Director: Mike Mitchell
Starring: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Stephanie Beatriz, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Charlie Day, Jadon Sand, Brooklynn Prince, Maya Rudolph, Will Ferrell
Very few films have managed to capture the magic of imagination and creativity the way Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s The Lego Movie did. Wonderfully inventive in style and story, it defied any fears of it being a cynical exercise in product placement to surprise audiences and critics alike. After a couple of inferior spinoffs – The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Ninjago Movie – the franchise returns to its core narrative for The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part. But even with Lord and Miller returning as writers and producers, something of the spark of the original is unfortunately missing.
Everything is no longer awesome. In the five years since everyman Emmet (Chris Pratt) liberated Bricksburg from the tyrannical Lord Business (Will Ferrell), a series of attacks from alien Duplo monsters have seen it reduced to a Fury Road-style wasteland. Continue reading
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Rafe Spall, Daniella Pineda, Justice Smith, Isabella Sermon, Ted Levine, James Cromwell, Geraldine Chapman, Toby Jones, BD Wong, Jeff Goldblum
“Do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur?” The question, posed by Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth instalment in the Jurassic Park franchise, seems to be addressed as much to the audience as it is to her returning co-protagonist Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). For many, it takes our mind back twenty-five years, to that beautifully constructed moment in Jurassic Park. The camera tracking in on the stunned face of Alan Grant (Sam Neill) in the back seat of the jeep. He stands up, taking off his glasses, reaching down to turn the head of Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) so that she can see what he is seeing. Her mouth drops open. And then, as John Williams’ iconic score swells, we see it: a giant brachiosaur walking up the hill beside them, rising up on its hind legs to eat some leaves from the top of a tree. It was a cinematic moment that was as breathtakingly awe-inspiring for those sitting in the theatres watching as it was or the characters living it on screen. We had never seen anything like it before. The diminishing returns for the Jurassic Park franchise since that first film has been in large part due to the inability to recapture that moment and to replicate that audience experience. Continue reading
Directors: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Starring: Robert Downey Jr. Chris Hemsworth, Josh Brolin, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Benedict Wong, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Peter Dinklage, Idris Elba
With the incredible success of Black Panther, which is the year’s top grossing film by some margin and Marvel’s third highest grossing film ever, 2018 was already a winner for Marvel Studios before they had even played their trump card. Avengers: Infinity Wars is, by most any measure, one of the biggest movies in history. The film that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building to for a decade now, it is a crossover epic 18 films in the making, and promises to be the blockbuster movie event of the year.
When Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who has been missing from Earth since Avengers: Age of Ultron, comes crashing down into Doctor Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) Sanctum Sanctorum he brings with him an ominous warning. The titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) is gathering the infinity stones. These six gems forged in the big bang each control an elemental power and if he gets his hand on all six, and he already has three, he will become all powerful. His ultimate goal? Genocide on an unimaginable scale. Continue reading
Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Kurt Russell, Elizabeth Debicki, Sylvester Stallone
Guardians of the Galaxy was one of the most pleasant surprises to come out of Hollywood in years. James Gunn’s space opera brought some much needed freshness and joy to not only the comic book movie genre, but the blockbuster form more generally. It also benefited from the fact that no one saw it coming. Expectations were not high. This same is not a luxury that is enjoyed by the sequel. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has a lot to live up to.
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamorah (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) are on the run from a race of ethereal, golden beings known as the Sovereign after Rocket stole some of the precious batteries that they had paid the Guardians to protect. Despite having been together for some time now, the team doesn’t seem to get along any better and there are clear tensions and rivalries on display. Continue reading
Director: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen
Jon Spaiht’s screenplay Passengers, a science fiction romance about two people alone on a long space journey, had been around the traps for a decade having appeared on the Black List (an industry survey of the top unproduced screenplays) way back in 2007. But once they added two of the hottest stars on the planet in Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, and an Oscar nominated director in Morten Tyldum, coming off his success with The Imitation Game, it wasn’t going to stay unproduced for much longer.
The Starship Avalon is 30 years into its 120 year journey transporting 5,000 hibernating migrants to the colony world of Homestead II when a technical glitch causes passenger Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) to wake way too early. With all the other passengers and crew asleep, and no way of putting himself back into hibernation, Jim is faced with the prospect of spending the rest of his life on this intergalactic cruise ship with only Arthur the android bartender (Michael Sheen) as company. Continue reading
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan, Omar Sy, Jake Johnson, Lauren Lapkus, Judy Greer
There is good news and bad news with Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World. The good news is that it is the best Jurassic Park movie since Steven Spielberg’s original, the blockbuster sensation that ushered in a new world of digital effects on its way to becoming the highest grossing film of all time. The bad news is that saying a film is better than The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3 is not saying a lot.
In Jurassic World we see the vision of Jurassic Park realised: a fully functioning theme park and resort island where twenty thousand visitors a day come to see genetically engineered living dinosaurs. It is SeaWorld on steroids. But the park has been open for a while now, and numbers are starting to plateau. As operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) explains. “People aren’t wowed by dinosaurs anymore. Twenty years ago, de-extinction was up there with magic. Now kids look at a stegosaurus like it’s an elephant at the zoo.” So in order to keep the crowds coming, Jurassic World’s team of scientists have moved into a new frontier of genetic innovation. Continue reading
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
Wes Anderson has for two decades now been the most distinctive cinematic voice in America, and this 1930s-style caper film is the most complete realisation yet of his aesthetic. Anderson first-timer Ralph Fiennes is not known for comedy, but he is tremendous here in leading an all-star cast. In a time when so many comedies are built around rambling improvisation it, there is something really striking about the meticulously crafted nature of The Grand Budapest Hotel. With a Russian Doll structure, the film is beautifully designed and precisely shot. A real treasure.
2. Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)
Irish director John Michael McDonagh managed to one-up his brilliant debut feature, The Guard, with this poignant, powerful and yet still very funny film about a rural Irish priest who receives a death threat in the confessional. What starts as a black comedy transitions into a quite profound modern passion play, with Brendan Gleeson delivering what is for mine the year’s best performance as Father James Lavelle, a good man who must bear the sins of the institution that he represents, an institutation that has failed both the wider community and himself.
3. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
Where so often movies about music focus on passion, soul, creativity and love for the art, Damien Chazelle’s debut feature chooses to explore the determination, single-minded obsession and dangerous perfectionism that goes into the pursuit of greatness. This emotionally and psychologically brutal film features a powerful and controversial depiction of the student mentor relationship as a determined young drummer is brought to the brink by a borderline psychotic conductor. JK Simmons is surely a short price favourite to walk away with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar early next year.
4. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
There has never been a film quite like Boyhood. Writer-director Richard Linklater shot the film over a twelve year period, following the same boy (Ellar Coltrane) as he grew from a six year old into a young adult. Incredibly ambitious and effectively executed, the film manages to not only explore the evolving family dynamic as this family grows up together, but also to navigate the cultural and political changes the world experienced over the twelve years of production. Managing to be at the same time epic in scope and incredibly intimate, Boyhood is a truly unique cinematic experience.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn)
How hot are Marvel Studios right now? In what looked like a questionable step following the success of The Avengers, they announced they would be bringing a minor comic book about a motley crew of space adventurers that includes, among others, a talking raccoon and a walking tree, and they have turned it into the most exciting, fun and fresh blockbuster in decades. Rather than repeating the formula of The Avengers, James Gunn has gave Guardians of the Galaxy a completely different style and tone. This 1980s style sci-fi adventure is Marvel’s funniest film and has made a legitimate movie star out of Christ Pratt.
While it lacked the mainstream potential of True Grit and No Country for Old Men, Inside Llewyn Davis saw the Coen brothers in top form. This character study of a neurotic, arrogant but undeniably talented folk musician offered significant insight into the mind of an artist while poking gentle fun at the earnestness of the Greenwich Village folk music scene. Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography is stunning, with its muted colour palate of greys, greens and browns making the film feel almost black-and-white. The soundtrack, arranged by T-Bone Burnett is outstanding.
7. Locke (Steven Knight)
One man in a car making phone calls. Who’d have thought that could be the basis of the year’s best thriller? Steven Knight’s variation on the one-man play breaks with formula and bravely rethinks how to tell a story on screen. Carried by a compelling performance from Tom Hardy – one of the few actors in the world who can carry a film on their own for ninety minutes – this minimalist piece of filmmaking reimagines the very nature of what is cinematic.
8) Chef (John Favreau)
Jon Favreau got back to his indie roots in 2014 with his passion project Chef, the food porn film of the year. With its simple story, Chef is a completely endearing celebration of food, cooking, creativity, passion and family, with many critics seeing more than a hint of autobiography in chef Casper’s quest to rediscover his creative spark. Vibrant and alive with the Cuban inspired flavours of the food and the music, Chef is a joyous film and not to be seen on an empty stomach.
9) What We Do in the Shadows (Jermaine Clement & Taika Waititi)
With What We Do in the Shadows Kiwi duo Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement take a subject matter, vampires, with which popular culture is teetering on the edge of overload, and a form, the mockumentary, that is every bit as tired and combine them to create a vibrant, original and downright funny movie. Juxtaposing the extraordinary with the mundane, the film follows a trio of vampire flatmates living in Wellington. The New Zealand sense of humour brings a slightly different sensibility to the film than we’d get from an American or British equivalent.
This year saw two films in which Scarlett Johansson got a bit cerebral. While Lucy was among the year’s worst films, Under the Skin was among its best. This odd film sees Johansson driving around Glasgow and the Scottish highlands, picking up men and then… well it’s best not to give away too much. A most peculiar and entrancing film, when you get to the end of Under the Skin you won’t quite know what you’ve seen but you’ll know you’ve seen something.
The Next Best (alphabetical): The Dark Horse (James Napier Robertson), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves), Frozen (Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee), The Lego Movie (Phil Lord & Christopher Miller), Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy), The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)
The Worst Movie of the Year:
I, Frankenstein (Stuart Beattie)
200 years after being brought to life, Frankenstein’s monster finds himself in the middle of an ongoing war between demons and gargoyles for… You know what? It’s not worth going on. This diabolical film which recasts Frankenstein’s monster as an action hero is utter nonsense and would have Mary Shelley rolling in her grave.
by Duncan McLean
What were your best and worst films of the year? Post in the comments section and let us know.