List: Top 20 Films of 2014 (10-1)

And so on to my top 10 of 2014. As ever I would remind that this is one man’s opinion and isn’t intended to read as a definitive list. These things are always, to a degree, arbitrary and always up for debate. But debating about movies is a great thing to do, for the casual viewer or the avid collector of cinematic experiences. These, then, are my favourites that 2014 had to offer, running the gamut from the niche or arthouse to movies that were born and bred for mass appeal.

For inclusion on this list, the films in question had to have their UK release within 2014.

10. Only Lovers Left Alive

(Jim Jarmusch)

Only Lovers Left Alive

In A Sentence: Two married vampires, Adam and Eve, who have lived for centuries, reunite in Detroit when Eve becomes concerned that Adam has become suicidal.

At The Time: Jarmusch’s film is happy to poke fun at its own elitist attitude, mocking hipster sensibilities continuously. The more extended punchline is that this film seems likely to be embraced by the very set it lampoons. At the very least it deserves placement next to every worn copy of Withnail & I littering student halls across the country. Such is the gleefully exasperated tone here; the world may have gone to shit, but Adam and Eve are keen to relish in the small pleasures that endure – art and music and love and the odd scuzzy rock gig. (March 16th)

And Now?: So hipster it positively hurts, and yet wonderfully enjoyable all the same. It may lack narrative propulsion, but the joys here are worth languishing in. Hiddleston and Swinton are superb (especially Swinton) and Jarmusch hasn’t been this easily digestible in a little while. Plus, you get to see where Jack White grew up. Maybe.

9. Nymphomaniac Vol. I

(Lars Von Trier)

Nymphomaniac Vol. 1

In A Sentence: The first half of Lars Von Trier’s provocative odyssey as a beaten woman recounts her lifelong sexual encounters to a helpful stranger.

At The Time: He’s always been a gifted storyteller, but Von Trier is positively on fire here, utilising everything from split screen, stock footage, black and white, different film stocks and aspect ratios, not to mention a recurring motif of layering text and/or diagrams over his images. Nymphomaniac Vol. I almost feels like a Von Trier greatest hits package. Much like Kill Bill Vol. I, it might not be the director’s best work, but it sure as hell seems like he’s having the most fun of his career. (February 23rd)

And Now?: 3+5=8, and that’s where Nymphomaniac lands, Vol. I anyway. Take away the gimmicks itemised above and you still have a remarkably engaging, surprisingly funny film on your hands. Von Trier may be an incorrigible trickster, but the cinematic landscape would be a drab place without him. In addition, this film raises the number of superb films starring Shia LaBeouf up to 1.

8. The Guest

(Adam Wingard)

The Guest

In A Sentence: The grieving family of a deceased solider receive an unexpected visit from one of his company, and soon find their luck changing in unexpected and violent ways as he becomes their menacing protector.

At The Time: The Guest may wink gratifyingly at its audience for much of the first hour, but it mostly uses this time to build a sense of reality ready to be torn down later. David’s initial appearance at the Peterson house feels like something out of a play, imbued with sadness and pocked with deft silences filled with pathos. It is only as the violence escalates, and David’s manner grows more and more unhinged (a phenomenal piece of charismatic acting from Stevens) that the bubble bursts and the audience is left in manic, B-movie free-fall. (September 2nd)

And Now?: Utterly bonkers, but ridiculously enjoyable, Wingard’s latest is his first step out of the umbrella of indie-horror, an idiosyncratic action romp which should lead to bigger things. Dan Stevens is superb in the lead role of David, while the film’s synthy score ought to receive the same love that Drive‘s has encountered. Your cult-viewing recommendation of the year.

7. Nightcrawler

(Dan Gilroy)

K72A3451d.tif

In A Sentence: A social outcast stumbles upon the tawdry business of ‘nightcrawling’; roaming the streets of Los Angeles with a police scanner and a video camera, rushing to film the aftermath of accidents or violent crimes in order to sell the footage to the news networks.

At The Time: If Nightcrawler has any immediate flaw it is that, as events escalate, we start to lose a grip on Bloom as a person at all. He becomes a sort of media content Terminator, prowling the streets for his next victim. Nevertheless, Gilroy’s film is so assured as to feel like an instant classic. (October 26th)

And Now?: Gilroy’s voyeuristic nightmare is an astounding showcase for Jake Gyllenhaal, reminding audiences why he was such an exciting prospect when he first appeared on the scene. The film itself is a slick, sinister ode the dark alter ego of L.A., and resonates with neo-noir renaissance of the early 80’s.

6. The Lego Movie

(Phil Lord, Christoper Miller)

The Lego Movie

In A Sentence: SPACESHIP!!!!!!

At The Time: Something rather magnificent has happened. Co-directing team Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have created a film tie-in overstuffed with riches; a hysterical success story which vaults over expectations for this kind of thing. Lego didn’t need for this 100 minute advertisement to be great; their product continues to be so successful that it would go on just fine without it. It’s a coup for them that their brand will now be bolstered by – I’m calling it – one of the funniest American movies in years. (March 1st)

And Now?: The Lego Movie is a complete success. Kids love it. Grown-ups love it. Lord and Miller’s frenetic creation has tonnes of re-watch value (there are so many little details to pick out in the backgrounds), and for pure entertainment value nothing matched this in 2014. And that third act? Superb creativity in a movie that celebrates a toy that celebrates creativity. Fitting.

5. Boyhood

(Richard Linklater)

Boyhood

In A Sentence: Richard Linklater’s audacious 12-year journey following the fictional account of a boy’s adolescence in Texas.

At The Time: Boyhood achieves a state of simple grace, refreshingly low on contrivance. It balances optimism and world-weariness. As the parents grow older and see the shape of their lives, so we see the children turn their gaze to the world around them; open roads leading out into a world of possibilities. It’s fleetingly as if Linklater has captured a microcosm of humanity perpetuating itself. (July 6th)

And Now?: It’s uneven, especially in it’s early stages as Linklater copes with Ellar Coltrane’s youth and inexperience (the drunken step father storyline clearly acts as a patch for this), yet as it goes on Boyhood slowly begins to feel like a relative itself; not often seen but familiar and truthful and, in a strange way, comforting. A fine accomplishment and one which grows in stature with time.

4. Ida

(Pawel Pawlikowski)

IDA

In A Sentence: In early 60’s Poland, a nun leaves the convent for the first time to reunite with her only living relative and begins a journey of self-discovery.

At The Time: That it stands up when compared not only to Dreyer but also to the likes of Godard or Bergman announces the quiet, soulful power of this portrait. It may appear cold as the snow, but there’s an undeniable warmth beneath that frozen surface. Humanity colours the film where Pawlikoski has left it monochrome. Until it feels disarmingly personal. Film rarely achieves such understated connections. (October 8th)

And Now?: Still humbling. One of those precious films that transports the viewer and changes perspective. It’s a contemplative piece, and one which requires attention and appreciation. You can’t half-watch this one on an iPad or during other busywork. Pawlikoski has crafted a film to be admired and loved like art, and in Agata Trzebuchoska he has found a soulful muse.

3. The Wind Rises

(Hayao Miyazaki)

The Wind Rises

In A Sentence: A biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, pioneering aviation expert who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II.

At The Time: The Wind Rises is a long, contemplative film, one that has no interest in placating an audience expecting explosions, suspense or white-knuckle set pieces. It’s better than that. Open up to it, luxuriate in the details, and you’ll find yourself in a rich world of nuance and empathy which seems likely to endure and reward repeat viewings. As for the animation? Of course it’s divine. The attention to detail exquisite. There is nobody better at this. To list highlights invites paragraphs of limitless length. (May 11th)

And Now?: If this truly does transpire to be Miyazaki’s swan song (recent rumours suggest, hopefully, quite the opposite), then he’s finished on a high. The paper plane sequence is one of the most simply romantic of recent times, while the human voices substituting engine noises are a fun treat. As above, however, listing highlights becomes futile; it’s a joy from start to finish, if more reliant on subtlety than the fantastic that we’re perhaps accustomed to from the maestro. A deeply human picture, and one of the finest biopics in any medium.

2. Her

(Spike Jonze)

Her

In A Sentence: In the near future, a sensitive man who is struggling to accept the end of his marriage starts falling in love with an artificially intelligent operating system.

At The Time: Sneakily, what at first seems like a screwy twist on the rom-com format becomes a serious essay on the nature of not just ourselves, but of what love even is; how much of it is a projection of self, what is required from love, where it’s limits are… Jonze’s film is extremely provocative, yet feels as light as air. This is partly down to the sublime production design. Jonze’s near-future is as sleek and as minimalist as a GAP advert; an airy, affluent place that gleams with white, offset by rich pastel inflections. Theodore’s shirts burn warmly, making him the beating heart in his neat, clean surroundings. (February 16th)

And Now?: It’s just wonderful. Durable (watched it six times so far this year!), funny, insightful and soulful, Jonze’s latest film is also his best. Credit to Joaquin Phoenix who holds the film through many, many long scenes, and equally to Spike Jonze for taking up the task of writing the superb screenplay. Everything about this parable hums with a serene and deceptive sense of ease. Hits the kind of notes most other films aren’t even aware of.

1. Under The Skin

(Jonathan Glazer)

Under The Skin 6

In A Sentence: An alien being takes on the form of a young woman to lure Scottish men to a mysterious demise, however her exploits gradually start to change her as she tries to understand what it means to be human.

At The Time: Under The Skin detaches the viewer from the identifiable shapes of conventional filmmaking, evoking an alien approach to such banal locations as shopping malls and roadside cafes. Watching the film is like discovering our trivial routines anew, from a removed perspective. This detachment may not suit all, but for those willing to succumb to the mysteries of what makes us human, there won’t be anything else like it – or to rival it – this year. (March 22nd)

And Now?: A phenomenal piece of work. Dark, deathly serious, but hypnotic, fascinating, calculated in every single majestic, perfect shot. What initially seems cold and slow isn’t anything of the sort on subsequent viewings. Glazer’s film is a superbly paced study of our world from the outside looking in; a slow evolution that manages to achieve heart-rending connectivity despite it’s veneer of chilliness. Johansson’s performance is deceptive. Compare her in this to, say, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and you’ll see how much work she is doing. Some will inevitably dismiss this as the arty boring one where she got her kit off, but it’s so much more than that.

Following the initial, repetative ‘hunt’ section of the movie (itself a satisfying thriller set to the eerie pulse of Mica Levi’s unique score), Glazer’s film opens up, expands in ambition, revealing a cornocopia of questions about what makes us what we are – both the positives and the negatives. We’re a unique species, and this film is as fascinating as all of our terrible, beautiful foibles. Along with last year’s equally exposition-free Upstream Color (though tonally miles apart), Under The Skin points to a future of intelligent, iconic and purely cinematic films brimming with ideas, posing provocative questions. This resolutely is not for everyone. Many will outright hate it. But for me nothing came close to touching it in 2014. Quite what Glazer does next is anyone’s guess.

Under The Skin 2

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