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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: David Fincher | 20th Century Studios
This stylish psychological thriller, from director David Fincher, follows a man under the media spotlight, following his wife’s disappearance.
Nick (Ben Affleck) calls the police, after returning home to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing, with signs of a struggle. As Amy is known for writing the Amazing Amy children's books, there is significant press coverage. The police and media turn on Nick, who seeks shelter with his sister Margo.
Flashbacks show the moment they met five years prior and the slow breakdown of their marriage. After losing their jobs, Nick moves from New York to be near his family in Missouri, which had a seriously negative effect on Amy. Nick is shown medical reports by the police that indicated that Amy is pregnant, after they find a possible murder scene in their home. Police observe Nick’s behaviour after reading worrying entries in Amy’s diary. We see the truth, as Amy is in hiding, having invented a plan to punish Nick, by fabricating the disappearance, including the blood, diary and fake pregnancy. In the hope that Nick is executed as punishment for cheating, she plans to commit suicide. After convincing his sister of his innocence, Nick hires lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), before meeting two men who Amy falsely accessed of abusing her. After Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris) refuses to speak to Nick, Amy abandons her plans and hides with Desi in his lake house. Nick appears on a talk show and apologies for his past, as Amy murders Desi and concocts a plan to pin the disappearance on Desi, fooling the FBI.
Despite having the backing of the lead investigator and attorney, Nick is unable to leave Amy, before she reveals she is pregnant, having stolen Nick’s sperm. After a television appearance, Amy continues to live a lie, whilst a clearly unhappy Nick has no choice, other than to stay.
This story is all about manipulation and despite watching in discomfort, this exciting mystery is remarkably intense and ruthlessly constructed.
Dir: Alex Garland | Universal Pictures
This science fiction thriller from director Alex Garland tells the story of a programmer testing a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour.
Whilst working for the search engine company Blue Book, programmer Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a company contest to visit the home of CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Nathan lives with a servant named Kyoko, who does not speak, in a beautiful home next to a waterfall. Nathan welcomes Caleb to his high tech home, which is home to a female humanoid robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander) with artificial intelligence.
Nathan tells Caleb that he has brought him to his home to carry out a Turing test on Ava, as he wants to know what she is capable of. He is told that despite being artificial, the test will only be passed if Caleb can recognise Ava as being human, during their time together. Confined to her cell, Nathan isn’t interested in Caleb’s thoughts on her design, but instead on his feelings toward her. As they spend time together, with glass separating them, Caleb begins to develop feelings for Ava. When she causes a power outage to trigger a temporary shut down of the surveillance, Ava is able to speak to Caleb for a short time, without Nathan hearing. She tells him not to trust Nathan, and he quickly becomes aware of Nathan’s strange behaviour towards both Ava and Kyoko. Caleb discovers that Kyoko is also an android and steals Nathan’s security card to access video footage of him inappropriately interacting with androids. Ava and Caleb plan to cut the power and leave together and the earliest opportunity, but Nathan tells him he has been watching everything and the test was whether or not Ava could persuade Caleb to betray him.
Kyoko and Ava kill Nathan and Ava escapes, changing her appearance and leaving the facility. As Nathan previously told him she would, Ava leaves Caleb locked in the facility, much to his despair, as she leaves in a helicopter and arrives in the city, in disguise, blending into the crowd.
Ex Machina was extremely refreshing. The psychological and provocative film from Garland was not only absorbing, but also plausible.
Dir: Dan Gilroy | Open Road Films
Director Dan Gilroy presents a dark tale of an amateur freelance videographer and the lengths he is willing to go for the perfect story.
After fighting off a guard at a construction site, Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) leaves with some scrap metal, to sell at a nearby scrap yard. After selling his stolen material, Lou is given a reality check, after being turned down for a job for being a petty thief. Lou witnesses freelance videographers getting footage of a woman being pulled from a burning car after a heavy crash, which later features on local news.
Lou purchases a radio scanner and a cheap camcorder and begins to scour town, looking for possible incidents. Despite being beaten to crime scenes by other freelancers, he catches a break when he stumbles upon a carjacking. Nina (Rene Russo), the director at KWLA 6, buys the footage and suggests that Lou keep an eye out for similar type crime, committed by minority suspects. Realising he needs help, Rick (Riz Ahmed) is hired as his assistant. Lou gets a faster car and better equipment, as he begins to sell more footage, despite tampering with evidence at various crime scenes. We see Lou’s true intentions when he threatens to stop selling to Nina, unless she accepts to go on a date with him. Lou then cuts the breaks on a rival videographers car, causing him to crash, leaving Lou without any competition. At a triple-homicide home invasion, Lou gets there before the police, getting up close footage of the murders, including the gunmen leaving in the SUV, which he decides not to share. After editing it, he provides the news station and police with his footage, allowing Lou to track down the gunmen and puts his plan into motion. At a restaurant, despite Rick’s pleas not to, an anonymous phone call from Lou leads the police to the armed suspects.
This leads to multiple police being killed and a car chase, which ends in a high-speed crash. When Lou allows Rick to be shot by the gunmen, Lou sells the footage to Nina and despite detectives suspecting Lou concocted the plan, Lou gets away with it and expands his business.
Nightcrawler is a pulsating and menacing film from Gilroy, which perfectly mixes comedic elements with unnerving and chilling action.
Dir: David Dobkin | Warner Bros. Pictures
This dramatic drama from director David Dobkin sees an attorney assisting his distant father, a respected judge, after a hit and run.
Midway through a case, attorney Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) receives news from home that his mother has passed away. After saying goodbye to his daughter, he leaves Chicago, but not before an argument with his adulterous wife. As he arrives in Indiana, he meets brothers Glen and Dale, before stopping by the local court, to see his father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) presiding in court. It becomes apparent that his father’s old age has impaired his senses, no longer able to understand in a clear and intelligent way.
Hank decides to leave after the funeral, following an argument with his father over some damage he discovers on his Cadillac, accusing him of drink driving. When his father is named as a suspect in a fatal hit and run accident, he swiftly returns to help defend him in court. The prosecuting attorney is Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton), whilst local defence attorney C.P. Kennedy (Dax Shepard) is hired, but is soon guided by both Hank and Joseph, due to his inexperience. The victim is an ex-convict who had previously served twenty years in prison for murder, sentenced by Joseph himself. Hank defends his father’s actions, blaming side effects on his chemotherapy treatment, of which memory is affected. Despite this, Joseph testifies and addressed the court, telling them that whilst he was likely responsible, it would have been unintentional. Taking this into consideration, alongside his career as a judge, he is still given a four-year prison sentence.
Just seven months later, due to his terminal cancer, Dickham signs a petition for compassionate release so Joseph can live the final months of his life with his family. During a fishing trip with Hank, Joseph passes away. As Joseph is honoured, Hank contemplates a position at Carlinville court.
Some incredible chemistry between Downey Jr. and Duvall helps to stir emotions in this fantastic but poignant legal drama.
Dir: James Gunn | Walt Disney Pictures
As the story connects to the Infinity Stones plot, based on the Marvel Comics, director James Gunn introduces us to the Guardians.
Twenty-six years after being abducted by a group of smugglers called Ravagers, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) steals an orb from Yondu, the leader of the group. After escaping an attack from Ronan the Accuser, he sends an assassin called Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to retrieve the orb.
As a fight breaks out between Quill and Gamora, bounty hunters Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) attempt to capture them, but all four are soon detained at Kyln prison. After learning of her association with Ronan and Thanos, who killed his family, Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) attempts to kill Gamora, but is talked down by Quill. Together they escape, in the hope that Gamora can lead the group to Ronan and she can sell the orb to the Collector (Benicio del Toro). The Collector reveals the orb contains the Power Stone, whilst Ronan defeats Drax, the group flee Ronan’s followers, led by Nebula, Gamora’s adoptive sister. The followers soon get hold of the orb bit the group decide to pursue them, knowing that the Infinity Stone will destroy the galaxy. Ronan soon turns on Thanos, keeping the stone for himself, as Nebula allies with him. The group, along with Yondu and his Ravagers attack Ronan’s ship, forcing it to crash land on Xander, as Groot sacrifices himself to save them all. The group as a collective manage to retrieve the stone and use its power to defeat Ronan.
Quill tricks Yondu, instead giving the stone to Nova Corps officers. In exchange, the group, now known as Guardians of the Galaxy, have their criminal records wiped. As baby Groot begins to grow, Quill learns of his father’s origins and presses play on a cassette given to him by his mother as the group set out on another adventure.
With a brilliant story and superb soundtrack, this is the most experimental film yet by Marvel, and easily my favourite of them all.
Dir: David Ayer | Sony Pictures
Set during the final weeks of World War II, director David Ayer brings us a harrowing story of a U.S. tank crew fighting in Nazi Germany.
Fighting since the North African campaign of the Second World War, a U.S. tank crew, called Fury, arrive in Nazi Germany. Tank commander Don Collier (Brad Pitt), tank gunner Boyd Swan (Shia LaBeouf), tank loader Grady Travis (Jon Bernthal) and tank driver Trini Garcia (Michael Peña) arrive in camp with a fifth member, who was killed in action. As a replacement, they are assigned with a new member, a clerk typist named Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), much to their bemusement.
The group soon test Norman, as they move onto perilous ground, surrounded by German forces. As Hitler Youth soldiers use an anti tank weapon, killing an entire platoon, Norman hesitates and later refuses to execute a German soldier found wearing U.S. Army attire. Don forces Norman’s hand in an effort to toughen in up, to help him understand what’s to come. As forces take over a small town, the soldiers have some rest bite, as Don, along with Norman, pay a couple of German women to temporarily stay in their home. Whilst one prepares a hot meal, Norman bonds with the other, before the rest of the group force their way in and interrupt their meal. After they are ordered to leave and protect a crossroads outside of town, artillery destroys the apartment, killing the women. Soon Fury is the last platoon remaining, after a devastating attack wipes the others out. A landmine soon destroys their tank, leaving it immobilised on the crossroads. The group hide inside, ambushing the Germans as they approach, believing it to be an abandoned tank.
After a vicious battle, each member is fatally killed, leaving just Don and Norman. Don is killed by grenades as Norman escapes through a hatch and is later rescued by American soldiers, who label him a hero, as we see the devastation that the Fury platoon was responsible for.
This unsettling thriller from Ayer is captivating, with exceptional performances, as Fury looks at the true ramifications of war.
Dir: Alejandro G. Iñárritu | Searchlight Pictures
This ambitious comedy drama from director Alejandro G. Iñárritu follows a fading actor, struggling to choreograph an ill-fated Broadway story.
Once famous for being a Hollywood superstar, Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton) was once known for Birdman, the superhero character he portrayed in the 90s. Now, Riggan is struggling to be taken seriously, typecast and forgotten. In an attempt to get his name back out there; he takes on the huge task of writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver's short story, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love."
Riggan begins to suffer with hallucinations and hears a voice mocking him. As he prepares the show for preview, one of his co-stars is forced to pull out when a light fixture falls on him. Method actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) is hired, but after a disastrous preview, Riggan has second thoughts, after witnessing Mike break character and confront him on stage. His producer Jake (Zach Galifianakis) persuades him to continue, but after the voice in his head tells him he is worthless, his own daughter (Emma Stone) tells him the play is pointless. During the final preview, he is forced to walk through Times Square in his underwear after getting his robe stuck in a fire escape. He soon goes viral, but Tabitha, a theatre critic, tells him that she will leave a negative review without even watching his play; causing an aggravated Riggan to drink a pint of whiskey, before passing out. The voices in his head tell him to make another Birdman movie, as a severely hangover Riggan visualises himself flying through the streets. On the climactic scene of the opening night, Riggan uses a real gun in the scene where his character commits suicide, as the play receives a standing ovation.
After waking up in hospital, he reads a positive review from Tabitha. Riggan welcomes his newfound fame, saying goodbye to Birdman, before jumping out his window to join the birds flying through the sky.
I enjoyed the concept Iñárritu adopted, making it seem like it was filmed in a single shot. Despite being rather bizarre, Birdman is multi-layered, with a witty script and an astounding depth to its fascinating story.
Dir: Morten Tyldum | Lantern Entertainment
Director Morten Tyldum brings us an historical drama, based on the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma, which details Turing's legacy.
After a break-in at the famous mathematicians home, detectives question Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), as he tells the story of his code breaking exploits during the Second World War. A flashback shows Turin when he was sixteen years old at boarding school, where he first had an interest in cryptography. Turin’s first love was fellow pupil Christopher Collan, who sadly passed away, causing Turing great sorrow.
Already working part-time for the British Government's Code and Cypher School, in 1939, Turing took up a full-time role at Bletchley Park. Turing joined a cryptography team, which attempted to analyse the Enigma machine, which the Nazis used to send coded messages. After being initially refused funds to design a machine to decipher the messages, Winston Churchill puts Turin in charge and grants the funds. Together with graduate Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), they construct the machine, which he names Christopher. As the Germans reset their encryption settings daily, Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) becomes impatient. They develop a broader solution for decrypting Enigma machine's messages, using crib-based decryption, by maintaining detailed indexes. After Turing marries Joan, he confesses his sexuality to fellow cryptography Cairncross, who encourages him to keep it a secret. Soon the machine begins to decode messages, before discovering that Cairncross is a Soviet spy, who threatens to blackmail him. He confesses his sexuality to Clarke, fearing for her safety, as MI6 confirm that they must destroy their work and never speak of it again.
In the 1950s, Turing’s mental health rapidly deteriorates, after being forced to undergo chemical castration, following a gross indecency charge under British law. At just forty-one years old, Turin committed suicide, but he is remembered for saving fourteen million lives, with his work on Enigma, which shortened the war by more than two years.
The Imitation Game is an emotional film about an extraordinary human being. The ensemble cast provide energetic performances in this enthralling drama that is both triumphant and heart breaking.
Dir: Wes Anderson | Searchlight Pictures
An incredibly stylish comedy, from director Wes Anderson, focuses on a famed concierge of a mountainside resort and his quest for fortune.
The story starts at the shrine of a writer, as a young girl carry’s a copy of her most-cherished novel: The Grand Budapest Hotel. As the narrator tells the history of the author, in a flashback to 1968, he stayed at the famous Grand Budapest Hotel, meeting Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the owner, who invites him for dinner, telling him the story of the hotel's glorious years under an exceptional concierge.
Whilst seducing old wealthy clients, hotel's concierge Monsieur Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) hires Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) as a bellhop at his prestigious hotel. Madame D, a regular at the hotel and widower, who Gustave had a two-decade affair with, mysteriously dies. After Zero notifies Gustave, they travel to her home to pay their respects and listen to the reading of her will. Her attorney reads her will and notifies them that her priceless Renaissance painting, Boy with Apple, is left to Gustave, much to the shock of Madame's son, Dmitri. Gustave and Zero leave with the painting in a hurry, but Gustave is then arrested at the hotel, charged with Madame D's murder. Whilst in prison, he convinces a gang to help him escape, as Zero brings cakes filled with tools to the prison. As the gang escape, Zero agrees to help Gustave prove his innocence. Together, with the help of the Society of the Crossed Keys, they learn that in the event of her murder, Madame has a missing second will. Zero's girlfriend Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) attempts to enter the hotel to retrieve the painting, but Dmitri spots her and opens fire. She and Zero escape the hotel, falling onto her van of pastries. On the back of the painting, Madame's second will is found, which indicates that Gustave is the beneficiary of her fortune.
On a train, soldiers destroy Zero’s refugee documents and shoot Gustave dead. As the sole heir, Zero inherits Gustave’s fortune, including the dilapidated Grand Budapest Hotel.
A wonderful tale by Anderson, with some perfectly timed comedic elements, mixed with a fun, lavish and charming backdrop.
Dir: Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland | Sony Pictures Classics
In this independent drama from directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, Still Alice shows in heart-breaking detail the tragedy Alzheimer’s disease leaves on an individual and the rest of their family.
Alice (Julianne Moore) is a linguistics professor celebrating her 50th birthday with her doctor husband John (Alec Baldwin) and her children. During a lecture she forgets a word as she is presenting then shortly afterwards becomes lost whilst jogging making her late for dinner with her husband. A colleague notices her confusion and asks her to see a doctor. Alice’s doctor diagnoses her with early onset familial Alzheimer’s disease, an uncommon form of Alzheimer’s disease that strikes early and can be inherited. Her eldest daughter and son, Anna (Kate Bosworth) and Tom (Hunter Parrish) decide to take a test to see if they will develop the disease, although her youngest Lydia (Kristen Stewart) chooses not to be tested.
As Alice’s memory starts to fade, she writes out a list of questions on her phone which she answers every morning. Hiding sleeping pills in her room, she records a video message instructing her future self to commit suicide using the pills when she can no longer answer the questions. As her condition deteriorates, she is let go from her job and even gets lost looking for the bathroom in her holiday home. After watching Lydia perform in a play, she doesn’t recognise her when they meet her backstage. John accepts a high level job in a different city, even though Alice asks him to postpone it. At her doctor’s suggestion, she presents a speech at an Alzheimer’s conference about her experience with the disease. Struggling to answer the questions, she becomes distressed and loses her phone. John finds her phone in the freezer a month later, but Alice thinks it’s only been missing for a day. After a video call with Lydia, Alice accidentally opens the suicide instruction video. With difficulty, she finds the pills and is about to swallow them, but drops them when distracted by her carer closing the front door, she forgets what she was about to do. John, unable to watch his wife deteriorate, leaves for his new job and Lydia moves in to care for Alice. After reading her a section from the play Angels in America, Lydia asks Alice what she thought about it. Barely able to speak, she simply says “love”.
With plenty of raw emotion, Still Alice delivers a powerful story of living with dementia through great writing and incredible performances from the cast.
Dir: Jon Favreau | Open Road Films
Dir: Christopher Nolan | Warner Bros. Pictures
The Maze Runner
Dir: Wes Ball | 20th Century Studios
Dir: Ava DuVernay | 20th Century Studios
Dir: Damien Chazelle | Stage 6 Films
Check back in two weeks time as we look at our favourite movies from 2015!
Check out more of our favourites