I try not to do lists too often on here, as I’m almost constantly making them in my personal life (it’s an issue I’m comfortable with). They can seem like filler material, and too many posts of that ilk render all of them pointless. Last year, at my most indulgent, I attempted to compile a list of my favourite 301 films of all time as a response to Empire’s ridiculous reader’s poll. My list was ridiculous also, and that was sort of the point. And my tastes are already shifting, mutating, changing.
So with fair warning that anything like this is endlessly permeable, it also feels like a natural point to take stock of the decade thus far. Pretty much all of the 2014 films that I’ve been waiting for have dripped through at this point (save for A Girl Walked Home Alone At Night, which I’m quite looking forward to seeing), so it seems like good time to reflect on how generous cinema has been over the last 5 years, and celebrate what modern filmmaking has to offer. To a degree I’ve taken the popular zeitgeist into consideration while ordering this list, but overall my own personal preference has held sway. My site, my rules.
So another indulgent list, then. Nevertheless, here are fifty recent titles to check out:
50. Starry Eyes (2014, Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer)
Thrown away by its UK distributor Metrodome, don’t let the ugly, generic design work of the physical release on our shores fool you; Starry Eyes is a bold body horror that gifts the genre a brand new monster. Alex Essoe is superb in the central role of Sarah, an aspiring actress who auditions for an occult production company only to discover that her decisions will have dire, transformative consequences. An essay on shame and not being able to forgive yourself as much it is on the negative attributes of blind ambition. It’ll also wake you wince.
49. Sightseers (2012, Ben Wheatley)
One of the UK’s finest comedies in many years, Ben Wheatley’s follow-up to the haunting Kill List was this bright, funny and appropriately dark palette-cleanser. Tina (Alice Lowe) goes on a caravan holiday with Chris (Steve Oram). Chris is a little bit murderous. Delightfully wicked and very, very British. You’ll never approach a tram museum in quite the same way again.
48. Spring Breakers (2012, Harmony Korine)
About as divisive as any film listed here, I was initially put off by the high degree of repetition in Spring Breakers, but it’s part of Korine’s master plan. He depicts a hedonistic generation finding their own kind of religion in cocaine parties, beer funnels and beach raves. A neon odyssey of amorality that plays as both a nightmare and a fairy tale.
47. Black Swan (2010, Darren Aronofsky)
Aronofsky made a dark, engrossing psychological thriller and sneaked it under Oscar’s nose in the pretense that it was actually a more conventional romantic drama. Not so. Many were blindsided by Black Swan, which is a far from subtle film, but it is an utterly absorbing experience with a justifiably praised central turn from Natalie Portman.
46. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)
There’s a vague, meandering nature to the storyline of Inside Llewyn Davis – the Coens have even spoken about the cat being added later to give the impression of some kind of throughline – yet what ultimately raises the film up is the beautiful craft, the sense of melancholy and Oscar Isaac’s frustrating, arrogant but eminently watchable central turn.
45. Kill List (2011, Ben Wheatley)
There are three distinct sections to Wheatley’s must-see Kill List; the first is a kitchen sink comedy-of-manners, the second is a darkening twist on the conventions of your standard British hitman thriller, and then there’s the third section which evokes the fine if niche subgenre of folk-horror and will likely leave you cowering in the corner.
44. Gone Girl (2014, David Fincher)
Fincher showed a revitalised spirit and playfulness with this superb adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestseller, dissecting the idea of war within marriage and exposing our cultural obsession with ‘reality’ news. But before all that, Gone Girl is quite simply out to entertain. A popular smash made by adults for adults with a knockout turn from Rosamund Pike.
43. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013, Jim Jarmusch)
Vampire hipsters. That’s really enough to key you in to whether you’re going to dig Jarmusch’s latest flick, which sees Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton cruising Detroit by night or enjoying blood ice-pops at a ramschackle house in a deserted neighbourhood. It’s slow, but warmly enjoyable, in large part thanks to the delightful chemistry between the two leads.
42. Blue Is The Warmest Colour (2013, Abdellatif Kechiche)
Kechiche’s Palme d’Or winning three-hour treaty on love will take up a lot of your day, but it’s a film worth sinking into. Student Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) becomes enamoured with artist Emma (Léa Seydoux) and the film charts their romance, their relationship and all of the joys and hardships that orbit and consume them.
41. Computer Chess (2013, Andrew Bujalski)
Mockumentary staged to look as though it was shot on video at a 1980 computer chess tournament, Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess is a strangely funny little film, one which reveals its charms over time. Subsequent viewings have proven more rewarding each time, making it feel like a personal gem that keeps on giving small parcels of enjoyment.
40. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (2014, David Zellner)
Very recently witnessed, but greatly adored here at thelosthighwayhotel, Zellner and his brother Nathan has crafted a patient but utterly charming portrait of perseverance and self-validation in this not-so-true-life tale of a Japanese woman (Rinko Kikuchi) who goes looking for the fictional briefcase of money from Fargo under the assumption that it’s genuinely based on fact. Contains scene of rabbit eating noodles.
39. Holy Motors (2012, Leos Carax)
Leos Carax’s Holy Motors is like nothing else to have appeared so far this decade. A giddy, baffling, joyously risible celebration of life, performance and the surreal, one that shamelessly shrugs off easy categorisation or predictability. As a result this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but those who are won over will find much to revel in, especially the many faces of Denis Lavant.
38. Detention (2011, Joseph Kahn)
Almost too clever for its own good, Joseph Khan’s Detention is a breakneck celebration and send-up of several variants of the teen movie, tipping its hat to The Breakfast Club and Mean Girls as much as it does Scream or even Donnie Darko. It’s a tough job to even keep up with the opening credits, so make sure you’re paying attention. The film’s very aware of its sell-by date, but, like in every other regard, it simply doesn’t give a fuck. Warning; contains time-travelling stuffed bear.
37. Nightcrawler (2014, Dan Gilroy)
Jake Gyllenhaal transforms for Dan Gilroy’s LA thriller in which he plays an unscrupulous loner who starts making a living filming violent crime scenes in order to sell the footage to the press. There’s a heavy De Palma vibe going on here but that’s no bad thing, and for a mainstream production there’s a disarming lack of moral handholding; those few voices worryingly drowned in the escalating chaos.
36. Melancholia (2011, Lars Von Trier)
Batty, indulgent, somehow deadly serious and poker faced, Melancholia is classic Von Trier; the eternal prankster bringing us a very idiosyncratic take on the apocalyptic disaster movie. In this case, the end of the world externalises the destruction going on within Kirsten Dunst’s Justin, first wrecking her own wedding, then bringing her close family down in an intimate portrait of a person at odds with everything, including themselves. Kaboom.
35. Boyhood (2014, Richard Linklater)
It’s possible by this point you’ve heard, read or been told everything there is to say about how great Boyhood is, how huge an achievement it is for Richard Linklater, etc, etc. To the point where all I think I’ve got left to reiterate is that it was robbed at the Oscars. Far better than Birdman, but you might as well compare apples and oranges. It’s better than both of those too.
34. The Duke Of Burgundy (2014, Peter Strickland)
Strange, beguiling and sublime, Peter Strickland’s third feature is his best. Set in a non-specific European village inhabited solely by women, it reveals the sadomasochistic relationship between two women (played by Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna) with a sensual score by Cat’s Eyes. Hopelessly beloved of a wealth of 70’s European films and directors, Strickland nevertheless brings The Duke Of Burgundy to life with his own increasingly impressive visual style.
33. Like Someone In Love (2012, Abbas Kiarostami)
Certified Copy tends to be the more celebrated of Kiarostami’s recent films, but I have a soft spot for 2012’s Like Someone In Love, for which the Iranian director uprooted to Japan to bring us this tale of the strange relationship that unfurls over a couple of days between a curmudgeonly professor and an uncertain prostitute. Deliberately paced but extremely playful in the way it keeps changing the roles the characters play depending on the company they find themselves in. And gorgeously shot.
32. The Lego Movie (2014, Phil Lord, Chris Miller)
So much more fun than I think anyone reasonably expected it to be, The Lego Movie succeeds not just because it’s fast-paced and funny, but because it manages to celebrate what makes the product so great; untethered creativity. There’s plenty to keep going back for, plenty to spot in the background, but mainly just a whole lot to be entertained by.
31. Spring (2014, Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead)
Another title sadly being poorly represented by Metrodome in the UK this year, Spring is the under-the-radar must-see movie for you to go out of your way to find at the moment. Benson and Moorhead have already played with horror expectations before with Resolution (also well worth your time), but Spring is something else altogether. A young American holidays in Italy to get over some personal setbacks, only to fall in love with a mysterious local girl with a sinister secret. More like a Richard Linklater Before film than your expected horror, this is a superbly acted little gem. Really there’s only one person who does this kind of thing better…
30. Before Midnight (2013, Richard Linklater)
Boyhood may be the greater achievement but, for me, Before Midnight is Linklater’s more precious gem of late. The third part of this series is just as essential as the previous two, and this time Linklater throws in the further dramatic tension that maybe, just maybe, this might be the end of Jesse and Celeste. Say it ain’t so; I expect to see them again in 2022.
29. 13 Assassins (2010, Takashi Miike)
Miike makes so many films, and only a fraction of them find their way to the UK market. 13 Assassins is his most high-profile of recent time. Sure, it’s a remake, but its a superb effort. More austere than some of his admittedly varied output, what impresses is the sense of place and time as much as the colossal 45-minute showdown that ends it all.
28. Short Term 12 (2013, Dustin Daniel Cretton)
This tale of the quietly devastating day-by-day at a foster care facility might sound as fun as hammering your fingers to a burning fence, but you’d do yourself a disservice to skip it. In fact, there’s plenty of warmth here in Cretton’s pitch-perfect comedy drama, not to mention a glut of gut-punchingly good performances from the young actors along with Brie Larson’s committed central turn.
27. Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011, Sean Durkin)
Impressed by Elisabeth Olsen in Avengers: Age Of Ultron? Well skip back a couple of years and catch her in this indie gem of 2011 where she plays a young woman struggling to adapt to society after time spent at a religious commune. The dual timeline works well, and Durkin has a wonderful eye. It also boast the decade’s best creepy-as-fuck final shot.
26. Shame (2011, Steve McQueen)
An essay on modern loneliness as much as it is an exploration of sex addiction, Michael Fassbender – a man not known for putting in a half-arsed performances – is arguably at his best here in Steve McQueen’s searing, uncomfortable but expertly realised drama. Notable support comes from Carey Mulligan as Brandon’s his differently-damaged sister.
That’ll do for today. The top block of this countdown will appear later in the Bank Holiday weekend. ‘Til then, love and kisses.