Top 10 Films of 2018

Another year passes and with it comes a list of my favourite films of the year. It’s certainly been a bizarre one because we received a Transformers film that wasn’t a horrendous, CGI-infested mess! That’s correct; Bumblebee arrived in cinemas this Christmas, and it didn’t sport any egregious use of product placement or unnecessary explosions!

It’s still hard to believe, but this year Disney even had a Star Wars film that flopped miserably in cinemas. Despite being an enjoyable little romp, Solo failed to impress in the box-office. Unfortunately, this impacted any ideas for upcoming spin-offs, but perhaps, this will push Disney to adopt a more careful approach with their projects in the future.

A24 had another solid year yet again, with the indie flick Lady Bird and their twisted horror, Hereditary. They somehow have a secret for distributing great films (such as The Witch, The Lobster and so on…), but we’ll see how long that continues. 2019 is looking pretty good for them though, with the director of It Follows’ upcoming neo-noir Under the Silver Lake, which will feature the underutilised Andrew Garfield.

Netflix was a bit of a mixed bag this year though, as Alex Garland’s ambitious Annihilation was a hit with most, but the streaming platform had its fair share of duds. Remember when everybody got excited over the surprise announcement of a new Cloverfield? How naïve we all were. Even Duncan Jones half-baked Mute failed to impress. Heck, after Moon and The Source Code, he was supposed to be the chosen one.

Sony Pictures even managed to somehow time travel back to 2003 with Tom Hardy’s Venom. Back then, the film would’ve been acceptable, and it would’ve even featured some Drowning Pool, but there’s clearly a new standard for superhero movies. It’s evident that Tom Hardy had something going on there, but Venom was ruined by shoddy editing and unfortunately, some of the worst CGI of the year.

2018 also reminded us that Spielberg hasn’t had a great film in a long time. Ready Player One came rolling in earlier this year, and it only took five minutes for my shoulders to physically ache from all the winks and nudges to popular culture. It’s quite hard to believe the man behind Jurassic Park made Ready Player One, but here we are.

Still, we did have some stellar releases this year! That’s correct, it wasn’t all bad. Below you’ll find a list of my top ten films, based on UK theatrical and Netflix releases only.

10. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The wonders of Netflix never cease to amaze. It’s still hard to fathom that subscribers can instantly get a new Coens movie, delivered straight to Netflix. How have we deserved such treatment? Regardless, Joel and Ethan Coen did well to fill the vast hole left by completing Red Dead Redemption 2, with their anthology Western, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

The film features a grand selection of talent, such as Zoe Kazan, James Franco and Liam Neeson, amongst other notable actors. Each story sports a different theme, all touching upon certain aspects of the Wild West. Highlights include a grizzled gold prospector and another story concerning a wagon train.

Don’t expect joyful tales throughout, though. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs maintains the Coens’ trademark black humour, so prepare yourself for some melancholy endings. Still, it’s another fine addition to the Coens’ ever-expanding filmography, and let’s hope this kicks off a new tradition of their films being released on to Netflix.

9. A Quiet Place

It’s been a mixed year for the horror genre, with misfires such as The Cloverfield Paradox, but word of mouth and fresh concepts helped some films get noticed, such as Upgrade and especially, in this case, John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place. Featuring Krasinski and Emily Blunt, the film involves a small family struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, surrounded by horrific nightmarish creatures that rely on sound to feed.

Of course, this concept lends itself to some truly tense scenes. Viewers will be able to hear a single pin drop during some moments of the film, as the family must utilise different methods to survive. Krasinski manages to really tap into something special here, as the importance of family even allows A Quiet Place to be surprisingly heart-warming.

A Quiet Place is a special little film, which needs to be viewed in complete silence. Admittedly, it may not be the most original concept (surely there’s a similar film out there), but it is undoubtedly a strong directorial debut for John Krasinski and an overall great horror experience.

8. Avengers: Infinity War

It’s hard to believe that we’ve come this far with Marvel Studios, but 2018 saw the release of the most ambitious and biggest superhero blockbuster to date, Avengers: Infinity War. Directed by the Russo brothers (perhaps Marvel’s biggest asset in years), the film broke new records while bringing along with it a plethora of memes, burning questions and anticipation for the following instalment.

Infinity War was Marvel firing on all cylinders. It boasted some of the finest CGI work to date, a great ensemble cast and huge action sequences that had fans grinning from ear to ear. How the Russos managed to balance out such a huge cast evenly is mind-boggling, but they deserve all the credit for it.

Will Avengers: Endgame live up the hype? We’ll see whether the Russos manage to wrap up the story properly, but considering their track record, they might just pull it off. There’s just no telling where Marvel goes from here though, as next year we enter the next phase.

7. Coco

Unfortunately, us British peasants didn’t receive Coco in cinemas a full three months after its initial US release, and it’s not the first time that fans have had to wait for Disney releases. It’s infuriating, but the wait was worth it. Coco is without a doubt one of Pixar’s most visually stunning films to date.

Directed by Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3), Coco told a pleasant, touching story of family and its meaning, with some of the finest art direction to grace our screens this year. Coco managed to carefully respect Mexican tradition, while also maintaining all the simple characteristics of a great Pixar film. It was funny, endearing and beautifully put together. While The Incredibles 2 was a fine sequel; it was Coco that took the award for best Pixar/Disney film this year.

6. Bumblebee

It has been stated already, but it’s hard to believe that a Transformers film is being placed on this list. Finally, the franchise was handed to someone who had great respect for the source material, and someone who wasn’t swayed by heaps of cash.

Yes, it’s a relief to say that Bumblebee is a fun, family frolic and that’s all thanks to director Travis Knight. Known for his work on Kubo and the Two Strings, Knight helped provide us with a movie that felt like an eighties Amblin Entertainment film, with Spielberg watching from afar, nodding in approval.

The film stars Hailee Steinfeld, who has been making waves since she starred in the True Grit remake at the age of thirteen. She plays Charlie Watson, a young teen who has been traumatised over the death of her father. Down her luck, she finally finds hope and friendship in Bumblebee, a mute Transformer from the planet Cybertron.

Of course, trouble arrives in the form of two evil Decepticons and the morally ambiguous Jack Burns, who is played by none other than John Cena. It really shouldn’t work on paper, but John Cena pulls of an aggressive government agent with ease, who is leaps and bounds better than the overbearing shouty father of previous Transformers films.

Bumblebee fell behind Mary Poppins Returns and Aquaman this Christmas, but hopefully, this means there’s still some more Travis Knight Transformers on the way. It still had a decent box-office return, and the reception has been great so far. We need more blockbusters like this and less Michael Bay in anything.

5. Mission Impossible: Fallout

Somehow, the Mission Impossible franchise appears to better itself with every instalment. Despite Tom Cruise now being 56 and injuring himself on set with his crazy stunts, Mission Impossible: Fallout turned out to be the best outing yet.

It might be hard to believe for some, but it was one of the finest action blockbusters of the year. Directed by Christopher McQuarrie, MI: Fallout is undeniably more of the same. Ethan Hunt saves the world from doom in some bombastic manner and looks great doing so. This time around though, Ethan is joined by August Walker, a CIA operative played by the ruggedly handsome Henry Cavill.

Henry Cavill was a fine addition to the movie, and he excels at playing any character that isn’t Zack Snyder’s Superman. The film broke box-office records this year, and it even resulted in becoming one in Tom Cruise’s highest grossing film in his career. Critics regarded Fallout as one of the greatest action movies ever made, and while that’s being a tad generous, there’s no argument that it’s the best of the franchise.

Can Tom Cruise surpass it next time with the inevitable sequel? Perhaps if Henry Cavill reloads his fists again as he does in Fallout somehow, then I’m on board. Every action movie needs Cavill doing that, in all honesty.

4. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Having directed cult favourite In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, it was clear that Martin McDonagh was a director whose work needs to be closely followed. This year saw the release of his third feature, and it’s a strong contender for one of his finest films yet.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri focuses on Mildred Hayes (played by the fantastic Frances McDormand), a mother who rents three billboards to bring attention to the unsolved rape and murder of her daughter. The film also stars Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell as two police officers who engage with Mildred, hoping to find some sort of resolution. Peter Dinklage also makes an appearance, but his character does deserve a little more screen time.

Martin McDonagh is no stranger to strong scripts and terrific one-liners, and Three Billboards is no exception here. It’s a stellar black comedy, featuring some of the strongest performances of the year. Frances McDormand is remarkable as the lost mother looking for answers, and Sam Rockwell is simply brilliant as the prejudiced police officer. There’s one specific long take featuring Rockwell which is beautifully put together, and it helps remind viewers of just how capable he is when he’s playing a complete degenerate.

The film has also had a positive impact with activists and advocacy groups too, who have adopted the same method of using billboards to get their message across. Whatever Martin McDonagh does next, be sure to check it out. So far, he’s managed to have some of the sharpest scripts in black comedy to date.

3. The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water deserved all its accolades this year, and then some. That’s correct, The Shape of Water might be one of his greatest films yet, and it had nothing to do with the Hellboy universe.

Del Toro has always been a favourite despite some recent missteps (here’s looking at you, Crimson Peak), but The Shape of Water showcases all the director’s clear talents into one delightful, mesmerising feature. It displays his clear eye for intricate set design, his love for bizarre but beautiful creatures, and his knack for creative storytelling.

The film focuses on Sally Hawkins’ Elisa, a mute cleaner who falls in love with an amphibian man, who is held in a secret government laboratory. The amphibian man, played by the terrific Doug Jones, goes through a traumatic time at the hands of Michael Shannon’s Richard Strickland, who seeks to abuse and exploit the unique individual.

Unsurprisingly, Michael Shannon does his best ‘crazy Shannon’ impression during the movie, but the film truly excels with Sally Hawkins’ depiction of the cleaner, Elisa. She brings forth an award-winning performance, and it’s evident that Andy Serkis clearly has nothing on Doug Jones. Step aside, Gollum, Billy Butcherson is where it’s at.

The Shape of Water is a touching, inimitable romance filled with some of the best set design showcased this year. There’s inspiration from all sorts of mass media, but del Toro makes The Shape of Water his own, visually-distinctive piece of work.

2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

2018 was a strong year for animation, with films such as Teen Titans Go! being a breath of fresh air for DC, and Ralph Breaks the Internet showcasing the incredible talents of Disney’s animation studio. However, Sony Pictures Animation rolled in this year to cleanse our pallets of Venom, with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which impressed critics and viewers alike with its unique visual style and exceptional storytelling.

Since his cinematic debut in 2002, Spider-Man has had a mixed reception. Fans have been put through the wringer with reboots and horrendous Goblin wannabes, but Spider-Verse managed to find the perfect mix for hardened veterans and newcomers alike. It successfully introduced the new Spider-Man, Miles Morales, into the fold, while appealing to those who were still longing for more of the same with Peter Parker.

Into the Spider-Verse is visually ground-breaking, and it is paired with an outstanding voice cast, a bold script and a catchy soundtrack. It comes as no surprise to see that Phil Lord (The Lego Movie) played a part in the production of this film because it’s hilarious and charming throughout.

As a miserable, die-hard Spider-Man fan, it takes a lot to impress me. Into the Spider-Verse did more than that. It swiftly became my favourite Spider-Man film. It ticked all my boxes, including an edgy Spider-Man Noir voiced by Nicholas Cage. It’s a pleasure to see an animated film so far on this list, so hopefully, Sony Pictures Animation focuses on more of this and less of The Emoji Movie from now on. Yes, it’s easy to get confused as to how one studio can create both of those films.

1. BlackKKlansman

Honestly, if someone had informed me that a Spike Lee movie would be making one of these lists, I wouldn’t have believed them. Still, here we are, and Spike Lee’s BlackKKlansman became my favourite film of the year, if not one of the most important films of the year too.

Loosely based on real-life events, BlackKKlansman features newcomer John David Washington as Ron Stallworth, a police officer in the 1970s that sets out to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. With the aid of his colleague Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), they manage to cultivate a relationship with some of the KKK members, including some of the more reckless ones.

Of course, the theme of working undercover lends itself to some truly nail-biting scenes during the film, as the KKK begin to poke holes in Flip’s identity. The film is often frightening at times with its harrowing imagery, but it also manages to infuse some comedy in the mix. Alec Baldwin helps set the tone of the film at first, as he plays a race theorist waffling on about how the Jews and black people are ruining the dearly beloved United States of America.

Topher Grace also appears in BlackKKlansman as KKK leader David Duke, and the resemblance is uncanny. He’s come some way from Eric Forman, and it’s a pleasure to see him in such a role. Hopefully, Grace ends up landing similar roles in the future. It is also worth noting how Adam Driver masterfully becomes Flip Zimmerman; a Jewish cop who goes undercover as a racist redneck. There’s no doubt about it, but Driver does certainly feel like the highlight of any film he stars in.

The cinematography is magnificent in BlackKKlansman, and it’s yet another film set in the 70s that will make you want to live during that era. The script is chock full of sharp and witty dialogue, and obviously, it’s just so damn provocative. Heck, it wouldn’t even be a Spike Lee film otherwise.

There’s no doubt about it, but Spike Lee drives home the message of racism with a sledgehammer. Perhaps that’s what we need right now, and to elicit an emotion as such is a testament to the power of cinema. Spike Lee follows up the end of the movie with a reflection of recent events, and it has been said that audiences are left in stunned silence. Rightly so. Spike Lee’s BlackKKlansman is an entertaining, thought-provoking piece of work that couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

If you haven’t had the chance yet, do check out BlackKKlansman.

 

 

Honourable mentions include of 2018 include Isle of Dogs, Love Simon, First Man and Annihilation.

 

 

TOP 20 FILMS OF 2017

This year, cinema has given us jaw-droppingly beautiful visuals, heavy drama, hysterical comedy and unfortunately, Ridley Scott’s horrendous Alien: Covenant. 2017 has been a mixed bag for blockbusters, with Warner Bros. failing to deliver the goods with the mind-numbingly boring Justice League, and Disney’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi managing to divide its fanbase in two.

Amongst the midst of the CGI-filled blockbuster movies released this year, there’s been a vast selection of indie films that have fallen under the radar for many. We’ve had truly fascinating documentaries, and Netflix has now become a major platform for film releases. Whether or not that’s a good thing remains to be seen, but they’ve provided viewers with some interesting documentaries, some spectacular indies and David Ayer’s Bright. As it appears, you can’t win ‘em all.

World cinema has yet again reminded us that there are some spellbinding stories to be told across the border, and we’ve had films such as the visceral Raw, The Lure and Blade of the Immortal. Anime has seen yet another boom, with the wonderfully poignant A Silent Voice and many more releases impressing regular cinemagoers.

Television has also played its part this year, with David Lynch’s ambitious and stunning Twin Peaks: The Return. Running at 17 hours long, some critics consider it Lynch’s finest ‘film’ in years. The jury is still out on whether The Return was a success, but in years to come, I believe it will be revered as Lynch’s masterpiece. Got a light?

So, what has been my personal top 20 films of the year? What has left me dazzled and in sheer awe of a filmmaker’s brilliant scope and vision? Well, you’ll find out by scrolling down below, with a list that is mostly based on UK releases, in cinemas or on streaming services.

  1. AMERICAN MADE

Starring Tom Cruise, American Made is a biographical tale about Barry Seal, a former TWA pilot who ends up working for the CIA. Not content with working alongside the government, Barry ends up smuggling drugs for the Mexican cartel, which unsurprisingly, doesn’t end very well.

It’s a riveting flick, and viewers will be left charmed by Tom Cruise’s performance as Barry Seal. Despite his criminal exploits, he’s extremely likeable, and amusing to watch when everything falls apart around him. The rest of the cast is terrific too, with Domhnall Gleeson further proving that we need to have him star in more supporting roles (he was easily a favourite character in The Last Jedi).

American Made brilliantly chronicles Barry Seal’s out of the ordinary life and its proof that director Doug Liman and Tom Cruise need to work together more often. After providing us with Edge of Tomorrow and now American Made, it appears that Liman manages to present to us the best version of Tom Cruise, and not the one we received in that garbled mess that was The Mummy.

  1. LA LA LAND

We kicked off this year with the dazzling and stupendous La La Land, which arrived a little later over here in UK cinemas. Directed by Damien Chazelle, this musical starred the spectacular Emma Stone and the charming Ryan Gosling, who play two lovers with their own separate aspirations, which may or may not lead them down their own separate paths.

La La Land establishes itself as a future classic, as it harks back to the golden age of Hollywood musicals. There’s sound chemistry and footwork between both Gosling and Stone, and their performances are splendid. Of course, the musical numbers a sheer delight, as the film opens with an outrageous sequence which perfectly sets the tone of the film.

Damien Chazelle blew us away with Whiplash, and he’s managed to do it again with La La Land. We can’t wait for his next project featuring Ryan Gosling again, in a biopic about Neil Armstrong. After the success of La La Land though, Chazelle can probably tackle any genre and produce gold.

  1. COLOSSAL

Colossal presented viewers with one of the more unique ideas of the year, as director Nacho Vigalondo managed to blend an indie drama with a monster movie for one marvellous cocktail. In this unusual comedy, Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, an unemployed writer who returns to her hometown. Attempting to break free from her drinking habit, she befriends the friendly Oscar, played by Jason Sudeikis.

As she attempts to string her life back together, chaos ensues over in Seoul. A gargantuan monster has appeared and is leaving death and destruction in its wake. For some strange reason though, Gloria has a connection to this monster, so she attempts to make amends with the hope that everything gets fixed.

It’s a surprisingly dark little film, boosted by an excellent script and solid performances from Hathaway and Sudeikis. Colossal manages to take the best aspects of both genres, and in doing so creates something totally different. It’s engrossing, and it might just be one of Hathaway’s strongest roles in a long time. Colossal needs more love and appreciation, so track it down right away.

  1. THE LOVE WITCH

A compelling contender for cult film of the year, The Love Witch is written and directed by Anna Biller and stars Samantha Robinson as Elaine, a beautiful young witch who uses her love magic on vulnerable men. Shot in the style of a 1960s camp horror film, The Love Witch is an exemplary piece of work, and it switches up the genre conventions of exploitation movies, by putting us in the mind of women and their desires, for a change.

It’s wickedly dark, as it embraces the technicolour 60s style, and Samantha Robinson is a pure delight to watch. It just oozes with style, and it’s a provocative piece of filmmaking, which couldn’t be more relevant today. It’s a film that feminists can be proud of.

The Love Witch certainly flew under the radar for many, and it only made a few appearances during film festivals in the last year or two, but it is worth tracking down. Anna Biller is set to be an interesting new auteur to follow, and The Love Witch will soon be revered as an enchanting insight into feminism in film, as it soon receives the credit it deserves.

  1. IT

Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, It, appeared in cinemas earlier this year to a thunderous box-office taking. Now one of the highest-grossing horror films of all time, Andy Muschietti’s It amazed viewers with just how carefully it tackled its source material, keeping in all the unwavering horror throughout.

Bill Skarsgård plays the grotesque Pennywise in this remake, and he deserves all the credit he’s received for such a performance. The casting director also deserves an accolade, for giving us a splendid ensemble of young actors who portray the kids who are traumatised by the evil that haunts the fictional town of Derry.

It doesn’t necessarily rely on cheap jump-scares either, and despite being classed as an outright horror movie by some, it takes plenty of tropes from different genres as well. It’s a coming-of-age comedy/thriller, with a spooky scary clown and floating children. It may depend on how a viewer perceives its themes, but there’s a well-balanced combination throughout.

The film is now classed as Stephen King’s most impressive movie adaptation yet, and it’s easy to understand why. It stays true to the book, it’s frightfully eerie in places, and it’s also surprisingly funny. It’ll be interesting to see how they tackle the upcoming second part, considering the 27-year gap. We can only hope that the Losers are as brilliantly cast as they were in this film.

  1. SILENCE

A historical period drama directed by Martin Scorsese, Silence is not for the faint of heart. It’s a gut-wrenching, punishing tale of two missionaries who embark on a journey to locate their missing mentor, whilst spreading their religious beliefs across Japan. It’s set in 1637, and it stars Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson and Adam Driver in some of their toughest parts to date.

It’s Scorsese’s third work based on religion, and he tackles some extremely heavy themes throughout. It feels like his most personal work yet, and it might not be for everyone. At two hours and 41 minutes, viewers will have their endurance tested by the numerous scenes of torture, and the moments where faith is tested.

Unsurprisingly though, the cinematography is gorgeous. Scorsese masterfully tackles the source material with great care, and in doing so presents us one of his most remarkable films to date. Andrew Garfield is brilliant also, reminding us of just how talented an actor he is. It’s easy to say, but it might be Garfield’s greatest work yet.

  1. INGRID GOES WEST

Aubrey Plaza has always been wonderful to watch onscreen, but she’s also been accused of consistently playing the awkward weirdo in most of her roles. However, in 2017, she proved all the naysayers wrong with a variety of performances that blew people away. She surprised us all in FX’s television series Legion as the seductively dark Shadow King, and she even played a foul-mouthed nun, in The Little Hours.

Still, it was Ingrid Goes West that boasted her best performance of her career to date, as she plays the social media stalker Ingrid, whose obsession with an Instagram model slowly ends up taking over her life. It’s a biting comedy directed by Matt Spicer, and it takes an unflinching look at how social media has negatively impacted society.

Plaza is captivating as Ingrid, and despite her shortcomings, she’s quite relatable. It’s a topical piece of filmmaking, and it even features one of the funniest sex scenes of the year. It’s nice to see Aubrey Plaza getting the recognition she rightly deserves, so here’s to seeing more unconventional roles from her in the future.

  1. DUNKIRK

Perhaps Christopher Nolan’s greatest work to date, Dunkirk is a war film based on the events of the evacuation of Allied forces on the beaches of France during World War Two. It’s a suspenseful, gripping tale of human survival, starring a grand selection of actors, such as Fionn Whitehead, James D’Arcy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy.

The evacuation effort takes place across the land, air and sea, and viewers are left on the edge of their seats, as Nolan lets the cinematography and music create the atmosphere. It’s a gut-wrenching film, and it surprises everyone with Harry Styles’ commendable performance as one of the distraught evacuees.

It’s an intense movie, and at times it’s eerily quiet, allowing for thunderous bellows of gunfire to be heard booming over the speakers. The evacuation effort is all perfectly recreated down to the finest details, such as the aircraft and ships used throughout the film. It’s a meticulous labour of love, and Nolan clearly put his all his heart into Dunkirk.

  1. GOOD TIME

Directed by Benny and Josh Safdie, Good Time is a fast-paced, character-driven crime drama starring Robert Pattinson. In Good Time, Pattinson plays the hapless criminal, Constantine ‘Connie’ Nikas. After inadvertently landing his disabled brother in jail, Connie attempts to bail him out, whilst adding a few more criminal offences to his long resumé.

Good Time is a slick, stylish picture, which is tightly put together with a sharp script and some solid cinematography. Pattinson is simply incredible as Nikas, and he’s pretty much unrecognisable, reminding viewers of just how versatile an actor he can be. Nikas’ various attempts at rescuing his brother will leave viewers squirming, but it makes for one hell of a story.

It’s neat to see Pattinson branch out a little more, and he’s also accomplished that in The Lost City of Z. The studio behind Good Time, A24, has provided us with some of finest first-rate films in recent years, such as Swiss Army Man, Ex Machina, The Lobster and more recently, The Disaster Artist. So, rest assured that any film bearing that logo will be practically unmissable.

  1. SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING

This year, the web-head returned to its rightful owner, Marvel Studios, with Jon Watts’ Spider-man: Homecoming. Starring Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-man and Michael Keaton as the Vulture, this high-school superhero comedy had shades of John Hughes crawling all over it, and it stands superior over previous Spider-man films. Sorry, Doc Ock.

It’s a much more grounded superhero film than the ones before it and having Parker portrayed as a much younger kid helped change up the tired formula from previous movies. Whereas Tobey Maguire’s Parker was just awkward, and Andrew Garfield’s was slightly annoying, Tom Holland’s portrayal of the beloved character was extremely likeable. We had already seen snippets of Holland’s Spidey in Marvel Studios’ Civil War, but in Homecoming, he may have proved to be the definitive actor for the role.

It will come as no surprise, but Keaton manages to hit all the right notes as the deadly Vulture, a character who feels betrayed by the government. To protect his family financially, he creates and sells advanced weapons technology, salvaged from the original alien attack witnessed in Avengers Assemble. Of course, that becomes a problem when a certain high-school hero attempts to put a stop to his criminal activities.

Spider-man Homecoming was the film that fans have desired and deserved for so long, and they’ve finally got their wish. It stars an impressive cast, the superb Tom Holland, a stellar script and some solid jokes to boot. Here’s to Marvel Studios finally acquiring all their original comic book properties, just so they can get the proper treatment.

  1. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2

Marvel Studios kicked off their amazing year with James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, which brought back the weird and wonderful heroes for yet another insane adventure. The fate of the universe rests in the hands of the Guardians yet again, but first Peter Quill has some father issues to get through.

Volume 2 stars the much-loved cast from the previous film, but this time around, we’re introduced to Kurt Russell as Ego and Pom Klementieff as the pleasantly cute Mantis. The story mainly revolves around Star-lord, who meets his father Ego for the very first time. At first, it seems to be a happy reunion, but other members of the team aren’t convinced.

James Gunn provides another tremendous soundtrack here, along with his trademark style and humour. It’s one of Marvel Studios prettiest films too, as the vibrant colours quite literally burst out from the screen. The team dynamic is further explored in greater detail here, and the merchandise machine Baby Groot surprisingly turned out to be inoffensive.

The Guardians of the Galaxy are one of the greatest families in cinema today, and Volume 2 showcased action, drama, and a surprisingly emotional climax that nobody was ready for. It’s a mighty fine addition to the impressive Marvel Cinematic Universe, and there’s no telling where Gunn will take this much-loved dysfunctional space family in the future. Either way, we’ll be patiently waiting for more Mantis, because she is delightful.

  1. KONG SKULL ISLAND

Kong: Skull Island was one of the biggest blockbuster surprises of 2017, as director Jordan Vogt-Roberts reminded us that not all monster movies need to be an exercise in mindless CGI scraps. Taking place in the seventies, the film concerns a group of explorers and Vietnam vets who travel to an uncharted island full of mysterious and magnificent monsters.

Skull Island featured one of the most distinguished cast ensembles of the year, with heavy-hitters such as Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly and Brie Larson. Remarkably, each character in the film has a well-balanced and developed storyline, with Jackson’s character playing out like Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab.

The visuals are stunning, and it’s evident that the director took inspiration from Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. The CGI is ace, and Kong undoubtedly looks the part. He’s an intimidating figure, and thankfully there’s no hackneyed love interest with this version of the great ape. There is, however, one scene in Kong: Skull Island which really shouldn’t work on paper because it’s utterly ridiculous, and yet somehow, Vogt-Roberts pulls it off.

Don’t be put off by the fact that this the nth Kong to grace our cinemas. It’s an exceptional movie, and it will be interesting to see where they take the ape when it comes to his inevitable encounter with the almighty King of Monsters, Godzilla. Hold onto your butts.

  1. DEATH OF STALIN

Directed by Armando Iannucci, Death of Stalin is a political satire concerning the Soviet power struggle after Stalin’s death, and it’s one of the funniest films of the year. It’s a strange mixture of English-speaking actors placed in the role of Russian officials, and you haven’t experienced anything yet until you’ve seen someone with a Yorkshire accent playing the leader of the Red Army.

Armando Iannucci is the king of political satire, and Death of Stalin is yet another crowning achievement. It sports a sharp and witty script and some of the most amusing lines of the year. The cast is stellar, featuring the likes of Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Jason Isaacs and Paddy Considine. They’re all on form, and when the film slightly lowers its comedic tone, the realisation of this utterly bleak situation comes to light.

It’s dark and grisly in parts and a miserable reminder that despite it being set in the 1950s, it’s still a relevant piece of filmmaking for today’s political climate. Based on the graphic novel of the same, Death of Stalin is compulsory viewing for anyone who has enjoyed Iannucci’s past work, such as BBC’s Thick of It. When Gerard Butler’s Geostorm outperforms Death of Stalin in the UK box-office, you must wonder what’s profoundly wrong with society, but do check out this hilarious material as soon as possible.

  1. YOUR NAME

Now the highest grossing anime movie of all time, Your Name is directed by Makoto Shinkai, and was available on limited release in IMAX theatres this year, after having a brief stint throughout UK festivals in 2016. It’s one of the most visually striking movies of the year, and it deserves all the credit it’s currently receiving.

The film follows two characters, city boy Taki and country girl Mitsuha, who mysteriously end up swapping their bodies. It’s not an atypical body swap story though, and it is peppered with some truly touching moments, as Taki attempts to locate Mitsuha in rural Japan. It is as emotionally satisfying as it is beautiful to look at.

The soundtrack in Your Name sticks out, too, and helps reflect on the characters developments through the film. The animation is simply mesmerising, and it’s quite surprising to see that director Shinkai wasn’t happy with this project, especially considering just how magical Your Name is. Don’t be put off by the fact it’s an anime, either, as it’s easily accessible by anyone.

  1. THE BIG SICK

Directed by Michael Showalter and written by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick impressed cinemagoers this year with this down-to-earth romantic comedy, which included a sharp and hilarious script and some fantastic performances.

The film stars Kumail Nanjiani as himself and Zoe Kazan as Emily, as it tells the true story of Kumail and Emily’s unusual courtship. It has an interesting concept too, which helps revitalise the standard rom-com formula. After a rough break-up, Kumail and Emily are brought together yet again when she suddenly falls ill.

Kumail Nanjiani is a charming, disarming lead character who eventually engages with Emily’s parents whilst she’s in a coma. Of course, this results in some particularly awkward, humorous scenarios and the important question hangs over the viewer – will they get back together if she survives?

The Big Sick isn’t necessarily ground-breaking, but it sports a clever script, endearing characters and it’s an interesting insight into Kumail’s heritage. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and Ray Romano even makes an appearance as Emily’s dad. What more could you want there? It’s a fine addition to the romantic comedy genre and a nice reminder that it’s not all idealistic shlock.

  1. FREE FIRE

Directed by Ben Wheatley, Free Fire was one of the shortest yet most explosive films of the year. Starring Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy, Free Fire takes place in the 1970s, during a dicey arms deal. As weapons are about to be supplied to members of the IRA, everything goes terribly wrong when a dealer recognises a deadbeat from a previous altercation.

It’s a fast-paced movie, full of bullets, explosions, and Sharlto Copley’s beautiful hair. It’s another A24 title, and it’s a big departure from Wheatley’s previous film High Rise, which divided a few critics upon its release.

There’s a favourite actor for everyone in this cast, with Armie Hammer providing some of the funniest lines during the epic shootout, further demonstrating that he’s the gift that just keeps on giving (The Lone Ranger is still misunderstood, damn it).

Free Fire plays fast like a climax from one of Tarantino’s movies, and it’s almost unrelenting once the first bullet is fired. There’s plenty of thrills to be had with Wheatley’s Free Fire, and it boasts some of the strongest gunfire sounds ever recorded. It’s ridiculous, action-packed and straight to the point. Don’t miss out on this smooth little comedy shoot-out, which again, needs more appreciation.

  1. THOR RAGNAROK

The mantle of superhero film of the year belongs to Thor: Ragnarok, and it might just be one of the sweetest Marvel Studios productions yet. The third movie in the Thor franchise, Ragnarok took the God of Thunder into brand new terrain, at the hands of director Taika Waititi.

Some may know that I constantly praise Waititi’s work, with Hunt for the Wilderpeople positioned as my number one film of 2016. Unsurprisingly then, his bizarre take on the much-loved Marvel character turned out to be utterly incredible.

Thor: Ragnarok does away of the tired conventions of the comic book character, by throwing him into the unknown. Without his trusty hammer and now lost on an alien planet, Thor must find his way back to Asgard to put a stop to Hela’s evil plans.

It stars the handsome Chris Hemsworth, Tumblr favourite Tom Hiddleston and Mark Ruffalo, and introduces some new faces into the mix. The striking Cate Blanchett adopts the role of Hela, and the magnificent Jeff Goldblum is the ruler of the alien planet Sakaar, the Grandmaster.

Again, Marvel Studios attempts to subvert the superhero genre and it works to their advantage. Ragnarok feels like a fantasy comedy, with dazzling visuals, side-splittingly funny gags and the big green monster, the Hulk. Taika Waititi gave us one of the sweetest villainesses in recent years with Hela, and he was kind enough to portray the role of new fan-favourite, Korg.

It’s just pure escapist fun from start-to-finish, and it’s what the superhero genre should aim to be. Whereas films like DC’s Justice League somehow set us back a decade or two, Marvel takes it in new and interesting directions. If Marvel does continue the loosen the reins on their directors, then hopefully we’ll get to see such marvellous visions more often.

  1. BABY DRIVER

Edgar Wright returned to our screens for the first time since 2013’s The World’s End, with this rambunctious, high-energy octane heist movie, Baby Driver. With one of the most impressive intros of 2017, Baby Driver straps viewers in for a wild, melodic and gripping ride.

The film stars Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Hamm, and Jamie Foxx, who are all at the top of their game. The story mainly follows Baby, who acts as a skilled escape driver for bank heists. Working for a noxious kingpin, Baby’s actions gets himself and his new love interest in deep trouble.

Baby Driver is now Edgar Wright’s highest-grossing movie, and that really comes as no surprise. From the second ‘Bellbottoms’ hits the speakers, it’s all go from there. It’s an electrifying ride, and it features the finest soundtrack of the year. Each track has been carefully selected by Wright, as he even meticulously manages to add not only the beats but lyrics into his sequences.

It’s one of the best blockbusters of the year, and Ansel Elgort is an outstanding lead character. It’s a shame he wasn’t chosen by Disney to play Han for the doomed Solo film, but with The Fault in Our Stars and Baby Driver behind him, we’ll be sure to see him in future feature films.

Edgar Wright’s movies always benefit from a bit of academic deconstruction, and this is no exception. He’s a master of his craft, and I personally look forward to viewing all the details I’ve missed before. Once you’ve finished Baby Driver, steer yourself in the direction of the playlist by using the link below:

  1. GET OUT

A film that will be on everyone’s list this year, Get Out was written and directed by comedian Jordan Peele. It’s a horror/thriller film, that follows Chris, a black man who visits his white girlfriend’s family. However, not everything seems to be above-board, as Chris notices a few occurrences that just don’t seem to add up.

Chris is played by the fantastic Daniel Kaluuya, and his girlfriend, Rose Armitage, is portrayed by Allison Williams. Rose’s family, the Armitage’s, have some familiar faces, such as Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford and Caleb Landry Jones. Daniel Kaluuya, who has already made waves in one of Black Mirror’s strongest episodes, is truly excellent in the film.

Considering Get Out is Jordan Peele’s first directed work, we cannot wait to see what else he has planned. It’s a provocative movie, that deals with the weighty theme of racism. It’s tactfully done, and unfortunately, it’s still a very much relevant piece of filmmaking in this current day and age.

Get Out was wrongfully nominated as a comedy by the Golden Globes, which just goes to show how well award ceremonies understand the film. Peele corrected the Globes, by defining his movie as a documentary. Admittedly though, even if it has all the right horror beats to it, it does feel a little more like a thriller. Regardless of whatever genre it is though, it’s an imitable piece of cinema.

Since its release, Get Out has become one of the highest grossing films of 2017, and it’s now one of the most profitable movies as well. It’s topical, brilliantly-acted and it’s one of the fiercest directorial debuts from a director in years. If you haven’t checked out the thrilling Get Out yet, then do not hesitate to track it down.

  1. BLADE RUNNER 2049

This year, Denis Villeneuve proved to Blade Runner fans that he understands the universe better than they do and in doing so, managed to create one of the most divisive films of this year with his sequel to an old cult favourite, Blade Runner 2049.

Unfortunately – and unsurprisingly – Blade Runner 2049 performed terribly at the box-office. The marketing was all wrong, and the original film wasn’t massively popular, to begin with. It’s a shame because Villeneuve’s film is a beautiful, thought-provoking piece of work.

The film stars Ryan Gosling as Officer K, a Blade Runner who retires rogue replicants. In his assignment, K discovers a surprising find that could change everything humans know about replicants. Living alone with his holographical girlfriend, Joi, K starts off an investigation that reveals a hidden secret.

Blade Runner 2049 runs at almost 3 hours, and there were many reports of its slow-pace upsetting some cinemagoers. Perhaps some people desired to see more explosions? However, Blade Runner 2049 is a pure visual feast, with the smartest script of the year. Of course, Ryan Gosling is terrific as K, and he manages to portray the character’s arc spectacularly.

In all honesty, Blade Runner 2049 feels very much like The Godfather Part 2. It takes aspects of what made the original work and improves and expands on it. Officer K has a fleshed-out storyline, and there’s less ambiguity here. It may be sacrilege to put Blade Runner 2049 on a higher pedestal than the first, but Denis Villeneuve gives us a sci-fi movie that we desperately needed, especially after this year’s dreadful offerings.

Ridley Scott has gone on record to mention the film’s length is way too long, and he has numerous issues with the film. Apparently, Villeneuve has a much bigger cut which won’t see any release anytime soon, but Scott should just focus on his own work – like running the Aliens franchise into the ground.

Blade Runner 2049 is my film of 2017. It reminds me why I enjoy cinema. It’s thought-provoking, it’s beautiful to look at and the story is stimulating. After giving us Arrival and Enemy, I can’t wait to see what Denis has up his sleeve next. If you haven’t seen Blade Runner 2049 yet, do yourself a favour and get the biggest screen you have, get comfortable, and get ready to be enveloped in a rich universe.

The Top 25 Films of 2015

2015 has been a tremendous year for cinema. There’s been something for everyone; nail-biting drama, indie treats, explosive action and a massive return for one of film’s biggest franchises of all time. It’s been quite a year, so without further ado, here at the top 25 films of 2015, based on UK theatrical release alone.

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25: Ant-Man

After the rather disappointing Age of Ultron this year, Marvel’s Ant-Man was a welcome change of pace. Despite Edgar Wright’s unfortunate departure, director Peyton Reed and Marvel Studios still managed to produce an entertaining film on a much smaller scale. The film boasted some marvellous special effects, and Paul Rudd’s casting was an inspired choice. The final sequence alone might just be one of Marvel Studios funniest scenes to date.


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24: Trainwreck

A return to form from Judd Apatow, Trainwreck was a refreshing take on the romantic comedy. Starring Amy Schumer and Bill Hader, the film focuses on Amy, a successful journalist who doesn’t believe in monogamy. Drinking too much and partying too hard, Amy’s outlook on relationships is changed when she is assigned a piece on a sports doctor, Aaron Conners (Hader).

Trainwreck succeeds where so many other romantic comedies have failed because Schumer brings a realistic character onto the screen. She’s a strong, unconventional female lead, and Trainwreck included some truly hilarious scenes, with one specific bedroom sequence featuring WWE wrestler and entertainer, John Cena.


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23: The Walk

Philippe Petit’s miraculous tightrope walk across the Twin Towers was documented brilliantly in Man On Wire, so when Robert Zemeckis announced that he was directing a dramatized version of the events, the news was met with cynicism. Once Joseph Gordon-Levitt was cast as Petit, it felt like the tired Hollywood cliché of adapting foreign characters with American actors.

Surprisingly, despite the concern, Zemeckis’ The Walk managed to impress this year, with striking visuals and tense drama, all aided by a great cast. Gordon-Levitt somehow channelled Petit perfectly, down to his accent and mannerisms. The Walk fully realised the potential of cinema, by apparently causing vertigo amongst several cinemagoers. It was a wonderful blend of human emotion and powerful moments, capturing the breath-taking event in all of its glory.


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22: John Wick

Unforgivably released a full 7 months after its US opening, John Wick was a surprising treat in the form of a neo-noir, gun-toting action movie. Featuring Keanu Reeves as Wick, the film took its inspiration from anime, martial arts films and Hong Kong action cinema. It is a b-movie in its purest form, with a unique setup; a retired hitman seeking revenge for the death of his dog.

John Wick is relentless, and it’s a welcome return from Reeves who has been sorely missed in the past few years (47 Ronin didn’t happen). John Wick made such an impact this past year that a sequel is now in the works. Hopefully, no pets are harmed next time.


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21: Song of the Sea

One of the most beautiful animations of the year, Song of the Sea is a story about family and loss. Young Ben and little sister Saoirse go an adventure to free the Faeries and help send them home, but they encounter dangerous obstacles on their path. It’s a wondrous tale which is visually stunning, and suitable for all ages. Taking heavy inspiration from Irish folklore, Song of the Sea stands as being the best animation of 2015.


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20: Jurassic World

Set 22 years after the events of Jurassic Park, this fourth instalment in the much-loved franchise turned out to be a pleasant return to form. After missing the mark with The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3, new director Colin Treverrow helped take elements from Crichton’s first book, and then produced a film that fully realised John Hammond’s original vision.

Utilising one of the hottest actors of this year and past, Chris Pratt, Jurassic World successfully managed to further the franchise whilst appeasing fans of the original. It was essentially a love letter to Spielberg’s film, but it still managed to be completely entertaining on its own level. Also, the raptor chase sequence was one of this year’s highlights.


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19: Love and Mercy

Featuring both Paul Dano and John Cusack as the talented musician Brian Wilson, Love and Mercy is a biopic about Wilson’s battle with psychosis whilst attempting to craft his next masterpiece. A touching drama played brilliantly by both Dano and Cusack, the film also stars Elizabeth Banks as Melinda, an essential part of Wilson’s life.

It’s brilliantly put together, with the potential of having at least four Oscar award-winning performances from the cast. Unlike many other musical biopics, Love and Mercy touches upon the problems the creative mind can be faced with, especially in regards to Wilson’s emotional battle with his father, his own mind and his future. A superb bit of cinema, which really makes viewers appreciate the musical talents of both Wilson and The Beach Boys.


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18: The Overnight

Pushing the limits of American sex comedy, The Overnight stars Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godrèche in a film which is hysterical, unpredictable and full of wit. Newcomers to the city, Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) are invited by an eccentric pair for dinner. However, once the kids are put to sleep, the night takes a surprising turn.

The Overnight is a shocking comedy, which tackles its subject with tact. It’s a ballsy film which is not to be missed, as it features one of Adam Scott’s best performances to date. Sporting one of the best soundtracks of the year too, The Overnight is not to be missed.


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17: Sicario

Featuring an all-star cast of Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, and Josh Brolin, Sicario is a nail-biting, heart-pounding thriller. Sicario tells the story of how promising FBI agent Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) is enlisted to help take down the Mexican drug cartel. An unforgiving look into the drug trade in Mexico, Sicario’s story is gruelling, dark and twisted.

Whilst Blunt’s character is the main focus of Sicario, del Toro’s performance is simply captivating and a big hook for the film. Sicario provides some beautiful cinematography, providing a swift punch to the gut during its second half. It’s simply stunning, stylish and unforgivably raw.


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16: Inherent Vice

Full of delightful performances all round, Paul Thomas Anderson’s stoner 70s mystery film may not be appreciated by some audiences. Running at 149 minutes, Inherent Vice is never truly coherent. However, it is still wholly enjoyable and it has all the right makings of a cult film.

The film follows Joaquin Phoenix as ‘Doc’, who investigates 3 different cases at the same time. Whilst doing so, Doc ends up embroiled in the criminal underworld. Adapted by the book of the same name, Anderson’s film is a true testament to the director’s skills. Maybe in a few years, Inherent Vice will be truly recognised for its magnificence.


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15: Kingsman: The Secret Service

Super stylish and action-packed, Kingsman: The Secret Service tells the story of how one troublesome youth is turned into one of Britain’s finest secret agents. Yet another adaptation from Mark Millar’s comic books, Kingsman: The Secret Service was superbly directed by Matthew Vaughn and supported by Jane Goldman’s great scriptwriting.

Starring Colin Firth like never before, Kingsman: The Secret Service also helped boost Taron Egerton’s star power. It revels in its ridiculousness, with quick cuts, insane scenes and crude humour that ultimately makes for one hell of a ride.


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14: A Most Violent Year

2015 was the year for Oscar Isaac, who kicked off the year with this superbly shot and nerve-wracking drama. The story revolves around Abel, a fuel supplier whose moral compass is tried during attacks on his company. Starring alongside the great Oscar Isaac is Jessica Chastain, who plays Abel’s troubled wife Anna.

It’s an absorbing drama, which brilliantly portrays Abel’s inner battle with himself and his challenge to stay true to his beliefs. A Most Violent Year is a gripping story, told wonderfully with some outstanding performances from both Chastain and Isaac.


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13: Me, Earl and the Dying Girl

Similar in theme to last years The Fault in Our Stars, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s film about teenagers dealing with cancer is a charming, emotional journey which will resonate with this generation. Me, Earl and the Dying Girl presents realistic teens, who can be awkward, self-loathing but ultimately kind-hearted.

Unfortunately, the film failed to deliver in cinemas, taking a paltry $6.2 mil compared to The Fault in Our Stars’ $124.9 mil, which is disappointing considering Me, Earl and the Dying Girl feels more human than any other cancer drama in recent years. It’s passionate about its subject, without the need to have too much emotional weight.


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12: Still Alice

A harrowing tale of one woman’s struggle with early-onset Alzheimer’s, Still Alice was a heartfelt drama which gave an honest look into the horrible disease. Julianne Moore played Alice, a linguistics professor in her most understated and best role to date. Alec Baldwin and Kristen Stewart also give their all as Alice’s loving family members, as they perfectly portray people dealing with someone else’s illness.

Julianne Moore won the Oscar award of Best Actress for Still Alice, which comes as no surprise. Delicately approached, Still Alice is a touching drama that will affect many who have encountered the horrible disease.


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11: The Martian

Directed by Ridley Scott, The Martian was a superb sci-fi drama which focused on Matt Damon’s character Mark Watney, an astronaut who is stranded on Mars. Being mistaken for dead, it’s up to NASA to find a way of retrieving their man, whilst he attempts to survive on the red planet.

Perhaps Ridley Scott’s best film in a long while, The Martian has a great balance of drama, humour and emotion. It feels like the first proper sci-fi film about Mars exploration, without the need to rely on aliens. Ridley Scott was even assisted by NASA concerning its scientific accuracy, helping turn The Martian into one of the most realistic, and enjoyable sci-fi romps in recent time.


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10: MI: Rogue Nation

The fifth instalment in the franchise and arguably the strongest addition yet, MI: Rogue Nation was directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who mixed elements of previous films into one incredible package. MI: Rogue Nation had Ethan Hunt now on the run from the CIA, as he tries to prove the existence of a secret evil organisation.

MI: Rogue Nation was simply terrific, and McQuarrie helped further the use of strong female characters in action movies. Chock full of breath-taking sequences, the latest Mission Impossible has really set the bar high for future sequels, as it also proved that Tom Cruise is still an excellent leading man.


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9: Spectre

The second Bond film directed by Sam Mendes, Spectre was the 24th film in the series and Daniel Craig’s finest outing yet. Quite similar in regards to MI: Rogue Nation, Bond finds himself as a rogue spy against an evil corporation, named SPECTRE. Starring Christoph Waltz as Blofield, and Léa Seydoux as Dr. Madeleine Swann, Spectre was undeniably a greatest hits selection of past James Bond films.

Despite mixed reviews upon its release, Spectre is an enjoyable, action-packed picture. Christoph Waltz was the perfect Blofield, and the plot was an interesting allegory about the state of surveillance in the UK. It had stunning cinematography, tense car chases and Dave Bautista as the muscle. It had all the right makings of a Bond film, making Mendes’ two films some of the best in Bond history.


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8: Birdman

Directed by the great Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman tells the story of how Michael Keaton’s character Riggan Thompson, is struggling to put together a Broadway play. Mostly recognised for his work as the iconic superhero Birdman, Riggan is looking to recover his career and family, whilst fighting with his own ego.

It’s a fascinating critique of the superhero genre and blockbusters as a whole, and it’s Michael Keaton at his very best. It was one of the most ambitious films of the year, especially in regards to its technical prowess. Taking home 4 Oscar awards earlier this year, Birdman was truly a work of art.


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7: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

On its way to becoming the biggest film of all time, J.J. Abrams Star Wars sequel thankfully managed to appease the hordes of fans whilst managing to be a great family film in its own right. With returning cast members from the original trilogy, The Force Awakens introduces three new characters, Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) into the franchise.

The Force Awakens successfully establishes a whole new generation of fans, as it’s the quintessential sci-fi blockbuster. Finding a brilliant balance between comedy and action, Boyega’s Finn and the loveable droid BB-8 are the main comic relief during the film. Adam Driver, who stars as Kylo Ren, also manages to accomplish what Hayden Christensen failed to do so in two films; provide the audience with a tormented, believable character.

The action sequences are wonderfully composed, with dogfights and lightsaber duels feeling real. Star Wars: The Force Awakens could’ve gone so wrong, but thankfully Disney and Abrams steered Star Wars into the right direction again. Here’s to the next film, and the countless spin-offs.


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6: Slow West

A Western that fell under the radar for many, John Maclean’s directorial debut was a visually stunning, beautiful piece of work. The film follows Kodi Smit-McPhee as Jay Cavendish, who is on the search for his Scottish lover, who now resides in the American West. On his travels, he meets a bounty hunter named Silas, played by the great Michael Fassbender.

For fans of the Coens and Wes Anderson, Slow West is not to be missed. It’s a unique Western that easily exchanges from comedy to violence at a moment’s notice. Visually striking, oddly dark and accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack, Slow West is a phenomenal journey that it is worth seeking out.


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5: Ex Machina

Written and directed by Alex Garland, Ex Machina had tremendous performances from Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac. The film begins with Caleb (Gleeson), being handpicked to take part in a Turing test with artificial life, in the form of Ava, an android.

Ex Machina slowly descends into darkness, exploring the themes of AI brilliantly. Garland may be one of the best scriptwriters in the industry, and his directorial debut is a shining example of his talents. Eerie, mysterious and suspenseful – Ex Machina is a provocative sci-fi film, with an exemplary cast, and fascinating story.


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4: It Follows

An astonishing entry in the horror genre this year, It Follows turned out to be one of the most original and smart films of the year. After having sex with her partner, 19 year old Jay is tormented by an unknown force which will stop at nothing to kill her. To prevent her death, Jay must pass on the curse by having sex with another person.

It’s a bizarre and twisted idea, with a heavy basis on STDs. Featuring a solid synth soundtrack, the film plays with typical genre conventions and tweaks them, therefore providing chills down the spine even after the film has finished. David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is the best horror film of 2015, complemented by the finest soundtrack of the year too. Here’s to Robert Mitchell’s next ingenious idea.


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3: Whiplash

One of the most dramatic and intense films of the year, Whiplash should provide towels due to the exertion and sweat that occurs during the film. Starring Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons, Whiplash depicts the relationship between a promising drummer named Andrew (Teller), and his abusive teacher, Terence Fletcher (Simmons).

It’s a compelling character piece, which takes the viewer through an exhausting journey, where Terence’s volatile personality deeply affects Andrew. It’s an intense ride from start to finish, featuring one of the most exhilarating endings of this year.


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2: The Lobster

Perhaps the most thought-provoking film of the year, The Lobster stars Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, and Léa Seydoux. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, The Lobster has a truly unique setup; single people are given 45 days to find love, or they’ll be turned into an animal of their choice.

It’s dark, twisted and never has a film this year left viewers questioning their own lifestyle. Truly astonishing film-making, The Lobster is also unlike any other film that has been made. Its dark humour might not be for everyone, but its absurdist themes make for an exceptional piece of work. It didn’t have a huge release this year in cinemas, so do make sure to track down The Lobster and give it the love it deserves.


1: Mad Max: Fury Road

Unsurprisingly, George Miller’s explosive blockbuster is the best film of 2015. Featuring Tom Hardy as Max, and Charlize Theron as the dominant Furiosa, Mad Max: Fury Road presented forth a truly fiery, rampant and extreme action blockbuster like none other. The film follows Furiosa, who flees from a cult leader whilst holding valuable cargo. As she attempts to escape, she’s unwillingly joined by Max.

Utilising practical effects and an extensive use of pyro, Mad Max: Fury Road had some absolutely jaw-dropping action sequences, as cars would explode into balls of flame and bodies would be flung across the barren wasteland. A whole range of different methods were used to accomplish the visuals throughout, providing the unique look that Fury Road displays.

The most praise for the film goes towards the character of Furiosa, who completely abolishes the archetype of women in action movies. Not only is she on the same level of Max, but she might just be the main star of the entire movie. Charlize Theron absolutely kills it as the most badass woman of the year.

Fury Road’s soundtrack really upped the tempo of most scenes, with Junkie XL providing thunderous beats, ripping guitars and bellowing horns. It perfectly encapsulates the feel of the film which Miller was going for.

George Miller’s carefully crafted piece of work now holds its place as one of the best action movies of all time. No small feat, Mad Max: Fury Road blazes through its post-apocalyptic wasteland in stunning fashion, from start to finish. It has it all; remarkable cinematography, a simple but effective storyline, a kicking soundtrack, strong female lead and the best action scenes in years.


 

Ant-man – Film Review

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The twelfth instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-man, had an interesting and unsettling turn of events in May 2014. For three years, British filmmaker Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), worked with Marvel Studios as director, to help conceptualise and bring Ant-Man – a size-altering burglar – onto the big screen.

Despite Kevin Feige stating that they had their perfect director for the project, Edgar Wright and Marvel Studios abruptly split, citing creative differences. The script had been written by Wright and Joe Cornish, but the film was handed over towards Peyton Reed. Ant-man truly had a chance to transgress the superhero genre but instead we were now being treated to the same director of The Break Up and Bring it On.

Nonetheless, it appeared that all the other pieces of Ant-man were put together nicely. Paul Rudd was cast alongside Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly, and it seemed that Rudd might just be the perfect choice for the hapless cat burglar, Scott Lang. The film also retained the original script from Joe Cornish and Wright, and it can be argued that Marvel Studios haven’t necessarily made a bad film yet (Iron Man 3 was superb, ingrates).

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As it turns out, Marvel Studios have managed to have another hit on their hands. Regardless of Wright’s departure, Peyton Reed and Marvel have produced one of the finest instalments in the MCU yet. There are a number of reasons for this, but after the average Age of Ultron (which felt like a yet another step towards a bigger event), Ant-man feels like its own movie.

It doesn’t transcend the superhero genre, but it perfectly mixes comedy and action into one delightful mix. Edgar Wright’s imprint has been left here, and that’s a telling sign with the final fight sequence, which holds the medal for one of the funniest moments in the entire MCU.

As if anyone had any doubts, Paul Rudd effortlessly plays the character of Scott Lang. He’s not the most empathetic character ever, but his love for his daughter, charisma and technique all make for an interesting lead. Evangeline Lilly also shakes off any bad memories of her past career as Hope, the daughter to Michael Douglas’ character, Hank Pym.

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One of Ant-man’s key strengths is its storytelling. Exchanging floating islands of death for a more character driven storyline, Ant-man proves that sometimes less is more. Providing a tighter focus on family relationships, Ant-man feels like it has more weight to it. The stakes are high, but it’s not done in an obnoxious manner. The story progresses seamlessly throughout, as the two-hour running length smoothly passes by.

Thankfully, the CGI is almost flawless. Everyone remembers Honey I Shrunk the Kids and its great set pieces, but Ant-man is on another level. Utilising different sizes in a blink of an eye, Ant-man somehow manages to pull it off perfectly. It doesn’t appear as being unbelievable, even when Ant-man is riding his favourite flying ant. That’s commendable.

Whether Ant-man clicks with some audiences’ remains to be seen, but for fans of Thomas the Tank Engine, they’re really in for a treat. It might just be the most fun had with a Marvel movie since Guardians of the Galaxy, which is a welcome change. Too many superhero movies nowadays are downtrodden and laden with darkness and drama, so it’s a pleasure to see Ant-man provides something different.

What’s next for Ant-man? His team up with The Avengers is inevitable, and here’s hoping they flesh out Scott and Hope’s characters even further. They’re the most interesting bunch in the MCU, and they can easily hold their own. Ant-man succeeds at being a breath of fresh air, which is rife with comedy, action and ants.

Top 20 Films of 2014

Based on UK theatrical and festival release dates, here are the Top 20 Films of 2014.

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20. Starred Up

Director: David Mackenzie // Link to trailer

When describing Starred Up, it can be defined with one word; visceral. However, it is also violent, realistic and unashamedly British. Rising star Jack O’Connell is Eric Love, a 19 year-old with a short fuse. Due to being too dangerous for a youth offender’s prison, Love is transferred to a different jail, where his father is kept. Through the help of therapy, Love tries to settle in with his new inmates, but the volatile relationship with his estranged father is too much to handle. O’Connell’s performance might be one of the toughest roles of the year, as Starred Up is unquestionably raw, explosive and of all things, not to be sniffed at.


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19. Locke

Director: Steven Knight // Link to trailer

Steven Knight’s Locke follows one tense and emotional evening for Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), who is a dedicated family man and construction worker. Shot from the confinements of his car (with a few traffic cutaways), Ivan Locke has a secret that will drastically affect his livelihood. Whilst the film’s narrative structure isn’t purely original, it is carried by the weight of the charismatic Tom Hardy, who finally sheds the tough persona we’ve seen in some of his recent work. Locke is a gripping film, and it’s a testament to Tom Hardy’s talent, as he can keep you enthralled and invested in the movie, despite the surroundings. For a brilliant character performance, look no further than this.


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18. Obvious Child

Director: Gillian Robespierre // Link to trailer

Robespierre’s directorial debut managed to impress this year, with a movie that tackles the sensitive subject of abortion with maturity, wit and compassion. As aspiring comedian Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) recovers from an emotional break up, a one-night stand results in an unwanted pregnancy. Suddenly, the twenty-something has to deal with the threat of adulthood looming over her directionless life. It’s a breakthrough performance from Jenny Slate, who is joined with a great cast, superb writing and a movie that surprisingly feels authentic. It’s an inventive take on the genre, and it’s about time a film such as this should feel genuine, as it abolishes stereotypical female leads, all whilst maintaining poignant tone.


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17. Life Itself

Director: Steve James // Link to trailer

Renowned documentarian Steve James recounts the extraordinary life of film reviewer Roger Ebert, with an affectionate and truly personal film. Shot during his last moments, Life Itself explores the wonderful life of Ebert, touching upon several aspects, such as his peculiar relationship with the late Gene Siskel. Life Itself is a fantastic way of recognising and remembering one of the greatest cinematic staples of our time, without being overly sentimental. Roger Ebert’s life is an inspiration to many, and this film ranks as being the best documentary of the year.


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16. The Raid 2

Director: Gareth Evans // Link to trailer

Gareth Evans blew audiences away with his brutal, gut-wrenching Indonesian film; The Raid: Redemption back in 2011, but this year saw the release of its sequel which surpassed the qualities of the first. The Raid 2 follows the skilled Rama, who is set to uncover the corruption within his own police force. Set only moments after the first movie, The Raid 2 dials the action up to eleven, with jaw-dropping fight sequences and outstanding choreography.  If there’s one stand-out character in the action genre this year, it’s the deaf-mute Hammer Girl.


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15. Fury

Director: David Ayer // Link to trailer

Starring a great ensemble cast, Fury is set in Germany during 1945, as the allies make their final push behind enemy lines. A Sherman tank led by the hardened ‘Wardaddy’ (Brad Pitt) is out-classed by the Nazi forces, whose firepower and armoury is vastly superior. Along with the new recruit, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), Wardaddy’s crew are exposed to the brutality of the SS. Ayer’s film is an unsentimental take on WWII, which is comprised of grotesque scenes and tense action sequences. Thankfully, the film never reaches the jingoism of other recent war movies (see: Lone Survivor), and it excels with its cast (Shia LeBeouf surprising many), and Ayer’s excellent direction.


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14. Edge of Tomorrow (Live Die Repeat)

Director: Doug Liman // Link to trailer

Now being labelled as ‘Live Die Repeat’, Doug Liman’s science-fiction movie is equally as explosive as it is entertaining. Starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, military officer William Cage (Cruise) gets thrown into an alien warzone, with a seemingly invincible foe. Killed within moments of joining this war, Cage discovers that he’s trapped in a constant time loop, which resets to the preceding day.

Edge of Tomorrow opened to an underwhelming box-office response (perhaps due to the terrible marketing), but Liman’s movie proved to be one the most exciting action flicks of the year, and it further proved that Tom Cruise can be a fantastic lead. It has spectacle, superb concepts and it’s surprisingly funny in places. It’s blockbuster film-making done properly.


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13. The Guest

Director: Adam Wingard // Link to trailer

Adam Wingard’s The Guest is destined to be this year’s biggest cult hit, as it boasts some incredible one-liners, questionable acting, quirky humour and an effortlessly cool synth soundtrack. With an inexcusable US box-office taking of just $280,000, The Guest manages to capture all the classic tropes of 80s thriller/horror movies, with a superb leading role by Downton Abbey’s very own Dan Stevens. It is a pure delight from start to finish, with the final 20 minutes becoming one of the most entertaining and ridiculous sequences of the year. Adam Wingard excels in genre film-making, and The Guest is no exception.


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12. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Director: Joe Russo and Anthony Russo // Link to trailer

The Russo brothers managed to transcend the superhero genre this year with The Winter Soldier, which was suspenseful and politically relevant. Loosely based on the critically acclaimed series by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting, the film focuses on a dark secret from Steve Rogers’ past, along with the corruption of S.H.I.E.L.D. Full of dazzling visuals and some of the best hand-to-hand combat seen in the superhero genre, Captain America: The Winter Soldier manages to be one of Marvel’s best efforts yet. It takes the genre seriously, whilst managing to entertain and surprise.


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11. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Director: Matt Reeves // Link to trailer

Taking place a decade after the events of the first film, Matt Reeves Apes sequel focuses on Caesar’s nation of evolved apes, who are threatened by the occurrence of a small band of human survivors. The film’s themes are based on trust and survival, as the story has a surprisingly captivating hook. Dawn features some of the best motion capture work to date, which is partly thanks to the talents of renowned actor Andy Serkis and even Toby Kebbell.

The film expands brilliantly on its predecessor, by becoming one of the smartest and most entertaining blockbusters of this year. The CGI is cutting-edge, and whilst it blatantly sets up the third Apes movie, there are no concerns considering Matt Reeves is signed on for the sequel.


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10. Frank

Director: Lenny Abrahamson // Link to trailer

Perhaps the most thought-provoking movie of the year, Frank is an endearing comedy with a memorable performance from Michael Fassbender. The film follows young musician Jon (D.Gleeson), who finds himself joining an avant-garde band; The Soronprfbs. Quite the eclectic mix of people, The Soronprfbs attempt to record an album and tour. Frank touches slightly upon the subject of mental illness, and it does so quite commendably. It’s an unusual and clever movie, and it’ll leave viewers thinking for weeks.


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09. Dallas Buyer’s Club

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée // Link to trailer

Dallas Buyer’s Club is a career best for Matthew McConaughey, starring as the real life Ron Woodroof, whose life was turned upside down during the AIDS epidemic of the 80s. Ostracised by most of his friends after discovering he’s HIV-positive, Ron Woodroof explores alternative treatment for the disease and attempts to best the FDA. The film boasts an incredible performance from McConaughey, along with an eye-opening role from Jared Leto. Dallas Buyer’s Club sports a remarkable story, which manages joy and sorrow into one delightful mix.


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08. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Director: Wes Anderson // Link to trailer

Arguably Wes Anderson’s most accessible movie to date, The Grand Budapest Hotel turned out to be one of the most charming pictures of 2014. Elaborately shot with stunning compositions throughout, The Grand Budapest Hotel recounts the story of the great Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge of the famed European hotel, who is framed for a murder he did not commit.

It’s the quintessential Wes Anderson movie; offbeat, funny, beautifully shot and wholly sentimental. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a visually engaging movie, and it stands as being one of Anderson’s finest accomplishments to date, in his long list of wonderful and heartfelt movies.


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07. The Wolf of Wall Street

Director: Martin Scorsese // Link to trailer

Based on Jordan Belfort’s memoir of the same name, Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street is an incredible piece of work, starring Scorsese’s new go-to actor, Leonardo DiCaprio. Returning to what he’s best at, Scorsese brings forth an R-rated overindulgence of sex, money and drugs. Undoubtedly DiCaprio’s finest role to date, The Wolf of Wall Street also showcased the abilities of Jonah Hill and newcomer Margot Robbie.

Whilst The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t in the same league as Raging Bull, it stands as being Scorsese’s funniest film to date. It’s an outrageous black comedy, which is unabashed and unapologetic with its content, lucidly presenting the depravity of its characters. Jordan Belfort’s corruption is an engaging story, which is superbly written and acted brilliantly. At the age of 72, it appears Scorsese is showing no signs of letting up.


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06. What We Do in the Shadows

Director: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi // Link to the first six minutes

Movies within the comedy horror genre have always struggled to get it right, and 2014 has been no exception. The abysmal waste known as A Haunted House 2 was released, and Life After Beth failed to impress despite everyone involved. However, this fresh and unique take on ‘mockumentaries’ and vampires managed to be 2014’s funniest film of the year.

Following four vampires sharing a house in New Zealand, What We Do in the Shadows embraces the mundane issues of normal everyday human life, whilst mixing elements of the undead into the mix. Not only do these vampires pay rent, finish chores and visit nightclubs, they also antagonise the local werewolves, avoid sunlight and deal with the rigorous diet of human blood.

It’s a fantastic premise, and hilarious from start to finish. The casting is simply perfect, with Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clements having one of the funniest and most memorable lines of the movie. What We Do in the Shadows truly is the first great vampire comedy to grace our cinema screens.


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05. Guardians of the Galaxy

Director: James Gunn // Link to trailer

Marvel’s biggest gamble to date, Guardians of the Galaxy took a fairly unknown superhero team and turned into it a box-office success, as it became the 2nd highest grossing movie of 2014. The film follows an unusual team of criminals, who band together to stop Ronan the Accuser from destroying the universe. Despite its generic plot, Guardians of the Galaxy excelled with some of the funniest comedy seen in sci-fi film, a fabulous 80s soundtrack and some of the best casting seen in the genre.

The film boasted a selection of breakthrough characters, who became fan favourites this year, especially the talking alien tree, Groot. Chris Pratt, who also plays the leader Starlord, proved to be the most charismatic leading man of the year.

It was a pleasurable surprise for cinemagoers, as Guardians is arguably Marvel Studios best movie to date. It is the quintessential blockbuster, chock full with awesome CGI, action, comedy and wonderful characters. James Gunn proved he’s a truly capable director, and his sheer attention to detail should be admired. Here’s to the upcoming sequel.


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04. Gone Girl

Director: David Fincher // Link to trailer

Based on the best-selling book by Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl is another outstanding piece of work by director David Fincher. Starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl tells the story of how one man’s wife goes missing, and how he ends up becoming the number one suspect.

It’s an exhilarating piece of filmmaking, and Rosamund Pike managed to surprise everyone with her role as Amy Dunne, which a career best. Gone Girl has Fincher’s trademark fingerprints all over it, as it’s ultimately stylish, dark and character driven. Somehow, Fincher always brings out the best with the actors he works with, and this film is no exception.

It’s an almost perfect thriller, which really kicks into gear after the first hour. A selection of unsettling scenes really set the mood for the final act, which will leave jaws agape. Gone Girl manages to pick apart various subjects, such as the media, the economy and its effect on marriage, and the fatal flaw in any relationship; dishonesty. It’s an inherently smart thriller, with some captivating performances. It might not be Fincher’s best, but it’s still up there.


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03. The Lego Movie

Director: Chris Miller, Phil Lord // Link to trailer

Essentially a feature-length advertisement for the Lego brand, Miller and Lord’s animated masterpiece really resonates with viewers of all ages. The movie follows the hapless Emmet, a construction worker who is mistakenly selected as the prophesied ‘Special’, as it is foretold that he has the gift to thwart the evil and tyrannical Lord Business.

Surprisingly, The Lego Movie stands as being one of the best animated movies in recent years, which is all down to a wonderful mix of talent. It boasted the strongest casting of any film this year too, with 2014’s leading man Chris Pratt, the manliest man Nick Offerman and the acting legend Morgan Freeman, to name some.

It is a beautifully constructed piece of work, and whilst it doesn’t necessarily tread new narrative ground, it still feels fresh and unique. It consists of some great underlying themes, such as conformity and individuality, without it being obnoxiously thrown into the viewer’s face. It manages to appeal to almost everyone, with a heart-warming and thoughtful story, which is brought to life with Miller and Lord’s fantastic direction.


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02. Nightcrawler

Director: Dan Gilroy // Link to trailer

Strikingly cool, Nightcrawler is undoubtedly the best thriller of 2014. Starring a gaunt Jake Gyllenhaal, Dan Gilroy’s movie focuses on the subject of crime journalism, and a group of freelance news crews in LA who sell their shocking footage to bidding news stations. Gyllenhaal’s character, the morally ambiguous and manipulative Lou Bloom, is the actor’s most mesmerising performance yet.

Gilroy’s directorial debut is deliciously twisted with its material and Gyllenhaal flourishes as Lou Bloom, and it’s equal in style as it is substance. It’s satirical in nature and as sharp as a razor, as the script never falters with its disturbing content. Of course, it’s primarily character driven, but it’s aided with a decent cast, and a pure visual feast.

As the film progresses, Nightcrawler does a fantastic job of providing some feeling of discomfort, which can be felt during the devastatingly effect final act. The car chase for example, shows Gilroy’s strengths, as cars frantically speed across the LA streets in a frantic sequence, which results in a killer ending.

It is a career best for Gyllenhaal, who has wowed audiences in the past with Donnie Darko, Zodiac and to a lesser extent, Prisoners. The upcoming film Enemy is also another notch on Gyllenhaal’s fantastic filmography. Nightcrawler deserves to be watched, as it’s a no-nonsense, twisted masterpiece.


01. Boyhood

Director: Richard Linklater

2014’s best film was Richard Linklater’s ground-breaking triumph, which is unlike anything else that has been in cinemas this year. Filmed over the period of 12 years with the same cast, Boyhood is about how one six-year old, Mason, grows into adulthood. It’s an incredible piece of film history, which intimately documents the human condition.

Alongside the main lead Ellar Coltraine, the film also stars Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as Mason’s divorced parents, who assist as the ideal vehicles for Mason’s journey. The film touches upon all those fond memories of growing up; the first romance, Harry Potter, leaving school, family issues, that first drink and of course, discovering what you really want from life.

Despite the technical achievements of Boyhood, the film can still be recognised as a coming-of-age film that really hits all the right notes. It can resound remarkably well with someone, with its several tender moments, its drama and ultimately, its humanity. Linklater hit the jackpot with Coltraine too, who really manages to ground the film with his natural performance.

The late Roger Ebert once believed that films are machines that generate empathy. They allow you to understand and connect with the feelings of a specific character, and in Boyhood, Ebert’s statement has never been more significant. You get a glimpse of one young man’s transformation, which would not be as effective if Coltraine was replaced throughout the years.

It’s not often that you get to experience something like Boyhood. It’s remarkably condensed into its 166-minute running length, and during that time we are treated to moments of real life moments. It’s truly ambitious and intelligent, and it is Linklater’s finest work to date. There’s no doubt that Boyhood will be recognised for years to come.

 



 

So there we have it, the top 20 films of 2014. It’s been one hell of a year, and in retrospect there are a few movies which will be remembered for their storytelling and craft for some while. Despite not being in this list, there are a number of other movies that should be recognised, such as the unique horror The Babadook, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and perhaps even the ambitious yet flawed Interstellar. There were a few abominations this year too, such as Ninja Turtles and Tammy, and we have had some unfortunate disappointments. Here’s looking at you, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies.

All in all, 2014 was still a great year for film. For a medium that is supposedly dominated by the superhero genre, it’s interesting to see that there’s at least been some diversity, and almost every single one of those superhero films released in 2014 has been received favourably. Fox’s X-Men: Days of Future Past was a refreshing return to the franchise, and Guardians of the Galaxy dominated the box-office this year. It’s interesting to note that The Amazing Spider-man 2 had a decent take this year, but critics opinion is generally split, so it’s future is still unknown.

2015 is surely set to be an explosive affair too, with the return of several franchises. Jurassic World has a June release, with the new Avengers and Terminator being nearby. Also, there’s that new Star Wars film out in December, if anyone’s heard about it. Having said that, there’s sure to be some amazing films which aren’t massive blockbusters. Here’s to the following year.

 

 

Ninja Turtles Review – 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Bother.

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It comes as no surprise to many, but I’m a huge Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan. Ever since the repeats in the early 90s, I’ve been hooked. Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman’s Turtles took over my life as a child, as I covered my arms in tacky TMNT transferable tattoos, and I looked for the next gimmicky Turtles toy. Throughout the years, this old passion of mine has been reignited by Nickelodeon’s enjoyable animated series, and IDW’s excellent comic.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have recently celebrated their 30th anniversary this year, and with that we also see the release of a brand new movie; Ninja Turtles. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman and produced by Michael Bay, Ninja Turtles attempts to reinvigorate the ninjas back onto the big screen. Back in the 90s, their first two movies were enormous hits amongst cinemagoers, becoming some of the highest grossing movies of their respective years. Sure, they weren’t particularly ground-breaking movies, but the series featured some of Jim Henson’s best and most complex work to date.

Ever since the designs of the 2014 Ninja Turtles were released, there was a huge wave of disappointment from fans. These new turtles looked horribly realistic, with misshapen faces and bizarre proportions. Adding onto that, they were also dressed in leftover scraps found in the sewers (ideal for product placement, of course). They looked horrendously ugly, but it would be silly to judge the movie primarily on the awful designs alone. Surely Jonathan Liebesman could pull off a great TMNT movie despite this, and he could make everyone forget about his previous efforts, such as Battle Los Angeles and Wrath of Titans, right?

Well, the answer to that is a resounding no. Unfortunately, Ninja Turtles just doesn’t live up to its full potential. It’s a damn shame too, because there are faint glimmers of what could have been possible. Perhaps this is also due to Michael Bay’s involvement, or the fact that three different screenwriters attempted to put together such a generic script, but the end result is a movie that fails to really entertain on all fronts, and here’s why…

5. Generic Plot

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Recently, the IDW series and Nickelodeon animation have proved that you can get a really interesting backstory from mutated turtles living in a sewer, and they have really fleshed out the characters of Splinter and Shredder. They have an interesting history, with a feud that has lasted years. The two main characters of the series have their own motivations and mutual hatred for each other, which of course is hardly seen anywhere in Liebesman’s Ninja Turtles.

Most CGI-heavy blockbusters do suffer from a weak script, and this film is obviously no exception. There’s virtually no backstory provided for Splinter and Shredder, and the turtles themselves are left with a disgusting lack of character development. Why should cinemagoers care about these characters, when they’re given no foundations to build up on? That’s what we’re left wondering when the final moments of the movie kick in.

Shredder is hurt the most by this awful script though, as his dastardly plot doesn’t really make that much sense. He requires the blood of the turtles, which will act as a cure for a toxin that he plans to release on the inhabitants of New York. Once he releases the deadly toxin, everyone will apparently fall under his command, after he offers the treatment. It almost sounds like a fool proof plan, right?

Obviously, it’s utterly pointless, and it gives the writers a poor excuse for Shredder to seek out the turtles. He already has full control over the powerful and influential Foot Clan, and he has the assistance of Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), a powerful businessman who could be utilised for so much more. Putting all of these powerful elements together should be more than enough to strike fear in New York.

His eventual confrontation with Splinter is completely watered down by this misnomer too, as they have no real bad blood between them. Suddenly Splinter acts like he’s known this shiny cheese grater for decades, but as we’re all unfortunately aware, they’ve only just met. It shouldn’t work like that, and previous incarnations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have really excelled in their storytelling development (we’re not counting the third 90s movie).

Mentioning the character of Eric Sacks brings forward this point too; he is completely unnecessary in the progression of this movie. The inclusion of a different antagonist was an afterthought, and whilst Ficthner is a decent actor, he is completely underutilised in Ninja Turtles. Having a different antagonist placed into Shredder so later on in production, is a telling sign of how much care was put into this film.

It’s a real disappointment, when you consider that there were three screenwriters on this movie. Instead of an enjoyable romp, we’re given some basic ‘poison the city’ storyline, and when you think about the healing properties of the rare mutagen, you’ll end up questioning why it’s so necessary towards the end of the movie. It’s just awful storytelling, from start to finish. However, that’s not Ninja Turtles’ only problem.

4. Megan Fox / April O’Neil

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It’s almost fashionable to dislike Megan Fox nowadays, but cinemagoers have had her unwillingly shoved in their faces in awful blockbusters before. She’s been objectified countless times already, and we’re all blissfully aware that she shares the same acting abilities of a plank of wood. Unfortunately for her, she’s yet to have any redeeming roles of any sort, and Ninja Turtles is certainly another blemish on her career.

It is a great indignity that Megan Fox was so horribly miscast as April O’Neil, who in the past has been a strong female character within the TMNT franchise. Whether she’s a teenager in school or a young adult working for Channel 6 News, April O’Neil has always managed to be an important character. For some reason, Megan Fox just doesn’t seem to fit the bill. The role would probably have been better suited for actresses such as Mary Elizabeth-Winstead, Emma Stone and even Aubrey Plaza.

There’s only so many times you can see the wooden Megan Fox fall down, quiver and look shocked. It all becomes the same dull expression throughout the movie, and it’s unforgivable that the first appearance of the turtles comes in at approximately 20 minutes into the film. Nobody cares about Fox to see her on the screen for that long, but thankfully she’s paired with the fantastic Will Arnett for most of the movie.

However, if you’re part of the fandom that hated the decision of Megan Fox’s casting (even creator Laird was reportedly concerned), then you can go ‘F*** Off’, according to Fox:

http://variety.com/2014/film/news/megan-fox-slams-tmnt-critics-1201274324/

Now that’s an actress with integrity. If you don’t like her awful acting and greased up face, then you can shove it, because she’ll make money despite what you think. What a lovely woman.

3. The ‘Comedy’

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There’s one thing that’s integral to the TMNT series, and that’s humour. Whether it comes from the turtles or the ridiculously goofy villains, there’s some comedy found in mostly all TMNT incarnations. The recent Nickelodeon series does a fantastic job of mixing in some neat comedic elements, especially with the simple-minded Michelangelo and yet again, the one-liners that are used in Ninja Turtles fall completely flat.

It’s apparent that three different writers worked on the movie, because the jokes range from being inappropriate in tone (jokes make towards O’Neil’s looks and posterior), to tired pop-culture references. No Michelangelo, Lost happened years ago. There’s no need to bring it up.

Of course, pop-culture has found its way into the franchise before, and sometimes they worked with it well. Even when they’re blatantly getting paid to advertise Domino’s pizza in the 90s film, it still works. It was funny in some respects. In Ninja Turtles though, we’re treated to an unfunny and horribly shot Pizza Hut advert. “Four cheeses?!” Yeah, embarrassing.

The inappropriate jokes that Michelangelo also spits out towards April O’Neil just come off as really creepy too, and after he mentions her for the third time it gets tiresome really fast. It’s just really uncharacteristic of his character, and even as a group the team really don’t have any funny lines. The beat-boxing segment in the lift isn’t particularly entertaining, and it just comes off as being forced. What’s worse, is that some people are calling that the best scene of the movie. Some people have low standards.

The same can be said for the majority of the self-deprecating humour throughout too. There’s just no wit to it, the jokes are bland and dry. Thankfully though, Will Arnett is in the movie and there is an Arrested Development reference. He did provide some form of humour in the movie too, but that might be his natural talent. It isn’t enough though, as the franchise revels in humour with its various forms. It’s a typical Michael Bay production though; it’s full of terrible jokes and awful pop-culture references.

2. The Turtles Dynamic

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The most important aspect of a TMNT production is the relationship between the turtles and their master. Their success comes when they’re together, and they have a unique family relationship which is not necessarily apparent in other franchises. Each turtle has their own little definitive trait that defines them; Raphael’s the brawny tough guy that would rather go it alone, Michelangelo is the jokester, Donatello is the genius and Leonardo is the strong decisive leader. When you add all of those elements together, you get magic.

Ninja Turtles does admittedly explore the various traits of the turtles, but their actual relationship between each other is hardly touched upon. There’s always been a great conflict of interest between Raphael and Leonardo, but fans will be disappointed if they expect any of that here. The 2007 TMNT movie had an amazing rivalry between the two which reached a climax atop rainy rooftops, but in Ninja Turtles Raphael literally makes one comment about wanting to leave, and he disappears during a fight for a few minutes. That’s literally it. So when Raphael opens up his heart towards the end of the movie, it comes off as having zero emotional weight to it whatsoever.

It’s a big and apparent problem in the movie, and whilst Ninja Turtles certainly shouldn’t follow suit like all the other previous series have done before it, it would’ve been appropriate to at least explore how the turtles react around each other. We’re treated to a flashback sequence with them playing a game, but the majority of the time their family connection comes off as being really unnatural. There needs to be some love amongst the turtles and not just for their sensei. It’s what Ninja Turtles desires, some real heart.

You’ll only witness some of that turtles unique spark during the mountaintop sequence, but then that’s covered in CGI and it suddenly ends up lasting all too long. It doesn’t help that Megan Fox’s April O’Neil just doesn’t seem to fit within the mould either (regardless of her massive importance to the team).

Perhaps the inevitable sequel will improve on the loose foundations given, and maybe we’ll see more of the family dynamic. Ninja Turtles doesn’t really have that spark though, which has been seen countless times before.

1. The Designs

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Now, these turtles might be mutant ninjas, but there’s no excuse for the way they look in Liebesman’s movie. Ninja Turtles probably has the worst design of any other TMNT series to date, and that includes The Next Mutation. The design of the turtles is way too busy, as they are covered head to toe in rubbish. They haven’t been clothed in a ridiculous manner before, so why should they bother now? Oh right, product placement opportunities…

Their proportions are outright ugly too, and they end up looking like grotesque life forms. Henson’s creations had an engaging quality to them, but these CGI behemoths don’t look like something children will aspire to be at Halloween. They’re hulking brutes, and the merchandise for Ninja Turtles certainly does their designs no favours, with the Lego minifigures really showcasing the designs downfalls.

However, it’s not just the turtles who suffer from such a poor visual design. Even Shredder can’t escape the clutches of the overly busy designers. In Ninja Turtles, the much-loved villain gets reduced to a bunch of sharp knives, attached onto a shiny cheese grater. It looks ridiculously stupid, as viewers will struggle to count the amount of knives Shredder has on one hand, let alone two.

Whilst he’s covered in this laughable armour, Shredder is still surprisingly nimble. He looks like the lovechild of Silver Samurai and Megatron, and when he looks this way, it’s difficult to take him as a credible threat. Even with his magic flying knives, Shredder just comes off as a two-bit villain and the resulting product of simple visual concept which has been seen before in too many of Michael Bay’s movies. It’s really disappointing to see the great Shredder depicted in such a manner, even if he quotes the infamous ‘Turtle Soup’ line.

Splinter is the only special character in the film that manages to look somewhat decent. At least fans will be content with the way he looks, and cinemagoers won’t find any amusement with his appearance. With plans of a sequel already in the works, it’s annoying to realise that we’ll still have the same goofy looking Michelangelo in cinemas.


 

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People tend to cry out that Ninja Turtles is primarily a ‘kids’ movie, so viewers shouldn’t expect much. However, that is as asinine way to look at movies aimed at kids. Two of the biggest box-office hits of the year have been How to Train Your Dragon 2, and The Lego Movie. Both movies are aimed at kids with tons of merchandise, but they also appeal to an older demographic, and they’re actually favoured by critics. At this point of writing, Ninja Turtles has a dismal 20% on reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. That should be enough evidence.

Whilst fans shouldn’t expect the same material from the franchise again and again, it doesn’t excuse the liberties that Liebesman’s movie takes. It is a blatant cash grab on an intellectual property, and it has yet again proved – similarly to Transformers – that blockbusters still have that tendency to let us down tremendously. When directors like Phil Lord and Christopher Miller prove to us otherwise, hacks such as Liebesman provide cinemagoers with films which are cut-and-paste jobs, with action scenes littered amongst unfunny dialogue and nonsensical plots. However, studios will throw enough money at it for it to turn a huge profit.

If you’re a devout fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, do yourself a favour and skip this one. Enjoy some of the comics, watch the new cartoon. Hell, I’d recommend even watching the third Turtles movie from the 90s. It was ridiculous, but at least it had Casey Jones teaching some 16th century samurai the art of hockey. That was pure gold, right?

And if you’re a typical cinemagoer, save yourself the ticket price and go see something else. Perhaps some people will love it, and maybe the merchandise will help with its success. Just remember though, that you are part of the problem if you go spend money on Liebesman’s excuse for a motion picture. Booyakasha.

The Big Lebowski, A Cult Classic.

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Next month heralds the 13th Annual Lebowski Fest in Louisville, USA, where fans of The Big Lebowski come together to enjoy White Russians and unlimited bowling, whilst practising the art of taking it easy. Fans from all over the world join in on the weekend event, all dressed up as their favourite characters from the Coen brother’s masterpiece. It’s a wondrous thing, and hopefully I’ll be taking part one year. However, what it is about The Big Lebowski that warrants annual conventions? What is so special about The Dude? Why is Dudeism even a religion?

Well, it all began after the talented Coen brothers won an Academy Award for Fargo. It didn’t take them long to get working on their next feature, The Big Lebowski, which was eventually released on March 6th 1998. The Big Lebowski opened to a mixed response from critics and it received a poor box office return – only making a paltry $5 million during its opening weekend. Yes, sometimes most cinemagoers don’t know what they’re missing out on.

The Big Lebowski stars a varied amount of talent throughout, but the main focus is Jeff Bridge’s character, The Dude. Donning a beard, some shades, slippers and a fashionable cardigan – The Dude has now been cemented in movie history. Along with Jeff Bridges, the movie also stars John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, the late Philip Seymour-Hoffman and Sam Elliot. Each one of these characters has their own respective, admired moments in the film, which are quoted by fans around the world.

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The film’s plot is essentially a mix of different elements, which may put off the average cinemagoer. Its story has been identified as a light Western before, and even a classic detective story. To some people though, it is much, much more. The Big Lebowski blends a lot of different ideas, such as rugs, bowling, kidnap and mistaken identity. It’s hard to really define what The Big Lebowski is, but it could be argued that it is all about The Dude’s ‘journey’. Does he learn anything from a series of random events? Probably not, but cultists love The Big Lebowski for its muddled plot. It’s just unique that way, dude.

The Coen’s film found a new lease of life thanks to home viewing and the internet, which is no surprise when you discover how truly awful the marketing of the film was. Even the main poster failed at capturing the essence of the film, with the tagline ‘Times Like These Call for a Big Lebowski’. Hell, even the US DVD release of the film has the blurb at the back stating that the rug really made the room ‘hang together’ – horrifically mistaking the famous quote, as fans all know that the rug actually tied the room together.

Nonetheless, word of mouth helped revitalise The Big Lebowski for a more appreciative audience. To put it simply, home viewing and the internet created a massive boom for cult cinema, and this film is no exception to the fact. Finally, it wasn’t up to midnight screenings for cultists to witness their favourite films. Regardless of where they were in the world, cultists could acquire a contemporary film such as The Big Lebowski easily, and then discuss it on message boards. Of course, this has led to a specific replay culture with the movie, allowing fans to dissect it for their favourite quotes, therefore creating loads of tribute videos, such as collections of the infamous line, ‘shut the fuck up, Donny’, found here:

This replay culture specifically benefited one Oliver Benjamin, who is the founding member of ‘Dudeism’. Whilst overhearing some British folk talking about The Big Lebowski on a train, Oliver Benjamin travelled to the nearest rental store to view the film. After returning home, he re-watched the entire thing three times in a row.

His reasoning for this? Well, he claims that The Big Lebowski is like a movie people have never witnessed before. It’s so accessible, and so different. It has unique themes, a certain type of comedy and the film even brings serious subjects into it too, such as issues with society, war, individuality, freedom, work and heroism.

Perhaps Oliver Benjamin might be digging a little deep here, but there’s no denying that some of those themes are apparent throughout. These themes are put into the framework of the film, through the use of metaphors, in a very Dude-like way. That of course, is a testament to the film’s greatness.

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Oliver Benjamin’s ‘Dudeism’ has taken off in a big way, and as of this year, there are currently 220,000 ordained Dudeist priests. What is it though? Well, Dudeism is almost a modern version of Chinese Taoism, but without all of its metaphysical, medical mumbo-jumbo doctrines. It is essentially, the ‘art of taking it easy’. Instead of putting a focus on wealth and work for personal fulfilment, life can be enjoyed with bathing, bowling and hanging out with some good friends.

Apparently life is too short to concern yourself with trivial matters, so kick back and relax, and of all things – abide. Some famous dudes in the history of Dudeism come in the form of Snoopy, Sarah Silverman, Kurt Vonnegut, John Lennon and Crush (the turtle from Finding Nemo). Dudeism has a wonderful message and meaning, as it’s a religion even I can get behind.

If Dudeism sounds like something you might be into, check out their main website: http://dudeism.com. It might be the slowest-growing religion in the world, but it’s coming some way. You can even ordained there, all you need to do is input some simple information in.

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If you haven’t watched The Big Lebowski more than once, and you’re questioning my strange passion for this movie, then stop what you’re doing, and watch the masterpiece all over again. The Big Lebowski becomes a favourite with repeat viewings, and some viewers soon realise just how magical the film is. It’s incredibly layered, and it smashes the typical genre conventions found in cinema. Instead of quoting some of the more well-known lines, there’ll be an appreciation for others used in the movie after repeat viewings. “Mark it zero!”

Let’s forget as well, that The Big Lebowski is one of the Coen’s finest movies, and they have an eye for visuals. The dream sequence alone, featuring Saddam Hussein as a bowling alley employee, is beautiful from start to finish. It is twinned with Kenny Roger’s ‘Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)’, which is a perfect musical choice for such a scene. The soundtrack fits the tone of the movie perfectly.

Whilst the plot might not be easily followed by some, it should be known that The Big Lebowski still has a message to tell. It’s not just some empty pastiche, as the movie essentially shows you what is to be a man and to be a friend. Also, if need be, it also portrays how one should be that particular ‘hero’ when the moment arises (if it ever does).

Of course, it’s clear to see why The Big Lebowski warrants annual conventions. It’s a cult movie which is adored around the world. It’s accessible, it’s different and it spawned a religion. As far as I’m aware, the only other movie to do that was Star Wars, and I’m well aware that Jediism doesn’t have anything to do with taking it easy. It’s all about mind tricks and opening automatic doors.

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So, in conclusion, The Big Lebowski is a cult classic. It’s up there with some of the greats, including The Rocky Horror Picture Show and my personal favourite, Re-Animator. It’s a movie that explores a diverse range of themes, a movie that brought us one of the greatest characters in cinema – The Dude.

Again, if you haven’t checked out The Big Lebowski yet, then do seek out the Achiever Edition, which is lavishly designed with the shape and pattern of the Dude’s aforementioned rug. It also comes with a snazzy booklet. If you want to further your interest, go look for the The Big Lebowski Gift Set, which includes a mug, an award, the Dude’s name tag, a mouse-pad resembling the rug and most importantly, Bunny’s severed toe.

Anyway, thanks for reading, dude. Just as I wrapped this up, some news sources revealed that John Turturro wants a sequel. Turturro played the pederest, Jesus Quintana, and if there’s anyway of involving Jesus and the Coens, it might just be worthy of a successor to The Big Lebowski.

Jesus.