This year has not only seen one of the finest films in recent memory being carried by Matthew McConaughey, but also some of the most well made horror movies of the last decade.
As we begin the ninth month of the year, I’d like to take a look back on some of the best films this year, and what made them truly remarkable.
If you ever wondered what the Transformers franchise would be like if it was in the hands of a director with genuine talent, then look no further than Pacific Rim.
The movie follows an international effort to repel invading, gargantuan monsters with Earth’s greatest weapon, giant robots. While the plot may seem ridiculous, one of the best aspects of the movie is how the director, Guillermo Del Toro, is able to use this to his advantage. It’s a film which realizes it should be viewed for pure enjoyment and plays up on that in every way. From a range of humorous characters, to some of the most intense fight scenes from any film in recent years, the movie knows what the audience will enjoy and gives them as much of it as possible.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the film is that you can actually tell what is going on during the robot, monster standoffs. In the hands of any other director, it could have become very easy to lose the audience in a torrent of rapid cuts and close-ups, but thanks to the fine direction of one of cinemas best fantasy directors, the audience will have no problem keeping up and enjoying the film on an artistic level even as they indulge their inner twelve-year-old.
From James Wan, the director of the original Saw comes The Conjuring, and with it, Wan has proven that even though his first film may have started the genre of torture porn, he is more than adept at crafting genuinely scary films that don’t rely solely on gore to entice audiences.
The Conjuring is based on a true story of a family who moves into a house which turns out to be possessed and must seek help to rid themselves of the evil presence. Even though haunted house movies have become a dime a dozen by now, The Conjuring stands out for how well it was made.
Wan is able to anticipate where the audience’s tension is highest and rather than give them the scare they are expecting, he waits until they no longer hold to their initial expectation and takes advantage of their fear when they’re least expecting it.
The Conjuring is proof that you don’t need to rely on a gimmick like gore, or run an initially promising premise into the ground with countless sequels to make a well made and scary film. Utilizing gore in a way that causes an audience to feel disgusted while simultaneously cheering is a difficult feat to achieve.
You’re Next is one of the few films capable of inciting these contrasting responses.
In this movie, we witness a family being systematically hunted down during a home invasion. While the premise may cause one to associate the film with countless slasher flicks, the movie deserves more credit than that. It is true that the film provides plenty of violence and gore, but it is an unusually satisfying kind and thanks to excellent work behind the camera, the most visceral moments are almost beautiful to behold.
The abundance and stylized violence is not the only area of the movie that excels.
Thanks to a quality script, You’re Next provides more laughs than most films that pass for comedies. Couple this with the fact that the it does not indulge in horror cliches, instead molding itself around a story of family turmoil and resentment, and You’re Next quickly becomes one of the most enjoyable films of the year, not only for gore hounds but for anyone looking for a good scare.
Every few years, a film comes along that causes a viewer to re-evaluate an actor they may have previously been unable to enjoy, and even though Matthew McConaughey has been acting in more and more high quality films recently, Mud is the movie that led me to view McConaughey as an actor capable of taking on more challenging roles.
Mud is the story of two boys who meet a drifter and that’s as much as I’m willing to say at the risk of spoiling the viewer’s experience. To some the story will be a heartwarming tale, while to others it will appear a cynical take on maturing from childhood to an adult life.
In reality, the film has many themes in it and if you take the time to think about what they could be as your watching the film, you will be able to relate some of the ideas and questions the film raises to people and relationships in your own life.
The best part of the film, however is that it not only gives the audience these things to think about but also a range of characters viewers can sympathize with and feel attached to. It’s a film that presents ideas worth contemplating without becoming so engrossing that an audience member may feel detached from what’s happening.
There are many people who claim that since Toy Story 3, Pixar has been heading downhill. If this is true, then Monsters University is the film to end their recent losing trend.
It’s a film that connects to the audience of the original Monsters Inc. due to the fact that they have now aged and would be in college themselves. Even though this may lead some to see this review as biased, I can assure you that the themes running through the film are more than enough to appease older viewers while the sheer creativity and personalities of the characters are enough to excite younger fans.
The writers behind Monsters University are some of Pixar’s finest and there’s a real sense that they are attempting to help a lot of kids who struggle with self esteem issues through the characters of the film. In a society that places imperfections on people starting at a younger and younger age, Monsters University shines as a movie that not only entertains, but also attempts to provide hopeful ideas without filling anyone with naive enthusiasm.
One part critique of the psychiatric industry, one part thriller, Side Effects is a film that is able to keep you entertained, engaged, and thinking all at once.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, in what the director has said will be his last film for some time, Side Effects follows a psychiatrist who becomes entangled in the life of one of his patients due to medication he has prescribed.
The way the story is framed really begs the question of how much damage these doctor’s are actually doing with the way they appear to be so haphazardly dolling out pills as if they were tick tacks, in some cases all for the sake of some extra cash rather than the patient’s well being.
The story then takes a few twists and turns and the audience is left on the edge of their seats for the remainder of the film.
Beautifully shot, wonderfully paced, and adeptly engaging, if Side Effects is the last film Steven Soderbergh ever makes, I don’t think we could have asked for a better conclusion to his filmography.
This is the End
Seth Rogen has firmly established himself as one of the finest mainstream comedy writers of the past few years, and while This is the End may not be his finest work, it is most assuredly another success for the man who has once again shown that you can craft a genuinely funny film while bringing to light some of your more personal dilemmas.
The story of This is the End really focuses on the strained relationship between Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen’s characters. But seeing as they play themselves it’s difficult to tell if any of their characterization is fictitious. Seeing such a personal struggle placed on the screen, even if it may seem to be a minor one, only makes the movie more engaging because it’s so easy to see it occurring in Rogen’s real life. It also, once again, showcases Seth Rogen’s ability to add humor into depressing situations.
Bolstered by outrageous performances from some of the other actors and the genuine feel that this was a movie made about a couple of friends just trying to survive, This is the End overcomes its minor pacing issues and provides audiences with another hilarious film from Seth Rogen.
Spring Breakers is the newest film from Harmony Korine and, what has proven to be, the most divisive movie of the year. It’s an over-the-top sensory bombardment that viewer’s will either love or detest.
Featuring performances from some of the most contrasting actors and actresses and you’ve got a film the Korine clearly made knowing he would alienate many audience members. The plot of Spring Breakers isn’t worth mentioning and that is not something that should be used as an insult towards the film. When you sit down to watch the movie you are given images and sounds turned up to the maximum volume.
It plays off of every one of our deepest instincts and indulges us in what our animalistic urges view as quintessential to survival. Scored by Cliff Martinez and none other than Skrillex himself, the soundtrack alone is enough to turn many people off from the film. However if you are able to go into the movie with open eyes and an open mind, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find it is one of the most unique pieces of work this year, and that upon repeated viewings it has the potential to reveal more and more meaning.
The Place Beyond the Pines
A modern epic, The Place Beyond the Pines, is a beautiful film from Derek Cianfrance whose previous movie Blue Valentine was released in 2010.
The film follows a struggling father bent on doing anything to support his child. From then on the film chronicles more characters and explores themes of love, a father’s role in life and how our mistakes follow us even after we’re gone.
Accompanied by an excellent score from Mike Patton, the film is one that has the rare ability to make you sympathize with so many different and opposing characters at once.
While some are bound to compare to Cianfrance’s debut film, The Place Beyond the Pines triumphs over Blue Valentine by being so much more further explored and developed. It’s a movie that may bring you to tears more than once without feeling like any emotion was forced.
The character’s actions and the emotions they exhibit feel uniquely real. The ideas you begin to contemplate after viewing it only become more solidified once you realize how many of the mirror the struggles of our own lives.