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Random thoughts about sound and vision.

An Obligatory List Of My Top 10 Movies in 2014

As 2014 fades away, here are my favourite films from the last year. Some nearly made the cut - THE IMITATION GAME, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER - but these are the ten I decided on, and why.

In no particular order...

NOAH

After the critical and commercial success of BLACK SWAN, Darren Aronofsky had Green Awning Syndrome in spades. So he went off and made this insanely personal but fascinating take on the Old Testament story. Rock monsters, a brief history of the universe, Maximus Decimus Meridias in the title role...plus the Ark and a spectacular flood. Strange to think this was a studio picture (Paramount) - even stranger to realise it did good at the box-office.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

This time last year, Disney execs were nervously estimating how much money they'd lose on the goddamn sci-fi movie with the talking tree and pistol-packin' raccoon. It  only  turned out to be the year's biggest box-office hit in the US (take that, TRANSFORMERS 4), a refreshing and original addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it boasted a fine '70s bubblegum pop soundtrack.

NIGHTCRAWLER

Me and Jake Gyllenhaal fell out over PRINCE OF PERSIA. After this film, we're all good now. I wrote more about NIGHTCRAWLER here.

CALVARY

Brendan Gleeson rightly deserved the plaudits for his towering performance as the threatened priest but it's Aidan Gillen and his chilling little anecdote that will haunt you long after the film has finished. 

LOCKE

Tom Hardy, driving along the motorway at night, talking to people on his mobile...that's it. A simple premise but intelligent and gripping stuff from start to finish. Hardy's restrained performance is mesmerising.

BIRDMAN

The welcome return of Michael Keaton in the sharpest, coolest, most thought-provoking comedy of the year. And what about that ending! Seriously - what about that ending...?

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

With MOONRISE KINGDOM and now GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, Wes Anderson finally shows he can balance the chilly, precise nature of his style with warm-hearted content and characters. Also - Ralph Fiennes is a master of comedy. Who knew?

THE RAID 2

The EVIL DEAD 2 of action movies - bigger, better, bloodier than the original. Writer/director Gareth Evans could have taken the easy option and just cloned the first film. Instead, he upped the ante with some breathtakingly choreographed fights and stunts. And just when you thought you'd seen everything a car chase can be...

GONE GIRL

So much more than a psychological thriller - GONE GIRL tears apart and examines the modern marriage. David Fincher is one of the best directors currently working in Hollywood and here he's in top form. See it quick before some dickhead spoils it for you.

12 YEARS A SLAVE

The deserved winner of a Best Picture Oscar, 12 YEARS is a searing account of 19th century slavery in the deep South. Brutal without being exploitative, uplifting without being sentimental.

Back Into The Woods: THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, 15 years on

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT turns 15 this year. Perhaps you can remember the sensation it was, way back in 1999. A low-budget "found footage" horror movie, with three young amateur filmmakers heading into the dark heart of the woods to make a documentary about the legendary "Blair witch". An Internet-led, carefully-orchestrated marketing campaign created a massive word-of-mouth. When THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT finally opened in the US in the summer, it was a box-office smash, eventually grossing nearly $250 million worldwide against a tiny $60,000 budget. 

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Real Steel: How Superman (1978) Changed The Game For Cinema Superheroes

You'll believe a man can fly...again.

The latest reboot of Superman will shortly be arriving in cinemas. Zack Snyder directs, Christopher Nolan produces and the star power comes courtesy of Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner. Neither, it has to be said, playing Superman. The titular Man Of Steel is Henry Cavill.

Here's the latest trailer:

Looking good. Actually, looking very good. But then again, Snyder's Sucker Punch also had a decent-looking trailer and look what a mess that ended up being...

There was also the last revival of the Man Of Steel brand - 2006's disappointing Superman Returns, which I've talked about before

Whatever. I'm going to be positive and think back to December 1978...because, yes, I'm that old. That's when Superman The Movie was released, an absolute game-changer of a movie. Before Superman, comic book heroes were mainly staples of cheap and cheerful film serials in the '40s and '50s. In the '60s, there was TV's Batman - an entertaining but broadly played and campy version of the comic book.

Christopher Reeve as Superman

Christopher Reeve as Superman

Fast-forward a decade and then along came Superman; stakes were upped all round. In the director's chair was Richard Donner, hot off his hugely successful supernatural hit The Omen. Superman's massive budget allowed for some blockbuster action sequences, on both Krypton and Earth. Marlon Brando played Jor-El - Supie's dad - for a then record-breaking fee of three million dollars. Gene Hackman took on the role of super-villain Lex Luthor, for a not dissimilar chunk of change. Composer John Williams contributed a memorable score, with a title theme as instantly recognisable as that of Star Wars. And relative screen newcomer Christopher Reeve took on the dual responsibility of Clark Kent's glasses and Superman's cape.

But the key element that made this film such a game-changer was that - for arguably the first time in cinema history - film-makers took the comic book subject matter seriously. From the opening scene - Brando, Trevor Howard, Maria Schell et al sitting in judgement of Terence Stamp and his fellow criminals- the tone was set. "We're not screwing around here." the makers appeared to be saying. Grade 'A' talent in front and behind the camera. The best money can buy. No winking to the audience, no parodying of the iconic Superman figure, no resorting to cheap laughs.

Well - mostly. After the epic sweep of the Krypton and Norman Rockwell-infused Smallville sequences, Metropolis brings the film down to earth with a bit of a bump. Hackman's portrayal of Lex Luthor, together with his sidekicks, appear to have wandered in from the '60s Batman TV show. Fortunately, there was still enough good stuff going on to ensure they didn't completely derail the movie.

All the good stuff propelled Superman into being a tremendous box-office smash. There were successive dips in quality (and grosses) with the inevitable sequels - the lowest point, 1987's Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, is not just a bad superhero film, it's a bad film period. Fortunately, Quest For Peace wasn't going to be the final word on superheroes on film. Two years later, Tim Burton's darker-than-the-TV-show vision of Batman broke global box-office records and restored faith in adapting comic book heroes to the silver screen.

2012's  Avengers

2012's Avengers

Superhero movies continue to thrive - from Christopher Nolan's more realistic take on Batman, to the Iron Man/Hulk/Thor/Captain America movies that paved the way to last year's Avengers epic. Comic books were once widely considered "just for kids". No more. As well as the costumed heroes, there have also been critically acclaimed adaptations of such serious graphic novels as V For Vendetta, Road To Perdition and A History Of Violence. And somewhere in between is Watchmen, the multi-layered exploration of superhero psyches...directed by Man Of Steel's very own Zackary Edward "Zack" Snyder.

And all, in no small way, thanks to 1978's trail-blazing Superman...