What were your films of 2014?
It's been an incredible 12 months for films and as we get to the end of the year, FACT Contributor Alex Hannah selects his top 14 of 2014.
31 December 2014
This year, like any other year that comes to pass, the medium of cinema has suffered some incredible losses. There are stories, often weekly, concerning the illegal downloading and leaking of the latest releases online and we have seen some of our most beloved contributors to film pass away like Harold Ramis, Lauren Bacall, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams. Nevertheless, 2014 has produced some triumphant pieces of work that represent why we all pay money to sit in a room with people we don’t know and watch people pretend to be other people on the biggest screen imaginable eating our own bodyweight in popcorn. This year we have seen everything from twelve years of slavery in the Deep South to twelve years of growth and adolescence in suburban America. We’ve seen some of Hollywood’s “hottest” stars like Scarlett Johansson and Bradley Cooper venture into alien territory. Whether that is from guerrilla filmmaking in Glasgow to playing a mutated raccoon with a violent temperament. Not to mention it is also the fourth year in a row for ten or more films to gross $500 million worldwide. Regardless of cinemas low points, this year’s releases prove to its audience how daring, original and innovative the medium of film can still be.
In celebration of the success of cinema this year, I present to you, my top 14 of 2014:
14. The Double (Dir. Richard Ayoade)
Kicking off the list of gems from this year is the sophomore full-length feature from deadpan director Richard Ayoade; The Double. Like a dystopian cross between Lynch and Gilliam, The Double bursts onto screen in full flair and showcases why Ayoade should be seen as a director to watch out for in the future. Jesse Eisenberg is brilliant, as both the film’s protagonist and antagonist, while the rest of the cast provide astonishingly great supporting performances including some of the best cameos you'll see all year. From set design to cinematography, the film oozes style but yet never leaves substance and subtlety to the side. Looking for a dark paranoia- inducing laugh? Look no further than The Double.
13. Frank (Dir. Leonard Abrahamson)
Melancholic, funny and extremely unique. Black comedy Frank is a barrage of weird and wonderful performances from all it’s cast members and an even stranger soundtrack that is just as haunting as it's themes the film is channelling. The well paced and smartly written script is not only thought provoking but it also contains so much love for it’s characters - no matter how unlikeable they may appear on the surface. Not only providing great character studies that exhibit natural growth, Frank is also a nice portrayal of the indie music circuit and the Internet’s influence upon said scene. Half way through the year, acclaimed critic Mark Kermode cited Frank as his favourite film of the year, so check out Frank if you haven’t already... And if you have go on and watch it again, you deserve it!
12. 12 Years A Slave (Dir. Steve McQueen)
Concerning cultural and historical significance, this is the film of 2014 that certainly should not be missed. While it's hype of being one of the best films of all time - I found to be misplaced - I believe the film should instead be seen as one of the most poignant films ever made. Just like McQueen's last feature, Shame, its subject matter is sure to linger in your mind for days. 12 Years a Slave gives a brutal insight into the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man, drugged and kidnapped into slavery and his tale of survival. McQueen's signature style is showcased perfectly in his longest feature yet, which exhibits some torturous scenes that are extremely visceral and brings home the horror of slavery above and beyond what we have already seen on screen. Containing one of the best A-list ensemble casts assembled for a drama, performances from all are spectacular especially from Fassbender, Dano and Ejiofor who are electrifying in every scene they are in. Winner of Best Motion Picture of the Year this year at the Oscars, 12 Years a Slave is an Oscar winner that is sure to stay in the public’s conscience for some time.
11. Guardian of the Galaxy (Dir. James Gunn)
Big laughs and big adventure we believe sum up the latest instalment from Marvel Studios. What was seen by many as a risky move to make a film out of the galactic escapades of a racoon and his friends, GOTG excels and far surpasses the previous instalments of Marvel's “Phase II” of motion pictures. While we enjoyed Thor: Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we found Guardians to be the most fun, and indeed, the funniest Marvel film since The Avengers. Taking inspiration from films like Episodes I through VI of Star Wars, GOTG feels like Thor: The Dark World, in the sense that the tone and feel of the film is that of a science fiction movie more than that of a superhero/comic book adaptation. James Gunn's tight, well-paced and raunchy script is a joy to unfold upon the big screen, especially when it's performed by such a flawless cast (Cooper as Rocket is, as you can tell, a particular favourite). In fact, all cast members from Chris Pratt to Glenn Close have stand out moments that help you believe and dive into this fantastical new world that Marvel has created. There really is not a dull moment to be had during the film’s near two hour run time, indebted to the great performances, visuals and heart warming moments between the guardians that create a fulfilling wholesome experience for the film goer. Music is another key element that compliments Guardians to much avail, a feat that cannot be said about the previous films in the Marvel Studio catalogue. From the mixture of Star Lord’s “Awesome Mix Tape” of pop gems from the 70’s to the fully realised epic score composed by Tyler Bates, GOTG is a sonic wonderland of classic movie music with a postmodern jukebox twist. James Gunn has succeeded in proving that Marvel can indeed print money and will continue to do so if they carry on taking risks, respecting the fans and providing entertainment that they know their audience will enjoy.
10. Under the Skin (Dir. Jonathan Glazer)
Under The Skin does exactly what it says on the tin (hey, a rhyme!). Championed by an unforgettable performance from Scarlett Johansson, Under The Skin tells the story of an alien hidden among humans that showcases sequences of idealistic, porn like, male fantasies that play out to a (if you pardon the pun) sticky end. Thanks to Glazer's guerrilla style of filming, you feel as alien to the surroundings and people of earth as the films lead character, leading you to truly feel "under the skin" of Laura (Johansson). The cinematography is stunning and the composed score by Mica Levi is phenomenal and conjures some of the most chilling pieces of music I’ve heard put to film for a long time. While its core meaning and message is hard to decipher on the first watch, multiple revisits to this mesmerising picture uncovers the film's core substance and layers. This is the best British science fiction movie since Duncan Jones’ Moon.
9. Gone Girl (Dir. David Fincher)
David Fincher returns with a carefully crafted multi-layered thriller that commands attention, nailing you to your seat. Combing the best elements of his previous work, namely The Game (suspense), The Social Network (score) and Se7en (brutal reality); Gone Girl is possibly Fincher's finest 21st century film. Performances from all its cast (which surprisingly includes Tyler Perry) are great but are overshadowed by Rosamund Pike's exhilarating Oscar worthy performance. Pike's turn as "Amazing" Amy Dunne is a master class in acting as she commands the screen with compelling vigour and subtlety. Aside from the comparisons to the director’s past filmography, the picture as a whole is reminiscent of Hitchcock’s classic Vertigo. Fincher's handling and control of this tightly wound time bomb proves once more he has an eye for suspense akin to that of the great master himself that solidifies his name as one of the finest working directors of modern American cinema. For those looking for a movie with grit, bite and substance, Gone Girl is a must for anyone who truly appreciates cinema at its finest.
8. X-MEN: Days of Future Past (Dir. Bryan Singer)
While there has been an embarrassment of riches this year concerning superhero movies, X-Men: Days of Future Past is the best of its kind. Fans rejoiced as their faith in the X-Men franchise has been restored with the return of original director Bryan Singer and a fantastical 131-minute mutant epic. Combining breath taking set pieces and action sequences, fantastic performances from all cast members and a story that shakes the foundation of the mutant world; Bryan Singer has pulled off The Avengers of X-Men movies. From the establishing sequence, that echoes the opening of X2, you can tell that you are in for a nail biting thrill ride. Every cast member is on form and the combination of old and new members from previous films feels fresh and cohesive. While you have to keep on your toes to work out the new timeline - X-Men: Days of Future Past is a must for any fan of the franchise and truly a triumphant return to form.
7. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Dir. Wes Anderson)
As avid fans of American director Wes Anderson, this is by far his best cast, funniest and most aesthetically pleasing film yet. Written with the prose like that of the finest of novels yet witty and playful like a pop-up book, The Grand Budapest Hotel is an incredible joy for any fan of Anderson's trademark "quirky" film making. Ralph Fiennes is impeccable as Gustave H. and newcomer Tony Revolori is a fantastic match as Zero the junior “Lobby Boy” in training. Another stand out is Adrien Brody who gives some of the funniest quotable dialogue in the film while remaining a menacing villain for the picture. In it's style, The Grand Budapest Hotel is most like Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Royal Tenenbaums while remaining completely original and unique in a way that only an auteur like Wes Anderson can create. Grand by name and Grand by nature, Anderson’s 8th feature length film is in our opinion the 7th best film of the year.
6. Calvary (Dir. John Michael McDonagh)
John Michael McDonagh’s follow up to 2011’s The Guard provides 2014 with a terrific character study with potent black humour. From it’s powerful and untouched upon concept, Calvary is an incredible motion picture that succeeds in all it's efforts where it's themes and comments on the current state of religion, spiritualism and Catholicism stay with you for weeks. The cast are impeccable, the script is top-notch and the scenic Irish seaside cinematography is just breath taking. This Grade-A whodunnit is a touching look into the life of an Irish priest after being threatened by someone in his congregation. Worthy winner of the 2014 BIFA for Best Actor, Brendan Gleeson is remarkable and gives a tour-de-force performance in Calvary while Aidan Gillen and Chris O'Dowd give equally great turns. We cannot recommend this film enough, simply essential viewing for 2014.
5. Nightcrawler (Dir. Dan Gilroy)
With camera in hand, Jake Gyllenhaal as nightcrawler "Lou Bloom" has entered the pantheon of great cinematic anti-heroes. Nightcrawler is a brooding hard-boiled modern thriller that borrows from the styles and quirks of legends like Hitchcock, Scorsese and Brian De Palma. Set in the seedy world of shock journalism in LA, this palpable story feels outlandish but at the same time you wouldn't be surprised if the events that occurred in this film turned up tomorrow in the daily news. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a phenomenally intense career defining performance, showcasing one of the most despicable, chilling and loathsome character studies I have ever seen on film. From the dark, sometimes comic, writing in the screenplay to the acute and fierce pacing, Nightcrawler is easily one of the best of 2014. The ineffable nature of Lou's character is worth the price of admission alone.
4. The Wolf of Wall Street (Dir. Martin Scorsese)
Martin Scorsese's most manic film to date is a 3hr long unrestrained bender into the real life of stockbroker/drug addict/full time bastard Jordan Belfort. What we get from Scorsese’s latest picture is intriguing and intoxicating, showcasing DiCaprio's most unique performance yet who was truly a worthy contender for best Lead Actor at the Oscars this year. In fact, every cast member is flawless; Rob Reiner and McConaughey are magnificent supporting players while Jonah Hill gives a career best. As for direction, it is Scorsese at his least Scorsese-ish. Surprisingly instead the film leans towards a very modern look and style which is never usually associated with one of his pictures and in turn feels refreshing. The Wolf Of Wall Street is an extremely black comedy that will either make you laugh or twist your face in disgust - but most likely you'll be doing these two actions simultaneously. Great characters, not great people.
3. Boyhood (Dir. Richard Linklater)
Richard Linklater has pulled off one of the most daring and inventive cinematic landmarks ever seen on screen by creating one the most quintessential coming of age stories ever put to celluloid. This feature, that spans over 12 years of real time, is emotional, gripping and entirely original. Boyhood weaves an intricate look into the development and growth from childhood to adolescence from the perspective of the film’s lead character Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane). However, the film in fact goes beyond depicting the flourishing life of this small boy, rather Linklater focuses on the development and growth of all of Mason’s family members. As Mason Jr. tackles common tropes of rite of passage/coming of age pictures like not knowing what to do with ones life, Boyhood gives, what feels to be, an unprecedented detailed look into parenthood. His mother, played exceptionally by Patricia Arquette, and his father, Linklater’s muse Ethan Hawke, similarly evolve as Mason does as the film unfolds like a pseudo-documentary. While the lack of conventional narrative formula could deter some, this "hinderance" is in fact Boyhood's innate charm. Due to its construction, the film feels more like an anthology of short films juxtaposed together to create a vast canvas of life showcasing all of its follies. The innate message that Boyhood teaches is that life is a set of milestones that one comes to during their time here on earth that we learn from and in turn informs who we are as people.
2. Her (Dir. Spike Jonze)
Inventive, heartfelt and just simply pure genius. Joaquin Phoenix in Her proves once again how versatile he is as an actor while Spike Jonze surpasses all expectations by making his best film yet. The plot is executed perfectly and there isn't a wasted shot within the film's well paced run time while the soundtrack is a collection of wonderful songs, including the Oscar nominated "Moon Song" by Karen O and The Breeders’ song "Off You". Not only is Her a frighteningly close look into what the future could hold for humans and technology, but Her also challenges the audience to see both sides of the concept and argument of a man falling in love with his computer. All this and stunning set design and cinematography - Her is an unprecedented modern sci-fi movie that never feels cold but is instead warm with a beating heart.
1. Birdman (Dir. Alejandro González Iñarritu)
While the year for me has spawned many great films from Her to Boyhood, I feel Birdman is the film of 2014 that will be deemed a true classic in years to come for defining and assessing a particular era in mainstream cinema. Its critique on the current superhero blockbuster trend is not only astute; it is also witty and extremely well executed. The casting decision to include actors from previous comic book movies is an inspired meta choice that showcases different sides and ranges of the performers. Keaton delivers a scorching turn as the lead who plays his character’s descent into psychosis straightly not ever overdoing or undoing Riggan’s discontent and torment. Edward Norton does a fine job in almost self parodying himself and the delusion of Hollywood and Broadway method actors and in the process delivers a lot of the film’s funniest dialogue and one-liners. Lastly, the most pleasant surprise from the cast came from Emma Stone as Riggan’s disenfranchised druggy daughter who is superb in delivering a stand out monologue that cuts through all of her father’s pretention. Without a doubt this film is viciously funny and encompasses a broad range of humour from slapstick to volatile language, which allows Birdman to perch shoulder to shoulder with other classic black comedies like In Bruges, Network and Dr. Strangelove (or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb). When it comes to the film’s construction, the continuous one shot take cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki (which make up nearly the entirety of the film) is simply mesmerising and gives you an incredible voyeuristic experience as you feel yourself walking down the theatre corridors and in backstage dressing rooms of the stars. These shots however wouldn’t have been complete without a good musical accompaniment, which is skilfully provided by jazz drummer Antonio Sánchez creating possibly my favourite commissioned score of 2014. While we might not see a sequel or a cinematic universe stem from the critical success of Birdman, Iñarritu has proven you don’t need an overindulgent budget and effects to make great cinema. All you need is a good story and fine actors and you can be free to create works of art that will stand up tall and fly for years to come.
Alex's number 3 film, Boyhood, returns for a special one off Oscar screening on 8 February. Tickets are on sale now for the Box Office, online and by phone on 0871 902 5737.
What were your favourite movies of 2014? Let us know on Twitter at @FACT_liverpool!