As part of EdgarReviews’ 12 Days of Christmas, a Top 10 will be posted every few days from 14th December to 25th December.
2014 has been one of my favourite years for films in a very long time; there’s been a fantastic mix of prolific blockbusters, engrossing indies and offbeat comedies. Due to various reasons, including UK release dates, I haven’t had a chance to watch heavily-touted flicks like Whiplash, Birdman, Gone Girl and Foxcatcher. Therefore this list may appear rather different to any other written so far; though rest assured, all films on this list are deservedly praised; I can’t recommend them enough.
Chef, directed by and starring Jon Favreau, is a joy to watch from start to finish. While it certainly doesn’t carry a large amount of emotional heft and drama, that’s not the point; Chef’s lack of cynicism is refreshing, where Favreau only intends to take the audience on a culinary journey with a heartwarming family (including a child actor that’s actually good!) and some excellent dishes. The film follows Favreau as he decides to start a food truck business with his family directly after a disagreement at his previous restaurant. As he begins the journey, comedic moments, family bonding and feel-good moments ensue. With a stellar cast (Robert Downey Jr’s cameo a particular highlight), a soundtrack guaranteed to make you smile and succulent meals that will make any sane audience member’s stomach rumble, Chef earns its number 10 spot with aplomb.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom almost steals the show in Nightcrawler, directed by newcomer Dan Gilroy. Unsettling and intense, the film focuses on Bloom’s pursuit of his twisted version of ‘The American Dream’, where he chooses to start a crime footage business. Hiring a hapless intern, brilliantly played by Four Lions’ Riz Ahmed, the film spirals into insanity as Bloom’s actions grow increasingly more hungry, dangerous and sinister. While the performances are mesmerising at times – Rene Russo’s Nina, a television news producer should also be included in this appraisal – they hardly carry the film; the script is sharp, the pacing is perfect and the cinematography is beautiful – the LA streets haven’t looked this sleek since Nicolas Winding-Refn’s Drive.
Nightcrawler Review here.
8. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
The New Zealand indie What We Do In the Shadows is 2014’s funniest pure comedy. Taking the recently flooded vampire premise and turning it on its head, the film is a mockumentary that mainly follows three vampires (and later a fourth) through their endeavours and antics while living in a house as flatmates. Performances are strong and the sparse effects are used well, but the hero of this flick is its witty script, producing fantastic one-liners – “We’re werewolves, not swearwolves” and “No, you can’t kill the cameramen. Maybe one cameraman.” – and hilarious situations, including a literal bat fight, that had the audience laughing their heads off.
7. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
As far as blockbuster-esque films go, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (that’s quite am mouthful) is one of the best of the decade. Building upon its predecessor’s success, the film offers more thrilling action sequences, greater special effects, a larger amount of moral ambiguity, and all while maintaining its quality to a vast target demographic. Stunning scenes (a particular 360-degree action shot comes to mind) make up large portions of the film; it follows the struggle between humans and apes ten years after the pandemic that wiped out the majority of humans. The tension between the two parties build, and inevitably boil over as mutiny and treachery unfold. Andy Serkis delivers a stunning performance (though not an Oscar-worthy one, like many claim) that is aided by the remarkable special effects that seamlessly fit into the film.
6. THE LEGO MOVIE
The greatest animated movie since PIXAR’s Up, The Lego Movie is a hilarious addition to Christopher Miller and Phil Lord’ filmography, proving their worth as one of the best recent writer/director pairs (the Jump Street franchise proves that). The film is beautifully animated, made to look like classic stop-motion; it’s a wise decision that gives the film a stylistic, creative tone and sets itself apart from the current flood of 3D animations. As far as plots go, it’s surprisingly eloquent and meaningful for a children’s film – following a regular guy (Chris Pratt) who’s mistaken as ‘The Chosen One’, he sets himself on an adventure, joined by a crew featuring the voice talents of Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, and a Batman brilliantly written and played by Will Arnett, as they attempt to stop an evil businessman (Will Ferrel) from world domination. The gags are thrice-a-minute, hitting you fast and with little rest. It’s a joy to watch the plot unfold, where its animation, witty script and well-written characters provide the audience with one of the most fun movies to view in ages.
5. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
Released in the UK in 2014, Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the Coen Brothers’ best, featuring a script as achingly depressing and darkly comedic as you would expect from the pair of directors. One of the strengths of the Coens is their ability to create interesting, oft-hilarious characters while maintaining a sense of believability, and that’s no more apparent here as the titular character (played brilliantly by Oscar Isaac) is confronted with such characters as Carey Mulligan’s spiteful ex-lover, John Goodman’s disturbed jazz musician, Adam Driver’s eccentric friend, and Garret Hedlund’s constantly-smoking poet. The array of offbeat characters don’t burden the brooding, droll script; it’s both hilarious and discouraging to watch Davis as he struggles through his life, let down by both his luck and his faulted endeavours. The film is aided by some great folk-songs on display, where Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake are a particular highlight. The cinematography, too, is excellent, capturing a nostalgic atmosphere as well as its brooding tone.
4. THE DOUBLE
Director Richard Ayoade’s follow-up to his critically acclaimed Submarine, The Double more than dispels any doubts about Ayoade’s talent as a filmmaker. The Double is truly excellent, and would be higher on any list if 2014 wasn’t such a fantastic year for films. Jesse Eisenberg plays both Simon James and James Simon – one an introverted slither of a man, another a confident, charmingly dangerous double, his entrance sending Simon James (and only Simon James) into delirium. Simon Jame’s pursuit to befriend and seduce his love interest (Brilliantly played by Mia Wasikowska) is halted by his double’s antics, and a rivalry forms, and spirals out of control. Adapted off of a Dostoyevsky novella, the flick has a suitably bleak and claustrophobic feel that increases tension tenfold. It’s a deeply polarising production that will turn away many critics – its subtle humour and crazed plot points will confuse and frustrate as much as it will entertain, but that’s no matter – it’s an ingenious film that bludgeons the audience with symbolism, wit and an ending that forces the audience to stay attentive. While both the direction and the performances are terrific, they don’t overshadow the striking, musty cinematography (its claustrophobic feel increased by a lack of any sunlight shown) and a pumping, mechanical soundtrack fitting of what the film tries (and succeeds) to present.
Interstellar is not a perfect film. Brimming with exposition, a tendency to force-feed the audience, and clunky dialogue, Nolan’s latest is frustrating at times. Despite all this, watching Interstellar in IMAX 70mm was my favourite cinematic experience of my life thus far; so good, I watched it twice more. Nolan is oft-criticised (though I disagree) with being technically fantastic but emotionally distant. Interstellar serves as an antithesis to this point with some heartbreaking scenes – one particular children-to-father segment being a standout. Yet the director maintains his technical prestige with one of the year’s best cinematography – certainly the year’s best special effects. The effects – accompanied by Hans Zimmer’s amazing score that boasts soulful organs – lead to some amazingly vast and overwhelming scenes – a giant wave captivates the audience magnificently – as does the brooding tension of a perceived antagonist trying to dock incorrectly. As far as performances go, each actor brings a verve and sentimentality about them that allows them to escape their caricature. Interstellar was my most anticipated film of 2014, and it didn’t let me down. It may have left me slightly frustrated, but that’s only because I know its minute shortcomings prevent the sci-fi epic from becoming a masterpiece; the fact that it received such mixed reviews is mind-blowing given how impressive the film was – a clear portrayal of how expectations of Nolan have risen dangerously high.
2. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Wes Anderson is one of my favourite, if not my favourite modern directors. The Grand Budapest Hotel is my new favourite of his (muscling out The Royal Tenenbaums),a delightful and charming tale of a hotel and its owner (magnificently played by Ralph Fiennes, fitting seamlessly into his against-typecast comedic role), aided by a lobby boy (Tony Revolori, also fantastic) in attempting to steal a world-renowned painting (to which they rightfully own), encountering villainous characters and obstacles in the form of iron bars. It’s deeply funny, with slapstick moments (“Did he just throw my cat out the window?”) and classic Anderson humour (“You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh, fuck it. “) that add to the flick’s breakneck pace. Yet it’s also subtly sorrowful – a war subplot is sparsely mentioned but cuts through the comical facade like butter, hinting at a much more tragic backdrop. The mood isn’t dampened too much, however – eye-globbering visuals, Desplat’s nostalgic score and Ralph Fienne’s off-kilter performance is enough to maintain The Grand Budapest Hotel’s stylistic perfection. There is little to fault with the film, and if it wasn’t being released in the same year as the final film on this list, it would surely make the top spot…
The Grand Budapest Hotel Review here.
And here we have my favourite film of the year; Linklater’s Boyhood is a moving, fascinating and honest depiction of life – not just life as a boy, as the title suggests, but life as a sibling, life as a father, life as a single parent. The film is a 3-hour epic that feels anything but; it’s reserved and raw, subtle in its portrayal of the important things in life. Events in the film appear as strands – not adding up to anything and simply in a state of being. While this could be perceived as a criticism, it’s quite the opposite – this is life, true life, and not what is shown in the slew of coming-of-age flicks. Each event holds great sentimental value and weight when pieced together – you feel as you are living the life of Mason (Understatedly played out by Ellar Coltrane) – Linklater’s ability to eek out naturalness is uncanny. Boyhood isn’t just ambitious – it’s a structural masterpiece and a film that will be remembered for a very long time. I’ve now seen this film twice and it hit me harder the second time – the mere thought of Coltrane’s life squeezed from an expanded state into a production is oddly profound – a sentiment shared by Mason’s mum (Patricia Arquette in what should surely earn her an Oscar nomination, if not a win for best supporting actress) as she utters the devastating line “I just thought there would be more”. Resonating deeply with me – and most likely many more out there – Boyhood is an eloquent portrayal of life and the moments worth living for.
Boyhood Review here.