Top 10 Films of 2014 (+ Oscar picks)

I have a motto: “Life’s too short to watch bad movies”. In fulfillment of this, I spend much of my spare time trying to tick off ‘Best Picture’ winners, nominees and classic films from previous years. I’m currently watching Ben Hur. In 2014 I also checked off A Few Good Men, The Silence Of The Lambs, The Sound of Music, Erin Brockovich and Nebraska among others.

That’s right. I love film, yet before this year I hadn’t seen either Silence of the Lambs or The Sound of Music. Shame on me. They’re both amazing.

tI also regard myself as an amateur film buff. I don’t use the word amateur either literally (because I’m not a paid professional) or with false humility, but because I recognise that I have a fairly amateur point-of-view. I like quirky films, films with heart, character-driven dramas, tear-jerkers that have purpose and meaning behind them and huge, glorious epics that strike me down with grandeur. I also have young kids, meaning I see a lot of kids films. Too many. But sometimes they’re brilliant and that gets taken into account too. So I recognise that there is a specific type of film that is more likely to win me over and that my critical eye is likely to be distinctly different from that of everyone else.

This is also a funny time of year to do a ‘best of’, I know, but it’s award season, the true end of the film year.

The Rules:

1) Films had to be eligible for the 2015 Oscars (this Sunday, US time)
2) Films have to be watchable. There are some films that are ‘epic’, possibly ‘well-acted’ and from a ‘name’ director, but are terrible and unwatchable.
3) Films must be seen by me personally, at least 90% through. That’s fair. It covers catnaps.

2014/15 was a year in which I made a concerted effort to watch as many great films as possible, yet still missed 3 Oscar movies. It was a really, really good year. Having made the caveat, let’s go through the top 10.

The ones that were close:

15) Edge of Tomorrow – A surprisingly good Tom Cruise/Emily Blunt futuristic drama
14) The Fault In Our Stars
– Yes, you read that correctly
13) Big Hero 6 –
A wonderful, big-hearted kids film with incredible creativity
12) The Imitation Game –
The most over-rated film of the year, though Cumberbatch is excellent
11) Fury –
‘Training Day’ in WW2. Terrific characters. The usual Brad Pitt as hero/executive producer combo.

So here we go!

Into The Woods landscape poster

10) Into The Woods

Into The Woods is a fun, ridiculous movie that has absolutely no business being around other Oscar nominees. It’s weird, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and it is, of course, patently ridiculous. But it’s just so much fun, so much musical goodness and so much *M*E*R*Y*L*, who is on the short list for the next 7 Natural Wonders, that you’ve got to love it. It weaves in a dozen stories we all know well with glee, using the plot of the Baker (James Corden, who’s a classic, “oh yeah, that guy from that movie I can’t remember!”) and the Baker’s wife (Emily Blunt, who is eyeing off Meryl’s turf long-term, I’M JUST SAYING) to thread it all together.

I’ve said it before here, but the best scene and musical number is the phenomenal “Agony” featuring the two love-struck Prince Charmings, plural, complete with shirt-tearing and waterfalls. So magnificently tongue in cheek. The second most fun you could have at a cinema in 2014, second only to…

 

American Sniper poster

9) American Sniper

Er, no. Not so much fun. But Sienna Miller, though, right? Right? Nahhh.

American Sniper is a good film in a great year, carried by an interesting story and phenomenal acting from Bradley Cooper, who has quietly gone from The Hangover Part 2 in 2011, to a Big 5 of The Place Beyond The Pines, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustler, Guardians Of The Galaxy and American Sniper. Also The Hangover Part 3, but I’ll let that slide. 3 Oscar noms in 3 years. Is he the next Daniel Day-Lewis? Don’t be ridiculous. But he’s having a great run and is beloved by many. And is he stealing Leonardo DiCaprio’s corner?

Worth watching despite heavy doses of American schmaltz and fake babies.

 

the_lego_movie_2014-wide

8) The Lego Movie

The big loser of this year’s Oscars is The Lego Movie. Despite being far and away the most exceptional animated film, smashing numbers at the box office and continuing the #YearOfPratt (TM), somehow it didn’t even manage to get a best animated film nomination. Stunning. How To Train Your Dragon 2 was fine, I guess, but there was no real comparison to The Lego Movie. Sorry Box-Trolls. Sorry even to the excellent Big Hero 6.

Sneaky-great turns from Will Arnett as Batman and Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as Superman and Aquaman, respectively. And an incredible Will Ferrell live-action cameo.

Ferrell: You know the rules, this isn’t a toy.
Son: Yes it is! The box on this one says ages 8 to 14!
Ferrell: That’s a suggestion. They have to put that on there.

Amazing.

 

interstellar-poster

7) Interstellar

Lost a lot of buzz because the ending was so weird, and…well, pretty darn terrible really. But it’s an excellent film and what it tries to do is so magnificent that it makes it worth watching simply for that. It’s a movie of cinematic excellence, of Stanley Kubrick-level scope and magnificence that is made to be watched at an iMax scale. McConaughey, Hathaway, Chastain…they’re all fine, but what makes Interstellar incredible is it’s vision. Christopher Nolan is a director who takes gambles. He challenges A-list actors to make risky films, films that challenge the way we think about the world and each other and he should be rewarded more often for that.

Sorry. Not funny, I know. But the next film is.

 

guardian-of-the-galaxy-poster

6) Guardians of the Galaxy

Now THIS is the most fun you could have in a cinema in 2014.

Somehow director James Gunn has put Bradley Cooper as a raccoon with an image problem, Vin Diesel as a talking tree and despised wrestler Dave Bautista – BATISTA! – as a gigantic, red, literal-processing alien, and made the whole thing brilliant. This is another feather in the cap for #YearOfPratt (TM) and another film that is making Marvel and Stan Lee infinity kabrillion dollars with merchandising and sequels.

It’s smart, fast, incredibly funny and in some ways the perfect superhero movie for 2015 on. It’s the true successor to the spirit of the first Iron Man in its wit and self-reflection. It will probably spawn 900 movies not worth watching. Ant-Man, anyone? Dr Strange? No?

No. But seriously. Any movie that can get Vin Diesel acting in a way that steals the show, without featuring him struggling to drink a Corona, is a movie that has some moxy. And, definitely, some comic relief.

 

Nightcrawler poster

5) Nightcrawler

It’s pretty stunning that this couldn’t get a nod for Best Picture, but it is a surprisingly dark film and takes audiences to a lot of squeamish places, both psychologically and physically. It’s by far the best role of Jake Gyllenhaal’s career (though I haven’t seen Jarheads) and draws from him an acting performance that, despite the strength of this year’s Oscar field, is so good that it’s CRIMINAL that he didn’t get nominated.

For those who don’t know it, Nightcrawler is a film about a peculiar young man (Gyllenhaal) who becomes intrigued by the occupation of following emergency radio signals, finding crashes, shooting exclusive footage and selling it to television stations. It’s dark, disturbing, clever and challenging and was certainly a more worthy nominee than other British-made films I could name.

You know, like The Imitation Game.

Whoops.

 

the-grand-budapest-hotel Poster

4) The Grand Budapest Hotel

Msr Anderson rides into the foyer of  the Dolby Theatre on a penny-farthing, wearing a waistcoat made of lambskin over a full-length pair of King Gee overalls. He has a fluorescent tied around the brim of his bowler hat, but bare feet. As he ties the penny-farthing to a brass bar attached to the wall, a middle-aged continental man approaches him. The man has a thick, bulbous mustache and wide brown eyes, eyes that appear to receive the world through an experience of constant astonishment. His features, while coarse, are not repellent – they bear the look of a man who has spent time feeling the kiss of the sun on his forehead, but not that of hard labour. A boater, perhaps, or a Moroccan spice merchant. The Continental nears Msr Anderson, clearly nervous about being near the first-time Academy Award-nominated director, so close to the ceremony. A sheen of sweat glistens. He briskly opens a neat handkerchief bearing the insignia, ‘L.K.L’, wipes his forehead with three back-and-forth motions, glances down at the results, nods in satisfaction and peers up again at Msr Anderson.

“Msr Anderson? Monsieur WES Anderson?” the man began. “I am Lorenzo Kamala Lorenzo. I wish only to ask you one, solitary question about your quirky masterpiece, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Then I must depart on my electric moped.”

Msr Anderson looks confused, before starting, as if from an imaginary prod to the upper back, and responding.

“Yes?”

That’s all the room I have to write for this film.

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I heart you Wes.  You deserve this.

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Gone Girl poster

3) Gone Girl

It’s just as I wrote in my 5 movies the Oscars ignored post: what more does this film need to do to be nominated? You know, apart from engage in typical Academy-pandering (films about Hollywood, films about people with disabilities, films about people ‘overcoming odds’, films that play out exactly as you expect them to…), it had it all.

Gone Girl has terrific acting, especially from Rosamund Pike, Tyler Perry and the under-appreciated Kim Dickens as the detective. Affleck is a solid 8/10 and doesn’t over-play his role. It has twists and turns. It leaves you hanging for more, yet still ties up the story. It takes you places you never expected to go. In case you missed it, it produces a credible acting performance from TYLER FREAKING PERRY, not know for the words ‘credible’, or ‘acting’. It is sensational.

Critics have accused director David Fincher of being half-hearted, which is plausible. They’ve also accused it of gender stereotypes, which is an embarrassing claim – no film empowers women and gives them better acting opportunities in real roles in 2014 than Gone Girl. If you think it stereotypes a particular kind of woman (no spoilers here), then I wonder if that is how you view that kind of woman? Sorry for the unpopular opinion, but sometimes the liberal media is more involved in perpetuating narratives than they would care to believe.

I’m no Fincher apologist, or an Affleck apologist – I was furious that Argo won its Oscar. But Gone Girl deserves to be here, without question.

As an apology for that rant, here’s a photo of a young Affleck harrassing Jason Lee in Mallrats. Do yourself a favour.

mallrats-kevin-smith

 

Birdman poster

2) Birdman

There’s been a lot of talk about Birdman winning Best Picture in recent weeks. It’s difficult to outright disagree. In fact, I think apart from the next film, Birdman is the best film since 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook and it might be better than that as well. It’s just a great year for cinema.

Michael Keaton truly reinvents himself as a failed former superhero (ahem) trying to rejuvenate a stalled career (AHEM AHEM) with his junkie rehabbing daughter in tow (AHEM A-…actually that’s probably not true to his life). Edward Norton owns every scene he’s in as the prestigious, poncy, annoying theatre actor who has ‘chosen’ to never leave the stage for the big screen. Smaller roles from Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis and Andrea Riseborough also make full use of every scene they’re in, particularly Watts, while the direction from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is truly, truly magnificent. The whole film is effectively one long, panning cut through backstage corridors, onto the stage and out to the world outside. The soundtrack is stirring and jangling, a frenetic drum beat by drummers who are both seen and unseen onscreen, mirroring the polarising action in Michael Keaton’s mind as he battles what appears to be an unusual case of Multiple Personality Disorder.

Any other year this is the film, THE film that wins, hands-down – if perhaps not being one of those five-star epics that transcends generations. Unfortunately it just happened to run into one of those – the steam train known as The Little Indie Movie That Could.

 

Boyhood poster

1) Boyhood

The more I consider this race between Birdman and Boyhood, the more I start thinking that it’s not even close. Don’t get me wrong, Birdman is a great movie. But Boyhood might be one of the best films ever.

When you think of the scope, intent and serious guts that it took Richard Linklater to make this thing, when you think of the great performances by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette over almost 20 years (erm…not so much for Ellar Coltrane) and when you think of the way this film manages to connect with everyone who watches it in a unique way, there’s really no other choice. Birdman is a better film than any in the last 3 years – bar Boyhood. It just came in the wrong year.

If you haven’t seen it yet, Boyhood is the story of a young boy growing up, filmed over a period of 11 years by Richard Linklater and featuring an actual 7-year old boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane) who metamorphosises before our eyes into a young adult over the course of the film – a feat unparalleled in popular cinema.

It’s also got a sick soundtrack, featuring not only the likes of Arcade Fire, The Hives, Cobra Starship, Gotye and The Black Keys, but slotting all the contemporary songs in at the same time that we are experiencing in Mason’s life. It is literally the soundtrack to his life.

Boyhood is the rare film that transcends generations and demographics and plugs people in to part of their own childhood. It doesn’t matter which part it is, merely that it’s where you get to go.

For that, for the sheer audacity, for the performances and for a truly magnificent sense of direction, Boyhood is my 2015 film of the year. And I’m choosing to believe the Academy will agree.

Mike

 

Oscar predictions:

Best Picture: 

Should be: Boyhood
Will be: Boyhood

Best Director: 

Should be: Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Will be: Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Best Actor: 

Should be: Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler (not nominated)
Will be: Michael Keaton, Birdman

Best Actress: 

Should be: Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Will be: Julianne Moore, Still Alice (haven’t seen)

Best Supporting Actor: 

Should be: Edward Norton, Birdman
Will be: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash (haven’t seen)

Best Supporting Actress: 

Should be: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Will be: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Best Original Screenplay: 

Should be: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Will be: Birdman

Best Adapted Screenplay: 

Should be: Whiplash
Will be: Whiplash

 

 

 

 

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