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April Film Picks

While We’re Young (Released 3rd April)

Among the abundance of big blockbuster sequels out this month including both Fast & Furious 7 (3rd April) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (23rd April) comes this indie comedy from writer/director Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha). Baumbach’s seventh feature follows a happily married middle-aged couple, played by Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts, who form a unlikely new friendship with an ultra-trendy twentysomethings couple, Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried. There are relevant deeper themes at play here and critics have reacted warmly to this charming and funny hipster tale. The strong cast, director and story are surely a recipe for success, as long as it doesn’t become too mainstream.

The Water Diviner (Released 3rd April)

The directorial debut of Russell Crowe, who also stars as the lead, tracks an Australian man travelling to Turkey after the infamously brutal Battle of Gallipoli, desperately trying to locate his three missing sons. Crowe succeeds in delivering some beautiful cinematography, especially of the barren and sparse Australian Outback and a strong performance from Crowe seems like a given. Although the film’s tone may seem a little confused, it’s likely to prove a worthwhile investment this month and should be another worthy flag-bearer for the Australian film industry.

John Wick (Released 10th April)

A slick-haired and sharp-suited Keanu Reeves excels in this action-packed and super stylish revenge-thriller. Several genre tropes are conformed to, with ex-hitman John Wick coming out of retirement seeking revenge, and there is an almost innumerable body count of Russian mafia henchmen, but the relentless action has a unique and stylish edge to it. The end result is both polished and pulsating and John Wick is a must for action fans this month. With John Wick 2 in development, we could have a decent franchise on our hands. Welcome back Keanu.

Read my★★★★☆ review here.


March Film Picks

Appropriate Behaviour (Released 6th March)

This alternative and unique comedy is the debut feature of writer, director and star Desiree Akhavan. Born to Iranian parents, Akhavan taps into her real life experiences to document Shirin’s struggle in pinning down her identity, as she tries to be true to herself while also pleasing her deeply traditional parents. As an unconventional take on both LGTB and ethnicity struggles, Appropriate Behaviour provides a refreshing new angle among the ultra hipster streets of Brooklyn.

Chappie (Released 6th March)

Any film from District 9 director Neill Blomkamp is worth investigating, with his latest, Chappie, delving into the well-trodden world of artificial intelligence. Set in a near future South Africa, a decommissioned police droid is stolen and reprogrammed so that it becomes sentient (think Ex Macina). With Blomkamp at the helm and a strong cast including Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver and Sharlto Copley as the voice of Chappie, sci-fi fans will be hoping for an improvement on Blomkamp’s last offering, Elysium, especially given his recent appointment as the director of the highly anticipated Alien sequel.

The Gunman (Released 20th March)

Coming from the French director of the first Taken film, this is certainly one for full-throttle shoot ’em up fans. It may feel like we’ve been here several hundred times before, but with Sean Penn, Idris Elba, Ray Winstone and Javier Bardem featuring, this action-packed thriller looks set to deliver on some levels at least. Penn plays a former Special Forces soldier suffering from PTSD, who is forced to flee as he attempts to clear his name. There is plenty of globetrotting, a Taken-style kidnapping and probably a rather high body count; what more could you want?

February Film Picks

Inherent Vice (Released 30th January)

Visionary writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will be Blood, The Master) reunites with lead Joaquin Phoenix in his latest offering, a confounding and sprawling stoner comedy set in 1970 Los Angeles. Based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice follows the drug-fuelled private detective Larry “Doc” Sportello (Phoenix) who sets out on an investigation after an unexpected visit from his ex old-lady. With the film’s all-star cast which also includes Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Reese Witherspoon and Owen Wilson and its foot-tapping soundtrack put together by Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood, Anderson’s crackerjack caper is certainly this month’s must-see release.

Update: Read my review here

Selma (Released 6th February)

Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated biopic charts Martin Luther King’s (David Oyelowo) landmark campaign to secure equal voting rights in the US, via a marathon march starting from Selma, Alabama in 1965. Oyelowo’s performance in the lead has been widely praised, despite the British actor being controversially snubbed by the Academy for a best actor nomination at this year’s Oscars. DuVernay’s position as a black, female director may have also counted against her in the best director shortlist, but despite these disappointments, Selma grippingly charts this essential historical struggle, announcing both the lead and director as major talents to keep an eye on in the coming years.

Fifty Shades of Grey (Released 13th February)

Based on the erotic novel by E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey follows literature student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) as her life is changed forever after meeting handsome billionaire, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). The hunky Dornan seems perfect for the role of the sadomasochistic Grey, whose fifty shades the title refers to. The book rapidly became a global phenomenon and we should expect nothing less from this capable adaptation by Sam Taylor-Johnson in her directorial debut. Fans of the book will be hoping that the full on raunchiness hasn’t been toned down for cinema-goers, but this may well turn out to be the case if the initial clips are anything to go by. Though, with 2014’s most watched trailer and a pre-released soundtrack, anticipation will be palpable come Valentine’s Day.

January Film Picks

Birdman (Released 1st January)

In the run-up to awards season, the one film on every critic’s lips is Birdman. In a superb (and Oscar-tipped) performance, Michael Keaton plays a washed-up actor who gained fame playing a 1990’s superhero, now struggling to reclaim his past glory. In an attempt to reignite his faltering career and show his artistic substance, he decides to stage a Broadway play. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s (Babel, Amores Perros) showbiz satire is hotly tipped for a number of high profile awards, and should definitely be the first film you see in 2015.

The Theory of Everything (Released 1st January)

A similarly impressive turn from lead actor Eddie Redmayne anchors this biographical tale of the illness that drastically changed the life of Stephen Hawking. The film charts Hawking’s determination in the face of his crippling diagnosis, as well as the relationship between him and his wife, Jane (Felicity Jones). Redmayne’s uncompromising performance means that he too is one of the front runners in the best actor category for the upcoming awards season.

 American Sniper (Released 16th January)

At the age of 84 Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino, Unforgiven) is still going strong as a director. Following on from Jersey Boys last year, his latest film follows the true story of the deadliest American sniper in history, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper).  Kyle secured his place as a US military legend but after finally coming home from four tours of duty, he finds it difficult to reintegrate and leave the war behind. Critics have praised American Sniper for its tense and compelling portrayal of Kyle’s life which grips throughout with its almost hypnotic silences. Certainly one to look out for this month.

December Film Picks

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Released 12th December)

Despite reservations over significant additions to Tolkien’s original story, the third and final installment of The Hobbit is likely to be the biggest and possibly the best yet. Expect plenty of action throughout the bloated 150 minute run-time as we bid a fond farewell to all the usual suspects of the Tolkien world. Here’s hoping Peter Jackson can serve us with a fitting end to the Middle-earth universe which he has crafted so carefully over the last decade or so.

Exodus: Gods and Kings (Released 26th December)

Looking to move on from last year’s dud The Counsellor, Ridley Scott returns with another historical epic, this time with Christian Bale at the helm. Bale plays Moses, the defiant leader who rises up against the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses, leading the slaves out of Egypt with the help of a cycle of deadly plagues. However, the film has itself been plagued by recent controversy, over the lack of non-white actors in any of the leading roles, which have gone to Ben Kingsley, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver and Ben Mendelsohn. Expect big set pieces, big speeches and a whole load of CGI.

Unbroken (Released 26th December)

Having garnered critical acclaim for his roles in both Starred Up and ’71 earlier this year, Jack O’Connell returns to the big screen as Louis Zamperini , an Olympic runner who was taken prisoner by Japanese forces during WWII. Angelina Jolie sits in the Director’s chair for her second feature film (the first being somewhat of a flop), but with Joel and Ethan Coen collaborating with her to write the script, Unbroken could be one to keep an eye on this month.

November Film Picks

Interstellar (Released 7th November)

All-star cast? Check. British director (Christopher Nolan) with credits including The Dark Knight, Inception and Memento? Check. Planet on the brink of destruction due to humanity’s lack of environmental awareness and consumerist values? Check. This tantalising formula leads to an all-or-nothing mission to a nearby galaxy in search of a new habitable planet, led by two beautiful astronauts (Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway). With Inception-style mind-bending  images, Nolan’s first feature in two years  could follow in the wake of Gravity as yet another hugely successful science-fiction epic.  However, this slice of galactic pie should have a little more substance behind the visual delights, acting as a not-so-subtle comment on man’s uneasy relationship with the natural environment.

The Imitation Game (Released 14th November)

In one of the month’s more sombre offerings, Benedict Cumberbatch, a.k.a Sherlock, returns to the big screen  to portray the groundbreaking English mathematician Alan Turing. This true story, set during the height of World War II, follows Turing’s pivotal role is cracking the unbreakable German Enigma code, which was used to send coded messages of the highest importance. This was a crucial and often understated factor in the allied defeat of Hitler, without which victory may not have been guaranteed. Cumberbatch’s powerful turn may present him with his best chance yet of earning an Oscar nod, while the supporting cast of Keira Knightley,  Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) and Mark Strong also looks highly promising.

What We Do in the Shadows (Released 21st November)

This horror comedy mockumentary, written and directed by Flight of the Conchords’ Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement, is without doubt the most bizarre offering this month. But don’t be put off by the premise – an in-depth documentary following the lives of three out of touch Kiwi vampires – as this could prove to be one of the year’s best comedies. It’s already topped the New Zealand box office and premiered at this year’s Cannes film festival, so the Conchords crew must be doing something right. Expect plenty of surreal visual comedy and a refreshing new take on the mockumentary genre.

October Film Picks

Gone Girl (Released 2nd October)

It’s the film that’s had everyone talking since the first teaser poster was revealed several months back and film-goers have been giddy with excitement since David Fincher was announced as director. Ben Affleck plays everyman Nick Dunne, who becomes the focus of an intense media circus and main suspect following his wife’s (Rosamund Pike) sudden and mysterious disappearance. This suspenseful and gripping thriller from the masterful director of Fight Club and Se7en is a ruthless deconstruction of a marriage in turmoil and is surely the must see film of October.

’71 (Released 10th October)

This directorial debut from French-born director Yann Demange plunges young British soldier Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) into the lion’s den of unrest in Belfast, at the height of disorder in 1971. Disorientated and alone, Hook must fight for survival after he is accidentally abandoned following a deadly riot. O’Connell is an actor on the rise, fresh from his critically-acclaimed performance in Starred Up earlier this year and this thriller looks likely to further underline his credentials. The ‘Cook from Skins’ tag is a distant memory; O’Connell has matured and is ready to make it on the big screen.

Nightcrawler (Released 31st October)

In his latest outing, an emaciated and ashen Jake Gyllenhaal plays a desperate and ambitious young man, Lou Bloom, who is looking to break into the merciless world of journalism. After pursuing the more traditional routes, a chance encounter draws Lou into the putrid world of freelance crime journalism in the darkest depths of Los Angeles. Gyllenhaal is at his creepy and erratic best in this sinister thriller, which also serves as a wickedly satirical attack on the whole world of news reporting and journalism in general.

September Film Picks

A Most Wanted Man (Released September 12th)

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s penultimate film takes place in Hamburg, which remains on high alert after the 9/11 bombers were discovered to have lived and plotted there in 2001. When a newly arrived Chechen Muslim is identified as a possible terror suspect, he quickly attracts the attention of the CIA and a secretive anti-terror unit headed by Gunter Bachmann (Seymour Hoffman). Based on the novel by John le Carré, a master of the spy genre, A Most Wanted Man is on the surface a gripping espionage thriller, but also a fitting farewell to a hugely loved and talented character actor, who was taken from us before his time.

The Riot Club (Released 19th September)

This adaptation of Laura Wade’s play, Posh, is inspired by the infamous Bullingdon Club, an exclusive and ostentatious society at Oxford University. Similarly, in The Riot Club, the Oxford elite, entitled rich kids with wealthy and connected parents, do whatever they want wherever they want; mostly in the form of destructive and drug-fuelled club dinners. This film takes a swipe at the elite members of such clubs and at the establishment as a whole, with past members of the Bullingdon Club including David Cameron, Boris Johnson and George Osborne. With a strong cast of Tom Hollander, Max Irons, Douglas Booth and Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones), this film is sure to cause a stir come mid-September.

The Equalizer (Released 26th September)

Yet another Denzel Washington action flick? Well, yes, but coming from the director of Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen and Shooter, Antoine Fuqua, this may still be one to pay attention to. As we have heard several times before, the protagonist (Denzel Washington) will be coming out of retirement to fight the forces of evil (Russian gangsters in this case). And of course he’s a highly decorated former black ops commando, but would we expect any less? Throw in full-throttle action, a sizeable body count, tenuous political undertones and the wicked charm of Washington and we have The Equalizer. Simple stuff, but audiences keep coming back for it.

August Film Picks

The Rover (Released 15th August)

This dark and brooding dystopian-future tale comes from the acclaimed director of Animal Kingdom (2010), David Michod. A career redefining role from Robert Pattison and a traditionally strong turn from Guy Pearce form the backbone of the story set 10 years after a global economic collapse. With the loss of his only possession, his car, Eric (Pearce) must form an uneasy bond with Rey (Pattinson) to survive their dangerous journey across the now wastelands of this chunk of Australia. Fresh from critical acclaim, this menacing crime drama is my pick of the month for all cinema goers, and one not to be missed.

Lucy (Released 22nd August)

The Director of La Femme Nikita and Leon, Luc Besson, again places a fragile female character at the centre of his latest action-packed blockbuster. From a female hit-woman in the former, to a 12-year old Natalie Portman in the latter, Lucy sees Scarlett Johansson portraying an innocent woman accidentally caught up in a dark drug deal. The drug is leaked into her system, giving her the ability to utilise her full brain capacity, and to push the boundaries of known human capabilities. Morgan Freeman supports Johansson, who is on a good run of late, fresh from her acclaimed performances in Under the Skin and Her earlier this year (both highly recommended).

Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For (Released 25th August)

Robert Rodriguez’s follow up to Sin City (2005) acts as a prequel, tracing the steps of the same characters from the hugely successful first film. The cast is bolstered by the addition of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ray Liotta, Eva Green and Josh Brolin (in the place of Clive Owen as Dwight). This second installment of Frank Miller’s graphic novel also sees the return of Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke and Rosario Dawson. Fans who have been waiting patiently for 9 years should expect the same gritty intensity and menacing performances from the stellar cast, and the uninitiated should give this unique film franchise a chance to surprise them.

May Film Picks

Blue Ruin (Released 2nd May)

This critically acclaimed revenge-thriller should be top of the list for many film fans this month, amid the wealth of traditional blockbuster releases. Premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year, Jeremy Saulnier’s film follows the story of a mysterious and heavily bearded outsider whose life is turned upside-down after carrying out his own style of justice. This original screenplay should provide some much needed restbite from the torrent of remakes and sequels filling the cinemas recently, and is therefore one I’m greatly looking forward to.

Godzilla (Released 15th May)

The sight of yet another Godzilla remake may be met with scepticism from many, but this effort from director Gareth Edwards actually looks very promising. Ishiro Honda’s seminal 1954 original was woefully remade in 1998, but this reboot already seems likely to live up to the hype surrounding the trailers. The stellar cast including Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass), Juliette Binoche and Ken Wantabe (Inception) also means that this film is unlikely to be over reliant on special effects to pack its punches.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (Released 22nd May)

The seventh film set in the X-Men universe sends us back into the past as Wolverine journeys through time to alter the course of history. Director Bryan Singer (The Usual SuspectsX-Men) has again assembled a staggering cast including Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen, Michael Fassbender, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, James McAvoy and Ellen Page in addition to Game of Thrones‘ Peter Dinklage. Yet another 2014 sequel should fill X-Men fans with excitement, but those looking for something more original may want to look elsewhere.