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Top 10 Films of 2014

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Just a quick update before we get started. I’ll have my Oscar predictions and results from the latest Vote! segment out this week, so make sure to get your votes in before it closes. Additionally, hopefully, my review of “Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter,” a film I greatly adore, will be published before week’s end. Now let’s get going…

25: The Raid 2: Berandal (Gareth Evans)
24: Snowpiercer (Joon-Ho Bong)
23: Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller)
22: The Trip to Italy (MIchael Winterbottom)
21: Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)

20: The Rover (David Michod)
19: I Origins (Mike Cahill)
18: Frank (Lenny Abrahamson)
17: The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum)
16: Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)

15: Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
14: The Drop (Michael R. Roskam)
13: Nymphomaniac (Lars Von Trier)
12: Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer), A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour)
11: Birdman (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)

10: Starred Up (David Mackenzie)/(’71, Yann Demange, 2015?)

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Are we going with 2014 or 2015 for “’71?” It’s rather comical that up-and-coming super-stud Jack O’Connell had three films screen this year, the worst of which received the widest release. “Starred Up” is a hard-hitting prison drama that’s lifted to towering heights by the performances of O’Connell and co-star Ben Mendelsohn. Swapping the more traditional, cringe-worthy visual aspects of the unflinching prison sub-genre (not all) for impenetrable dialogue and a vast array of relationships teetering on the brink, “Starred Up” will fill you with insight before knocking a few teeth down your throat.

9: Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy) / Enemy (Dennis Villenueve)

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Very few have had quite as stellar a year as Jake Gyllenhaal in 2014, which is why I couldn’t help but rank this remarkable double-feature inside my top 10. This double-dose of Gyllenhaal showcases the actor’s staggering, at times terrifying range. It’s mind-blowing that Gyllenhaal didn’t garner an Oscar nomination for either of these two fantastic performances, but I digress.

8: The Guest (Adam Wingard)

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Containing easily the best soundtrack any film of 2014 had to offer, “The Guest” sees dynamic duo Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett reach new cult status. With incredibly charismatic performances from Dan Stevens and Maika Monroe, in addition to non-stop action “The Guest” is endlessly entertaining!

7: Locke (Steven Knight)

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Looked upon as a reliable, strong-minded scribe with a plethora of solid screenplays to his name, including the creation of “Peaky Blinders,” a personal television favourite of mine. Prior to 2014’s “Locke,” Steven Knight hadn’t much to brag about from behind the camera, but that quickly and assertively changed. Led by a phenomenal performance from occasional Knight collaborator Tom Hardy, “Locke” is a magnificent spectacle of the human experience.

6: A Most Violent Year (J. C. Chandor)

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This is the second consecutive year-end “best of” list J. C. Chandor has cracked for me, personally (All Is Lost, 2013). Much like last year’s film “All Is Lost,” “A Most Violent Year” didn’t get much love come award season, but once again that didn’t discourage my ranking it inside the top 10. With formidable performances from its entire cast, including Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac, and Albert Brooks, a subtle, yet immensely powerful story, gloomy atmosphere, and the sure-handed direction from Chandor, “A Most Violent Year” is a must-see to any who missed it.

5: Force Majeure (Ruben Ostlund)

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As I’m sure most of you are aware, comedy cinema doesn’t sit too well with me. Which should only speak volumes in regards to “Force Majeure’s” placement on this list. Providing the laughs, abundantly, and a rock-solid story that’s never as easy to watch as its breezy demeanour would insist, “Force Majeure’s” Oscar snub is almost as unforgivable as the absence of “Mommy” in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

4: Gone Girl (David Fincher)

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To say that I adore David Fincher and his very impressive resume would be a massive understatement. “Gone Girl,” although not the illustrious filmmakers best work to date, certainly has a place amongst the top of his efforts. Further cementing Ben Affleck as a force to be reckoned with both on and off screen and earning Rosamund Pike an Oscar nomination, deservedly so I might add, “Gone Girl” mixes all the potent Fincher facets into one hell of a morbid cocktail.

3: Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

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The odds-on favourite to take home “best foreign language film” at this year’s Academy Awards, “Leviathan” is an aptly titled juggernaut. Breathtaking visuals, impressive performances, and an unfathomable socio-political complexity are just a few tangents of what makes “Leviathan” triumphant.

2: Mommy (Xavier Dolan)

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Directed and written by home-grown Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan, “Mommy” catapults the young filmmaker to the relative peak of my top 10. I’d feel very unpatriotic leaving Dolan’s latest off this list, but rest-assured he earned this spot. “Mommy” is brutal, unforgiving, whilst conversely evoking the most genuine and rooted responses of the emotional spectrum. Performed with the utmost investment by the entire ensemble, “Mommy” is one foreign language film you won’t want to miss.

1: Interstellar (Christopher Nolan)

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It doesn’t exactly bode well for the credibility of Nolan’s latest topping this list, seeing as I could be considered the leader of Nolan’s group of so-called “Fanboys,” but I can’t stress “Interstellar’s” greatness enough. You’ve either seen this film by now and loved it or hated it. I fail to see the middle ground and apparently so does everyone else. With monumental visuals, a complex, out-of-this-world premise that simultaneously showcases the down-to-earth emotionality and intellectual reach of the human race. “Interstellar” will leave you in awe and down-right flabbergasted. Thankfully, this film offers much post-viewing reading that should solve any issues or curiosity.

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What did you think of my list? Have a list of your own? Let me know in the comment section below!

 

The Raid 2 (2014)

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I’m sure you’re all familiar with the old adage regarding the breathing of new life into an existing concept. For those of you who this maxim escapes, it essentially states that someone or something has successfully revitalized, imbued, or revolutionized what had universally become the standard. I decided to clarify this aphorism immediately seeing as it is excruciatingly similar to what Gareth Evans has done to action cinema with his past success “The Raid” and his latest, unfathomable triumph, “The Raid 2.” Yes, Evans’ incomparable genius removed any footing the rapidly deteriorating genre stood upon. And as if that wasn’t enough, once he quite handily did away with the infuriatingly brainless and bombastic abomination the once beloved action genre became, Evans, with “The Raid 2” persisted to choke, beat, and mutilate his way to superseding his own previous best in a cyclic manner, as if to taunt any challenging newcomers, to make it painfully clear that the best is yet to come…

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PLOT:

Approximately two hours after the first film ends, Rama goes undercover and infiltrates the ranks of a ruthless Jakarta crime syndicate in order to protect his family and to uncover the corruption in his own police force.

As impressively choreographed and executed Evans sophomore effort may be, his follow up “The Raid 2” is a masterful expedition into extreme hand-to-hand combat and ultra-savagery. With brutal, occasionally disturbing violence and a limitless supply of unbelievably detailed gore, the slaughter throughout “The Raid 2” is mercilessly relentless and joyfully excessive. And while there’s no doubt that Evans’ latest will leave viewers exhilarated and gleefully gasping for air by the time it’s concluded, there are a few scenes that might force even the toughest SOB to cringe and gag. Yes, a steel baseball bat lodged in between a man’s jaw or the continuous burning of a man’s face on a fully-heated grill is but a sample of the viciousness that awaits you in “The Raid 2.” Granted, beautifully sadistic scenes such as those mentioned don’t occur all too frequently, but it is something that you’ll need to prepare for.

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Clocking in at a daunting one hundred and fifty minutes, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if fanboys of “The Raid,” which finished around the one hundred and five minute mark, would be a little too frightened by its sequel’s massive runtime to undertake it. With this new allotment of time, Evans has expanded on the original story and list of characters, making for a much more fluent, intricate, captivating experience, one that isn’t simply just run-and-gun. It sets it’s primary focus on an intense, intelligent, ruthless crime-family drama, causing stimulation to not only occur physically, but mentally as well. That being said, “The Raid 2” does tend to drag occasionally, but when compared to the film’s immense list of successes, any complaint about slight mistakes or the story’s encompassing complexity is easily forgotten.

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“The Raid 2” strays from the simple, easy to follow narrative that, in my opinion, hampered its predecessor, if only slightly. While this monstrously entertaining sequel does rely heavily on its action sequences to drive it forward, it provides enough substance for viewers to sink their teeth into. Allowing characters to become more three-dimensional and each scene to build and progress on the former, ultimately resulting in every new segment trumping the previous. For example, the violence and gore continuously ascends, becoming more deplorable, complex, and immeasurable, eventually reaching the crescendo. A tactic that will have you picking your jaw up off the floor. Additionally, the musical accompaniment throughout the film is something supremely identifiable. So much so that you’ll be confused as to what exactly got your heart racing, the action or the music.

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Now, if there’s one thing that “The Raid” series isn’t known for, it has to be acting. Granted, Evans has expanded the emotional range needed to partake in his action series juggernaut and the change is quite noticeable. Our antihero portrayed by the immensely talented Iko Uwais has several scenes in which he must display an array of varying emotions, albeit a restricted spectrum. Yet, the addition of a more emotional diverse and demanding story creates its own paradox. The level of talent needed to convey effectively what Evans is hoping to achieve with this intricate mafioso thriller is much higher than his typical cast can provide. So really, in order to complete this change, one would need to concede some action for substance, a sacrifice I don’t think Evans or fans are willing to make. Nevertheless, the attempt is admirable to say the least. That being said, if you’re going to see “The Raid 2” for its acting, it’s probably best you don’t see it at all.

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For a film with an unbelievable sense of chaos, “The Raid 2” is surprisingly, yet certainly a controlled burn. Bursting with eye-popping action sequences, a respectable story, and stomach-churning visuals, Evans latest is a cinematic feast that all may not be able to enjoy, but at the very least revere. And since it is an action film, a genre in which I don’t usually get along with, I’m giving “The Raid 2” bonus points for being, quite possibly the greatest action film I’ve ever seen.

The Raid 2: 9.5 out of 10.

 

V/H/S 2 (2013)

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It has become quite the rarity when a sequel contains staying-power that dominates its forerunner in every facet. Nevertheless, evoking more chills and thrills, “V/H/S 2” is a masterful upgrade from its predecessor. Taking our criticisms regarding last years unbalanced indie hit “V/H/S”to heart. “V/H/S 2” cut down its runtime and has fewer segments. Evidently, this slowly blooming horror anthology franchise has learned that less is more. Not only evolving, “V/H/S 2” has matured, interweaving its vignettes with precision and taste. As well as improving on the variety, these snapshots touch upon more sub-genres and turn its attention to appeasing die-hard enthusiasts. Surprisingly, a couple of these shorts have the capability to be full-length features. Filling up the buckets with gore and keeping its viewers hearts racing. “V/H/S 2” is a sequel that works in ways its ancestor could only have nightmares about.

The frame narrative is entitled “Tape 49” and follows two private investigators who are sent to uncover the mystery surrounding the disappearance of a young male student. The segment was created by Simon Barrett.

PHASE I CLINICAL TRIALS: (Adam Wingard), 7 out of 10.

A man sitting in a doctor’s office is having his eye examined. When he pulls a mirror up to his face, we see that instead of his eye, there is a prosthetic replacement. This fake eye is equipped with a camera for research purposes. Informed that it will take some time getting used to, the man returns home and soon begins experiencing weird occurrences.

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A RIDE IN THE PARK: (Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale), 7.5 out of 10.

A man straps a camera to his helmet and has a brief conversation with his fiancee before heading out on a bike path. Soon, the man stumbles upon a woman who jumped out of a bush covered in blood and lacerations. Screaming over her boyfriend, the man assists the woman until she begins to attack him by clawing and biting at his flesh. The man eventually pushes her away and makes an escape and calls for assistance himself.

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SAFE HAVEN: (Gareth Evans), 9 out of 10.

A news crew goes into an Indonesian cult to report on what happens behind its closed doors. Filmed entirely by the camera crew or hidden cameras from inside the compound. The crew eventually persuade the leader of the cult to do an interview. When the camera crew begins to experience equipment problems, the seemingly docile cult members turn suspicious.

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SLUMBER PARTY ALIEN ABDUCTION: (Jason Eisener), 8.5 out of 10.

A group of young teenagers are making silly videos with a camera strapped to their dog. After one of the boys parents leave, the group of friends decide to have a sleepover and begin pranking the boy’s older sister. Soon, this strange, defining sound shakes the house and members of the group start disappearing.

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Astoundingly, “V/H/S 2” has managed to find the human element that its former was considerably lacking. Now, one can’t help but wonder about the limitless potential this franchise carries, provided of course that the growth continues. “V/H/S 2” profits, predictably albeit from an increase in showmanship and stage-value. While 2012s “V/H/S” stayed truer to the premise than its successor. As the series improves, the more we are willing to let slide in order to witness better, more complete segments. For this sequel, the filmmakers produced more complex, empathetic shorts that never substitute effectiveness for sensibility. These filmmakers give the audience credit. Each one of the snapshots is equally terrifying, sympathetic, and intelligent. Nevertheless, for fanboys such as myself, what truly makes “V/H/S 2” a worthy successor and in every facet better than its predecessor, is its ability to push the boundaries of normalcy to see what we can tolerate. Give respect, and receive it back.

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“V/H/S 2” really comes into its own, fully realizes its capabilities and premise. The ability to hone in on situations and circumstances that allow each short to maximize the terror, ingenuity, and emotion that “V/H/S” was critically missing benefits “V/H/S 2” substantially. Each segment allows the viewer to somewhat place themselves in the scenario and feel it play out as if it could theoretically happen to them. Of course, what sends these shorts over the top is this supernatural, murderous extravagance that we all fear deeply. And the ability to cower under this trepidation as a serious threat really pushes the envelope, ultimately allowing for a more involved, horrifying experience. In the end, “V/H/S 2” is exceeds its predecessor in every aspect of the word and will undoubtedly for this franchise to continue forward.

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V/H/S 2: 8 out of 10.

The Raid: Redemption (2011)

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Seizing what it has to offer instead of overcompensating and confusing the plot, which is done all too often these days. The Raid: Redemption might be brainless action, but it accomplishes what it sets out to achieve and more. It’s impeccably and incredible choreographed violence is paced and ascending. Leading to a slowly burning, blood soaked finale that will leave you craving seconds. Blindly proceeding forward with its strong foot leading. The foundation, the story, is actually quite intriguing. Characters divided by morals but connected by roots, criss crossing in and out of compassion and resentment. The Raid: Redemption’s cast is thrown to indecision and seemingly cross the line between fiction and reality in their performances. Directed by Gareth Evans, who is putting his talent to good use following up The Raid by contributing to the popular horror anthology V/H/S’s sequel, V/H/S 2. With The Raid: Redemption, what you see is what you get, no mirage, which is an oddity these days.

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In Indonesia, an apartment building is the base for a cruel, criminal drug lord named Tama and his gang. One morning, Lieutenant Wahyu and Sergeant Jaka prepare their special forces team that includes Rama, a rookie and expectant father to raid the safe house. Tama and his gang manage to take out the majority of the special unit. Tama proceeds to announce over the PA system that the remaining members of the team are trapped on the sixth floor and whoever takes them out will be granted free, permanent residence. Now having to deal with Mad Dog, and Andi, Tama’s top henchmen, the rest of the gang, and building patrons, the team wholeheartedly fights back to take control of the building and destroy the gang.

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Upon viewing The Raid, you’ll get the feeling that you’re trailing behind the SWAT team watching everything unfold, it’s beyond exhilarating. Evans and crew did a lot of things right, but knew to do one thing better than the rest, and that is when to show something and knowing when not to. For example, you might feel deprived of unnecessary violence when near the beginning someone is murdered with an axe and nothing is visible. Be warned, what you’re asking for is brutality and gore. With The Raid: Redemption, you are rewarded for your bloodthirsty insanity, you just might have to wait a bit longer and work a bit harder. There is no masking of the simplicity or camouflaging what it lacks. The Raid: Redemption is an emotional tale that doesn’t need you to over think. Sit down, relax, enjoy the excessive carnage and the destructiveness of its ferocity.

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The Raid: Redemption: 8.5 out of 10.