I’ve started getting a few questions through to my emails from people asking me various questions (if you have a question, please email firstname.lastname@example.org) and one question was someone wondering what my favourite ten mainstream films were, and this got me thinking quite hard about it. Five of the films were automatic choices, I didn’t even have to think about them, but then I had trouble with the other five spots.
I had several provisional top 10s but then I would remember another film that I loved that weren’t included but I wanted to get in there somehow, so I then decided to take a different stance with it. Instead of just doing a top ten, I would figure out how many films I do actually love and then round up to the nearest five from there, so when I wrote down 18 films, I decided to simply go with a Top 20 and filled with 2 other films that I like.
So here it is, my Top 20, so to speak, although please note that the only order that these are sorted into is alphabetical order. I could have easily gone with a 20 to 1 approach, but then I would have encountered a similar issue that I had avoided by doing a top 20, so here it goes.
28 Days Later
Director : Danny Boyle
Cast : Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson and Christopher Eccleston
Coming out in November 2002, 28 Days Later became the first 18 Rated film (well, after I turned 18 anyway) that I saw at the cinemas and it scared the living crap out of me. In the years since it has obviously lost that scariness, but remains
28 Days Later follows Jim (Murphy) as he wakes up in a deserted London. He explores various areas of the city but there is not a soul to be seen before he enters a church. In there he sees hundreds of corpses. When he calls out to see if anyone is still alive, he is greeted by several people standing suddenly and glaring at him. Jim hears a distance door opening and someone running up a staircase, a priest bursts through the door and attacks Jim. Jim subdues the priest and runs away, only to then be relentlessly pursued by vicious attackers.
During one attack he is rescued by Selena (Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley). Selena reveals that there was a viral outbreak several weeks prior that caused anyone infected with it to become permanently enraged, and infection usually takes hold within seconds. Jim visits his parents to see if they are still alive, only to be greeted by their decomposing bodies. When nightfall comes he explores his old family homes, only for the infected to spot the candlelight and they break in. The trio eventually subdue the infected, but when Selena sees that Mark has a deep cut on his arm, she kills him with a machete, stating that although it wasn’t certain that he was infected, she could tell by his eyes that he knew.
Soon therefore they run into Frank (Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns), and together they decide to travel up to Manchester to the source of a signal promising safety from infection, the journey there is far from safe though and they almost die several times. When they arrive at the supposed location of safety they find nothing there. In anger Frank starts ranting and raving, only to become infected when a drop of blood from a dead body gets into his eye. Frank is suddenly shot by soldiers and the group are rescued, but is it necessarily safer with them than it is with the infected nearby?
Had this been a movie about zombies then I would probably go as far as saying that it’s the best zombie film ever made, but as the infected aren’t dead they’re technically not zombies, but that doesn’t detract from what is an incredible British movie. This started off several years of my fellow Brits pumping out quality horror films, including Severance, Creep and a film I have previously reviewed, The Cottage (click for the review). Danny Boyle doesn’t bring out many films but when he does, they are usually quality.
The film has many excellent qualities to it, including bringing the excellent Cillian Murphy to the public eye in what would be the first of three films to date that he has been on screen with Brendan Gleeson. It also uses horror well, with the scariest element being that the infection doesn’t fuck about. It doesn’t take hours or days like most transformations in similar films, once you’re infected, you’re attacking people within thirty seconds, and this leads to an emotionally brilliant scene where Frank is infected, realises that he’s about to turn and tries desperately to say a final goodbye to Hannah in the little time he has left.
Using the methods that Boyle used to film 28 Days Later, don’t expect a clean, 4K quality video, it was literally recorded on a video camera and it shows, but it works. Visually, without having the context of the film, 28 Days Later looks terrible. It’s grainy, saturated and has lighting issues, but it works because you realise that’s what it would actually be like if it were to happen in real life. In too many films these days you will see a supposedly pitch black environment that is fully lit up from a lighter, so filming it on a video camera and using the absolute minimum they could in terms in digital effects.
It’s impossible not to respect the success that they achieved with so little. To manage to do what they did, such as agreeing to clear part of the motorway for several hours and getting the police to stop various people wandering into parts of London so they could film it and make it look deserted, is incredible.
If you’re going to make a zombie film, you need to watch this first because whilst it isn’t a zombie film (they’re not zombies), it does everything a zombie film should do.
Director : Zack Synder
Cast : Gerard Butler, Rodrigo Santoro, Vincent Regan, David Wenham and Michael Fassbender
I know some of you will be looking at this and be surprised that I have included 300, but 300 is just one of those films where if there’s nothing else on, you can put this on and not really have to think about it, you can just put it on and go. In that sense it’s like the FIFA series on Playstation and X-Box, if you’re bored, pop it on and you’re enjoying yourself within minutes.
300 tells the story of Leonidas (Butler), the King of Sparta, as he rejects an offer for his country to be spared from a Persian invasion if they agree to find fight for it’s commander, Xerxes (Santoro), a man who believes himself to be a God. Knowing that the Persians will now attack, he seeks to use the army to fight them off, but the law states that Sparta can only go to war if the Oracle allows it, but that the request it denied.
In desperation, Leonidas figures out a loophole in the law and travels with 300 soldiers, who he claims are just there to be his personal bodyguard, as he “goes for a walk”. They soon find their way to Thermopylae and despite being outnumbered many thousands to one, the Spartans easily dispatch what is thrown at them. However, a deformed Spartan that was denied the chance to help defend his country by Leonidas, could cause all of his work to come undone.
300 is one of my favourite films because it is just fun. It’s exactly what a movie is supposed to me. You’re experiencing a battle through the eyes, or eye, of a character who survived the battle and is gearing up the rest of the army. He has been given the job of telling his army the story and making them pumped up and ready for battle, and it works well as an audience member.
Yes, it’s full of cheesiness and more abs than you can shake a stick at, but it’s one of the few films where I can watch it and notice something new every time. I love that even in the battles, even when focusing on just one character, it involves a lot of characters in the background as well. They aren’t just a random blur, you see their fights as clear as you’re seeing the character that’s centrally on screen. You don’t get that often in films and it’s that attention to detail that helps it so much.
I have previously reviewed the first film to be based on the Battle of Thermopylae (click here for that review) but this is one of the few remakes that is better than the original film. Infact, this list has several films that are remakes that are better than their originals and it isn’t something I use lightly. 300 is far better than the original and that’s not even to say that the original was a bad film. The original was more realistic and definitely more grounded with it’s visuals, but what it lacks compared to the original is the adrenaline rush.
Gerard Butler’s brilliant portrayal of Leonidas is one of the best breakthrough performances of the 21st century so far. Butler was already in several major motion pictures before this but this gave him the platform to become a leading man and it’s amazing what he achieved with a script that was full of cheesy one liners and well, more cheesy one liners.
It also has the brilliant Vincent Regan in it. Vincent Regan will feature again in this list and for good reason, he is a remarkable actor and is a joy to watch in any film. Midway through the film his son is killed and Regan goes from crying his eyes out to the angriest you’ve probably ever seen someone on film before, it’s a laudable bit of acting from Regan and anytime I see him on screen, I know I’m about to see an acting masterclass. If anything he is more fun to watch than Butler in this film.
Director : James Cameron
Cast : Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton and Lance Henrikson
For me this is comfortably the best film in the Alien franchise. I didn’t particularly like the first one, Alien3 is meh, Resurrection is just there, the first Alien vs Predator film was ok, the less said about the second the better, and don’t even get me started on Prometheus.
Aliens focuses on the sole survivor from the first film, Eleanor Ripley (Weaver) as she is awoken from hypersleep in her pod several decades after escape the ship. She struggles to cope with the more advanced world, especially after finding out that her daughter, who was just a young child at the time of the events of the first film, had died of old age whilst Ripley was asleep.
As Ripley is caught up in legal cases for destroying the ship with no evidence of an alien, a remote outpost sends a distress signal and she joins the marines on their trip.
Despite an initial slow start, the marines eventually find a survivor and just in time to see an alien burst out of her chest. The marines quickly kill it but that angers the nearby hidden aliens and they wipe out most of the marines. With only a small handful of them left, they must escape the station soon due to a pending explosion, but there is something more dangerous laying in wait.
James Cameron did such an amazing job with this film and the damaged, but still strong character of Ripley. Ripley is struggling in this film due to the death of her daughter but you see her try and establish that same mother-daughter style relationship with a child who has somehow survived on the station amongst the attacks.
It’s the little touches that make Cameron such a huge box office draw, and despite it being a sci-fi/horror movie, Aliens is also a great character driven movie and even those that don’t have a lot of screen time are given indications of what they’re like as a person. It’s not just the main characters that are developed, but the minor touches added, such as writing “Fly the friendly skies” on a pilot’s helmet is a subtle, yet very important aspect of building an otherwise unremarkable character.
Cameron also gets the pacing exceptionally well, and the first alien doesn’t even appear on screen until more than an hour into the movie. Up until that point it’s just a slow build, then action, time to breath, action again and so on. It’s not 100mph like a lot of horror films, there is a great chance to “take a breather” because the well executed action sequences.
Once scene that sticks in my mind as fantastic is when the marines have turrets set up in a narrow tunnel and they fire based on movement. You don’t see the guns firing, all you see is the screen showing the rapidly decreasing amount of bullets in the gun and the increasing panic of the characters as the chance of the aliens getting through increases. It’s an exceptionally well acted scene between several actors who moved onto much bigger things after this film.
Director : Mary Harron
Cast : Christian Bale, Jared Leto, Willem Da Foe, Reese Witherspoon and Chloe Sevingy
In my opinion one of Christian Bale’s best performances comes from one of the his earliest films from his adulthood, American Psycho. I have been a fan of Bale since first seeing him in 1991’s Treasure Island, but it wasn’t until he reached adulthood that he became a great actor and he features three times in my top 20 list, with only one other actor having more than that.
American Psycho is set in the 1980s at the height of the yuppie era, and one such yuppie is Patrick Bateman (Bale). On the outside Bateman is just your average 20something that has done well in life due to his father practically owning the company that he works for. He enjoys the finer things in life and is engaged to the neurotic Evelyn (Witherspoon), although he is sleeping with the girlfriend of a colleague.
In his spare time however, Patrick is far from normal and kills people on a regular basis, including prostitutes, random people that he meets in nightclubs and models. Patrick soon becomes jealous of his colleague, Paul Allen (Leto), a man who keeps one-upping him in terms of getting seats at a restaurant that Patrick can’t get a reservation for, a better apartment and even a better business card (leading to one of the best scenes in the movie). Patrick tricks Paul into coming to his apartment and kills him with an axe. Patrick must then cover up his tracks as the police investigation begins.
American Psycho is a near perfect satire of life in 1980s America and none more so than Bateman himself, who is consistently loathing those around him, especially anyone who achieves more than he does, such as Paul, and he is played superbly by Bale. Bale’s ability to play someone who is all smiles on the outside but is planing to kill someone on the inside is a joy to watch and it’s refreshing to see an actor embrace a role of a character that you’re not really supposed to like but you can’t help but do so.
His feelings on the inside not matching his outside appearance is one of many continuing themes throughout the film and the contradiction between the situation and the way the film approaches it is joyful to watch. For example, in the seen where Paul is getting killed, Patrick has started playing “Hip to Be Square” by Huey Lewis and the News, a complete contradiction of moods and it is portrayed so perfectly.
It is one of many interesting themes that are explored in the film, with others being the constant mistaken identity and mishearing what other people are saying, which comes to a head in one of the best endings on my top 20 list. It is an ending that leaves you asking questions and that is a great way to leave things sometimes. For example, if you think of the ending to Inception, people are still debating to this day whether Cobb is dreaming or not as you never see the top fall, that has lead to some great discussions online, including one theorising that the top isn’t his totem to begin with.
The ending in American Psycho is similar in the sense that even now, 15 years after it’s initial release (it’s the 15th anniversary on April 14th), people are still debating the ending and what it means. I won’t spoil it for those that haven’t seen it, so if you haven’t then I would seriously recommend it.
There has been talk of a remake recently to follow the book a bit more closely (the book has far more depraved acts), but I hope they don’t as this is more of a one off masterpiece rather than something that should be explored on a regular basis.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Director : Stephen Herek
Cast : Alex Winter, Keanu Reeves and George Carlin
Just one of two comedies that will appear on this list of my Top 20 films is the 1989 hit “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. Despite being 26 years old, this film has dated relatively well as it is still relateable to any generation. Although it is a definite 80s film in terms of it’s style and presentation, the story can be translated to work for any generation and any time and that is something that you can’t say for many other films.
For example, if you taken American Psycho out of the 80s it wouldn’t work because it focuses primarily on the yuppie lifestyle of the 1980s, Aliens must be set in the future due to the technology, but Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure could be set at any point in time from when schools became commonplace because the struggling students getting an unusual chance to do something part of the storyline.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure follows slackers Bill (Winter) and Ted (Reeves) as they are destined to change the world into a better place, bringing peace to the universe through rock and roll, but they don’t know this and are set to fail their high school history class. Failing the class would mean that Ted’s father would send him off to military school in Alaska and thus the band wouldn’t exist in the future. Rufus (Carlin) is sent back in time to help them pass by giving them a phone booth to learn about history first hand.
The phone booth can be used to travel through time and the pair figure that instead of simply learning from the historical figures, they can achieve more by actually bringing several historical figures back to the modern day to help them. Amongst those historical figures are Billy the Kid, Napoleon, Joan of Arc, Abraham Lincoln, Socrates and several others. The journey is far from trouble free though as the phone booth gets damaged and their travel becomes sporadic. They do eventually find their way back to the the present day, but in a world completely unfamiliar to them, the historical figures don’t stay put.
Excellent Adventure is one of my favourite films from that era of the late 80s and early 90s. It is one of the few genuinely fun movies out there that you can just sit back, relax and enjoy what you’re about to watch. It is like most films from that era and celebrates it, rather than mocking it in some sense. The 1980s was full of great movies and this was one of the last ones to come out during the decade, but again it stands the test of time.
It’s rare to find a mainstream comedy film from the 1980s that wasn’t fun, it’s a generation that knew how to do comedies well, and there were quite a few that came very close to being included in this list, including Weird Science, The Goonies and many more.
It is also a very rare film where Keanu Reeves doesn’t actually look like he’s not enjoying himself. Whereas Winter hasn’t really had a big on screen career at all, Reeves has been in the main stream attention on various occasions since Excellent Adventure came out, with big roles in 1991’s Point Break, 1994’s Speed, 1999’s The Matrix and several others, but he has never truly been a mega-star and therefore his returning to a franchise from early in his career wouldn’t be out of the question. There has been talk of a third film in the franchise, set around the two when they are in their 40s, but whether we want to see another Bill and Ted film is another question.
Director : David Fincher
Cast : Brad Pitt, Ed Norton, Jared Leto, Meatloaf and Helena Botham Carter
If I was to rank these top 20 films in order of my preferences then there is a very, very good chance that Fight Club would rank as Number One. Yes, that’s right, my top film, there is only one film that would rival that spot but that won’t come until part 2 of the list, but for now I want to laud this film as much as I can.
Fight Club is just an incredible piece of cinema, you can’t put it into a single genre and there is largely something for everyone, and even Helena Botham Carter doesn’t ruin it, which is probably the most lauding thing I can give to it. It makes the emotional void and talentless vacuum tolerable, something which I never thought possible.
An unnamed narrator (Norton) is a man who can’t sleep and after a trip to the doctor to find out what’s wrong with him, it’s recommended that to understand true suffering that he should attend support groups. Whilst there he meets a woman called Marla (Botham Carter) and after several arguments, they agree to go their separate ways.
The narrator soon meets Tyler Durden (Pitt) on a flight and after discovering that his condo has been blown up, he stays in Tyler’s run-down house in the middle of nowhere. Tyler convinces the narrator that the only way to live life is in a carefree manner and to achieve this you need to take your aggression out on others, so they start an underground boxing club called Fight Club.
There are only a few rules of Fight Club and it turns out to be a big hit, however, Tyler soon starts taking Fight Club to the next level, turning it into Project Mayhem. Project Mayhem sets out to commit acts of terrorism against anything corporate, such as destroying corporate art, coffee chain franchises, computer stores and expensive cars. The narrator soon becomes exceptionally frustrated that Tyler doesn’t share information with him, but when Tyler does choose to share a certain bit of information, it is the most shocking bit of news of the narrator’s life.
I really want to say what the twist is for those that don’t know, but I can’t because I want anyone who experiences this film for the first time and doesn’t know the twist to be as shocked as most people were when they saw it for the first time. I unfortunately can never say that as someone told me the twist before I saw the film, but even then it still wowed me when I eventually saw it.
Fight Club has tremendous rewatchability for numerous reasons. Once you know what the twist is you look for the signs of it throughout the film and every time I do watch it, I see something new. One of the fun little games is looking for a Starbucks cup because there is supposedly a Starbucks cup in every single shot.
For a glowing look at the film, all you have to do is realise that the author of the book, Chuck Pahalniuk, has even said himself that the film is better than the book. I read the novel soon after watching the film and the book is excellent, but when the author says that even the film is better, you know you’re onto a winner. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Pahalniuk pens the sequel.
Director : Bennett Miller
Cast : Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Chris Pratt
Remember earlier when I mentioned that only one actor appeared in more films in this list than Christian Bale? Well that actor is Brad Pitt, appearing in this list for the second time, and by the time this list ends he will have been featured four times.
This follows on from a few weeks ago when I was looking through my Blu-Ray collection and there were a lot that featured Brad Pitt, it was at that point I realised that he was probably my favourite actor that’s still working on a regular bass. He rarely has a bad film and this was the same.
I’m not going to lie, I know precisely nothing about baseball other than the basic rules and some of the better known teams, i/e the Yankees, so I found myself surprised that I was watching this and when I saw it in the cinema, I was the only person in the screen. Baseball is not even slightly big in the UK and although I’ve watched a few games here and there, I’ve never seen any of my fellow Brits on Facebook or Twitter mentioning the sport.
Because this is actually a historical based story, rather than fiction, I’m going to talk about the entire film, now just a summary. Therefore, incase you haven’t figured that out, it will contain spoilers.
Moneyball tells the true story of the Oakland Athletics baseball team in their 2002 season. The season starts with the Athletics losing their three star players and it is the duty of Billy Beane (Pitt), the General Manager, to replace them. The only issue is that Oakland have one of the lowest budgets in the league and they can’t replace them with established stars. When visiting the Cleveland Indians, Beane is intrigued by the input of an unknown office worker in a meeting by the name of Peter Brand (Hill).
Beane hires Brand when he learns of a unique system for bringing in players to establish their value. Instead of home runs or any other similar stats, Brand’s formula works on aspects such as how many times a player gets on base. The approach to signing players is met with ridicule by everyone and the early season results reflect this. Manager Art Howe (Seymour Hoffman) says that the approach, along with the lack of security with a rolling one year contract, means he can’t do his job properly and regularly threatens to leave.
Howe purposefully starts ignoring the instructions from Beane, including not playing his players. Beane responds by trading out the players that Howe keeps playing. Despite the high tensions, the A’s start winning a few games and they soon equal a record breaking winning run and they head into a game against Kansas to make it an unprecedented 20 in a row.
Thee game starts perfectly for the A’s as they quickly establish an 11-0 lead, but Kansa gradually pulls it back. Going into the final inning, one of the players brought in under the new system, Mark Hatteberg (Pratt) hits a walk-off home run and wins the game for the A’s. Despite this, the A’s lose in the Playoffs to the Minnesota Twins. The film ends with Beane rejecting a contract to take over at the Boston Red Sox.
All sports movies should do things the way that Moneyball did it. I’ll use the Mighty Ducks franchise as an example of how not to do it. According to the Mighty Ducks, the only things you really need to suddenly become unbeatable is a new jersey, to be taught how to receive a puck properly and shoot at a goalkeeper who is tied up. I don’t care how crap you are as a team, you’re not going to become unbeatable after months and months of being awful, and that’s what most sports films do.
Now, I know that this film is slightly different to most sports teams because it is actually based on real events, which helps with the realism factor, but again, it doesn’t pretend that all of a sudden the team are unbeatable. It shows that they are still very much very close to going back to where they started, whereas in most sports films once the team starts winning, there’s nothing that can stop them.
Against, I don’t really know anything about baseball, but the system that Brand comes up with seems the most realistic way to get success. It’s all well and good filling your team with star players if they don’t produce. I would rather have a bunch of unknowns that are statistically proven to succeed, rather than big name stars that don’t produce when it’s needed.
Hill is fantastic as Brand and does feel very believable as a guy who would come up with a statistical formula. Hill has grown as an actor in recent years and well beyond his comedic beginnings. I wasn’t a fan of him as a comedy actor, but as a serious actor he is exceptionally. With this and his performance in The Wolf on Wall Street, have turned me completely on side with him. For me he is the highlight of this movie and puts in a more memorable performance than Pitt, which is saying something given that Pitt is the main star in this film.
Arguably the main reason that I like Moneyball is that it’s all very real, it’s not given the usual sports movie treatment of ridiculous montages, overpowering music or anything or a similar nature. Moneyball treats everything like you’re there and a participant in every seen. Conversations are long, drawn out and feel natural, they’re not to the point every single time and feel more realistic because of this. In many ways it feels more like a fly on the wall documentary and you’re observing real life.
And finally, before I move onto the next film, I want to talk about the soundtrack and more specifically, the song “The Mighty Rio Grande” by a group called “This Will Destroy You”. This song is enough to send shivers down your spine due to the atmospheric nature of it and it is used excellently throughout the film. Find the song, press play, close your eyes and think of an amazing time in your life. I guarantee you that after you’ve done that, that already amazing time will feel even more epic.
Director : Dan Gilroy
Cast : Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed and Bill Paxton
Those of you who have been reading my site for a while will remember me talking about this film during my look at my Top 10 films of 2014 and how I ranked it as Number One, and by quite a long way. In particular I said that it was the only film I was able to give a perfect 10 for last year.
It is the only film from 2014 that will feature in this list and yet the remarkable thing is that I almost didn’t even see it. I went to the cinema to watch something else, Purge : Anarchy if memory serves me correctly, but I got there slightly too late for the showing I was intending to watch so I decided to go and watch a later showing instead, but in between was Nightcrawler. I had not been impressed with the trailer for Nightcrawler but I decided to give it a shot anyway and I’m so glad that I did.
What makes it even more awesome is that my brother bought this on Blu-Ray when I was out of work and then decided he didn’t want it, so gave me it for nothing. I got a Blu-Ray of my favourite film of 2014, and arguably of this decade so far, for free. How awesome is that?
Lou (Gyllenhaal) is a man down on his luck and trying to make money any way he can. He steals chain link fences to sell as scrap metal and whilst he is making money from it, he is after more. After being rejected for a job because of being a thief he encounters a car crash and a man called Joe (Paxton) recording it. He realises that he can make money by recording footage and selling it to the local news stations.
Whilst at Los Angeles beach, Lou steals a sports bike and sells it in exchange for a camera and police scanner, and he starts going out and night and recording everything he can find. He sells the video to the only station that will buy it and he meets Nina (Russo). Upon realising that the better footage he gets, the more money he will get, he hires Rick (Ahmed). Rick is keen to impress but is equally as concerned about money and is constantly asking Lou for a review and raise, much to the annoyance of Lou.
As time moves on, Lou is able to get better footage and better equipment, but soon he starts breaking the law in order to get better footage, such as not reporting a home invasion to the police, allowing him to get inside and footage of the victims before the police are even aware. With this comes risks and Lou blackmails Nina into having sex with him.
However, Lou isn’t the only person out to get footage and when he realises that Joe’s operation has grown and he now operates two vans. Lou purposes sabotage’s Joe’s car, causing him to crash and get numerous life threatening industries. Just how far will Lou go before it’s too far?
Before I saw this, I was never really that impressed with Gyllenhaal but he has completely won me over with his performance as Lou. It’s hard to really describe in words what his performance other than stupendous and tour-de-force. Gyllenhaal transformed himself into the character and you genuinely feel that Lou was a threat because of how well Gyllenhaal plays the character. His nonchalance towards causing physical harm and even death to various characters is just incredible to watch, and yet you want him to succeed.
Gyllenhaal’s delivery of threatening lines is a sign of great acting, afterall, who could say the following with glee and make it sound almost gleeful – “What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you for this? I mean physically. I think you’d have to believe afterward, if you could, that agreeing to participate and then backing out at the critical moment was a mistake. Because that’s what I’m telling you, as clearly as I can.”
Much like Moneyball, the soundtrack for Nightcrawler helps superbly with the creation of a great atmosphere. The subtle guitar work, mixed with a sort of ambient theme, mixed with the neo-noir atmosphere of Los Angeles and night brings the environment to life. I’ve never been to Los Angeles and never had any intention of going before I saw this film. This made me want to visit what is supposedly one of America’s greatest cities and that is a great advert for the film.
Nightcrawler, as I said earlier, is a rare perfect 10 for me. If I did a scoring system on this website then this would get the full marks and if I had ranked every film within this list in terms of preference, this would have a great chance of being in the Top 5, it would certainly be Top 10.
Director : Ron Howard
Cast : Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara and Pierfrancesco Favino
From my favourite film of 2014 to the one from the previous year and the magnificent Rush. Rush is based on the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the early to mid 1970s, a rivalry that started out professionally but very quickly turns personal.
Unlike baseball, I am actually a fan of Formula One, or rather, at least I used to be. I know a fair old bit about the sport and although it’s nowhere near as interesting as it used to be, it’s safe to say that this captures the excitement of what it used to be like. Before recently it used to be about who was the better driver as cars used to be very similar, whereas no there is usually one car that is miles above the rest and it doesn’t necessarily have to have the best driver in it to succeed.
Much like Moneyball, because this is based on historical events I am going to write exactly what happens right through to the ending, so again, spoiler alert
James Hunt (Hemsworth) is preparing for the 1970 Formula Three race at Crystal Palace when he lays eyes on Niki Lauda (Brühl) for the first time and they soon get into an argument after Hunt races in a dangerous manner, almost causing Lauda to crash. Lauda soon buys himself into Formula One and quickly establishes himself as a great driver. Hunt’s group decides to enter Formula One as well.
Hunt and Lauda renew their rivalry but Hesketh is no match for Lauda’s Ferrari. Hunt joins McLaren, a car that can make him competitive and the two, whilst respecting each other’s abilities, start a bitter rivalry for the title. Meanwhile, Hunt’s marriage has fallen apart and that, combined with bad luck, means Niki establishes a very early and seemingly dominating lead in the title race.
Niki marries his girlfriend just before the German Grand Prix is due to take place. The weather is terrible and the track already has a reputation for injuring people and taking lives. Niki calls a meeting to get the race postponed but Hunt rallies the room to vote for the race to go ahead. Lauda’s suspension breaks midway through the third lap and sends him crashing into the safety railing. Lauda has to be pulled from the burning wreckage and is taken to hospital.
In his absense Hunt closes the gap and this motivates a severely burnt and ill Niki to come back. Niki does eventually recover to rejoin the season still in the lead of the title race. Niki struggles in his first race back, quickly overcome with fear of the same thing happening again, but he soon regains his focus and goes on to finish the race, whereas Hunt has mechanical failures. That result means that despite missing a hefty section of the season, Lauda goes into the final day ahead of Hunt, but the weather when the race goes ahead is worse than Germany and Lauda leaves the race early on, realising that it isn’t worth the risk. Hunt eventually goes on to finish third and therefore winning the title.
Rush is one of the most stylish and realistic sports films that I have ever seen, possibly only bettered by Moneyball. Rush is visually incredible on every single level, right down to the simple things, such as Niki Lauda’s overbite. Too many sports films based on historical events ignore the little things, such as not making the actors look like those that they are portraying, and if you see a picture of Daniel Brühl normally compared to how he looked in the film, you will be amazed. It is a truly incredible transformation that the film-makers have pulled off.
Brühl is incredible as the Austrian Lauda and it’s impossible not to be impressed by him. I first became aware of Brühl due to his appearance in Inglorious Basterds and his mesmerising portrayal of a seemingly well mannered young man who simply won’t take no for an answer. He brings a great level of sympathy to the character because although the character is a self confessed arsehole, you understand why he is how he is and Brühl plays it excellently.
Both Landa and Hunt are portrayed as exactly what they were, flawed human beings. Hunt, despite being a world class racing driver, struggles with the normalities of life and this costs him his marriage, and Landa refuses to accept anything less than perfection and doesn’t know how to do anything other than via the most simple to achieve it. For example, when he marries his girlfriend, it’s simply in a registry office, he doesn’t go with a full on wedding because it is simple. Even Landa’s home is as basic as it gets.
Hunt and Landa are the perfect antithesis to each other and the duel between them, and how it escalates from a mere professional rivalry to a more personal battle, is a great build, but even better is when Niki has had his rivalry and James’ reaction to it. James’ guilt about how he rallied the other racers to ignore Niki’s protests for a race to go ahead, and the subsequent accident, is the perfect character development.
At the time of writing, Rush is ranked 161 in the IMDB Top 250 and yet was completely ignored by the Oscars, not even one nomination. It is highly unusual for a mainstream film to be in the IMDB Top 250 without receiving a single Oscar nomination.
Scott Pilgrim vs the World
Director : Edgar Wright
Cast : Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Jason Schwartzman, Ellen Wong and Mark Webber
Much like Nightcrawler I had precisely no interest in watching this film when I first saw it advertised and only saw it because I had time to kill in Sheffield. I was there to watch football but decided to do Christmas shopping before hand. I still had about 5 hours to kill so I went to the Vue that’s in Meadowhall and this was the only film on that whilst I didn’t overly want to see it, looked tolerable. It subsequently became arguably my favourite comedy film.
Portrayed in similar fashion to a video game and a mix of pop culture references, Scott Pilgrim vs the World is one of the most enjoyably fun films I’ve ever seen. It is one of the most visually unique films that I have ever seen, right from the simple things such as presenting a “pee bar” (similar to a life bar in a computer game) when Scott goes to toilet, right up to it’s comic book style visuals when one of the evil ex’s is skating down a steel bar too fast.
Scott (Cera) is a 22 year old going nowhere in life and refuses to admit it. One day he starts dating Knives Chau (Wong), a 17 year old high school student and Scott gets openly mocked by his friends and family. Scott soon attends a party there he lays eyes on Ramona (Winstead) for the first time, but his attempts at small talk go hilariously badly. Scott wallows in this for several days before he devises a plan to get Ramona around to his house.
After a while the pair do eventually start dating, all whilst Scott is still with Knives. When Scott’s band is invited to compete at a Battle of the Bands event and midway through performing, Scott is suddenly attacked by a man who claims to be one of Ramona’s ex-boyfriends and the first of seven tests he must past. Scott eventually makes light work of the man before Ramona reveals that in order for them to date, Scott must defeat he seven evil-ex’s. Scott finally breaks up with Knives.
As Scott progresses through his week to keeps running into more evil ex’s, finding it increasingly difficult to defeat each of them as their powers become more extreme. With his neuroticism in full swing, Scott begins to question whether Ramona is worth all of the effort and soon starts taking a half-arsed approach to the situation, only becoming concerned again after they split up and Ramona gets back together with one of her former boyfriends, Gideon (Schwartzman).
Scott Pilgrim vs the World is an excellent throw away film. If you have a random Sunday afternoon where you have nothing at all planned, this is an excellent film to put on and enjoy for a few hours. Much like Fight Club, every time you watch you get something new from the film and that is something that is so rare with films these days. There is always something that you’ve forgotten and it is a delight
The humour within Scott Pilgrim vs the World is relateable, regardless of whether you’re a geek of not. There is a joke for everyone and my personal favourite comes from ex-boyfriend number 3, Todd. Todd is a vegan and because of this, he is granted special powers, such as telekinesis, but when he accidentally drinks an animal based product, the vegan police show up and strip him of all of his powers. He is the scene in all of it’s glory.
Arguably the biggest plus for me though is that it is full of people that can’t act and actually makes it enjoyable. Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick and many other members of the cast are terrible at acting, especially Plaza, and yet they somehow make it work and make the film enjoyable, which is something that if you told me that this was the cast and nothing else about the film, I wouldn’t watch it.
Scott Pilgrim vs the world is an enjoyable romp and although it does start getting a little tiresome towards the end, it is still at least an 8 out of 10. I’m not going to lie, if I was ranking all of the films that feature in this list of my top 20 films, Scott Pilgrim vs the World would be in the lower reaches of the list, but it is still a worthy addition to my list.
So that’s it for Part One of my Top 20, I will be posting Part 2 within the next few weeks.