Rewind, roll it and... action! 2014’s top 10 movies
It’s been a great year for films all round, from original yet nostalgic blockbusters to widely appealing independent movies. Here are my top ten releases of 2014:
Throughout movie history, several filmmakers have voiced a desire to film actors in real time but none have accomplished this extraordinary feat until now. Master filmmaker Richard Linklater is renowned for having a knack for contemplating big philosophical questions in natural, performance-driven films and Boyhood is arguably the pinnacle of his career so far. Replete with flawless acting and hopefully drawing enough buzz to get an Oscar nod for Patricia Arquette, the film, though gentle, leaves you with that rare feeling that you’ve watched a unique piece of motion picture history.
Russian suspense drama Leviathan justifiably won the award for Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival this year. A striking tale of grand scale corruption told from an intimate perspective, Leviathan twists and turns as Nikolay (Aleksei Serebryakov) whose land is being illegally seized by Mayor Mer (Roman Madyanov) of a small coastal town, enlists the help of an old friend to dig up some dirt on the corrupt politician to save his family home. Though on the face of it, a David and Goliath story we have seen before, Leviathan is creative, taking risks in its narrative, changing tones as well as boldly leaving key scenes to the viewers’ judgment alone; a beautifully crafted exploration of power in all its forms.
Oddball dark comedy Frank is that best kind of social satire that is so otherworldly you almost forget it’s poking fun at you and the society in which you live. Michael Fassbender is triumphant as the eponymous papier-mâché head-wearing frontman Frank, playing him with an insecure genius that belies his inability to show facial expressions. The remaining and complicated cast of characters including an achingly cool but rapacious Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and jealous hero Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) allow the complex topics of genius, insanity and fame to be broached without becoming pharisaical. I challenge you not to get title song I Love You All (sung by multi-talented Fassbender) stuck in your head.
Whether you love it or hate it, there is no denying that Interstellar is the one Blockbuster that had to be seen this year, on the biggest screen possible and it’s certainly not going to be out of our minds for a while to come. Arguably the most divisive of Christopher Nolan’s films to date, Interstellar not only tackles the notorious cinematic black hole of time travel, but also throws in the most un-Nolanesque emotion of love, at times via the artlessly saccharine Anne Hathaway. It’s the sheer scope of the film combined with a distinct dearth of invasive CGI or 3D that makes Interstellar an unprecedented and entertaining work of art like no other.
5. The Double
Based on the Dostoevsky novella, The Double is an existential tale of awkward office worker Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) who has worked hard in his office for years but is largely ignored until one day more confident doppelganger James Simon (also played by Eisenberg) comes to work and takes over Simon’s world. Director Richard Ayaode, best known for acting in British TV series such as the IT Crowd, is fast becoming a director to be reckoned with. The Double is a beautifully shot, well-acted and elegant film.
6. Maps to the Stars
David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars is a confident, acerbic satire at its best and boldly refuses to shy away from controversy, the bizarre and sublime. With three interconnected stories simultaneously playing out in outrageous ways, skilled director Cronenberg keeps performances grounded in Bruce Wagner’s clever script of underlying metaphors with an exceptional cast of Hollywood elite actors including Julianne Moore and Robert Pattinson.
7. What We Do in the Shadows
What We Do in the Shadows is a hilarious horror mockumentary by the team behind Flight of the Conchords. Set in modern day New Zealand, the film follows four vampire housemates as they cope with the demands of living vampires adapting to modern life filled with technology, social media, fashion and clubbing. Bloody hilarity ensues with rival werewolf gang mishaps, all too human club guest-list foibles and inappropriate behaviour from newly un-dead vampires.
Nightcrawler challenges the very definition of the American dream while taking a satirical look at the state of today’s media and its unhealthy obsession with ratings. Video journalist Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the epitome of ambition turned ugly and as we watch him carve out a career through his eyes, the voyeuristic aspect of modern media is hammered home. A well made debut feature by talented writer Dan Gilroy, this is original independent filmmaking at its best.
At a time when technology is an integral part of our lives and the debate rages on as to its utility versus our dependency, Her is a timely study of a possible future in which software increasingly takes on human aspects. Joaquin Phoenix is great as unremarkable lonely heart Theodore and Scarlett Johansson is a perfect fit to voice Samantha, the operating system Theodore falls for. A beautifully shot, Sci-fi curiosity, Her is an intelligent love story that questions what it is to be human.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel’s done it again with the brilliant super hero action film Guardians of the Galaxy which is one of those rare films that finds its audience (nostalgic 30 somethings) and still manages to find the balance between playing to the crowd in its exhaustive referencing of 80s classics with fresh humour and a great cast.
“I am Groot.”
So ends a great year for films and as the year draws to a close, we have a lot to look forward to in 2015. The New Year will see the release of 2014 festival darlings’ genre obliterating Whiplash and the exquisite Birdman as well as films with pivotal central performances, Foxcatcher and The Theory of Everything which could see potential Academy nods for Eddie Redmayne and Steve Carrell.
Then there are the big hitters including the concluding part of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Fifty Shades of Grey, newly titled Bond 24, Spectre with Christoph Waltz, Monica Bellucci and of course the returning Bond Daniel Craig as well as Disney animation Big Hero 6.
Smaller films to look out for include wunderkind Xavier Dolan’s Mommy as well as stylish Iranian vampire western A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and Peter Strickland’s latest offering The Duke of Burgundy.
Looks like it’s going to be another fantastic year for films. Roll on 2015!
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