2014 is over and it was another memorable year for film (how will we ever forget ‘The Interview’ debacle?) even if box office attendance hit its biggest low for twenty years.
I managed to get to 126 films at a cinema in 2014 which was considerably down from 2013 but I think last year offered up better quality films on a more consistent basis. The Summer blockbusters weren’t quite as great as I was expecting but the slew of great indies and small budget films I saw more than made up for it. I also had another great trip to TIFF and looks like that will definitely be an annual trip now. The vibe out in Toronto and the opportunity to see films months before they go on general release makes it a great experience.
Below is my best and worst of film in 2014 (note, this only includes films I saw at a cinema because I’m slightly OCD about my lists…)
10. The Imitation Game
This biopic of the pioneering British computer scientist Alan Turing was fascinating from start to finish, explaining how he helped the Allies win the second world war by cracking the Enigma code that the Nazi’s used to relay messages. He was then later persecuted for being homosexual. Benedict Cumberbatch puts in a career best performance so far as Turing, making a slightly aloof character likeable while Keira Knightley is also great as fellow codebreaker Joan Clarke. Director Morten Tyldum made what could have been a boring history lesson into something insightful and inspirational but doesn’t pull any punches with a gut punch of an ending. ‘The Imitation Game’ deservedly won the People’s Choice Award at TIFF in 2014.
9. I Origins
Starring Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Pitt and indie darling Brit Marling, this sci-fi drama exceeded all my expectations, weaving a complex tale of love, life and reincarnation all linked by the study of eyes. The science talk and certain themes of the film won’t be for everyone but I found ‘I Origins’ engrossing from start to finish and marks writer/director Mike Cahill out as one to watch. Pitt and Marling are both excellent too, Marling is definitely going to be a big star. Also wins for one of the most shocking and innovative death scenes of the year!
8. Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
Set 10 years after ‘Rise’, the human race has almost completely been wiped out by the ALZ virus and Caesar has become the leader of a new generation of the Apes. With the remaining humans threatened by the Apes dominance, the tension rises as they attack the Apes habitat and Caesar has to choose between war or trying to keep the peace. Director Matt Reeves successfully cranks everything up a notch from ‘Rise’ with Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke proving to be more than able replacements for James Franco who doesn’t return to his original role. The real winner here though is mo-cap maestro Andy Serkis who brings incredible emotional depth to the role of Caesar, making the character identifiable and sympathetic.
7. Fruitvale Station
Although technically a 2013 film, ‘Fruitvale Station’ wasn’t released in UK cinemas until 2014 and unfortunately didn’t get the attention it deserved. A re-telling of the events that led to the real life killing of Oscar Grant by a police officer at the eponymous rail station in San Francisco, ‘Fruitvale Station’ was one of the most devastating films of the year. Up and coming star Michael B. Jordan (The Wire, Chronicle) excels in the role of Grant, displaying attitude and tenderness at the right times while the supporting cast of Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer provide the emotional undercurrent that makes the ending you know is coming even more harrowing.
6. Guardians Of The Galaxy
At the start of last year, who would have thought that a talking raccoon, a tree creature, a green skinned alien, that bloke from Parks & Recreation and Dave Bautista would have come together to create one of the most enjoyable films of 2014? ‘Guardians’ was a bold move for Marvel and it paid off handsomely, being the funniest and freshest thing the studio have delivered since the first Iron Man. The space opera aesthetic of the film reminded me of the much loved ‘Firefly’ while the 70’s inspired soundtrack only made it that much cooler. “We Are Groot” was also the best and most poignant line of 2014. The Avengers suddenly have some competition!
5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Another sequel in the list that was superior to its first instalment, ‘The Winter Soldier’ took the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe to the uninitiated) to new and exciting places with a gritty espionage tale that had repercussions for the future of Marvel films and S.H.I.E.L.D. in particular. Directors Joe & Anthony Russo combined bone crunching fight scenes, an increase in practical effects and deft use of CGI to enhance the story of Steve Rogers (a dependable Chris Evans) as he comes to terms with living in a modern world. ‘The Winter Soldier’ felt more character driven than other recent Marvel fare and the only slight disappointment was that the bad guy himself didn’t get more screen time. Not as fun as ‘Guardians’ but a better all around film is my (probably controversial) opinion. The Russo brothers will return to direct the next Cap sequel ‘Civil War’ which promises to be spectacular.
Has there ever been a role more suited to Michael Keaton than this? ‘Birdman’ or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), to give it its full title sees Keaton as an actor famous for formerly playing a superhero who is struggling to balance his ego and his family life while mounting a “serious” Broadway play that he hopes will revive his career. The role will surely win Keaton an Oscar nomination but Birdman features probably the best ensemble cast of the year with Ed Norton, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts all at the top of their game. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu and his DOP Emmanuel Lubezski deserve extra praise for the amazing cinematography, with most of the film being shot in what seems like one continuous take. The camerawork and jazz drumming score lend a frantic, kinetic energy to a film that is practically pitch black perfect.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, an ambitious man without a calling card in life who stumbles upon the underground world of freelance crime journalism in Los Angeles. Bloom proves himself to be quite handy with a camera and enlists an assistant (Riz Ahmed) to help him set up his own company and sell his footage to local news editor (Rene Russo). As Bloom takes more risks, his demands become increasingly erratic and his sociopathic tendencies get gradually worse.
Jake Gyllenhaal deserves a lot of credit for playing such an unhinged and despisable character and actually getting you to care about what him. His lack of empathy and a moral compass is always laced with a charming or witty aside that makes Lou Bloom one of the more unique sociopaths in recent film history. The film looks and feels just as seedy as Bloom with first time director Gilroy capturing the danger and grime of LA’s streets perfectly while Londoner Ahmed is a perfect foil for Gyllenhaal.
Like passing by a car accident such as the ones that Bloom records, ‘Nightcrawler’ will make you feel uncomfortable but you won’t be able to take your eyes off of it.
2. Edge Of Tomorrow
Surely the most underrated film of 2014 was ‘Edge Of Tomorrow’? In terms of pure fun and spectacle, this Tom Cruise action vehicle set the bar the highest out of the Summer films with it’s simple premise of ‘Live. Die. Repeat.’ Watching Cruise die in combat over and over again could have become tiresome (or extremely satisfying depending on your opinion on the man) but director Doug Liman added a serious amount of humour and inventiveness as Cruise transforms from cowardly PR officer to battle hardened warrior in the war against a future alien race. The films time loop element, though done before, feels fresh in ‘Edge Of Tomorrow’ and on his day, Cruise is still the best and biggest film star in the world. ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ was his most charming and flexible turn in years. Backed up superbly by Emily Blunt, who proved to be just as adept at kicking arse, ‘Edge Of Tomorrow’ was everything a trip to your local cinema should be.
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson proved himself to be master of the whimsy and escapism yet again in 2014 with ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, a funny and stylish treat with an outstanding lead performance from Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes plays Gustave, a concierge at the fictional Grand Budapest Hotel who flees with his young bellboy (newcomer Tony Revolori) after being framed for murder. Fiennes is a revelation, displaying a sense of wit and comic timing that you didn’t know he had in his locker while the rest of the large ensemble cast look like they’re having the time of their lives. Anderson fills the screen with his usual blend of lush visuals and a heightened sense of reality that draws you in for the duration of this weird but wonderful two hour ride.
Honorable mentions: The Wolf of Wall Street, Inside Llewyn Davis, Calvary, Tracks, The Judge, Foxcatcher, Maps To The Stars, Get On Up, Selma, The Drop
This was the closest I’ve come to walking out on a film since the awful ‘Movie 43’ but I saw it through to the bitter, unfunny end. Lots of swearing and smut but barely any laughs as Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz sleepwalk through a plot that involves a couple who accidentally give iPads with their home sex tape on to all their friends and co-workers. The only time I laughed was a scene involving Rob Lowe listening to Slayer and even the novelty of that wore off after a few seconds. Truly dismal.
MOST OVERRATED FILM
Probably a controversial choice and don’t get me wrong, I did like ‘Boyhood’ but I feel if it wasn’t for the novelty of the film being shot over the space of 12 years, this coming of age drama could have been written off as another forgettable indie. The performances are good, especially from Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette but there’s something slightly mundane about it that for me, doesn’t make it worthy of all the plaudits it’s received.
MOST UNDERRATED FILM
Next Goal Wins
Another gem that went largely unnoticed, ‘Next Goal Wins’ is a documentary about the American Samoa national football team who have the indignity of being the world’s worst team. Picking up after a world record 31-0 loss to Australia, a British camera crew follow new Dutch coach Thomas Rongen to Samoa as he tries to transform the squad which includes the first ever fa’afafine player to take the stage in an International qualifier. Not just a sports documentary, ‘Next Goal Wins’ showcases the spirit in the face of adversity of the Samoan people while there are plenty of fist pumping moments as the team finally begin to perform at a World stage.
BEST ACTORS (MALE)
Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton in Birdman
David Oyelowo in Selma
Chadwick Boseman in Get On Up
Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street
BEST ACTORS (FEMALE)
Mia Wasikowska in Tracks
Emma Stone in Birdman
Kristen Wiig in Welcome To Me
Julianne Moore in Maps To The Stars
Sally Hawkins in X + Y