It’s the end of another year, and Top 10 lists are popping up everywhere. I yet again begin attempting to construct one of my own facing the same conundrum most non-US critics and bloggers will. There are as usual a good number of apparently great movies that have yet to be released here, and should be within January and February 2015. These include a lot of the big awards contender movies. There are a few that I doubt would affect my list regardless (Foxcatcher, Unbroken), but a few others, particularly Nightcrawler, Whiplash, Wild, Inherent Vice, Selma, Force Majeure, Birdman, Citizenfour, Love is Strange, and Mr. Turner might well do. There’s also the less prestigious but awesome sounding John Wick, which I should be seeing in 3 weeks. I hope to have seen all of those other movies by the end of February, and honestly considered waiting until then to make this list, but no, if international distributors choose to deny us these films until 2015 then they can’t feature on any list the likes of an insignificant blogger such as me could make.
The other related decision I have to make is whether or not to include films from last years’ batch of awards contenders that weren’t released internationally until early 2014. These include The Wolf of Wall Street, Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, Her, and the Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave. My instinct is usually to disregard these films, they’ve had their moment, and I personally think of them as 2013 films, but I felt more differently about it this year. I reckon this is because there aren’t very many movies I’ve seen this year that were truly great, and two of those films are. Ultimately I decided not to count them, but I’ll begin this list with special mentions for Inside Llewyn Davis (Review) and The Wolf of Wall Street (Review), which would have made the number 4 and 5 slots respectively on my list had I counted them.
On another note, one film I got to see before the Americans did was Snowpiercer (all the way back in August last year). That made my top ten of 2013, it would almost certainly still feature in this list if I’d counted it again this year but there seemed to be little point in doing so.
It took me a while to whittle this list down, mainly because the films on 8-20 are all ranked about equally in my mental estimation. Choosing the number 10 spot was particularly tough.
10. The Skeleton Twins (Craig Johnson)
It didn’t get too much attention out of Sundance but I really enjoyed this drama centred on a pair of troubled siblings re-connecting after years apart. It also contains one of the best and most unexpected musical sequences of the year, and a revelatory performance from Bill Hader. My Review
09. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
Under the Skin is such a curious film, an art-house sci-fi horror movie about a predatory alien, filmed utilising techniques more associated with prankster comedies. I haven’t revisited it since my initial viewing but the striking imagery on display has truly stuck with me. My Review
08. The Guest (Adam Wingard)
It took over two years for Adam Wingard’s breakthrough film, the promising if flawed horror You’re Next to make it from its festival premier to general audiences. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait anywhere near as long to see his follow-up. The Guest is a definite step-up for the young director, an immensely enjoyable little thriller that lovingly homages eighties genre pictures without ever becoming a parody. Throw in a star making performance from Dan Stevens and a cleverly implemented eighties Goth-pop soundtrack, and you’ve got a film I already want to see again.
07. Interstellar (Christopher Nolan)
A lot of folks seemed to be labelling Interstellar a disappointment for having the nerve to not be a medium-changing masterpiece on the level of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Yes, it’s not perfect, but I’d rather see ambitious, original fare like this than the majority of studio blockbusters that clutter-up the summer any day. Interstellar contained a number of the year’s most exhilarating and exciting sequences, memorable visuals, and best score. It was one of the very few films that I went back to see in the cinema for a second time. My Review.
06. Gone Girl (David Fincher)
Never bet against David Fincher. He’s apparently able to take a novel I gave up on after a hundred or so pages, had no interest in seeing adapted and turn it into one of the best films of the year. Brought to life with a combination of his kinetic editing from Fight Club and the more naturalistic camera work he brought to The Social Network, Fincher crafts a devilishly entertaining and thought-provoking mystery-thriller that’s Probably the year’s most heated conversation starter. My Review.
05. The Salvation (Kristian Levring)
For the third year in a row, a Danish movie starring Mads Mikkelsen has made my top ten. The Salvation isn’t like any other Danish movies I’ve seen before though, in that it’s a Western. It manages to simultaneously seem like a modern spin on an old genre while embracing many of it’s established conventions, wonderfully filmed and performed. I hope it makes a splash upon it’s US release next year, because it’s awesome. My Review
04. The Lego Movie (Phil Lord & Christopher Miller)
Few films in 2014 had less of a reason to exist than The Lego Movie. I can’t imagine a single person predicting it would possibly be as good as it was. Yet this was more than just a hilarious animated comedy, its third act reveal was something else, an incredible turn that ultimately just destroyed me. Seriously, no other film this year made me cry, yet this did both times I saw it. My Short Review
03. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
I doubt any film has been written about more this year than Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s epic coming-of-age drama that he’d been working on intermittently since 2002. It’s an incredible achievement, one that I’ve come to appreciate more for being it’s own story rather than simply a chronicle of the stages of growing up most boys go through. Probably the one film of 2014 we can all be sure will live on for decades. My Review.
02. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
Wes Anderson fully embraced his unique, idiosyncratic style for this charming period piece that takes place in a Europe that isn’t quite real. He’s assembled a spectacular cast to assist him, led by a hilarious Ralph Fiennes. It’s managed to send him right back into my list of best working directors after his disappointing previous film. Most Anderson films improve upon a second viewing for me, but based on just one, Budapest probably ranks third in his tremendous filmography. My Review.
01. Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)
I’d been highly anticipating McDonagh’s follow-up to his fantastic début The Guard, but hadn’t expected it to be this good. While retaining the dark humour, Calvary adds a far more affecting layer to it. A fascinating drama, by turns hysterical, disturbing, and gripping with some relevant commentary to make about the state of Catholicism in modern Ireland, topped off by a career best performance from the ever-dependable Brendan Gleeson. No other film this year has held more power. My Review.
Numbers 11-20 would be:
Fury, Tim’s Vermeer, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Starred Up, Jodorowsky’s Dune, Enemy, The Homesman, Two Days, One Night, Mistaken for Strangers, We Are the Best!
Aside from the films already mentioned above, I’ll go with The Rover. I feel I owe David Michôd’s acclaimed debut feature Animal Kingdom a re-watch as I don’t remember being too keen on it. This, his follow-up opened to middling reviews and little fanfare in the summer. I had a couple of issues with its debatably over-nihilistic tone but overall found it to be a fascinating and original post-apocalyptic tale, and yet another reminder of how inexplicable it is that the always-good Guy Pearce never made the A-list post L.A. Confidential.
Film I Need To See Again:
I saw Blue Ruin with very little knowledge as to what it was about, to be honest I actually thought it was going to be a fun indie horror movie. In actuality it’s a revenge-themed crime drama that’s commendably drawn comparisons to Blood Simple. I ended up not reviewing it as I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind when I saw it. It’s reputation’s only grown since its release and I feel I need to catch it one more time before forming a lasting opinion.
Film I Just Didn’t Get:
Just like last year’s Frances Ha, the one film being showered with praise by everyone bar me this year is a short, black-and-white film centring on a titular female protagonist by a director whose previous work I really liked. And as much I have fond memories of Paweł Pawlikowski’s early British films, and could appreciate the photography, I overall found Ida unengaging and forgettable.