a heady melange of science and sentiment in a way that only one other film has come close to conquering (I Origins).
What’s Awesome: Some of the brilliant themes that the movie conquers in the complexity of it all will take you by surprise, and – for the first time in any Chris Nolan film – may potentially melt your heart.
Surprise, Surprise: The inclusion of a particular performer will jolt you out of your senses. I’m pretty sure it’s been spoiled already, but if you haven’t watched the movie yet – and by some odd miracle you still aren’t aware of the cameo – the knee-jerk reaction you’ll get as a viewer on witnessing him is a reaction quite priceless, if I may.
9 X-Men: Days of Future Past
Why: This was the movie that absolutely killed it, by diminishing whatever ruin the franchise had upon it with a masterstroke of a screenplay, whilst also moving the story forward in a way very few would have guessed coming. With the universes of the prequel and the initial installments coming together to form an interesting psychological science-fiction action drama hybrid that’s as enjoyable as it is very smart. With Singer coming back after his extremely dismal Superman Returns, this movie brings him back, not only to his comfort zone, but to his prime.
What’s Awesome: The remarkably mature performances of Lawrence and Jackman in their respective characters.
Surprise, Surprise: Evan Peters as Quicksilver steals the entire film, and to tell you why would be to spoil one of the greatest action set-pieces of last year.
8 John Wick
Why: Keanu Reeves in a film about him avenging a dead dog sounds so downright silly I judged the film right from the release of its first trailer. Little did I know though, that John Wick would play such a wicked game on me the day I watched it, that I would be nothing but surprised throughout. Not that it’s any bit original, but keep the story aside, and you’ll see all of this superior attention to detail at the universe of the grimy underworld the protagonist is linked to, and your jaw will drop. And if that’s not enough, you’ve got some terrific action choreography, shot and edited almost to dangerous perfection. And it really helps that Reeves is just so awesome in the movie.
What’s Awesome: The inclusion of Willem Dafoe in his rather cheeky role.
Surprise, Surprise: The nightclub action set-piece. That alone is worth watching the movie a thousand times.
7 Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Why: Superhero movies have always been called their own genre, but little do people know that they can either be gritty dramas (Unbreakable), crime films (The Dark Knight), self-aware action comedies (Kick-Ass) or – in this case – espionage thrillers too. Superhero films aren’t a genre. They’re just varied blockbuster staples that can take the form of any genre really. Blending in gritty, practical action with 80s espionage tactics, Captain America: The Winter Soldier did for Chris Evans a big mainstream boost the way Snowpiercer did his acting prowess equal justice. That’s the thing though: Evans didn’t have to sacrifice his performance dynamics here, and he shone in a role that could easily have gone over-the-top. The Russo brothers, whose pre-Marvel filmography included some absolutely unimpressive films, were the biggest surprise of all here. With a direction as focussed as anyone’s ever seen, the movie made big, and how!
What’s Awesome: Scarlett Johansson and Cobie Smulders get more meat in their character for the audience to explore them as human beings, relative to The Avengers.
Surprise, Surprise: This twist is worth a thousand Bucks, if you know what I mean.
6 The Maze Runner
Why: Fuelled by terrific atmospheric direction and action that’s bound to leave you gasping for more, this is your young-adult-novel-adaptation done right. Wes Ball in his debut directorial foray of a feature-length film impresses one and all with his attention to detail over elements of production design, sound design and movement when it comes to live-action set pieces. To add to that, you’ve got genuinely nuanced performances from the likes of Dylan O’Brien and Will Poulter, with an arresting cameo by Patricia Clarkson; unlike the rather generic crowd-pleasing acts you end up finding in a film of the kind. This was one of the biggest surprises in the commercial industry when all one was expecting was the usual dystopian-love-story-sci-fi-where-everything-is-milked-for-money from this particular film. Dare I say this was one of the most intimate, claustrophobically appropriate sci-fi thriller for the kind of audience its directed toward.
What’s Awesome: Dylan O’Brien’s fantastic performance held the film through and through, but what really hits you is how breathlessly Wes Ball directs the film. He’s a director to watch out for, and I really hope Hollywood chooses him for bigger, better projects.
Surprise, Surprise: The apparent predictable twist is only a decoy for something of a cliffhanger that makes you want to know what happens next.
Why: One of the biggest problems with Fury was how technically faulty its been on trying to portray humans in war. But what’s gone unnoticed through the whole fracas of it all is how well has David Ayer been able to put out to the screen raw, ravaged emotion that the viewer is able to experience with the characters who are neck-deep in it. Fueled by Brad Pitt’s worthy performance, this film explores the various performative angles of Shia LaBeouf and Logan Lerman, both of who belt out surprisingly exquisite performances. This one’s a deliriously visceral movie experience that treats war from a more intimate perspective than a whole of it all – which is what makes the most sense in the movie.
What’s Awesome: The fantastic action set pieces and Brad Pitt’s towering performance hold the film through like there’s no tomorrow.
Surprise, Surprise: Alicia Von Rittberg as Emma. Her expressiveness through almost nothing but her eyes and body language make her more than just a stereotypical female love-interest cameo for the twenty-odd minutes she’s featured in the movie.
4 The Lego Movie
Why: Fearless in its filmmaking, and ambitious in its stylistic fusion, The Lego Movie became that animation film that clicked with both the kids and the adults. While the colorful, animated characters and the weird world of the Lego-characters clicks with the kids, it’s the adults that are left chuckling as hard as the kids at the countless pop-culture references that the film merrily indulges in. Lord-Miller (who have belted yet another fun movie in the form of the sequel to 21 Jump Street this year) struck gold with this one, with so much creative leverage handled in the film it’s insane.
What’s Awesome: Will Arnett’s Batman is so goddamn funny, the initial chuckles will turn into an incessant bout of laughters by the end of the film’s runtime.
Surprise, Surprise: You’ll find out the cool twist in the tale by the final third of the film if you haven’t seen it. For those who have, you pretty much know what’s being referenced here.
3 Guardians of the Galaxy
Why: Marvel surprised me personally. What started off with me feeling awkward about the film and its intentions turned quickly into me rooting for the movie to be good. And boy was it spectacularly directed. In a post Star Wars world, the universe shown in the film, combined with some fantastic humor and characters that are radically different from the usual Marvel staple that we’ve come to recognize and be habituated with give the film an extreme up boost. Brilliantly shot, directed, written and acted, this movie definitely marks a very refreshing leap off the standard superhero movie structure to be unafraid and push for more fun, brave stuff to do in the film-type.
What’s Awesome: The very inclusion of Chris Pratt, turning him from the man-child in Parks and Recreation to the wisecracking badass protagonist of the film shows the confidence of James Gunn as a filmmaker.
Surprise, Surprise: Vin Diesel’s reprisal of Groot. Nothing more to say here.
2 Edge of Tomorrow
Why: Received financially with the least possible hoopla, whilst also being treated with an extreme amount of bias due to this being a Cruise-starrer, Edge of Tomorrow (retitled in desperation to its subtitle Live.Die.Repeat and also known as Cruise/Blunt/EdgeOfTomorrow in some sectors post release) was the only summer blockbuster that did extreme justice, not just to its characters but also to the narrative of the film and how rhythmically aligned and consistent the film was in so many ways. A lesson for the filmmakers of the future: this is exactly how one makes a blockbuster: a smart, witty screenplay blended in with some superior action set-pieces, gloriously shot, composited and choreographed. Featuring yet another confident turn in from Cruise, this adaptation of Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need is Kill nails it right in the head, resonating with gamers more than potential videogame adaptations ever have (Resident Evil and Tomb Raider, we’re looking at you).
What’s Awesome: Practically everything. For a summer blockbuster, this was definitely the way to go to create and enjoyable romp of a science-fiction actioner that was a pure delight in every way.
Surprise, Surprise: Emily Blunt and her electrifying performance take the not just the cake, but the whole bakery.
AND OUR CLEAR WINNER IS:
Why: Ben Affleck’s surprisingly good presence aside, Gone Girl makes for an electrifyingly well-directed drama film. Fincher’s usage of atmosphere and the intensity in the electro-heavy background score complement the dreary narrative of the movie. While the book is something I fairly enjoyed, it is Flynn’s own screenplay to the movie that took the film a few notches higher than the book itself. While the more hard-nosed of them all would definitely disagree with the presence of this film right on the top of this list for reasons abound, this movie deserves its rightful place right here – if only for acting as a strong commentary on the lengths one can go to in a relationship, in fear of the significant other’s reach exceeding his grasp by a mile and a half.
What’s Awesome: Fincher’s focussed structure shows in the way he directs his films; this one doesn’t do otherwise.
Surprise, Surprise: Rosamund Pike. For all of you who’ve watched the movie, you’ll know that she’s definitely in line for a possible Oscar nomination.
Click on the below accordion for part II, where we cover the best in 2014’s fringe cinema palate.
Top 10 in Fringe Cinema
Sometimes, non-mainstream films get their due, and some more!
2014 was a fantastic year for non-mainstream films, and while the initial quarter was bumpy, what followed in the rest of the three quarters was a barrage of amazing films that just kept coming. From acclaimed filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Jonathan Glazer to relatively newer talent like Adam Wingard, we’ve got it all covered! Here’s basically what we’ve decided to count down as ten of our best fringe films that managed to electrify the audience out of nowhere.
Why: A family movie for adults, Jon Favreau gets back with a bang after fantastically written Swingers and a tolerable Made, proving to the audience that even after going mainstream with the Iron Man franchise for a while, his heart still exists in the right place. The movie covers two strands of its concept – a father-son bond that’s as raw as it is human, and a man following his dreams rather than chasing the money and the title – and does well on both counts. Intelligently touching upon the need of social media as a tool for new businesses to scream its existence to its customers, whilst also having characters that matter, Chef is as sharply and smartly written as it is heartfelt. Peppered along with some fantabulous cameos by Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson and (hold your breaths!) Robert Downey Jr., this movie doesn’t treat them as gimmicks, but gives each of them a rather dignified role to play.
What’s Awesome: Jon Favreau acts, writes and directs this film. Gives film enthusiasts a dual-ended boost of inspiration to go follow their dreams.
Surprise, Surprise: Sofia “Gloria” Vergara (television’s popular Modern Family) has an absolutely lovable performance compared to her stereotypically loud film gigs in the horribly directed The Three Stooges, and just steals all your hearts away. No, she really does.
9 The Grand Budapest Hotel
Why: Wes Anderson is an eclectic filmmaker who has certain tastes and certain kinks of perfectionism he performs. With a terrific lineup of actors, this film is able accomplish tapping through itself an eccentric tone that acts like a fairytale, feels like a mystery novel and moves like a family drama. The less said about this film, the better; you need to experience the film yourself.
What’s Awesome: Ralph Fiennes’ performance and the fantastic filmmaking kinks lend to the authenticity of the film.
Surprise, Surprise: Tilda Swinton is unrecognizable; and if you didn’t know who she was in the film, you’d never know till the credits.
8 The Guest
Why: Action and horror, thrown in a blender, with a garnishing of Dan Stevens, whipped up by the talented sous chefs Adam Winged and Simon Barrett in yet another one of their popular collaborative geniuses post their self-aware horror You’re Next. And if anyone’s to take their ability to smartly inject some awesome self-awareness in their films, they’d know right before getting into the movie that this would be a serious-looking film that’s actually rightly a parody in hiding, waiting to sneak up on you, slowly and stealthily. Before you know it, you’ll be on the edge-of-your-seat, whilst also rightfully chuckling at all the easter-egg jokes sprinkled around only for the more discerning viewer to catch. Wingard and Barrett are a talent to watch out for – well, they’ve always been, but this year kinda proved that we should be investing some energy and time into knowing what they’re going to be up to in the future already.
What’s Awesome: Barrett’s fantastic writing, Wingard’s hella-fun direction and Dan Stevens pulling off one of the best performances in his career this far – they all make for a heady dose of mega-awesomeness that is just unstoppable.
Surprise, Surprise: Maika Monroe. You’ll have to watch the movie to know why. And you’d rather watch this film to also know why you’re supposed to very dearly wait for her next gig in It Follows.
Why: Jake Gyllenhaal’s been coming up in a barrage of terrific movie choices of late. Kicking off with Prisoners, following it up with Enemy – and now upping the ante with Nightcrawler – is no mean feat. It’s surprising almost, to see that the guy’s got an eye for knowing the pulse of what makes a film its own thing. Starting off in a quiet, almost predictable fashion, the movie only gets progressively meaner (and, in the process, breathless) until you’re sitting there on your seat, wondering what would be his next move.
What’s Awesome: Jake Gyllenhaal’s powerhouse performance indicates the role was tailor-made for him. If Enemy wasn’t enough, this performance of his makes you want to support him and hate him in equal measure, something not a lot of people can do.
Surprise, Surprise: Dan Gilroy pitches in a confident debut as a director, whilst finally getting off his his long phase of writing and co-writing with mixed results. His direction is focussed, assured and – almost – nuanced.
6 Begin Again
Why: Because it’s a fantastic film with fantastic music, that’s why.
For those who immensely loved Once, this might not exactly be the film they’d expect from a director like Carney. For the more open minded, however – and unlike Once, which on a personal level felt like a checklist film to me – the movie is breezy, and has characters that are more accessible and relatable than his previous musical effort. Plus, you’ve got Ruffalo and Knightley in some of their most natural performances so far.
What’s Awesome: The camaraderie between Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley take the cake.
Surprise, Surprise: Adam Levine. He’s super-impressive for his first major act.
Why: A hundred-odd minute film set in a car in realtime, with just one character. That could have been quite the bore, and – if I may – a failure of a film, had it not been handled well. The thing is, this mind-blowing Steven Knight directed film arrests you throughout its runtime, drying your throat in anticipation as you’re constantly in search of answers, in search of the vaulted-up though process in the film’s protagonist Ivan Locke’s brain. If you think Tom Hardy was awesome as Bane, think again. Here he is, contributing his all – his emotive versatility, his restraint, his body language – to a role of a man on the verge of progressive destruction, if not anything else (considering Bronson though, this should have been a relatively easier role to pull off, shouldn’t it have?). And as for Knight – the writer-director of the spellbinding Eastern Promises – he seems to have pulled off yet another coup, not just in the world of screenwriting (and writing in general), but also in the world of film direction, allowing his whole team to finish a film that he should definitely be proud of, if not anything else.
What’s Awesome: Tom Hardy in a performance that’s not just fantastic, but rips your heart out as you see the events that unfold and how they affect him.
Surprise, Surprise: In a way, the whole film is a major surprise on the senses of the viewers.
4 The Lunchbox
Why: Acquired by Sony Pictures classics, this was one of the few films that found a limited release commercially in the first quarter of the year, and actually managed to impress the audience more than your perfectly adequate barrage of action flicks that kept dropping on you like bombs. More than the powerhouse performances of Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi) and Nimrat Kaur (television’s Homeland), it’s the warm – albeit sans manipulation – direction that amazes you. The letters, the honesty in the metaphorical voices of these characters and the overall relationship the protagonists share without meeting each others simply manages to melt you away. That the movie ends without conventionally ending and still leaves you with immense hope is sensational.
What’s Awesome: The character arcs of the protagonists are smooth, consistent, and non-manipulative.
Surprise, Surprise: While Irrfan Khan gave away his usual standout performance, it was Nimrat Kaur and Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Gangs of Wasseypur) that took away the cake as protagonist and supporting character respectively, with their mind-blowing performative dynamics.
3 Under the Skin
Why: One of the most accomplished science-fiction films of the year, Under the Skin, adapted from Michel Faber’s novel of the same name, heavily downplayed the exposition, with Jonathan Glazer deciding instead to mess with the audience.
With Scarlett Johansson’s powerhouse performance stealing the show, the movie – if indulged into – feels like a visually immersive experience that is an arthouse film as much as it is a mystery drama, science-fiction and a horror movie. With such a melange of genres you’d surely expect Glazer to trip. That, fortunately, doesn’t happen, and the discerning audience gets what they want, and some more.
What’s Awesome: Scarlett Johansson’s performance. If she’s been an electrifying part of some of the most successful commercial films of the year, she’s also dabbled in something as daring as this, which is a pleasure to watch.
Surprise, Surprise: They’re many. And they’re moments. And they cannot be spoiled. They’ll intrigue you, jolt you out of your senses and creep you out.
Why: Yet another filmmaking achievement of sorts, the movie is as natural as natural goes. In fact, so far is it seeped into realism that it’s been shot (like its well known nickname goes) over the course of twelve long years, with the same bunch of actors. It’s an experiment that hasn’t been dared by as much as anyone, with the only one who came close being François Truffaut, who made a series of films featuring the same character over the course of many years.
But let’s just say Linklater’s almost been able to achieve that with his Before… series.
What’s Awesome: That it’s more headily conversational (which might not be suitable for everyone in the audience) and organic, and uses the same form of visual capture for twelve years instead of cheapening out and using a variety of video cameras is just incredible.
Surprise, Surprise: Patricia Arquette’s performance will blow you away. Period.
AND OUR CLEAR WINNER IS:
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Why: For a film to have been this fantastic in terms of almost everything – as an experience, per se – was something not a lot of the audience would have fathomed. Sure, it’s a comedy, but its electrifying brand of humor is smart and subtextual to an unprecedented degree. 2014 was Michael Keaton’s year, what with his return to (some rather limp) conventional A-lister cinema being more frequent than was seen in the previous years. This movie only cemented my claim further, what with his self-aware parody of his career in the film only being a small part of the whole set of events, which also included the dazzling performances of Naomi Watts and Edward Norton, among others. The film is a wholesome experience for lovers of movies.
What’s Awesome: The melange of cinematography and editing to form a fluid one take shot, brought previously this close to consistency only by another master filmmaker – Alfred Hitchcock (in Rope).
Surprise, Surprise: Michael Keaton does some really awesome stuff – and you’ve got to see the movie – experience it – to believe what I’m trying to say without revealing.
Part III to come up real soon, with some more interesting titles on the way!
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