Merry Christmas to all! I’ve been writing these lists since 2009 and if you’re Facebook friends with me, you can read the old lists on my Facebook Notes.
Some points before we begin:
- To be eligible, a film had to be released for the first time in the UK in 2014. I thought about changing the rule this year because I’ve spent three months in NZ, but in the end I left it the same for simplicity.
- Obviously this list is only drawn from films I’ve watched. There are probably loads of good films I haven’t seen. Moving to NZ in particularly has rather limited my cinema trips.
- It seems to be fashionable these days to criticise this sort of list as self-indulgent and irrelevant. As if previously film journalism was changing the world. Screw it, I like making lists.
- X-Men: Days of Future Past
“The past: a new and uncertain world. A world of endless possibilities and infinite outcomes. Countless choices define our fate: each choice, each moment, a moment in the ripple of time. Enough ripple, and you change the tide… for the future is never truly set.”
This was the year of surprisingly-smart and surprisingly-decent blockbusters. Godzilla, Edge of Tomorrow, heck even Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, all showed that it was possible to combine action with atmosphere, plot, even character! X-Men: Days of Future Past was the best example to my mind, building an engaging, trippy story around interesting people with real moral dilemmas. Throw into the mix some genuinely innovative action (everyone cites the Quicksilver scene, but it’s the opening sequence that stands out for me) and you have the best of a frequently strong franchise.
“Look. Look and fucking learn. I drove in this direction and there will be a new person when I get there. Yes, because of that night. Constructed out of two bottles of wine and somebody feeling lonely. How could you ever beat that for a construction?”
A real risk of a film, Locke takes a super-high-concept concept (an entire film about one guy on the phone in his car) and then plays it almost bewilderingly low-key. One might imagine this Big Idea played out with a hostage negotiator as its main character, but hardly a construction foreman. Tom Hardy spends the night fighting with the consequences of an affair, an urgent concrete pour and a strained Welsh accent. Not a car chase or a life-or-death situation in sight. The fact that it remains so tense, involving and thought-provoking is a testament to the supreme skill and strength of the script.
- Gone Girl
“You two are the most fucked up people I’ve ever met and I deal with fucked up people for a living.”
I’ve already waxed lyrical about Gone Girl once this year, so there’s not much more to be said. This is surely as strong a film as could be made from the melodramatic source material, with the director David Fincher proving the perfect counter-balance with his precise, layered style. Fincher is so on top of his game right now that I’d pay money to watch his adaptation of my breakfast.
- Guardians of the Galaxy
“On my planet, we have a legend about people like you. It’s called Footloose. And in it, a great hero, named Kevin Bacon, teaches an entire city full of people with sticks up their butts that, dancing, well, is the greatest thing there is.”
Oh come on, how could you not like this film? Pure popcorn entertainment from start to finish, it whizzes by in a rainbow-coloured blur of fast action, solid humour and great 80s music. I’m not always sold on Marvel’s formula for superhero movies – I tend to like mine with a bit more substance, a la The Dark Knight – but if you’re going to go wry, silly and no-nonsense fun, then at least Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t hedge its bets. This is a proper rollercoaster with more than a hint of Star Wars about it. And I mean good Star Wars.
“Perhaps we’ve just forgotten that we are still pioneers. And we’ve barely begun. And that our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, because our destiny lies above us.”
Again, I’ve written such a long article on this film already that I’d simply advise you to go read it if you want to know what I think. Ultimately this is always going to be a divisive movie; frankly I feel schizophrenic about it myself. It could – and perhaps should – be so much better. The script is appallingly clunky at times and there are some terrible narrative choices. Still, it’s an ambitious, often spectacular piece of cinema, and at times deeply moving. Whether it holds up on the small screen remains to be seen, but Nolan is still one of the masters of Event Movies.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
“You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh, fuck it.”
Wes Anderson remains an acquired taste. Each successive film gets more Wes Anderson-y, so ripe for parody that actually its pointless, because you can’t exaggerate his style, you can only copy it. More recently, he’s managed to ally the overwhelming whimsy with stronger narratives, resulting in some of his best work. Fantastic Mr Fox and Moonrise Kingdom were both excellent, and The Grand Budapest Hotel is at least as good. Clever, hilarious and filmed with such care that it’s like carefully thumbing through a pristine pop-up picture book.
“What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you for this? I mean physically.”
Okay, final time I’m going to say this, but maybe just go read my review. This was easily one of the most welcome surprises I had at the cinema this year. Taut, unsettling and consistently surprising, Nightcrawler is a fully immersive thriller that makes you realise what a voyeuristic asshole you are by tricking you into rooting for someone who spends his life filming tragedy. He craves it, and by the end of the film, so do you. You bastard.
- Inside Llewyn Davis
“If it was never new, and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song.”
Look, I’m actually going to grant that you may not like this film. For those who have never been convinced by The Coen Brothers, this film marks a new high-mark of Coen-ness: elliptical storytelling, oddball characters, an almost oppressive air of downbeat surrealness. In terms of their own work, it’s most similar to A Serious Man, another tale of a frustratingly passive protagonist whose life sucks. But where A Serious Man is a grand existential tale, Inside Llewyn Davis is more intimate and (slightly) more optimistic. The Coen Brothers have their own rhythm and their own unique way of viewing the world. The day they stop making films will be a sad day indeed.
“Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.”
Writer and director Spike Jonze takes the soft focus of indie film-making to daring new heights with an entire film shot slightly out-of-focus. I’m kind of joking, but I’m sure there were times when the only non-blurry detail I could make out was Joaquin Phoenix’s nose. Still, the cinematography goes a long way to establishing the ethereal quality of this wonderfully original and inventive film. I’ll hold my hands up and admit that I love films about love. Not romantic comedies, but films that treat it seriously and try to explore its complex, torturous nature. And if you want a film about the torturous, complex nature of love, look no further. This is as good as it gets.
“What’s the point? I mean, I sure as shit don’t know. Neither does anybody else, okay? We’re all just winging it, you know? The good news is you’re feeling stuff. And you’ve got to hold on to that.”
Yes, it’s practically everyone’s favourite film of the year. Yes, I wish I could be more original. However I can’t in good faith bump this film down just to be edgy. It really is the best film of the year, a compulsive, honest and beautifully simple tale that also happens to be a genre-defining recalibration of what cinema can be. It’s hard to believe that anyone could remain unaffected by its universal themes of Growing Up, observed with subtlety, grace and poignancy by director Richard Linklater. This film is surely his magnum opus, a stylistic culmination of so much of his oeuvre. What really makes this film work is that it isn’t about its central gimmick. The fact that it was shot over ten years is inspiring, but the film doesn’t rest on the idea. Indeed it glides over it with barely any fuss at all, leaving only the actors’ appearances and a smartly-observed soundtrack as your guide to the passage of time. This film isn’t about the Big Moments, it’s about finding the meaning in the small ones – the idea that life is a succession of small moments that add up to something more. You may already be sick of hearing about it, but it’s going to be a landmark in cinema for decades to come, so if you haven’t already seen it, may as well just get it done, right?