For a while it looked like 2014 would be the cinematic year film fans couldn’t wait to get shot of, the upcoming delights of 2015 far too enticing to wait for. The year in which Marty McFly actually makes it to the future still looks to be one of the most action packed for some time, 2015's schedule set to include Mad Max: Fury Road, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jurassic World, Terminator Genisys, Ant-Man, The Fantastic Four, James Bond 24, Jupiter Ascending, The Hunger Games – Mockinjay Part Two, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Mission: Impossible 5, Fast and Furious 7, and the Point Break remake. And that’s just on the blockbuster front. Mentioning some of the more highbrow projects from such Hollywood big-hitters as Michael Mann (Blackhat), Ron Howard (In The Heart of the Sea), Brad Bird (Tomorrowland), Cameron Crowe (Deep Tiki), Jonathan Demme (Ricki and the Flash), Robert Zemeckis (The Walk), Guillermo Del Toro (Crimson Peak), Steven Spielberg (St.James Place) and Ridley Scott (The Martian) raises the stakes even further.
But despite looking like the appetiser to a much more succulent main course, 2014 didn’t go down without a fight. In fact when the Hollywood history books are written 2014 will go down as one of the finest years in movie history. This was a year when expectation was turned on its head (The Lego Movie), when filmmakers finally provided honest commentary on life in the twenty-first century (Her, Nightcrawler), when the combining of entertainment and truly thought provoking storytelling reached a new high point (Interstellar), and when the very method of movie creation was challenged to stunning effect (Boyhood). 2014 may not have had the marquee names, but it used this lack of expectation to create some all-time great films.
Even those movies that were expected to be dire provided some pleasant surprises, evidenced by the year’s top dog in the box office stakes, Transformers: Age of Extinction ($1,087million and counting) a film which for all its faults was still an entertaining popcorn flick and by far the best of the four Transformer instalments to date. Elsewhere in blockbuster land, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes built upon the excellent work of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) by offering another enthralling instalment, only slightly let down by its somewhat unsympathetic human cast members. Captain America: The Winter Soldier showed Marvel Studios start to take some pleasing story risks, offering the darkest Avenger outing to date. Only a “been there, done that” finale featuring yet another aerial battle / face punching contest let the movie down.
Best of all in the mega franchise arena were Fox’s X-Men sandwich and the final chapter in the Middle Earth saga (see below). The original X-Men (2000) helmer Bryan Singer returned to the X-director’s chair to smoosh together two of the best ensemble casts in recent years. X-Men: Days of Future Past didn’t disappoint as Singer managed to provide all of the key mutants of the last fourteen years with a key moment, many of which quickly became highlights of the franchise, whether it was the elderly Xavior and Magneto fighting alongside each other for one last time, Quicksilver’s Pentagon jailbreak or Wolverine resetting the timeline and struggling to keep his emotions in check as some old favourites returned from the dead. A happy ever after for the mutant race?; not if a post-credits appearance by the X-Men’s biggest baddie of all Apocalypse is a signpost for the next instalment.
Where 2014 really got into its stride though was with the smaller, more anonymous movies. There was a quiet, bubbling angst running just below the surface of many of the year’s films. It was this sense of nervy tension that drove many of the best efforts of the year, steering a number of movies into the enticing territory of nervous laughter and itchy suspense. Director Steven Knight proved that Hummingbird (2013) was no fluke by somehow creating one of the most gripping films of the year simply by presenting an hour and a half’s footage of Tom Hardy sat in a car with Locke. Adam Wingard offered a similar anxiety climb in the excellent The Guest, while James DeMonaco finally delivered on the promise of the superb premise of The Purge (2013) by giving us a proper night of lawlessness with The Purge: Anarchy.
Things got weird and more tense still with Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin, a film which did exactly as its title promised, lingering long after the credits. Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook hacked off the more bone-headed Hostel obsessed horror “fans” by offering up one of the most subtly effective horror films in many a year. What We Do In The Shadows also grabbed hold of eerie horror but went down the dark comedy route, to the benefit of audiences who delighted in its offbeat humour, while Wes Anderson did what Wes Anderson does best and provided another eccentric jape of his own with The Grand Budapest Hotel. All of these were topped in the peculiarity stakes by Richard Ayoade’s The Double, a film which delighted in poking at the viewer’s brain just for the sheer fun of it.
This century’s tiresome predilection for unpredictable thriller film twists was refreshingly jettisoned by director Scott Frank for his adaptation of A Walk Amongst The Tombstones as Liam Neeson added yet another Oscar worthy performance to his already extensive list. Elsewhere, the name Cohen continued to be a mark of unbeatable film quality, with the brothers Joel and Ethan serving up yet another astounding work with Inside Llewyn Davis, and Jeremy Saulnier set himself up as a possible Cohen successor with his brilliant revenge riddled thriller Blue Ruin.
As with any year, it wasn’t all good news and some franchise fans were left frustrated. Tom Clancy fans hoping for a Jack Ryan series reboot were disappointed by the lacklustre Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Jose Padilha became the latest victim of “don’t mess with a classic” syndrome with his Robocop remake that was devoid of all the original’s ultra violence and shrewd humour. The Amazing Spiderman 2 still failed to provide Andrew Garfield’s Spiderman with a worthy foe to fight, though it did have one of the most surprisingly emotional climaxes of the year. Gareth Edwards failed to transfer the magic of his Monsters (2010) to Godzilla ensuring the curse of Hollywood Gojira remakes continued, his take on the Japanese legend a series of entertaining set pieces that somehow didn’t translate to a thrilling whole. Expendables 3 still failed to provide its superstar cast with a decent action script and saddled Harrison Ford with the most embarrassing dialogue of his entire career, “Drummer’s in the house!” no mean feat for a Star Wars veteran; only Mel Gibson’s winning turn as the villainous Conrad Stonebanks made the film watchable. 22 Jump Street failed to repeat the surprised success of its part one, offering up laboured self-referential jokes about sequels, while George Clooney’s The Monuments Men squandered the year’s best ensemble cast on a dull script.
Turning back to the high points, and before we move on to FilmsFilmsFilms pick of the ten films that will really cause cinematic 2015 some sleepless nights, we must doff our caps in the direction of two other 2014 flicks. The first is The Wolf Of Wall Street. With a December 25th 2013 release date, Scorsese’s film was too late to make FFF’s 2013 top ten list, and too early to make this years; but for this release date anomaly it would have been a sure entry in either article. And lastly, Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City: A Dame To Kill For. Not quite able to match its predecessor in the story telling stakes, Rodriguez did make one curious filmmaking choice that set it apart from just about every other film of the year; he decided to feature Eva Green’s wonderfully ample and pleasingly naked breasts in just about every scene in the movie. For that alone it probably deserves a FilmsFilmsFilms article all of its own.
- THE GUEST
In the last three years director Adam Wingard has been creating startling cinema. Sitting in the horror genre, the likes of V/H/S (2012), V/H/S 2 (2013) and You're Next (2013) caused a stir with critics and fans, but needed slightly more clarity of plot to really get noticed. Working again with writer Simon Barrett, Wingard created his first masterpiece with his next offering The Guest. Moving into the thriller genre, we're immediately introduced to former soldier David Collins, visiting the family of a deceased colleague. Still traumatised by the loss of their son, the parents quickly take to David. Their son and daughter though have their doubts, until David remains and begins to help improve their lives. But is David all that he appears to be? The more daughter Anna digs, the more suspicious she becomes. In the central role of David, British actor Dan Stevens transformed himself from his familiar Downton Abbey part to create one of the most charismatic characters in recent cinema. Villain or hero, the lines are expertly blurred. Maika Monroe as Anna creates an fantastic sparring partner, right up to the ambiguous conclusion. The stage for these performances is what elevates The Guest though. A neon tinged, eighties flavoured setting one of the finest electronic soundtracks in Hollywood history, Wingard's movie has style in spades and a atmosphere all of its own that blends the best elements of dark comedy, horror, thriller and science fiction.
Tasty Morsel – Fans of Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) will recognise three of the masks from the film's projected on to the wall of the school in the final confrontation.
- THE LEGO MOVIE
FilmsFilmsFilms holds its hands up to pre-judging Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s The Lego Movie. In our 2014 preview we assumed the first production from the new Warner Animation Group would be a lazy cash-in designed to flog more kiddie brick kits. But like Star Wars (1977) and Transformers: The Animated Movie (1986) before it, The Lego Movie proved that a two hour toy advert can also make for a fantastic film. And not just for the kids; the story of Emmet Brickowski and his struggle to defeat the evil Lord Business had just as many laughs for adults as the kids. It became the film parents were only too happy to take their kids along to. For every bout of “Everything is awesome”, there was a winning one liner, a wittily written character or an unexpected cameo. The stop motion Lego animation made the film one of the most visually stunning of the year and the voice cast turned out to be one of the finest assembled for an animated movie. That alone would have been enough to confound the doubters, but the movie entered truly rarefied air with its fantastic plot twist. Three quarters of the way in you assume all the nonsense around “kragles” and “master builders” is just some twaddle to move the story along and shoehorn in those fantastic cameos “I only work in black. And sometimes very, very dark grey”. The trick was that all the not-making-sense actually made sense, revealed by the films sudden jump to live action, and the realisation that the story has been completely driven by the mind of a ten year old boy. Whether you predicted this twist or not (and I didn’t) is beside the point; it’s a glorious story plot device and one that allows Lord and Miller to deliver their don’t be an ogre with your kids message free of slushy sentimentality, and with one final joke “You can let your little sister play to”.
Tasty Morsel – Such has been the film’s success a sequel is already in the works for 2018, And Lego Batman is also getting his own stand-alone movie, planned for 2017.
Spike Jonze is one of those names now so synonymous with quirky cinema it seems like the writer/director has been around for years now. And indeed he has, his first feature film arriving sixteen years ago, Being John Malkovich (1999). But surprisingly in the years that followed Jonze only made two more films, the excellent Adaptation (2002) and the slightly less excellent Where The Wild Things Are (2009). With the intervening years spent offering beguiling short films such as We Were Once A Fairytale (2009), I’m Here (2010), Scenes From The Suburbs (2011), and Mourir Aupres De Toi (2011) Jonze aficionados awaited his next full length cinematic feature with baited breath. Other film fans simply forgot the Maryland natives idiosyncratic genius and moved on to the next independent film director of the moment. Regaining an element of his anonymity allowed Jonze to slip the brilliant Her (2014) into 2014’s early cinema scheduling without the fuss or expectation of a comeback project. Building on the idea of human and robot interaction first explored in I’m Here, we follow Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore Twombly, a lonely writer who develops a relationship with his newly purchased female voiced computer operating system. Finding the comfort and intelligence he craves in a female companion in this new piece of AI hardware, Twombly struggles to reconcile his feelings with the knowledge that he is falling for an artificial woman. As timely a story as Hollywood has offered in recent years, it’s a wonder no one has needled twenty-first century humans predilection for living online before. With millions of people seemingly more concerned with building a fake life on Facebook than concentrating on their real one, Her raises some fairly pointed questions, albeit wrapped up in a typically brilliant Jonze script full of peculiar warmth and unconventional characters. Scarlett Johansson seemed to be the go-to actress for female characters disenfranchised from their own humanity in 2014 (Under The Skin, Lucy) and her voice work her builds a compelling double act with an on-form Phoenix, so much so you soon look past the oddness of their relationship. The films conclusion does fall back on more conventional Hollywood storytelling, but this doesn’t lessen the preceding exploration of a topic that will only become more prescient as time marches on. In that respect, Jonze has surely future-proofed his own standing as a top notch writer and director.
Tasty Morsel - Jonze first toyed with the premise of Her in the early 2000s after reading an article about “Clevebot”, an internet application that uses an artificial intelligence algorithm to have conversations with humans.
- EDGE OF TOMORROW
If you're going to steal, steal from the best; and that’s what director Doug Liman did in bringing Hiroshi Sakurazaka's teen novel All You Need Is Kill to the big screen, borrowing from three classics, Groundhog Day (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998) and War of the Worlds (2005). A combo that odd would at the very least be an interesting experiment, but thanks to some unique source material, a top-notch in-form cast, and some of 2014's most gripping action scenes, Edge of Tomorrow became one of the unexpected movie delights of the year. Set in the near future, Earth is under siege from a race of tentacled aliens. These "Mimics" have the edge in battle thanks to a collective "mind hive" which allows them to read and foretell the actions of the enemy. Thrown into the conflict is Major William Cage (Tom Cruise). More salesman than army veteran, its Cage's job to stoke the army recruitment fires. So when Cage finds himself dumped in the front line of battle he does everything he can to weasel out of. But his death on the beaches of northern France isn't the end, and Cage is inexplicably transported back in time to the day before the battle, destined to live the same day over and over again. Though not the first use of the Groundhog principal, Edge of Tomorrow will always stand as one of the best uses of deja-vu on the big screen largely due to Cruise's outstanding work. Love him or loathe him for his Scientology leanings, there's no denying the actor has been on the form of his life for pushing two decades now. It would have been obvious to paint Cage's transformation as redemptive one, with Cruise turning from smug army “executive” to a battle-suit wearing superhero, but the change is much more subtle than that. The effort of reliving the beach battle day after day wears Cage down as much as it builds him up, and it’s a weary warrior that heads off to defeat the head "Alpha" in the film’s climax. Cruise also has some of the best chemistry with an onscreen partner he's had in years thanks to a heat-of-the-battle relationship he builds with Emily Blunt, his only confidant for his dilemma. Liman doesn't resort to the obvious romantic coupling and canoodling even in the films finale, and Edge is all the better for it. The cherry on top is a wonderful streak of dark humour, much of it driven by Cruise's attempts to get his repeated day as perfect as it needs to be to win the war. His chief antagonist in this regard is a brilliant Bill Paxton, showing us what his Pvt. Hudson would have become if he'd have survived his own alien encounter on LV4-26 all those years ago.
Tasty Morsel - Suffering something of an identity crisis, the film was originally titled All You Need Is Kill after Sakurazaka's novel. For its theatrical run it was changed to less negatively themed Edge of Tomorrow, before changing for a third time for its blu-ray/dvd home release to Live.Die.Repeat.
Some films live and die by their unique premise. In Hollywood, straying from the norm can be a perilously thin line to tread. The 3D computer animation gimmick can lead to the uber success of Avatar (2009), while the old-school exploitation double-header idea can lead to the considerably less successful Grindhouse (2007). The trick is to not let the gimmick become the movie; a solid story needs to be told first and foremost. For Boyhood It helped that Richard Linklater had the outline of another of his quietly brilliant scripts to work from, but even with a non-blockbuster screenplay grounding his project, his premise was a risky one. Wanting to tell the story of one boy's journey from childhood to adulthood, instead of relying on CGI augmented faces or using different child and adult actors for the same part, Linklater decided to shoot his movie over an expansive twelve year period. Unlike the reality television experiments that have used a similar idea (the British Up series, and the German produced The Children of Gozlow) it would be a gamble hoping that his entire cast would be available and willing to commit to a film for that length of time. Even trickier still, Linklater couldn't contract his cast for more than a few years due to a clause in Californian law that prevents more than seven years contracted work of this kind. Fortunately for us, the good luck and good will of everyone involved saw the project completed. To tell the growing story of Mason Evans Jnr. (Ellar Coltrane) Linklater kept his script in a state of flux, with only the beginning and end points set in stone. Each year Linklater would review the previous year’s footage and tailor his story to how he saw the characters and actors grow and age, including the development of Mason's parents, actors Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette. The result was one of the most human and three-dimensional (in a character building sense) films ever made. Embodying all the nuances of a real set of relationships, Linklater and his cast portrayed every life turn with such authenticity Boyhood called almost be called cinema verite; except to call the movie a reality piece would be to remove all the other beautifully attuned movie making that Linklater brought to it. A one of a kind film in a once-in-a-lifetime year of films.
Tasty Morsel – It was agreed ahead of time that should something happen to Linklater that left him unable to finish the project, Ethan Hawke would take over directorial duties.
- GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Despite having the most heavy handed advertising campaign of all the 2014 blockbusters, there was still something of the underdog about Guardians of the Galaxy. The only previous behind-the-camera work from its director James Gunn were two delicious b-movie romps, Slither (2006) and Super (2010), and the waggish web-series James Gunn’s PG Porn. Its lead hero was an actor better known for his slovenly comedic support roles than his abs and action assets. And its cast of heroes included a walking tree with a speech impediment and a wise cracking raccoon. Following the monstrous success of its comic franchises to date, many predicted that Marvel Studios were overdue a box office bomb, and Guardians was going to be a nuclear blast of a failure. But only too happy to prove the naysayers wrong, Gunn and screenwriter Nicole Perlman’s script was a masterpiece of blockbuster movie writing. Knowing full well to play up its more unusual facets, Guardians revelled in its own absurdities, and in the end offered up the most fun and funny Marvel movie to date. Chris Pratt was a revelation as the cocksure Peter Quill, as was former WWE wrestler Dave Bautista as the man devoid of irony Drax the Destroyer, two performances which displayed some of the best comedic timing of the year. And the raccoon and humanoid tree that so many people were scratching their heads about when the teaser trailers first appeared soon became film fan favourites; what 2014 movie viewer doesn’t know who Rocket and Groot are now? A Tarantino inspired soundtrack of forgotten seventies classics provided some indie flavourings, while the full emergence of Avengers villain Thanos kept the story anchored to Marvel’s grand plan. There was the odd bump in the road, chief among which was yet another Marvel movie climax featuring a sky battle and key characters trading punches to the face (seriously, do Marvel not have any other way of wrapping up a film?). But these are the sorts of blemishes that can be overlooked when cheering on the underdog. And if there’s one thing us Brits love it’s an underdog upsetting the odds and winning the day, which is exactly what James Gunn and Star-Lord’s band of misfits did.
Tasty Morsel – Rather bizarrely director Gunn would keep a stash of new Play-Doh containers handy on set, to hand out to any members of the crew who performed particularly well on any day. Gunn put this down to his love of the smell, feel and creative possibilities of opening a new tub of Play-Doh.
- GONE GIRL
Gillian Flynn’s 2012 page turner Gone Girl was one of those chart topping novels that was a dead cert for either a small or big screen translation. It eventually fell to thriller film director extraordinaire David Fincher to adapt the book for the latter. Wisely, Fincher and 20th Century Fox passed the task of adapting the novel for the screen to Flynn herself. What had made the book such a water-cooler discussion point was the heated debates between male and female readers over the relationship behaviour of the stories lead couple Nick and Amy Dunne. The disputes around what was and wasn’t acceptable married behaviour and who was right and who was wrong in the novel’s various flashback scenarios was what pushed the book up the sales charts. Bravely, Flynn removed much of this conflict from her script and instead concentrated on the did he/didn’t he conundrum surrounding Nick Dunne and his seemingly blasé attitude to his missing wife Amy. The year’s best casting, having all-round good guy Ben Affleck as the potential killer husband Nick, saw the first half of Fincher’s Gone Girl fly by in a flurry of clue searching and audience self-doubt. And then Flynn and Fincher deliver their shocking, Hitchcock-esque twist (which won’t be revealed here to preserve 2014’s top plot twist). Indeed, fellow headliner Rosamund Pike offers a performance grand enough to be the Hitchcock blonde Alfred never got to work with. It’s a tag team enactment that should earn Affleck and Pike Oscar nods each come next March, though whether the Academy will stand for such blatant throat slashing and “cunt” utterances, I have my doubts. At pushing three hours, there’s an argument that Fincher could have trimmed his picture by 20 minutes or so, especially when the final half hour deflates down to a glum conclusion that will leave the average viewer unfulfilled. But it’s refreshing writing and filming to see the obvious explosion of a revenge climax jettisoned for something much more lasting, and therefore much more disconcerting in its mundanity. Gone Girl will echo on long after the final credits, for those up on the screen as well as those sat in front of it.
Tasty Morsel – Affleck, a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan, refused Fincher’s request to wear a New York Yankees baseball cap during certain scenes, eventually compromising on a New York Mets one instead.
And the 2015 Academy Award for Best Actor goes to? Please be upstanding Jake Gyllenhaal. The Los Angeles native has been giving performances of incredible depth ever since his career launching turn in Donnie Darko (2001) and it could be argued that a Statuette for the man is long overdue. But an award for his work in Nightcrawler wouldn’t be a Pacino Scent Of A Woman (1992) token gesture; Gyllenhaal’s work as wannabe in-the-field news reporter/cameraman Lou Bloom is by some considerable margin the best acting turn of 2014. Like a twenty-first century update of Robert De Niro’s desperate-to-be comedian Rupert Pupkin in Scorsese’s The King of Comedy (1983), Gyllenhaal somehow makes Bloom simultaneously repulsive and compelling. You hate him, you love him, you laugh at him and with him, you want to know more about his story before Nightcrawler starts and you want to stay with him after the credits roll. An equally large doff of the cap must also go to first time director Dan Gilroy for bringing his own script to the big screen with such panache. It would have been lazy to simple present his LA based noir in the typical Michael Mann style. But Gilroy forgoes Mann’s otherworldly neons and instead lets the true night time LA tell its own story. After dark Los Angeles becomes Bloom’s partner in crime as he waits patiently for his police scanner to send him racing to his next piece of LA carnage, be it the shattered glass covered tarmac of a car wreck or the blood stained fur rugs of a mansion robbery. Gyllenhaal has fantastic support from Rene Russo and Bill Paxton as two steps to be trodden on in his climb up the 24-hour news network ladder, and Riz Ahmed is his own mini revelation as Bloom’s jittery partner in crime Rick. Gilroy offers choice commentary throughout the film on the state of the media in our times, some of it not particularly subtle, “If it bleeds, it leads” and some of it much more accomplished; despite tut-tutting all of Bloom’s shocking desperation to capture the “perfect” newsworthy incident, most viewers will look past the film’s expertly placed opening scene, Bloom brutally assaulting a security guard for his watch. Gilroy also offers a lesson in editing. In an era where more seems to be more and films of all description are seeing the three hour running time as the new norm, Nightcrawler is swift, efficient and taut. Both Gyllenhaal’s and Gilroy’s next projects are keenly anticipated.
Tasty Morsel – Picturing Bloom as the human equivalent of a starved coyote, Gyllenhaal dropped 22 pounds for the role, working out for up to 8 hours a day, and running or cycling to the film set.
At the time of writing, the award season prospects for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar don’t look good. So far the Golden Globes have completely ignored it, which is a sure sign the Academy will deny it exists to. Maybe they had their fill of fine space fare with last year’s Gravity (2013). But so what if the films share a milieu? Does that affect their quality? Like Interstellar’s crystal ball ability to peak long into man’s future, FilmsFilmsFilms predicted the movies lack of statuette nods a couple of weeks back; we also championed why Nolan’s film is one of the greatest and most important of all time http://filmsfilmsfilms.co.uk/blog/the_greatest_film_of_the_twenty_first_century/2014-12-05-83 . In an era where everything is either extreme, epic or (to quote a Master Builder) awesome, here at FFF we don’t throw hyperbole around unless it’s warranted. And with Interstellar it really is warranted. On a strict movie assessment basis, it is a magnificent film. Superbly acted top to bottom by actors young and old, all at varying stages of their careers, scripted brilliantly to keep the pace rollicking along, soundtracked by one of the true greats (Hans Zimmer) providing perhaps his best work to date, and shot by a director who surely must sit atop Hollywood’s directorial pile at this point in time. So why the lack of kudos? 2014 was a tough year to call certainly, with as high a number of great films on offer as any year previous. But should we let the award givers preach to us what films are worthy or our attention and what films aren’t? Hell no, and to do so would be to completely ignore Interstellar’s expertly delivered message, to fight the flow of the masses and try to make a change yourself. And it was a message expertly delivered by Nolan. No hammering the audience over the head with heavy handed moralising here; the viewer is far too entertained to notice the underlying implications in the film. But give it a day or two and you’ll soon look back and realise you witnessed one of the most astounding films ever created.
Tasty Morsel – Director Nolan actually grew a large cornfield for filming some of the movies farm scenes. The corn was later sold and actually made a profit.
- THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES
So sure were FilmsFilmsFilms that we couldn’t possibly include yet another of the Middle Earth outings in our end of year top ten, we sat down in front of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies almost wanting it to fail. And for the first ten minutes it looked like it had. After a pair of three hour movies built up the terrifying might of Smaug the Stupendous, Jackson dispatched the dragon in a pre-credit sequence so brief it felt like the annoying story thread he had to tie up in order to crack on with the real show. Unfortunately, Jackson’s higher frame-rate choice made the fiery annihilation of Lake Town feel more rushed still. Though it’s the only time in the Hobbit trilogy that the 48sfps frame-rate has proved to be an issue, the death of Smaug and Lake Town is the low point of the Middle Earth saga to date. It’s a marker of everything the rest of the film does right that Jackson’s final Tolkein offering still fights its way on to this list. As a forerunner of the darkness to follow in the Rings trilogy it was to be expected that Five Armies would be sombre in tone. But even so, the film is by some measure the most melancholy of the Middle Earth movies, with some truly surprising deaths (for those that haven’t read the book) that will give the heart strings a good kicking. It’s also a more proficient concluding chapter than Return of the King with its epic but bum-numbing running time (though one suspects that next year’s Five Armies extended edition will add more than a few trimmed scenes). Away from the teary farewells and the growing One Ring gloom, we get to see Christopher Lee, Elrond and Galadriel throw down with the Nazgul, Billy Connelly threaten to steal the movie as the war-mongering dwarf Dain, and a climatic frozen waterfall battle that will go down as one of the best sequences in the entire franchise. There is also the breath-taking art design, production, Howard Shore soundtrack, and A-class acting performances that we all seem to take for granted in Jackson’s Middle Earth movies by now. But the lasting impression is still one of sorrow; the welcome lack of a true Hollywood happy ending to Bilbo’s tale thanks to Jackson’s distinctive spin on Tolkein’s writing, and the sadness that we’ll never get to visit Middle Earth on the big screen again.
Tasty Morsel – Stay for the end credits to hear Billy Boyd (Pippin in the Rings trilogy) perform The Last Goodbye, an original song her wrote specifically for the movie.