My top 20 films of 2014, from 20 down to 11, according to UK release dates.
Top 10 to follow.
20. THE WIND RISES (dir. Hayao Miyazaki)
Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have made better films (My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ponyo), and this latest is overlong, yet it still features beautiful animation and a tear-provoking melancholic tale combining coming-of-age, fulfilled dreams, and falling in love.
19. THE DOUBLE (dir. Richard Ayoade)
Ayoade’s second film features a duo of performances from Jesse Eisenberg, alongside the brilliant Mia Wasikowska (a recurring cast member throughout my top 20), and many of the actors who appeared in his 2010 debut Submarine.
“generically surprising and inventive”
18. MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN (dir. Jason Reitman)
Reitman’s second film to hit cinemas this year has underwhelmed many critics, but it’s a major step up from the preposterously unlikely occurrences of March’s Labor Day.
Reitman’s Young Adult (2011) hinted at his sharp eye for life in the digital age, and Men, Women & Children is home to several witty observations. Despite it’s comic elements, however, Men, Women & Children is one of a number of films to be incorrectly labelled a satire this year.
Its continual and cumulative effect is to shock viewers into recognising and acknowledging, rather than ignoring, several of the everyday side effects of digital life. Plot strands such as a developing teen relationship aided by online communication and the impact of porn-saturation on young men echo the realities experienced by some of the subjects of Beeban Kidron’s 2013 documentary InRealLife.
Men, Women & Children is a thoughtful and thought-provoking watch, and in many cases, a much-needed reminder.
17. BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP (dir. Rowan Joffe)
Released a month before the more block-busting Gone Girl, Joffe’s adaptation of SJ Watson’s bestselling thriller boasted top-form performances from Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, and added fresh twists to the novel’s yarn.
“Kidman sucks the audience into Christine’s fear from the striking opening shot, convincing and mesmerising with her every blink and muscular twitch”
16. AMERICAN HUSTLE (dir. David O. Russell)
A lot of fun and a lot of hairspray. These were the key ingredients of Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook follow-up. Despite a rather incoherent plot, American Hustle excelled as an entertainment thanks to a talented cast, fabulous hair, make-up, costuming and set decoration, and some unforgettable set pieces.
15. THE LEGO MOVIE (dir. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller)
Writer-directors Lord and Miller showed a nostalgic fidelity to the world’s best loved toy in a number of ways; The Lego Movie is a triumph of creativity which thoroughly endorses the creativity encouraged and inspired by the toy itself, and the animation pleasingly incorporates actual Lego blocks many viewers no doubt remember utilising in their own creative pursuits.
Best of all, this is no kids’ movie. The opening is an unlikely fusion of Lego nostalgia and the future George Orwell imagined in his 1984, the script repeatedly mocks Christian Bale’s Batman, and a Chinese-box narrative structure makes for a fantastic twist as the film turns meta in its final act.
14. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (dir. Wes Anderson)
Wes Anderson’s most successful film to date presents the weird and wonderful world of a fictional European hotel filled with eccentric characters, the starting point for a riveting drama including everything from comic capers to a prison escape.
Starring a masterful Ralph Fiennes as the simultaneously magnetic and repulsive concierge Gustav H., The Grand Budapest Hotel is relentlessly entertaining. As Anderson fans would expect, it’s also gorgeous to look at. Anderson’s characteristic precise and often symmetrical aesthetic is here realised throughout a film which drastically exceeds the scale of his previous work. A spectacular balancing act.
13. TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT (dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
A sublimely naturalistic drama, boosted by a career-best performance from Marion Cotillard, who’s ably supported by many other talented actors. This saves the film from the potential tedium its repetitive premise could have engendered.
12. TRACKS (dir. John Curran)
This almost-solo effort from Mia Wasikowska vies with Maps to the Stars for her performance of the year. Curran, screenwriter Marion Nelson and Wasikowska provide enthralment and intensity in this cinematic rendering of Robyn Davidson’s memoir of traversing Western Australia, and are deserving of especial praise for bringing to life a very internal text. Wasikowska’s committed performance matches the fiery resolve of the real life Davidson in this overlooked gem.
Despite early clamourings of awards-worthy greatness, Jean-Marc Vallée and Reese Witherspoon have a difficult act to follow with the story of a similar journey in January’s Wild.
11. LOCKE (dir. Steven Knight)
Writer-director Knight has made a revelatory film, crafting a gripping narrative which continually builds in tension, despite predominantly consisting of footage of one man (Tom Hardy) driving in his car.
My top 10 is coming soon!