We are now in the final days of 2014 and so it is time for me to look back at the past year choosing my Top Ten Films of 2014. The past year has been a remarkable one for cinema, and although the kerfuffle over The Interview has plagued film for the past month, 2014 should be remembered for the many wonderful films released instead. In a year that saw Marvel introduce us to a talking tree in their latest superhero flick, Richard Linklater release a film that was filmed over a twelve year period and Peter Jackson finally end his Middle Earth saga (please Peter no more), a wide variety of both great and awful films have been released. Choosing my top ten is always hard, especially in a year where so many utterly brilliant films were released, although for once the top six I knew instantly! Please note that these films are my personal favourites and that there are many films released in 2014 that were extremely well received that I haven't seen yet which may have made the list if I had, Under The Skin and Boyhood are two such films. Let me know your thoughts and your favourite films of the year in the comments below.
10. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
The young adult market has been pretty much dominant over both literature and film ever since Stephenie Meyer brought us her angst-filled Twilight Saga which caused quite a storm. The best thing to come out of Twilight though was The Hunger Games series, released once the vampire drama had ended to feed off a market that now needed a new franchise to absorb in. Exactly what the young adult market needed after being shoved absolute garbage the past few years, The Hunger Games is an intelligent, thrilling and remarkable series based on the excellent books written by Suzanne Collins. 2014 saw the release of the first part of the finale (whatever they say the only clear motive to split the finale was money) which really exceeded expectations. Although the games have ended there is more drama and tension than ever as the film now turns to the emerging revolution against the Capitol. The film combines an intelligence analysis of propaganda and rebellion with social commentary, emotional drama, thrilling action and edge-of-your-seat tension. A departure from the earlier films it really stands out in the series and sees Lawrence embody Katniss better than ever as we see new sides to her character. Seymour Hoffman must be mentioned also, one of the most tragic deaths this year Mockingjay sees him in one of his last performances giving it an added touch of poignancy. The final scene will leave you agape, and annoyingly we have to wait a whole year for the conclusion. If we burn, you burn with us!
9. The Raid 2: Berandal
When The Raid was released three years ago no-one expected it to achieve the success that it did. The low-budget Indonesian martial arts film from a team of unknowns really did come out of nowhere to storm the scene, and although star Iko Uwais and director Gareth Evans were now on the Hollywood hit-list a sequel was inevitable. And so 2014 brought us The Raid 2: Berandal and with it the return of our kick-ass hero Rama to astonish us with his sheer talent as we enjoy the blood-soaked action. The first Raid was a stripped back affair, a simple action film that saw a SWAT team take on a tower block run by a ruthless mobster. For the sequel Evans really stepped up his game taking several risks, all of which paid off with style! Berandal has all the breath-taking action of the first film with masterly choreographed martial arts that is shot beautifully with clever camera tricks to place you at the centre of the punches. Most importantly though it has what the first film was lacking, a story that is developed well, grips you and supports the two-and-a-half hour film easily. We see much more character development, especially from our hero Rama which allows us to engage better with the overall film. It is exciting, exhilarating and a complete hoot! Sorry Bruce Lee, but we have new kings of the martial arts genre!
8. The Lego Movie
One of the biggest surprises of the year was The Lego Movie which not only stormed the box office but became a critical success. Putting aside the fact that at the end of the day it is an expensive and long advertisement for Lego, it is actually a really, really good film that anyone can enjoy. Emmet is just a regular yellow Lego guy who finds his world changed when he discovers the 'piece of resistance' which threatens to end Lord Business' plan to end the world on Taco Tuesday. Even from this plot summary alone you can tell that this film is bursting full with imagination and creativity that will just put a smile on your face at the sheer thought of it. The animation is spectacular with the whole world being built from Lego bricks, which also means we get to see some of our favourite characters in action including Batman and cameos from the likes of Chewbacca, Green Lantern and Dumbledore. It is funny, uplifting, intelligent with plenty of social commentary, witty and just completely charming. It is certainly the most fun film of 2014, though it will leave that annoying song in your head (which let's face it you love really).
7. The Wolf of Wall Street
One of the most controversial films of the year was The Wolf of Wall Street which was criticised for pretty much everything with accusations that it was glamorising drugs, cruelly using animals and it broke records for the number of f-bombs used in a mainstream non-documentary film. All this controversy was unnecessary though as The Wolf of Wall Street is quite simply an indulgent and excessive film all about excess, money and greed. It is one of director Martin Scorsese's best films in years, although it comes nowhere close to his classics such as Taxi Driver. Leonardo DiCaprio carries the whole film as Jordan Belfort, the wealthy stockbroker whose story the film is based on. DiCaprio gives one of his best performances yet full of personality, charisma and charm but with a continual threatening presence of the psychotic about him that is terrifying when it comes out. The rest of the cast are spectacular, with Matthew McConaughey nearly stealing the whole show with that one ingenious scene. If you are looking for a deep analysis of greed and capitalism this may not be what you were expecting. Making no comment on the events on screen it is purely an honest portrayal of the lives men like Belfort lead, and pitched just right by the masterful Scorsese it is deliriously entertaining, darkly humourous and extreme in every way.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy
Looking through the past Top Ten Films of the year pieces I have done for this blog there is a common theme; every single one has at least one Marvel film featuring in the list. Yes, I am a Marvel fangirl complete with the jumper, posters, blu-ray special editions and soundtracks, but they are at the top of the superhero game and know how to make movies, and really good ones at that! 2014 saw Marvel take its biggest risk yet, stepping away from The Avengers and taking on a comic book no-one really had heard of that featured a team of criminals that including a tree whose words needed to be interpreted by a talking racoon with a taste for big guns. The world thought Marvel had gone mad! Guardians of the Galaxy therefore took everyone by surprise with its witty script that will make you laugh your socks off, intelligence, emotional drama, stunning action and the sheer fun it will bring with it. Insanely entertaining it is a film that never takes itself seriously but still manages to be utterly brilliant. You will quickly fall in love with Chris Pratt's charming Peter Quill and his bunch of misfit friends that includes everyone's favourite talking tree Groot, Dave Bautista's wonderful Drax and many more. The soundtrack is the best of the year as well featuring some cracking tunes that are used with precision in the film and fits perfectly. A completely oddball adventure you will want to watch it again and again.
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Certainly the cutest film of the year has to be Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel which looks like it could have been sponsored by Paperchase with its colourful, elaborate and painstakingly detailed designs and settings which provides gorgeous visuals with no sign of dull grey in sight. If I could live in any cinematic world I would have to live in Wes Anderson's doll-house pastel-coloured cutesy universe, and sometimes it feels I do as his cinematography is that absorbing. Unlike many of Anderson's previous films though there is much more to The Grand Budapest Hotel than the magical aesthetics. Set primarily in the years before WW2 is it a story about the devastating effects of war on family, business and Europe. Despite the cutesy aesthetics, witty humour and adventurous tone, it has a serious edge that will leave your heart broken into two at many points. Anderson has meticulously combined many genres to make a film that will bring tears to your eyes out of sadness and laughter, and often at the same time. Ralph Fiennes is at his best as the hilarious Gustave H, a man who swears in the politest way ever seen and will steal your heart the instance you meet him with his charming smile. Wholly original, delightfully charming yet overwhelmingly powerful, it is Anderson at his best.
4. 12 Years A Slave
Released at the start of the year 12 Years A Slave immediately stole the critical attention and stormed awards ceremonies rightfully winning the infamous Best Picture at the Oscars amongst many others. Director Steve McQueen has received critical acclaim like this before with his film Shame, a drama about sex addiction. I watched Shame and really didn't like it finding it boring, lacking in drama and just repetitive. This left me worried about 12 Years A Slave but I was wrong; it is quite simply a modern masterpiece. It tells the horrifying true story of slave Solomon Northup, a man whose story needs to be heard and I find it shocking it is not as famous as the likes of Anne Frank's. Chiwetel Ejiofor is remarkable as Northup, holding his own surrounded by many other strong performances from the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Fassbender. Enjoyable is not a word that can be used to describe this film, although it is a film everyone should see it does not need to be watched again. Everything is pitched just right to make it a painful experience as we are reminded of the torture slaves were put through. At the end of the screening I went to take my glasses off to realise my face was sodden wet from all the tears I did not realise were pouring from my eyes. You can tell McQueen poured his heart into this film and unafraid to shy away from the truth it becomes an emotionally destroying, harrowing and hauntingly disturbing film. It would have made this list alone for the most memorable scene where the camera holds painfully too long on a female slave being beaten. It is a breath-taking work!
Much like 12 Years A Slave, Nightcrawler is also haunting and disturbing but in a completely different way that is tainted with a sort-of sick fascination. In Dan Gilroy's pulse-pounding directorial debut we meet Jake Gyllenhaal's Lou Bloom, a driven and determined man who at the break of desperation launches into the underworld of LA crime journalism with rather twisted consequences. Channeling Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle, Gyllenhaal's Bloom supports the whole film and is perhaps the most fascinating film character of 2014. Despite being uneducated Bloom comes complete with some rather intimidating business epigrams, a dangerous curiosity, a quiet calmness and a touch of the psychotic that gives him an underlying threatening presence that is hidden behind his gaunt face, under eye bags and huge emotionally empty eyes. Gyllenhaal is undeniably brilliant completely embodying every aspect of his complex character. His story takes you in from the start thanks to the intriguing nature of his work that scarily exists in the real world. A twisted tale that will keep you held in tension throughout and left agape in shock, it is utterly absorbing with vivid shots of the LA nightscape helping take you in. I can not wait to see more from Gilroy as Nightcrawler is simply superb in every aspect!
The closing gala of this year's Leeds International Film Festival was not only the highlight of the festival, but one of the highlights of the whole year. Technically Birdman is not released in the UK until 2015 but hey I saw it in 2014 and I just could not wait to include it in my top ten list it is that good! Birdman is essentially genre-less and extremely difficult to describe, but just trust me on this; it is spectacular and incredibly entertaining. The film centres around Riggan Thomas, played spectacularly by Michael Keaton in a kind-of parody role. Keaton is infamous for playing Batman, a role that has stalked him his whole life leaving him criminally underused in film, hence using this film in an attempt to prove he is much more than that. Similarly his character Thomas is infamous for playing superhero Birdman and attempts a Broadway play to prove himself to the world. Keaton therefore was vital to the film's success and if he isn't nominated for an Oscar then the world will be outraged. He is the glue that holds this sometimes insane film all together, and without his strong, central performance it would be nothing. Poignant, emotionally powerful, completely dramatic, savagely funny and full of action, it is a mad blend of genres that provides a magical and original experience. The camerawork is astonishingly clever and beautiful filmed as one continuous shot that takes us through the maze of the theatre continually placing us intimately at the centre of the action. The soundtrack which features just one Mexican drummer and his set adds to the delirious tone of the film. Outstanding work!
Anyone who truly knows me would immediately guess what my film of the year is, although my own mother didn't get it! It is a well known fact amongst my friends and family that I admire Christopher Nolan, a man who helped me realise the magic of cinema when I saw The Dark Knight in 2008 placing me where I am now and is of course my favourite director and cinematic hero. When I found out that he was finally tackling sci-fi I might have freaked out a little bit as my favourite director and genre were coming together and surely the result was incredible. But even I was blown completely off my feet when I went to see Interstellar in the best way possible, of course at the IMAX. Mind-blowing stuff it will take your breath away! A modern masterpiece that is 2001: A Space Odyssey for the generation, it is one of Nolan's best works and an astonishing achievement. Visually stunning, extremely powerful with a heartfelt and tender story that uniquely places humanity at the heart of a scientific space epic, it is unique and rare for a film like this in cinema. All the performances are spot-on, with McConaughey and Foy's relationship being well-played out at the heart of the film. I really don't know how Nolan manages it but he betters himself time and time again, with Interstellar not only being the film of the year but one for the decade. Pure perfection I was left shaking for the rest of the day from the exhilarating experience I just went through. Films like Interstellar make me fall in love with cinema more and more by every second.