Right, so that’s the worst of the worst out of the way – now it’s time to count down our absolute favourite films of the year! The positivity begins with…
15 – NIGHTCRAWLER
Presenting itself as the modern-day mix of Taxi Driver and Network, writer-director Dan Gilroy’s debut feature is a harrowing mirror of our everyday obsession with media and the disturbing lengths some will go to get all the details on camera.
At the centre of it all is Jake Gyllenhaal’s extraordinary and transformative performance as Lou Bloom, the psychopathic skeleton of a man (seriously, the actor’s severe weight loss is insane) who just wants to live out the American dream in whatever manner he chooses to take. It’s down to his endlessly watchable portrayal as well as the disturbing and satirical take on the media industry that makes this a thriller that truly sticks in your mind long after you watch it.
With any luck, Nightcrawler is going to grow to cult film status like Taxi Driver and Drive before it, and we already have the feeling it’s going to be around for a while…
14 – PRIDE
Coming almost out of nowhere in the midst of a quiet September, this delightful British comedy is a perfect example of the crowd-pleaser done right.
Taking on a topical part of 20th century history – the miner’s strike of the mid-80s – as well as looking at the prejudiced attitude towards homosexuality back then, it tells the miraculous story of two communities, shunned by society, coming together to show the world that friendship and loyalty can get you further than you can possibly imagine. The characters are written well enough to ensure repeat viewings, as well; they’re funny, likable and deviating as far from stereotype as they can go.
Guaranteed to bring a smile to anyone’s face, it’s a comedy that deserves its place alongside Billy Elliott and The Full Monty as some of the best British films about the era, and rings as one of the year’s most cheerful…
13 – THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 1
Not even the likes of Katniss Everdeen could save the Hunger Games film series from the divisive “two-parter” syndrome, the same diagnosis that Harry Potter and Twilight found themselves with – but as a first part to a super-sized finale, based on the third and final of Suzanne Collins’ book trilogy, it proved to still be rich with the social commentary and political satire that the series was always best at.
Keeping its feet firmly on the ground with a much more political focus than the previous films, it posed fascinating questions about how the media should be used as a propaganda tool on either side of the argument. We see the damaging effects it has on Katniss as the threat becomes ever greater – look out for the grim shots of skeletons spread across the ruined remains of District 12 – and the cliffhanger it leaves us on suggests that it’s all going to even darker places come next year’s concluding second part. We honestly can’t wait.
Oh, and Jennifer Lawrence making it into the music charts with her “Hanging Tree” song? That’s gotta be an achievement all on its own…
12 – DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
After the 2011 reboot breathed new life into the popular Planet of the Apes franchise, its sequel never wastes a second of it.
Andy Serkis leads the charge once more as his glorious mo-cap creation Caesar in a film that has more ambition, more drama and a stronger narrative than Rise or perhaps any past Apes film. New director Matt Reeves – taking over from Rise’s Rupert Wyatt – turns out to have a great eye for crowd-pleasing storytelling, whether it’s invoking subtle historical reflections (the USSR Powerstruggle between Stalin and Trotsky, anyone?) or just giving us what we action-starved movie-goers want (enter an ape riding on horseback wielding two machine guns).
Though the human cast turns out to be less engaging than their furry co-stars (despite the inclusion of Gary Oldman), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a triumphant continuation of the story that satisfies from both a dramatic and action-heavy perspective.
These are no longer the “damn dirty apes” we remember…
11 – PADDINGTON
Speaking of furry CG creations, the first feature film based on Michael Bond’s most famous creation overcame pre-release worries – the dropping-out of original voice Colin Firth, that unfortunate #CreepyPaddington internet meme and so on – to charm the socks off the nation.
Hugh Bonneville leads the wonderful cast of likable characters that writer-director Paul King has created for the screen, with all of them feeling so real and relatable despite the presence of a talking, marmalade-eating bear. The humour is spot-on British, and its more dramatic and heart-felt moments are up there with Pixar’s strongest. As for the bear himself, now voiced by Ben Whishaw, he is a marvellous creation thanks to the visual effects team at Framestore and the youthful, winning new voice by Ben Whishaw.
Of all the family films this year, it’s certainly one of the warmest and easiest to embrace; and with any luck it will become a new family favourite in the years to come. Best viewed when equipped with marmalade sandwiches…