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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: Ang Lee | 20th Century Studios
This visual masterpiece from director Ang Lee, based on the novel of the same name, focuses on a young mans survival in the Pacific Ocean.
As Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan) sits with a keen young writer (Rafe Spall), he details the story of his incredible life. Starting with his name, which caused him embarrassment in his early years. His father named him Piscine Molitor Patel, after a swimming pool, in France. He adopts the name Pi, to avoid nicknames. Confused about the various religions that were taught, he decides to follow Hindu, Christianity and Islam, despite his parents and siblings attempts to convert him to just one.
Pi takes an interest in the animals on the family zoo, in particular the Bengal tiger, which he names Richard Parker. At 16, his family plan to relocate to Canada. On a freighter, a huge storm causes it to sink into the Mariana Trench, as Pi survives on a lifeboat, his family drown. As the storm finishes, Pi wakes to find a zebra, an orangutan and a hyena have made their way onto his boat. As Pi retreats, the hyena kills the zebra and despite his attempts to stop it, also kills the orangutan, before Richard Parker appears and kills the hyena. Pi fashions a raft, attached to the boat, in order to keep his distance. Pi begins to fish, but when Richard Parker falls off the boat, he saves him. After a whale destroys his raft, Pi begins to train Richard Parker, realising they must work together. They are able to eat again, when they come across edible plants and a population of meerkats on a mysterious floating island. They finally reach the coast, but despite their journey together, Richard Parker runs straight into the jungle, as Pi lies to insurance agents about his survival.
The writer is astounded, but believes his story, as he reads the official insurance report, which states Pi survived his great adventure "in the company of an adult Bengal tiger."
A spectacular story, Life of Pi is both compelling and extremely moving, with Lee able to beautifully portray every aspect of science and faith.
Dir: Sam Mendes | Sony Pictures
The twenty-third film in the series, director Sam Mendes brought us a perfect thriller in Skyfall, as James Bond investigates an attack on MI6.
Mercenary Patrice escapes with a hard drive in Istanbul, when MI6 agent Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) accidently shoots fellow agent Bond (Daniel Craig), who is presumed dead. Months later, a public inquest is set, criticising how M (Judi Dench), the head of MI6, handled the incident. When their servers are hacked, the MI6 building explodes, causing Bond to come out of retirement to find who was behind it. Despite failing all the required examinations to return as a field agent, M trusts her instincts and reinstates him, as he is tasked with killing Patrice.
Bond follows Patrice to Shanghai, where he kills him, finding a casino token that leads him to Macau. Sévérine, an accomplice of Patrice, agrees to help Bond meet her employer, as they travel to an abandoned island. There he meets ex agent Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), who has turned to cyber terrorism. After Silva kills Sévérine, reinforcements capture Silva and return him to Britain, charged with orchestrating the attack on MI6. All part of Silva’s plan, Q (Ben Whishaw) inadvertently gives him access to the MI6 servers, after attempting to decrypt Silva's laptop. Bond chases Silva all the way to M, at the Parliament inquiry, before he and M lead Silva to Bond’s childhood home in the Scottish Highlands. There, along with the gamekeeper, they prepare for Silva and his men, but after they arrive, the home is destroyed and Silva follows M to a nearby chapel. Bond kills Silva, but M succumbs to her wounds.
After M’s funeral, Moneypenny informs Bond that she will become the new secretary for Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the newly appointed M, who then sends Bond back out into the field on a new assignment.
Delivering the best action set pieces since Casino Royale, Mendes followed the same successful formula, as he delivered the most unusual and charismatic Bond film to date.
Dir: Robert Zemeckis | Paramount Pictures
Tense thriller from director Robert Zemeckis follows a pilot, initially hailed a hero, before an investigation depicts him in a different light.
After a night of heavy drinking, Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) takes cocaine to prepare himself for his next flight. He and his partner Katerina, an attendant on the same flight, arrive for SouthJet Flight 227 to Atlanta, which experiences severe turbulence. Whip mixes vodka in his orange juice and takes a nap, as Co-pilot Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty) takes over, until the plane begins a steep dive. Whip rotates the plan, flying inverted, before a controlled crash.
Pilots union representative Charlie (Bruce Greenwood), visits him in hospital, notifying him that Katerina was one of six people who died, out of one hundred and two. Whip meets Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a recovering heroin addict, before friend and drug dealer Harling (John Goodman) takes him home. Whip meets with Charlie and Hugh (Don Cheadle), an attorney, who tells him that they have a report that Whip was intoxicated during the flight. As the NTSB start a case against Whip, Hugh gets the toxicology report voided on technical grounds. Nicole moves in with Whip, as they become close, but his drinking habits push them apart. Whip later asks a surviving crew member to tell the NTSB that he was sober. Whip then meets Ken, who is recovering in hospital, who agrees to not to tell the NTSB that he was drinking. As his behaviour becomes more erratic, Charlie agrees to let Whip live with him, to ensure he stops drinking. The night before the hearing, Whip raids the hotel minibar, as Harling is called, after they find him passed out.
He makes the NTSB hearing, but when they blame Katerina for the alcohol consumption, he is consumed with guilt and admits to being intoxicated on the day of the crash and at the hearing itself, admitting he is an alcoholic. He rebuilds his relationship with Nicola and his son, as Whip recovers in prison, talking to fellow inmates about his sobriety.
With real complexity to Washington’s character, we follow a tragic anti-hero, in this deep and psychological drama from Zemeckis.
Dir: Quentin Tarantino | Columbia Pictures
In this bold and brutal masterpiece from director Quentin Tarantino, we follow one mans search for his wife, in this revisionist Western thriller.
In Texas 1858, a group of slaves, including Django (Jamie Foxx), are sold by the Speck brothers, as Django becomes separated from his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). A German dentist-turned-bounty hunter, by the name of Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), unintentionally frees the slaves, after initially enquiring to buy Django. Schultz requires Django's knowledge of the location of his previous owner, the three outlaw Brittle brothers, to which he agrees to help, in exchange for his freedom.
At a Tennessee plantation, Django and Schultz kill the Brittle brothers, before Schultz agrees to help him find and rescue Broomhilda. Django and Schultz rack up several bounties, before learning that Broomhilda is being kept at the Candyland plantation in Mississippi. The proprietor is Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a sadistic owner that forces slaves to wrestle to their death. Schultz and Django meet Calvin at his gentleman's club, with a plan to trick him, offering money to purchase one of his best fighters, with the true intension to leave Candyland with Broomhilda, after having second thoughts. After their fake proposal, Calvin invites them to his plantation where Schultz secretly tells Broomhilda their plan. However, after his house slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), notifies Calvin that Broomhilda knows Django, they are held at gunpoint. As Schultz retaliates, shooting Calvin dead, Schultz is killed and Django goes on to kill numerous bodyguards, before surrendering.
Later, Django talks his way out of being sold by the bounty hunters, killing the escorts in the process. He then returns to the plantation with their dynamite, blows the house up and saves Broomhilda.
This tale of vengeance is typical of a Tarantino film, but it’s an ultra-violent spectacle not to be missed. Django Unchained is a romantic epic, cleverly structured and full of nonstop entertainment.
Dir: Joe Carnahan | Open Road Films
This exciting survival story, from director Joe Carnahan, centres on a group of men, stranded in Alaska after a plane crash.
Working for an oil company in Alaska, John Ottway (Liam Neeson) is a marksman, tasked with eliminating the threat of grey wolves around the facility. On his last day, he shoots and kills a wolf that was dangerously close to one of the drillers. Ottway plans to commit suicide that evening, writing a letter to his wife, but is unable to follow through.
On the plane out of Alaska, as the oil workers are sleeping, the freezing cold conditions cause the engine to fail, as the plane crashes in the middle of the wilderness, subjecting them to sub-zero conditions. Many of the workers are dead, but the surviving group rally around, attempting to help those suffering. Ottway takes charge, but when a wolf attacks him later that evening, he realises that they are in the middle of their territory. After one of the group is killed by a wolf whilst keeping watch, they decide to leave the crash site, but not before Diaz (Frank Grillo) questions Ottway’s leadership. As they search for supplies amongst the wreckage, they leave and make a run for the trees, but another of the group is killed. Just Ottway, Diaz, Talget (Dermot Mulroney), Burke (Nonso Anozie) and Hendrick (Dallas Roberts) remain. After they kill an omega sent by the alpha wolf, they discover that Burke has succumbed to hypoxia and as a blizzard approaches, they make a desperate jump across a canyon. After Talget falls and is dragged away by the wolves, Diaz gives up, due to a knee injury suffered when crossing the chasm. As wolves chase them, Ottway fails to help Hendrick, who falls and drowns in the river.
When Ottway realises that the group were walking in the wrong direction, he is too late, as he stumbles into the wolves’ den. As its revealed that his wife was dying of a terminal illness, which is why he intended to kill himself, he arms himself, as the alpha attacks.
A thrilling and intense ride, Carnahan provides a spectacular survivalist drama, with fantastic cinematography and a poetic conclusion.
Dir: Ben Affleck | Warner Bros. Pictures
Based on true events, this historical drama from director Ben Affleck chronicles a crazy life-or-death covert operation in Iran.
On November 4, 1979, as the Iranian revolution reaches its boiling point, Iranian Islamists storm the United States embassy in Tehran. As sixty of the embassy staff are taken hostage, six of them manage to hide and slip out unseen. They then make their way to the home of Ken Taylor, the home of the Canadian ambassador. As the U.S. State Department watch the situation unfold, they realise they have to extract the six escapees, who would be likely killed if they were found.
A consultation by U.S. Central Intelligence Agency exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), is unable to determine a safe passage. He soon finds inspiration from an unlikely source, when talking to his son, he begins watching Battle for the Planet of the Apes, realising he must create some cover stories for the escapees. The risky plan is to suggest that the escapees were not embassy employees, but instead that they are Canadian filmmakers, scouting exotic locations for an upcoming film. John Chambers (John Goodman), a Hollywood make-up artist, who had previously worked with Mendez, gets top film producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to make contact with Mendez. A phony film production company is setup, and a fake science-fiction film called Argo is publicised. However, as the militants realise that some personnel are unaccounted for, the escapees become anxious. Mendez poses as a producer and enters Iran, providing each of the escapees with fake identities, as they pretend to scout a nearby bazaar.
As a planned military rescue of the hostages is planned, the group plane takes off, just in time, as the guards realise their ploy. Mendez is secretly awarded the Intelligence Star, as full credit is given to the Canadian government, to protect all the remaining hostages.
A humorous and quite incredible tale, told brilliantly by Affleck, Argo has simmering tension right until the finale in this well-executed thriller.
Dir: David O. Russell | Lantern Entertainment
Director David O. Russell takes on an unconventional romantic comedy, as two dysfunctional characters meet under awkward circumstances.
Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), a former teacher, is released into the care of his parents, after spending eight months being treated for bipolar disorder in a mental health facility. Although reluctant to have him back, his father Patrizio Sr. (Robert De Niro) and mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) agree, but have to deal with his random aggressive outbursts. They have occurred since he was diagnosed, after catching his ex-wife, Nikki with another man. Despite that, Pat is determined to be with her, despite having a restraining order against him.
In order to ensure he doesn’t go back to the clinic, he must take medication, to help battle his anxiety attacks. Ronnie (John Ortiz), Pat’s friend, invites him for dinner, where he meets his sister in law Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a recent widow. After discussing their mental illnesses, Pat rejects her advances, insisting he still believes he has a chance with Nikki. Tiffany agrees to help him, if he partners with her for an upcoming dancing competition, which he agrees to. Despite trying to push his feelings away, whilst practising their routine, Pat shows Tiffany affection. Patrizio resorts to illegal bookmaking, betting nearly all of his money on the outcome of a Philadelphia Eagles game, in order to open a restaurant. After Pat attends the game and the Eagles lose, a furious Tiffany confronts Pat at home for not showing up for practise. Patrizio is convinced that when Pat is with Tiffany, he has the fortune of good luck when he places his bets. He then places the remainder of his money on a bet with one of his long-time friends that the Eagles will not only win the next game, but Tiffany and Pat score 5 out of 10 in their competition.
As the Eagles win and they score exactly 5 points, Patrizio wins his bet and despite Nikki being present, Pat and Tiffany begin a relationship.
With snappy dialogue, this unique drama focuses on an offbeat love story, with remarkable performances and a strikingly positive message.
Dir: Kathryn Bigelow | Sony Pictures
This thriller from director Kathryn Bigelow dramatizes the manhunt and significant discovery of the Al-Qaeda leader, after the 9/11 attacks.
Set in 2003, as part of the team tasked with finding Osama bin Laden, CIA analyst Maya (Jessica Chastain) attends an interrogation. Ammar is subjected to approved torture interrogation techniques, questioned over his links to several of the hijackers in the attacks. Alongside CIA officer Dan (Jason Clarke), despite first receiving unreliable information, they are given the name of a personal courier for bin Laden.
Two years later, information given by another detainee, leads Maya to believe that their intelligence was correct, Abu Ahmed is bin Laden’s courier. After the Camp Chapman suicide attack against the CIA in 2009, a detainee claims to have buried Abu Ahmed, eight years earlier, but realising that he travelled under a different name, Maya believes he is still alive. Now a senior officer at the CIA headquarters, Dan is contacted and given this information by Maya, who confirm that it was in fact Abu Ahmed’s brother who was buried. Soon the team in Pakistan identify the courier, tracking him to a large compound, close to the Pakistan Military Academy. Maya’s cover is blown, when her vehicle is fired upon, causing her to be recalled to Washington, D.C. The CIA cannot conclude that bin Laden is in the compound, despite the constant surveillance. The National Security Advisor meets with the CIA and decides that its very likely he is inside. After approval from President Barack Obama, the plan to capture or kill bin Laden is approved.
A special team flies to the compound on May 2, 2011, with the Navy SEALs killing a number of guards in the compound, including bin Laden. Back at their U.S. base in Afghanistan, the team returns with the body and Maya confirms the identity of the corpse to be bin Laden.
A gruelling film that’s both upsetting and satisfying, the harrowing siege of Bin Laden's hideaway is an extraordinary and memorable scene. Zero Dark Thirty is distressing, authentic and full of suspense.
Dir: Tom Hooper | Universal Pictures
Director Tom Hooper delivers a period musical of a prisoner’s journey, based on the novel of the same name, leading up to the June Rebellion.
At Bagne of Toulon prison in 1815, French prisoner Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is finally released, after stealing a loaf of bread for his sister's son nineteen years prior. The Bishop of Digne allows Valjean to stay with him, but unable to work due the conditions of his parole, he steals his silver wear, before being captured by police. The Bishop saves Valjean from returning to prison by telling them that he gave Valjean the silver wear. Valjean then breaks his parole, by leaving for northern France.
Now the major of Montreuil, Pas-de-Calais and owner of a factory, eight years later, Valjean is shocked to find out the new chief of police is Javert (Russell Crowe). Formerly a Toulon prison guard, Javert suspects Valjean, after he witnesses him lift a heavy cart after an accident outside the factory. Meanwhile, factory worker Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is dismissed when word gets out about her illegitimate daughter Cosette. Fantine becomes a prostitute, before first selling her hair and teeth to send money to the Thénardiers (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen), the innkeepers who look after her. After Valjean reveals his true identity, he rescues Fantine, with her last wish for him to look after Cosette. Valjean escapes Javert, paying off Fantine's debts to the Thénardiers and flees with Cosette. Nine years later, Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a member of the Friends of the ABC, a revolutionist group, falls in love with Cosette (Amanda Seyfried). Éponine, the Thénardiers' daughter, also in love with Marius, agrees to help him find her.
As the revolt against the monarchy begins, soldiers fire shots and Éponine takes a bullet for Marius and dies. Whilst attempting to spy, Javert is exposed, whilst Marius and Valjean escape into the sewers as soldiers storm the barricades. Javert commits suicide and Valjean leaves, as Marius and Cosette reunite and plan to marry.
With a formidable production and cast, this larger-than-life adaptation from Hooper is powerful, emotional and hugely enjoyable.
Dir: Steven Spielberg | 20th Century Studios
This biographical historical drama from director Steven Spielberg portrays Lincoln’s defining legacy, in the final months of his life.
In 1865, as the American Civil War is due to end in a matter of months, United States President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) addresses his concerns about the Thirteenth Amendment. The Emancipation Proclamation executive order announced in the midst of the Civil War is due to be discarded and his Thirteenth Amendment, the abolishment of slavery, could be defeated by states that still consider slave trade legal.
Founder of the Republican Party, Blair’s influence over the conservative factions is key to Lincoln’s plan. To ensure the amendment is in place before the war is concluded, which will likely see a Union victory; Lincoln needs Democratic congressmen to pass it. To ensure his support, Lincoln reluctantly allows Blair to negotiate peace negotiations with the Confederate government, whilst two of his sons serve in the Union Army. Knowing the Radical Republicans will not back a truce, Lincoln and his Secretary of State work on securing votes from outgoing Democrats, knowing they will soon need employment. As he plans for his second term, federal jobs are offered in exchange for their support, instead of bribes. After pressuring his father, Lincoln’s son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) enlists in the Union Army, causing The First Lady (Sally Field) to pressure Lincoln to pass the amendment and end the war.
Republican Congressman Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) moderates his position, as the amendment approaches. Both Democrats and conservative Republicans support postponing the vote, after hearing of the Confederate envoys decision to meet with Lincoln. The vote is carried out, after Lincoln denies that they are in Washington, with the Thirteenth Amendment successfully passing. As the war ends, the president plans to discuss allowing black people to vote, but Lincoln is later assassinated at the Ford Theatre.
With an unbelievable cast, this fascinating insight into the 16th President of the United States was inspiring and the debates riveting.
Dir: Rian Johnson | TriStar Pictures
Dir: Seth MacFarlane | Universal Pictures
Dir: Ridley Scott | 20th Century Studios
Dir: Jeff Nichols | Lionsgate
Dir: Joss Whedon | Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
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