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The year in cinema
THE 2014 year in cinema yielded the usual jumble of forgettable flicks, bombs and blockbusters, sequels and prequels - and one groundbreaking indie entry. Undoubtedly the biggest hit of the year occurred at Sony Pictures, which was the target of a mysterious cyber-attack last month that resulted in a torrent of embarrassing private e-mails, executive salaries and unreleased films being posted online.
The hack-attack was believed to be a pre-emptive strike connected to the studio's planned Christmas Day release of The Interview, a Seth Rogen comedy about a plot to assassinate - in graphic detail - North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Kim's father Kim Jong-il was a passionate movie buff who even "authored" a book on North Korean cinema, but the regime is not known for its sense of humour so it's safe to assume The Interview won't be reaching the multiplexes (if there were any) in Pyongyang (or anywhere else, for that matter) any time soon. It has been cancelled as at press time.
Still, it was a fairly typical year in cinema. Standard fare included a Marvel blockbuster or three, animation featuring famous voices, young adult films based on bestsellers, a Woody Allen trifle, an Arnold Schwarzenegger travesty - and strong candidates for worst film of the year (Dumb and Dumber To, Horrible Bosses 2 and A Million Ways to Die in the West, among others).
Several notable films that were released here in January (or later) qualify as 2013 films and will have received suitable recognition during the past awards season. Films in that category included Her, Dallas Buyers Club, Nebraska, Philomena and The Great Beauty. Similarly, some major hardware will be handed out to movies that will only be shown here in January 2015, such as American Sniper, Birdman, The Imitation Game, Mr Turner and Inherent Vice. With that as a qualifier - and given the random nature of these lists - here (in alphabetical order) are our Top Ten movies for 2014:
True, the unstoppable force that is Alejandro G Innarritu's Birdman won't be released for a few weeks yet but we're ignoring the rules because it does as well - to delicious effect. At the head of an impressive cast is Michael Keaton, who plays a washed-up movie star desperate to reinvent himself on the Broadway stage. The camerawork is spectacular and so is the soundtrack, dominated by a jazzy drum riff that gels perfectly with the onscreen happenings.
Richard Linklater thought it would be interesting to chronicle the life of an ordinary American boy from the age of six to 18 and he achieved something extraordinary in the process, with the same actor (Ellar Coltrane) playing the role of Mason Evan, Jr and growing up before our eyes. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke also signed on as Mason's parents for the 12-year journey. Considering what could have gone wrong in this poignant coming-of-age tale, the achievement is all the more remarkable.
Edge of Tomorrow
Smart, sharp action films are hard to come by, but Edge of Tomorrow ticks all the right boxes in this sci-fi genre flick directed by Doug Liman where earth has been invaded by an all-conquering alien race. Tom Cruise stars as a non-combat officer who is coerced into joining a mission from which he isn't destined to return. He is killed by aliens soon enough but wakes up and relives the same events - Groundhog Day-like - until he is killed again. With each death he learns something new and - aided and abetted by tough-as-nails fighter played by Emily Blunt, is able to prolong the inevitable long enough to give him an opportunity to change the ending.
The adventures of an American tank crew in the waning days of World War Two in Europe are chronicled in Fury, director David Ayer's realist take on the brutality of war. Brad Pitt plays Wardaddy, the weary, wily tank commander who tries to keep his crew alive in spite of the odds. This is a well-acted film about soldiers caught in the glare of bloody conflict.
With Gone Girl, spinmeister David Fincher dissects a rotten relationship by taking us down a dark, disturbing path and in the process dispelling any doubts about the benefits of singlehood. Ben Affleck stars as a husband who returns home one morning to find that his wife (Rosamund Pike) has disappeared. There's perhaps one twist too many in this psychological thriller about love gone sour; the build-up is gripping but the sting in the tale is more than a little over-the-top.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The people in a Wes Anderson movie are not easily forgotten but one character in The Grand Budapest Hotel takes the cake - literally. Gustav H. (Ralph Fiennes) is the concierge at the eponymous hotel, a grand dame whose 1930s heyday is depicted with much relish - and an equal dose of intrigue. An untimely demise, an evil scion, a hitman, an innocent lobby-boy and a priceless painting are the key ingredients here: sit back and enjoy this unique comic romp.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel can seemingly hit the box-office jackpot at will and with a formidable line-up that now includes an eclectic team of superheroes - including a tree-like character named Groot - has done so again with Guardians of the Galaxy. The light-hearted adventures of wise-cracking space bandit Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), aka Star Lord struck a chord with audiences, as did the groovy 70s soundtrack, dubbed Awesome Mix Vol. 1.
You can always rely on Christopher Nolan to push cinematic boundaries and challenge the intellect and he does so - in spades - with Interstellar, a hugely ambitious (and ultimately flawed) film about the fight to save the human race from extinction. Space cowboy Matthew McConaughey blasts off into a black hole in search of an alternate planet with life-sustaining properties, leaving behind loved ones and a bunch of scientific theories that only an astrophysicist could love.
An origins tale that is a retelling of a 1987 classic about a horribly crippled policeman given a high-tech makeover, RoboCop, directed by Jose Padilha, is no run-of-the mill futuristic thriller. Instead, it engages in socio-political discussion and tackles issues like the central character's struggle for identity while also meeting audience expectations in terms of violence: now, that's 21st-century entertainment.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
A compelling narrative and up-tempo action ensure that X-Men: Days of Future Past would be an exciting addition to the series: this Marvel franchise is firmly back on track. With Bryan Singer in the director's chair, this X-Men episode involves a trip back in time by Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), whose mission is to change the past in order to save the mutant race. His cause is helped by his ability to handle any situation - and the movie's US$225-million budget didn't hurt, either.