2014: Films of the Year

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IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER. SCROLL DOWN FOR A SPOTIFY PLAYLIST OF FAVOURITE SONGS AND SCORES FROM FILM AND TV OF 2014, OR CLICK HERE TO OPEN!

Boyhood

The method of its creation has much been talked about, but the real achievement of Boyhood is that the result is so impressively cohesive. Though Boyhood may be the title and it is told through the eyes of Ellar Coltrane’s youth, it’s as much about the changing lives of Ethan Hawke as the father and especially Patricia Arquette as the mother. I was constantly impressed with the vintage detail, only to remember that of course it was filmed at the time, hence its accuracy. It’s true that different people will take different things from it, as you get out what you put in, but Richard Linklater’s trick is to create a sense of memory, documenting the smaller moments that stay with you as much as the big ones. Funny, touching and engrossing.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson at his most whimsical and artificial, but also at his funniest, making it something of a surprise box office success, though richly deserved. A game cast filled with many Anderson regulars and welcome newcomers delights, but it is Ralph Fiennes in a rare comic leading turn who is the film’s crowning glory and will no doubt be a performance to return to for years to come.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Me and Marvel don’t exactly have the greatest track record. Whereas seemingly everyone else has been won over by their superhero formula, none of their output, not even The Avengers or this year’s well-received Captain America: The Winter Soldier, would trouble more than a three star grade from yours truly. That was until Guardians of the Galaxy, that had all the colour, fun, and character that seems to be missing from most non-animated blockbusters of today and I even went to see it twice. Four stars.

The Guest

Adam Wingard builds on the black comic excess of You’re Next with a throwback to 80’s style thrillers and chillers, indebted to the works of John Carpenter for instance, but also working as a smart inversion, or even subversion, of the handsome but dangerous loner of Ryan Gosling in Drive. Dan Stevens as the titular Guest delivers some amazing moments of non-verbal acting, and the film’s weird energy and humour had me grinning throughout.

Her

Spike Jonze remains one of the most interesting and visionary directors around, but with an Academy Award for best original screenplay here too, it felt like recognition for how his craft goes beyond simply the visual and technical. That being said, the world of Her is brilliantly realised, a beautiful, clear and believable near-future in terms of its style and fashion. And as far as love stories between humans and inanimate objects go (which is quite a developed subgenre), it feels genuine. A lovely and imaginative work.

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The Lego Movie

The third Chris Pratt movie to make my list (great job!), The Lego Movie exceeded all expectations, thanks to directing team Christopher Miller and Phil Lord. Having proved their talent with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street (and the mildly disappointing 22 Jump Street released later in the year), Lord and Miller’s manic meta humour was in no way diluted, with franchise cameos galore, while reminding us all why we love Lego so much. Paddington came close, but this was the family film of the year.

Moebius

Though still trying to maintain my interest in Asian cinema, my viewing was somewhat scattershot this year, relying primarily on festival screenings. Of those Sion Sono’s Tokyo Tribe and Testuya Nakashima’s The World of Kanako offered some great moments but issues aplenty. Ryota Nakano’s Capturing Dad was dry, well-observed and (unlike most Japanese cinema nowadays) short and to the point. The Raid 2 improved upon the well-regarded original, even if I wasn’t much of a fan, by opening the story out and expanding the variety of ways people could get awfully hurt, and there was a solid remake of Unforgiven from Lee Sang-il.

However, it was Kim Ki-Duk’s Moebius that proved most memorable. It plays like a particularly violent Greek tragedy, as an already dysfunctional family is torn apart by a husband’s infidelity and a wife’s horrific act against their son. And that’s just the starting point. Uncomfortable viewing certainly, but there is a grim comic streak running through, as father and son weirdly bond over their discovery of pleasure through pain. If you have the stomach for it, Moebius is a slice of madness to be experienced.

Nightcrawler

It’s not often you see a film unlike anything else, but Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut Nightcrawler feels both like a product of the 70’s and something completely new. In Lou Bloom, Jake Gyllenhaal totally inhabits a character you can’t keep your eyes off – human in form only, armed with internet-sourced business patter, defective moral compass and sleazeball charisma. He is ably assisted with support from Riz Ahmed, Rene Russo and the always welcome Bill Paxton in a film that works equally well as satire and thriller. Also, I would pay good money for a videogame version – think Grand Theft Auto meets Pokemon Snap.

We Are The Best!

Though Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank offered an entertaining and touching insight into the creative process of a troubled ‘genius’ – as well as some brilliant songs  – it was Lukas Moodysson’s We Are The Best! that had my favourite fictional band of the year, as a trio of girls in 1982 Stockholm are determined to prove punk’s not dead. Though the story follows predictable enough beats, the naturalistic and energetic performances from its young leads make the film a constant joy.

Whiplash

Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash has been one of the buzz films of 2014 (though technically released in the UK in 2015 – check last year’s list for Inside Llewyn Davis and Under the Skin!), and it is easy to see why. What looks on the surface like a typical teacher-pupil relationship story is in fact closer to the opening to Full Metal Jacket than anything, but with jazz drumming instead of military training. It’s raw in its depiction of bullying, and both J.K Simmons and Miles Teller make for terrific sparring partners. For only his second film (and at only my age), it is shot with confidence and style, with some of the most tense and electrifying sequences this year.

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