Today marks the third anniversary of At The Back and as is now tradition, it’s time for my Top 10 films of the last year. As always I choose this date in late January to try and include as many of the year’s awards frontrunners as I can but with UK release dates still lagging behind the US, some will be included next year (if they make the list). This year’s list includes at least one Oscar winner from last year for this very reason.
It’s been over six months since I’ve written a film review on this site and in that time I’ve changed jobs, moved city and bought a dragon. I’ve still been watching as much as I can but missed more important releases in 2014 than I have in several years. For instance I didn’t get to see Gone Girl, a film which is creeping into many lists I’ve read. Other omissions include American Sniper, Two Days, One Night, Ida and Leviathan. A film I did see which I expected would make my list was Foxcatcher. I haven’t been as disappointed by a film since the first Hobbit. For me it lacked tension throughout and couldn’t be saved by some admittedly fantastic performances.
Films which just missed out included the feel good Pride, a terrific David and Goliath struggle in which two unlikely groups join forces in order to battle a much stronger enemy. The Imitation Game featured a stand out central performance from Benedict Cumberbatch and an under told story while The Theory of Everything provided us with what was in my opinion the greatest performance of the year in the form of Eddie Redmayne’s Stephen Hawking. Under the Skin was a dark and chilling film which stayed with me for a long time while Lego documentary Brick by Brick came at the opposite end of the spectrum, giving me perhaps my most fun cinema experience of the entire year.
10. Locke (dir. Steven Knight)
One of the simplest films I saw all year and certainly one of the cheapest, this $2 million movie is set almost entirely within the confines of one car. It follows a single character played superbly by the ever impressive Tom Hardy as he travels along a British motorway one evening. During the journey which is shot in real time, Locke’s life falls apart without the need for crashes, chases or anything else one associates with cars and the movies. Hardy’s subtle performance keeps the audience gripped as his inner turmoil is beautifully restrained within Hardy’s mannered execution.
9. Interstellar (dir. Christopher Nolan)
Interstellar is another intelligent blockbuster from Christopher Nolan, a man who continues to treat his audience as intellectual adults time after time. His latest offering provides deep thinking with end of the world peril and some beautiful set pieces. Despite a few clunky moments, it’s a thought provoking and thrilling picture. Long may Nolan’s run continue.
8. Nightcrawler (dir. Dan Gilroy)
This is a movie which takes a side swipe at the modern media’s obsession with the gruesome and the macabre. Jake Gyllenhall plays the slimy Lou Bloom, a misfit who finds his passion in filming the aftermath of crashes and crimes which he sells to news companies to splurt all over the TV while America eats its cornflakes. Gyllenhall channels Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin for a career best performance for which he unluckily missed out on Oscar recognition.
7. Dallas Buyers Club (dir. Jean-Marc Vallée)
One of the successes of last year’s awards season, Dallas Buyers Club continues the McConaissance. The film captures the sticky Dallas heat while its low budget enhances the grimy 1980s setting. The costume design is excellent and the story is endearing but it will be remembered in years to come for the terrific Oscar winning performances from Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto.
6. Birdman (dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)
Iñárritu’s movie is like nothing I saw all year. A swooping camera unrestrained by gravity moves about the St. James theatre in New York with editing and cinematography manipulated in order to create the idea that the film is one long take. Though not a unique idea (see Hitchcock’s Rope), the film creates a heady sense of claustrophobia. Time doesn’t exist in the picture as scenes connect seamlessly over hours and days. Great performances are lead by Michael Keaton and Edward Norton while the film is backed up by a wonderful drum based score. The film excels in every area.
5. The Double (dir. Richard Ayoade)
Only two features into his career but Ayoade is quickly becoming one of my favourite filmmakers. Set in a subterranean hinterland of unknowable time and location, the film hits you like a Wes Anderson nightmare in muted colours. Shades of Gilliam’s Brazil flicker by the camera but Ayoade avoids pastiche and leaves with a film that is his own. It’s funny and sad, strange and beautiful. I loved it.
4. Whiplash (dir. Damien Chazelle)
Who wants to watch a film about a college student trying to make it as a drummer? Everyone should on the back of this outstanding film. It hits you in the chest like the pounding of a bass drum and leaves you buzzing like an open high-hat. I’m by no means the first to compare it to a boxing movie but the comparison is apt. The teacher-student, Sergeant Major-recruit, champion-contender roles slot into the field of music here and it works perfectly. I loved the editing while J. K. Simmons is a shoe-in for an Oscar for his role as the villain of the piece, an utterly compelling monster who hides his true self from those he seeks to terrify and teach. It’s the only film all year whose soundtrack I’ve listened to more than once and it deserves all its plaudits.
3. Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater)
This is probably the standout movie of 2014 and in years to come may well define the cinematic year. It’s likely to be the only film released in the last twelve months to make it into Sight and Sound’s top 100 list and all with good reason. Linklater’s experimental film tracks the same actors over twelve years, documenting the growth and development of an ordinary American family and the making of a man. It’s a remarkable feat of achievement but goes beyond the novelty. All around great performances and a twisting plot create an insight into Americana while moments will regress most of us to those awkward adolescent years. Snippets took me back to my own childhood and the movie somehow feels both personal and universal.
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel (dir. Wes Anderson)
Arguably Anderson’s finest film to date, his single vision crafts an exquisite film in which attention to detail is paramount. The geometric symmetry and colour palate fill an appealing frame while a typically unusual plot charts us from beginning to end. Lavish sets and costumes are filmed with long stationary shots and occasional tracking, all adding to the ‘Wes Anderson’ feel of the movie. Its success both financially and critically thrilled me as I’ve been an Anderson fan for years. Ralph Fiennes is magnificent in the lead role, unshackling himself from his oft grumpy persona and showing his comedic range.
1. The LEGO Movie (dir. Phil Lord & Chris Miller)
Yes it’s an advertisement for a toy and yes I had advertisements and product placement but when it’s this well done, I’m willing to change my colours. For me the funniest and most enjoyable film of the year, the film is packed inside an outlandishly wacky and imaginative world, filled with recognisable characters. The film’s wit and charm should not be under estimated and its humour appeals on many levels like all the greatest animation. The movie’s central theme is that of creativity and individualism and no toy typifies this more than Lego. The chief narrative is as unoriginal as a knock-knock joke but it’s surrounded by a colourful universe into which all manner of surprises and jokes are crammed. The animation is top notch with clever CGI building a more home-made stop motion feel. One of the best aspects of the film is its unpredictability. One is never sure where the film will go next and each step forward is more imaginative than the last.