I’d like to start by saying a big thank you to Oxford’s only truly independent cinema, The Ultimate Picture Palace, for 1) welcoming me in as part of their stewarding team, 2) giving me the chance to see a great spread of films I may never have sought out and 3) reinforcing my love of the movies.
In fact, I have the UPP to thank for my greatest moment at the movies this year. Apologies if you’ve already heard this story . . . I was on to cover a weekend screening of ‘Pride’, a movie that I’d considered going to see but had never made the leap. So, the UPP made the leap for me and, after sitting down for two hours of life-affirming British dramedy, I got up to open the doors ready for people to leave . . . but no one did, and what started out as a murmur soon rose to a roar. The audience were clapping and cheering. They’d broken out in a spontaneous round of applause, and my heart was warmed as I stood out in the evening chill. As far as I’m aware, every screening of ‘Pride’ at the UPP was greeted with a round of applause. That is what the movies are about, and it’s one of the reasons I love the UPP and my new hometown so much.
With that in mind, it was quite a surprise that ‘Pride’ missed out on my top 10. And that, more than anything, is a testament to just how great 2014 has been for cinemagoers.
But, without further ado, here goes; my favourite movies of the year . . .
10. The Sacrament – A late addition to the list and probably the least well-known entry (all the more reason for you to seek it out). Sold as a horror movie, Ti West’s (director) chilling Christian cult movie is so much more than that. Brilliantly played off as a true story, West grounds the found-footage set-up better than any other film in recent memory. The cast only add to the naturalism, with all of the key players on brilliantly understated form. Truly exceptional, however, is the little-known Gene Jones as Father, Eden Parish’s twisted leader. One interview sequence mid-way through is totally absorbing. ‘The Sacrament’ is far smarter and more accomplished than the horror-centric promotional material would have you think. A real gem!
9. Inside Llewyn Davis – This seemingly aimless meander through Greenwich Village’s dwindling folk scene of the early 60s (before the arrival of a certain Mr Dylan; keep an eye out for the cameo) sees the Coen Brothers on fine form. In an effort to mirror Llewyn’s stagnant career, they leave narrative progression at the door (by Joel Coen’s own admission, "the film doesn't really have a plot. That concerned us at one point; that's why we threw the cat in."). However, the deeply seeded melancholy is highly affecting, yet laced with the Coen’s trademark dry wit. Oscar Isaacs leads the movie magnificently and the musical work is exceptional, with a set of brilliant (to my untrained ear, at least) folk songs that perfectly straddle the fence between parody and homage. It’s also one of the year’s most visually arresting movies, with the entire film viewed through an understated greenish copper chloride filter.
8. Gone Girl – This David Fincher thriller played exceptionally well on a repeat viewing. Any questions I’d had after the first run-through were suitably ironed out and I was left to revel in the glorious depravity on-screen. Rosamund Pike is excellent as Amy, but it’s Ben Affleck who really shines as Nick, the husband left to pick up the pieces after her disappearance. It’s very much a movie of two halves; the first being a white-knuckle detective thriller, culminating in a breathless reveal that left me absolutely floored (if not by the truth, but by the astonishing delivery), and the second being decidedly more trashy, but no less watchable. An excellent piece of work from a director/writer/star combo all at the top of their game.
7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Unfairly overshadowed by July’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, this Captain America sequel is the best Marvel/superhero movie of the year. Guardians gave the world superheroes via space opera, and this gave us superheroes via political thriller (far more appealing, if you ask me). Delivering bone-crunching action courtesy of a terrifying villain, ‘The Winter Soldier’ sees the stellar cast on top form and belies it’s superhero movie shackles to deliver a social relevance unprecedented in movies of this kind. It also provided a much-needed shot in the arm for ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’, Marvel’s TV show. The events of the movie changed the show completely, and triggered something of a renaissance for Coulson and his team. ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ season 2 is some of the greatest TV I’ve seen this year, and we have ‘The Winter Soldier’ to thank for that.
6. The Lego Movie – The first of two brilliant family movies in my list, Christopher Miller and Phil Lord sprinkle their magic fairy dust on yet another unassuming ‘property’ (21/22 Jump Street and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, being the other two) and deliver one of the most joyous movies of the year. An endlessly energetic celebration of creativity and individualism, ‘The Lego Movie’ remains brilliantly self-aware throughout and delivers a never-ending stream of gags. Liam Neeson’s Good/Bad Cop is a real standout, and sees Neeson at his unhinged best. Fun for all the family had never seemed more apt a phrase . . .
5. Paddington – Until ‘Paddington’ came along, that is . . . Proof that us Brits can hold our own against our American cousins when it comes to big-budget family-friendly fare. ‘Paddington’ stands tall in the landscape of modern British cinema as a heat-warming celebration of multicultural London and everything that makes Britain great. The cast are on great form, especially the voice of the ursine star himself, Ben Wishaw (taking over from Colin Firth in an inspired last-minute casting switch), and the humour is spot-on throughout. Joyous!
4. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – The year’s best blockbuster makes it up to number four on my list. Troubling reports about the original director, Rupert Wyatt, choosing to leave the project meant that many – including myself – were apprehensive going in to this sequel. But, under the assured direction of Wyatt’s replacement, Matt Reeves (‘Cloverfield’ and ‘Let Me In’), we were treated to a glorious piece of issue-cinema on the grandest of canvases. The combination of the greatest performance capture work the world has ever seen and some bar-raising computer effects, this deeply challenging sci-fi world is brought to life like never before. Shakespearian drama, deeply sincere performances and brilliantly exciting action combine to create one of the purest cinematic experiences of the year. People often see ‘darkness’ as synonymous with intelligence, when it comes to blockbusters (*cough* Dark Knight Trilogy *cough*), but this proves there's so much more to it than that. If part three delivers, we could have one of the greatest cinematic trilogies of all time on our hands.
3. Under the Skin – Jonathan Glazer’s draws one of the year’s greatest performances out of Scarlett Johansson, as a mysterious extra-terrestrial sent to stalk the streets of Scotland in search of single men. It’s a chilling journey into the darkest depths of human sexuality and Glazer makes use of some breath-taking special effects shots to lure us in to this intoxicating world. It’s admittedly a challenging watch, and the jarring lack of narrative coherence and the extended virtually silent sequences may put some off, but that’s also what makes ‘Under the Skin’ one of the most rewarding and deeply meaningful cinematic experiences of the year.
2. The Raid 2 – Gareth Evans sequel to his exceptional 2011 effort, ‘The Raid’, outdoes its predecessor in every possible way. Threading a set of increasingly mind-blowing set pieces together with an epic Indonesian crime drama works brilliantly. And Evans yet again delivers with the choreography, doing things with the camera that I’ve never seen anyone else do, resulting in not only the most adrenaline-fuelled sequences of the year, but also quite possibly the greatest action movie I’ve ever seen.
1. Boyhood – What else could have made my top spot? If ‘The Interview’ was the most important movie of the year in terms of the film industry, then ‘Boyhood’ was the most important movie of the year when it comes to cinematic craft. Shot over a twelve-year period, ‘Boyhood’ is about love, life, growing up and everything humans have ever found worth talking about, quite frankly. And to think that no one will ever tackle anything like this again . . . ‘The Raid 2’ may have some of the most remarkable action cinematography the world has ever seen. But, I have faith that ‘The Raid 3’ (presuming it gets made) will match, if not beat, it. ‘Boyhood’, however, is sequel-less. In fact, it’s its own sequel; twelve of them in fact. If you see one movie this year, please make it ‘Boyhood’. Trust me, you’ve never seen anything like it. A generation-defining movie!
With honourable mentions to the following; The Grand Budapest Hotel, Pride, Nightcrawler, Interstellar, Leviathan, Lucy, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, Godzilla, The Wolf of Wall Street, Locke, Edge of Tomorrow, 12 Years a Slave and Snowpiercer. All great movies, but not enough to make it onto my list.
Of the forty-three 2014 releases I’ve seen, to have twenty-three worthy of recommendation is truly unprecedented! Admittedly, there have been a couple of big disappointments (most notably, ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ and ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’) and one absolute stinker (the putrid ‘The Riot Club’). But, that’s pretty good going for a supposedly ‘weak’ year. If you thought 2014 was a poor year for the movies, then you simply weren't trying hard enough!
Thank you to all of you who continue to visit the site, I do hope you occasionally find something worth reading. I’d also like to apologise for my lack of new reviews in the last few months. It’s hardly surprising, with the stresses of university and the like, but I would still have liked to have posted more regularly. But, I hope to manage my time a bit better in the coming year and hopefully these dry spells will be 1) shorter and 2) less frequent. This may be trickier than it seems, however, as I recently began writing for Close-Up Film; my first piece being a review of British gangland thriller, ‘The Guvnors’. While it may be to the detriment of this site, I do hope to continue pursuing other writing opportunities and I hope you will follow me on this journey. Exciting times!
Made even more exciting by the successes of the summer. The site hit an all time high in August, which was then beaten come October. So, thank you for that period, in particular. The 'top review' spot has also changed hands in the last twelve months. Gone is ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ and, in it’s place, ‘Kick Ass 2’, which blitzed the competition and shot to the top of the heap in just a couple of months. It turns out you guys love a good hatchet job!
Until next year,