Thursday, 8 January 2015

Top Ten Movies of 2014

2014 was an amazing year for cinema. At first I considered making a top ten for this year to be relatively straightforward but more than any other year in recent cinema, this the one where I found myself rounding up the biggest amount of contenders. The variety and magnitude of quality cinema made it feel as if we were spoiled for choice, where even the blockbusters manages to raise their standards to compete with the prestige and independent pictures. Whereas previous years have seen a clear distinction between the different products of each section of the industry, 2014 saw them merge to a point where we didn’t have to say “this was great….for a mainstream movie”, we could point to the best of each section and say “this was a great movie”. Before I get into the main top ten of the year I have a few honourable mentions to hand out:

It shouldn't take long to realise that this year was incredible as far as blockbuster action went. The Marvel Cinematic Universe managed to deliver two ridiculously entertaining features in the form of 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' and 'Guardians of the Galaxy'. There was also Keanu Reeves' amazing turn as the unstoppable assassin 'John Wick'. Doug Liman teamed up with Tom Cruise to deliver a surprisingly intelligent action spectacle with 'Edge of Tomorrow'. But of all the action movies of this year the best would have to be the truly magnificent 'The Raid 2', a sequel with twice the ambition of the original whilst maintaining the same level of quality.

There were also a number of brilliant biopics that yielded some fantastic lead performances, from Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game' to Eddie Redmayne in 'The Theory of Everything' and not forgetting David Oyelowo in 'Selma'. Even though it's more of an ensemble than one can't go without mentioning Steve Carell in 'Foxcatcher'. Even Mike Leigh threw his name into the biopic genre with the poetic 'Mr Turner' that featured an elegant performance from Timothy Spall. 
But aside from the Oscar contenders there were still plenty of smart, subversive and highly entertaining movies. David Fincher's masterfully crafted 'Gone Girl', Jenifer Kent's 'The Babadook' and 'Two Days, One Night' by the Dardenne Brothers. We also saw Paul Thomas Anderson confuse and amaze us with 'Inherent Vice' (I still like you even if I have no idea why). Lenny Abrahamson made us feel endeared to a musician whose face we hardly ever see in 'Frank'. 'A Most Violent Year' was a thrilling and fresh feeling crime saga, and 'Force Majure' was a wonderfully dark comedy.  

10: What We Do in the Shadows
No one said that in this day and age a mockumentary about vampires had to be this innovative on both a creative level and a humorous one. It is one thing for Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement to put so much effort into crafting a hilarious film, but for its direction and performances to be so wonderfully well-made is another. It is atmospheric and beautifully stylish, balancing its broader comedic strokes with on point satire, parody and some refreshing character based humour as well. Having crafted such oddly endearing characters the film is able to evoke some surprisingly poignant moments, but as I already said, at the end of the day ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ is simply hilarious on a level no other film could match this year.

9: Under the Skin
I think comparing a film to the work of Stanley Kubrick is a dangerous move, firstly for the risk of overusing the complement and secondly for the risk of it being flat out false (after all there was and will only ever be one Kubrick). However ‘Under the Skin’ is probably the film most worthy that comparison in recent memory. Jonathon Glazer’s eerie science fiction arthouse project places Scarlett Johannsson in a role unlike any she’s played before but one that she pulls off with mesmerising results. As well as a terrific score and too many hauntingly striking visuals to count, Glazer’s direction and minimalist script evokes a sense of utter horror that is sure to reach under the viewers skin in a way that few films ever have.

8: Mommy
Regadrless of what you think of Xavier Dolan’s films, one can never deny the boldness of his vision. Despite admiring his previous efforts I have to confess few of them really connected with me, but this year ‘Mommy’ was able to craft such an emotionally intricate and universally compelling story that Dolan’s unique visual style and vision was elevated to new standards of excellence. Boasting a tirade of stunning performances that are all able to bring Dolan’s deeply personal script to life with immense power, ‘Mommy’ reveals itself to be a surprisingly deep and infinitely resonant tale that leaves me excited over what lies ahead for the young auteur.

7: Only Lovers Left Alive
Who knew that we would get not one but two astonishingly brilliant vampire films in the same year (we have come a long way since the dark days of ‘Twilight’)? Jim Jarmusch’s gothic, existential love story is worth seeing purely for the amazing performances of Tom Hiddlestone and Tilda Swinton alone. But when you include Jarmusch’s unique sensibilities on both a written and directorial level that blends his two best traits, the down to earth dialogue that is amusingly complex, with the visual poetry that makes you feel as if you are watching an oil painting come to life. Wonderfully dry yet achingly passionate, the film is an anomaly that despite being for an acquired taste, has to be seen to be believed.

6: Life Itself
It has been a good year for documentaries, but if I were to pick my favourite it would (for rather obvious reasons) be Steve James’ biographical look at the life and legacy of the great Roger Ebert. Given that he remains a huge influence on my own style of writing and outlook on movies, it was beautifully engaging to see Ebert’s life and times examined and relived on the screen, with contributions from the likes of Martin Scorsese and Werner Herzog, in a gloriously detailed and immensely intimate portrait. The fact that during production the film morphed into a documentation of Ebert’s final days as he succumbed to his ten year battle with cancer only made it a more poignant yet joyful tribute, one that spoke of movies but also of life itself.

5: The Grand Budapest Hotel
I keep trying to tell myself that one day Wes Anderson will make a movie I don’t fall in love with, surely it has to happen one day? But as of 2014 I’m still waiting, because ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ stands as not only Anderson’s most ambitious project to date, but arguably his best as well. Every solitary frame of the film is so exquisitely crafted that it defies belief, it makes one wonder how anyone could possibly create a story that could match the aesthetics. But Anderson’s endlessly unique sensibilities, his offbeat humour, surprising depth and bittersweet view of life gives the film such wonderful complexity that you’ll be even happier they assembled such a ensemble cast to bring it to life.

4: Enemy
After such a strong breakout with 2013’s ‘Prisoners’, some were left confused and disappointed by Denise Villeneuve’s decidedly more experimental thriller, ‘Enemy’. In fact I must confess to initially being in that camp as well. But as time has gone by, and I’ve been allowed to ponder and contemplate the movie more, I have come to appreciate it for the masterpiece that it is. It is elusive, layered and mysterious, but these qualities only give the film a lasting effect and compel the viewer to dive into it as many times as possible in order to unravel it. Even if one cannot make heads or tails of its inner messages, the tight construction, pitch perfect direction and disturbingly complex performance from Jake Gyllenhaal make ‘Enemy’ a film that demands admiration.

3: Nightcrawler
Speaking of Jake Gyllenhaal and of the disturbingly complex, within the film ‘Nightcrawler’ Gyllenhaal was able to transform in a way that I have never witnessed from him (or any other actor this year) before. The kind of character study that only comes along once in a generation, with an actor and director who are confident enough to display their main character in all his iunredeeming glory, ‘Nightcrawler’ is a masterclass in dissecting modern media and the kind of people who thrive within it. In his directorial debut Dan Gilroy’s sleek and stylish visual flair shows a lot of promise, as he displays a thrilling and disturbing sensibility that is so perfectly in tune with his leading man that it feels like destiny.    

2: Whiplash
Of all of the up and coming directors this year, there may be no finer artist than Damien Chazelle. His electrifying breakthrough stands as one of the most intense and psychologically riveting films of the modern era, combining a masterful eye for style and rhythm as he guides the viewer through this tightly constructed tour de force. Held together by Miles Teller’s empathetic performance, with J.K Simmons’ astonishingly unnerving role as the centrepiece, ‘Whiplash’ balances its various elements and integrates them with one another so perfectly that by the time you have made it through the intense and stunningly constructed story to reach the inspiring finale, you’ll be wondering where the last 106 minutes of your life seemed to fly by in an instant.

1: Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
In a year where I’ve celebrated the ambition and boldness of each directors vision, none of them seem to match that of Alejandro Inarritu. It is unusual for films with such a clarity of vision and technically ambitious to be as humane and endearing as this. With ‘Birdman’ Inarritu has crafted a masterpiece of stunning complexity, one that manages to be dreamlike but grounded, humorous yet heartfelt and layered in spite of being so intimately focussed. With Michael Keaton at the centre, ‘Birdman’ offers a unique character study that takes the viewer right into the inner mind of its subject, dealing with identity and transformation with such sympathy and accuracy that it becomes near impossible not to fall in love with its characters. Given that the supporting cast are equally magnificent, it’s more than appropriate to say that ‘Birdman’ soars unlike any other film of 2014.

No comments:

Post a Comment