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.
2014 was undoubtedly the year of the return of the blockbuster. Of course there were indie successes here and there – and film critics always have their darlings – but the majority of the most exciting films of this year were actually ones which mixed a bit of brains and braun to make some of the best blockbusters in years. With that in mind, here are my top films of 2014.
Proving that directing a blockbuster doesn’t totally suck out your soul (Michael Bay, take some notes) Jon Favreau returns to his roots with this charming indie comedy about a big city chef cooking in a van (can you see the parallels?). It sounds like a recipe for a frustratingly quirky indie film but instead it delivers a beautifully well rounded story with characters with real heart. And by god does it make you hungry!
9. Mr. Turner
Critically acclaimed, and rightly so, Mike Leigh’s masterfully crafted biopic of J M W Turner’s life is an extraordinary piece of work. It is not only beautifully shot in landscapes as magnificent as the painter’s own work but it is so refreshingly original and cliche free that you can’t help but feel you’ve watched something entirely new. It’s easy to be put off because of how unusual it is but beneath its quirks it has some wonderfully played characters (of course by Timothy Spall, but also the leading ladies in his life deliver heart stopping performances) and a story which revels as much in a cup of tea together as it does in some of the more dramatic set pieces. It’s a fascinating watch.
Although some naysayers called Nolan out for delivering a self-indulgent space opera I thought it was far from self indulgent, in fact I simply wanted more. Even in its three hour length Nolan creates such a magnificently crafted world, the characters are so engaging and the drama so – for want of a better word – epic. Nolan has proven once again that you needn’t leave your brains at the door to make an exhilarating blockbuster, in his existential look at the universe he tackles grand themes like our own existence and love without being condescending or perplexing. Is it his best film? Perhaps not, but it is undoubtedly one of the finest films of this year.
In Darren Aronofsky’s take on the story of Noah we get a refreshingly modern reimagining of one of the greatest stories ever told. Here we have the astounding floods sweeping through forests, we have battles between fallen angels and men, and we have the story of creation told in an incredibly innovative couple of minutes. But what makes Noah so good is the genuine moral conflicts it brings up. Russell Crowe brings back his A-Game as the family man turned prophet having to make some incredibly difficult decisions. Although some minor moments are bungled, the overall impression is of a film which is so fresh and visually exciting that it leaves an impression for a long time after the credits roll.
Perhaps unsurprising considering the pedigree of its director (Gareth Jones of Monsters fame), but Godzilla truly swept me off my feet when I first saw it this summer. But why was it so refreshing? Perhaps it was because disaster films have always been a (strange) favourite of mine. Perhaps it was because there’s nothing like a huge monster to get the adrenaline pumping like you’re a 10 year old again. Or perhaps it was the fantastic (if brief) performance by Bryan Cranston. Really though, it’s because Jones tantalisingly builds up to the climax of all this monster related fun with sly shots of ‘zilla tucked away here and there, or shaky cam catching glimpses of the monster from the ground. You can’t help but get caught up in the excitement of this almighty reveal and when it came you will once again become that 10 year old shooting aliens in the back garden. I haven’t had this much fun in a blockbuster movie for a long time and it’s a relief to finally see something like this once more.
A relatively late entry for this wonderful treat of a movie ( it was only released a couple of weeks ago) but it is, without doubt, an instant classic. Everything from the tear jerking opening (Almost a rival of Up) to the intricately designed and realised titular bear made me smile and not stop til the credits rolled. In a world where movies are made up almost entirely of depressing and negative things, Paddington is a hilariously upbeat delight. Yes, it’s a little old fashioned and perhaps the climactic caper filled chase is a little cliched but everything simply fits like a well oiled machine. Whether it is the superbly choreographed slapstick moments (the bath scene may look excruciatingly cheesy from the trailer but it is genuinely laugh out loud) or the heartstring pulling emotional moments, Paddington simply works. You absolutely must see it.
4. Gone Girl
David Fincher’s film turned what was previously already a “must-read book” into an absolute “must see” film. Why? Because Fincher’s style of filmmaking lends itself superbly to the subject matter. The fraught and tense relationships from The Social Network, the shock and mystery of Seven, Zodiac and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and the “christ, I didn’t expect that” twist from Fight Club make Gone Girl easily up there with all the rest of Fincher’s finest work. In Affleck he found the perfect foil for the mysterious – and slightly douchey – Nick Dunne and in Rosamund Pike he nurses one of the most extraordinary performances out of an actress who has spent most of her career on the periphery. To say it’s extraordinary is to do Gone Girl a massive injustice. It is one of the best films of Fincher’s impressive career.
3. The Babadook
What I admire most in a truly great film is the ability to elicit a physical response. The most common is probably laughing, then perhaps crying, or exhilaration (Gone Girl was particularly good for this) but the hardest reaction for a film to create (for me anyway, I’m not a complete wuss) is without doubt fear. The Babadook pretty much had me weeping in horror, it had other people in the cinema trying to laugh off their sense of discomfort and everyone’s heart rates were undoubtedly at the same rate as it would be during a sprint. No matter what genre a film is, if it can generate this kind of physical reaction it is worthy of heaps of praise. But it’s not just that, The Babadook didn’t have a disappointing twist ending with which so many horror films undo all the horror of the film, it didn’t have a conventional scary to non-scary drama pattern like many do (Paranormal Activity is a good example) so you’re always on edge and – crucially – it also tells a intelligently layered story. On the face of it The Babadook is a horrifying story about the creepiest pop-up storybook ever written but it is also a compelling study into grief which is quite literally brought to life through the bogeyman in the closet. Director Jennifer Kent and lead actress Essie Davis combine to make the best directorial debut of the year and the finest performance by any actress this year. It really is a tour-de-force of a film. And by god is it frightening.
As Nightcrawler opens we are greeted with Lou Bloom (the performance of an already impressive career for Jake Gylenhaal) in a sticky situation but – a testament to the slippery, amoral nature of his character – he turns this into a profitable exchange. You should know from the get go that you’re already in murky waters with this film but it just keeps getting worse. This fascinating satire of the state of journalism (and capitalism) is one of the most compelling films of the decade, let alone the year. We follow the sallow faced, gaunt Gyllenhaal as he climbs the greasy pole to the top and can’t help but admire and chastise him. It may be a frustrating film to watch because of what it depicts but that is only because it is such an incisive criticism of our times. Like some of the greatest anti-heroes of cinema (Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men, Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and even Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane) he is a simultaneously electrifying screen presence and also someone you simply don’t want to exist. But what the film makes sure of is that this story is so believably realistic that it makes us stand up and think about our world. It’s an instant classic.
1. The Lego Movie
I can hear the sniggers already: “The Lego Movie? The best film of the year? What?!” But it is – without even a shadow of doubt in my mind – the best film of the year for one simple reason. Universal Appeal. For the same reason Wall-E was my favourite film of 2008 and Toy Story 3 is the best film of 2010 (yes, I am fully aware that The Social Network and The King’s Speech were released that year) The Lego Movie will be 2014’s best. It is unquestionably the most entertaining, ingenious, riotously fun time you can have watching a film made this year. And I know I’m not alone on this one, critics and children alike quite rightly praised it for being such good fun. The gag per minute ratio is quicker than many classic comedies (it would even give Airplane! a run for its money), true, many of them are a tad childish but then that’s the whole fun. The Lego Movie is a couple of hours in which you can really indulge your inner child, and the final act just goes to show how well the film delivers this message. It cements it as being also an ingenious delve into the mind of a child and the art of having fun. It even finds time to poke fun at coffee shops being overpriced and generic pop songs (by creating a perfect pop song). Quite simply, if you don’t enjoy The Lego Movie you have no soul and deserve to spend eternity complaining at kids playing games in the street while you sit in comfortable slippers. Indulge your inner child and you will agree with me that it is indeed as awesome as the song makes out.
Did we miss your favourite? Comment below! And check out our other end of the year Roundups here (Including more films, songs and albums).
Boyhood – It was an impressive piece of work but narrowly missed it for me because it didn’t quite tug at my heartstrings as much as I’d hoped. Still, as an experience, piece of art and message, it is one you shouldn’t miss out on.
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson has never been my favourite director but this film finally has a comedic core which actually made me laugh, as well as being a whip smart look at the nature of stories.
Starred Up - Missed inclusion by a hair breadth. This taut, visceral prison drama features an extraordinary performance by Rising Star Jack O’Connell and an incredible story to go along with it.
Her and The Wolf Of Wall Street – Would easily make my top ten but I’ve not included them because they got more than their fair share of attention during the three months we now call awards season.