I based this list on which films left the biggest impact on me, films that left me invigorated and excited and felt fresh. Along with all the films reviewed on this blog I’ve made an effort to catch up with as much as I possibly can from the films that have been popping up most frequently on other people’s lists. I have defined 2014 as the UK release date. Full disclosure: I’ve not seen Transformers 4.
10. Big Eyes A hypnotic performance from Christoph Waltz made Big Eyes a surprise return to form for Tim Burton, who left behind his over zealous visual tropes for interesting story telling about a true case of art fraud. Whilst the concluding, hilarious court scene will be what hangs longest in the memory, it’s a nuanced exploration into art, artist and substance which works as well dramatically as it does comedically.
9. Chef Jon Favreau looking at the filmmaker’s relationship with the critic through the less than subtle metaphor of a chef getting reviewed by a food critic should not be this enjoyable. Not only is the film gorgeously sensual through the way it shoots it cooking, but this is a film filled with affection, with Favreau taking a breaking from Iron Man to return to his indie roots. It’s funny, sweet, with a great lead performance from Favreau and an honest depiction of a family. Despite the clear meta-premise, Chef doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is one of the tastiest and certainly most under-appreciated films of the year.
8. The Guest A trashy, B-movie with an almighty glint in Dan Stevens’s eye, The Guest is a whole load of fun. Riffing off thriller, horror and comedy, The Guest plays around with genre conventions to produce an incredibly entertaining film based around the ludicrously chiseled chin and perfected stable of its leading man who places himself into the lives of a family, claiming to be a war comrade of their late son.
7. Her Probably my favourite Scarlett Johansson performance from a really interesting and critically acclaimed year (Under The Skin, Chef, Lucy, Captain America: Winter Soldier), in a role she only received when the rest of the film was finished, originally played by Samantha Morton. Johansson plays the voice of an operating system, able to adapt and evolve in the near future. Joaquin Phoenix buys her and falls in love, making a strange but uncomfortably believable and intimate romance. Spike Jonze expertly observes the direction of the modern world, with a particularly wonderful eye for things like video games and the film’s entire production design. Beautiful.
6. Fruitvale Station This is a film I saw a year and a half ago in the States but it only got released a few month ago here. It’s the hard hitting true story of Oscar Grant, on his last day alive before succumbing to police brutality in 2008. It’s a remarkably accomplished, low budget debut from Ryan Cooler, who shows he has a great eye for naturalism along with a great leading performance from Michael B. Jordan who again shows his ability to portray tough, conflicted characters which will almost certainly one day lead to Oscar consideration. A slow-burning, devastating drama and only more relevant given recent news stories in the US.
5. Maps to the Stars David Cronenberg’s kaleidoscopic look at the price of fame produced a memorising, daring satire. He turns Hollywood into a sick nightmare, spitting venom and malevolence at its hideous hyper-reality. It’s pathos does not always land perfectly but it’s a magnificent, spiralling inferno full of souls broken by the beast which created them.
4. Inside Llewyn Davis The Coen brothers stepping into the early 1960s New York folk scene made for a creative world littered with disappointment and compromise. Amusing ( “Please Mr Kennedy”) and melancholic (“Fare Thee Well”), its music matches its tone perfectly, with great music from T Bone Burnett and Marcus Mumford. It’s funny and contains a deftly believable, natural performance from Oscar Isaac, irresponsible and aloof, not completely likeable but still empathetic in his struggle to find himself. It has an odd charm and nihilism only the Coens could pull off.
3. The Raid 2 A thrilling, life-affirming, martial arts bonanza from Gareth Evans. Whilst it was a hard job to live up to the tight concept of the first film, the more sprawling narrative of The Raid 2 maintained and added to the same cathartic physicality and gorgeous choreography of the first, creating rhythms and pulses to make every single blow feel enormous.
2. Locke Locke contains a Welshman driving around in a car for the film’s duration, whilst trying to remotely oversee a multi-million pound concrete pour over the phone, the same phone which keeps ringing with news that a forgotten one-night-stand has gone into premature labour and calls from a wife and son eager for him to get home to watch the football. His life melts down as quick as the concrete can pour, Locke is the tightest and most unique, nerve-wracking thriller of the year from writer and director Steven Knight and possibly Tom Hardy’s finest performance, finding something immensely cinematic, wrapped in tension from the confines of a single vehicle and hands free device. It’s different and it’s brilliant.
1. Boyhood Filmed over an awe-inspiring 12 years with the same cast growing up, Boyhood is more than just a coming-of-age tale as it is a beautiful reflection on family and change. Richard Linklater’s enormous dedication and ambition is translated into a beautiful and complete piece of film making, a rich tapestry of melancholy. Moments are glimpsed and lost, time transpires and relationships evolve. Boyhood is more than just a story of Boyhood as it is about fatherhood and motherhood, with characters responding to their maturing actors as the years go by. Poignant and unique, Boyhood is my film of 2014.