Tuesday 30 December 2014

Top 25 Films of 2014: Part One

With 2014 drawing to a close it's time for me to compile my favourite films of the year. Instead of my usual 20 I've had to opt for 25 as there was just far too many I couldn't leave out of my list. If you think I have missed something off then let me know as I am always open to new suggestions.

25. The Congress

Robin Wright delivers a career-defining performance in this mind-bending tale of an actress who is convinced to sell her virtual identity, with her humbling decision to play herself adding gravitas to the emotional core of the film. Director Ari Folman also made a bold yet unconventional decision when he chose to animate the second half of his film. The Congress doesn't quite reach the brilliance of his previous animated effort Waltz With Bashir but still comes pretty damn close.

24. Edge of Tomorrow

I thought the last thing the world needed was an explosive take on Groundhog Day starring Tom Cruise as he tries to save the earth from marauding aliens but it turned out to be exactly what we needed. This intelligent and exciting science-fiction film was all kinds of fun, with its cerebral action proving far more engaging than the endless onslaught of Liam Neeson helmed action films.

23. Nightcrawler

This character-driven piece showcases Jake Gyllenhall at his finest, with his incredible turn as a manipulative crime-scene journalist being a million miles apart from the vacant stare that fuelled Donnie Darko. Worth seeing for Gyllenhall's performance alone, Dan Gilroy's directorial debut is a vicious black comedy that will leave you feeling both violated and awestruck.

22. The Double

Richard Ayoade's follow-up to his much lauded debut Submarine demonstrates a passion for film-making that is drenched in references to some of his favourite directors; Polanski, Hitchcock and Gilliam. The work of all three is a solid foundation for his adaptation of a Dostoevsky novel that sees Jesse Eisenberg confronted with a man who is identical in appearance but has a much better grasp of social situations, and explores the turmoil this encounter has on both of their lives.

21. L.F.O.

This imaginative Swedish science-fiction film was a surprise favourite of mine during this year's Grimmfest, with its thought-provoking and very funny script offering a welcome respite to a weekend that was mainly focused on horror. When a sound technician stumbles upon a frequency that can hypnotise the listener he begins to experiment on his neighbours with little care for their well-being. Imagine the humour and heart of Robot & Frank mixed with the low-budget inventiveness of Primer and you won't be far from this year's most under-rated film.

20. Guardians of the Galaxy

Just when Marvel films are beginning to feel tired and predictable they blow all expectations out of the water with Guardians of the Galaxy; a space opera that captured the imagination of children (big and small) everywhere this summer. I am Groot.

19. Calvary

Brendan Gleeson is a priest with a past in this dark Irish drama that delves into the troubles of a close-knit community when an unknown person announces his intentions to kill the priest in three days time during a confessional. The stunning Irish setting is used to great effect as this gripping tale of redemption gradually reaches its unforgettable conclusion.

18. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson's latest provides us with more whimsical yet wonderful characters and a colour palette and set design so precise it feels like he must have tinkered with them on many long and lonely nights. His artistry is second only to his storytelling, with Anderson's nostalgic view of life at a now derelict hotel in the mountains providing audiences with thrills, laughs, and potential heartbreak, when his cast of regulars regale yet another kooky but fascinating tale.

17. The Railway Man

This harrowing true account of an officer who was mistreated in a labour camp during WWII, who sets outs to confront his assailant upon discovering he is still alive years later, is a difficult but rewarding watch. Colin Firth stars as the former British army officer who decides to face the demons from his past as the only solution to move on with his future.

16. The Golden Dream

Treading similar ground to 2009's hard-hitting portrayal of life for South American emigrants heading to the USA, Sin Nombre, The Golden Dream is a similarly stark but more realistic drama based upon the real life experiences of numerous emigrants who were interviewed for the project. I was lucky enough to attend a Q & A session with the director and his heartbreaking film certainly captures the passion he feels for a situation that harbours danger in many guises for the people who are forced to tackle the perilous journey to the USA to reach their ultimate goal of a better life.

Part two of my countdown can be found here

Top 25 Films of 2014: Part Two

Following on from my previous post counting down from numbers 25-16 which can be found here, these are my next ten favourite films of 2014:

15. The Guest

Dan Stephens stars as an army veteran who visits the family of a fallen comrade but when a series of accidental deaths surround his arrival, they begin to question his true identity. One of the most intense and exciting thrillers of the year, The Guest has all the hallmarks of a cult classic in the making, with its synth-driven 80's soundtrack being my most played album of the year.

14. '71

Starring in two of the films in my list, Jack O'Connell has made the leap to the big time this year, and his performance in '71 demonstrates just how far he has come since his breakout roles in Eden Lake and Skins. As a British soldier accidentally left behind in Belfast during a riot, Hook is forced to make his way back to safety in this unrelenting chase thriller. From the shocking moment Hook is separated from his unit to the gripping finale, '71 will inevitably leave your pulse racing and your heart pounding.

13. Interstellar

Christopher Nolan's space odyssey combines awe-inspiring spectacle with powerful human drama to create an unforgettable cinematic experience. To read more about its influences and the evolution of space exploration in film, have a look at this feature I put together for Showfilmfirst: http://www.showfilmfirst.com/journey-space/

12. Coherence

Favouring cerebral Science-fiction over spectacle, this is a satisfying exploration of parallel universes that deserves to be seen by a wider audience. Coherence may leave you scratching your head far more than the events in Interstellar but rewards repeat viewings as the pieces of the puzzle slowly begin to fit together. Low-budget but thought-provoking science-fiction is rarely done this well, and the sinister turns that affect a seemingly innocuous gathering are both inventive and wholly convincing thanks to the engaging cast.

11. Gone Girl

That one of David Fincher's finest hours doesn't quite make my top ten shows just how strong a year 2014 has been, with Trent Reznor's intense soundtrack providing the perfect backdrop to this exceptionally well-made graphic thriller about a man who is accused for the disappearance of his wife. Cold and clinical throughout, Fincher's adaptation of Gillian Flynn's successful novel is a tour de force for Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike who play the accused husband and missing wife but for me it is Neil Patrick Harris who steals the show as an obsessive former lover of Nick Dunne's missing wife.

10. Boyhood

Richard Linklater's incredible project was filmed over a period of 12 years, allowing the audience to witness the growth of the young star at the helm (Ellar Coltrane) from a five year-old boy into a young man, encapsulating key moments in his adolescence. That Linklater worked these scenes into a compelling story just adds to the impact of his masterpiece, and those who grew up over the same period of time will undoubtedly feel kindred spirits to Coltrane's instantly likeable Mason. This is unmissable, life-affirming film-making.

9. X-Men: Days Of Future Past

When X-Men: The Last Stand nearly acted as the final nail in the mutant's coffin, it was down to Matthew Vaughan's reboot to save the franchise, and First Class did just that, as well as being the perfect springboard for director Bryan Singer's return to form with the epic Days of Future Past. Utilising time travel as the perfect tool to unite the cast from the original franchise along with the newcomers in First Class, Singer had the unenviable task of juggling dozens of characters but all feel fully realised in one of the best X-Men outings to date.

8. Starred Up

Once again Jack O'Connell delivers a blistering performance in this brutal prison drama alongside Ben Mendelsohn who shot to prominence after his appearance in Animal Kingdom. Playing a troubled youngster relocated from a juvenile prison and his inmate father that runs the wing he is moved to, O'Connell and Mendelsohn's volatile characters are utterly fascinating to watch as they jostle for supremacy against the guards, violent inmates and each other.

7. The Wolf of Wall Street

Fifteen years ago no-one would have dared to suggest that Scorsese would ever form a partnership as prolific as that of his and Robert De Niro, but his work with Leonardo DiCaprio is coming very close to matching it. The Wolf of Wall Street showcases just how well this partnership can work, with Scorsese's riotously funny adaptation of Jordan Belfort's true rise to success as a drug-addled stock-broker garnering five Oscar nominations including a nod for both leading actor and director.

6. What We Do In The Shadows

From the team behind The Flight Of The Conchords, What We Do In The Shadows is essentially This is Spinal Tap for vampires, and is one of the funniest mockumentaries I have ever seen. Its send up of the horror genre offers a hilarious insight into the lives of three New Zealand vampires who flat-share together, and their encounters with the local werewolves that inevitably lead to trouble. For more on the film, check out the feature I wrote for ShowFilmFirst:   http://www.showfilmfirst.com/vampire-vex/

Part three of my countdown can be found here

Top 25 Films of 2014: Part Three

Following on from my previous post couting down from numbers 15-6 which can be found here, these are my top five favourite films of 2014:

5. Pride

Tackling the true story of the 1980's miners strikes and the support offered to them by LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners), this life-affirming drama is incredibly moving as well as being very funny. If you like Shane Meadow's films (and let's face it - who doesn't?) then I implore you to seek this out as it is a powerful and important film that encapsulates the era exceptionally well much like This is England. You can read my full review here: http://filmbantha.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/cinema-review-pride.html

4. The Past

Asghar Farhadi's superb follow-up to the 2012 Oscar winner for the Best foreign picture (A Separation) is another enthralling drama with an added poignancy that brings a surprising emotional heft to the story. When an Iranian man returns to Paris to finalise his divorce with his French ex-wife he begins to unravel a heinous act when he reconnects with his step-daughters. This is bold and beautiful storytelling from one of cinema's most accomplished directors, and although others may disagree, I believe that this is Farhadi's most masterful work to date.

3. The Raid 2

Following a film as game-changing as The Raid was bound to be an incredibly difficult feat but director Gareth Evans and actor Iko Uwais took the sequel in an entirely new direction whilst still providing its fans with the relentless action sequences they were craving. Expanding the story introduced in the original to create an epic crime saga meant that the action could be transported to a whole host of locations to include a phenomenal mud-drenched battle in a prison yard, a high-octane car chase and an unforgettable struggle in a nightclub. This is what cinema was created for; pure entertainment that left me completely speechless and, if the third part of the story continues to be as breathtakingly awesome, I cannot wait to see what Gareth Evans has in store for us.

2. Birdman

Michael Keaton bares all in this staggering black comedy as a washed up actor once famous for his role in Birdman who is trying to eke out a living as a Broadway actor, and the parallels to his own past as Tim Burton's Batman add gravitas to what is arguably a career-reviving performance. Keaton puts everything on the line, and his trust in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's direction pays dividends with his decision to use only long takes picking up on every nuance that Keaton packs into his character, as well as providing numerous breathtaking shots as the camera glides effortlessly around the stunning location on Broadway. Edward Norton, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts are so perfect in their supporting roles that it constantly feels like you are watching the greatest show on earth unravel right before your eyes, but it is Keaton who steals the limelight, and as the weight of his past successes come crushing down it all feels so perversely satisfying. I've not left the cinema with a smile on my face that big for some time, and with the knowledge that I would have happily headed straight back through those doors to watch Birdman all over again, right there and then.

1. 12 Years A Slave

With his impressive debut Hunger and its equally as awe-inspiring follow up Shame, Steve McQueen was well on the way to becoming one of my favourite directors. His masterpiece, 12 Years A Slave, is a film that completely broke me, with Mcqueen ushering in a devastating tale about the plight of a free man (Solomon Northup) wrongly imprisoned and sold on as a slave. Such a harrowing tale will inevitably deter some viewers; its stark depiction of the violence and brutality experienced by slaves will test audiences to their limits but there is no denying that this is an important story that needed to be told. Chiwetel Ejiofor's unforgettable portrayal of Solomon Northup may just haunt your dreams forever, with his unwavering hope of freedom in the face of unimaginable adversity being an inspiration to all.

So if you agree/disagree with any of my choices or believe I have wrongly left any films off then let me know. For a full list of every new release I have seen in 2014 ranked in order from my favourite to least favourite then head over to my Letterboxd account here - http://letterboxd.com/filmbantha/list/2014-releases-ranked/