I published my top ten of 2014 back in January. As last year’s movie start turning up on DVD, VOD and even TV I thought it timely to go through my also recommended for 2014. The first then were all contenders for my top ten of the year:
Under The Skin: With no back-story or explanation we only find out what is happening as it happens, or do we? The plot is relatively simple on the surface but without any exposition it isn’t totally clear but is all the more interesting for it. Scarlett Johansson is unrecognisable in look at performance from Captain America but equally as brilliant.
20,000 Days on Earth: Fictionalised account of musician and writer Nick Cave’s 20,000th day on the planet Earth. Existing in a nether-region between documentary and narrative cinema, a real treat for Nick Cave fans and a great film for the uninitiated.
The Babadook : A dark psychological drama dressed up as a supernatural horror. At its heart it is a story about despair and depression but to its credit leaves enough ambiguity for audiences to decide it that is the story or the subtext. A lot of the success of the film is an intense performance from Essie Davis.
Paddington: Adapting the classic children’s story could have been a disaster, amazingly the story of the titular bear from darkest Peru gets everything right. From the cast (both the human characters and the voice of Paddington) to the animation of the bear. Most importantly the comedy is just the right side of silly to make it charming and enchanting.
Lucy: A young woman develops super powers when the packet of drugs in her stomach splits. The trailer makes it look like Limitless (2011) but its more ambitious and vastly different. Far from perfect but interesting and fun.
The Rover: Ten years after a little explained “collapse” a man sets out to recover his stolen car for reasons that become clear at the end. More sombre and low key than Mad Max, the film it has been compared to. Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson are both excellent. Opinions will be divided on the ending, I thought it really worked and gave and overall meaning to the film.
Pride: A group of lesbian and gay activists raise money to help miners during the 1984 strike. A true story appears to be one of the best kept secrets of the era. As funny and uplifting as it is poignant.
Maps To The Stars: David Cronenberg’s satire on Hollywood is as enthralling as it is cutting. Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska are both excellent and would be early contenders for Oscar nominations if the films gaze wasn’t so close to home.
I Origins: Mike Cahill reteams with Brit Marling. A meditation on science, religion and the possibility of reincarnation told through the medium of a love story. The film holds together even in its most arty moments largely thanks to Marling and co stars Michael Pitt and Astrid Bergès-Frisbey.
Snowpiercer: Not actually released in the UK but available from a well know online retailer. Visually spectacular. It is equal parts satirical and bonkers. As you would expect, Tilda Swinton steals the show with an over the top supporting role.
And the best of the rest in no particular order:
What We Do In The Shadows: Vampires get the mockumentary treatment thanks to the Flight of the Conchords team. The deadpan Spinal Tap style delivery takes a little time to get into but when you adjust to it, it is very funny.
Gone Girl: David Fincher’s movie based on Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel. Joyfully bonkers dark and twisted and as enthralling as you would expect from Fincher. Expect an Oscar nomination for Rosamund Pike.
Oculus: A horror film full of TV stars Karen Gillan (Doctor Who), Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica), Rory Cochrane (CSI) and Brenton Thwaites (Australian soap Home and Away) doesn’t fill you with confidence. However Mike Flanagan’s movie based on his own earlier short is well scripted with a great concept; most of the film is set in a single location but at two different times. A superior horror that aims to disturb rather than shock and succeeds admirably.
Two Faces of January: Based on Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name the movie is old-fashioned in a good way. Beautifully shot and fantastically acted (Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac), Hossein Amini’s supremely confident directorial debut owes a debt to Hitchcock.
The Raid 2: Gareth Evans movie The Riad (2011) worked largley for the simplicity of the plot. Set over one day, a small elite squad of police fighting their way through a building of people who want to kill them to get to the crime lord who owns the block. The Raid 2 takes huge risk by expanding the story out to a full three act narrative set over a couple of years. Amazingly it really works.
X-Men: Days of Future Past: Based on the seminal 80’s two part X-Men story of the same name. The casts of First Class and the original trilogy come together in one of the best X-Men movies yet. It also opens the door to tell future stories without worrying about the continuity of original trilogy.
Godzilla: After the success of his micro budget Monsters, Gareth Edwards is given £160million to play with. The film is a worthy successor to Ishirō Honda’s original and helps wash away the bad taste left by the Roland Emmerich version. The human characters aren’t great but we are here to see the monsters.
Cold in July: After a small town Texas family man (Michael C. Hall) shoots and kills an intruder, the dead man’s farther Sam Shepard turns up. Avoiding the pitfalls of going all Max Cady the story takes an interesting twist. Set in the late 80’s the electro-synth gives a real 80’s feel and is reminiscent of John Carpenter and early Michael Mann. The most accessible and mainstream of Jim Mickle (writer, director) and Nick Damici (writer, actor), although not their normal horror, the film is still a genre film, and a real genre film, not a mainstream movie pretending to slum it.
The Double: A dark satirical comedy based on the novella by Dostoyevsky. Set in a dystopian past/future; Simon James’ already mundane and directionless life is sent into turmoil by the appearance of doppelganger James Simon. Although it seems to have divided opinions with both critics and audiences, Richard Ayoade’s second feature is very different to be equally as good as his début.
Blue Ruin: Low budget revenge thriller that is both considered and thoughtful. Throwing away the conventions of the genre it is full of suspense a tinged with a sense of despair and dread.
Locke: Ivan Locke is an ordinary man. He is a foreman on a large construction site in Birmingham. The night before the most important day on the build he gets in his car to drive home. At the last minute he changes his mind and gets on the motorway south towards London for reasons that are revealed as the film unfolds. on the way he makes and receives several telephone calls. There is no great crime, no one is killed or kidnapped, just an ordinary man talking on the phone; Sounds dull? It isn’t, far from it, it is actually totally engrossing.
Next Goal Wins: Documentary about the national football team of American Samoa, described as the worth national team in the world. A timely reminder of what sport is all about away from with multimillionaire footballers. Jast as with Senna (2010), you don’t have to be a fan to enjoy the movie.
The Guest: Homage to 80’s thrillers and slasher movies. It really shouldn’t work but it strangely does. Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens makes a seamless transition from TV to movies.
Belle: The true (ish) story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of the nephew of William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield and Lord Chief Justice of England. Raised by her great-uncle and his wife, the film speculates on what impact Belle may have had on his ruling in an important court case of the day, one contributed to the abolition of slavery. A little lightweight but beautifully shot and really well acted.
’71: A young British soldier gets separated from his regiment and as to negotiate the perils of Belfast at the height of the troubles in 1971. Jack O’Connell again shows why he is one of the most interesting young actors working today. I have heard it compared to John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 but it really has more in common with Walter Hill’s The Warriors.