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In this blog series, George and Matt from the Monitor Audio team explore their favourite movies from the last 20 years.
Our selection of films may not be critically acclaimed or box office hits, but have stood the test of time as our favourite movies.
Dir: Clint Eastwood | Warner Bros. Pictures
This drama from Clint Eastwood, in which he also stars in, is deeply moving and really packs a punch.
The story follows amateur boxer Maggie Fitzgerald, portrayed by Hilary Swank and her rise up the ranks to become a professional. Maggie shows up at a gym run by Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood), a grouchy boxing trainer, well known in the industry. Frankie initially turns Maggie away, stating he doesn’t train women and even if he did, she would be too old to compete. Frankie's friend and employee Eddie (Morgan Freeman), inspires her to train hard at the gym and show Frankie that what she is capable of. After losing his prize prospect to a rival manager, he begrudgingly agrees to train Maggie. After initially providing her with a different manager, he soon takes her on full-time, as she begins to impress, eventually securing a title fight worth a million dollars.
As Maggie dominates the championship fight, her opponent, who is known for her dirty tactics, knocks Maggie out with an illegal punch as she is on the way back to her corner, after the bell has rung. Maggie falls onto a corner stool, breaking her neck and leaving her a quadriplegic. As Maggie is dependant on a ventilator, she is given around the clock medical care in a medical rehabilitation facility. She begins to quickly deteriorate, developing bedsores and soon has to undergo an amputation, before eventually asking Frankie to help her die, to which he reluctantly agrees.
The disconnected relationship between Maggie and her mother becomes clear when we see her family visit her, in an infuriating display of cowardice and greed. Alongside Morgan Freeman's soothing narration, as the gut wrenching finale approaches, her bond with Frankie is clear to see.
Possibly the furthest thing from a Rocky-style feel good sports film you are likely to see, but with all the attributes, this is one of my most revisited films.
Dir: Michel Gondry | Focus Features
This imaginative romantic drama from Michel Gondry explores the various stages of a relationship and the flaws that come with them.
Told in a non-linear arrangement, on a train in New York, heading to Montauk, Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) and Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) seemingly meet for the first time. Clementine’s radical attitude and Joel’s introverted personalities compliment one another, but without realising it, this isn’t the first time they have met.
Clementine and Joel were once in a relationship, but after a fight, they separated and Clementine hired Lacuna, Inc., a firm specialising in memory erasure to remove any recollection of Joel. When Joel finds out, he undergoes the same procedure, during which, we watch as Joel starts to revisit memories of Clementine in reverse, starting from the collapse of their relationship. As he remembers the happy times, he tries to retain them, attempting, but failing to wake up in the process. As we see Joel remembering the day he first met Clementine, in his last remaining memory of her, the last thing she whispers to him is to meet her in Montauk.
In a separate story, Lacuna receptionist Mary (Kirsten Dunst) finds herself in a predicament, concluding that Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), the head of Lacuna, had falsely erased her memory, after they had an affair. She also stumbles upon evidence that another technician, Patrick (Elijah Wood), had used Joel’s memories during the procedure, to later coax Clementine into a relationship. After Mary quits, she mails all Lacuna's company records to its customers. In the present, after receiving their records, Clementine and Joel are shocked to find the many unpleasant feelings they initially had toward one another, but now must work to decide if they are meant to be.
A bittersweet love story, this is a compelling and truly heartfelt portrayal of a modern relationship, with stunning performances all round.
Dir: Sam Raimi | Columbia Pictures
Director Sam Raimi follows up on 2002's Spider-Man with an even better superhero sequel.
Based on the fictional Marvel Comics character of the same name, the story follows Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), two years after the events of Norman Osborn’s death. As he continues to fight crime, he starts to suffer from a temporary loss of his powers, including his vision, which first occurs whilst hundreds of feet in the air. After Harry (James Franco) continues in his father’s footsteps at Oscorp and Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) became close to finding out Peter’s identity, he finds himself estranged from them.
Harry is now running Oscorp's research division and sponsors a fusion project by nuclear scientist Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), for what he calls “the greater good”. During a public experiment, Otto wears a harness of robotic arms, powered by AI to handle the hazardous materials, but after the fusion reactor destabilises, Spider-Man shuts it down, but not before it kills Otto Octavius Wife. After failing to surgically remove Octavius' harness, the robotic arms begin to wreak carnage and he is soon on the run, taking on the persona of Doctor Octopus. He cuts a deal with Harry to power his reactor, but in return he must find Spider-Man, whom he blames for his father's death.
Peter is struggling to balance his day-to-day life, but after a short hiatus as Spider-Man, he soon returns to save hundreds of innocent civilians on a New York City Subway train before facing off with Otto. After subduing him, Peter persuades Octavius to stop and after commanding the robotic arms to obey him, he gives his life to destroy the experiment.
A spectacular film that strikes just the right balance of character and drama, with memorable, adrenaline-pumping action that leaves you exhausted.
Dir: Michael Mann | Paramount Pictures
This compelling thriller from Director Michael Mann takes you on a dramatic ride.
Set in Los Angeles, Max (Jamie Foxx) is a taxi driver, seemingly working to save up enough to own his limousine business. We follow Max as he picks up various fares, including Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith), who is a federal prosecutor, working for the U.S. Attorney. As they share their journey to her office, they strike up a conversation and Annie leaves her number with Max. The next fare is Vincent (Tom Cruise), who tells Max that he is in LA for one night to complete a real estate deal and needs to be driven to several locations. After waiting at the first stop, the body of a dead man falls from the top of a building onto Max’s cab and soon establishes that Vincent is a hitman, and this was his first of five targets.
Whilst driving to each location, Max begins to get multiple calls from his boss, as his Mother is repeatedly calling from hospital asking where he is. Vincent orders Max to go about his usual routine, to evade any suspicion, but once they are in the hospital, Max throws Vincent’s briefcase onto the highway, losing all the data on his final two hits. As Max is forced to meet Vincent’s boss to re-obtain the data, police track and suspect Max as the hitman.
When Vincent kills his fourth target at a nightclub, a shootout occurs between bodyguards and police, as both Max and Vincent escape. After Max deliberately crashes his car, Vincent escapes and Max discovers his final target is Annie. With Max on his trail, he moves forward to the U.S. Attorney’s office, as Max must find a way to save her.
Alongside a haunting score, Michael Mann’s use of digital cameras gives the LA night scene a very gritty vibe. Tom Cruise steals the show as the greying, ageing villain. Although only ninety minutes long, it doesn’t feel hurried and offers a tense finale.
Dir: Trey Parker | Paramount Pictures
Creators of animated television series South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone bring us the finest Hollywood action cliché imaginable. Like British TV series Thunderbirds, instead of live actors, the film used a style of puppetry, with Trey Parker and Matt Stone voicing nearly every character.
In an attempt to save the world from a North Korean dictator, an actor is recruited by a fictional paramilitary police force to infiltrate and eliminate the threat. The story follows Broadway actor Gary Johnston, who is approached by Team America and subsequently taken to their HQ in Mount Rushmore. After agreeing to join them, they foil a terrorist group in Cairo, but in the process, leave the city in ruins. Soon the Film Actors Guild, headed by a group of Hollywood actors criticise the actions of Team America. Tensions arise from the events in Cairo and soon Gary leaves the group, blaming himself for the innocent lives lost. North Korean forces soon capture the remaining members of the team.
The members of the Film Actors Guild are invited to North Korea to discuss peace, but it’s a distraction, as the real plan is to detonate a series of bombs around the globe. Gary has a change of heart and travels there to save the team and convince world leaders to unite once and for all.
The scene at the beginning of the film, as we see the Team America police force damage the Louvre, Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe was hilarious. With some unbelievably lewd scenes, the use of puppets is a stroke of genius and the fact that they don’t attempt to hide the strings from the puppets is even funnier.
As they mercilessly mock, well, everything, the film is fairly good-natured and Parker and Stone pull off a style of comedy like no other.
Dir: Martin Scorsese | Miramax
This biographical drama from Director Martin Scorsese follows record-setting pilot Howard Hughes.
The film depicts the life of aviation pioneer and film producer Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio), during 1927 – 1947. The story starts with Hughes, already a millionaire, directing his first film, Hell's Angels, an aviation war epic, one of the screen's first sound action films. Due to his busy lifestyle, he hires Noah Dietrich (John C. Reilly) to manage his business operations. Hughes is a perfectionist, but he also suffers with obsessive–compulsive disorder, and soon orders for the film to be recut, taking almost three years to fully complete.
After the films success, he meets actress Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) and then Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale) but both leave him, tired of his peculiar ways. Obsessed with flying, he risks his life to break various speed and distance records, before finally breaking the world record by flying around the world in four days. After founding his own airline, Trans-World Airlines, the chairman of Pan American World Airways soon gets exclusivity on international air travel.
During World War II, Hughes is contracted by the Army Air Forces to develop planes for them, but as his bold and innovative ideas develop, alongside his eccentric personality, the more enemies he gains. A few years later, Hughes mental health begins to deteriorate due to his OCD, becoming paranoid, he isolates himself and is unable to work. As Hughes is accused of war profiteering, he must fight to prove his innocence in court.
Beautiful production design, the Hollywood nightclub scene was wonderfully recreated and the flying scenes were breathtaking. The Aviator is an engrossing and intriguing character study of Howard Hughes.
Dir: Steven Spielberg | DreamWorks Pictures
Director Steven Spielberg brings an entertaining feel-good comedy set in John F. Kennedy Airport for almost its entirety.
From the fictional nation of Krakozhia, Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) arrives at John F. Kennedy Airport with the intention of collecting autographs of some of his late Fathers favourite jazz musicians. Upon arrival, he is notified that his passport is no longer valid due to the civil war in Krakozhia. He cannot leave, nor go back home, leaving him in the predicament of staying at the airport indefinitely.
With only the can of photographs and his luggage, he has to quickly settle in to terminal life, finding food and a place to sleep. As time goes on, Viktor begins to make friends with the various airport employees, becoming known as the stateless man. A construction company, renovating the airport lounges, soon hire Viktor, much to the dismay of the temporary customs director of the airport, Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci). Frank is being considered for promotion and desperate for Viktor to leave. A regular to the airport, a flight attendant named Amelia Warren (Catherine Zeta-Jones) soon catches Viktor’s eye, but he fails on several attempts to woo her.
After the fighting in Krakozhia ceases, Viktor is finally allowed to go back home, but not before one of Amelia’s contacts present him with an emergency one-day visa to fulfil his dream and go in search of his fathers heroes. As Frank attempts to stop him, his friends distract airport security, allowing him to leave.
The film was partially inspired by the incredible true story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, who found himself in Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport from 1988 to 2006. Engaging and funny, Tom Hanks is at the top of his game in this fairy-tale triumph.
Dir: Adam McKay | DreamWorks Pictures
Director Adam McKay offers an absurd battle of the sexes comedy, set in 1970s Los Angeles.
At a local San Diego television station, Anchorman Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) and his childhood friends work at the fictional KVWN as the Channel 4 News team. Alongside Ron, field reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), sports caster Champ Kind (David Koechner), and meteorologist Brick Tamland (Steve Carell). Together, they drink and party without a care in the world, until they receive some startling news. Station Director Ed Harken informs the team that they have been forced to hire aspiring newswoman Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), much to the teams despair.
After Ron and Veronica begin a ‘secret’ relationship, Veronica is promoted to co-anchor with Ron, and as his team begin to feel threatened, they are soon locked in a battle with Veronica and struggle to adjust to the idea of females in the workplace. After replacing Ron’s signature closing line, "You stay classy, San Diego!" on the teleprompter to something a little more unsavoury, Ron offends all San Diegons (San Diego-ites) and is fired. Ron must face Veronica and the changing times if he is to win her and his job back.
The most memorable scene is the parking lot news team standoff. Wes Mantooth (Vince Vaughn) together with his Evening News team, Frank Vitchard (Luke Wilson) and his Channel 2 team, alongside the Public News (Tim Robbins) and lastly, the Spanish Language News (Ben Stiller) battle for supremacy. As the variety of weapons, ranging from pitchforks to hand grenades are wielded, it really does escalate quicker than expected, as we see how people settled things in the 70s, providing one of the funniest and over-the-top fight scenes in cinema history. Rule number one: no touching of the hair or face. Of course…
A lot of fun and possibly one of the most quotable comedy films ever made.
Dir: Taylor Hackford | Universal Pictures
Director Taylor Hackford delivers this biographical drama about rhythm and blues musician and pioneer, Ray Charles.
The film follows Ray (Jamie Foxx) from his childhood in Georgia, to his extraordinary rise to stardom during the 50s and early 60s. Charles didn’t have an easy start in life. Raised on a sharecropping plantation, during hard financial times, Charles, his brother and his mother temporarily lived at the Red Wing Café, which is where he learned to play the piano. After witnessing his brother drown, he was then blinded due to complications with glaucoma. After attending the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, he further developed his musical talent, learning to play classical piano and braille music.
Upon leaving school, Charles played in various bands at the various theatres across Florida, before befriending a 15-year-old Quincy Jones in Seattle and eventually began touring around Los Angeles. It was there, where his singles earned him a contract at Atlantic Records, combining his style of jazz, rhythm and blues and rock and roll, leading him to headline at Carnegie Hall and the Newport Jazz Festival.
After his contract with Atlantic expired, he signed with ABC-Paramount and despite some radio stations banning his songs; he soon became a household name. At ABC he had ownership of his master tapes and there he received national acclaim and was awarded with four Grammy Awards.
The final scene of the film as Charles performs Georgia's eventual state song, "Georgia on My Mind", Jamie Foxx’s stunning performance was cemented. Despite barely scratching the surface of his life, listening to the recordings in the soundtrack was magnificent and inspiring.
Dir: Michael Moore | FLIC Distributors
Following Bowling for Columbine, political filmmaker Michael Moore provides another hard-hitting documentary, this time of the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
As Moore looks at the voting controversy in Florida and potential election fraud, he focuses on then president George W. Bush, looking at his friends and allies. As his attention turns to the Iraq War, Moore doesn’t hold back as he gauges the impact of the invasion by the U.S. military. Using quotes from news organisations and journalists, he challenges the bias of the U.S. media and the negative effect they had.
After hearing heart-wrenching stories from parents whose children had been killed in action, they join Moore in questioning the purpose of war and the true motives behind it. Lastly he puts a spotlight on the servicemen and women from Flint, Michigan, one of the most impoverished cities in the nation.
The film was dedicated to those who served and are still serving in the U.S. military, alongside the people who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks, and also the thousands in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The military recruitment process for the lower classes deserves intense scrutiny. A powerful and scathing assessment of the political administration, whilst understanding the brutal reality of the many lives lost. Regardless of where you stand on the issues, its difficult not to feel as passionately as him.
Check out more of our favourites