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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!

 

Snowpiercer (2014)

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Much like the train we inhabit for Bong Joon-Ho’s English language directorial debut, the direction in which “Snowpiercer” travels is determined, but at its core, the journey is one that has no control. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that the trip isn’t one hell of a ride. Brilliantly choreographed and unrelenting action highlights this resplendent visual feast that has the brains to match, for the most part. With brutal violence and an array of contrasting, stimulating colours, one can’t help but push the chaos and in-your-face obviousness of “Snowpiercer” to the back burner and just enjoy the trek.

Bong Joon-Ho has been and continues to be a filmmaker whom I admire and look to for inspiration. The director of numerous triumphs such as true-crime thriller “Memories of Murder,” modern monster masterpiece “The Host,” and psychological drama “Mother.” Bong Joon-Ho finally makes his much anticipated debut in English language cinema with “Snowpiercer,” much like his South Korean counterpart Chan Wook-Park did in 2013 with “Stoker.” This latest offering from Bong Joon-Ho features an all-star cast comprised of newcomers and veterans to Ho’s brand of film. Chris Evans, Kang-Ho Song, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, and John Hurt lead the way.

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In the not too distant future, humankind unleashes what is believed to be a chemical remedy to global warming into the atmosphere. When this experiment backfires and sends our planet into an unliveable state, the few who remain seek refuge on the ‘Snowpiercer.’ A train powered by a perpetual motion engine that circles the globe once every year. Designed by the prophetic Wilford, this train is the last livable place on Earth, running on the same, worldwide track for eternity.

On board the train, what remains of our population has descended in to madness and chaos. The rich, privileged first class passengers live in luxury and comfort at the front of the train, while the rest find home at the tail where food and space is sparse. In order to obtain better living conditions and equality, the tail section revolts in an attempt to take over the engine and overthrow the current status in which the train functions.

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Taking into account that “Snowpiercer” was an adaptation, the original format being a graphic novel. A lot of the film’s blatant depiction of its themes and cartoonish violence and characters is understandable. That being said, at its worst, “Snowpiercer” is a bewildering, over-stuffed allegory that really suffers from pacing problems. Which is kind of intriguing seeing as originally, Bong Joon-Ho was not given control over the final cut of the film. This changed rather quickly though with the outcry of infuriated fans, much like myself and Bong Joon-Ho once again took full control of his film. However, whether or not this is the truth or simply a gambit I find to be in question, seeing as the film itself feels as if there was a lot more character and story development left on the cutting room floor.

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On the flip side, for all of its faults, “Snowpiercer” is a visually entertaining and mentally challenging flick. And apart from a rather lacklustre climax, there isn’t a single moment in its just over two-hour run-time in which boredom will overtake you. While extremely violent, “Snowpiercer” is not excessively gory. It tries and at times succeeds in portraying compassion and brotherhood over war and never sells the evilness of humanity as our undoing.

In his transition, Bong Joon-Ho hasn’t lost any part of his infallible repertoire. If anything, “Snowpiercer” is his most ambitious, technically masterful film to date. As we progress through each car, we are treated to a completely different spectrum of colour ranging from achromatic to vibrant and picturesque. The battle sequences are captured with the utmost intensity and emotion and the characters never take a backseat to this visual spectacle. While undoubtedly not Bong Joon-Ho’s strongest outing, “Snowpiercer” will forever remain an achievement on his impressive resume.

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While I was, without question, rather anxiously excited awaiting Bong Joon-Ho’s next project, I didn’t become totally smitten until I heard that Kang-Ho Song would be co-starring. Having lead a few of my personal favourites: “Thirst,” “The Good, The Bad, The Weird,” “Memories of Murder,” and “The Host,” you can see why I was so ripe with anticipation. In “Snowpiercer,” Kang-Ho Song is as charismatic, intimidating, and darkly hilarious as ever. While the script didn’t really allow for his character to outstretch his wings, so to speak, there’s no denying that Song did everything he could to bring this mad, drug-addicted genius to life.

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Leading alongside Kang-Ho Song is Captain America himself, Chris Evans. Having previously been featured in such personal favourites as “The Iceman” and “Sunshine,” I was sure that alongside Song, Evans wouldn’t disappoint. Evans continues his ascent to stardom with another heartfelt, invested turn, this time as the leader of the tail section revolution with a dreary, ruthless past. One thing that has become very apparent as of late, and that “Snowpiercer” exemplifies, is that Evans has the ability to deal out heroic, blockbuster performances as well as dramatic stunners.

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In supporting roles, Swinton is nothing short of impeccable. Decisively devilish and so easy to hate, Swinton does a phenomenal job as an antagonist who’s death the viewer can easily enjoy. Jamie Bell continues to earn my respect and trust. After surprising performances in “Filth” and the recent “Nymphomaniac,” Bell’s performance in “Snowpiercer” is another I can sink my teeth into. Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, and Ed Harris are also worth noting here. While easily lost in the background, their brief moments on screen are strong enough to dazzle and provoke.

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While not the game-changer I was anticipating. “Snowpiercer” is still an impressive feat that all involved can be proud of. It’s as entertaining as any big-budgeted Hollywood action flick and much more rewarding. It’ll turn its fair share of casual filmgoers away with its bleak, disturbing, and violent content, but for those who can stand “Snowpiercer” at its most repugnant, this is one train ride they won’t soon forget.

Snowpiercer: 8 out of 10.

Top 10 Movie Monsters

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Whether you’re following vast, deep footprints through destruction and carnage, searching for a safe zone, or staring down a snarling, drooling, gargantuan beast face-to-face. Nothing beats the sheer adrenaline, fear, and conscientious clarity that comes with outrunning, out-thinking, and hopefully beating the best movie monsters. Sure, there will undoubtedly be casualties and the emergence of this immense life-form could possibly spell the end of civilization as we know it. But, in all honesty, how awesome would it be to take down one of these mothers? But I digress…

For the record, I am not including monsters based off of existing creatures. This means that “Jurassic Park,” “Jaws,” and “King Kong” will all be excluded from the list. However, this mention is somewhat of a shout-out to each films ability to create truly terrifying, malicious beasts out of prehistoric or current beings.

So, without further ado, let’s get into it!

 

10: “Super 8” alien life form (J.J Abrams, 2011). I know that a lot of you will disagree with this choice. I know the film might have been a bit to nostalgic or cliche for some, but I absolutely adore this J.J Abrams flick for precisely those reasons…oh, and the monster!

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9: “Ghostbusters” Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man (Ivan Reitman, 1984).  I know it’s a little wimpy, kind-of funny, but it is still a lot of fun and unnerving…down-right disturbing actually.

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8: “Monsters” alien life form (Gareth Edwards, 2010).  I know most of you won’t agree with this choice, most of you probably haven’t even seen the film. But it is low-budget, science-fiction brilliance and the aliens are just astounding and atmospheric.

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7: “Pacific Rim” Kaiju (Guillermo Del Toro, 2013).  I know it is a bit recent and that some didn’t enjoy the film. However, there is no denying the coolness of the Kaiju.

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6: “The Fly” Brundlefly (David Cronenberg, 1986). Okay, it may not be as monstrous or destructive as the other creatures on this list. Nonetheless, Brundlefly is quite possibly the most petrifying.

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5: “The Thing” (John Carpenter, 1982). I don’t really know what to say about this one. The Thing is a sick, twisted, malicious being that doesn’t stop until everyone and everything is dead.

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4: “Cloverfield” alien life form (Matt Reeves, 2008). The scene where one of the main protagonists is consumed by this foul being still haunts my dreams to this very day.

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3: “The Host” mutated amphibious life form (Joon-ho Bong, 2006). An outstanding monster flick that tackles more than its fair share of questionable subject matter. “The Host” has a misunderstood, agile monster at its centre, but make no mistake, it is badass.

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2: “Godzilla” I am not going to put a specific film or director on this one, seeing as the franchise continues to rejuvenate. This is the ultimate, timeless, gigantic monster. The only surprise here is that you all expected it to be at number 1.

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1: “Alien” franchise, Xenomorph. Hands down my all time favourite movie monster. The Xenomorph embodies everything a movie monster should be and so much more.

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Okay all, that’ll do it for this week’s edition of the top 10. I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed compiling it. As always, if you feel I’ve overlooked a monster or listed one that shouldn’t have been ranked, please comment below. Have a great weekend!

Mother (2009)

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Although somewhat far-fetched, “Mother” is an intriguing, violent, and unsettling thriller that never shies away from the darkness in life. Brilliantly depicting the foremost extent in which the protectiveness of kin reaches and how disconcerting and blind this shielding can be. “Mother” is in no way easy to watch. Granted, this film’s heavy, monstrous ferocity and unpleasantness is incredibly difficult to absorb, let alone grasp. Nonetheless, to deny its morals, heart, and appalling nature is to reject what evidently makes us human. However, do not mistake “Mother” as some sort of typical, excessively gory, and unnecessarily malicious film like most of the genre’s trash, it is nothing of the sorts. While “Mother” does deal with some horrific content, what makes it truly despicable, unnerving material is the subtle and unflinching way it is presented. Usually the most terrifying things aren’t something of substance and complexity, rather common and simple with a unique twist.

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Do-joon (Bin) lives in a small town in South Korea with his mother (Hye-ja). Do-joon is shy and slightly amiss and distant, however, he is prone to attack anyone who insults his intellect. One day, a girl is brutally murdered and evidence places Do-joon at the scene and the last one to see her alive. Upon being arrested and sentenced to serve jail-time, Do-joon’s mother is convinced her son didn’t commit the crime and sets out to prove his innocence using any means necessary.

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Co-written and directed by Joon-ho Bong, director of critically and universally acclaimed films such as giant monster flick “The Host” and detective thriller “Memories of Murder.” Bong will look to continue his rapid ascent to becoming one of the most revered and visionary filmmakers of our time with his first English-language film “Snowpiercer,” which is set for release sometime in 2013. Bong, utilizes facets that he has compiled over time and inducted into his repertoire so faultlessly. They compliment his style so vigorously that each one leads into the other in such a seamless transition, and “Mother” is no different. His intelligent, clever script is bursting with unbelievable tension, grounded characters, and unparalleled sequences of such honesty and relevance. Not to mention his work behind the camera has never been better. “Mother” is easily one of his best films and an argument could be made that it is his most complete and frightening work to date. “Mother” is an all around immaculate job by Joon-ho Bong.

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“Mother” is a film who’s success is heavily reliant, rather, judged on the performance of an individual. If this character is not portrayed infallibly, the entire picture falters. Luckily for Joon-ho Bong and company, they found the perfect lead in Hye-ja Kim. Her take on an over-protective, infinitely loving mother is remarkable to say the least. While there is a dark side to her, a method in her madness so to speak. Kim takes these traits and moulds them into tender, generous tendencies that, when compared to their disgusting, violent nurturing origin, are unrecognizable. Honestly, it is one of the best performances I’ve ever witnessed. As for her son, portrayed by Bin Won, who adds a swiftness and innocence to his characters unbalanced, mischievous ways. Provokes an avalanche of sympathy even though his mindset is corrupt. This is a testament to the power of his persuasive performance.

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“Mother” is undoubtedly a tough watch, but if you can muster the courage, it’s a valuable, repulsive ride. Joon-ho Bong really pushes the envelope with every sequence and never lets up. While there is a distinct balance between airy imagery, cringe-worthy violence, and psychologically disturbing scenes, they are unpredictable. One moment you gaze into a vast field with serenity in your eyes, the next you’re turning away at the sheer blunt and brutal force of “Mother’s” vicious, at times subtle ferociousness. To summarize, “Mother” is impeccably acted, directed with firm vision, and offers up a few laughs while being utterly nerve-shredding. Proceed with caution…

Mother: 8.5 out of 10.