TOP 20 FILMS OF 2014 SO FAR

So here we are. What films have surprised, intrigued and entertained you this year . . . so far? Now I’ve waffled on about having pretty much a season ticket pass to the cinema. So far I’ve seen 85 films this year which . . . isn’t a lot in comparison to my last year’s total of 144 (Yep, crazy) and that is because I have found it harder to enjoy films lately. I have had to endure through endless entries of mindless drivel regurgitating the same old plot, clichéd characters (even in their 3D wrapped foils) and excruciating acting or dreadful dialogue.

To be honest, it killed my enthusiasm a little bit. I see a trailer and have doubts. I have to talk myself into going, simply hoping that it will at least be watchable (which most of them are) but enjoyable? Well . . .

Now some entries you may question and unfortunately release dates are always different. My argument is films I’ve seen this year. Some may have been released at the end of 2013 but I didn’t see them until early January and it says it all if they are in here because I have found it difficult to fill my top 20. I had to pick films that surprised for not being a complete blunder or just for keeping my attention. BUT here we go.

The top 20 films of 2014 . . . so far

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1. The Dallas Buyers Club

A film that certainly surprised me. I went in not knowing what to expect and was rewarded with a different story, engaging characters that were done to justice by two actors that had seemed to be pushed into the movie wilderness. McConaughey was launched back into the limelight and rightly so, beating Ejiofor to the Oscar. I still couldn’t believe Jared Leto’s supporting role. More to him than just a singer from an emo-rock-pop band.

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2. 12 Years A Slave

A visceral and haunting film that delves into the human condition of one man’s plight into slavery. Steve McQueen certainly delivered one of his most ambitious, if slightly overhyped, projects to date. A harrowing story expertly acted by a fantastic cast. Ejiofor was unlucky not to win but he has certainly proved he can handle the leading role. This was all helped by an Oscar-winning supporting turn from newcomer Lupita Nyong’o and a sinister one from Michael Fassbender.

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3. August: Osage County

An underrated drama. A perfect showcase in acting. Meryl Streep proving yet again why she keeps getting those Oscar nods. A simple story revolving a family feud. But with a family of well written characters with a huge ensemble of talented characters made this one to watch for me. Its abrupt ending may have lost marks but it didn’t ruin great performances. Shame none of the contenders won this time round.

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4. The Book Thief

Now I will admit that I haven’t read the book but if the film is anything to go by, then I really want to read it. An endearing, if slow burning war drama that is shown through the eyes of a little girl who finds solace in stealing books. A great performance by Sophie Nelisse. It’s always a gamble with kid actors, especially when they are the main characters. But a great performance that is aided by a fantastic supporting cast consisting of Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson made this an engaging and highly watchable affair with an inevitable but emotional ending.

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5. 22 Jump Street

My name is Jeff! Yes, conforming to the masses but if when a blockbuster is this funny, who cares? Hill and Tatum are back pretty much doing the same thing which worked the first time round to better and bigger results. I laughed from start to finish. The very purpose of a comedy for me. It’s big, dumb and stupid but so funny. Invest.

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6. The Guardians of The Galaxy

Another Marvel movie is unleashed. But what a film. James Gunn manages to make an enjoyable romp of a space opera with the same old predictable guff of intergalactic rogues turned superheroes spiel. However, I actually cared about these rogues and cannot wait for another inevitable sequel. This is all helped with a great script, fantastic cast and an awesome soundtrack. So good I saw it twice.

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7. The Inbetweeners 2

The boys are back but this time they’re going down under. If you’re a fan then expect the same old dirty smut that still manages to have you heaving and laughing all the way. They may be reaching their thirties but the cast were still very much on form, making this instalment surpass the movie, not quite the series. Get on it, my movie fwends. Fwend, aww.

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8. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Now I am actually reading the book. This film lost marks for stretching out its source material to the max. However, Jackson still manages to deliver the goods by harvesting a special effects extravaganza of a movie. This slicker, darker follow up to An Unexpected Journey has left me awaiting for the final installment of the prequel trilogy. But does it really have to be three hours again?

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9. X-Men: Days of Future Past

X Men Give to Ya. A return to form from a franchise that had lost its way BIG TIME. Mixing the old with the new cast along with a time travelling plot device made for some twists and turns and a little spring cleaning as Singer made his return to the helm. With that we got an action packed restoration to former glories, near enough.

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10. The Raid 2

Despite lacking the pace and tenacity of the original and leaving us chomping our nails, waiting impatiently through the monotonous set up after a gruelling opening sequence, The Raid 2 finally delivered the goods with an all-out explosive lets-crank-this-to 11 adrenaline pumped finale with some crazy cult characters and memorable fight sequences.

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11. Captain America: Winter Soldier

A solid sequel that improved tremendously on its rushed predecessor and allowed to flesh out the ol’ Cap and some of the supporting characters that we only really had little cameos. Nick Fury, I’m looking at you. The introduction of new characters helped provide a more interesting environment. The whole adjustment to the modern era was a nice touch and gave Cap a little more dimension. If more films are to follow for the Cap, I await with anticipation.

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12. How To Train Your Dragon 2

It may not have topped the original but it still entertained the masses with terrific animation, an easy going plot and great characters. Definitely one of the better family movies out this year. I cannot wait for the next one.

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13. The Railway Man

A endearing, well acted war biopic that received such a panning, I feared the worst. However, although a little slow burning, I thought Colin Firth was incredible and was snubbed an Oscar nomination for his performance. Nicole Kidman may have been wasted in this role but the final confrontation between Firth and Hiroyuki Sanada was emotional and gripping. Worth a watch.

 

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14. Last Vegas

It know what is was from the get go. A group of old talented screen icons lapping it up in Las Vegas. It’s corny, OTT but left me smiling coming out of the cinema. Let’s be honest not all old boy movies hit it off. Wild Hogs and Space Cowboys (cough cough). The fact a sequel has been green lit, says it all.

 

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15. Begin Again

An unexpected treat. A feel good summer movie if ever there was one. Not without its imperfections. The flashing back and forth stuttered the opening and it may have ended a little abrupt and too open for my liking. BUT the songs were catchy. The cast were fantastic and Keira Knightley can sing. Oh my goodness.

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16. The LEGO Movie

How could I not? Everything is AWESOME! It’s funny, bonkers and blew the box office away. A talented voice cast boost a bunch of crazy but memorable characters with jokes and puns to entertain both kids and adults.

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17. Frozen

What? Losing movie cred. Entertaining, funny supporting characters, catchy songs. Disney returning to form and going old school with this icy escapade of a musical.

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18. The Wolf of Wall Street

Now despite complaining about the length and the hype, it was still a visceral tour-de-force of a drug induced thriller. Leo was unstoppable but did anyone else feel he tried too hard? Slight bias for me as I’m a Scorsese nut but it was still intense, funny and satirical to the max.

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19. Cuban Fury

I was torn between this and Edge of Tomorrow but despite seeing Tom Cruise killed 200 times, it was hardly original. Now, I know Cuban Fury isn’t original either but its easy going, funny and it was great to see Nick Frost come to the fore. The dance off sequence with an unexpected cameo was worth seeing alone.

 

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20. Delivery Man

Yep, you read that right. I’m going for the outsider. I read so many negative reviews that I dreaded watching this. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Now when it first started with Vaughan shouting and yelling in Spanish, I feared the worse. However, this soon turned in a dramedy and Vaughan was able to show that he can still act and be funny at the same time with an easy going story. And plus a scene stealing supporting turn from Chris Pratt as Vaughan’s useless lawyer pal made it all the better.

 

Feel free to share your top 20, debate my selections, all skip the post altogether.

COMING UP MY 20 WORST FILMS OF 2014. This will take me a whole lot longer to decide because there are so many choices!

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EARTH TO ECHO REVIEW

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From the opening shot with our gang of loveable rogues mucking about with a handheld camera, I was dreading what lied in store. However, it’s not all bad. A decent, if virtually unknown, cast help bring some likeable characters to life in a sci-fi rollercoaster ride of a movie. The only problem with the shaky camera work, you feel like you’ve been on one when you come out of the cinema.

To be honest, the found footage or recorded true events movies have died a death for me after the Paranormal Activity franchise managed to resurrect it and exorcise it within a few films. The camera work, at times, is too shaky. I know that it sounds like I’m being picky but as much as I respect realism and the fact kids are supposed to be handling their mobile phone cameras, camcorders (etc), it can get incredibly irritating that you want to yell at them to keep the camera still.

It was a fresh take to have an unknown cast but also a bit of a gamble. However, they play the parts well and make a memorable impression, particularly Reese Hartwig as the eccentric Munch.

What’s it about? After receiving a bizarre series of encrypted messages, a group of kids embark on an adventure with an alien who needs their help.

Now that premise may remind you of a similar 1982 sci-fi classic featuring a little alien that needed to phone home and inevitably comparisons are made from the get go. And that’s a bit of the problem, despite updating the special effects and providing a fresh angle with the handheld concept; you can’t help but feel that Earth to Echo is re-treading old ground from classics that done it much better and still surpass any film that tries to copy it. At it’s core, it’s ET meets the Goonies. A group of kids are spending their last night together before their homes are pulled down for a freeway. And what a last night as it’s a race against time to help a robotic Wall-E-esque alien get home.

The special effects are brilliant. The detail on Echo is fantastic. Even if his little adorable orb-esque (Yeah, I say esque a lot) eyes remind you of it’s Pixar counterpart. The quest in which the gang must find pieces to repair Echo like The Iron Giant is suspenseful, funny and entertaining. The handheld is used to its strengths, especially when they have to break into someone’s home. There is also a fantastic sequence in which an oncoming lorry looks like it’s set to collide into our heroes, only for it to be dissected piece by piece with the driver still hovering around in his seat.

Apart from the camera work (although the Go Pro sequence on the bikes was a nice touch), the pace zips along and keeps it all watchable as it reaches it’s exhilarating frenetic finale. The cast are good, the effects are great. It just falls short of becoming a classic but in terms of keeping the little uns entertained, it’s worth a shot. But if I haven’t sold it for you then I recommend How To Train Your Dragon 2.

3/5 for me.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 REVIEW

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DRAGONS! Hiccup and Toothless are back after the DreamWorks animated blockbuster hit the big screens! Bigger? Absolutely. Better? Visually it’s a feast for the eyes. While not surpassing the original, it certainly matches it for story, drama and entertainment. Get the little ‘uns or the big kids (like myself) over to the pics and invest!

So what’s it all about? It’s been five years since Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless successfully united dragons and vikings on the island of Berk. While Astrid, Snotlout and the rest of the gang are challenging each other to dragon races (the island’s new favourite contact sport), the now inseparable pair journey through the skies, charting unmapped territories and exploring new worlds. When one of their adventures leads to the discovery of a secret ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, the two friends find themselves at the centre of a battle to protect the peace.

Firstly, 3D not a massive investment to be honest. So save your pennies, parents. The animation is incredible alone. The 3D makes it more prominent but not a must. The detail is stunning. Every little thing, the expressions, the waves as Hiccup and Toothless soar across the seas, brilliant. Anyway, we reunite with the dynamic duo and it is great that the characters have actually aged in the five years. Hiccup does look very different, and weirdly a little like Andy from Toy Story.

The gang are all back, along with the original and very talented voicing cast consisting of Jonah Hill, America Ferrera, Kristen Wiig, Craig Ferguson, Christopher “McLovin” Mintz-Plasse and T. J. Miller. Although, they don’t seem to be in this film as much. They still make a mark and bring the laughs but until the second half really. They seemed to be cast aside and understandably so as the story primarily revolves around Hiccup yet again. Torn between being a dragon rider and taking over the reins of being chief by his pushy but legendary father, Stoick (THIS IS . . . Gerard Butler), Hiccup must make a choice.

The spoiler-ific trailers reveal the identity of the mysterious Dragon Rider which was hardly a surprise twist. But for those who were lucky enough not to see that trailer then don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you. Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond/Gladiator) brings his gravelly gravitas to the sinister Drago with aplomb. It was irritating me who was voicing Eret, the henchman. Firstly because I recognised the voice and secondly because his voice didn’t seem strong enough and didn’t match the character. And low and behold, I know nothing as it was Kit “Jon Snow” Harington (Game of Thrones – obviously). Shame. His conviction didn’t pull it off for me.

However, these are only minor quibbles as there are laughs to be had. Moments that surprise and pluck at the heart strings. It’s riveting, a feast for the eyes with an enthralling visual masterpiece of a finale with Toothless taking on his biggest foe to date. It may not surpass the original as the story may not necessarily break new ground but it is most certainly on par and if rumours are hinting at another, then another I want. I won’t divulge too much as this is one I would recommend that you see. There’s a little something for every one plus DRAGONS, hellooo.

In the words of GB, THIS IS . . . Not a bad sequel. 4 out of 5! Better. See I do like some films, you know!