As it turned out, preparing to get married was pretty time consuming. Who knew? As such, our usual year-end round up podcast was been delayed to the point of it being slightly ridiculous to record, so in lieu of that here’s a write up of my thoughts on the matter.
Space year 2014 year saw another marked decline in the number of films I could watch – as it turns out, changing jobs and moving thirty miles from the nearest cinema limits your casual viewing opportunities.
So, there’s a bunch of films that I’d expect to be worthy of consideration that I’ve just not got round to, such as Nightcrawler and Boyhood, but of the films I’ve seen that had a U.K. cinema release in 2014, the best was pretty clearly 12 Years a Slave.
Old news by this point, of course, due to its 2013 release Stateside, but there’s no question in my mind that 12 Years a Slave‘s examination of the misery slavery inflicts and the strength of Solomon Northup was the best film of the year, and made for compelling, if deeply uncomfortable viewing. It also managed the unusual trick of being strangely timely, given the increasingly fractious state of race relations across the USA in 2014. Hardly laugh a minute stuff, but it’s essential viewing.
Beaten out by the thinnest of whiskers was The Grand Budapest Hotel, the latest of Wes Anderson’s whimsicals. It’s certainly open to accusations of being yet another Wes Anderson film from his production line of quirk-laden light entertainment, but this has his schtick condensed into the closest we’ve seen to a Platonic ideal of a Wes Anderson film. His usual eye for beautiful, colourful sets is unmatched here, and the blistering delivery of Ralph Fiennes makes this a hilarious experience. Lovely.
Another favourite that’s also pretty damn quirky was Es-Cor-Zeezies’ ludicrous Wolf of Wall Street, which seems every bit as fantastic as any of Anderson’s output but with the added jaw-drop of being largely true. High flying fraud at it’s most decadent, disgusting and amusing, tightly told and with great performances all round.
Gone Girl marks another top flight outing from David Fincher, with Ben Affleck silencing any remaining critics of his ability in front of the camera with a great turn as a wayward husband falling under suspicion of murdering his missing wife. Taking a few risks with tonal shifts as the narrative takes a few turns, if not outright twists, it turns out to be as much a black comedy as it is a thriller.
Spycraft next, with Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man, featuring a typically excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his final roles. As with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, it’s taken from a John le Carré novel and has the same low-key, believable approach to intelligence gathering and counter terrorism. It’s perhaps open to criticism of being ‘just’ a procedural, but when it’s done this well, who cares about that?
While the category of “best documentary film I watched this year” has, to the best of my recollection, only one runner, Jodorowsky’s Dune is a hell of a one to pick, especially with my particular cross-section of interests. Running through gonzo Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s stunningly described vision for bringing Frank Herbert’s novel Dune to life before David Lynch took his crack at it, it’s an engaguingly told story of trying to bring a grand vision to screen, even if sadly it ends in failure. No Space Emperor Andy Warhol for us.
In the admittedly beslendered field of my cinema-going for 2014, the above six were, I felt, a clear notch above the others, but that’s not to say there’s not a good number of great films waiting to fill up my top ten. You could take your pick from any of American Hustle, Inside Llewyn Davis, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Edge of Tomorrow or August: Osage County and have no less valid a list, all of which are well worth taking a look at. Particular mention should go to Captain America 2, as it’s such a huge improvement over the first and does a great job of bringing some character to Cap’n, which was sorely lacking in both the first film and the Avengers flick.
Meanwhile, at the shitty end of the stick, there’s competition for the most conventionally awful film between A Million Ways to Die In The West, a comedy that misfires too often for its own good and Hector and the Search for Happiness, which kills audiences with its tonal whiplash as it jumps between “breezy self help guide” and “Guantanamo-ish interrogation dsytopia”. However neither of these can match the peerless puddle of pish that was Under The Skin, a slow, meaningless look at Alien Scarlett Johansson luring Glasgow punters into a basement pool o’dissolution before running off to the woods. Glacially paced, amatuerish and pretentious beyond measure, any message it may have about the human condition would have to be arrived at purely by chance. Not recommended.
If you’re at all interested, the below list gives (to my recollection) the complete list of eligible films in a rough sort of order of preference, although I’ve only really given serious ranking consideration to the top and bottom ends, and there’s a pretty huge gulf between the awful Hector and the Search for Happiness and the merely sub-par Dracula Untold and Amazing Spidey 2.
- 12 Years A Slave
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
- The Wolf of Wall Street
- Gone Girl
- A Most Wanted Man
- Jodorowskis Dune
- American Hustle
- Inside Llewyn Davis
- X-Men: Days of Future Past
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- Edge of Tomorrow
- August: Osage County
- Hobbit 3
- Hunger Games 3
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- The Lego Movie
- Enders Game
- The Judge
- Sin City: A Dame To Kill For
- Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
- Jersey Boys
- Monument Men
- The Amazing Spider-Man 2
- Dracula Untold
- Hector and the Search for Happiness
- A Million Ways to Die In The West
- Under the Skin