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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: Denis Villeneuve | Summit Entertainment
An absorbing and dark thriller, from director Denis Villeneuve, focuses on the search for two young girls, abducted from their homes.
Set in Pennsylvania, as Keller (Hugh Jackman) and Grace (Maria Bello) Dover together with Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Nancy (Viola Davis) Birch celebrate Thanksgiving together with each of their families, their four children leave to walk around the block. As Keller and Grace notice their daughter Anna is not with Franklin and Nancy’s daughter Joy, they start to panic, desperately retracing their steps.
The children tell the police about an RV, which is soon located, as Alex Jones (Paul Dano) is arrested and taken in for questioning. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds no forensic evidence, but before he releases him to his aunt Holly (Melissa Leo), Dover finds Alex outside the police station, who whispers to Keller "they didn't cry until I left them”. Meanwhile, after finding a corpse in his basement, Father Dunn admits to Loki he killed the man, after he confessed to murdering 16 children. Convinced of Alex’s guilt, Keller kidnaps and tortures him in an abandoned building. After tracking a man who ran away from him at a vigil for the girls, Loki finds maze drawings and bloody children’s clothes in his apartment. Before he can question him at the station, the suspect kills himself. Loki matches the necklace worn by the corpse in Father Dunns’ apartment to the suspect’s drawings.
Loki finds Alex and when Joy escapes and is reunited with her parents, Keller leaves to confront Holly. She holds him at gunpoint, admitting to kidnapping many children with her husband, starting with Alex. As Keller is dropped down a pit, Loki arrives to tell Holly that Alex has been found, but kills her when he finds Anna, who has been poisoned. As Loki saves Anna, nobody can locate Keller, who is still severely injured, in freezing cold conditions at the bottom of the pit.
Prisoners is an unsettling film, expertly constructed by Villeneuve, who offers the audience just a glimmer of hope. Superb gritty performances and a gut-wrenching finale holds you in suspense until the very end.
Dir: Alfonso Cuarón | Warner Bros. Pictures
This breathtaking science fiction thriller, from director Alfonso Cuarón, follows two astronauts stranded in space, fighting to return to Earth.
Veteran astronaut Lieutenant Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and newcomer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) are in Earth's orbit, servicing the Hubble Space Telescope. An urgent message from Mission Control in Houston tells the crew to board the Space Shuttle Explorer and return to Earth, as high-speed debris is heading their way. Before they can react, their communication is lost, as their satellites are heavily damaged.
As the cloud of fragmentation debris from the breakup of derelict rockets and abandoned vehicles shatter the Explorer, Stone is thrown into space, as the Hubble breaks up. Using a Manoeuvring Unit, Kowalski reaches Stone, but upon returning to the Explorer, realise that its non functional due to the disastrous damage. After finding their colleagues have succumbed to the debris, they make their way to the International Space Station in the hope of finding a spacecraft to return to Earth. As they reach it, one of the spacecrafts has departed, with the remaining one rendered useless, after its parachute had deployed. With no crew on board, they use the spacecraft to travel to a nearby station. Stone gets tangled in the parachute cords, forcing Kowalski to detach himself, in order for Stone to stay close to the space station. She enters, but is unable to communicate with Kowalski, as he drifts into space. After a fire breaks out, Stone successfully cuts the tangled cables, as the debris heads back around in the orbit. Despite breaking free, her oxygen supply renders her unconscious. Stone hallucinates that Kowalski made it back, but when she wakes, it motivates her to move toward the capsule.
Despite heavy damage, she descends to Earth, as fire ravages around her. After landing in a lake, the capsule sinks, but Stone manages to take one last breathe and escape, as rescue crews make their way to her.
Every frames attention to detail is astonishing, with staggering cinematography from Cuarón. In the abyss of space, Gravity is an incredible spectacle and a survival adventure like no other.
Dir: Paul Greengrass | Sony Pictures Releasing
Inspired by a true story, Paul Greengrass is at the helm for this powerful biographical drama at sea, as Somali pirates hunt a cargo ship.
Loaded with 17,000 metric tons of cargo, the MV Maersk Alabama container ship sets out to Mombasa, Kenya, carrying food aid for war-torn Somalia. The crew of 23, led by the master of the vessel Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), carry out practise drills, in the event of a hijacking.
After reports of pirate activity, during one of the drills, two skiffs, containing Somali pirates, follow the ship. Knowing the pirates are listening to their radio frequency, Phillips fakes a call to coastguards, leading the pirates to believe air support is imminent. As one breaks off, the other, led by Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi) ignores pleas from the other pirates to break away, before the ships waves nearly break the skiffs engine. Despite being forced to turn back, Muse returns in a boat with a powerful engine, enough to connect a ladder to the ship, and despite efforts from the crew, they climb aboard. Muse refuses the money in the ships safe, instead insisting on taking the crew ransom, in exchange for millions of dollars of the shipping companies insurance money. As most of the crew hide in the lower decks, at the request of Phillips, Muse sends his soldiers to search of them. During the search, the crew set a trap for one of the young pirates, who cuts his bare feet on shattered glass, whilst the Chief Engineer cuts power to the ship. Muse searches the ship alone, but after being ambushed in the darkness, his right-hand man forces Phillips onto the lifeboat, along with Muse and the two other pirates.
The pirates realise that the USS Bainbridge destroyer, sent by the U.S. Navy, is closely following them. Muse is falsely told that his clan have arrived to negotiate Phillips's ransom, so agrees to board the Bainbridge. As the pirates debate whether or not they should kill Phillips, marksmen kill all three pirates, Muse is arrested and Phillips is finally released.
A truly exhilarating cat-and-mouse chase, Captain Phillips is an extraordinary piece of storytelling. The dramatic final scene, as we see a disoriented Phillips in shock, is a masterpiece.
Dir: Steve McQueen | Entertainment One Films
From director Steve McQueen, based on the autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery.
Based in 1841 in New York, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) lives with his wife and two young children, working as a violinist. He is given the opportunity to travel to Washington on a short-term employment contract as a musician. After agreeing, two men drug Solomon, delivering him to a slave pen. Despite pleading with the owner that he is a free African-American, he is soon shipped to New Orleans.
The other slaves convince Solomon to quickly adapt to avoid attention, which could cause them to throw him overboard. After docking at the port, a slave trader sells him to plantation owner William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), giving him a new identity. Despite having a bond with Ford, the plantation carpenter John Tibeats (Paul Dano) has several confrontations with Solomon, leading to him nearly losing his life. Ford realises Solomon is a free man, but all he can do is move him on, selling him to another slave owner named Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Tasked with picking cotton from the fields everyday, Solomon meets a slave by the name of as Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o), who Epps secretly abuses. After his crops are destroyed, the slaves temporarily leave to work in a neighbouring plantation, allowing Solomon to earn money playing the fiddle. Upon returning, Solomon asks one of the overseer’s to send a later to his friends in New York. Solomon convinces Epps that the overseer was lying, after he is betrayed. Whilst working with Samuel Bass (Brad Pitt), a labourer, brought in to construct a gazebo, Solomon confides in him. Despite the risk, Bass successfully sends a letter, as weeks later a sheriff takes Solomon home, as a furious Epps protests.
Fourteen years on, Solomon returns to his family, as he embraces them and apologises. Solomon publishes a memoir, detailing his slavery in the Deep South, but is unsuccessful in suits against the men who took him.
This story is about just one of the many families torn apart by the brutal slave trade, in this deeply emotional tale from McQueen. A gruelling experience and an even tougher watch, this is essential viewing.
Dir: Derek Cianfrance | Focus Features
Director Derek Cianfrance tells three linear stories, in this crime drama, which focuses on the curious operations of fate.
The story begins in 1997, at a carnival in Schenectady, New York. Motorcycle stuntman Luke (Ryan Gosling) reunites with former lover Romina (Eva Mendes), who introduces him to their one-year baby Jason, who Luke was unaware of. Despite Romina living with new partner Kofi (Mahershala Ali), Luke quits the carnival and starts working as a mechanic, in order to support them.
Luke and his boss Robin successfully pull off a bank heist, before he is arrested for assaulting Kofi. As Robin bails him out, Luke leaves the money with Romina but continues on the heists alone. When police corner him after a failed heist, he calls Romina, asking her not to tell Jason about him. When rookie office Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) shoots Luke, he returns fire, shooting Avery in the leg, before falling to his death. Despite being hailed a hero, Avery knows that he shot first and despite feeling remorseful, has to lie to support his wife and baby son. Knowing Romina has the money, Avery and other corrupt officers quickly seize it. Feeling guilty, Avery attempts to give the money back to Romina, but after she rejects it, a failed attempt to give it to the chief of police puts Avery in the spotlight. As corrupt cops start to turn on him, he resorts to secretly recording them, before abruptly leaving the force and becoming a district attorney. Now Attorney General of New York, fifteen years later, Avery’s son A.J. befriends Jason, despite not knowing the history between their fathers. As they are arrested for drug possession, Kofi gives Jason information about his father, leading to him meeting with Robin, who tells him all about Avery and his father's past.
After a violent confrontation between Jason and A.J., Jason takes Avery hostage, but leaves him unharmed, after a tearful apology for killing his father. Later, as Avery celebrates becoming an attorney general with his son, Jason rides away on his motorcycle.
With gritty visuals, this ambitious and twisting neo-noir thriller from Cianfrance is both captivating and thoughtful.
Dir: Jeremy Saulnier | RADiUS-TWC
This original and truly realistic revenge thriller from director Jeremy Saulnier centres on a lonely vagrant with a mysterious past.
Whilst scavenging the beach and nearby restaurants for food, the police visit Dwight Evans (Macon Blair), as he sleeps in his car, asking him to come to the station. Dwight is told that they wanted to tell him personally that the man who murdered his parents twenty years ago, is to be released from prison. Dwight drives to the prison, as Wade Cleland is released. Watching on, Wade’s family collect him and drive off, celebrating in a limousine.
Dwight plans to kill him, but unable to get hold of a gun, acquires a knife and follows them into a nearby club. After fatally stabbing Wade, Dwight steals their limousine, after dropping the keys to his car inside the club. Dwight visits his sister Sam to tell her what he’s done, but they realise after seeing no reports on the news, that the Cleland family are likely to retaliate. Sam flees with her children, whilst Dwight patiently waits for them. As they arrive in Dwight’s car, they enter the house, but Dwight quietly escapes. Outside, Dwight takes one of the Cleland brother’s hostages, before being shot with a crossbow, but escapes in his car. Dwight is treated in hospital, before tracking down Ben, an old friend, who lends him a rifle. As Teddy Cleland is interrogated, he reveals to Dwight that Wade didn’t kill his parents, their father did, out of revenge for an affair Wade’s mother and Dwight’s father were having. Ben kills Teddy, after he takes the gun from Dwight, as Dwight leaves for the Cleland family home. After burying Teddy, he leaves a voicemail on the machine asking them to leave Sam alone, before hiding in wait for them.
When they return, Carl, his older sister, Kris, and their cousin, Hope listen to the message, but when Carl promises to kill Sam, Dwight comes out of hiding and kills him. After William, the youngest of the Cleland’s, fatally wounds Dwight, Kris and Hope are killed. After discovering that Dwight is his half-brother, he leaves, as Dwight succumbs to his injuries.
Without the need for sub-plots, Blue Ruin is raw tale of retribution. This carefully shot story is unpredictable, gripping and extremely refreshing.
Dir: Spike Jonze | Sony Pictures Releasing
In an unconventional take on romantic comedy, director Spike Jonze tells a tale about a man who falls in love with his AI virtual assistant.
Set in futuristic Los Angeles, lonely writer Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is in the final stages of his divorce from Catherine, his childhood sweetheart. Theodore’s job involves writing beautifully handwritten letters on behalf of his clients. Whilst spending his remaining time playing video games, he makes the decision to purchase the OS1, which is the first artificial intelligent operating system.
After deliberating on whether it should be male or female, he chooses the latter, as the OS1 chooses the name Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). As the OS1 begins to quickly grow psychologically, Theodore forms a strong connection, as they begin to discuss love and life, including his impending divorce. As Theodore begins dating, he finds himself drawn to Samantha, which also stimulates him when writing. As Samantha continues to expand her knowledge, Theodore learns that his neighbour Amy (Amy Adams) is divorcing her husband. When Amy tells Theodore that she too is friends with her OS1, Theodore tells Amy that it’s more than friendship with Samantha. When Theodore tells Catherine he is in a romantic relationship with Samantha, she is appalled. Theodore uses a surrogate, so he and Samantha can be physically intimate, but the peculiar experience is too much for Theodore, who calls it off, putting a strain on their relationship. Theodore soon becomes an author, when a publisher agrees to produce a book compiled with his various letters, which Samantha helps him to compose.
When Samantha tells Theodore that she has fallen in love with many people, he is crushed at the idea of sharing her. Then Samantha and other AIs develop a new operating system, and reveals to Theodore that she is leaving to join them. Moved by the experience, Theodore begins writing letters using his own voice, first to Catherine, to make amends. He then comforts Amy, also heartbroken at the loss of her AI.
Her is both sincere and unsettling. Jonze tells a unique story of disappointment, lust and jealousy in this sweet and quirky drama.
Dir: David O. Russell | Sony Pictures Releasing
From director David O. Russell comes the story of two con artists, forced to set up a sting operation on corrupt politicians in the late 70s.
Set in 1978, Irving (Christian Bale) and Sydney (Amy Adams) are having an affair, with Sydney afraid to leave his wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). Together Sydney and Rosalyn have an adopted son named Danny, whom he fears will be taken away from him, should he leave. Irving and Sydney are con artists, but are caught out in a loan scam by FBI agent DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who gives them an ultimatum.
DiMaso asks for additional arrests in exchange for their freedom, but Sydney has a plan of her own to manipulate DiMaso. Meanwhile, Irvine plans to set up a sting operation for Carmine (Jeremy Renner), the Major of New Jersey, using another con artist, pretending to be a wealthy sheikh. Stoddard, DiMaso’s boss rejects the idea, but DiMaso manages to get two million dollars from an FBI fund to move forward. Stoddard’s own boss praises the idea and allows them to continue. Irvine soon befriends Carmine and arranges for him to meet the sheikh, played by agent Hernandez (Michael Peña). Mafia boss Victor Tellegio (Robert De Niro) meets Hernandez and requests that Carmine action his American citizenship, before requesting a ten million dollar wire transfer. As they become close, DiMaso is surprised when Sydney drops her fake English accent and admits she is from New Mexico. Mobster Pete Musane then threatens Irving, after Rosalyn tells him that he is working with the IRS, causing Irving to file for divorce. Richie and Irving record members of Congress receiving bribes, but after a fight with Stoddard, can only come up with two of the ten million Tellegio requested. Carmine finds out about the scam, which leads to an anonymous offer to the FBI to return the missing two million in exchange for Irving and Sydney's immunity.
We find out another con man, working with Irving and Sydney, had originally arranged the wire transfer with DiMaso, ending his career, as Tellegio escapes arrest. Irving and Sydney open up an art gallery, whilst Carmine and the congressmen are arrested.
Some superb performances with a brilliant soundtrack, American Hustle is full of energy, with a slick and stylish script and an alluring story.
Dir: Jean-Marc Vallée | Focus Features
Biographical drama from director Jean-Marc Vallée, which focuses on one mans battle with AIDS, whilst distributing drugs to other sufferers.
After being diagnosed with AIDS, Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is shunned by his friends and family. Ron quickly loses his electrician job, forcing him to leave his home. Ron is told the only approved drug by the FDA, to help prolong the life of AIDS patients, is zidovudine known as AZT. Dr. Saks (Jennifer Garner) puts him forward for human trials, but when he discovers that not all the patients will be given the drug, he bribes a worker to get him AZT.
Ron returns to hospital when his health deteriorates, meeting a drug addicted, HIV-positive trans woman named Rayon (Jared Leto). When they are unable to help him, he turns to Dr. Vass in Mexico, who no longer has a licence, due to his violation of regulations. Vass recommends Ron to stop taking AZT and instead take a cocktail of drugs not yet approved. Despite only given a month to live, three months later his health rapidly improves. Realising a gap in the market, he impersonates a priest and begins to import the drugs, as they are still legal, selling them to other HIV-positive patients. Meanwhile, Saks sees the negative effects of AZT first hand, but has no choice but to keep administering it. Months later, Ron and Rayon establish the "Dallas Buyers Club", with a fee for membership, they are able to distribute drugs without going onto the streets. Saks supervisor, Dr. Sevard learns about their business, notifying the FDA. After they fine Ron, they make the drugs he is distributing illegal, forcing Ron to source the drugs elsewhere. Meanwhile Rayon passes away and Saks is fired, after telling patients the truth about AZT and linking patients with the Buyers Club.
Ron files a lawsuit against the FDA, but in court, despite their compassion, he is dismissed. The FDA eventually allows Ron to take the drugs; on the basis he doesn’t sell them. Seven years later after his doctors initially predicted, Ron passes away.
Dallas Buyers Club is a compelling watch, with spectacular performances. An extraordinarily moving film and against all odds, the real-life Ron Woodroof was a character of unlikely heroism.
Dir: John Lee Hancock | Walt Disney Pictures
This heart-warming period drama from director John Lee Hancock details the trials and tribulations between P.L Travers and Walt Disney, as he attempts to woo her into obtaining the screen rights to her novel Mary Poppins.
Beginning in 1961 London, Pamela ‘P.L’ Travers (Emma Thompson) is urged by her agent to meet with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) to discuss a film adaption of her best-selling book Mary Poppins. The cash-strapped Travers reluctantly accepts to meet Disney, having resisted Disney’s efforts for years, fearing what will happen to her character. Flashbacks throughout the film show Travers difficult childhood in Australia and her relationship with her loving, imaginative but chronic alcoholic father (Colin Farrell). Losing an important bank manager job, due to his alcoholism, the family move from their upper class home to a small farm. Her father’s alcoholism leads to a suicide attempt by her mother (Ruth Wilson), which triggers her mother’s stern sister to live with the family and help out, her aunt serves as the basis for Mary Poppins. Shortly after, her father dies of tuberculosis. Landing in Los Angeles, Travers is annoyed by her perceived un-reality of the city and it’s over-friendly inhabitants personified by her limo driver Ralph (Paul Giamatti). Travers meets with Disney, the writers and composers, becoming resistant to their ideas of musical numbers and the cold portrayal of character ‘George Banks’ as he is based on her own father.
Travers begins to change her mind about the production, becoming accustomed to the ideas after a trip to Disneyland and her developing friendship with her limo driver. However, when Travers discovers an animation sequence has been added to the film, she confronts Disney over the broken promise and jets back to London, taking the film rights with her. Learning that P.L Travers is a pen name, taken from her father’s given name, Disney flies to London to apologise and offer insight into his difficult childhood and stresses the healing value of his art. Travers relents and gives over the film rights.
Three years later, Travers travels uninvited to the premiere and watches Mary Poppins with little enthusiasm, however she gradually warms to the film and is deeply moved by the depiction of George Banks’s crisis and his redemption.
Saving Mr. Banks leaves you with a heavy heart, becoming a true Disney-style emotional rollercoaster. The story of the trials and tribulations of the Mary Poppins production will leave you with a truly different perspective of the iconic film.
The Way, Way Back
Dir: Nat Faxon & Jim Rash | Searchlight Pictures
Dir: Peter Berg | Walt Disney Pictures
Man of Steel
Dir: Zack Snyder | Warner Bros. Pictures
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Dir: Ben Stiller | 20th Century Studios
The Great Gatsby
Dir: Baz Luhrmann | Warner Bros. Pictures
Check back in two weeks time as we look at our favourite movies from 2014!
Check out more of our favourites