As it’s that time of year, when everyone begins reflecting on the highs and lows of the past twelve months, we decided it was time we did the same with the films we’ve seen in 2014, and thought it was high time to celebrate the year’s biggest, and best. So two of our writers, Matt Wheeldon, and Terry Lewis, came up with their own Top 10 Films of 2014, and presented their opinions below.
While examining the following lists, bear in mind that they’re taken from UK theatrical release dates (from January 1st 2014); meaning some of last year’s US releases, and Oscar contenders, may have made their way onto our lists, and likewise some of the year’s hottest US releases and awards contenders (such as Birdman and Whiplash) were ineligible for inclusion.
Honourable Mentions: Unlucky to miss out was Marvel Studios’ comic answer to Star Wars in Guardians Of The Galaxy. Whilst it was nostalgia filled, rip roaring fun, I’ve plumped for other comic book movies on my list and to be honest whilst I liked the film, I wasn’t in love with it. Seeing Scarlett Johansson in Under The Skin as an humanised alien in Glasgow, Scotland was a lovely bit of sci-fi black comedy and a magnificent performance but this mindbender was too bleak and suffered from an unclear plot. 12 Years A Slave, whilst being a well made and eye opening film, to me was just another African-American history at the end of the day and was perhaps too easily rewarded for being what it is.
22 Jump Street was the best in a year of American comedy films which was better than average with very few duds. Inside Llewyn Davis was Coen Brothers on autopilot yet that alone is immeasurably pleasurable. Finally, a tad lacklustre but Lone Survivor’s cinematography was incredible with plenty of shots where it felt like they threw the camera man along with the stunt guys off a cliff face to capture the uber realism it went for.
10. The Babadook
This little Australian indie gem went largely unnoticed but those who did managed to see this fantastic revival of the horror genre were not left disappointed. A paralysing film to watch which played about with how far a single mother goes in protecting her mentally disturbed son when they accidentally invite a mind games playing monster called The Babadook around to their house. Whilst it does boast one of the best monster designs in a long way while, the real horror lies within the darker side of parenthood brought to life that we all have thoughts about in moments of weakness and are too afraid to talk about. There’s some lovely imagery with the incredibly dark and wrong magical children’s pop-up book with messages of driving the mother and son to their deaths and the low-tech effects suit the monster very well with stop motion being an highly effective method to scare you silly. A personal story and deserving of all the plaudits it receives in a massively welcome and refreshing entry into the horror genre.
9. Edge Of Tomorrow / Live Die Repeat
Confusingly renamed and rebranded for a home media release, this Tom Cruise sci-fi action epic was barely picked up on release but those who did see were in for a treat. I’ll happily be the first to admit how bored witless I am with Cruise releasing a sci-fi action movie every year where he’s exactly the same saviour character but Edge Of Tomorrow gave him the chance to remove those shackles as a sleazy media hound working in the Army’s marketing department. Thinking he’s fine behind the lines whilst the civilised world is being trashed by aliens, he gets shafted and chucked onto the front for the final big push before being splashed with time bending alien goo. From there we are launched into a fantastic blend of Aliens and Groundhog Day with some class action as Cruise wonderfully keeps getting killed over and over again in new and entertaining ways whilst trying to figure out a way to rid Earth of this alien scum once and for all. I can’t quite call it original but the clashing of two science fiction stalwarts are super fun to sit through even if the ending is lame.
8. X-Men: Days Of Future Past
With all the talk recently of certain Marvel Comics characters not doing well at all in the hands of other studios, let’s give out some praise to Fox for making amends for a couple of dodgy entries and delivering to fans and cinemagoers a terrific new X-Men outing. An adaptation of the iconic and fan favourite storyline Days Of Future Past was always going to be a winner but rehiring franchise visionary Bryan Singer was the icing on the cake as he did a job well done. I won’t lie and says it’s perfect with some ludicrous plotholes raised (even for a time travel movie!) but seeing the newer First Class mutants meeting and interacting with the older members of the cast was a damn entertaining moment. The Quicksilver scene also was not only a brilliant power display but one of the most talked about cinema scenes this year. Personally, the war of ideological words in the finale between pacifism and violence was infinitely better than most final showdowns on the big screen this year. A return to form and I can not wait to see what Singer does with the next entry of the X-series in Apocalypse.
7. Next Goal Wins
Whilst the timing of it’s limited release is debatable still, this soccer documentary catapaults you from the glitz, glamour and money of professional football into the heart of the beautiful game in American Samoa. The epic journey of seeing this back-to-basics but passionate group of amateur players overcoming their lowly standing of the world’s worst international soccer team to win a competitive game is incredible. Dripping with enthusiasm, the American Samoa players carry so much pride, it’s eye-opening to see how much people still care for football on this scale. Whilst the stories of the goalkeeper Nicky Salapu flirting with retirement before giving it one last go and Jaiyah Saelua, the first transsexual international soccer player, are highly engaging, strict and firey Dutch coach Thomas Rongen is the star of the show with his methods and passion winning over the players. Despite being so engaging and capturing the beauty of American Samoa, you would have thought it would be primed to get into cinemas during or right before this year’s Football World Cup but hey ho. Worth seeking out if you have any interest in soccer.
6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
In a mixed year for the comic book movie, one had the gall to supersede it’s genre and make a kick-ass action and spy flick whilst propelling the lead hero onwards and upwards. We finally get what we wanted out of a Captain America film – a man out of his own time and comfortable surroundings trying to deal with how the world and what he knows has changed… whilst slinging a shield at goons. Featuring a flat out great twist in the middle which changed the dynamic of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America: The Winter Soldier plays about with the spy movie genre without it feeling out of place in a superhero film. It’s nothing new to see Marvel’s Phase 2 movies to focus on a specific type of film (e.g. Thor 2 is big sprawling fantasy) but seeing Cap being the focus of double crosses and hidden agendas aplenty is a wonderful sight. It helps get the character on a strong footing after a dodgy origin film and we see some awesome development with a former colleague turned into a brainwashed assassin being a great foil for Cap. Stellar action movie and a superb addition to the growing list of great comic book movies.
5. The Wolf Of Wall Street
Essentially ‘what if Martin Scorcese decided to make an excessive comedy film like American Pie‘, the acclaimed director teamed up again with an on-form Leonardo DiCaprio to adapt the memoirs of shamed former New York stock broker turned fraudster Jordan Belfort in the black comedy The Wolf Of Wall Street. An outrageous film made to shock and stun with ongoing themes of power corruption and moral ambiguity, this is a heavy going experience and yet I couldn’t help but get on board with the extravagance of midget tossing, drug blowing and money showers in a despicable display. At times the blackness of the comedy is missed and you can’t help but follow Leo’s Belfort going around with all that cool swagger despite the fact you know he’s a complete dickhead womaniser who had it all and chucked it all away. Whilst the near three hour runtime keeps going & going to get through all of The Wolf Of Wall Street’s points and the final fall of Belfort is rushed, this is a film that’s all about the excess and ludicrousness of wealth and quitting when you’re ahead.
4. Dallas Buyers Club
Dallas Buyers Club sees Matthew McConaughey take on the role of Ron Woodroof, a Texas outlaw electrician whose world comes crashing down when he finds out he has AIDS. Set in the 80’s, this biopic charts how Ron smuggled non-US approved drugs to help prolong the life of many victims. A stirring and moving film with many highs and lows as Ron progresses from a man cursing his fate to ultimately embracing it as his moral compass does a complete 180 as he’s thrown into the same pile of AIDS victims he rejects at first. The McCon and Jared Leto double hit of Best Actor & Supporting Actor respectively at this year’s Oscars solidify this film’s validity, with Leto’s sterling job as a transsexual AIDS victim and McConaughey loosing an amazing amount of weight to add to Ron proving to be a success. A heavy film but one which must be seen for the best acting from this year’s stellar line-up of the award season.
Jake Gyllenhaal is gunning for 2015 awards season with this low-key but transcendent crime thriller. In this turn as the iconic and defining role of Lou Bloom, Gyllenhaal plays a committed but scummy man trying to get that jump start in life. After being inspired by the first responder TV camera crew filming a fresh car accident, Lou sets out on his own venture to do the same. He quickly learns the ropes, the do’s and don’t’s of first response filmmaking and the level he has to – and worringly, willing to – go to get his hands on and exclusive. It’s eye-opening to see how local regional journalism on American television tries to out do one another to get their hands on ratings drawing footage in a disturbing look at how footage of mangled bodies are out important than other issues. The character of Lou fits into this and his sickening twisted psyche and manipulative methods help him thrive, in situations where he beats the police to an accident so he moves bodies about to get a better shot. Disgustingly wonderful and engrossing viewing. My favourite aspect is how non-Hollywood Lou’s rise in his career and the ending is. He is a stain on humanity and does some incredibly dodgy things to further himself… and he’s rewarded for it constantly. It’s that thought that has kept this movie in my mind since seeing it. Gyllenhaal has won me over already for 2015’s awards with his performance here in Nightcrawler but actually scooping it is another issue. Be a shame for him not to get some reward for such a career highmark.
My absolute favourite of a stellar batch of movies come Oscar time this year. Spike Jonze never does anything less than interesting and you can’t really fail when you have a divorced man exploring a relationship with his computer operating system and seeing how that pans out. Joaquin Phoenix is a man reborn as Theodore and Scarlett Johansson is flat out sexy as the voice of Samantha the operating system and it’s crazy to see how good the chemistry is without actually the two meeting on screen so to speak. A real testament to Phoenix’s acting capabilities and it is a shame he was overlooked for Best Actor gongs. The dialogue is sharp, witty and realistic making Her worth of plenty of Best Screenplay awards. The best element is the beautiful cinematography which gives the film a sci-fi vibe whilst grounding it as essentially a film about how we look at human relationships and getting on with life after loss. Sexy. Stunning. Sublime.
1. The Raid 2: Berandal
I was blown away with Welsh director Gareth Evans single handily revived the action film genre with his Dredd-esque, brutal martial arts Tower climb fest in The Raid. It was all the more impressive when you learn about how he was non-starting in western cinema so through friends and contacts in Eastern martial arts got his big break in Indonesian instead. The fights and action spots were fresh, original and resulted in one of the finest action films ever made. With a fear of sequel-itus I was hesitant with the announcement of a sequel but I needan’t have bothered – Evans has crafted an epic crime thriller loaded with stunning action in The Raid 2: Berandal. Nothing from western cinema has come close to the shattering yet fantastic physical fight sequences featured here, set against the backdrop of an impressive crime story to rival the likes of Goodfellas and The Godfather. It doesn’t forget to perfectly balance the seriousness of the plot with creative and diverse characters and comedy moments such as a hitgirl with an obsession for hammers and a hobo taking on a legion of goons in a nightclub. The absolute highlight is the ferociously intense final showdown in a restaurant kitchen between Rama and The Assassin which is bloody and violent but in a beautiful way as the fight builds to a crescendo with the music as Rama finally puts down this dog-like killer. This film deserves to be seen and respected by anyone with appreciation for their sense of sight – no hyperbole.
Honourable Mentions: Sadly, and rather pathetically for someone who writes about movies daily, I missed out on many of the year’s bigger releases, and some of the films which have made it onto many other top-ten-lists this year (films such as Interstellar, Boyhood, Gone Girl, and The Rover), so couldn’t include them on my list. Other films worth noting include the likes of The Guest (possibly the best “there’s a psycho living in your house” movie for years), Paddington (a truly charming, wonderfully British, proper family film which is perfect for people of all ages), The Lego Movie (one of the biggest, most original, and hilariously funny children’s movies released this year), and The Imitation Game (a well acted biopic of one of the men most influential to the allied success during World War II).
10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
It may not have earned a glowing write-up in my review, and felt like it lacked the emotional impact of the first film, but Dawn of the Planet of the Apes did enough to become the highest grossing film in the UK this summer. Again featuring breathtaking VFX, the civilisation of the apes has never been realised as well, or as realistically, as with Dawn. Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell proved their work as not only mo-cap actors, but character actors, by giving life to head-ape Caesar and his general Koba, while Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke headlined the human camp which effectively mirrored that of the apes, and whilst one of the main problems with Dawn was knowing exactly how the story was going to play out (the war was not only inevitable, but foretold), the Dawn of The Planet of the Apes was fraught with emotion, tragedy, betrayal, and action, and was a journey well worth taking,
9. X-Men: Days Of Future Past
After X-2 the X-Men franchise took a bit of a downturn; nobody liked The Last Stand, and the first Wolverine got a bit of a bad rap; but First Class was excellent, and with Bryan Singer returning as a director the hopes were high for Days Of Future Past; the film which bridged the gap between the original and prequel franchises, brought both casts together, and used a time travel tale to not only fully restore all the goodwill lost with the previous and dwindling trilogy, but effectively undo the bad movies we sat through several years ago. Featuring not only one of the most talked about scenes of the year (Quicksilver’s super-speed kitchen rumble with several security bods), but a great cast, a fan-favourite comic-book plot, and the eye of the director who started the X-Men movie franchise, Days Of Future Past became one of the best X-Movies to date, and puts us in good stead for the coming Apocalypse.
Unfortunately living in the shadow of his more successful younger brother (Martin McDonagh, writer/director of In Bruges), John Michael McDonagh delivered another brilliant film which unfortunately slipped under the radar. Written and directed by John, Calvary (his first film since the hugely funny Irish black comedy The Guard) was, in a word, dark. Headlined by the always watchable Brendan Gleeson it told the tale of a priest who was told, in confessional, that he would be murdered the following Sunday, and what followed was not only a mystery (who was planning on murdering the fair priest?), but another black comedy, and a hard drama, with a scant look at the abuses committed by the Catholic church in Ireland, and an examination of faith as a whole which proved a hugely compelling watch, but was difficult to market, and like much of the brothers’ work, didn’t fit into any one genre alone.
7. 22 Jump Street
“It’s like 21 Jump Street, but one better”, that’s what I said when I reviewed 22 Jump Street; the Phil Lord and Chris Miller comedy which was a straight-up re-hash of the first film in every way imaginable, yet still a laugh-a-minute movie thanks to the chemistry between leads Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. Infiltrating a local college in the search for drugs, and bringing one-liners, slapstick, and meta comedy while on the way delivering a fun, witty, brilliantly self-aware comedy with a playful attitude which carried it through to huge success, it’s no wonder 22 Jump Street is the most memorable comedy of the year.
6. Edge Of Tomorrow / Live Die Repeat
Despite the fact it may not have hit the Box Office numbers the studio was hoping for, and went through a strange, complicated, and not entirely well executed rebranding upon home release, the Tom Cruise action/sci-fi movie Edge of Tomorrow was actually a very good watch. Tom’s recent releases have been a bit hit and miss, and if I’m totally honest I hated the ending of Edge of Tomorrow (it just felt too forced, happy, not entirely fitting, and could’ve been massively improved by either finishing a couple of minutes earlier, or with two days of reshoots), but the first hour and 45 minutes were fantastic for concept alone; basically merging Warhammer 40k, with Groundhog Day, and placing Tom Cruise as the day-repeating soldier tasked with saving the entire world. With great special effects, decent turns from both Cruise and Emily Blunt, and a refreshing (not entirely original, but still refreshing) concept, it was worth catching.
5. Dallas Buyers Club
Initially skeptical about not only the subject matter, but whether or not it could maintain interest for two hours, Dallas Buyers Club was my surprise hit of the year. It may not have broken the Box Office like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, been advertised as widely as 22 Jump Street, or even seen as much mainstream media coverage as The Imitation Game, but Dallas Buyers Club; the tale of a redneck electrician who discovers he has AIDS, in the mid ‘80s, and went on to research and distribute a host of non-US approved drugs in order to treat, and extend the lives, of hundreds of AIDS patients; was, in a word, fantastic.
Not only spurred on by stunning performances from Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto (who unsurprisingly won Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively at the 86th Academy Awards), Dallas Buyers Club gave us a glimpse into a world we may not have known existed; telling the real-life tale of a man who fought the system, well past his expiration date, and not only helped hundreds of people, but proved there’s a different way of doing things. A truly thought-provoking gem of a film.
4. The Raid 2: Berandal
Anyone who saw the sensational Indonesian action movie The Raid (from Welsh director Gareth Evans) should’ve been immensely excited for the release of The Raid 2: Berandal, and thankfully Evans’ return to Indonesian action was not only a return to form, but an action-topping thrill ride from start to finish, beginning at the close of the first film, and sending our hero undercover for another action-packed adventure. Not only do the huge, visceral, and unbelievably well shot and choreographed action sequences top that of the original, but the plot manages to do the same; building on the very Dredd-like first film, and crafting a true crime epic with some fantastic characters, which both expand the world, and the enjoyment of The Raid, and make The Raid 2: Berandal a true must-watch for any fan of action, or martial arts, movies.
3. The Wolf Of Wall Street
When you hear Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have teamed up once again you expect something good to come of it. What you may not have expected, was The Wolf of Wall Street; the oddly comedic biopic, black comedy/drama based on the life of Wall Street trader Jordan Belfort; A film which perfectly showcased only the debauched lifestyle led by The Wolf, but his meteoric rise, the corruption involved, and how easily it would be to get sucked in to, and thoroughly enjoy, such a life of excess, whilst mirroring it with the perils, stresses, and emotional toll of the inevitable downfall. A sensational biopic, which was equally fun and dramatic, and thoroughly deserved the five Academy Award nominations it received at the last Oscar ceremony.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy
While I do watch many a comic-book movie, and begrudgingly enjoy many of Marvel’s efforts (this year both Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Thor: The Dark World were very enjoyable, and far better than their respective predecessors) I’m one of the people who dislikes seeing cinema schedules over-populated with a multitude of superhero movies, but Guardians of the Galaxy was a different beast entirely; whilst it has its place within the Marvel universe, Guardians works entirely as a stand-alone property, and was a hugely bold and ambitious project; taking a lesser known comic franchise, with no superheroes, and a sci-fi setting, and billing it as a summer tentpole. It was mad, it had some ridiculous concepts (a racoon with a rocket launcher, and a talking tree), but it was fun as hell and reminded me what a good sci-fi could be.
Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the best sci-fi films in years, an all-out comedy with brilliant special effects, a cogent enough plot, a fantastic bunch of characters (it’s hard to find another group which works so well together, and where you’ll be a fan of every single member), and a healthy dollop of wonder and amazement. Thankfully not taking itself too seriously, and reminding us that movies can be big, bold, and pure unadulterated fun, it’s a great film, and hardly surprising it topped the US Box Office this summer.
How could anyone not enjoy Nightcrawler? It’s by far and away the best film released this year, because it not only succeeds on every single level; with slick direction, a masterful and scarily believable plot, and not only strong performances from the cast as a whole, but a great score. The story of the slimy Lou Bloom’s entrance into the world of TV news is not only refreshingly original, provides a real commentary on the people who live those sorts of lives, and takes a hard look at the industry itself, but does so by presenting us with one of the best, and most memorable, modern-day psychopaths to grace the big screen; delivered via a career defining performance from the fantastic Jake Gyllenhaal. Nightcrawler is a film which demands to be seen, and belongs in your DVD collection.
Agree with our lists? Think we both made a glaring omission or included something which has no place being on any ‘Best Of’ list? Or simply want to talk about the films we have mentioned? You can get involved and let us know in the comments section below.