The top 10 of the year begins its countdown now, so be on the lookout to see which of your favourites may or may not have made the cut…
10 – PRISONERS
Coming almost out of nowhere to wow audiences and critics alike, Denis Villeneuve’s dark and grim thriller exceeded nearly all expectations.
Its child-kidnap storyline gives way for some of the most suspenseful build-up all year, but it stays far away from diving into most of the usual clichés. The search for the truth not only threatens to corrupt even the most decent of people but moulds them to come out possibly more vile than the perpetrators themselves.
Villeneuve’s direction is spot-on and Roger Deakins’ beautiful cinematography lends a poetic eye to the story, but its ensemble cast – in particular Hugh Jackman and Paul Dano – are the real highlights, all delivering career-bests with their unapologetically grim performances.
Though it looks like it will be mostly overlooked during awards season, Prisoners should still stand as being the Best Thriller of the Year…
9 – RUSH
Easily the most impressive film about Formula 1 racing since Senna, Ron Howard’s action-drama hits all the right crowd-pleasing notes while also creating a deep, complex rivalry story for analysts to go to town with.
The racing scenes themselves are impressively made, from Howard’s adrenalin-fuelled direction to cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle’s breath-taking camera work, but the real heart of the story is the close look at the individual lives and relationships between drivers James Hunt (a cocksure but fun Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl, in an unbelievable breakthrough performance).
Both men are at polar opposites and do not always come out as likable as we would hope, but the film is clever enough to focus on each driver fairly and give us a fair examination as to what makes these men tick. And as we discover how intelligent and dedicated they both are, the more similar they surprisingly turn out to be. The respect they also seem to give each other, despite their antagonistic feelings toward one another, is also a great reminder that they are human first and competitive racers second.
It’s this sort of complexity and intelligence, also thanks to a witty and sophisticated screenplay by Peter Morgan, that awards Rush a #9 spot on this list, as well as the title of Best Sports Film of the Year…
8 – PACIFIC RIM
Say whatever you want about a big, dumb, CG-heavy summer blockbuster featuring giant robots fighting giant monsters, but just remember that Guillermo Del Toro’s latest on-screen outing is anything but just that.
Yes, those numerous action scenes do look amazing, with the CGI and designs of the “Kaiju” creatures being especially outstanding, but what’s even more shocking is that the story, characters and everything else is just as strong if not more so.
The world that Del Toro and co-writer Travis Beacham have created is extremely interesting, hinting at what we would really do when faced with this kind of situation; the storyline is relatively easy to follow, never getting too complicated; it features characters that you actually really like and want to see get out in one piece (even the comic relief pairing of Charlie Day and Burn Gorman is tolerable AND actually serves a purpose!); and as ever, the way each and every piece of set design is presented to the audience is both stunning and a work of art.
Pacific Rim is the film that the Transformers movies should have been like, and let’s hope Michael Bay at least uses it as a better influence for his future instalments because it really is the Second-Best Blockbuster of the Year…
7 – PHILOMENA
Steve Coogan makes his second appearance on this list with a wonderful little film he not only co-starred in, but also co-wrote with Jeff Pope.
Though Philomena is undoubtedly Judi Dench’s show in front of the camera – and rightfully so, she’s astonishingly good – Coogan also manages to hold his own in an understated supporting role which allows his inner talents for drama to come out and shine. It’s not all “A-ha!”s and “Jurassic Park!”s with Mr. Coogan.
His and Pope’s screenplay, brought to life by director Stephen Frears, is simple but powerful with each and every new twist in the search for Dench’s long-lost son getting more and more interesting and fascinating. It raises intimate questions about the morals of extreme Catholicism and homophobia in the American political system, but doesn’t entirely paint them as horned devils (ironically, with the Catholics); their perspectives are addressed and brought forward for reason. We might not necessarily agree with them, but at least we have some understanding of why they did what they did.
Philomena is a light-hearted British drama that peers into darker territory without patronising its audience, giving it enough balls to warrant the title of Best Crowd-Pleaser of the Year…
6 – THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE
It might seem a little immature to label the Hunger Games adaptations as the new Star Wars in terms of financial success and audience approval, but its second film is already starting to draw comparisons with The Empire Strikes Back – and they’re not wrong.
While some have pointed out that it is a near-identical retread of its predecessor, and that does remain true for most of the second half, it still introduces exciting new twists to keep us enthralled as well as new characters that we eventually grow to like – especially Jena Malone and Sam Claflin – almost as much as the returning ones. Speaking of which, Jennifer Lawrence continues to enthral as Katniss Everdeen, creating one of the most influential characters of recent memory. Everyone else, from Josh Hutcherson to the scheming Donald Sutherland, are also on top form as their respective returning characters.
It is also a triumph for director Francis Lawrence and writers Michael Arndt and Simon Beaufoy, who continue to build the world already introduced in Gary Ross’ first film and expand on the satirical themes of totalitarianism, celebrity, power and reality TV, often to exciting heights.
Those who have seen the film – and seeing how it’s at almost $750 million worldwide, who hasn’t? – will know that it’s the closing moments where the film suddenly becomes comparable to The Empire Strikes Back (though no parentage reveals in this one!), but everything else leading up to that point is just as strong and makes The Hunger Games: Catching Fire the Best Blockbuster of the Year…