Well, it’s been an interesting year on the Big Screen. Last year, I said that 2014 would be the cinematic pits. I’ll admit that I wasn’t entirely correct. Some of the films I dreaded did indeed turn out a bit rubbish, some were pushed back to 2015, and others were pleasant surprises. Further surprises came from unexpected sources, from left-of-field, both good and bad. It was a little bit of a mixed bag of a year in film all-in-all, and is difficult to consistently summarise, but that won’t stop me trying. I’ll emphasise again that I live in the UK, so have been unable to see several much-hyped films like FOXCATCHER and BIRDMAN yet, but without further ado, here’s my Top 10 and Bottom 5 of 2014 as it stands at this moment in time.
10. TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT
A real gut-punch for people living in a financially uncertain time, TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT is a tough, moving and unshowy Belgian social drama. Marion Cotillard gives the performance of her life, and as we are presented with so few other stylistic distractions, she holds the entire film up almost single-handedly by reducing herself to a shell of a human being. It’s not cheery, but it’s powerful stuff.
Well, nobody was expecting a film featuring Michael Fassbender wearing a papier-mâché head for all-but the duration to be conventional. Zany, hilarious and artsy without being pompous, FRANK also has the best soundtrack of the year and fully commits to examining art and mental illness in an appropriately thoughtful, non-patronising fashion. My full review of Frank can be found here.
8. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Come for the space opera set pieces and retro soundtrack, stay to spend some quality time with a gang of hilarious and empathetic misfits. Marvel/Disney May own the world, but they’re not above a punt on an outsider, something colourful, unique and completely and utterly memorable. My full review of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY can be found here.
Thematically resonant and hard-hitting, mythic but very modern, CALVARY is the purest drama film of the year, and finest work of Brendan Gleeson and John Michael McDonagh’s respective careers. A superb supporting cast gives the film another boost – Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly and Dylan Moran all add different shades to the overall canvass, and the whole film looks equally grim and beautiful. My full review of Calvary can be found here.
6. THE RAID 2
Gareth Evans’ bonecrunchingly brilliant visceral martial arts thriller THE RAID left a mark three years ago. His sequel confidently builds on a sturdy foundation to become a layered and high-impact untraviolent crime epic. It’s not just the stunning fight choreography and editing that impress here, as Evans proves he can successfully execute complex car chases and deliver a script overflowing with layered characters, and the cast are all on top form. My full review of THE RAID 2 can be found here.
I really wasn’t expecting such a loving adaptation of Michael Bond’s timeless books to have such bite as well as warmth. It’s just as funny and child-friendly as any PADDINGTON movie should be, but it’s also razor-sharp, semi-satirical and hugely visually inventive. With the cream of British character actors making up the cast, all these elements contribute to a winning combination. My full review of Paddington can be found here.
4. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Another great movie sequel that made my Top 10, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES set a new benchmark for performance capture technology, but also kept things refreshingly tactile by using massive real-world sets and taking the mo-cap tech out on location. The dystopian world it presented was bleak and uncompromising, the emotions raw, the action sensational, and the film also gifted us with a star-making turn from Toby Kebbell as the sympathetic tortured psychopath Koba. My full review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes can be found here.
3. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
This is how sequels should be done. Expand your universe, build your characters, move the story forward. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 does all this and more to deliver an emotionally and thematically bold fantasy extravaganza that manages to be both grand in scale and intimate in its exploration of man’s relationship with nature. My full review of How to Train Your Dragon 2 can be found here.
2. THE GUEST
A film playful in its extremes, THE GUEST is creepily still one moment then all-out B-Movie carnage the next. It’s entertainingly split-personalitied throughout, but always held in check by Adam Wingard’s sure direction and Dan Stevens’ barnstorming turn as the love-to-hate title threat. No other film this year has kept me as riveted, nor alternating between smiling and grimacing at what I’m witnessing as much as this one. It’s very clever, and very cool.
1. LIFE ITSELF
What else could it be? A little something inside me died when Roger Ebert passed away last year, and Steve James’ affectionate documentary about the late great critic became the finest of tributes. With such a fascinating life to dissect, this documentary was always going to be an interesting watch, but it was given added pathos by Ebert’s real-life decline and death during production, and gave the greatest of critics a fitting sendoff. My full review of LIFE ITSELF can be found here.
There were certainly worse films released in 2014, but none more disappointing than Gareth Edwards’ misguided GODZILLA reboot, where the big scaly fella hardly featured in his own movie. Perhaps being completely and utterly boring should be a worse cinematic crime than technical ineptitude, but I can’t knock this one any further down the list because it looked (unimaginative MUTOs aside) and sounded great. It just had nothing below the surface. My full review of Godzilla can be found here.
4. I, FRANKENSTEIN
There’s a place for trash, and I’ll admit I’ve got a kick out of such fare in the past, but this, a film with animate gargoyles and Frankenstein’s Monster beating up demons with batons, dumbfoundingly tried to take itself seriously. Having godawful tone deaf script and archaic-looking CGI made sure even Bill Nighy at his cured ham best couldn’t save it. My full review of I, FRANKENSTEIN can be found here.
This is why Paul W S Anderson should stick to RESIDENT EVIL. Nothing based on a real historical tragedy should be so unintentionally hilarious. The dialogue and the way the cast have been directed to play their lines is painful, and no-one should have to sit through such unconvincing wannabe-GLADIATOR revenge/romance tripe just to get to an extended scene of apocalyptic destruction. When the volcano goes off, it’s pretty entertaining, but it’s a fatal weakness in your screenplay when you don’t care that all the characters you’ve been following for nearly two hours are all going to die. My full review of POMPEII can be found here.
Paul Verhoeven’s bloodbath of an 80s sci-fi satire famously wasn’t subtle, but it didn’t try and tell you what to think either. The consequences of crime and violence, and the flawed nature of justice systems the world over were right there on screen for us to make of them what we will. The remake is a neutered, dumb beast masquerading as contemporary political commentary. My full review of ROBOCOP can be found here.
1. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2
Sony have had a bad year. Emails were hacked, movies were leaked, movies were cancelled, and the biggest of all the studio’s releases was not only a terrible, terrible film, but it didn’t make anywhere near as much as it was projected to. The mess that resulted from Sony greedily trying to ape Marvel’s world-building formula was incoherent, unsatisfying, fumblingly scripted and acted as well as looking like an over-produced feature-length advert for Sony’s tech products. My full review of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 can be found here.
Happy New Year everybody, here’s hoping for a slightly more consistent 2015 in film! SSP