Now that we’re done with the worst, we move onto the best! Which I’m really happy about, because I don’t like being so negative about something that I love that 2014 was a damn fine year for film. How good was it? My honorary mentions, the ones I thought were great but were an inch away from the best, is as long as my worst list! For those curious, here they are:
22 Jump Street, A Most Wanted Man, Atilla Marcel, Blue Ruin, Boyhood, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Cheap Thrills, The Congress, The Dance of Reality, Dead Snow 2, Enemy, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, Gone Girl, Guardians of the Galaxy, In Order of Disappearance, The Invisible Woman, Love Eternal, One Christmas Eve…, The Sacrament, The Skeleton Twins, Strangers by the Lake, Under the Rainbow, The Unwanted, The Wind Rises
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s start this countdown with:
25. Ladder to Damascus
The first movie of legendary Syrian filmmaker Mohammad Malas in about 8 years, and it’s made all the more heartbreakingly poignant due to the events that befell his country this year.
In the time he has taken out, Syria went from a time of economic prosperity to horrific civil war, which this movie wishes to reflect. A young filmmaker finds a woman who claims to be the inhabited by the soul of a girl who drowned the day she was born. Fascinated by her, he takes her under his wing and helps her find a place to stay, a dormitory with himself and several other students. As the relationship between the two (or three) leads blossoms, the streets are filled with conflict.
This is a very lyrical, flowing film and can be read in a lot of ways. Personally, I see it as a metaphor for film itself, and how we use it as a form of escape. Our lead character, Fouad, wishes to capture the life of modern girl Ghalia and deceased spirit Zeina, both representations of a life sheltered and a spirit rocked by tragedy. Each character can be seen as taking a role in this ‘movie’, ala Inception, but the movie is not a reflection of how ideas are implanted, more that they’re sidetracked or ignored. While film is important, it can sometimes be used to point in the wrong direction, most pointedly demonstrated by the movie’s brilliant use of limited staging. We rarely leave the dorm after we go there, the characters exiled there just as the city starts to burn, trapped in a relic of a tight dorm and the technology that once enriched their lives.
While this movie is wonderfully intelligent and quite symbolic, it does suffer from a lack of focus. None of the characters are terribly interesting and it kind of meanders and stumbles in the middle, after a very strong opening. Still, this doesn’t take away from what a beautiful film this is. A movie that both celebrates and condones artistic vision and creativity in the midst of horrific event, makes smart choices with its shooting (the dorm feels big, like they’re trapped in another world completely separate from the outside, only to slowly crumble once they realise they’re living in a delusion), and has one of the most powerful final images of any film I have seen all year. Definitely one worth checking out.
24. Starred Up
This intense and very real prison drama is certainly one that stands out from the crowd. Based on the writer’s real life experience as a prison therapist, it follows Eric Love (Jack O’Connell) as he gets transferred from a juvenile facility to an adult prison, being introduced to his father (Ben Mendelsohn) for the first time; a lifer.
The story makes the smart choice by portraying everyone evenly. Nobody is glorified or really condemned for who they are, it just tells the story and lets you make up your mind if the prisoners or the police staff or the worse off. While Jack O’Connell is amazing and proves once again what a force to be reckoned with he is, it’s Ben Mendelsohn that steals the show, giving one of the best performances for a supporting character all year as Eric’s emotionally stunted, angry but oddly caring in his own way dad.
All the supporting cast is great, in particular Rupert Friend who plays the sympathetic and frustrated prison therapist. If there’s any character that feels underdeveloped, however, it’s Peter Ferdinando who is fantastically terrifying as Dennis Spencer. His character’s role ends up amounting to not much, and he feels a little out of place in what is otherwise a very grounded and realistic look at life in a prison system.
Not to be outdone by it on a writing and acting level, the direction is quite brilliant. Like Damascus, it’s in a limited setting, but unlike that movie, the set is used to be as tight and constrained as possible. Everything closes in around our characters, and particularly Eric, as he seeks to be free of both his mental and literal holdings.
With some amazing performances, impressive sound design, clever direction, a wonderfully honest script and a very sombre, effective tone, Starred Up is a triumph from all involved, and a triumph for those looking for a prison movie with a bit more grit.
23. The Babadook
So there was a horror movie out this year that was actually scary. Go figure.
This creepy and incredibly effective film gets to the core of what makes horror work. It’s not the big monsters, or the jump scares, or even the screaming. It’s the unknown we fear the most. Seeing Amelia (beautifully portrayed by Essie Davis) slowly deteriorate into madness over a monster that may or may not be there is so excellently well handled, you begin to question if the Babadook really is real. It’s long, lingering shots and tension built up on simple things like a mother and son arguing really hypes up the tension and adds to the generally unpleasant, extremely unsettling tone.
Not only that, it works as a great metaphor for loss. At its core, it is a movie about a mother and son trying to move on from the loss of the father and the deterioration of their family unit. How people react to this, and especially the son’s issues with the passing, is very real and you truly feel sorry for their plight. Even if you can’t get into the creep factor and scares of the film, it’s still a great story about a woman trying to hold it together after such a devastating passing.
This movie is fantastic and absolutely worth the watch, and the only reason it’s so low is a pretty petty one; the kid is awful! I’m usually a little more accepting of terrible child actors, but he’s so prominent in the movie, that his annoyingly terrible performance is like nails on a chalkboard. If you have a little patience for annoying children, this movie may be a bit of a chore for you.
Despite this, The Babadook is one of the best horror movies I’ve seen for years and a fantastic debut from director Jennifer Kent. Here’s hoping she has some more great films, horror or not, in her system that she can get out there.
22. The Lego Movie
Everything, indeed, is awesome.
This movie just feels like it was done on a dare. Like a major studio and toy brand just went to a couple of directors and went ‘Bet you a tenner you can’t make a glorified marketing gimmick that’s good!’. And, thankfully, they went to the guys who made Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street and we both went ‘Oh, you are so on!’ I hope they spend that ten dollars wisely.
Not only is this a feat in animation, it’s just a hell of a lot of fun. It has a great tone and fast-paced energy that just never lets up right until the end. There are laughs a minute, and has such a great, loose and hyperactive sense of humour that you’re bound to find a joke you appreciate. There’s are pop culture references that are cleverly integrated, jokes about generic children’s movies that feel good natured and don’t ignore what makes them so popular, jokes at the expense of Lego themselves, and just plain old witty lines or clever puns.
It’s also got a script that is way, way smarter than it should be. It has a lot to say about corporate control and how designed and conservative life can get through our media and marketing, without getting too heavy or in-your-face about it. This stuff is there, but it doesn’t bog the movie down by trying to look really smart. What’s even better is that it doesn’t really take a side on the ‘imagination vs. control’ it brings up; it’s genuinely wants to find a middle ground here, which is so rare for a Hollywood movie, let alone one aimed at children.
On top of that, it just has a lot of heart. The cast are great, and really put their all into it. Mostly comedicaly, but also emotionally. There are some genuinely touching moments at the end of the movie, brought on by how clever and subversive this film is. The inclusion of Batman, the ‘Chosen Boy’ narrative, the obsession with the freedom fighters being ‘cool’ and the rather crude jokes about ‘adult’ things all have a purpose and are very deliberate. You find out why at the end of the film. It’s a reveal that’s surprising and actually makes a lot of sense, and leads to a very touching climax to a wonderful movie.
Do you need to see all of this to get this film? Of course not! You can appreciate its beautiful animation, designed to look like those stop-motion Lego movies when it’s really CG and it’s very effectively done. It’s fun and funny, greatly paced, has a cast that you just love, is made by two masters at subverting your expectations and will go on to be a beloved classic for everyone to enjoy.
21. The Grand Budapest Hotel
A wonderfully bright and hilarious look into a bygone age, the layered structure gets across this idea of history and how stories are integrated and preserved over time. This is as much a tribute to a bygone age of cinema as it is an age. The effects are very crude and overly simplistic, but are deliberately so to give it a sense of classic Hollywood and like you’re watching a movie from the 20s. You know a movie has impressed you when even its mistakes seem genuine!
It’s not even the visuals, however. The story is very engaging and is a very entertaining madcap adventure also reminiscent of a classic socialite comedy, except maybe a bit more sexually suggestive than movies of old. Ralph Fiennes gives one of the most entertaining performances, with Gustave being such a charming bastard while also being really likeable. Tony Revolori is equally as engaging as Gustave’s loyal and unassuming employee Zero is equally fantastic. They have great chemistry and are a double act for the ages.The cast is impressively filled, as is the case with most Anderson fares. You’re bound to love an actor who appears, and there are great cameos and bits throughout the film.
What’s most impressive about the movie is that, like The Lego Movie, it finds a lot of heart near the end. It has such a powerful thematic resonance that it’s really hard not to be touched by. It’s a tribute to an age of gentlemen and women that has sadly passed, how we choose to remember our personal histories and history as a whole, how legends are made and remembered, and how we take a bit of it with us in this long road and tributary to life.
Wes Anderson continues to be an intelligent and incredibly competent filmmaker. He has a style utterly his own and manages to get stories charming, irreverent, uniquely shot, meticulously blocked, wonderfully awkward and just fascinates and absorbs you into these worlds he creates. Never has an sense of unreality felt so real, it’s like his own personal dollhouses come to life, and this one is about a grand hotel in Budapest that will lived on through the tapestry of time.
I contemplated whether or not I consider this one of my favourite because it is kind of flawed. Its treatment of the lead can border on insulting, the story is very weird and meandering, I don’t think the run time and two movies is really necessary, and has a dumb as hell and incredibly insulting ending. Yet, when thinking about it, what makes it so great is that it really gets a life across. Especially with someone who has such an ill-defined and unexamined addiction to sex.
Charlotte Gainsbourg is, as always, wonderful in the role; she has a great sense of melancholy and weariness to her performance as she regales her life. The movie feels like a reflection of Trier’s career framed in a character study of someone with sexual addiction, which is an odd thing to do but this is coming from the ‘I am a Nazi’ guy. He goes through different styles and cinematography changes to reflect different parts of his career and his work. The always fantastic Stellan Skarsgard offers critical insight, and it’s clearly rambling nonsense that doesn’t get to the heart of the issues displayed in this film.
The movie is bold, shocking and controversial. While it will rub (heh) people the wrong way, it’s wild and passionate, and gives us a very painful look into how unsatisfying and lonely sex addiction can be. It’s a great reflection of a fascinating life, both of the character and the director. It’s probably the most flawed movie that will get on this list, but it is also one of the most fascinating and is one that can be dissected, looked at and heavily criticised (VERY heavily criticised) as much as can be done. It’s 4 hours of brilliant madness, and well worth checking out.
While it can come off as a bit self-indulgent (the director/writer is also the star), it’s a rather clever and hilarious twist on vampire lore; what if a completely annoying, charmless loser got the powers of the undead?
Erik is not someone to be admired. At all. He’s whiney, self-centered, self-entitled, kind of creepy, incredibly annoying, a complete jerk to every person and all around him, incredibly apologetic, and yet he’s so engaging and funny to watch. This truly is down to Onur Turkel managing to find the charm in someone who has absolutely none whatsoever. You don’t like Erik, but you follow his journey pretty easily and it just goes from hilarity to downright insanity after he gets turned.
Watching him abuse these powers for awful personal gain is both incredibly cynical and really, really funny. It cleverly subverts the vampire lore, which in turn really highlights how awful someone with these powers would be. It’s got an honesty not a lot of the romanticised vamp flicks have, showing that human nature would use these powers to satisfy themselves sexually and abuse it for their own ways.
Not much to say about this one, it’s just really, really funny. Your liking on it may depend on how much you can stand this guy, and he can be pretty grating, but if you can get behind what the movie is doing, it’s a really damn funny ride.
18. Wrong Cops
Quentin Dupieux is something of an acquired taste. His movies are plotless, strange, incredibly surreal, and seem to fight against any form of any real thematic depth. It seems almost like a joke to try to put them up in any real critical capacity, or put above a best list above a filmmaker as beloved as Wes Anderson or as critically lauded as Lars Von Trier. And yet, it’s a movie I’d watch again over them.
This surrealist film follows a world where lawlessness is the norm and cops do awful, self-centered things in order to get their kicks. Not only is this a pretty hilarious message in its own way, the movie is filled with such creativity and hilarious ideas out of this premise. There’s the cop trying to make a record with a bleeding man, two of them try to dispose of said dying man because one of them shot him accidentally, one deals with a woman he sexually harasses, one harasses a 15-year old teenager hilariously played by Marilyn Manson with no attempt to hide how old he is…it’s just a bizarre ride.
There are a few returning cast members from Wrong, and Dupieux even tries to create a connected, insane universe (Rubber is apparently a movie in this movie). While it comes as a little full of himself, it’s clear that he doesn’t take himself seriously at all, and that kind of laisez-faire, caution-to-the-wind kind of mood is infectious and takes you on this bizarre, clever and very funny journey.
His movies may not be for everyone, but if he continues to be a creative and unique voice in cinema, while also making somewhat pointed statements all throughout the insanity, I’ll be along for the ride.
This emotional and triumphant movie is based on the true story of Robyn Davidson, who in 1977 crossed nearly 1,700 miles across Australia to get to the Indian Ocean.
A project in the works for years, the movie opts out of being grand and epic and focuses mainly on our protagonist, played perfectly by Mia Wasikowska, further proving just how talented an actress she is. What’s great about the film is that her reasons for making the trek are never really emphasised; she feels the need to travel across Australian deserts, and that’s all you need to know.
The desert of Australia is shot in a very real way; beautiful when it needs to be and equally as treacherous. It fits the move of our heroine as she battles exhaustion, the sun, loneliness, loss, and her own sanity in order to complete this incredible journey.
What really makes this movie work is how slowly built up it is. It shows Robyn preparing for her trek; training camels, dealing with scammers, meeting her friends and the photographer who meets her at certain points to document her, Rick Smolan (Adam Driver). It truly treats it like a dangerous trek; she’s warned to turn away, that she won’t finish it, and that it’s a death sentence. It’s through the strength and determination of Robyn that helps pull it through.
The movie is very rarely boring, despite its setting may make it appear. There’s always something going on, places and even people Robyn comes across, giving us great culture and life to an area we’d just assume totally abandoned. The use of surroundings is greatly used both as an insight into indigenous Australia and as a really engaging adventure drama. It also does a great job giving the animals a presence. I really want a camel, now.
Adam Driver is great, and it’s beautifully directed to let the physical environment reflect on the personal journey, but it truly is Wasikowska’s movie. She makes you feel every bit of pain, all the joy, wonderment, despondency, hopelessness and triumph. It’s an inspiring, surprisingly understated movie that shows the real strength of the human spirit. A perfect little movie to tribute a great woman.
Also, every person should have a Mr. Eddie in their lives.
This brilliantly effective domestic drama is set entirely in a car, with Hardy being the only face we see as he drives to a hospital to get to a woman he impregnated by cheating on his wife. Not only is Hardy chillingly good as his façade slowly descends and he tries desperately not to crack, he plays off the supporting cast really well. They’re all incredibly accomplished actors who do a great job only interacting with him on his speakerphone.
Ivan Locke is also a pretty engaging thing. He’s an ordinary guy who did a pretty horrible thing. It works around to break his life down, while the man tries to remain cool and collected, as it is his default. While he’s kind of cold and a bit of an asshole, you can’t help but feel sorry for him as he races to the hospital in some way of doing the right thing.
The movie is also pretty stunning to look at. The cinematography is completely on point, giving us gorgeous visuals all while we’re in a car. It gives a great visual for Locke’s descent into madness and really keeps the movie alive while in the one location.
Original, emotional, unbelieving engaging and potent, Locke is a great movie carried on the back of a great actor. I cannot wait to see what this director and this actor do in the future.
15. 12 Years a Slave
It’s kind of hard to talk about this movie in a way everybody else hasn’t. It’s so raw and real and gets under your skin with how uncomfortably potent the entire experience is. Chiwitel Ejiofor gives the performance of his life as he dramatizes the life of Solomon Northup, a free man tricked and sold into slavery, remaining there for 12 years of his life as he transported from owner to owner.
The theme of freedom is obvious, but it’s more in the way of how it’s explored that this movie gets its power. What does it mean to be free? What do we do with our freedom? Is Cumberbatch’s Ford, the kind-hearted slave owner, any better than the emotionally and physically abusive Epps (Michael Fassbender), or is he trapped by his surroundings? Lupita Nyong’o Patsey is broken by her abuse, but Solomon tries to remain dignified and hopeful during his. They are all elements of a system that was horrific and a massive human tragedy, and this pulls no punches with its effects.
Steve McQueen continues to be one of the most interesting directors out there, with a wonderful handle of cinematic language. This is his best movie yet, and his long lingering shots and uncompromising displays of violence continues to shock and engage audiences, and here’s hoping he’ll have a great career in the future.
It’s not my favourite movie, but it’s beautifully real and incredibly important, showing a system that still has ripple effects to this day. It’s a pure display on what it means to be free and the human struggle to obtain it, in honest or insidious ways. Here’s hoping it will be remembered as the fantastic movie it is.
Also, Lupita Nyong’o is one of the best discoveries of the year and can she stay around please? She’s in the new Star Wars movie. Make her character big. This lady needs her name in the lights, and not just an Oscar win where she’s then forgotten. Kthanksbai.
14. The Wolf of Wall Street
Unlike 12 Years a Slave, this didn’t win an Oscar. If you think I’m leading into a DiCaprio joke, please leave.
Martin Scorsese further proves that he’s a master of his craft, and he shows no signs of slowing down. In his latest hilarious, high-energised comedy, he looks into the rather depraved life of Jordan Belfort, a stock broker who used every trick in the book to get rich, and even more tricks to spend it.
This movie is filled with drug use, prostitution, insane and dangerous activities and has this feeling like you’re on the biggest high of your life as it zips through Belfort and his cohort’s activities at its huge run time of 3 hours.
Despite all this, what is framed to be a rather egregious hedonistic comedy showing off how awesome it is to be rich and powerful, it’s honestly a huge condemnation of this as well. Belfort is a pretty nasty guy, played perfectly by DiCaprio who just shows that, yes, even if he doesn’t have an Oscar, he’s one of the best in the bizz. Jonah Hill is also excellent, earning himself a second Oscar nom.
With all the high-octane insanity, it isn’t afraid to tear these men down and just show them for what weasely, unlikeably sad they all are. It feels more on the side of the poor bastards who were caught in these guy’s lies, while not shying away from the fact that these guys got away with what they did.
Even with this, the movie is just fun. The quaaludes scene is one of the most side-splittingly hilarious thing I’ve seen in film, the actors are great and clearly having a lot of fun and it’s sort of infectious, even if it’s easy to see what deplorable people these are, and how they’re not worthy of praise.
Demented, funny and, most importantly, very honest, this movie goes to show how much fun despicable people can be.
13. Veronica Mars
Yeah, I’m putting what was essentially a really pricey fan movie (made by the cast and crew from the original show, granted) on this best list (which is my really pompous way of saying ‘favourite’, of course). I make no apologies, as if you’re going to make a movie that pays tributes to a great show, you do it like this.
I mean, yeah, Rob Thomas isn’t that stunning a feature director, the mystery is pretty tepid, even if it cleverly incorporates background characters, Dan Lamb is basically a meaner Don Lamb who doesn’t have the same connection with Veronica, and Weevil’s presence is very lacking, but everything this movie gets right, really does get right. All the important surviving characters without the surname ‘Kane’ return, and have such natural and believable developments at this point that they all felt so genuine. Leading the charge is Veronica herself, Kristen Bell felt like she never stopped playing the character 9 years on.
It’s still very sharply written, with the story being a metaphor about how inescapable our past really is. Veronica has a really deep connection to Neptune, and it’s great that they chose to look at this, as it’s never really been explored on the show. It ties into the mystery really well, and the high school reunion was a great way of getting everyone back together.
The movie is even filled with great cameo or bit roles. James Franco has a hilarious scene, and it even has Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis. There is a great balance to get this to appeal to a new audience and make it something the fans would love and connect with, and I think it does both brilliantly. I recommend you see the show first (or see it anyway, because it’s brilliant), but even if you haven’t, it’s still a fun watch and easy to follow.
Veronica Mars continues to prove why it’s the perfect modern noir. The town of Neptune is a great backdrop, almost a character in of itself, the cast fit their roles perfectly, it’s moody and dark and technologically savvy, but it also has a great sense of smarts and modern-day self-awareness not to take itself too seriously. It’s shocking and funny and dark and clever, and all the elements of the show fans loved are captured in this great little movie. If a continuation is never made, I’m honestly satisfied to end it here. Well worth the nine-year wait.
12. The Past
A moody and effective French drama with a brilliant cast of three. While most of the focus would be on The Artist’s Bérénice Bejo, all of them are equally fantastic and carry what is basically a very simple and tender family drama.
While it eventually develops into a much more elaborate conflict, it really does start off being a simple domestic issue. The first hour or so just deals with the relationship between Bejo’s character Marie and her relationship with Samir (Rahim), and the family’s reaction to that. The dynamic feels natural and very real, making what could be a mundane problem very poignant and relatable to a lot of people. Helped is the excellent cinematography and music, making the film look intimate and personal.
When the more dramatic turn of events finally comes into play, it’s built up so slowly and carefully that it really doesn’t feel like it comes out of nowhere. Nothing feels rushed and there’s a real weight and tension that feels earned rather than them throwing something dramatic into play and hoping the audience just goes along with it.
Unlike The Babadook, the child actors here are great and their annoying tendencies feel a lot more natural. Props in particular going to Pauline Burlet, who plays the eldest daughter Lucie. She has a lot of emotional baggage to carry due to her role in the story and she handles is brilliantly, almost on par with the three leads.
I think the reason I love this movie so much is that, no matter their actions or crappy tendencies, there is no ‘villain’ of this story. Everyone feels justified in their positions and no one character is diminished for the sake of another.
This is just a triumphant film about a personal issue from the brilliant Asghar Farhadi, director of A Separation. Let’s hope he has more great movies in his future. This is a taut, personal and quite brilliant insight into a family split apart by tragedy and circumstance, and leaves on a powerful and memorable final image. Well worth the watch.
11. Two Days, One Night
Emotionally wrought and incredibly honest, it tells the story of a woman trying to keep her job after she was fired due to her absenteeism. She’s given the rather uncomfortable task of trying to convince her co-workers to give up their Christmas bonuses in order to cover her salary, and has to do it in a weekend before they vote on the matter.
This set up is amazing, as it gets across a lot of things. People’s senses of self-preservation, their value of money over people, their attitudes of depression, and it helps layer our lead with her interactions with each one of them. They all get a different reaction from the other, but not in a way that feels disingenuous or contrived; you truly buy that these are real people in a very hard conflict (well, for some it’s hard).
During all of this, our lead Sandra is fighting her own weak mental state, not helped by this undignified and eye-opening request for people to give their salary up to let her keep her job. What’s great about this is that, while every character has a different reaction to the request, it’s never repetitive and all of them feel real. There’s truly a grounded sentiment to this movie; the camera is loose and very constrained to Sandra, we take this journey with her and we’re put into her pretty awful situation. Every moment of joy when somebody takes her side we feel, as well as every soul-crushing rejection she receives. It’s as stark and incredibly uncomfortable movie, not helped by the fact that there’s very rarely background music.
Now, to my favourite part of this film: Marion Cotillard. I can say, without any hesitation, that she gives the best performance of 2014. Her emotionally naked and ugly transformation into someone with serious depression is absolutely awe-inspiring. She not only nails every varied emotion and range, but she even looked haggard and extremely fatigued. She looks like she’s been put through hell, which really sells how much this has taken it out of her and she nearly always looks ready to end it. There are probably more engaging performances, more emotionally charged performances and even more meticulous ones this year, but there has hasn't been a more real one.
I love this movie for just how honestly it gets it. It’s important and truly powerful, and I recommend anyone to check it out. It’s not a happy watch, but it’s definitely worthwhile.
Next time: this list concludes with my top 10 favourite movies of the year. You can find out by clicking here and here
Next time: this list concludes with my top 10 favourite movies of the year. You can find out by clicking here and here