Tuesday, 30 December 2014

My Top 10 Films of 2014



December is coming to a close, and as is the well-established tradition by now, that means it's time to put together a conclusive list of my Top 10 Films from the year.

2014 has been an absolutely stellar year for movies, with piles upon piles of thrilling, immersive and brilliant films landing on our screens across the year. Picking a personal Top 10 might seem a little redundant underneath the hundreds of other end-of-year lists, but I think it's fun and feels like a nice little way to round out the year.

So, what ten flicks made the cut?

Note: My list goes by Australian release dates - for example, something like Her or 12 Years A Slave is a 2013 film for people in the US, but it didn't hit Australian screens until mid-February. I know, sucks right? Anyway, whilst some of these films may be '2013' for you, they were well into 2014 for me, hence their potential inclusion. It's also why some big films that round out the year in the US aren't on here - they simply haven't come out in Australia yet (Birdman, Foxcatcher, The Theory of Everything all come out in January).

Some honourable mentions that just missed the cut: Snowpiercer, Begin Again, The Little Death, Enemy, 22 Jump Street, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The LEGO Movie, Predestination, John Wick, Frank and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

10th - Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Read my review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Marvel's first Captain America film - The First Avenger - can't attest to being brilliant, but neither was it written off as a complete flop. It falls somewhere in the middle of the Marvel spectrum, which is part of reason why Winter Solider was such a resoundingly brilliant sequel in April this year.

The Russo brothers were able to exceed my expectations for Captain America, and then some. In adapting one of Cap's most well-known story arcs (Ed Brubaker's Winter Solider), they not only developed Steve Rogers' arc in a way that felt genuine and well-written, but they also shook up the whole MCU by revealing (SPOILER ALERT) that SHIELD, the organisation Cap represents, has been a puppet of Hydra, his mortal enemy, all along. Put simply, Winter Solider wasn't content with being a run-of-the-mill sequel - it changed the whole series in a way that will filter through to the next Avengers film and beyond.

The camerawork and choreography is really impactful and effective, with the fight scenes between Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan hitting hard. It's also a film that ensures Chris Evans decked out in a red, white and blue kevlar jumpsuit flinging an indestructible shield wasn't laughable or cheesy in a 21st Century setting. Despite the large amount of helicarriers and flying Falcons, the movie somehow felt grounded.

Not only that, but Winter Soldier finds a really cool 70's political thriller vibe, whilst also mixing in elements of cyber warfare and post-9/11 paranoia. It's a very slick, confident and ambitious entry into the MCU, and one that not only moves Captain America forward, but the series (and TV spin-offs) as well.


9th - The Grand Budapest Hotel


Imagine taking every Wes Anderson movie ever, mixing them together in a big bowl and then plonking it in the oven to bake for 2 hours with the temperature dialled up to max. The resulting cake would be something like The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Basically, The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson at his most flamboyant, outrageous and darkly humorous. It's so darn colourful and distinct in flavour, dripping with rich pinks, purples and oranges. It's also so very funny and irreverent, it's huge ensemble cast (which includes regulars like Jason Schwartzmann, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton and Adrien Brody) lead by the hilariously charming and witty Ralph Fiennes. I think I laughed more at this film that a dozen other 'comedies' from this year, which speaks volumes about the screenplay, but also the cast and distinctive direction (hooray for dollys!)

Alongside Fiennes are Tony Revolori and Saoirise Ronan as loved-up couple Zero and Agatha. In what is his first feature film, Revolori was great as Fiennes sidekick, the duo working wonders with the rat-a-tat quips spaced throughout the script. Put together, the two formed the emotional backbone of the story, underlining how The Grand Budapest Hotel isn't just a wacky comedy with zero (pun intended) substance. Anderson's film is one that is brilliantly balanced, combining elements of frivolity and seriousness.


8th - Edge of Tomorrow

Read my full review of Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow appeared out of nowhere to take critics completely by surprise. What had originally been written off as being utterly forgettable was all of sudden the freshest breath of air in a long while.

"What!?", essentially everyone exclaimed "A clever, entertaining, well-written and paced blockbuster movie with brilliantly inventive action scenes and fleshed-out characters?! What is this madness!"

Whilst it wasn't the biggest hit at the box-office, Edge of Tomorrow cemented the notion that there is still a place in modern cinema for entertaining, mid-budget action films that aren't part of a franchise - you know, the kind of things that we used to see in the 90's like Air Force One or Independence Day.

Cruise recovered from a few years of half-baked genre flicks (Jack Reacher, Oblivion) with a character that wasn't so clean-cut and gosh-darn heroic. Instead, the badassery was left to Emily Blunt, the Angel of Verdun, and let's be honest - she pretty much stole the show, and along with Looper, continued to put her soapy rom-com past behind her.


7th - X-Men: Days of Future Past


You know the saying, "don't put all your eggs in the one basket?" Yeah, Fox didn't really listen to that advice when piecing together the latest entry in the X-Men series, Days of Future Past. They brought back original director Bryan Singer, handed him a $200 million budget and asked him to assemble a cast so vast it rivals Game of Thrones for enormity, including mega-stars like Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Ian McKellan and Halle Berry.

The result could've been this summer's biggest flop, a series on its last legs going out with a pitiful whimper.

Thankfully, that wasn't the case. Days of Future Past is arguably the best X-Men film so far, and it completely rejuvenated a franchise stuck in a downward spiral of loopy threequels (Last Stand), messy prequels (X-Men: Origins) and unnecessary solo spinoffs (The Wolverine).

Days of Future Past not only undid all the damage caused by past entries, but it also teased bigger and bolder things for the future (puns intended). The time travel aspect was awesome, the 70's setting worked a treat and Fassbender stole the show as Magneto once more.

Hats off to you Mr. Singer, you've got X-Men back on the right track.


6th - The Wolf of Wall Street


When Martin Scorsese's latest film, The Wolf of Wall Street, finally hit screens in Australia last February, it came burdened with a reputation built up by months of Stateside controversy and divided reviews. 3 hours long, and littered with endless F-bombs, full-frontal nudity and constant drug consumption, The Wolf of Wall Street is as excessive and indulgent as the characters it portrays - and I loved every minute.

For starters, both Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill give career-defining performances as Jordan and Donnie respectively, their exuberant antics and depravity infectiously funny and entertaining.

Meanwhile, Margot Robbie was the undoubted breakout star as Naomi, Jordan's seductive and manipulative wife who proves to be the ultimate addiction he cannot shake.

Lastly, the direction from Scorsese was vibrant and fizzing with energy, each scene buzzing like a drug-fuelled millionaire that can't pause to take a breath. It's his most entertaining movie in years, an endlessly quotable insta-classic that permanently etched itself into my mind.


5th - Interstellar


Christopher Nolan's Interstellar may not have won over everyone, but for me it was simply one of the most thrilling, eye-popping and all-round enjoyable three hours I've spent in a movie theatre all year. I wanted for nothing more than to be swept up by Interstellar's promise of grand visuals, vast scale and classic sci-fi themes - and thankfully, it not only delivered on this promise but greatly exceeded it.

Sure, the movie isn't without its flaws, but in terms of sheer ambition (and its subsequent execution on a technical level) it's hard to fault for Interstellar for being anything other than mind-blowing. Plus, the cast is top-notch; McConaughey, Hathaway, Chastain, Damon (oops, spoiler alert) are all great.

It also marks a notable departure from typically Nolanesque film-making - gone are the dark, brooding thrillers of the past, as Nolan did away with the urban, shadowy settings and the sharp men in suits. Into the light stepped something quintessentially Spielbergian, a plot loaded of hope and exceptional human endeavour. It's a brighter, more hopeful film than he's ever taken on before - and it's a refreshing change of pace, a possible stepping-stone onto even bigger things.


4th - The Imitation Game

Read my review of The Imitation Game here

Lead by what is surely a bonafide Best Actor Oscar nomination for Cumberbatch (don't quote me on that though!), The Imitation Game sees the Tumblr tween heartthrob graduate from snappy TV miniseries' (Sherlock, Parade's End), sci-fi/fantasy villainy (Star Trek, The Hobbit) and middle-of-the-road biopics (The Fifth Estate) to full-blown leading man with a scarily good performance of arguably the 20th Century's most important pioneer.

In many ways, I think Cumberbatch's performance here is underrated, and we get to see a side to him that isn't all growling malice or dry detective work. What's more, his layered performance of Turing is supported by Keira Knightley's stylish Joan and some devilishly witty turns from Mark Strong and Charles Dance.

Punctuated with well-written character drama, heart-wrenching ethical conundrums and driven by a suspenseful race against time, The Imitation Game really excels thanks to its wonderfully streamlined and simplified (in a good way) screenplay.

It boils down a complex and iconic historical figure (Alan Turing) without skating over important aspects of his life (like being a homosexual) and without detracting away from its other primary narrative, the War and cracking the Enigma Code.

It's also backed-up by a delightful period score by Alexandre Desplat and some assured direction from Morten Tyldum. All in all, The Imitation Game was one of the most engrossing and impactful dramas I've seen all year,  simply excelling across the board.


3rd - Gone Girl


David Fincher's Gone Girl isn't just a movie - its an intoxicating, breathless, edge-of-your-seat immersive experience. 

From the 'he-said, she-said' opening half to the pulpy twists and turns of the second, Fincher dove head first into the grimy, quiet Missouri setting and delivered a film utterly captivating from start to finish, regardless of the audiences familiarity with the source text.

Anchored by two awesome (and Oscar worthy) performances from Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl aimed to tie us all in knots with a complex and delightfully tangled web of unreliable narrators, omission and double-crossing.

What's more, the commentary on gender and marriage made for some of the most unsettling shift-in-your-seat moments this year. Not to mention THAT scene which we all knew was coming - just not like that. I mean, whoa Amy - settle down! Jesus, I think my girlfriend cut all blood flow to my hand at that point. You know the scene I'm talking about. C'mon, don't lie. The one on the thing, where that person gets someone else with the thing hidden under the other thing. Seriously, nightmares and chills for weeks. 


2nd - Guardians of the Galaxy

Read my review of Guardians of the Galaxy

Who'd have thought a film starring a talking raccoon and a dancing tree would be such a riotous success?

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy started life as that odd, Z-list comic book movie that everyone one was unsure of. Star-who? Ronan the what? Now, Peter Quill, Rocket Raccoon, Groot and Gamora (amongst others) are household names, from appearing in Disney Infinity 2 to an upcoming animated show, LEGO sets and everything in between.

The key to this success was the film's irreverent and zany sense of humour - these ragtag underdogs spend most of their time infighting and bickering, which makes for some hilarious quips and one-liners, especially from Bradley Cooper's hilarious voice-acting on Rocket.

The movie opened up the Marvel Universe to, well, the universe - from Lee Pace's Kree General Ronan the Accuser to Karen Gillan's unhinged Nebula and Josh Brolin's overlord Thanos, the seeds have now been sown for future cosmic adventures featuring both the Guardians, and the Avengers.

Plus, Guardians of the Galaxy made OST's cool again. Awesome Mix Vol. 1 (which comprised everything from the Jackson 5 to The Runaways and David Bowie) skyrocketed to the top of the charts owing to its blend of catchy 70's funk and dance tunes.


1st - Nightcrawler


Nightcrawler is one of the those films where you can't even peel your eyes away for one second to reach the popcorn. You just don't want to miss a single thing,

Every frame is packed with tension, the expertly written script and haunting direction all tied together with one, career-defining performance destined to stay with you long after the credits have rolled. It's dark, chilling, unsettling, upsetting and intriguing all at the same time. Put simply, Nightcrawler came up aces in every way possible, and it made for my most gripping and memorable cinema experience this year.

The main attraction here is of course Jake Gyllenhaal - the guy delivers a performance that needs to be seen to be believed. You reach a point where actor and character become singular, and you stop seeing him as anyone but Lou Bloom, a young ambitious cameraman sucked into the seedy LA underbelly of 'nightcrawling', or filming crime for the morning news and reaping the profits.

There are scenes in Nightcrawler where I didn't dare blink, for fear of missing a single frame. Even the tiniest detail, a slight lip curl or twitch could be the trigger that set Lou off. And it never came. To me, this character that Gyllenhaal crafted felt like a ticking time bomb, except the timer was forever stuck with one second on the clock. He could go off at any minute, and yet the implosion never comes, making the whole hold-your-breath-and-wait experience even more unsettling and discomforting.

But it would be foolish to dimiss Nightcrawler as being simply about one single performance. In addition to Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed give fantastic performances as Nina and Rick respectively. An atmospheric score from James Newton Howard and gorgeous direction from Dan Gilroy make Nightcrawler not just one of the most thrilling films this year, but also one of the most gorgeous.


So, there we have it - my pick for Top 10 Films of 2014. What're your thoughts? Let me know your list in the comments down below! Keep your eyes peeled over the next few days for my look ahead at what 2015 has in-store. Thanks for reading!

14 comments:

  1. UGH, I really need to see Nightcrawler! I won't have to wait too much longer for the DVD!!! Great, varied list. Love it.

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    1. You really do have to see it, it's something else :) Thanks Fisti, glad you liked it - the variety isn't intentional, I think it's just been a nicely varied year. A great mix of big summer blockbusters and smaller indies :)

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  2. Nice list. I need to see Nightcrawler, myself. Soon, I hope. Perfect description of THAT scene in Gone Girl, btw.

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    1. Thanks Wendell! :) Definitely go see Nightcrawler, you won't be disappointed! Haha, thanks - didn't want to spoil the surprise for those who haven't seen it ;)

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  3. Great picks here! I'm not a fan of The Wolf of Wall Street, and I fell asleep while watching Edge of Tomorrow at home (not out of boredom). However, the other picks are nice. One of your listed films is my pick for best drama (to this point), and one of your honorable mentions is my favorite comedy/overall. Typically, I don't post my list until late February, in order to give myself time to catch up with all the must-watches from Oscar season. But, I can't wait!

    Also, prepare yourself for the awesomeness that is Birdman!

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    1. Thanks Tanner! :) I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on The Wolf of Wall Street - and I can't imagine anyone falling asleep during EoT but if you still enjoyed the movie (I hope?) then I suppose it's not that bad ;)

      Best drama - hmmm, I take a stab at Gone Girl? Or Nightcrawler? And the best comedy/overall - Jump Street? Frank? Ehh - Lego Movie? I'm kind of stabbing in the dark here haha. So cryptic :D I'll keep my eyes peeled for your post in Feb - that's not a bad plan, there are still a few 2014 films I've yet to see but I figure I'll get to them sooner or later :) Oh, I am! It comes out in a couple of weeks. Thanks for commenting!

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  4. Nice list! I love Nightcrawler being #1. I also like see The Wolf of Wall Street again, that was on my list last year.

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  5. Great list. Loved that you have Edge of Tomorrow on here. I really wish more people saw it too. Gone Girl is a masterpiece in my opinion. My favorite David Fincher movie next to Curious Case of Benjermin Button

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    1. Thanks mate :) I'm not a massive Fincher buff but if Gone Girl is anything to go by then I have lots of exciting past films to watch from him :)

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  6. I lo ed Egde of Tomorrow. It was a total sleeper hit. Emily Blunt is such a badass. Everyone wants her for Captain Marvel, but I really want her as Catwoman. If you're ever in the mood to see her full acting chops, watch My Summer of Love. It was her first film, and she was so great in it.
    I was hoping to like The Grand Budapest Hotel more than I did. I couldn't feel anything for any of the characters. In fact, the only character I did like was the beautiful cat that only had a small role. RIP.
    I really liked X-Men: DOFP. It's the only Marvel franchise I care about, tbh, and it's not even through the same production company as the others. I'm actually sick of seeing Jennifer and really want Rebecca back. I miss seeing the cast from the first three parts. I know it's an unpopular opinion, but Logan's and Rouge's storyline from the first film was the best.
    Really happy to see we agree on number one. :)

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    1. Emily Blunt would make an awesome Captain Marvel, but I'd go one further and cast her as James (Jane) Bond - really shake up the formula and make the character something wildly different. It'll never happen but it'd be cool to see :)

      Fair enough, I'm sure it wasn't to everyones taste. I just really loved Ralph Fiennes and his dry wit!

      X-Men was actually by #1 most anticipated film for the year and it didn't disappoint! I quite like J-Law as Mystique but they did criminally cut Rogue from DOFP - she deserved better, especially after being such a big part of the first film like you mentioned :)

      Hooray for our #1's! I like it when that happens ;)

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  7. Solid list. Winter Soldier, Grand Budapest Hotel, Gone Girl, Nightcrawler, and Guardians all rank pretty high on my list too.

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    1. Awesome :) Love it when things come together like that, heh ;) Thanks for commenting Zach!

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