The Best Films of 2014
It's that time again when the subjective becomes objective, when arguments over the terms "favourite" and "best" reign, and a year is looked back on. 2014 was a sensational year for film and we come away with several titles that will be remembered for years to come. If there are titles you think I have missed when you skim my list then rest assured, I have seen the movie you are thinking of and I didn't like it at all. Don't worry, it's ok to enjoy average movies but [insert title here] is just not very good at all.
10: Two Days, One Night
For my money this is the Dardenne’s best film. Containing their first collaboration with a big movie star and hinging on a firm narrative structure that is unusual for them, this film slowly builds to one of the most satisfying conclusions to a narrative I saw all year. This is about as humane, engaging and meaningful as cinema gets and I can’t recommend this film enough.
9: The Babadook
After my first viewing of THE BABADOOK I was mildly disappointed. I wanted it to be darker, nastier and more intense. But upon second viewing I understood that my predilection for destructively unpleasant cinema is not shared by a majority and debut director Jennifer Kent has perfectly calibrated the limits of her film. This is not only a magnificently paced horror film with rich thematic undercurrents but also, really lovingly put together. The attention to detail in every department from photography to production design is pitch perfect. A great horror movie: scary, unsettling and memorable. Watch it alone late at night.
8: The Infinite Man
This is easily the most confident and cinematically sophisticated Aussie debut since David Michôd's Animal Kingdom. Hugh Sullivan's use of classical formal techniques from iris wipes to an engagingly baroque score make The Infinite Man fully formed and aesthetically cohesive, unusual for a first-timer. Touching on everything from old screwball comedies to modern puzzles like Primer, The Infinite Man has many cinematic precedents but never feels derivative. Rather, it offers us a uniquely original mash of several genres while also presenting up a masterclass in clever low-budget filmmaking. This is nothing less than one of my favourite Australian pictures in quite some time.
7: Gone Girl
David Fincher is one of the most precise filmmakers working today and GONE GIRL is a chillingly calculated thriller. Building to a nightmarish crescendo culminating in a conclusion that is probably the most misanthropic evocation on human relations I’ve seen on screen in some time, this film stimulated many a fascinating conversation and proved audiences really do wanted to see adult films.
6: The Grand Budapest Hotel
I would never have predicted a Wes Anderson film would ever make a top ten list of mine after suffering through his last few films with an increasing despondence. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL turned out to not only be Anderson’s most “manufactured” film yet but also his most purely entertaining. His aesthetic perfectly fuses with the screwball pacing of the film while Fiennes is glorious in the central role slicing the candy colours with just the right touch of vulgarity. Possibly the most perfectly concoted Wes Anderson film we will ever see.
5: Why Don't You Play In Hell / Tokyo Tribe
I’m cheating by putting two films here but I was lucky enough to see both this year (even though TOKYO TRIBE probably wont go wide until 2015). Sion Sono knocked these two energetic balls of crazy right out of the park. WHY DON'T YOU PLAY IN HELL is just the most bloody and hilarious paean to the end of cinema one could find with a final act that contains the most enjoyable 45 minutes I have had in a cinema all year while TOKYO TRIBE is a hip hop musical about warring urban tribes. Both films are unlike anything around and demand to be seen on the biggest screen possible with friends ready to have their minds blown. This is visionary pop culture cinema at its finest!
4: The Wolf Of Wall Street
One of Martin Scorsese’s most subversive and challenging films, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET was the subject of many a questionable op-ed in early 2014 and it was thrilling to see the old master still stirring the pot. Using every cinematic trick in the book this film is thrilling, discomforting, entertaining and ultimately exhausting cinema. A vital film that fundamentally understands the allure of criminal excess.
Simply one of the most exciting films to come out in 2014, this “making of a monster” film channels a mix of thriller dynamics and boot camp intensity into the story of a drummer striving for greatness in New York. The discordance between young director Damien Chazelle’s aesthetic impact and his thematic goals is oddly problematic but also incredibly exciting. Teller and Simmons are perfect and the entire experience of watching the film is just bracing. Good job!
2: Inside Llewyn Davis
Way back in January I saw this masterpiece and I've revisited the film numerous times over 2014 with no diminishing returns. This beautiful, funny and deeply melancholy character study from the Coens is the perfect tonic for all undiscovered artists to be. Amazingly calibrated with a remarkable moebius strip-like ending this is pretty close to a perfect piece of cinema.
1: Only Lovers Left Alive
Only Jim Jarmusch could out hipster all the current faux-cool kids with this hypnotically paced vampire flick that turns the common mythological monsters into jaded arty urbanites who disaffectedly have seen it all and navigate the detritus of society with minimal excitement. I loved reclining in space of this film with its archly sarcastic referencing and unexpectedly sincere climax. It's simply a gorgeous languid experience with instantly iconic performances from Swinton and Hiddleston. One of Jarmusch’s best films and something that will be looked back upon as one of the best films of our time.
(The rest of the best)
David Michod’s follow up to ANIMAL KINGDOM certainly wasn’t what audiences expected but I found this bleak apocalyptic drama just mesmerizing. It’s not perfect. It is a bit repetitive and narratively thin but the overall nihilistic milieu is just intoxicating and Guy Pearce gives one of his best ever performances.
One of those fly on the wall documentaries that will knock you to the floor with its compelling narrative. The story captured is just amazing and the murky ethical questions that are raised will leave you arguing with friends for days. A final twist turns the entire film upside down making THE OVERNIGHTERS one of the most zeitgeisty films of 2014.
The One I Love
Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass offer some of their best work in this exciting film where it's best to go into knowing as little as possible. The narrative pivots are genuinely unexpected and the film’s deep exploration of its odd premise is majestically satisfying. Fun, funny, truthful and compelling. Don't read anything more about this one, just see it!
Almost a year on and Spike Jonze’s film is certainly already aging weirdly but it’s still undoubtedly an important and fascinating film. Taking the idea of a straightforward romantic drama and seriously playing it out between a man and his computer turns HER into one of the most complex and on-target examinations of our general relationship with technology ever conceived. A lovely, sad and deeply unsettling film.
Cold In July
Jim Mickle is one of the most interesting voices in American genre cinema and COLD IN JULY is his most exciting film yet. Essentially mashing up three different films into one this narratively unexpected work takes a bit of audience goodwill to pivot as it goes along but it remains one of the most unpredictable and engaging films seen in 2014. Considering the glut of "retro 80s" styled films we are getting this is one that truly understands genre and period. Highly recommended.
Edge Of Tomorrow
Criminally underseen this Tom Cruise sci-fi effort was by far the best blockbuster of 2014. Paced perfectly with some sensational performances and exciting set pieces this is a really sublime slice of entertainment. Science fiction and action fans should take note.
Brendan Gleeson gives one of the best performances of 2014 in this deeply melancholic examination into the currency of faith. Executed with a lightness of touch and sharpness of dialogue that turns a potentially morose experience into something much more humane, funny and profound.
The best straight up action film made in years. Kinetic, creative, excitingly violent and anchored by a great turn from Keanu, JOHN WICK is an action classic that deserves to be mentioned right next to the greats of the genre. You want a good action film? This is where to go. John Woo re-imagined for 2014.
A simple doco about a film that was never made ultimately turns into an optimistic examination of artistic enthusiasm. If a few kids are turned onto older Jodorowsky films because of this then that's just a wonderful value add.
Ok so this film literally has no dramatic conflict or real final act and the second half is basically Jon Favreau going on a food tour of the United States but damn, I like the music and I love the food. This is light entertainment at its most enjoyably precise. Nothing significant happens, everyone dances at the end and alongside the credits we watch an outtake explaining how to make the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. This is my kind of junk movie.