Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Top 20 Best Films Of 2014

Upon reflection, 2014 was a pretty good year for cinema just going by what I’ve seen: While my worst of list had only a few truly bad films that just missed the cut, there were quite a few films that were more than worthy of being on this list but I thought 20 would be more than enough. Of course, there are also a couple of honourable mentions that were only released on DVD over here and as such are unsuitable for this list: Oculus, a film I gave a very high recommendation; and Don Jon, a phenomenally good film that I’m very disappointed didn’t get released theatrically over here… but then again, given the use of actual porn in it and our government’s surprisingly weak constitution, it isn’t surprising.

And now, without further ado, the cream of the year’s crop: My top 20 favourite theatrical films of 2014:

#20: The Boxtrolls

While undoubtedly the lesser of Laika’s filmography so far, that just goes to show how great said filmography is because this film is still an incredible watch. The writing shows that kind of challenging yet welcoming tone that family films should have, the voice cast do wonders with the witty script they’re given here, the animation is still Laika-standard brilliance, and the plot… may well be one of the crackiest I’ve seen all year and yet the film manages to balance its weirder aspects, like an elitist cheese society, with a lot of earnestness that works in its favour. Also, as a side note, this might be one of the few times when a post-credits scene genuinely adds so much to a movie. I won’t spoil for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but it reaches a new level that the company hasn’t gotten to before, even given the strength of its previous offerings.

Always good to have something polarizing in a Best Of Year list(!) In all seriousness, while the ending went a bit too silly for my tastes, the majority of the film is a very well-done and amazing looking science fiction story that actually has a much harder sci-fi bent than I’m used to seeing. It’s getting to the point where McConaughey is becoming a pretty safe bet in terms of quality films, because he continues to impress with his charismatic and at times heart-breaking performance here. Also, special commendation goes to TARS/CASE for one of my new favourite robot designs.

Realistic depiction of the man or not, Cumberbatch gives a great layered performance here as Alan Turing with a lot of shy charm and blunt humour. The rest of the cast do a great job, with Keira Knightley making me all but forgive her all-too-Westheimer performance in A Dangerous Method. The script builds a lot of tension around Turing and his team cracking the Enigma code and also shows some good juxtaposition of machine behaviour vs. human behaviour.

#17: The LEGO Movie

Yeah, expecting this to be higher up, I’m guessing? Well, don’t get me wrong, this is an amazingly good movie that stands as a testament to the imagination of both the company and its customers that has made LEGO a household name. The animation is pretty much exactly what a theatrical film about LEGO should look like and the voice acting, while not taking itself too seriously, is very earnest and extremely funny. The only issue I take with this film is the third act, which took its rather nuanced message about creativity and individuality and then made it all too literal for me to latch onto. But that is nowhere near enough for me to bag out this movie overall. At first glance, I had no idea how this movie was even going to work, but after seeing it, this is exactly what a LEGO Movie should be about.

#16: Noah

With a story that is as widely known as that of Noah’s Ark, it’s difficult to imagine being able to tell something new with it. Well, enter Darren Aronofsky, whose penchant for the surreal and head-scratching serves him well in constructing a new take on the tale. His flair for imagery and scope gives this film the gravitas it needed and while some of the modifications to the original story seemed… odd at first, they worked well in building the world the film delves in. The cast all do well in their roles, but I just have to give major props to Russell Crowe as the titular character who showed an intensity in this film that genuinely surprised and impressed me, taking an underlying thought of interpreting messages from God and turning it in a very antiheroic, dark and conflicted character performance.

#15: PK

As someone with an admitted axe to grind when it comes to organized religion, this was a breath of strangely fresh air to see. It’s amazing witty with a lot of sharp and thought-provoking satire about how materialistic religion has become, and yet it balances that out by not having a direct agenda against religion itself. The acting is great, the soundtrack is lively and definitely made for the highlight of the Bollywood films I’ve seen this year (Yes, all 3 of them) and it has a romantic subplot that avoids the more annoying clich├ęs we’ve come to know and loathe in movies, even if it does go into pretty cheesy territory at the end.

#14: How To Train Your Dragon 2

Given how good the first film was, it would be a hard feat to try and improve on that but they somehow managed it. The funny moments are even better, the more emotional scenes hit even harder and the scope of the story is grander, while the acting and animation remain as great as ever. This film joins the very select list of sequels that are genuinely better than the original in every regard.

#13: The Wolf Of Wall Street

You know a movie is going to be good when it opens on dwarf-tossing. Martin Scorsese seemed to go a little insane in the making of this, considering the sense of humour on display here, but it resulted in one of his greatest efforts to date. The casting is amazing, with every role seemingly tailored to their actors as if they are literally the only people who could say the dialogue they’re given. DiCaprio goes all-out with his performance here, running the full gamut of emotions and even getting into a bit of physical comedy with, without a doubt, the funniest drug trip ever put to film. Also, as a film nerd, I greatly appreciated the Freaks reference they slipped in there and still find myself laughing at it from time to time.

#12: Saving Mr. Banks

I could probably point to my nostalgia for the original Merry Poppins as to why I like this as much as I do, but I can’t help it; this is a really good film. Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks give great performances and act very well with and against each other, the writing does a great job at intertwining P.L. Travers’ stories in the film’s past and present, even if the events are revised pretty heavily, and the writing shows Disney’s talent at making family films even when in live-action with a lot of humour and heart.

Jake Gyllenhall gives a very awkward, darkly funny, intimidating and frightening performance here as the career-driven sociopath Lou, armed with writing that is sharp and filled with jabs at commercial news reports and America’s economic state. The direction is also great and takes the already high tension levels even further, what with Lou being as unpredictably insane as he is here. Doubtless, you’ve seen many underdog stories of people trying to make it in the business world; doubtful that many of them have been told like this.

#10: These Final Hours

It’s an impressive feat to make a film that’s this bright with literal sunshine this dark and depressing. While not having the most depth in terms of writing, it is extremely intense emotionally with some rather harrowing performances and a very effective portrayal of humanity as it loses its hope, convictions and morality in the face of the end of the world. The filmmakers also make the good move of sprinkling short beats of uplift throughout to keep the dreary tone from becoming suffocating. A great example of what the cinematic world down under is capable of.

#9: Tusk

I give Kevin Smith a lot of credit for delivering this frankly batshit premise with this straight of a face, not to mention being able to wring scares and some effective drama out of it as well. Long, Depp and Parks each give some bizarrely amazing performances and the comedic, dramatic and horrific elements of the script are each delivered effectively. Any film that is capable of mindfragging me and getting me to feel scared, sad, giddy and empathetic at the literal exact same time has to get high marks from me.

#8: Only Lovers Left Alive

Maybe as an internalized attempt to make up for the weed-inspired nunfuckery of our last entry, here is a more artsy film by director Jim Jarmusch, who is quickly climbing his way onto my list of favourite directors. It’s hard to explain this film in terms of the effect it had on me, but the best estimate I can give is euphoria. Something about the overall production here, from the layered writing to the acting to the amazing soundtrack, clicked together in just the right way to make for a seriously great watch.

While part of me is still kind of bummed out that I have to wait till the end of the year until I get to see Part 2, that doesn’t stop me from loving this film to bits. The tone is definitely different from the previous films, going for more of a thriller than action-adventure, but the way it’s written makes it work with a lot of great subtext about war and the power of P.R. as well as making for an extremely powerful moment when coupled with the song The Hanging Tree. With how good this film is, and the shattering note that it ended on, I wait with bated breath for the conclusion.

#6: Predestination

Robert Heinlein’s ‘All You Zombies’ is one of my all-time favourite works of fiction and this, I feel, is a superb adaptation of the material. It doesn’t dumb down the story’s time travel logic for audience consumption, but at the same time it doesn’t make it too confusing. To make it even better, the story elements that were added on to make it feature-length actually enhance the experience rather than hinder it, so this can be enjoyed alongside the original work. Ethan Hawke does great in his mentor role and Sarah Snook giving what could be a career-making performance… or at least, if there’s any justice in this world, what will be a career-making performance.

#5: Guardians Of The Galaxy

The most flat-out fun I had watching a film all year. The characters are fleshed out and their actors have great chemistry with each other, the casting is pretty much perfect, even for the bit parts, the action is outstanding, the writing hits drama and comedy at precisely the right points with some of the best laughs I’ve had all year and the soundtrack is one of the most bizarrely fitting I’ve ever encountered. It’s essentially a film with Troma sensibilities on a Hollywood budget, which is fitting considering the director, James Gunn, also wrote the insane Shakespearean send-up Tromeo & Juliet… and that one short in Movie 43 with the horny and homicidal cartoon cat. Yeah. Also, best MCU post-credits scene yet and I doubt another movie will top it anytime soon.

#4: X-Men: Days Of Future Past

Bridging the gap between the original X-Men trilogy and First Class was going to be tough to get past me, especially considering the continuity flubs between the two was one of my larger complaints about First Class. However, despite a couple of new continuity flubs, this film managed to merge the two together without any noticeable seams. The writing shows a lot of thought and care was put into it and is on a grandiose scale that not only its build-up deserved, but also that its follow-ups deserve too considering the next film in the series is going to be on the colossal Age Of Apocalypse saga; and the changes made here from the original comic book not only make sense but also give way for some seriously good drama beats. While I could give some flack to the ending, which is of a brand that never ceases to annoy me, the overall package is way too good for me to let that get in the way.

#3: Gone Girl

Even in a year full of fantastical works, this film managed to pull off a genuine miracle: Making Tyler Perry funny. Yeah, in a film where actors like Neil Patrick Harris and Rosamund Pike are giving A-grade performances, Tyler Perry stands out as the charming and dry-witted lawyer.  Not only that, for as much flack as Ben Affleck has gotten over the years for his acting, he is also surprisingly good in this and does a great job at keeping the audience guessing. I have a major soft spot in my heart for stories involving mind games and battles of wits, which this film shows expertly, but I also love the barbs shot at the mass media here too. This is crazy good, with a lot of emphasis on the crazy.

#2: Her

It’s rather telling that the most believable and heartfelt romantic coupling I’ve seen in years on film is between a man and his computer. Not meant in any way as a slight against the movie, because Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson are a great on-screen couple, especially considering how one of them isn’t even on screen for the entirety of the movie. Johansson does an amazing job as Samantha, giving the kind of performance that is usually reserved for dubs of Miyazaki films, and… yeah, it’s pretty much one of the sexiest things I’ve ever heard, I can’t deny it. The script makes a lot of poignant comments about technology and how it has changed, and will continue to change, the way we socially interact, something that makes this a weird sort of primer for life in the 21st century. A true cinematic marvel to behold.

#1: 20,000 Days On Earth

In my admittedly brief time as a film buff, never before has a film tapped into me as deeply as this movie did; it felt like I was having a religious experience watching this. From Nick Cave’s anecdotes and dark wit to the superb camera work and editing, something in my gut tells me that this is perfect. It is a fascinating look into the creative process of making music and Nick’s insights in his history, his work and his own self make for visual poetry. This isn’t just best of the year good. This is on my potential list for favourite films ever; it’s THAT good.

1 comment:

  1. You’ve got all the best movies on your list! I commend you from picking movies from different genres, and how you wisely criticized all of them. I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to compile another list by the end of this year, and I’ll be looking forward to reading your updates. Thanks for sharing!

    Simon Walker @ The Viewlorium