As 2014 comes to a close our film critics take a look at their Top Ten Films of the Year. Click here for more end of the year round ups.
10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
I enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes but I felt it was a movie with significant flaws in basically every department that wasn’t Andy Serkis as Caesar. It was a revelation then to see that Dawn had tightened up all those problems as well as giving Caesar more emotional heft as a leader and a father. It takes guts to give the mostly mute primate community the lions share of progression and screen-time but Matt Reeves not only managed to breathe life into a non-existent ape community but he also managed to bring some fairly kick-ass action to the forefront in the process. (Read the original review here)
9. Starred Up
Starred Up was the first of what will likely be a breakout trilogy for ex-Skins star Jack O’Connell. The first follow up, ’71 was carried by a fine performance from O’Connell in which, unfortunately he didn’t get to do a great deal other than run and look frightened, and the forthcoming Unbroken looks to give the young actor an opportunity to show a triumph over tremendous adversity. Although ’71 prove ultimately underwhelming (and I haven’t seen Unbroken so couldn’t comment) his first feature of the year, Starred Up, may have been the strongest film to feature O’Connell yet. Aggressively unsentimental, mostly unpredictable and as dynamic as any British prison drama since Bronson, this is a gritty all hands on deck look at youth and prison culture.(Read the original review here)
8. A Most Wanted Man
The latest adaptation of a John Le Carre novel works on a variety of levels, whether it be on its merits as a political thriller, or the strength of one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final performances. The biggest criticism I’ve noticed from others seems to be the use of actors speaking in English with German accents, but this piece of cinematic shorthand has never bothered me. Otherwise, those who lack the patience for other Le Carre stories will have no more appreciation for this but the nihilistic climax that the story builds to is in equal measure a disheartening and raw commentary on the political machinations of a post 9/11 world.(Read the original review here).
7. The Babadook
This movie scared the crap out of me. Is that reason enough to be on this list? Yeah? Great!
Okay, I have more to say. The Babadook works on a variety of levels. As a straight horror movie, it uses sharp chills and rising tension to achieve it’s thrills and scares and practically chooses to patiently notch up the stakes inch by inch rather than relying on cheap jump scares. And it also has a lot more to say than almost every other horror film of the past few years and what’s more interesting, that message can be interpreted in a variety of ways. When the director of The Exorcist cites it as one of the best horror films ever made, it’s worth your attention at least and The Babadook does not disappoint. (Read the original review here).
With Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy does a lot of things. He gives us a scathing satire of consumerist culture and how we prioritise work ethic over…well, actual ethics. It also toys with the established character arc, willingly subverting the idea that a lead has to progress in order to be interesting. Primarily, though, Nightcrawler gives us Lou Reed who is easily the most disturbing and ruthless sociopath this side of Patrick Bateman, played to absolute perfection by an exquisitely focused Jake Gyllenhaal. Nightcrawler is far from a perfect movie but it is one of the more interesting directorial debuts to come out during 2014.(Read the original review here).
Locke is the most concept-movie on this list, and about half of this list is made up of concept-movies, so that really does mean something. Locke is a movie set in a car as a John Locke drives to London and makes phone calls. And that’s it. The phone calls are the most important phone calls of his life but the only thing larger than life about the movie is John himself. Played by Tom Hardy (perhaps our generation’s most understated minimalist actor), John Locke is a man doing what we all say we’d like to do, making the best of a bad situation. His situation is one he’s made for himself but he handles himself with such ferocious self-honesty and righteousness that it becomes impossible to tear your eyes or ears from his plight. Locke is probably the most uninteresting film on this list, but is handled with such an ambitious touch that it is one of the most empathetic and impressive films of the year.
4. Gone Girl
Full disclosure on a few facts:
- I genuinely believe that David Fincher has made one of the five best films of all time.
- Trent Reznor is one of my three favourite recording artists of all time and I’ve seen Nine Inch Nails live.
- I legitimately think that Ben Affleck is pretty great.
- Gone Girl is the best book I’ve read in at least half a decade and one of my favourite books of all time.
All this is to say that the odds are stacked pretty heavily in favour of my loving Gone Girl, and I did. At the same time, it was a flawed movie with some of Fincher’s worst traits becoming pretty clearly evident towards the end of the movie (mostly that it is just too goddamned long) but with the cast and crew involved, Gone Girl would have to be a fairly shambolic mess in order for me not to enjoy it. As it happened, Gone Girl was anything but, and although flawed, more than earns its spot on this list. (Read the original review here).
3. Only Lovers Left Alive
Jim Jarmusch’s latest is an introspective artsy, truly post modern gothic, romantic dark fairytale morality play concerning eternity and the evolution of culture. It’s all about vampires. It’s the anti-Twilight, less driven by plot or action and more concerned with what drives humanity, what makes humanity, what the world has come to and who it is that drives us and why. It’s supremely slow, with ethereal and absorbing performances from Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton but it reeks of an exquisite gritted beauty that knows and caters to it’s audience and is happy to leave anybody else by the wayside. It’s also entirely referential in spots and sports the best ending to any movie this year, if you’ve already bought into the tone.
2. Under The Skin
This is the only entry in the list I didn’t get a chance to see in cinemas and that really bugs me because this film is beautiful and disturbing in almost every way. Whereas The Babadook scared me and Only Lovers Left Alive enthralled me, Under The Skin sucked me in with its minimalist style and absolute unwillingness to explain anything and then repulsed me both with its experimental and horrifying imagery and then with it’s daunting and hollow message. Of course, the message in my head might not be at all what was intended, the film doesn’t give an inch for me to base an interpretation on, but I took from Under The Skin a profound and haunting commentary on how women are represented and used up in both the media and our world and by casting Scarlett Johannsson, perhaps the worlds most streamlined sex icon, in the lead role this interpretation has some real weight suggesting that no matter who the woman in question is, there are pressures abound from all sides.
Also, did I mention just how disturbing it is? Because there are sequences that still give me nightmares…
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
In the year that Guardians of the Galaxy stole everyone’s heart, I felt slightly out of sync with everybody else because although I certainly enjoyed the squad’s banter, I was still reeling from the power play that was Captain America: The Winter Soldier, because that movie absolutely kicked ass!
And I’m sorry, if you want any sort of deep critical insight or genuine analysis, then I’m going to have to disappoint you. The simple truth is that this is the movie this year that I didn’t need to think about. I just enjoyed it and I enjoyed it considerably more than any other movie this year. It’s the only film that I ran out to buy on Blu-Ray as soon as it was released to purchase, it’s the only film I’ve watched more than twice. This is the only movie that every time I think about it, I continued to get flat out pumped about even after I’d seen it.
The truth is that if this movie didn’t come out this year, this list would have been way harder to compile. I would have felt a compulsive need to fit The Raid: Berendal, Edge of Tomorrow and Guardians of the Galaxy on the list somewhere but Captain America: The Winter Soldier pulled off what I loved about all three of those movies and it did them all better. It’s got a theme tune that I can’t stop humming, it shifts the balance of power more than any Marvel movie that’s come before and Captain America has gone from being an old-timey propaganda folk hero to the most awesome badass I’ve ever seen and it does so without betraying anything about the character; this movie made me want to be Captain America and not because he punches people really well but because he does so for reasons I can get behind and want to associate myself with. There’a a power to that that’s pure and impressive and way more poignant than it needs to be.
But for what it’s worth he is really good at punching people.
Did we miss your favourite? Comment below! And check out our other end of the year Roundups here (Including more films, songs and albums).
Grand Budapest Hotel – To this day The Life Aquatic is my favourite Wes Anderson film. Budapest was great but it’s still nowhere near my facourite WA flick.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 – I loved this movie a whole bunch but it hasn’t quite warranted the repeat viewings the first did. It’s much darker so maybe I’m just a wuss.
Blue Ruin – Like Under the Skin, one I sorely regret not seeing in cinemas, but this is a truly astounding piece of work for not only a first time director, but a crowd-funded project.
Snowpiercer – This technically hasn’t come out in the UK but if it had it would be in the top 10 somewhere between what is currently four and five.
20,000 Days on Earth – Look, I friggin’ love Nick Cave, so this was just made for me, basically.
Also, the following films came out in 2014 in the UK, but were so heavily featured in the American awards rush that I still think of them as 2013 films, so never really seriously considered them for this list: The Wolf of Wall Street, 12 Years A Slave, Her, Dallas Buyers Club.