The Last Word On 2014
It’s that time again, the end of one year, beginning of another, the perfect opportunity to be like everyone else in the world and present our list of The Last Word On Earth Top 10 Movies of 2014!
Only it’s 12, not 10 (we really tried!) and we cover the awards year as opposed to the calendar year, so depending on where you live in the world some of these may not have reached you yet. Others only reached you this year – but we covered them last year (so they’re not on this list.) It’s not as confusing as you think. Really.
So, without further ado, and in the time-honored tradition of “in reverse order” here is our Top Ten (sorry, 12) of 2014 -
12: The Angriest Man In Brooklyn
It barely got released, it was more VOD or DTV but, without doubt, the biggest loss of the year was the tragic suicide of the funniest man in the world, and this may not be Robin Williams’ finest film by a long shot, but it was his best performance in years, a reminder of what the man was capable of. True-life events of course leant this film of a man facing up to his own imminent death an almost unbearable level of poignancy – one moment in particular has Williams’ character state how his gravestone will read – “1951-2014”, which of course turned out to be the man’s own dates. A reminder of one of the greatest talents and a heartbreaking film to have to watch in light of that.
Who saw this one coming? Most thought this would be a passable rehashing of a childhood fave, destined never to live up to those with memories fondly full of Peruvian bears and marmalade sandwiches. And for those of us who never bothered with the books or the ‘70s TV animations, expectations were even lower. But we were forgetting producer David Heyman, who knows a thing or two about adapting well-loved children’s books. Paddington turned out to be a completely winning, warm, beautifully crafted family movie, full of very well judged comedy and emotion, beautifully played by a superb cast and voiced to sheer perfection by Ben Wishaw. Smart, funny, contemporary and timeless, it’s fair to say this one surprised just about everyone and won just about every heart it got anywhere near.
10: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Marvel had a hell of a year. They launched the franchise no one knew (Guardians) and landed one of the biggest hits of the year. And, before that, unveiled their finest standalone film (if any Marvel film can be said to be standalone these days) since the first Iron Man. Cap’s second solo outing moved him from WWII and bang into the now, whilst also taking a detour back to the political conspiracy movies of the ‘70s, something ably aided and abetted by the casting of said genre’s poster boy Robert Redford as, for once, the bad guy. Hail Hydra indeed! The newly anointed Russo Brothers not only displayed an incredible ability for standout action sequences (they used to direct Community, you know!), they showed strong acumen for character, and a knack at building the mythos of the Marvel Universe at the same time as tearing it down (throwing a spanner in the world of Marvel’s recently launched Agents of SHIELD TV franchise at the same time.) Best superhero film of the year, as Captain America instantly became everyone’s favorite Marvel character. (At least until Groot came along later in the summer.)
9: The Imitation Game
In which Sherlock Bandicoot wins the war, and Keira Knightly manages not to say “Jolly hockey sticks” despite displaying the world’s most jolly hockey sticks voice since Joyce Grenfell. The story of Alan Turing and his decoding of the Enigma machine, subsequent winning of WWII etc. was brilliantly realized in a movie that managed to balance true life drama, controversy, history and, of vital importance as it turned out, a great deal of humor (not least Charles Dance eating any and all available scenery.) A superb cast, two excellent central performances – Bandicoot was fab but kudos to Knightley for taking a one-dimensional almost-love interest and fully fleshing the woman out. In a year with two prominent British films featuring two leading young British actors playing two equally “troubled” (albeit in different ways) brilliant British scientists – this was so much better than the other one! (Mentioning no names.)
Easily the creepiest character of the year took the lead in one of the year’s most unsettling movies. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom was an ostensibly charming video cameraman for the TV news who was somewhere between sociopath and all-out psychopath, with an emaciated face, a wide smile and he deadest eyes this side of Norman Bates. Dan Gilroy’s first film creeped through the night and the lives of these characters who seek to sensationalize the news, one tragic accident and dead body at a time. Thoughtful, provocative and all held together with a dark, dark seam of black comedy.
If you were to tell us at the start of the year that we would be sitting absolutely enthralled and enraptured at something as potentially soul-destroying as a protracted jazz drum solo, we wouldn’t have believed you. But two powerhouse performances and a compelling drama that kind of inverts Dead Poets and Mr Chips both, and here we are at one of the most powerful movies of the year. Miles Teller was extremely good as the young player, desperate to achieve his potential and satisfy his impossible to please teacher/mentor/tormenter (still can’t see him as Mr Fantastic though – time will tell.) But this movie really belongs to J K Simmons, a long-time fave supporting player who here was given his moment to shine. And the man did not drop the ball. Ruthless at all times, heartless at others, completely understandable throughout, Simmons elevates an already fine movie. As sure a bet for Best Supporting Actor this year as we could imagine. If we were the betting type…
6: Gone Girl
Some labeled Fincher’s take on Gillian Flynn’s best-seller a divisive movie, the word misogyny was inevitably thrown up. Depends if you think it’s a comedy or not. For all its thriller like conventions, and the twists he and Flynn inflict upon those, there is a darkly black and deliberately unpleasant comic heart at the centre of this story. Satirical in part, but more than anything, perversely twisted. You wouldn’t expect David Fincher to be attracted to a conventional thriller, after all. Would you? For the straight man/fall guy of the piece, Fincher found a superb foil in Ben Affleck, who played with his own image and audience expectations to quiet, understated perfection. By far the showier role went to Rosamund Pike, who showed up with simply one of the best performances of the year, wrapped in sociopathy (her and Lou Bloom should consider dating), awash with genuinely unpleasant violence, both literally and emotionally. But funny! (In its own dark, twisted and hugely impressive way.)
5: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson mixed film ratios, history and his own beautifully realized version of a fantastic reality in his latest, one of his very best to date. For a man who plows the same very deliberate furrow in terms of style – both visually and verbally – it is truly remarkable how fresh and original he manages to keep his movies. Set in his own vision of between-the-wars middle-Europe, Grand Budapest saw the filmmaker call up just about everyone in his address book for what were often only fleeting appearances. But that was something that never detracted from Budapest Hotel, indeed, it makes some kind of sense that everyone that populates the Anderson universe would be someone you recognize. Gluing the whole thing together was the brilliant comic performance of Ralph Fiennes as concierge Gustave H, truly a very specific man of a very specific time.
How heartening it was then to see that despite his relegation to the world of the art house, Grand Budapest was not only the funniest film of the year (take that Horrible Bosses 2!!) but also the director’s most successful film to date, taking over $100 million.
It’s Wes’ world – we don’t live there, but we should be damn grateful to get to visit every now and then.
4: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
Rupert Wyatt reinvented the POTA franchise so well with the recent Rise, that it was something of a worry to see what Matt Reeves would do to the Dawn. We needn’t have worried. The smartest, most human blockbuster of the summer played brilliantly with the Apes mythology, echoing the originals and redefining the future of this tale that, in one form or another, has been running (film-wise) since 1968. As before, the film hinges on a titanic performance from Andy Serkis as Caesar, a chimp brought to intelligence by James Franco (yes, we do know how weird that sounds.) When, for God’s sakes, will the Academy finally understand this is not special effects – it’s make up, pure and simple. Digital make up, but still make up. The man is still acting underneath it – just like John Hurt was in The Elephant Man, just like Charles Laughton was in Hunchback of Notre Dame, just like Karloff in Frankenstein. The medium has changed – the work remains the same. Wake up and give the man a fucking Oscar!
After his former DP Wally Pfister screwed up so badly earlier in the year with the lamentable Transcendence, it was down to Chris Nolan to deliver the year’s finest exercise in intelligent science fiction. And was there ever any doubt that the man would deliver? Interstellar was probably Nolan’s biggest, certainly his longest film to date. And very definitely his most emotional. Anchored by a central performance from McConaughey (every bit as strong as his more showy and award-winning turn in Dallas Buyers last year) this was a film that blasted off to the deepest regions of the outer limits and, in many ways, never left home. For all its intelligently reasoned science, ambitious future visions, dazzling visuals and philosophical debate on the future of mankind, this is not a movie about space ships, space travel or even space travellers. It’s about parenting, pure and simple. (In every sense of the word, if you want to follow the eco theme through.) And it comes complete with the most beautiful cinematic metaphor of the year.
Nolan, from day one, has openly acknowledged the debt he owes (and the tribute he pays) to 2001. But there’s a fundamental difference between his film and Kubrick – Nolan’s is a film suffused with real honest emotion, moving in profound ways, tear-inducing in the right way, provocative in an emotional and not just an intellectual sense. Possibly the most draining film of the year – in a wonderful life-affirming way.
2: Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)
Remarkable in so many ways. Not least the technical. Inarritu presents his two hour movie as one impossible continuous take – superbly realized/faked by his brilliant DP Emmanuel Lubezki. It’s a visual trick that you start looking at in awe but soon forget as you slip into the mind of Michael Keaton’s down at heel actor, a man who used to be famous for playing a screen superhero no less, trying to re-launch his career via a Broadway play. It’s essentially a backstage story, told in a condensed space but on a huge canvas, rooted as much in Keaton’s imagination as the director’s. Brilliantly inventive as it is visually, the film is anchored by some amazing performances. Keaton simply has to walk away with Best Actor this year (screw all those “challenged” Brit scientists), Ed Norton (essentially playing a version of his own public perception) would also be a winner (were it not for JK Simmons) and we’re also quite happy for Emma Stone to pick up some gold. Outrageously inventive, technically staggering, emotionally compelling. Oh yeah, and funny as all hell. As bravura as bravura gets.
And was this close to the top spot. But…
Drum roll please. In the coveted position of the Last Word On Earth Film Of The Year 2014 -
For the longest time, we were going to cheat and make this and Birdman joint Number 1. But at the last minute this just edged it. Why? For the simplest of reasons – once you’ve seen it, this film lives inside of you. It’s there, in your memory and your heart. It is so resonant. Even months later, this film stays with you. It probably will for a very long time.
And one of the reasons is – it’s so simple. Both this and Birdman are amazing pieces of filmmaking on a purely technical level. Inarritu’s may be one of the most digital movies ever made, disguised as a simple back stage dramedy. Richard Linklater’s meanwhile is more basic but nonetheless ambitious, filmed as it were over a 12 year period – one week a year – to chronicle not just the growing up of a boy from 6-18, but of a whole family. At its finest, it’s deeply ordinary. And Christ knows we can all relate to that.
Whilst the Texan filmmaker’s brilliant Before… trilogy revels in its discursive nature, this just unfolds. It’s almost a cliché to say “just like real life” because it’s not; it’s still as artificial a construct as any other film. But damn, it feels like real life.
Linklater’s achievement is unique in cinema, at once simple, yet profound. But never about the discussion around it, or the praises subsequently heaped upon it. Always about the way it makes you feel when you watch it.
Well, there you have it – the Last Word on the Top 10 Movies Of The Year 2014 (OK, Top12 – we know!)
But what did we miss out? In the interests of fair play (and of course self-indulgence) here are a few of the also-rans, in no particular order, just because we liked ‘em!
Scariest Movie of the Year - The Babadook – an Australian nightmare that reminded one and all that in the age of Blumhouse Production not everything has to go quiet and BANG, and the real things that scare you are the closest to home. Watch it with the lights out.
The Impossible Not To Enjoy Summer Movie - Guardians of the Galaxy – Marvel have yet to put a foot wrong. In fact, with this, they actually expanded their cinematic universe – literally – into other worlds. Going for big smarts and big laughs, they created a whole new bunch of characters, including a talking raccoon and the best tree in cinematic history, this film was practically impossible not to love and be entertained by. Audiences who didn’t have a clue, who the Guardians were by the start of the summer, loved the hell out of them by the end. Ourselves included. And to top it all, our favorite ever Marvel character showed up at the end. Rock on Howard the Duck!
Best Film In One Of Those “Other” Languages, You Know, Subtitled -Two Days, One Night – The Dardennes Brothers’ low-key drama focused on Marion Cotillard spending the weekend asking her fellow workers to help her save her job. A beautifully understated, naturalistic film that allowed its audience to feel for both protagonist and antagonist. Expect to see Cotillard back at the Oscars.
Best Semi-Animated Film of This Year (And Last) -The Congress – We actually saw this in 2013 but it took its time showing up. Robin Wright sells her image to Hollywood in a film that started as satire and became a real tale of loss, starting off live action, and then becoming a beautifully animated experience. Unique – find it if you haven’t.
Best Batshit Crazy Film Of The Year – it’s a tie! – Lucy/The Guest – Both just brilliantly mental. The former had Scarlett Johansson as a hyper intelligent drug mule inadvertently expanding everyone’s universe; the latter had a career redefining “Downton Dan” Stevens as the houseguest from hell, out to play with a whole load of ‘80s genre clichés. Both perfect for a Friday night when you’ve had too much to drink.
Most Undervalued “BIG” Movie of the Year - Edge of Tomorrow – What happened here? Doug Liman made a thoroughly entertaining sci-fi big summer movie – WITH SMARTS! – and hardly anyone showed up!?! Has Cruise’s star burnt so low that audiences will stay away even when the man’s in a really good movie?? Do all concerned (the great Emily Blunt included) and yourselves a favour – give it a solid life on home video. You won’t be disappointed. (Now going under the far better name of “Live. Die. Repeat.”)
Most Undervalued “Small” Movie of the Year – Calvary – John Michael McDonagh and Brendan Gleeson continue their Irish trilogy (see also The Guard – and whatever comes next) in spectacular semi-secular form. Gleeson gave one of the best performances of the year; an uncharacteristic Chris O’Dowd impressed as well
Most Undervalued “Offbeat” Movie of the Year – Frank – Michael Fassbender spent most of the movie emoting from within a large papier-mâché head, yet this was a curiously emotional film, sort of based on the life of Manchester comic-musician Frank Sidebottom. But, then again, sort of not. (Excellent work also from Domhnall Gleeson who also cropped up opposite his dad in the above.)
Best Bill Murray Performance of the Year – Bill Murray – St Vincent – The man hasn’t done a lead like this in years and boy was this welcome. Bill doing what he does best – but also a good deal more than expected. One of the finest performances – comic or not – of the year.
Best Terry Gilliam Movie of the Year - The Zero Theorem – Plagued by lack of funding and issues with studios, any time Terry Gilliam actually gets a movie made should be automatically a time for rejoicing. He labeled this the third part of his science fiction trilogy, following on from Brazil and Twelve Monkeys. And thematically it was right in that wheelhouse. But also something new and challengingly inventive. Made for next to nothing somewhere in deepest, darkest Eastern Europe, it was also a beautiful looking film (courtesy of one-eyed DP Nicola Pecorini) and had the likes of Christoph Waltz, Matt Damon and Tilda Swinton showing up to work at scale for the great man.
Most Fun Film We Saw This Year That Isn’t Coming Out Till Next Year, So We Can’t Talk About It (Even Though We Did Already) - Kingsman The Secret Service – Look out for this one in 2015. It’s Matthew Vaughn giving us his Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie before his old mate Guy Ritchie does the same thing officially later next year. Best church shoot out EVER! Head-explodingly good fun.
Happy New Year!
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