I honestly don’t remember it being this difficult last year to narrow down my personal top 10 favourite films, yet 2014 has proven to be an incredibly difficult process. There have been that many high quality releases that it has literally taken me weeks to narrow the list down to a top 25, and then additional time to whittle it down further to a final Top 10. It is worth mentioning that there are around 80-90 other films released this year that I have still yet to see and which for various reasons I was not able to do so. As it is, here are the top ten films (in no particular order) released in the UK in 2014 that I have not yet seen but plan to ASAP:
3. I Origins
4. Dallas Buyers Club
5. Starred Up
8. Maps To The Stars
9. Mr Turner
10. Tim’s Vermeer
For obvious reasons the following list is based solely on what I’ve had opportunity to watch at the cinema this year. I reserve the right to amend my list over the coming weeks as I gradually catch up on the missed gems of 2014 – expect further posts about this throughout 2015, but this post will remain as it is for future reference. So, let’s kick things off with Number 10.
10. The Guest
The Guest was a late entry to this list as I didn’t catch it on release and only just squeezed in a viewing before the end of the year. It’s a delightful throwback to 80s thrillers, but would be nothing without Dan Stevens breaking his Downton Abbey shackles as the mystery man known as David.
It’s hard to think that watching Scarlet Johansson driving around Scotland in a van for most of the film would be as compelling as it is, but despite any criticism thrown in its direction it proves to be a great character study nonetheless. As an alien on Earth who kidnaps single men and turns them into empty bags of skin, her growing humanity is portrayed with a decreasing sense of detachment by Johansson. One scene in particular, where a baby is left alone on a beach as the tide slowly draws in, is harrowing to say the least.
8. The Raid 2
Under some circumstances The Raid 2 could be considered slightly too long to hit all the right marks, but then it is also a revelatory display of storytelling through choreography and violence. Welsh director Gareth Evans has his hand firmly on the pulse of what makes a solid action sequence work, and introducing the world to Hammer Girl alone is enough to warrant inclusion on this list.
7. Blue Ruin
Blue Ruin came out of nowhere for me. An antithesis to your typical revenge thriller, Macon Blair is great as Dwight, a man seeking revenge but proves to be mostly useless at it. It’s not a comedy by any means, but his ineffectual efforts are presented in such a way that you don’t mind that nothing of note seems to happen for much of the film. A victory of storytelling over expectations.
6. The Babadook
Going completely against the grain and not emulating the efforts of modern horror maestro (ahem) James Wan, The Babadook is an excellent study of psychological trauma made real. Strictly speaking it’s not a full-on horror film, but whichever category you put The Babadook in it still proves to be a very effective film and one that is carried with aplomb by Essie Davis as Amellia, the weary mother of irritating child Samuel (Noah Wiseman). The Babadook himself is thoroughly terrifying creation.
Leo Bloom is destined to become one of cinema’s all time great characters we love to hate. Despite his sociopathic tendencies and clear understanding that he is in no way somebody you should emulate, you can’t help but find yourself rooting for him anyway. Riz Ahmed is great as his naive apprentice as the morals of chasing stories that provide the most shocks (and score ratings on local TV news stations) is explored.
A surprisingly good movie and well deserving of its high placing in my list. What could have been your typical product placement tie-in movie is given a fun story and a plethora of gags from comedy men of the moment Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Lego Batman steals the show, as does the initially annoying but ultimately joyful “Everything is Awesome” song from Tegan and Sara and The Lonely Island, but the story of regular Lego figure Emmet becoming the saviour of the Lego universe is one that almost everyone in the audience can identify with.
Powerful stuff from a director with a keen eye for arresting visual images – but then he does come from a background in the world of art so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Adapted from the true story of Solomon Northup, his tale of wrongful sale into a life of slavery is all the more engaging thanks to performances from Chiwetel Eijofor as Solomon and Michael Fassbender as the most obnoxiously unpleasant of Solomon’s slave owners. Lupita Nyong’o also puts in a stellar performance as Patsey.
The Coen Brothers rarely disappoint, and their record remained in place for Inside Llewyn Davis. The music scene of the 1960s combined with Llewyn’s “nearly man” status makes for a powerful film and a hefty character study of someone who encounters obstacles at every turn, be they externally or internally created. Oscar Isaac not only seems to have broken into the big leagues following his performance here, but also proven how incredibly talented a folk singer he is and/or could be if the whole acting thing dries up in future. Based on this, I’d say it’s unlikely.
Wes Anderson struck gold here. Combining all of the elements he is best known for – very specific framing, a wry sense of humour and er, miniatures – The Grand Budapest Hotel has a delightfully funny central performance from Ralph Fiennes as concierge Gustave H, some equally delightful set design and a mad caper storyline that sees Gustave trying to recover a valuable painting with the assistance of his new lobby boy Zero Moustafa. The multiple framing devices and backdrop of a fascistic Eastern European state, combined with a huge number of cameo appearances, make for what is in my opinion a near-perfect film and a clear winner as best film for 2014.