It’s that time of the year when I look back at some of my favourite films from 2014.
Before you start filling up the comments section with questions about why Boyhood, Calvary, Birdman, The Imitation Game or The Theory of Everything are not on this list, it’s only because I haven’t seen them.
Most of my film-watching is done on DVD. This is a list of the films I saw in 2014 that were among my favourites, some of which aren’t even from this year.
One clever critic called it Hamlet on the Highway, which would be an accurate take on the film’s existential themes except for the fact that the Danish prince is a bit of an indecisive twat, and the Welsh foreman is anything but. Don’t be fooled by the lilting Ivor the Engine tone of his voice: he is resolute, angry and determined to do the right thing, no matter what the cost. This is an astonishing piece of cinema – by any measure. It’s a one-man theatre piece (if the theatre was the interior of a BMW), with a truly outstanding performance by the always-brilliant Tom Hardy. Unmissable. You’ll never look at concrete the same way again.
Under the Skin
If Tom Hardy gives the male performance of the year in Locke, than Scarlett Johansson gives one of the year’s best performances by an actress in Under the Skin, and certainly the best performance of her career. Almost unrecognisable in a black wig and faux-fur jacket, Johansson plays an alien who toodles around the mean streets of Glasgow, stopping to chat with unintelligible, lumpen, scruffy young men. If they’re single, she brings them home and has her wicked and oily way with them. I have watched it several times and I am still not really sure what it means, but I know that I found it eerie, disturbing, and ultimately heartbreaking. I liked it so much I reviewed it twice, here and here. It might well be the most important piece of science-fiction of the 21st century. Or it might be boring, pretentious twaddle. You decide. Either way, you’ll never look at a Hiace van the same way again.
Like Under the Skin, this is an eerie, psychological mind-fuck of a movie. In dual roles, Jake Gyllenhaal (never better, although I hear very good things about Nightcrawler) plays a frumpy academic and his double, a horndog actor. Toronto looks washed out and sickly, and the whole thing is suffused with a feeling of dread (the appearance of former Lynch muse Isabella Rosselini only adds to that sense). Bizarre and affecting, with a sombre score and disturbing sound design. And oh Jesus – that final moment! Science-fiction for grown-ups. I guarantee you’ll never look at a spider the same way again.
Maps to the Stars
Julianne Moore whines, wails, screams and breaks down in David Cronenberg’s weird and savage satire of Hollywood excess and ego. Like an episode of Entourage if it was directed by David Lynch, this is a pitch-black magic realist comedy featuring ghosts, incest, spoiled stars, obnoxious child actors, bizarre self-help gurus and suicide. Moore is at the top of her game in a performance you won’t forget, and she is joined by an equally on-form John Cusack, Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska. Hysterical and filled with showbiz bitchiness that would make Joe Mankiewicz envious. And you’ll never look at constipation the same way again.
By the time I got to see this, much of the love that indie hipster types had for it was starting to wane. It’s superficial and unoriginal in its message about our relationship with technology, and it has way too many ukuleles for its own good. However, Joaquin Phoenix gives a heartbreaking and very funny performance. With a nerdy moustache and wearing high-waisted trousers, he is the most melancholy-looking geek you will ever encounter in cinema. Scarlett Johansson is like Siri but with a much softer voice. In ten years time Spike Jonze’s film is going to look like a documentary. You’ll never look at your iPhone the same way again.
Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel
I missed Wes Anderson’s charming 1960s scouting romance story when it was released, but caught it in a double-bill with his whimsical hotel fairy tale. Both are funny and gorgeous to look at, with a top-notch cast. Like many of Wes Anderson films, both movies are probably meaningless, but what a treat nonetheless. You’ll never look at a hotel lobby boy the same way again.
Some critics were hoping that Joe would do for Nicolas Cage what the similar-themed Mud helped do for Matthew McConaughey. It probably won’t happen. Cage followed Joe with standard Cage weirdness and scenery-chewing in Outcast, and a glance at his imdb page shows he is back in B-picture territory. But I haven’t seen him as restrained as he is in Joe in years. You know where the film is going, but no matter. Cage’s co-star, Tye Sheridan, is a natural talent, as is the late Gary Poulter. You’ll never look at a tree the same way again.
Edge of Tomorrow
It’s very easy to pick on Tom Cruise, mostly because of his whacked-out behaviour, and as an actor his range is limited. But what he does, he does very well (and better than a lot of others), and he’s right at home in this science-fiction action adventure, a film which wasn’t afraid to embrace the silliness of its premise, and which has a decent sense of humour. Cruise gets to be cocky, then angry, then confused (which is good news as those are his default positions as an actor). The film is fun and nonsensical, and it doesn’t take itself seriously at all (how refreshing to see a sci-fi that isn’t pretentious.) Plus, I would watch Emily Blunt eat cornflakes. You’ll never look at being stuck in a moment the same way again.
The Lego Movie
Everything is awesome about this funny, fast-paced, thrilling and unpatronising kids’ movie. The only film I saw this year that had me uproariously laughing and applauding. Perhaps the first family film in cinema history to sneak in an oral sex joke. In the best news I have heard in ages, they’re planning a sequel featuring Batman, voiced by Will Arnett in a delicious parody of Christian Bale. You’ll never look at those little yellow brick things the same way again.
The Raid and The Raid 2
In a similar way to The Most Interesting Man in the World, I don’t normally watch martial arts films, but when I do, I watch The Raid and The Raid 2. In 2011 Gareth Evans made a blistering, splatter-filled, bone-crunching, ludicrously violent and hilariously enjoyable action movie that starts with a bang and barely stops for a breather. The highly enjoyable and hyperviolent Dredd – which has a similar premise – looks like a kid’s Nativity play in comparison. The sequel is more ambitious and broader in scope (and not quite as good as the first), but still, if you are the sort of person who enjoys watching tiny Asian men doing unspeakably violent things to each other, then I can’t recommend both films highly enough. I tried to review it, but only ended up writing:
“How exactly can I describe these films? Are they review-proof? All I can really write is my impression of how writer-director Gareth Evans must have written the script: SNAP! CRACK! CRUNCH! BANG! SPLATTER! …. REPEAT”
You’ll never look at an apartment building the same way again. Or a hammer. Or a baseball.