4 January 2015

Top 10 Films of 2014

So here it is, my top 10 films of 2014. On a whole, despite there being some really bad films this year, on a whole this has been one of the best years in film for a long time. Whilst the bad films were really bad, the good films were really good, I've probably given more films 5 stars this year than I have any other year. Narrowing down my top 10 was a lot harder this year than it has been any other year (a brilliant top 10 could have been made from my 11-20 ranked films) but I have come to a decision I'm happy with. Once again, any film released in the UK in 2014 can be included. Whilst this means that films like Birdman (which I've just seen and will be in my top 10 films for this year), Whiplash, Snowpiercer and Selma cannot be included, some of the major awards fare released in the US in 2013 will make appearances in this list. With that said, here are my top 10 favourite films of 2014:
10. Only Lovers Left Alive - Probably the best vampire movie to come out in recent years, a really dark romance which is a harsh critique of human society in the 21st Century. The performances are excellent all round, with the romantic chemistry between Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston being a highlight, and there are a lot of brilliantly dark comedic elements, mainly in the scenes with Mia Wasikowska, with the brilliant direction by Jim Jarmusch bringing a perverse beauty to the film.

9. Nightcrawler - I'd probably say that this was the best horror film I've seen this year (as someone who hasn't seen The Babadook), mainly due to the character of Lou Bloom. Bloom is a character willing to do anything to further his career and has no empathy whatsoever. This is a character who is willing to leave a baby in a house filled with bodies as it would be a better story. This film is a scathing indictment of the modern media and our attitudes to the news, how we want everything to be black and white and how our fear is so easily exploitable. This is a truly horrifying film because of how true everything it says is.

8. The Grand Budapest Hotel - Out of all the Wes Anderson films I've seen so far, this one is my favourite. The direction, cinematography and production design let you know it's a Wes Anderson film within 3 seconds and the use of the different aspect ratios for each time period was a great idea. This film also has the best cast of the year, topped by a great debut performance from Tony Revolori and Ralph Fiennes at his funniest. The script also has this great sense of melancholy which helps elevate the film from a great dark comedy into a really touching film.

7. Boyhood - Of all the films released this year, this is probably the one that touched me the most, mainly because of the central idea of the film. The 12 years over which this film was made, I grew up in. I was 7 when Boyhood started film and had just finished my first year of university when it was released. This film is a time capsule of everything that was happening when I was growing up. This is not the only thing to make this film excellent though. Richard Linklater delivers one of the years best scripts; the debut performances from Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater are excellent, along with those of Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke which also show how motherhood and fatherhood change over the years and it is one of the few films released that justifies a 3 hour length

6. The Lego Movie - This is a film that could have very easily gone wrong. Hell, when I first heard about it I thought that we couldn't possibly sink any lower in terms of what we make films on. But, in the same way I felt about The Social Network, I found that a film that could have been a cynical corporate cash grab was actually incredibly charming, funny and insightful into the nature of creativity. This, along with 22 Jump Street, confirmed the status of Phil Lord and Chris Miller as the best comedy directors working in America at the moment.

5. Interstellar - There will soon come a time when Christopher Nolan makes a bad film, no director is perfect, but thankfully Interstellar was not that film. Visually beautiful, brilliantly acted (with the highlights being Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain and Mackenzie Foy) and with a story that showed how well Nolan can make emotional scenes, this is a brilliant film. Whilst not up there with Nolan's best (The Dark Knight; The Prestige and Inception) this film once again showed that Nolan is one of the best directors working today.

4. Guardians of the Galaxy - If anyone went inside my head and searched for what my ideal film would be, what they'd find would be virtually identical to Guardians of the Galaxy. Everything about this film felt like it was tailor made for me: the acting; the writing; the directing; the action scenes, I love everything about this film. The moment that my first viewing of this film ended, I wanted to see it again and ended up seeing it 4 times in the cinema and could probably watch it everyday and never get tired of it. No other film released in 2014 gave me as much joy as watching Guardians of the Galaxy and if Marvel carries on making films as good as this then we're sure to have some excellent comic book films coming out in the next few years.

3. Fruitvale Station - Whilst I did review this film last year, it was only released in the UK this year, hence it's inclusion on this list. Considering everything that has happened in America regarding Michael Brown and Eric Garner, this is probably the most relevant film on the list. The fact that there were similar cases to that of Oscar Grant when I first saw it in Washington DC last year (that being the acquittal of George Zimmerman) and when it finally came out in the UK (that being everything that happened in Ferguson) is horrific and this film does the best thing in regards to the Oscar Grant case: it takes the low-key route. By focusing on Grant's last day we see Grant to be an incredibly flawed individual but one who is willing to better himself, brilliantly shown by Michael B Jordan. This is one of the most important films released this year and it's a shame that it went under the radar for a lot of people

2. Pride - In a year with horrible British films like Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie and Pudsey the Dog: The Movie, Pride came along to show how brilliant British cinema can be. Focusing on the story of LGSM, a group of gay and lesbian individuals who supported the miners during the Miners Strike, this film showed the power of solidarity and how so much good can be done when people unite together and, in a society where UKIP is one of the major parties; the Daily Mail is one of the most influential newspapers and where people are being turned against each other all the time by people like Nigel Farage; David Cameron and Ian Duncan Smith, we needed a film to show the importance of solidarity. A cast of some of Britain's best character actors and probably the best script of the year were the icing on the cake to make this one of the years best.

1. 12 Years A Slave - This is a tricky one as, whilst there is no denying that 12 Years A Slave is one of the best cinematic ventures ever made, brilliantly directed by Steve McQueen and topped with excellent performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor; Michael Fassbender and Lupita N'yongo, it is also a film that I would not watch for a second time. That however is a show of the power of this film. There are so many images that are burned into my mind that show the true horror of American slavery and without these scenes the power of the film would be lost. We needed a film to show how brutal slavery was, not in a context for catharsis like Django Unchained, but one to show how, for lack of a better term, perfect the system was. Whilst I have no intention to watch it again, saying that any film other than this was the best of the year would be wrong.

As has been traditional for the last few years, I will be putting my rank for the rest of the films I saw in 2014 here, with links to the films I've reviewed and quick thoughts for the films I haven't reviewed.

11. Frank

14. Under the Skin - Whilst most people will hate this film, and I completely understand why they do, I found this to be an incredibly haunting look at humanity through alien eyes with Jonathan Glazer's direction and Daniel Landin's cinematography creating a incredible visual experience, there were a few moments that genuinely horrified me and Scarlett Johansson gives the best performance in her career as the alien, showing a great thought process in the character in incredibly subtle ways.

15. Calvary - A really powerful look at a week in the life of a Catholic priest in Ireland in the aftermath of the sex abuse revelations with a brilliant focus on how different people are affected by death, faith and loss, all held together by an incredible central performance by Brendan Gleeson

21. The Raid 2 - In terms of pure action, there isn't a film better than this that will be released in 2014. The action scenes surpass the original in terms of the excellent choreography, the diverse staging of these scenes (including the addition of a car chase) and the plot has a much grander scale than the first film, feeling more like a mafia film than a martial arts film.

23. Blue Ruin - One of the most suspenseful revenge thrillers made recently. For a budget of less than $500,000, it's amazing what director/writer/DP Jeremy Saulnier does, it looks a lot better than films with 100 times the budget. The lead performance by Macon Blair is excellent, and this performance, along with the direction, is what gives the film its intense power, along with how well it uses the trappings of a revenge film to subvert the entire genre.

25. The Wind Rises - In terms of animation, this is one of the most beautiful films ever made, showing the true power of animation and being one of the only films to accurately capture the true wonder of flight and the wondrous nature of planes. The story is incredibly touching and shows how beauty can be perverted into doing horrific things, the characters are all memorable and I have to admit, I did get a bit teary eyed at the end.

27. Locke

31. Her - A really sweet and intelligent love story which fully explores the relationship between humans and
technology and shows the ultimate passing of the Turing Test, aided by great performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson, although Olivia Wilde, Rooney Mara and Chris Pratt are wasted.

32. Chef

34. Inside Llewyn Davis - Another great film from the Coen Brothers, showing that brilliantly shows the life of a failed artist with the music and the performances showing that Llewyn Davis is not a good person and isn't a good enough singer to have success on his own (brilliantly shown in the performance of Fare Thee Well where Marcus Mumford's voice is more dominant than Oscar Isaac). Plus, I want to see more of John Goodman's character in this.

36. Mr Peabody and Sherman - Brilliant animation, a touching story and brilliant performances from Ty Burrell and Max Charles make this a really charming film, although the villain and climax felt a bit forced into the film.

37. Cold in July - A really intense thriller that had me hooked all the way through, anchored by brilliant performances from Michael C Hall and Don Johnson, along with really effective direction and music.

39. The Monuments Men - There were a few moments where it felt a bit too pro-America, but the old fashioned, sentimental tone of the film works really well for the type of film that it wants to be, creating a great throwback to the war films of the 50s and 60s. Plus, the cast is excellent, adding a great deal of humour to the film through their chemistry.

40. Veronica Mars - Despite there being a handful of moments where you have to have seen the series in order to understand them and a few predictable elements of the plot, this is still a really interesting, engaging mystery film with a brilliant central performance by Kristen Bell and, despite those moments, someone who isn't a fan can get into the film and the characters really easily.

41. Noah

42. Begin Again - A really enjoyable film about the power music has on people, aided by the brilliant chemistry between Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo and some really well written songs, although the plot is really predictable and I wasn't a fan of the ending.

43. The Railway Man - Whilst there are a few moments that feel a bit too heavy handed, the film works due to the strength of the cast, in particular Colin Firth, Jeremy Irvine and Hiroyuki Sanada with these performances helping to bring across the central theme of forgiveness, whilst also showing the brutality of how British POWs were treated by the Japanese and the psychological impact of their imprisonment.

44. Cuban Fury - Whilst not all of the jokes in the film work and Chris O'Dowd and Kayvan Novak can be a bit too annoying in some parts, this is a really good dance film mainly due to the efforts of Nick Frost who is a very charming, funny and sympathetic lead, along with good supporting performances from Olivia Colman and Rory Kinnear.

47. Belle

48. Joe - Brilliant performances from Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan and Gary Poulter, along with a really engaging script and direction from David Gordon Green make this a really intense drama focusing on the growing father-son relationship between the characters of Joe and Gary, with a really intense look at the damage that substance abuse, mainly regarding alcohol, is doing in the South. However, it does take a while to get going and there was a villain I don't think needed to be in the film.

50. The Zero Theorem - Whilst there are moments where it thinks it's being smarter than it is, it's great to see Gilliam return to something like Brazil with there being some great moments of satire in here, a brilliant, darkly comic tone and a great performance by Christoph Waltz.

51. Transcendence - There are a lot of elements to this that don't work, mainly the characters being fairly forgettable, the story for the bulk of the film being incredibly generic and a complete misunderstanding of how the internet works, the performances from Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall, along with a brilliant ending and some intelligent ideas make this an engaging watch and certainly not deserving of the critical mauling it got.

52. Tracks - There are a few moments in the film where it does get really boring but it is made up for by excellent direction and cinematography, along with a brilliant central performance from Mia Wasikowska.

54. Jimmy's Hall - An excellent lead performance from Barry Ward, typically strong direction by Ken Loach and good dialogue by Paul Laverty can't overcome a really scattershot plot, that has all the character development occur offscreen, a lot of the character traits go unseen and too many elements come up but are never mentioned again. I found it funny though how Jim Norton is just playing Bishop Brennan from Father Ted again in this.

55. Devil's Knot - Despite good performances all around this is a really heavy handed retelling of the West Memphis Three story that has little character development, doesn't seem to make up it's mind about the case, in terms of who they think committed the crime, some of the actors aren't given much to do, in particular Dane DeHaan, and the film ends right when the most interesting stuff about the case is about to start. It'd probably be best to watch the Paradise Lost films or West of Memphis instead.

56. The Two Faces of January - Whilst the first half of the film is pretty slow and quite boring, the second half has some of the most intense scenes in any film this year, the mark of a really engaging thriller, with the great direction and performances, especially Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac, aiding this.

58. 300: Rise of an Empire - Whilst the naval battle scenes are really well handled and the performances are strong, particularly a scene stealing turn from Eva Green, the plot is incredibly boring, the conventional sword fights are filled with so much CG that it looked more like a videogame than a film, it ends right when the main battle the film was building to starts and for a film claiming to focus on Xerxes' rise to power, that is an aspect of the film that is almost completely ignored.

59. RoboCop - Whilst not as bad as I thought it would be, mainly due to great acting in supporting roles, especially Gary Oldman, and the plot of Omnicorp controlling Murphy being really intriguing the film doesn't work through the main character. Joel Kinnaman is boring as Murphy and the plot surrounding him investigating his murder is incredibly generic. Along with this, a lot of the satirical elements of the film are lost and the inclusion of Murphy's family removes a lot of the inherent tragedy of the character seen in the original.

60. Non-Stop - Despite good acting from Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore, this is one of the most cliched and boring films I've seen this year. There's virtually no character development for anyone, whenever there's an action scene it's shot terribly and the overall plot of the film makes no sense, culminating in one of the stupidest endings of the year.

62. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit - Pretty boring film overall with the majority of the cast being wasted, Kenneth Branagh's direction being very generic, a real step down after the brilliant job he did with Thor, and a pretty poor script, the only entertaining part of this film is an enjoyably over-the-top performance from Branagh.

64. Divergent - Just a cynical attempt to capitalise on the success of The Hunger Games with a cinematic world that can be torn apart in the first few minutes, plot elements that make no sense, pretty poor acting all around and a plot that is designed solely to manipulate the teenage audience.

65. I, Frankenstein - What could have been an entertaining, dumb-fun action film is instead a tedious, predictable mess of a film filled with wooden acting (with the exceptions of Aaron Eckhart and Bill Nighy who are the only ones who know how ridiculous it is), the action peaks way too early in the film (despite the action scenes being well directed), there are a lot of elements that don't make sense due to the bad writing and there's just no personality in the film with many elements being ripped off from other films (most notably, the villains plot is straight from Van Helsing), although I will admit that the production design and the make-up for the demons is pretty good.

66. That Awkward Moment - Despite Zac Efron, Miles Teller and Michael B Jordan having good chemistry with each other, none of the jokes are funny, the characters are all unlikable and it is incredibly cliched with every rom-com trope brought out.

67. Need for Speed - Aside from the impressive car stunts (made better by the use of real cars) and the enjoyably over-the-top performance by Michael Keaton, this is one of the most cliched films I've ever seen. I predicted virtually every major event that happened in the film making it incredibly boring to watch, the characters are all unlikable and cliched, not helped by poor performances from the main cast, especially Dominic Cooper and Imogen Poots who are both so much better than this film.

68. A Long Way Down - There are a lot of elements that do not work, some parts which seem to make fun of suicidal people and annoying performances from Imogen Poots and Pierce Brosnan, but there are some touching moments, mainly due to an excellent performance from Toni Collette, even if her character was the most morally disgusting character of the year. I'm also really surprised that BBC Films agreed to fund this considering the Jimmy Saville case.

69. A Million Ways To Die In The West - Whilst it is solid on a technical level, this film commits the worst crime any comedy can make: it didn't make me laugh, at all. At most there were a few chuckles in the scenes with Neil Patrick Harris, Christopher Lloyd and Jamie Foxx, but they are few and far between. Seth MacFarlane's script is terrible with his dialogue style not fitting the setting at all, with it being really clear that he wants to make Blazing Saddles, most of the actors have no chemistry with each other (the only exceptions being Amanda Seyfried and Neil Patrick Harris), the plot is all over the place and many scenes could have been cut out and nothing would have been lost. It's the worst kind of vanity project from MacFarlane and shows to me that the only good work he does is voiceover.

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