Another year rolls around and with it comes my God given right to spout all opinionated-like about the best and worst films of 2014.
On the surface 2014 looked to be a bit of a filler year between the dense release schedule of 2013 and the goliath blockbuster year that will be 2015. Not much of promise seemed to be on the horizon when the year first started and accordingly I visited the cinema far less than I have in about a decade (partially because of the aforementioned reason, but, it has to be said, sometimes real life got in the way too).
Somewhat ironically, whittling this year’s list of best films down was quite difficult due to the fact that I had many more contenders to choose from than usual. On most years 25-30 frontrunners have to be paired back to the chosen 20, but this year it was more like 40, with three quarters of the final choices comprised of films that I had little to no expectation of going in.
A handful of my top films of the year, I suspect, will be on many of your lists, others, big films and small, will be a bit of a surprise and there might even be one or two on there that you haven’t heard of. So here we go, as always, listed in the order they were watched, my top 20 films of 2014.
The Wolf of Wall Street
The Lego Movie
Captain America: Winter Soldier
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Edge of Tomorrow
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Cold In July
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead
So let’s get the Drama films out of the way so’s I can address a possible point of controversy. Depending on where in the world you’re from The Wolf of Wall Street could potentially be a 2013 film; I happen to have seen it this year and found it to be so funny and affecting that I simply couldn’t leave it from the list on a technicality. Scorsese seems to have come full circle in his career and is making films with the same approach that fresh, young talent should be. Quirky/funny dramas of quality seemed to be a theme this year with Jon Favreau’s Chef and the Bill Murray starring St. Vincent making big waves for films with such small, easygoing concepts, mainly due to their genuine heart-feltedness; a trait shared with the slightly more serious The Judge, a film that would have felt at home in the 90s, with it’s small town aesthetics, courtroom drama and moralistic lessons, tied together with an A-list cast that included Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall. Less emotional, though still an engaging character piece, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (see full review) made actual cinema history by being the first film to chronicle the real aging process of its characters by shooting for just a few days a year through a twelve year period; very risky but very rewarding.
Keeping things serious, we move on to thrillers, of which there has been more than the average amount of crackers, the first of which was the nearest thing to a British film to have made it on to the list. Calvary (see full review) is a pitch-black semi-comedy from Ireland, by the same team that brought us The Guard; much less funny than that film, Calvary instead sports the remarkable kind of set-up AND conclusion that stays with you… well, it hasn’t left me yet. Just as dark was the criminally under-watched Cold in July (see full review), from the dudes who did Stake Land and based on a novel by Joe R. Lansdale, set in the 80s, this thriller twists several times so that there is no point where you’ll be able to guess where it’s going, and it goes to some pretty dark places. The Guest (see full review) is a balls-out, over-the-top, 80s centric, Carpenter inspired flick that is fun as hell, even if a pinch of salt is required to help it down. More slick and mainstream but no less unpredictable was Fincher’s latest offering, Gone Girl, which proved that decent budget cinema can still be successful when aimed squarely at grown-ups.
On to the comic movies, with Marvel stealing all the glory for themselves with both their in-house and outsourced properties. Looking right away like it was going to be frontrunner for best film of the year, Captain America: Winter Soldier (see full review) took the shaky foundations of the first movie and, with incredible vision, turned the franchise into one of Marvel’s best. Despite my confidence in James Gunn, I thought for sure that Winter Soldier had sunk Guardians of The Galaxy (see full review) as a sellable commodity, then it came and I was so wrong that it’s laughable; a lesson in expert marketing, Guardians out-shined the hype by being probably the most fun and heart-warming sci-fi film since Serenity. A choice many will disagree with is The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which, yes, is the most flawed film on the list (blame it on some of the senseless things that happen within the villains’ storylines), but the chemistry between Garfield and Stone was so palpable that it gave the film the kind of emotional punch that overrules all that other stuff, and was the leading factor for why it (only just) beat X-Men to the list.
Guardians besides, it was a hell a year for smart and really quite varied sci-fi. With the unlikely Her, Spike Jones showed us that he could write as well as he can direct. This quiet, intelligent and emotional offering is more character-drama/romance than anything else but it all hangs on a sci-fi hook that is just wonderful to look at. Right at the other end of the sci-fi spectrum was the loud and destructive Edge of Tomorrow (see full review), which though inspired by very obvious sources, had a surgically tight story that was brilliantly realised; Cruise haters, get over it for a spell or you’ll miss a treat. Strongly allegorical and about as subtle as a power-tool with it, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (see full review) retained the emotion and excitement of the first film while improving on the FX side no end. Debuting at festivals this year, but perhaps a film more suited to next years list, Predestination could have been one to miss, being that it was from the team that brought us the unexceptional vampire flick, Daybreakers, but with a logical and intriguing story and slick visuals it might just be one of the best time travel films in years. Last but certainly not least, Christopher Nolan served up another piece epic science fiction with Interstellar (see full review), which added up to one part smarts to two parts spectacle. I doubt it will be remembered with as much fondness as the incredible Inception, but that doesn’t detract from its obvious quality.
There were a handful of notable animated films this year but only two actually made it to the list, and for the first time Hayao Miyazaki released a film that didn’t instantly become a favourite. Remarkable for being Miyazaki’s swan song, The Wind Rises was too personal a subject matter to be truly enjoyable, unlike How to Train Your Dragon 2 (see full review) which was the very embodiment of joy, taking everything that was great about the first film and adding even more to the mix, it blew the hell out of already very high expectations. The Lego Movie managed to be both trailblazing and genuinely hilarious, possibly being one of the funniest films of the year; expect a bunch more of these, but if they don’t have the same creative team the magic may not be there.
Mainstream horror was weak to say the least, varying from dull and forgettable to outright crap. The superior sequel, Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead, did for that franchise what Evil Dead 2 did for the Evil Dead series, only much, much bigger. Ambitious, funny, sick, gory and over the top, it was a rollercoaster ride that refused to go where you expected it to, it is also not only the sole horror film on the list but the sole foreign language film to have made the cut.
And with that out of the way we take a turn for the negative, with my yearly dishonourable mentions, although I’ve got to say, there wasn’t much out there that offended me with its rubbishness, mostly just forgettable or stupid stuff. I, Frankenstein had the aesthetics but was a hash-job on a narrative level; terribly written to begin with it was then hacked to pieces to try and compensate, which only worked to turn it into even more of a garbled mess. Pompeii, clearly sold on the ‘Titanic meats Gladiator’ pitch, probably should have been scrapped during the planning phase when it became evident that every situation the characters found themselves in falls apart with the introduction of the slightest bit of logic. Lastly, Transformers 4: Age of Extinction, was more disappointing than anything else as it started with promise, looking to be the best since the first film of the franchise it soon spiralled into wanton silliness that just went on and on and on.
Twisting things back on to the positive vibe, there were some films that very nearly made it to the list so shall here get an honourable mention. As stated, X-Men: Days of Future Past, was a very accomplished comic movie which in any other year would have made the cut; better than any X-Men film since X2, it very well might be the best of the franchise. The Ken Watanabe starring Yurusarezaru Mono (see full review), kicked ass as a near scene for scene remake of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. Thoughtful as a Kurosawa film, it was almost a shame that I knew where the story was going, but it deserves to be seen by a much wider audience than it has been. A Most wanted Man is noteworthy for being the last film in which you’ll see the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in the leading role, but that besides it’s actually a cracking and intelligent spy thriller. ’71 (see full review), the period based story of a soldier trapped in hostile territory, missed the list, which was a great big shame because at least then there would have been one film representing for Britain, it IS very good though and certainly worth a look.
And there you have it, disagree with it all? Agree with some? Debate away and give me hell, I can take it. And if there’s anything on the list that you haven’t seen yet then do the right thing and get it watched.
Keep on viewing people, this year’s going to be massive, chock-full of Avengers, Jurassic Worlds and some kind of war in the Stars.