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.

Top 20 Films of 2016

It’s been a long time coming, but here are the Top 20 Films of 2016! This year has served up some truly great cinematic treats, whilst others may have left a sour taste for days, if not weeks. Blockbusters have yet again seen a boom, and Warner Bros still haven’t managed to find their footing since Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Still, plenty of people paid money to be disappointed, as both Suicide Squad and Batman Vs. Superman displayed.

Disney really took over the box-office this year, with at least five of the top ten box-office earners all being Disney titles. Also, a staggeringly large amount of people paid to see The Secret Lives of Pets. Some cinemagoers even praised it. There’s a strong possibility they walked into a screening of Zootropolis and assumed that was the same film.

Regardless of box-office numbers, a lot of films flew under the radar for many. A few films in this list had terribly limited releases, so they suffered from a lack of exposure. If anything, this list is here to help that. Also, all films listed are based on UK theatrical releases alone. No exceptions are made to festival screenings, or even films that somehow weren’t even released in the UK. Here’s looking at you, Anno’s Godzilla (do check it out, it’s great).

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the list.

20: Welcome to Leith

Directed by Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker, this documentary focuses on the small North Dakota town of Leith and its unwelcome guests. With a population of roughly 16 people, the small community is threatened by the appearance of white supremacist Craig Cobb, who attempts to build his very own Neo-Nazi community within Leith.

A truly uncomfortable watch, Welcome to Leith provides a fascinating insight into an ugly part of society, which is highlighted with some extremely close interactions with everyone involved. It’s raw, attention-grabbing some truly captivating and scary viewing.

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19: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Directed by David Yates, Fantastic Beasts is the first of many spin-offs from the Harry Potter franchise. Set in the 1920s, British ‘magizoologist’ Newt Scamander finds himself stuck in New York, right in the midst of the secret wizarding world. As it turns out, not all is right behind the scenes of New York’s cobbled streets, as Newt befriends part of the community to help thwart the looming dark presence of evil.

Fantastic Beasts is a pleasant return to the wizarding world, as David Yates manages to recapture some of the wondrous visuals and charismatic characters that the franchise is renowned for. It really comes as no surprise,  as Yates filmography does already consist of four of the Harry Potter films.

It’s a telling sign that this is J.K. Rowling’s first foray into screenwriting also, as the script still feels like it is part of the same universe. The story may be a little straightforward, but the performances from Eddie Redmayne and Colin Farrell are truly exceptional. It’s a real pleasure to see Colin Farrell in such a role, which we deserve to see more of.

One of the reveals in the film may leave a sour taste for some viewers, as will the proposition of four more sequels, but David Yates Fantastic Beasts feels like a warm, welcome return to a home that many have missed for some while now.

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18: Deadpool

It’s a weird feeling, but for the first time in years, Fox Studios surprised cinemagoers this year by producing an R-rated, enjoyable superhero film that was nothing like their back catalogue of tired mutant movies.

Deadpool had been stuck in developmental hell for years, but with the help of Ryan Reynolds and director Tim Miller, the film was finally released in spring to a roaring response. It quickly became the highest grossing R-rated film of all time (when unadjusted for inflation), receiving critical acclaim from almost all major critics.

The plot is simple enough. Hired mercenary Wade Wilson attempts to cure his body of cancer with the aid of an experimental procedure, which leaves him disfigured and without the love of his life. Swearing revenge on who ruined his life, Deadpool tries to put together the missing pieces of his personal puzzle.

Thanks to constant pushing from Ryan Reynolds, his role as Deadpool is now synonymous with the actor. Deadpool is hysterical, tightly put together and is unfortunately now set to possibly disappoint cinemagoers with its countless sequels and spin-offs, because that’s the Fox Studios way.

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17: Kubo and the Two Strings

Possibly one of the greatest achievements in 3D stop-motion capture, Kubo and the Two Strings is the tale of a young, gifted boy who attempts to locate a mystical piece of armour to aid his fight against vengeful spirits.

It’s the fourth film from Laika, who have cemented themselves as one of the best animation studios specialising in cinema today. Kubo and the Two Strings features the voices of Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey and Ralph Fiennes, to name a few. McConaughey is one of the stand-out voices in the film, whose work as the comical beetle provides some of the funniest scenes throughout.

Kubo and the Two Strings’ script might not necessarily be its strongest suit, but the sheer amount of talent showcased with the animation means the film truly needs to be seen to be believed, as scenes are exquisitely brought to life. The storyline is typically dark in places, but then that’s part of Laika’s traditional storytelling appeal.

Unfortunately, the film fell under the radar for some this year, with the lowest opening yet for a Laika production. However, it is still one of the most critically acclaimed animated films of the year, and it’s never too late to seek out this magical tale of mystery, action and drama.

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16: Zootropolis/Zootopia

Renamed Zootropolis for a UK wide release, Disney’s 55th animated feature was a surprising entry this year. Directed by both Byron Howard and Rich Moore, Zootropolis focuses on the young Judy Hopps, a young, optimistic police officer who starts her career in an urban utopia.

During the first days of her career as a member of the force, she finds herself in an unlikely partnership with the con artist Nick Wilde, as they both try to uncover the disappearance of several animals. Disney picked the ideal voice actors for both characters too, as Jason Bateman channels Wilde perfectly, alongside Ginnifer Goodwin as Hopps.

Zootropolis managed to successfully tell a story about speciesism amongst animals themselves, whilst managing to feature memorable characters and some entertaining scenes, for all ages. Whereas other studios completely failed this year with their cutesy animals (here’s looking at you Illumination Entertainment), Zootropolis completely knocked it out of the park.

It may come as no surprise that director Rich Moore previously directed some of the best ever episodes of The Simpsons, including Marge Vs. The Monorail, Cape Feare and Homer’s Night Out, to name a few. That comedic talent is clearly witnessed in Zootropolis. Zootropolis is brimming with charm, and per the typical Disney standard nowadays, the animation is flawless.

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15: The Nice Guys

Unsurprisingly, The Nice Guys features all the trademarks of a Shane Black movie; a murder mystery, an unusual mismatched pair of protagonists and of course, attractive women. Thankfully, The Nice Guys also follows the same standard of Black’s previous films, and here his formula is perfected.

The film features Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as the two main leads, two detectives who conduct their work very differently. Somehow assigned to the same case, both detectives are in search of a missing teenager.

The script is rife with witty dialogue, and the plot takes some interesting and surprising developments, keeping viewers on their toes throughout. It’s a role that Crowe has desperately needed for some time, as it showcases a range we’ve not seen enough of.

It’s a great little movie, and the 70s setting really helps to reinforce Shane Black’s vision. Regardless of what some may think about Black’s work on Iron Man 3, it’s evident that he’s a gifted writer and director. Here’s to his next film, the sequel to Predator, where the alien has to inevitably team up with an unlikely buddy to solve the mystery of the missing porn actress.

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14: Moana

Yet another animated entry for the 2016 list, Moana is Disney’s 56th animated feature film directed by both Ron Clements and John Musker. Renowned for their work on some of Disney’s greatest films, such as Little Mermaid and Aladdin, it comes as no surprise that Moana is just as enjoyable as their previous efforts.

Moana looks absolutely beautiful, and it may possess some of the best songs from Disney in years. Starring Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson as Maui and Auli’I Cravalho as the main lead, Moana, the film follows her journey to put a stop to the curse that threatens her home and livelihood.

It’s also a breath of fresh air too, as Moana features absolutely no love interests whatsoever. The film is peppered with a wide variety of scenes, consisting of Mad Max inspired action sequences and a visually striking underwater scene featuring one-half of Flight of the Conchords, Jemaine Clement.

The animation in Moana reminds viewers of just how far cinema has come since the days of Toy Story. It’s beautifully animated, tightly put together and it ultimately boasts some of that traditional Disney magic.

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13: The Revenant

There’s no denying it; The Revenant is a technical masterpiece. Set in 1823, director Alejandro Iñárritu based his film on Michael Punke’s novel of the same name, which describes the life of American frontiersman Hugh Glass.

Winning 3 Academy Awards earlier this year, The Revenant stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the protagonist Glass, and Tom Hardy as the main antagonist, John Fitzgerald. Left for dead after being badly mauled by a bear, Hugh Glass has to fend for himself as he undertakes the arduous task of returning home.

Filmed using natural light and under severe weather conditions, The Revenant is a testament to how skilled Iñárritu is with his craft. Scenes are stunningly composed, as the film portrays just how unforgivable life was back then. Whilst Leonardo was recognised for his performance as Hugh Glass, Tom Hardy’s role as John Fitzgerald is arguably much stronger, as Hardy truly embodies the character of Fitzgerald.

The Revenant is a remarkable piece of filmmaking, and it does deserve every accolade it’s received so far. After Birdman and now The Revenant, people are more than excited for Iñárritu’s next project.

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12: Room

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, Room boasts Brie Larson’s most captivating performance yet. Based on the book of the same name, Larson plays as Joy Newsome, who has been held captive with her 5-year old son for years. The film follows their attempts at escaping, and how they cope with the outside world.

Room is essentially split into two chapters, with each one showcasing the acting abilities of Larson and Jacob Tremblay, who has a spectacular performance as the young son, who acts completely unaware of their harrowing situation. Tremblay’s character feels real, and there’s a real sense of a relationship between mother and son here, which is a welcome surprise concerning younger actors.

The first half of the film acts a tense thriller, whereas the second provides a more sober, emotional hook. Abrahamson has provided cinemagoers with a unique story of survival of love this year, which is not to be missed.

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11:  Captain America: Civil War

It should come as no surprise to see that Civil War makes it into the top 20 this year, due to directors Joe and Anthony Russo returning to the Captain America franchise for one of the biggest events in comic book history. The second highest grossing film of the year (after Finding Dory), Civil War managed to juggle over a dozen characters, whilst presenting a thought-provoking story and phenomenal action.

There are many layers to Civil War’s story, but the main focus is the decision from the United Nations to oversee and control the Avengers, in response to their emergence correlating with major disasters. Creating a divide within the team, an international incident involving Captain America’s old friend Bucky Barnes adds tension and further division amongst close allies.

Civil War had a lot of elements that could have gone wrong; a complex idea, dozens of characters, the introduction of Spider-man, and even Ant-Man’s inevitable change into Giant Man. However, the Russo brothers accomplished all of that, therefore making comic book fans dreams come true. Characters were well balanced, Tom Holland’s performance as Spider-man was the greatest yet, and the film even ended on a surprisingly dour note.

In some ways, Civil War felt like Star Wars’ Empire Strikes Back, as it established new characters whilst developing old fan favourites. It was an incredibly put together film, providing Warner Bros yet another example of how to produce a superhero blockbuster. Maybe they’ll get it one day.

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10: Arrival

In the past few years, director Denis Villeneuve has proved his work as a skilful director. His past films, Prisoners, Enemy and Sicario have had Villeneuve tackling all sorts of genres, but Arrival is his first attempt at science fiction, and arguably his best directorial piece yet.

Based on a short story, Arrival stars Amy Adams as linguist Louise Banks, who is hired by the U.S. army to help discover why 12 extra-terrestrial ships have landed on Earth. Joined by Jeremy Renner’s Ian Donnelly, both Louise and Ian decipher the alien messages in a race against other nations who are unsure of how to act towards these possibly hostile invaders.

Arrival is a surprisingly smart and sophisticated science fiction film, and it succeeds where 2014’s Interstellar miserably failed. The film challenges the usual format of sci-fi feature films, with a strong focus on philosophy and language. It is much more reserved than typical alien invasion films, and that, in turn, makes it a welcome breath of fresh air.

Adams is at her very best here, and Villeneuve is slowly turning into a director to follow very closely, especially considering he’s at the helm of the next Blade Runner.

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9: Nocturnal Animals

Despite the unnecessary first five minutes, Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals is an intense, stunning and titillating piece of filmmaking. The film is interwoven into two storylines, with Amy Adams starring in one role and Jake Gyllenhaal in two. In the film, Adams is Susan Morrow, a successful art gallery owner who receives a manuscript written by her estranged ex-husband, Edward.

Devoted to her, this twisted novel she reads is brought to life with the use of several actors; Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. As she’s consumed by the book, the story is interlaced with flashbacks of her relationship with Edward.

The layered script is flawless, allowing for some great roles to be played by both Shannon and Taylor-Johnson. Jake Gyllenhaal is on form as he usually is, but the combination of personating two characters is the icing on the cake for fans of his exceptional work.

It cannot be understated how well composed some of the scenes are, but then Tom Ford has a keen eye for cinematography. His previous film, A Single Man, presented viewers with a thirst for more, and hopefully Nocturnal Animals will set a trend for the gifted filmmaker.

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8: The Hateful Eight

The second Western in a row by renowned director Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight concerns eight strangers who seek refuge at a haberdashery from a deadly blizzard. Each with their own unique background, these strangers may have their own nefarious plans that involve the bounty hunter and his prisoner.

There’s a varied selection of actors in The Hateful Eight who have appeared in Tarantino’s films before, such as Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and even Zoë Bell to name a few, and they’re all on form here.

Of course, The Hateful Eight could be considered typical Tarantino exploitation schlock, but that’s part of the appeal. Tarantino’s characters are often outrageous, especially in the case of Jackson’s character Marquis, and the script is laden with sharp, snappy dialogue. It has all of Tarantino’s staples all over it, and there’s simply nothing wrong with that.

As is the norm with Tarantino and his love for cinema, The Hateful Eight was shot on film. However, his use 70mm film caused a flurry of disagreements between UK cinemas and the distributor. Making at least half of what Django Unchained made at the box office, The Hateful Eight was surrounded by controversy, the new Star Wars, and an obscene amount of pirating. Still, it was another great addition to Tarantino’s filmography, and it’s not to be scoffed at.

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7: Swiss Army Man

Written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Swiss Army Man proved to be one of the weirdest entries in UK cinemas this year. Starring Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse and Paul Dano as a suicidal misfit, Swiss Army Man

Even as a dead man, Daniel Radcliffe can still act, and his relationship with Paul Dano’s Hank is unusual and charming. Acting as a Swiss army ‘man’, Hank utilises the cadaver of Radcliffe in weird and wonderful ways to survive in the wilderness.

It’s hard to define Swiss Army Man in a specific genre of film. It’s not an action or adventure, or really a coming-of-age drama. It’s unlike any other indie film that has been showcased this year, and despite its weird content, it’s strangely delightful and full of heart. Also, it has Paul Dano recreating the Jurassic Park theme to a gawping, dead flatulent Radcliffe, so what more could cinemagoers ask for?

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6: Everybody Wants Some!!

No matter what decade it is, director Richard Linklater manages to capture it perfectly within his pictures. His latest, the 2016 comedy set the eighties, Everybody Wants Some!! follows a selection of college baseball players who are interested in two things; baseball and women.

Everybody Wants Some!! doesn’t follow standard storytelling conventions. It throws viewers straight into the eighties, as it showcases what life was like back then with a carefully put together ensemble cast. Each character feels real, as they have their own identity and background, and they’re all perfectly portrayed.

Linklater’s films are like marmite for some people but do not be mistaken as this film is the ultimate frat boy comedy, and it feels like it was ripped right out of the era it is attempting to recreate. The main character Jake Bradford, is played exceptionally well by past Glee member, Blake Jenner. His function is important, as the lead role gets a taste of what the eighties were made of.

It boasts a superb soundtrack, and one standout scene involves five of the baseball players rapping to The Sugar Hill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight, all before attempting – and failing miserably – to pick up women outside their dorm rooms. Everybody Wants Some!! is a nuanced, appealing little picture, and we should all be so thankful to have Linklater as a director.

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5: Green Room

Visceral, suspenseful and downright sickening, director Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room was one of the best horror movies of the year. Appearing out of nowhere, this horror film starring Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots and Patrick Stewart, told the story of how one punk band becomes a target after witnessing a murder at a Neo-Nazi bar.

Trapped in the green room after witnessing a stabbing, they’re held hostage by Darcy Banker, the leader of the local group of skinheads. Played by Patrick Stewart, Darcy is a force to be reckoned with as he will stop at nothing to ensure that the police aren’t involved.

Green Room is unapologetic as the tense showdown kicks into gear, harking back to an earlier age of brutal exploitation films that always left no one unscathed. It’s taut, well-acted and surprisingly unforgivable, as the thrills keep coming.

Nobody ever expected Patrick Stewart to play such a role, and it helps add that extra layer of menace to his role. Of course, this is also one of Anton Yelchin’s last roles that he got to act before his untimely death this year. He’s one of the best parts about Green Room, and it’s a pleasure to see him star in such an unrepentant and thrilling movie. Viewers will be left in shock at the demise of some characters, and at some of the lines uttered by Stewart’s mouth.

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4: Train to Busan

Let’s be honest here. There hasn’t been a decent zombie flick since Shaun of the Dead, except for the Spanish horror films, REC and REC2. Thankfully though, that changed this year with the South Korean film, Train to Busan. Heavily pushed for an international release, Train to Busan is directed by Yeon Sang-ho, starring Gong Yoo and Ma Dong-Seok.

Gong Yoo plays the lead role as Seok-Woo, a divorced workaholic who takes his daughter to see her mother in Busan. They board the Korea Train Express, and as their train departs from the station, a convulsing, sick woman boards the train. As it turns out, she’s been infected with a zombie plague – and she’s not the only one.

Train to Busan is a pure survival horror, which takes place prominently on board a train. The confines of the train really push the survival aspect of the film, and the film is bolstered with some strong storytelling, that has a heavy reliance on relationships, selfishness and sheer horror.

There’s clearly a social commentary that is touched upon throughout the film, which is mixed into horrifying action sequences. Viewers will be left rooting for the main cast, whilst managing pure hatred for one of the minor characters. Train to Busan has some great performances, some solid zombie action and make-up, and it should come as no surprise that the film is now the highest-grossing Asian film of all time in China. It’s unique, action-packed and emotional. Not to be missed.

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3:  10 Cloverfield Lane

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg and written by Josh Campbell, 10 Cloverfield Lane sports one of John Goodman’s most captivating performances of his entire career. Alongside Goodman who plays the questionable Howard Stambler, the film stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle and John Gallagher, Jr. as Emmett.

After a traumatic car crash, Michelle finds herself locked up in a cell inside Howard Stambler’s underground bunker. Despite Howard reassuring her that he’s helping her recuperate and that the US is under attack from an unknown military force, things don’t appear to be totally above-board. Is Howard who he says he is? Has there been an invasion? And who is Emmett?

Trachtenberg’s film is a tremendous, nail-biting display of tense drama and John Goodman’s jaw-dropping performance. It’s simply engrossing from start to finish, with some terrific cinematography that’s even on display in a confined bunker.

Of course, because it was a Bad Robot production, there was a strong viral marketing campaign that attracted a lot of fans. It was slightly different to the last one, but tonnes of fun whenever a new clue turned up. However, not much else can be said about the film, as spoilers need to be avoided for total enjoyment. That’s not a detriment to the film, but just a necessary precaution.

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2: The Witch

The directorial debut of Robert Eggers, The Witch follows a Puritan family who has a tragedy involving their youngest. Set in 17th century New England, the youngest child Samuel mysteriously vanishes during the eldest daughters care. What follows after that, is the emergence of a witch in the woods, who sets to dismantle the family in wicked ways.

The Witch, which is stylised as ‘The VVitch’ is inspired by old folklore and witch trials, which occurred for years in New England. It’s the most impressive debut by a writer and director this year, As Eggers has provided cinemagoers with a true horror masterpiece.

The genre relies all too often on found footage or jump-scares nowadays, but The Witch succeeds by having a genuinely creepy vibe to it, that’ll send shivers down spines. The period of time is perfectly captured, down to the authentic language, clothing and of course, the devout religiousness of families back then.

Some audiences may dislike its slow pace, but it constantly builds tension that can be felt by the viewers, as the family are torn apart by the evil that surrounds them. It closely follows the horrifying folklore it is loosely based on, as it finally ends in one of the most jaw-dropping sequences in cinema.

It’s always a pleasant change to see the genre mixed up by films like this, as it waves goodbye to tired conventions and tropes. The Witch is deeply unsettling at times, it is exquisitely shot and it will probably be greeted by a furore of horror fans which will simply dismiss it. Don’t. It’s a truly thought-provoking piece of work.

1: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Ricky Baker is a bad egg. He lives the skux life, and there is no hope. That is until he is taken in by foster mother Bella and her husband, Hec. Ricky’s life is then turned around for the better, up until his foster mother suddenly passes away. After he runs away from his new home and the child welfare services, Ricky and Hec soon become part of a manhunt in the New Zealand bush.

Directed by Taika Waititi, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is dripping with charm, humour and two solid lead performances, by the young Julian Dennison as Ricky Baker and everyone’s favourite onscreen palaeontologist, Sam Neil as the cantankerous Hec. If ever New Zealand needed an advertisement for their beautiful landscapes or even a new national anthem, they need to look no further than this flick.

Waititi was responsible for directing one of the funniest films of 2014, What We Do in the Shadows, and also has screenwriting credits for this year’s Moana, and furthermore is currently adding the finishing touches to Thor: Ragnarok. He is without a doubt, one of the most talented directors working today.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s script is simple enough, and it is littered with dialogue that will be quoted for years to come. Ricky and Hec attempt to get along with each other in the bush, whilst encountering a number of dangerous hazards and weirdos, and their relationship is a touching one that evolves during the movie.

It’s a nice treat to see Sam Neil in a lead role again, and he’s utilised properly for the first time in years. Julian Dennison’s performance as Ricky Baker is a breakout role for the young actor too, and he’s sure to stick around for some time. It’d be criminal not to have Dennison in any other film, especially with his comedic timing.

There just isn’t any other movie this year that leaves viewers with such a warm feeling, as Hunt for the Wilderpeople is set to be a poignant and hilarious classic. A solid cast, beautiful cinematography and an annoyingly catchy soundtrack make this film the best movie of the year, if not the past few years. It’s very easy to return to Hunt for the Wilderpeople, to revel in its unique characters, the scenery and touching story. But that’s enough adjectives for this review. One’s enough. It’s simply majestical.

 

X-Men: Apocalypse – Review

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Another tired entry into Fox’s mutant money-maker, Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse simply reminds us why Marvel Studios formula works so well. After defeating Magneto and squaring off against robotic killing machines, the X-Men now have to unite to defeat the world’s first ever mutant, the deadly Apocalypse.

Bryan Singer’s fourth X-Men film stars most of the cast from previous films, but this time round there are some fresh faces thrown into the mix. A young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) all appear as new recruits, along with the arrival of the ancient Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac).

Unfortunately for Fox, their source material for Apocalypse isn’t necessarily strong. First appearing in X-Factor way back in 1986, the imposing adversary received poor treatment in the comic books over the years. Regardless of his strong origins, it wasn’t long before he became a complete joke, and Marvel’s pure product of the 90s, ‘Age of Apocalypse’, didn’t help matters.

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Since his incarnation, Apocalypse has been regarded as the main arch-enemy of the X-Men, despite having some of the weakest storylines in the books. The concept has always been interesting, but the execution lacking. The last attempt to make something out of Apocalypse probably appeared in the animation X-Men Evolution, and the video game, X-Men Legends II.

So, it’s a damn shame to see that such a mishandled character is given to one of the most talented actors of this generation, Oscar Isaac. Renowned for his incredible work in Ex Machina and A Most Violent Year, actor Oscar Isaac is completely wasted as Apocalypse, becoming the weakest villain in the X-Men movies to date.

The problem with X-Men: Apocalypse‘s main antagonist is that he casually strolls into the 80s without any real motivation. Locked away for thousands of years, he awakes from his slumber and demands that the planet belongs to him and his species. With little to no backstory whatsoever, we simply end up not caring what his intentions are. We’ve seen it all before.

Also bearing a striking resemblance to Ivan Ooze, this Apocalypse cheaply gains his Four Horsemen in a mere matter of moments, leaving no room for exposition for any mutant whose name isn’t Magneto. Once his Four Horsemen finally get into action, they’re treated like an afterthought.

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The Four Horsemen in the comics used to be a ruthless group of individuals, and these transformations used to have severe ramifications for some heroes. Angel’s transformation into Archangel, for instance, is an interesting plot point and provides a great dynamic for the team. In X-Men: Apocalypse however, Archangel is essentially a mutant with no real impact or character. Oh, he drinks a lot? Better make him evil.

As a whole, the film essentially suffers from its wafer-thin plot, which relies too heavily on just a small handful of blasé characters. It is unforgivable that Jubilee appears for such a short amount of time, whereas Jennifer Lawrence manages to phone it in as Mystique for the majority of the film.

Looking back at the X-Men franchise, Fox’s handling of Mystique has progressively worsened as the films have been released. For a mutant that was once proud in showing her true identity, it’s a shame to see Mystique disguised as a normal homo-sapien throughout X-Men: Apocalypse.

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Jennifer Lawrence reportedly disliked the make-up process for Mystique, which explains some things, but it doesn’t excuse how lazy her acting is throughout the film, especially during the final act. The Oscar award-winning actress may have that star power to pull people in, but having her as the main focus in this new trilogy lessens the importance of others.

X-Men: Apocalypse pointlessly involves destruction on a massive scale, which would make even Zack Snyder blush. Thousands, if not millions of people die in the wanton destruction caused by Magneto and Apocalypse, but there’s absolutely no weight to it whatsoever. This poorly put together sequence has literally zero ramifications, and it involves some of the most average CGI seen in the genre today.

It’s at this very point in the film, where all care is thrown out of the window. Perhaps cinemagoers have been treated too well by Marvel Studios, but films such as Captain America: Civil War break free from the norm. They help transgress the superhero genre with new storylines and ambitious filmmaking, whereas X-Men: Apocalypse copies the same old formula which has been dished out for 16 long years. Nothing’s new and remarkable here, and that’s why it fails.

We’re at this point now where the superhero film as a whole either fades away or evolves into something else. Marvel Studios have arguably accomplished this transformation by allowing their films to encroach upon other genres, but other films such as Batman vs. Superman and X-Men: Apocalypse do no favours by becoming pure box-office garbage.

Perhaps it is time for Fox to find new blood because Singer has yet to really push the X-Men into the right direction. Deadpool easily managed to find the right balance of action and humour, and it even featured a nice X-Men uniform. Here, the boring and bland leather outfits make yet another appearance, and it’s a telling sign that it’s time to move on.

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However, despite these criticisms, it isn’t the worst entry in the franchise so far, but it’s certainly not far off. There are some great little moments during the film, such as Quicksilver’s phenomenal scene which is accompanied by Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams. There’s also one cameo that will appease some fans, but others may be put off it. Either way, it’s a nice inclusion to such a muddled film.

The potential is there in X-Men: Apocalypse, but it is squandered by too many inane decisions and lazy writing. The CGI is some of the worst seen in the franchise to date, and the horrible outfits need to go already. The new additions, such as Quicksilver, show that fresh ideas are desperately needed.

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Oddly enough, there’s a scene in the film where Jean Grey leaves the cinema with her friends, after watching Return of the Jedi. She remarks on how the third film in a trilogy is usually the worst, and despite this being a clear dig towards Brett Ratner’s abysmal X3, Bryan Singer should probably realise that this is by far his worst entry to date.

Despite some strong additions to the film, such as Scott Summers and Jean Grey, X-Men: Apocalypse is a terribly average film. At a time where we should be expecting fresh and exciting filmmaking within the genre, we receive X-Men: Apocalypse instead. The news of yet another X-Men film set in the 90s should be exciting, but quite frankly, it now isn’t.

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.

Kingsman: The Secret Service – Review

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Kingsman: The Secret Service is Matthew Vaughn’s latest pairing with comic book writer Mark Millar, which tells the story of how one secret spy agency recruits a promising, yet troubled youth. Facing one of their deadliest threats yet, the organisation has to utilise its brains, gadgets and new recruits to save the world.

The film boasts a fine selection of actors, with some of the most recognisable British faces in cinema today: Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Michael Caine. Firth plays one of the more important roles in the film as Harry Heart, who sees potential in the newcomer ‘Eggsy’, played by Taron Egerton.

The director Matthew Vaughn has worked with writer Mark Millar in the past, having provided cinemagoers with the enjoyable superhero romp Kick-Ass. However, it is truly thanks to the talents of screenwriter Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, X-Men Days of Future Past), who manages to turn the source material into something really special.

Her script really succeeds in setting the film apart from other spy comedies – such as the abysmal Johnny English films – by injecting some unique comedy and allowing for some great character performances. Colin Firth for example, can no longer be considered a typecast actor. In Kingsman: The Secret Service, he is provided with a role that has impeccable comic timing, fisticuffs and the ability to use an umbrella like never before.

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For some, Samuel L. Jackson’s appearance in the movie might be unwelcome, but he perfectly fits into the role of the maniacal villain Valentine. His plot to change the world is slightly ridiculous, but it’s the typical modus operandi for a spy villain. The film realises how absurd the entire plot is though, and it unashamedly embraces it to full effect.

Hopefully the newcomer and charismatic Taron Egerton will be picked up some future roles. He’s a believable lead and he perfectly portrays the disparate youth of Britain today. Vaughn was able to get Daniel Craig noticed for the role of James Bond, so here’s hoping it works out for Egerton too. He is undoubtedly the breakout star of the film.

The director has often managed to push the boundaries of the certificates given to him, and Kingsman: The Secret Service is no exception to that. With the excessive use of body parts, explosions and an array of guns, it’s a wonder as to why the BBFC thought an 18-rating wasn’t necessary. Nonetheless, a 15-rating will surely (and hopefully) bring in more money.

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Matthew Vaughn has a keen eye for action, and it is displayed lavishly throughout the film. A few action sequences may not benefit from the editing and the camerawork, but the church sequence is a stand-out moment which will really surprise those who are fond of Mr Darcy. Vaughn brings in his trademark style for Kingsman: The Secret Service, and it’s a pure visual treat from start to finish.

It is a wonderful cocktail of James Bond 007 movies and comic violence, as it shakes up the genre for a wider audience, by allowing a certain degree of fun and charm. It is blissfully self-aware, hilarious and slick, therefore becoming Vaughn’s best piece of filmmaking to date.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a fantastic way to kick off 2015, and it yet again proves that British filmmakers are the best at what they do. It is definitely worth the ticket price, and then some.