5. Django Unchained
Yes its too long, and there’s a lot of stuff that could easily be cut out for a leaner running time and a punchier pace. But Django Unchained was one of the most original and visually striking Hollywood creations I’ve seen all year. Fantastic performances from Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson; iconic scenes that will never leave the greater cinematic collective conscious, and the way it unflinchingly provokes a difficult discussion regarding some of humanities worst crimes against itself, ensure Django is a hard film to forget about.
4. The World’s End
The final part to one of the cinematic sagas of my generation, The World’s End was an emotional climax to one of Britain’s greatest contributions to film. The Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy was the brain child of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, two of the greatest moviemaking visionaries of the twenty first century. Each film took a beloved genre and intertwined its inherent insanity with the mundanity of quaint British colloquialisms. The matching of these two contrasting styles has each time given birth to a work as hilarious as it is original. For me The Worlds End may be the best of them all. More mature than its previous two films The World’s End was the first to put its heart ahead of the laughs. Featuring a straight man turn from Frost and a bad boy turn from Pegg, the series dynamic has been turned on its head, setting us up at the climax for one of the most heart wrenching rites of passage I have ever witnessed in a theatre. The boys it seems, have now become men.
3. Pacific Rim
Not many people were buying what Guillermo del Toro was selling in Pacific Rim. Some were willing to dismiss it as a Transformers also ran, others took its macho posturing with abject sincerity. It’s almost as if people are forgetting that this is Guillermo del Toro we’re talking about. The idea that he would completely miss-judge his characters attitudes and demeanours is highly unlikely given his proven skill with character construction. The mood and tone he was going for was a loving recreation of Saturday morning cartoon shows, Japanese giant robot imports and early 16-bit videogames. The fact that he captured this mood perfectly might have had a detrimental effect upon certain members of the audience, but to those of us who remember spending Saturday mornings watching Voltron on the sofa before the parents woke up, or collecting all the Gundam Force figurines with the systematic efficiency of a mechanical German stamp collector, this was both a hilarious and nostalgic trip to a time when enjoyment was the main motivation behind action spectacle, not messy, unfocused aggression.
2. Zero Dark Thirty
You’ll notice there’s a lot of dumb action on this list. This might have something to do with cinema’s declining level of interest in academic themes; perhaps it’s Christopher Nolan’s and Joss Wheadon’s superhero Movies forcing everyone to up their game; maybe my local Cineworld just doesn’t show that many decent films (when I have the money to go to an art house every week I will do). Another reason might be that certain films, which have graciously given me time to reflect (Trance, Only God Forgives, The Counsellor), have only left me able to reflect on how bad they are. So thank god then that Kathryn Bigelow created a smart film that not only encouraged you to think, but provided you with an intelligent plot to think about. One that requires your attention but never draws it to disappointingly gaping plot holes. One that never tries to lead you to a politically motivated conclusion, it allows you to draw your own. You may not like the way it stubbornly plants itself on the fence, but just be thankful there was a film this year that encouraged you to make up your own mind about on which side of this fence you’re allegiances belonged.
1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a great piece of cinema that appeals to the old and young, without compromising its intelligence or its integrity to do so. A master class in the building of drama, The Hunger Games is a franchise about young people being put in impossible situations. In Catching Fire we see that those situations are as prevalent outside the arena as within it. The opening scene where Katniss and evil overlord President Snow have a conversation about the consequences of rebellious warfare sets an ominous tone that colours every scene that precedes it. A film more interested in its ideas than its action, Catching Fire has the guts to show the consequences of violence upon the faces of the survivors rather than upon the bloody remains of the corpses. A confident piece of work that reminds me of Spielberg’s best in the way it uses humour to relieve its tensions, Catching Fire knows what kind of film it wants to be and has the bravery to defy expectation to see it through. Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic as Katniss, she brings a tragic reality to the role of lonely heroic symbol, but I want to give the underrated Josh Hutcherson as Peeta some props. Acting as the counter balance to the more masculine role imposed upon Katniss, his character allows her to fulfil her part through the promotion of more feminine traits such as cooperation and companionship. Doing this and being her one connection to the peace of a non-violent world, allows her to hold on to the sanity she needs to get her through another games. In that sense he is a greater feminist symbol than she is. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is an intelligent piece of filmmaking that reminds us we don’t have to pander to clichéd notions of adolescent femininity, in order to make a film that focuses on a young female audience and can yet be enjoyed by everyone.