Seasons Greetings to you all! This countdown post must of course begin with an apology, as it has been sometime since my last posting, with many reviews falling to the way-side in favour of University work (which I am still very much in the clutches of). As a result, I have chosen to reveal my top 10 in a different manner to previous years. Instead of punching out one long article, I have chosen to reveal my favourite films of 2014 one-by-one, culminating with number one being revealed on New Years Eve. This is in the hope that each instalment will only take 10-15 minutes out of my day, as well as building a lot more anticipation as we count down to my top spot. So, be sure to check back everyday until New Years to see which films have come to stand as my favourites of the year that has been 2014. That time, has now come.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: The Lego Movie, Nightcrawler, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Raid 2, 12 Years a Slave
10. Edge of Tomorrow (Dir: Doug Liman)
I always make a case in point of putting my favourite summer blockbuster in my top ten (Pacific Rim held that honour last year), and this year Doug Liman’s return to blockbuster film-making holds the honour. Edge of Tomorrow was marketed quite terribly, with the trailers not making enough of what marks this Sci-Fi actioner as something other than simply another Tom Cruise movie, leading to disappointing box-office returns. EofT has plenty to offer beyond the expectations of a Cruise-action picture. It has incredibly sharp humour, inventive thrills, engaging performances, a fun central concept, and an acute reverence for a certain blockbuster spirit of a by-gone era. Essentially Groundhog Day with a Sci-Fi tinged, EofT sees Cruise’s cowardly Bill Cage re-living the same day in a futuristic war being fought on the beaches of Normandy. With the help of ace soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), he sets out to be rid of his ailment, and to find the means of defeating the alien race that looks set to claim the Earth. The coupling of Cruise and Blunt leads to an endlessly watch-able pair, allowing for EofT to (ironically) become a film that holds up incredibly well on repeat viewings. Aside from an ending which is most definitely the worst any of the three credited screen-writers could have thought of, this feature stood out amongst the crowd in a cluttered summer season as one of the more refreshing outputs from Hollywood in 2014.
9. Paddington (Dir: Paul King)
One of the most heart-soaring surprises of the year came in the form of the big screen update of Michael Bond’s lovable furry critter from deepest darkest Peru. Once again, the marketing did little to stir my interest, deciding to focus on the more slapstick elements of the movie. What the trailers failed to reveal was quite how brilliantly Paddington Bear has been updated for a 21st Century audience, allowing for fans both old and new to easily embrace this new adventure. Following the young bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) as he tries to find a home in London, the endlessly inventive script has all the classic elements of the character blended with moments of humorous slapstick, gently placed emotional beats, and a welcomingly unexpected allegory concerning immigrants trying to find a place within British society. Having such a message of tolerance is incredibly important to feature in a children’s film, particular in a modern Britain in which such a party as UKIP gains a worrying following. This careful, yet well articulated allegory allows Paddington to stand up as a film that is as important as it is entertaining. And boy, is it fun. The film pops with vibrant life; feeling like a brightly coloured story-book brought to energetic life. Paul King, one of the creators of The Mighty Boosh, makes his comedic voice heard, all the while delivering the comforting family vibes expected of a film such as this (particular in the Christmas season). This is aided by the spot-on cast; Hugh Bonneville is affable, Sally Hawkins is utterly adorable, while Nicole Kidman has the most fun she has had in years. Yet it is the voice-performance of Whishaw that will win your heart, his naive and optimistic tones bringing the stunningly rendered CG Paddington to life in quite perfect fashion. All in all, Paddington stands as one of the most successful updates of a classical character in recent memory, with King et al delivering a film that is as welcome as a Marmalade sandwich (a snack one must always keep under their hat in case of emergencies).
8. Inside Llewyn Davis (Dir: Joel & Ethan Coen)
Apologies for no postings the last two days, Christmas eating and drinking took priority. I hope you all had a wonderful, gluttonous Christmas Day, and allow me to present you the gift of three entries in my countdown of my favourite films of the year. Coming in at number 8 is a film that I initially didn’t particularly warm to, Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest offering from the Brothers Coen. The reason being that it is very much a film with an affable asshole at its lead, who seemingly cannot help being self-destructive in nearly evey aspect of his life as he bums around from couch to couch trying to make it in the Folk scene in New York’s Greenwich Village, circa 1961. But upon numerous re-visits, Llewyn Davis may very well stand as one of my favourite Coen Brothers movies, for its moddily beautiful cinematography, perfectly placed and selected folk tunes, and for arguably the best ensemble cast they have worked with. Oscar Issac delivers one of the most naunced performances of the year, doing the impossible by making us care a great deal about an individual who only has himself to blame for most of the failings in his life. Inside Llewyn Davis stands as the film that I have revisited the most this year, and each time I have come to appreciate it for its simple ambition and quite excellent production. It has also deemed a place for the fact the soundtrack has come to be present in many moments of my life this year, be it commuting, listening whilst working, or with a group of friends and a guitar; Inside Llewyn Davis has earned itself a place in this list due to the nature of its re-watch-ability and the Coen’s undeniably impressive craft.
7. Calvary (Dir: John Michael McDonagh)
If you have seen John Michael McDonagh’s first feature, The Guard, you will be very aware of the sharp comedic voice and style he is very much capable of. Yet, his second feature is an entirely different beast. While it occasionally falls into the ‘pulpy’ genre quirks hat chraracterised The Guard, Calvary stands as a much more mature and incredibly vital piece of cinema. Taking the the burning matter of Irish Catholic guilt concerning the actions of certain Priests and the ensuing scandals that have disgraced the church and shocked its patrons, Calvary is a film of great courage, relevance, and importance. Brendan Gleeson plays Father James, whose life is threatened during a confessional, giving him a week to set his affairs in order and continue to try and be a symbol of control and wholesomeness in a town that has very much lost its way into darkness. McDonagh’s second feature is nothing short of a triumph. Mixing the deathly black comedy that played more broadly in The Guard with a hard-hitting social commentary, as well as a gallery of oddball characters, the film shifts through different tonality’s and a wide variety of themes with grace and a biting sense of a very dark reality. Larry Smith’s cinematography builds a bleak atmosphere, not as stylish as his work on Only God Forgives, but equally vital to establishing a sense of location and a gradual sense of devastation. That coupled with a sweeping score allows the subject matter of Calvary to truly resonate as something incredibly vital and pivotal to not only an understanding of the Catholic Church, but of our own opinions to religion and how the actions of individuals can affect the image of a certain group. With Gleeson also delivering the best performance of his career, Calvary is one piece of work this year that demands your utmost attention.
6. Snowpiercer (Dir: Bong Joon-Ho)
With seemingly no UK theatrical release date in sight, it would seem Snowpiercer is destined to become a true definition of a cult movie; that high concept film which deserves a great audience, yet was never given the chance to do so. I was lucky enough to catch this movie in the summer, and have been eagerly awaiting the news of a UK release, but as it stands, VOD seems to be the only answer. Bong Joon-Ho, who is perhaps best known for the glorious B-movie, The Host, brings the French graphic novel to the screen with great flair, grit and style. Within this dystopia, the world has been plunged into a relentless Ice Age, making survival impossible on the surface. The last of the human race survive on a globe-spanning train which never stops. ON board this train, the last of the human race has established hierarchy, in which those at the back end of the train live in poverty, with those at the front living in frivolity, with little care for those at the back. Cue the revolution. Snowpiercer is an absolute marvel of production design, with each carriage of the dystopian train, which range from either being drenched in oil and dirt, or being bright, illustrious and glamorous. With a knowing sense of humour and satire, Joon-Ho creates a film of potent allegory, a rich text that I’m sure many BA undergrads will mine in the future. It is a dark and violent world in which mankind has been pushed to its very limits, making revolution an inevitability. Leading that charge is a brooding Chris Evans, the Captain delivering a suitably moody performance in a turn which reminds you that he is more than just a Marvel poster boy, he is an actor capable of delivering a performance of great depth and menace. The ensemble cast all deliver fine performances, but the stand out (as is often the case) comes in the form of Tilda Swinton’s Yorkshire bred Minister Mason. If you only come away from this list intending on only watching one of these recommendations, then make that choice Snowpiercer, a film as original as it is entertaining, and as thought provoking as any piece of pivotal science fiction of the past century.
5. Her (Dir: Spike Jonze)
In the time that lasped across the earlier part part of the year, Her stood as my favourite film for the best part of the year. An affecting tale of man and machine, constructing a unique love story along the way, Spike Jonze’s Oscar-winning screenplay is a modest piece of genius, filled with his usual doff-beat humour, yet driven by a melancholic sense of longing to connect in a society in which communication has become somewhat limited in a technologically driven age. Joaquin Phoenix plays recent divorcee Theodore, who downloads the latest OS on his computer. This being a new breed in Artificial Intelligence, the OS called Samantha (voiced amazingly by Scarlett Johansson) exhibits the intelligence and initiative of a human being. The lines between human and machine blurred, Theodore soon begins to develop a deeper, more intimate relationship with the A.I. With Phoenix exhibiting a sweeter side than we have come to expect from him, the story of Theodore and Samantha becomes rather hard not to fall for yourself, despite the ever-knowing inclination that this is not something entirely normal. The production design brings this near-future to colourful life, as we are brought into a world in which hipsters have taken over, while the atmosphere is effectively forged through the swooning and moving score courtesy of Arcade Fire. What marks Her as an important film for our lifetime is its concern for contemporary issues, namely that of the effect of technology on communication, and how ‘wired’ in a generation we truly are. It is as much about the now as it is about the future, meaning that it will more than likely become more relevant as time passes, perhaps marking Her as a timeless product of our modern times. It may be too early to claim such a thing, but the emotion and fresh design mark Her as at least one of the most important and affecting films of the past year.
4. Gone Girl (Dir: David Fincher)
We all like to humour our dark side from time to time, and when I myself fancy delving into something more macabre, I often visit David Fincher in order to get my fix. Be it the mind bending twists and turns of The Game, or the seedy unseen horrors of Seven, Fincher has often conjured tales of the darker side of human nature. Gone Girl, the adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling 2012 novel, can stand with some of Fincher’s best work, thrusting you into a twisted marriage and mystery and laughing devilishly as you squirm in your seat. The marriage of Amy (Rosamund Pike) and Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) is the focus, as Amy goes missing, throwing Nick under the media spotlight as more and more evidence puts him in the frame as the man responsible for Amy’s rather sudden disappearance on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary. While it may not be his best feature in his illustrious filmography, Gone Girl proves to be an example of a director who is a true master of his craft. He lashes the proceedings with humour, wrings career best performances from Affleck and Pike, and has complete command over Flynn’s screenplay. He clearly revels in the twisted relationship of the Dunne’s, as well as the vampirism of news media and the personalities often found within that industry. The editing is slick, the cinematography stylish, the music fittingly atmospheric; it is simply a flawlessly mounted film, demonstrating the meticulous nature of its director. Gone Girl is an intoxicating rumination on the notion of never knowing what is happening within the minds of those closest to you. A compelling thriller made by a true master, Gone Girl effortlessly holds a high ranking place in my countdown for 2014.
3. Whiplash (Dir: Damien Chazelle)
Perhaps a bit of a cheat this one, as it does not come out in the UK until January 16th, but has indeed screened numerous times across the Autumn/Winter festival season. I was lucky enough to catch it at a screening at the Barbican last month as part of the London Jazz Festival, and seeing as it has been on theatrical release (for quite sometime I might add) in the States, I believe I can justify giving Whiplash a place in this Top 10. And plus, it’s really fucking good. Portraying a battle of wits between a promising young music student drummer, Andrew (Miles Teller), and his hard-ass and ruthless conductor, Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), Whiplash is one of the most exhilarating and pulse-pounding cinematic experiences of the past 12 months. Chazelle’s tight direction and rhythmic editing help to aptly convey the sheer pressure of playing in an orchestra, and how that pressure increases exponentially when put on the spot by the conductor. I should just be thankful that in my time playing for an orchestra I never came across a figure as intimidating as J.K. Simmons’ Fletcher. With his bulging biceps and unpredictable anger, Simmons gives his all for a performance of a life-time. His treatment of Andrew disgusts and repels, particularly when Andrew begins to sacrifice other relationships in his life in order to improve as a drummer. It is an enthralling conflict between the two, made unpredictable by Simmons, yet driven by Teller’s commitment, blood, sweat, and tears. Much has been said about Simmons (and he deserves every award coming to him), but Teller’s contribution cannot be under-sold, as he also gives 110% to convey the desire and frustration of the clearly skilled young music student. With a damn fine jazz soundtrack, unpredictable turns, and a final confrontation as tense as anything in the finest sports movies, Whiplash is a cinematic experience that will leave you sweating in your seat and screaming for more. Be sure to catch it in January.
2. Boyhood (Dir: Richard Linklater)
A film which has topped many critics and magazines lists this year, Boyhood is undoubtedly one of the greatest successes of 2014. Quite unlike anything else produced in cinema, Boyhood was shot over the course of 12 years with the same cast. It is quite an unprecedented feat of film-making that will stand in cinema history as one of the most triumphant and enriching texts concerning everyday human life. It is utterly crazy that Linklater managed to pull it off, even more impressive when you consider he still found the time to make the likes of A Scanner Darkly, School of Rock and the concluding parts of his similarly ambitious Sunset Trilogy across the years. Hard to describe in terms of plot, Boyhood is a film better described in regards to its thematic concerns, as we experience the joys, pitfalls, and anxieties of growing up through the eyes of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) over the course of 12 years. With popular songs from the likes of Family of the Year and Goyte as some of our only indicators of time placement, as well as strangely predictive pop culture discussions, Linklater’s script is effortlessly human and moving, relying on big moments of drama very sparingly in the hope that more genuine emotions are forged between his characters and his audience. It helps that the cast is quite effortless in conveying a very natural relationship with one another. Patricia Arquette is particularly impressive, while Ethan Hawke proves that he is never better than when he is being directed by Linklater. Yet, the whole film rides on the shoulders of its young, un-tested lead, and Coltrane strides through on his cute naivety in the early years, which soon develops into a laid back charm which is very easy to engage with. While Boyhood is concerned with the tribulations of a young boy’s puberty, there is something for absolutely anyone to connect with. If you’ve ever been a sibling, a mother, a father, heck if you’ve ever been a child there are emotions and moments of experience that you can liken to your own. Perhaps what stopped Boyhood taking the top spot is its universality; it’s a very hard film to dislike and those that find flaw must really be willing themselves to nitpick. It seems odd to say, but Boyhood is a hard film to call my personal favourite of the year because it seems to belong to EVERYONE. Boyhood is a piece of cinema that we are unlikely to ever see again, a pure shot of lightening in a bottle, whose top has been carefully wound tighter over the course of its 12 year production. Just take a minute again to consider that. Consider the perseverance and commitment (and damned good luck) that Linklater managed to complete his ambitious project. Linklater deserves every accolade that is sure to be coming his way, as Boyhood confirms an inkling that many of I’m sure already had in our minds; that Richard Linklater is one of the most important, varied, and talented film-makers of a generation.
1. Interstellar (Dir: Christopher Nolan)
Now bare with me on this one. I am very aware that Interstellar is a film that has been on the receiving end of a very mixed reaction, and that is one of the main reasons as to why it has worked its way to the top of the list. It helps that I adore it, but the fact that it has proven so divisive, giving so many people the passion to defend or rile against highlights one of the simplest pleasures of cinema. All art is subjective, and all art is made for discussion, and Interstellar proved, for me at least, to be the film where I was engaged in most debates, both with others and with myself. I was initially cautious following my first viewing (in 60mm IMAX I must add) due to the over-whelming nature of Nolan’s ideas and imagery, particularly those which arise in the course of the final act. I immediately wanted to see it again. And I did. Twice. There are films on here that I have seen many times since release, but no film quite demanded a re-visit with quite the same immediacy. Christopher Nolan had something to prove to me (and I’m sure many others) with Interstellar following his Batman trilogy closure. The Dark Knight Rises, while certainly more cerebral than common Hollywood blockbuster fare, remains a disappointing, frustratingly scripted franchise closer. Perhaps my trepidation into Interstellar aided me, but there is no denying that Nolan’s 9th feature film comes accompanied with some of his most startlingly beautiful images, that can be at once awe-inspiring and haunting, striking the sublime chord in quite an impressionistic fashion. Interstellar wears its inspirations on its sleeve, evoking Kubrick (it would be stupid to avoid mentioning the K-word in any discussion of Interstellar) through its mix of science-fiction and philosophical questioning, while it is also easy to detect a dash of Spielberg through the family dynamic on display. Reacting to his critics (which is something more directors should practice), Nolan attempts to devote more time to emotion and character, and truly does succeed in crafting an operatic adventure which is grounded in raw human emotion, namely that of a relationship between a father and his daughter. This is in no small way aided by the performance of McConaughey, who grounds the action by always ensuring that his character, engineer and pilot Cooper, keeps what is at stake front and centre as he embarks on a mission to save mankind through finding a new world at the other side of a wormhole. Interstllar may well be one of the most flawed films on this list, flaws which are almost endearing rather than frustrating in the grand scheme of the text. Its powerful cinematography, soul-shuddering score bring to the screen an adventure that only the cinema can bring to life and take you on. Despite the complex physics and theories involved, no other film quite matched up for me in terms of the epic nature of its journey, nor did any other film quite demand you to seek out the biggest screen possible in order to experience it. Interstellar stirred a passion and a wonder within me concerning space and cinema that I had not felt since Apollo 13 first inspired me to hold my thumb up to the Moon and ponder on what was to be found in the far reaches of space, I am always grateful to a film for stirring such a curiosity within me, and I am truly grateful and impressed that Interstellar managed to allow those sensations to return. It is this emotion, this feeling, this thrill, that allows Interstellar to deservedly hold the top spot of my countdown this year.
So there you have it, the count-down is complete and we can all say a fond good-bye to 2014 and look forward to the cinematic ventures that await us in 2015. I wish you all a very Happy New Year, enjoy your celebrations tonight, and all the best for the year ahead.
Enjoy this Cinematic Retrospective, courtesy of Nikita Malko.