We got big blockbuster releases in a relatively small dose with Guardians of the Galaxy being a nice little surprise as well as the Hunger Games being surprisingly OK considering the stupid choice to split the final book into 2 parts. But I feel as though, this year, more than any other we've seen smaller and better movies share the limelight with the big franchises, proven in the awards race which includes some absolute corkers, though I am saying this before any of the Nominees are announced, so for all I know, they could all be atrocious.
To show the absolute quality of this years releases I'm not doing any honourable mentions, cus there were 10 of them...so I thought a top 20. 20 very solid films in one year and some films of the awards season haven't come out here yet (e.g. Whiplash, Birdman, Foxcatcher). It's been a pretty staple year, here it is...
20. The Guest
From Adam Wingard, director of 2011's brilliant 'You're Next', comes his second and more superior film, 'The Guest', which although falted is held up by some truly outstanding aspects.
The film follows 'David', who as a promise to his deceased friend, visits their family home to comfort them. Mysterious goings on start to happen and for the first 45 minutes or so the tension is palpable, supported by the terrifying performance of Dan Stevens as the protagonist. The Mystery is set up for a big conclusion however, which never really comes to a satisfying peak, almost just withering away. That said, the rest of the film is so creepy and so gripping that it's ultimately well worth your time, if not for the breathtaking cinematography and a soundtrack which gets my vote for best of the year.
19. Next Goal Wins
This neat little documentary surrounds the trials, tribulations and general life of the statistically worst national football team in the world, American Samoa. The film follows the team from their notorious 31-0 loss to Australia, to the present day as they struggle to climb the international rankings.
Up there with some of the best sports films I've ever seen, Next Goal Wins takes you into the genuine and thoughtful minds of these 11+ footballers, all of whom are pinned down by a multitude of other jobs, as well as one vibrant player being a male transvestite. The simplicity of the documentary works heavily in its favour, veering away from fancy edits and camera work to set itself apart from any other film of its type. It's a motivational and genuinely thought provoking documentary on the limits of the human spirit, reminding viewers of the true beauty of the game.
18. The Babadook
Now don't get me wrong this is a fantastic Horror film, from a country which continues to gain mad respect as real cinematic shakers. But if you go into this film expecting to absolutely scare yourself shitless ( like I did) you just won't love it as whilst it is certainly creepy throughout building a considerable amount of tension, it doesn't have a lot of 'scares' in the traditional sense, with the real Horror being a metaphorical message (which I won't spoil). This message is ultimately an extremely disturbing and haunting one which will remain with you, sunken in your brain, for many days after seeing it. The figure of the Babadook is masterfully designed, opting for practical makeup, and as a result supplies for some of the biggest frights you'll see in modern day horror cinema. All of this is supported by the terrific performance of Essie Davis who makes this fictional character wholly believable in the real world.
17. Blue Ruin
I saw this one way back at the start of the year, yet the story has remained to resonate with me ever since. Blue Ruin concerns a man fixated upon taking revenge on a recently released criminal who killed a member of his family.
Though it sounds like a stereotypical revenge thriller, it's really anything but with a fantastic stand out performance from Macon Blair as the deranged but inarguably relatable killer himself. Brutal and unapologetic Blue Ruin pulls some hefty punches and reflects the protagonists heartless Ideology, in the best way possible. The films conclusion truly ties the film together after it wonders slightly throughout the middle, in a telling and thoughtful.
Masterpiece it is not. If someone asked me whether it should be hung up in the Louvre I would vomit in their face. No, Stretch is quite simply the most fast-paced and thoroughly entertaining films you've likely ever seen. Oddly enough though the best thing about the film isn't the fast paced action and fight scenes or whatever, its the truly unexpected character arc of Patrick Wilson's character, who through mimicking famous movie idols comes out of his nervous skin in a desperate attempt to pay back a drug dealer a large sum of money by the end of the night. Wilsons insanity carries the film and makes it an unbelievable amount of fun as you tag-along for the ride- in yet another crazy good performance within a great year for acting displays. Some crazy twists and turns and frequent hilarious moments makes this film my biggest surprise of the year. With far too much to cover when talking about this film, if I tell you one thing its don't watch any of the trailers for the love of fuck, you will regret, go in blind and you'll have no idea what's going to happen next and it's 10x more thrilling for that.
15. The Lego Movie
From one unbelievably fast movie to another, actually in many ways, thinking about it The Lego Movie and Stretch are in terms of genre very similar, fast-paced, action-packed, ingenious and full of wit. But really, no one thought this film was going to be any good, if I'm honest I kind of have no idea why as it's directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who also directed and penned the scripts for both 21 Jump Street and Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs, two creative and hilarious releases.
In terms of witty banter I think The Lego Movie has beaten 'Dave' to the top spot with jokes littered throughout the film, some blatantly obvious and some hidden in the very blocks in which the film is constructed, but all are utterly ingenious. I don't think any other director (or directors) could have achieved a similar result for a film about Lego's, Lord and Miller have the perfect balance of childishness and creativity, which neatly and bizarrely balance out into intelligent comedy. I also believe they successfully veered away from making the film a straight out advert for the product, which it quite easily could've been with the final act certainly promoting creativity but not necessarily the product. A long-awaited childrens film to match the originality, charm and brilliance of the original Toy Story.
Consistently charming and thoroughly entertaining the film follows Frank and his alternative rock band who are quite happy recording an album in the secluded countryside, that is until national interest prompts them to travel to America to perform. Despite it being hard to avert your eyes from the terrific Fassbender, It is Domhnall Gleeson's character Jon who we mostly follow, who being rather irritating at some points, is a hugely relatable character for anyone who is trying to have a breakthrough in an artistic field. Where it seems as though the film is loosing track towards the end, it always knows it's course, ending on an absolutely perfect, if a little bleak note.
13. 22 Jump Street
I'm calling it, Lord and Miller are going to become absolute comedy leviathans with two hilarious and inventive films out this year which crave your attention. 22 Jump Street is even funnier than its sleeper hit predecessor, with Channing Tatum and Jonah hill once again displaying a fantastic on screen chemistry, unchallenged by anyone of this year or any other recently for that matter. Despite the fact that little was changed in the film from the first, they made this a consistent running gag, constantly referencing the similarities both films share, and somehow, I don't know how, this makes the film feel fresh.
Perhaps it's the fact that no other Hollywood movie is prepared to ridicule it's own production and the movie business in general, but this honesty was not only refreshing but also pain-inducingly hilarious; providing for perhaps the best post-credits scene of all time.
You'd be surprised to know how long it took me to find an appropriate picture to accompany this summary... So this is Lars Von Trier, doing what Lars does best, shock. However where Lars in the past has perhaps gone a little overboard with 75% shock and 25% actual meaningful story, oddly enough I think here he gets the balance pretty spot on.
That doesn't mean you can go into this film and expect not to see either a minute montage of different varieties of penis or pretty hardcore scenes of sex which borderline on pornography, because both these things are present in the film. But, it is all backed up by the actually quite thought-provoking tale of a woman's issue from childhood to adolescence as attitudes towards sex and life in general change. Does it have to be 4 hours long? No it doesn't and this is perhaps the films biggest fault and a lot of that time is filled with gratuitous 'shock' scenes, but not so much that it becomes boring or unnecessary
Don't mistake this film for being seedy and too 'arthouse' it's a truly brilliant drama with some absolutely fantastic performances across the board (Uma Thurman's short appearance especially) and a shocking 'slap-in-the-face' ending.
This would be the most awkward film ever to watch with parents, so don't even consider it.
Just missing out from the top 10 is Calvary, John Michael McDonagh stellar Drama about a priest who is threatened with murder in an anonymous confession booth. The film follows his travels around the small parish to try and figure out the potential murderer, visiting each member individually to reveal a bleak truth about the town.
Brendan Gleeson gets better and better with each performance and thus proves himself as one of the best actors currently working in the business, but whom no one gives recognition. His performance here is certainly award worthy, portraying a broken character, wary of his trust.
Not to be overlooked however is Aidan Gillen's performance as one of the mysterious townsmen, who in one scene in particular portrays so much fear and bitterness that it's truly terrifying. A technically beautiful film with brilliant performances and an unquestionably bleak final message.
How do you make one man in a car for 90 minutes interesting? Stick Tom Hardy in the from seat.
This pretty much sums up the whole of Locke, being very much an acting showcase, where Tom Hardy can just chomp through the script. Although this is true, Locke is, more than any other film this year wrapped in an uncomfortable air of truth and honesty that this person feels so unbelievably real. Although this is partly due to Hardy's fantastic performance, it is also down to the incredible writing, who literally make a 90 minute car journey gripping from start to finish. Furthermore the cinematography, you would assume to be restricted is anything but, confined to the limits of a car interior, it does very well to keep you engaged.
I'm a huge fan of the film, but in all honesty it's general simplicity and realism makes it hard to discuss without spoiling it, so just go out to your home video dvd rental warehouse and grab a copy.
9. The Raid 2
Despite coming out early in the year, it wasn't until December when I finally watched the Raid 2 on DVD and after a whole year of hearing it was good, but not as good as the first, I really didn't have the highest of hopes.
...If you're a fan of action movies, kung-fu movies, heck thrillers in general you must watch this film, even if it's for the stunning choreography alone. This is a weird one though, as I don't think I would've enjoyed it as much if it wasn't for the abundance of Hollywood action releases which use copious amounts of CGI and badly constructed fight sequences, two things which the Raid 2 puts a fat foot in the face to.
But seriously, these actors are real with real fighting experience, in a real fight sequence, and as a result the film feels so intense with every punch to the chest blowing wind out of you.
The film tries to build on its predecessors story with an interesting follow up which involves the main character going undercover in a criminal business which whilst for the most part works incredibly well, is ultimately too complicated. Not so much that the film becomes incomprehensible, but so much so that a press of the pause button would not go protested.
8. Starred Up
I'd actually be pretty annoyed if Jack O'Connell gets any recognition for Unbroken, just for the fact that this film is a) better and b) his performance is better. There is no doubt in my mind that this man will one day be an acting great. Despite the small personality of his character, in comparison to the other inmates, O'Connell commands the screen as a younger, less mental version of Tom Hardy's Bronson.
But truly, this film defines British grittiness, every shot looks dirty and depressing in the best possible way as we follow Eric Love, O'Connell's mentally confused character. As much as the film presents itself as a loud and brutal prison drama, it's actually a lot more, being a gripping story on the mindset of the criminal as well as the actual function of such an institute.
A strong, thought provoking film, just don't go in with a huge bag of popcorn...it ain't very pleasant.
7. The Borderlands
There seems to be a theme this year of just criminally underrated movies, this is a very significant one, being not only the best horror film of the year but the best for a couple of years. This small british release, which got a miniature release early in 2014 is the definition of a hidden gem.
The film follows a pair of paranormal investigators working for the church, who travel to a secluded village to see if their churches claim of a miracle was in fact genuine. I know, I know you're probably hurling your own shit at the screen at the sight of 'paranormal investigators' but seriously give it a chance and that shit will not be on the screen...
The films real success is taking its time to formulate two highly believable, relatable and intriguing characters. By throwing in glimpses of comedy we start to grow an instant connection to the protagonists as they enter into a village which instantly rejects them. Although it follows the story of the paranormal, it does so in a religious context, something we haven't really seen, at least not to the effect that this film pulls off.
As the paranormal starts to get even more aggressive the protagonists thoughts on God and everything surrounding it are questioned to terrifying effect come the brutal finale which will have you shaken to the core. What an ending.
Don't. watch. the. trailer
6. Two Days, One Night
This idea is so ingenious and so clever, that it makes you go ' why has no one made it before' it's so simple, asking a multitude of questions about individual morals and selfishness. Although it's a cliche, I feel as though the phrase ' you'll see people differently after watching this film' applies in great depth to Two days, one night, wondering what they would vote for when given the option between greed and humanity. That said however we are put in a very selfish position behind Sandra, seeing the situation through her eyes, finding it hard to accept the decisions of those who need the money despite their reasons being wholly legitimate. Two Days, one night is morally fascinating as is a source for endless debate and thought, great performances all round in this great achievement from the Dardenne brothers.
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Say the name Wes Anderson and heads will immediately turn, he's without doubt one of the best filmmakers of our time, yet to put a foot wrong, and his newest film is certainly no exception, being up there with his very best. The Grand Budapest hotel is just as interesting and unique as any of Anderson's other films following Gustave H, and his trusty lobby boy, Zero, who embark on a great adventure when Gustave discovers he's heir to a grand painting.
Despite being pretty much completely different to anything Ralph Fiennes has ever done, this is possibly his most enjoyable performance ever, being allowed almost total thespian freedom to depict the eccentric concierge. As always Andersons eyes for fantastic cinematography continues with a fantastic looking film, vibrant and interesting in every frame.
The Grand Budapest hotel is a crime-caper like no other, complete with copious cameos, a prison breakout and traditional ski-chase.
4. Miss Violence
From here, any of these films could be number one to be honest, there all so unique that to compare them is almost impossible, but anyway.
This film is without doubt one of the most disturbing films I think I've ever seen. From the unbelievably outstanding opening scene where an 11 year old girl, on her birthday goes to the balcony smiles to the camera and commits suicide, this film wakes you up and grips you tight, right until the final credits.
The film pretty much follows, why she kills herself and in the process exposes a family evidently hiding some mysterious secret. No doubt, much of this film is extremely hard to take, (don't even consider watching it with the whole family) but it's also so gripping that I guarantee you won't be able to peel your eyes, fixated on what on earth is going on with the family. As the grim truth becomes clear, the film only ramps up the gears, totally unapologetic at what it's showing until the final act which will leave you open mouthed in shock.
The whole film is however held together by the fantastic acting performances who make the story as sinister as it is, leading it away from being a gratuitous horror, into instead a psychological, drama which totally messes with your head. I know for a fact he won't but Themis Panou should seriously be considered for a best actor nomination.
Watch this film.
3. Palo Alto
Continuing the theme of criminally ununderratedovies, Palo Alto has seemingly been left in the shadows as Boyhood takes home the prize for best coming of age film of the year (undeservingly), as Palo Alto is probably the most accurate depiction of young people ever put to screen.
This sub-genre of coming-of-age is one of my favourites and one of my pet hates is unrealistic characters (something which Boyhood is full of...), so many films get this wrong, and Palo Alto got it so right. The story is based on a collection of short stories written by James Franco which all surround the complications of love for all ages, with the film focusing on that of April who is torn between falling for her good friend, Teddy or her football coach, Mr B.
This idea of a girl falling in love with her teacher is one which in real life would be highly frowned upon, but here, we not only understand the actions of both people in the relationship but we also almost encourage it. Without even a lot of characterisation for Mr B we already understand his position as he's portrayed as such a real person. However due to the well developed and again accurately portrayed character of Teddy we are conflicted into who we want to protagonist to be with, reflecting the thoughts of April, therefore showing just how well this film works.
I can't sing this films praises enough, everything about it works, even the short story aspect which is certainly a risk, covering multiple stories over a 90 minute period, but each one is given sufficient time, and where some are shoe-horned in a little it does oddly give a sense of universality, where we feel as though every character has some sort of relationship conflict.
This films writing is impeccable.
2. Under The Skin
Jonathan Glazer, remember the name. Director of the brilliant 'Sexy Beast' comes his fantastic and terrifying new film Under the Skin.
The film follows a nameless woman, played terrifically be Scarlett Johansson, who seduces men in the early hours of the morning, taking them back to her lair, whereupon she...well who knows. No film has ever had me open mouthed for such a long time, the scene depicted by the image above in particularly showcases one of the most disturbing scenes of the film and the past few years as a man disintegrates in goo to an amazing score by Mica Levi.
Questioning the ethics and psychological workings of the human mind, Under the Skin will truly get to you, even if you don't know why, it will. This is certainly partially down to the cinematography which throughout depicts the world we think we know, as some sort of horrific wasteland, questioning the morals of contemporary society.
It will leave you speechless, terrified and unable to see Johansson in the same light.
I pretty much knew, the moment I'd finished watching this film, that It would be my favourite of the whole year.
This film defines the genre thriller, seriously it will rock your seat, rattle your brain and make you cower in terror, it has everything. More than any other film on this list (except maybe Locke) this film relies on its acting from Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom, and ffuucckk does he deliver. This is for me the best performance of the year and by far the best performance of Gyllenhaal's career, being so unbelievably intimidating, I'm going to throw out another overused cliche but I truly never saw Gyllenhaal, I always saw Louis Bloom. I've said that for a lot of performances but I was probably just overreacting, this is the first time I can honestly say that. He pretty much grabs you by your face and screams at you for 90 minutes that he deserves to win best actor, every scene he's in he's doing something fascinating and memorable.
Not to be overlooked is the performance of his sideman Rick, played by British actor, Riz Ahmed, who stakes a claim for a new awards category- best fake accent- convincing me for pretty much the whole film that he was American until I was forced to google it once the film ended.
The writing is genius, showing the character arc of a madman obsessed with power and the American dream, every line Gyllenhaal delivers feels in character and totally insane.
Nightcrawler works on every level, both technically and narratively. Best film of 2014.
But yeah to be honest this year has been so good for film that every one on this list is the best in it's own right, I mean how can I compare Nymphomaniac and The Lego Movie, it's just not going to happen. All 20 of these films are brilliant, and are all worth watching, without the trailers by the way! Don't watch any of these 20 films' trailers as every single film has a bunch of surprises, and if you awaiting something to happen, well then it aint a surprise, is it dummy. Annoyingly I doubt any of these films will get praised at the Oscars, bar one or two, so I mean this list is pretty much pointless...