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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
Clint Eastwood directs and co-stars in this controversial and unconventional drama about a man alienated from his family, seemingly angry with everyone and everything.
Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is recently widowed after fifty years of marriage. Set in the city of Detroit, Walt lives in an area now dominated by poor Asian families, surrounded by gang violence. Still haunted by memories of the war, Walt struggles to communicate and much to his displeasure, Walt’s sons suggest that he move to a community not far away, which provides specialised care for the elderly. Despite his health declining, he believes that it’s their intention to sell the family home, dismissing the idea and cutting off contact with them.
The Hmong Vang Lor family soon move next-door to Walt, but he makes no effort to welcome them. One member of the family, Thao (Bee Vang), is fragile and shy and a local street-gang pressure soon him into stealing Walt’s expensive Gran Torino. After getting caught in the act, Thao is forced to make amends, carrying out chores for Walt for a week. Thankful for his guidance, Thao's sister Sue (Ahney Her) introduces Walt to the Hmong community, eventually warming to Thao and getting him a job. As his health declines, Walt eventually visits the doctor and isn’t surprised when told he doesn’t have long left. After the gang return and assault Thao, Walt gets involved, but things soon escalate when they fire submachine guns through both of their houses, before abducting Sue.
Whilst Sue is in hospital, Walt takes it upon himself to exact revenge on the gang, confronting them all in front of their house. Whilst neighbours gather around, Walt sacrifices himself, purposely pretending to pull out a gun, in order for the gang to commit murder, with multiple witnesses. In his will, Walt’s leaves his cherished Gran Torino to Thao.
Alongside gentle humour, these vibrant characters are brought to life in this stunning film, beautifully covering mortality, racism and religion.
Dir: Mark Herman | Miramax Films
A tragic film, based on John Boyne's 2006 novel of the same name, director Mark Herman introduces us to horror of the Holocaust.
Set in Berlin, in Nazi Germany during World War II, we follow a young boy named Bruno (Asa Butterfield). Bruno is the son of Ralf, a recently promoted Nazi officer, who has moved the family to a luxury house, but Bruno is unaware that they live next to a concentration camp. Herr Liszt is Bruno and his sister Gretel’s tutor and is infatuated with the Third Reich, displaying multiple portraits of Adolf Hitler in her bedroom. She is desperate to push Nazi propaganda onto the children, leaving them confused. Donning a prisoners striped uniform, Pavel is a Jewish servant for the family, but in Bruno’s eyes, he doesn’t depict what Herr Liszt is teaching them.
Bruno is forbidden to play in the garden, but after spotting people working on what he thinks is a farm, he approaches it, desperate to make friends. He soon navigates around the barbed wire fences and befriends a young boy named Shmuel, who is wearing the same uniform that Pavel wears. After learning that Shmuel is Jewish and brought to the camp along with his mother and father, he continues to bring food and play games with him, as they form a strong bond. Their ignorance is clear, as Shmuel believes that his grandparents died from an illness on the way to the camp and Bruno believes that Shmuel and the other prisoners are in fact wearing pyjamas, not uniforms.
Lieutenant Kotler discovers Bruno and Shmuel together, accusing Bruno of sharing food, which he denies. After a few days Shmuel accepts Bruno’s apology and agrees to help Shmuel look for his father, who is missing. After putting on the same striped outfit to blend in, they come across other inmates participating in a march. As his family realise Bruno is missing, they go in search for him, leading them to the gas chamber.
A haunting tale, truly touching and packs a devastating final punch. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is an important film, beautifully told.
Dir: Christopher Nolan | Warner Bros. Pictures
The second in Director Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, The Dark Knight continues with Batman pursuing The Joker, a menacing psychopath.
As a Gotham City bank is robbed by a gang of criminals, one by one, each one is killed off, all part of The Joker’s (Heath Ledger) cunning plan, as he escapes with the money. Despite the fact that Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) is dating Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) takes a liking to Dent, believing the day he stops being Batman, Dent could be the key to ending organised crime in Gotham for good. During a meeting, mob bosses are told by their accountant Lau that he has taken their funds to Hong Kong, due to the threat of the Batman. The Joker soon reveals himself and desperate to upset social order through crime, he strikes a deal with them to kill Batman, in exchange for half of their money.
After Lau is brought back to testify against the mob, The Joker murders the judge presiding over the trial and Dent learns that Rachel is next on the list. As civilians are killed, Bruce realised the only way to stop him is to reveal his identity, but Dent surprisingly announces that he is Batman, leading him to protective custody. Batman saves Dent from The Joker and interrogates him, but as corrupt police take Dent and Rachel away, he is soon faced with a desperate choice to save only one. Dent wakes in hospital, severely disfigured, to discover Rachel was killed. The Joker takes hostages from a local hospital after persuading Dent that Gordon was to blame. As Dent starts a killing spree, The Joker hopes it will become public knowledge. The Joker rigs two ferries with explosives, one containing civilians and the other prisoners, but as Batman apprehends The Joker, they each refuse to detonate each other’s boat, much to the confusion of The Joker. After killing Dent, Batman asks Gordon to make him responsible, to preserve Dent’s reputation.
With his trademark chalk-white skin and red lips, it was a haunting performance from Ledger. Alongside adrenalin fuelled action sequences and breathless set pieces, its one of the most stylish ever made.
Dir: Ben Stiller | DreamWorks Pictures
Egos collide, in this satirical look at Hollywood, as director Ben Stiller shows us what its really like on set, in this hilarious action-comedy.
Tropic Thunder is the title of a memoir by Staff Sergeant Tayback (Nick Nolte), a Vietnam veteran. Studio executive Les Grossman (Tom Cruise) agrees to make the epic Vietnam War film, based on the memoir, giving director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) the tough task of assembling a troubled cast of actors, starting with the lead, Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller). Speedman is a fading star and joining him is award-winning Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), newcomer Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), rapper Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), and drug-addicted comedian Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black).
Filming is months behind schedule, after a million-dollar pyrotechnics scene is wasted. Tayback persuades Damien to take control of the wayward cast, so takes them into the jungle, rigging explosives all around them. Damien is killed after stepping on a landmine, but believing it to be fake, Tugg encourages them all to push forward and continue with the scenes. Unbeknown to the cast, the jungle is home to the heroin-producing Flaming Dragon gang. Tayback admits to pyrotechnics operator Cody (Danny McBride) he wrote his "memoir" as a tribute and never served in the army, after finding what’s left of Damien’s body. The gang capture Tugg, who take him to a POW camp and torture him, but he still believes its part of the script. Flaming Dragon soon feel the wrath of Grossman, after demanding a ransom. Grossman is happy to receive the insurance pay out, so Rick Peck (Matthew McConaughey), Tugg’s agent, makes his way to the jungle.
The group break into the factory, rescuing Tugg, but soon their forces close in on them, as Tayback and Cody arrive in the helicopter. As a missile is fired toward them, Rick appears and saves the day, allowing the group to escape. After the footage is compiled, the feature film is complete, becoming a success, landing Tugg with an Academy Award.
Tropic Thunder is a brilliant parody of Hollywood’s insecurities, with some hilarious one-liners and great gags. This is what satire is all about.
Dir: Jon Favreau | Walt Disney Studios
The first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe didn’t let us down, as director Jon Favreau took the helm for a spectacular superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name.
Stark Industries is a defence company, developing and manufacturing advanced military weapons. After inheriting Stark Industries from his father Howard, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) travels to Afghanistan for the latest round of weapons testing. Joining him is Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes (Terrence Howard), but as they test the new “Jericho” missile, the Ten Rings terrorist group ambushes them and Tony is held captive. After being critically wounded, Yinsen, a fellow captive doctor builds an electromagnet device, which is planted in Tony’s chest, powered by an arc reactor, ensuring the shrapnel doesn’t reach his heart.
After the group demands that Tony build them a missile, he instead builds a powered suit of armour. Yinsen is killed as Tony escapes, losing his makeshift suit in the process. When he returns home, despite company manager Stane’s (Jeff Bridges) protests, he pledges to stop developing weapons. After building an advanced suit, he discovers that Stark Industries had recently sent a shipment of guns to the remaining Ten Rings group, so flies to Afghanistan to save local villagers. After we find out that Stan has been trafficking weapons to the terrorist group, he acquires the original suit Tony built, using the technology to build a new one. Tony realises that Stane was behind the original ambush, before Stane steals his arc reactor, leaving Tony to use the original.
As they face off on the Stark Industries building, each in their own powered suits; Stane finally succumbs to a huge electrical surge emitted from the building. After revealing himself as “Iron Man" to the public, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the director of law enforcement agency S.H.I.E.L.D., informs him there are more superhero’s out there.
Wonderful humour and visuals, with charming and charismatic performances, Favreau built a superb foundation for the franchise.
Dir: Nicholas Stoller | Universal Pictures
Director Nicholas Stoller brings us a lively romantic disaster movie, which is a lot fun and puts a huge smile on your face.
Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) is a composer for hit show Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime, which features his girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) in the lead role. One day, Sarah announces that she is breaking with him, sending Peter into a depressive state, finding it difficult to separate work and his breakup. Peter has a melt down, quitting his job to begin work on his lifelong dream – a puppet-based rock-opera about Dracula. Not able to concentrate and unable to banish his grief, he sets off to the Turtle Bay resort in Hawaii to unwind.
Upon arriving, he soon realises that Sarah is also on vacation at the same resort, with her new boyfriend Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), the lead singer for rock band Infant Sorrow. After befriending Matthew (Jonah Hill) and Chuck (Paul Rudd), he begins to spend time with hotel concierge Rachel (Mila Kunis), who initially takes pity on him, but soon, they begin a relationship. When Aldous confirms that he will be embarking on an 18-month world tour, her misery is further compounded when she is told her TV show has been cancelled. After discovering that Aldous was having an affair with Sarah before they broke up, he confronts her, realising that their relationship wasn’t as good as he initially remembered. After an awkward double date, Peter gets closer to Rachel and Aldous realises that Sarah is just using him to try and make Peter jealous, calling an end to their relationship. After a brief encounter with Sarah, after attempting to console her, Peter confesses to Rachel, leading her to ask him to leave the island.
Upon arriving back in Los Angeles, he picks up where he left off on his Dracula puppet musical, eventually getting the show up and running. Rachel receives an invitation from Peter and shows up at the opening night performance. As Sarah stars in a new television show titled Animal Instincts, Peter and Rachel finally rekindle their romance.
With memorable one-liners and a smart script, Forgetting Sarah Marshall has the very best cringe-inducing comedy throughout.
Dir: Darren Aronofsky | Searchlight Pictures
This heart-wrenching drama from director Darren Aronofsky follows an aging professional wrestler, struggling to justify the path he has chosen.
Robin (Mickey Rourke) was a professional wrestler in the 80s, and still wrestles under the ring name Randy “The Ram” Robinson at weekends, for various promotions. To make ends meet, he works part time at a supermarket, where Wayne, his manager, constantly mocks him for his wrestling background. His most notable opponent was "The Ayatollah", who reaches out to Robin to schedule a rematch in front of a huge crowd. Realising that this could be a way back into the industry, he accepts, increasing the intensity of his training, including steroid injections. He takes a liking to Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), a local stripper, but she rejects his advances. After, he takes part in a warm up match, where disqualifications do not apply. After the brutal match, he suffers a heart attack and immediately undergoes coronary artery bypass surgery.
Robin retires after advice from the doctor, working full-time at the supermarket. After speaking to Cassidy, he visits Stephanie, his estranged daughter, but she soon turns him away, still bitter after being abandoned at the height of his fame. He persists and after a brief visit, they agree to meet for dinner that weekend. After visiting Cassidy to tell her the good news, he again asks her to be more than friends, but when he is rejected, he spirals out of control. After a night of parting and cocaine, he misses the dinner with his daughter, sleeping through it. After attempting to apologise, Stephanie tells him to leave for good.
After losing his temper with a customer, he quits his job and reschedules the match with The Ayatollah, despite being warned not to by Cassidy. During the match, the fans chants spur him on, but after becoming unsteady and feeling chest pains, The Ayatollah tries to end the match early. Robin refuses, selling the match with a huge top rope dive, as Cassidy leaves, this last move is for the fans who love and respect him.
In an attempt at redemption, Rourke’s portrayal of a broken man is terrific, in one of the most vulnerable and honest performances to date.
Dir: Bryan Bertino | Rogue Pictures
This tension building psychological horror from director Bryan Bertino pulls no punches when it comes to creepy scares in this home invasion film.
Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) arrive at a secluded family summer home, returning from their friend’s wedding where Kristen had rejected James attempt to propose. James asks his friend Mike to get him in the morning. In the early hours, they answer a knock at the door. A young woman, who face is shadowed by the porch light asks “Is Tamara home?”, but is turned away by James. James drives to the store to buy cigarettes, leaving Kristen in the house by herself. Trying to light a fire, she realises the chimney flue is closed and the smoke sets off the smoke alarm. As Kristen attempts to disarm it, she hears another knock at the door, dropping the alarm on the floor.
After she attempts to call James using the landline, she returns to the kitchen where unbeknown to her, a man in a mask is watching her from the hallway. Kristen notices that the smoke alarm is now sitting on a chair and her mobile phone is missing. She begins to panic when she hears a noise coming from outside, and grabs a kitchen knife. She opens the curtains to find the man in the mask staring back at her. Screaming, she runs towards the hallway, noticing that the door is being forced open by the blonde woman, now in a doll mask. She hides in the bedroom, with James appearing shortly after.
Kirsten tells James what happens, and they attempt to escape in his car. They discover the car vandalised and his mobile phone missing. When they attempt to flee, another woman in a pin-up girl mask rams their car with a truck. The couple flees back into the house, grabbing a shotgun and wait for the intruders in the bedroom, killing his friend Mike by accident when he appeared at the doorway. The couple are overcome by the intruders, whilst trying to get to an old radio transmitter in the shed. They wake up tied to chairs in the morning. Kristen askes “why are you doing this?”, the blonde woman replies “because you were home”. They take it in turns to stab the couple. Later, a couple of Morman boys come upon the house, whilst distributing pamphlets, and discover the bodies. Kristen grabs ones of the boy’s arms and screams.
The screenplay was inspired by the Mansion Family murders and a series of break-ins in Bertino’s childhood neighbourhood. It does an incredible job of building atmosphere and tension, and is a criticism of the perceived safety of country living and stranger-on-stranger violence.
Dir: Matt Reeves | Paramount Pictures
Director Matt Reeves provides a tale of a destructive force ripping its way through New York City, as residents flee, recording their escape.
The United States Department of Defence recover personal camcorder footage of a recent cataclysmic event in the area previously known as Central Park, in the heart of Manhattan. "Cloverfield" is the government's case designation for the events caused by the monster, and after a disclaimer is shown, we start at the beginning of the footage.
Jason (Mike Vogel) and his girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) throw a farewell party for Jason’s brother Rob (Michael Stahl-David), before he leaves for his new job in Japan. As Hud (T.J. Miller) films everyone, we see Rob’s former romance Beth (Odette Yustman) turn up. A supposed earthquake strikes, causing a power outage, as everyone moves into the street. After Beth leaves, the severed head of the Statue of Liberty lands in front of them, causing a mass wide panic and evacuation. As they approach the Brooklyn Bridge, we get a glimpse of the monster, who kills Jason and many others as the bridge is destroyed. The devastation and collapse of the buildings around them make it impossible to move through the crowd. Rob, Hud, Lily, and another partygoer, Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) act to save Beth, who is trapped in her apartment. In the subway, parasitic creatures attack them and Marlena is bitten. As they arrive at the field hospital, Marlena succumbs to her injuries and the group continue on to save Beth. Before they leave, they learn of the militaries plans to level Manhattan in order to kill the monster.
After rescuing Beth, they make they way to Grand Central Terminal to the evacuating helicopters. Lily is rescued, and then Rob, Beth and Hud take the second helicopter, which crashes into Central Park, after the creature lunges at them. After the monster kills Hud, Rob and Beth take shelter and record their final message as the military protocol begins.
Cloverfield is a brilliantly written experimental film, which is engaging, gripping and nauseating. This claustrophobic thriller feels extremely realistic, leaving you on edge until the dramatic, but mysterious finale.
Dir: Sam Mendes | Paramount Vantage
Sam Mendes directs a melancholy look at 1950s American suburban life with incredible performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
Frank Wheeler (DiCaprio) and his wife April (Winslet) move into a home in suburbia when April becomes pregnant. Their realtor and soon to be close friend Helen (Kathy Bates) tells them that they are the perfect couple for the house and Frank and April soon make friends with their neighbours Milly and Shep.
Even though they appear to be the perfect couple, their relationship is seriously flawed. April is a failed actress, whilst Frank is bored of his mundane career. Looking towards a new future, April suggests that they sell their house and move to Paris to start a new way of life. As they ready their move, they are forced to reconsider. Frank is offered a promotion and April becomes pregnant again.
Their relationship starts to fall apart, with Frank and April both having separate affairs. After an altercation with dinner guests about their future, April decides to perform a home abortion and later dies in hospital from blood loss. Frank, feeling extreme guilt, moves to the city and spends all of his extra time with his children. A new couple buys the Wheeler’s house, Helen again suggests how well suited the couple are for the house, but the scars still run deep with their neighbours.
Based on the novel of the same name, Revolutionary Road instils the claustrophobia of 50s suburban life, gender roles and the isolation that came with the ‘American dream’. Mendes does an incredible job directing the all-star cast, gaining a slew of award wins and nominations.
Dir: Robert Luketic | Columbia Pictures
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Dir: David Fincher | Paramount Pictures
Burn After Reading
Dir: Joel & Ethan Coen | Focus Features
Dir: Clint Eastwood | Universal Studios
Synecdoche, New York
Dir: Charlie Kaufman | Sony Pictures Classics
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