Now is the time of year when we get reflective. Where any self respecting film buff must name their top 10 films of the year. The practice is quite absurd really, because I haven’t actually seen all the movies released this year for this to be a truly meaningful list. So I guess you can stop reading. I mean, I haven’t even seen Boyhood yet. Boyhood. It’s only the number one movie on everybody else’s top 10. Don’t worry I’m giving myself a Chinese burn for everyday that passes in which I fail to see Boyhood. I’ll get there one day.
So here you go, my favourite films of the year NOT featuring Boyhood. Which I’m sure is brilliant.
And before you ask. Yes I did see Interstellar, but guess what? It didn’t make the list. In my opinion, Contact was much better.
In the end, the Godzilla remake didn’t have the darkness of the original 1954 version or even the original proof of concept teaser, but in terms of spectacle, Godzilla was one of those films that demanded to be seen on the biggest screen possible. Modern blockbusters like Man of Steel and Transformers are full of nonsensically edited scenes of massive urban destruction, giving rise to the ‘disaster porn’ trend that implies we’re supposed to be getting off on all the destructive excess of a post 9/11 world. Godzilla contains scenes of mass devastation, but the difference is in how director Gareth Edwards applies actual legitimate film making even if he does at one point borrow a piece of music from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
After the heart wrenching introduction, the human characters do let the film down, being either underwritten or just completely underused, but let’s be honest, I wasn’t here to see Bryan Cranston or even the guy from Kick Ass, I was here to see the big G beat seven shades of shit out of opposing Kaijus. The film offers visuals that go from being awe inspiring and explosive to silently haunting. A couple of moments in Godzilla took me back to the time where I sat down in a theatre to watch Jurassic Park for the first time. As a bit of a Herman Melville freak, the final scene in which the big G vanishes into the ocean echoes the final lines of Moby-Dick – ‘then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago’. Perfect closing shot even if Godzilla was a bit cuddlier than fans wanted him to be.
There are also plenty of nods to Jurassic Park, so of course Godzilla makes my top 10. What do you want? This is my list. Mine.
Whenever a cartoon character from yesteryear gets the big screen treatment it can be hit or miss. Luckily the makers of Paddington treat the source material with care and respect, creating a genuinely heartwarming family film that is big on imagination and wit. Director Paul King previously worked on The Mighty Boosh and you can see the DNA in Paddington’s sometimes surreal visuals and a broad sense of warm rich colours. There are hints of Wes Anderson, Mary Poppins and a little bit of Aardman throughout, which in itself coupled with the Boosh is a stellar pedigree. The movie is damn right beautiful to look at, right down to the animation of Paddington bear himself (voiced by Ben Whishaw) and the depiction of snowy London town. In the end of course, it’s a story about an immigrant (‘from darkest Peru’) looking for a home in the UK, a country and ideal he holds in great esteem and aspires towards. He’s not here to steal Christmas from a largely athiest population, he’s here to make the BEST marmalade you’ve ever tasted. In the end it’s a wholesome antidote to all the anti immigration talk that has dominated much of political discourse over recent years.
Technically Her came out in the US in 2013, but in the UK we had to wait until Valentines Day. And what a crushing date movie it would prove to be… Her is the inevitable movie about a man who falls in love with his computer. It’s set in the near future where computers have become more entwined with people’s everyday lives. In the midst of it all there is Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore – a quiet single loser who writes poetic gift card messages for a living. Upon installing a brand new operating system he comes into contact with his own personal interface – a hyper-real AI called Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Initially Samantha manages his life and does everything you would expect a computer to do, but being the most realistic AI on the market she knows everything about Theodore’s life and begins to understand his behaviour and mannerisms. Samantha is practically human though she has no body, and the two inevitably begin a romantic relationship. This being a Spike Jonze film means the film is very visually captivating, with a lot of valentine red in its colour palette and the technology is incorporated very naturally and believably into it all. Her lulls us along into the a heady intimate romance before ripping us out of it. It could have been a Black Mirror episode but I’m just glad it wasn’t written by Charlie Brooker. Otherwise there would be no hope what so ever.
Automatically there is a lot to like about Calvary – Brendan Gleeson heading up a familiar cast of Irish actors, sweeping shots of the Irish coastline and a very black sense of humour. It begins with Gleeson’s Father James hearing confession of an unknown member of his parish. The man declares that in a week’s time he will meet the priest on the beach and kill him in the name of vengeance after being raped as a boy by another member of the Catholic church. Based on principle, Father James doesn’t go to the police, he simply waits it out and attempts to tend to his flock as normal whilst hoping to track down the killer and talk him out of it. Father James is a good man, a moral sheriff within a community with a number of bad eggs – people who have lost their way and are in need of spiritual counselling or at least help of some kind. Any one of them could be the man who wants to kill him. The real problem is that nobody trusts the Catholic church and though Father James means well and approaches with a very frank form of spiritual reconciliation, he is routinely ridiculed and despised by his flock. In this way Calvary can be very anti-religious but by the end it’s message is simple – treat others as you would treat yourself, even if they are the worst people in the world.
Based on the memoirs of Jon Ronson who played keyboards for Frank Sidebottom during the mid 80s, Frank was marketed as a quirky goofball comedy when in reality it is quite a sad tale about creativity and the extent people go to create or at least maintain the illusion that they are being creative. Domhall Gleeson’s Jon is a fledgling song writer, writing shit lyrics and shit melodies whilst working in a boring dead end job. Enter Michael Fassbender’s Frank, the enigmatic lead singer of the Soronprfbs who constantly wears a paper mache head that bears a resemblance to Frank Sidebottom. Jon is picked up by the band to go to record the band’s next album, provoking a journey into creative discovery presided by the emponymous Frank. Fans of Captain Beefheart and 80s punk will find a lot to like in Frank and some of the original music in this film is actually really great.
5. Under The Skin
If Nicolas Roeg directed Species in the 70s it would probably resemble Under The Skin and that’s not just because it is mostly set in and around Glasgow. Haha! That was a Frankie Boyle joke – the implication that Glasgow hasn’t changed much since the 70s… So Scarlett Johansson plays a predatory alien seductress stalking the streets of Glasgow in a white van like a female terminator. She entices random men off the street to come back to her place, where they naturally befall a horrific fate plays out in one of the eeriest scenes of the year. Apparently, some of the scenes in which she speaks to men were shot via hidden cameras with real members of the general public. Now I don’t know, but if Scarlett Johansson randomly started seducing me from her big white van, I would have concluded that either I was being punk’d or I was being roped into a secret bodysnatcher styled alien invasion not too dissimilar from the plot of the film.
At times it all feels very meta, as if the film is more about Scarlett Johansson than anything else, but as it gets going and Scarlett’s alien goes from merely observing human behaviour to feeling it, it becomes a different beast entirely. She goes from being the empowered huntress to the hunted. The overall message is the classic ‘beauty is only skin deep’. Like Shrek in that regard. But better than Shrek. Of course, not many people are going to agree with that, but hey, I think it’s better than Shrek. And this is my list. Mine.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy swaggered into popular culture with confidence and an asynchronous soundtrack of cheesy pop songs from the 70s and 80s. Which is amazing when you consider that this was one of Mavel’s C-list properties starring a talking racoon and an ent. What is even more amazing is that somehow, it’s not Bradley Cooper’s sarcastic gun toting Rocket Racoon that steals the show. Nor even Vin Diesel’s lovable tree man Groot. It’s not even Chris Pratt, with his goofy Indiana Jones styled Starlord. It was Dave Bautista’s Drax The Destroyer who repeatedly stole the show with his inability to grasp even basic metaphor. In the end however, Guardians of the Galaxy has heart and vision, probably more so than the original Star Wars, and I do not say that lightly. Furthermore it does so well in setting up each of the guardians and bringing them together as a unit without each character needing their own movie and spin out franchise. The end ‘hand holding’ scene could have been cheesy sentimental gush but it is testament to the performances of each of the actors in how effective it manages to be in pulling at the old heartstrings.
“Take my hand Peter…”
It’s a triumphant return to space opera and they even squeezed Howard the fucking Duck in it. Take that George Lucas!
3. Grand Budapest Hotel
For a long time, I didn’t really like Wes Anderson’s movies. I have never really managed to digest quirkiness like other people and for the most part – I’ve always seen it as a trait indicating style over substance. Gradually I realised that Wes Anderson doesn’t fall under the quirkiness of Scrubs or Zoey Deschannel and I went back to each of his films with a fresh mind and found a lot to appreciate. This being a Wes Anderson film, Grand Budapest is full of great actors, but the whole movie revolves around Ralph Fiennes character Gustaph H, a man who is adored by seemingly everyone. This is the same actor who played Amon Goeth, Voldemort and this cunt by the way. One cannot understate how good Fiennes is in this movie, I hope he does more comedy. As with most Wes Anderson films, it is the visual gags and eccentric vintage look of everything that makes the film a joy to watch. it is as if each shot is presented as a present in wrapping paper. At the same time there are striking moments of violence and sadness that actually turn this fancy caper into a bittersweet story about how people can bring light in the world and then take it away with them when they are gone.
I don’t know what scared me most about Nightcrawler – Jake Gyllenhaal’s inherent creepiness as Lou Bloom or how strongly I could relate to his situation and ultimately how I ended up rooting for him. Lou Bloom is an ambitious 20-something looking for a career in a world that poses very little in the way of opportunity. Eventually Bloom falls into the world of freelance video journalism covering crime on the streets of night time LA for a TV station. Whilst he starts off small, he learns quickly how to evolve his techniques leading him to adopt highly dubious methods involving the invasion of crime scenes, withholding evidence from the police and finally getting to the point in which he has a hand in orchestrating the crimes he captures. All the while, he defends himself by parroting jargon about providing a service and following a sensible business plan to growth, all things that sound learned from the internet and passed off as the experience.
There are shades of Peeping Tom in Nightcrawler’s voyeurism and a big dollop of Network in it’s depiction of a largely amoral media. At one point Renee Russo’s seasoned TV executive advises Bloom to think of their news program as ‘a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut’ before sending him out to collect the footage. Lou Bloom feels very contemporary, a Patrick Bateman for the lost generation if you will. Blood in the news is a product in demand and Lou Bloom simply gets it, he’s just the kind of character to seize the opportunity. Good for him.
1. The Lego Movie
“Everything is awesome”. It’s supposed to a send up of that mindless processed vapid pop song you hear over and over again on the radio. It’s the song that keeps all of brick city singing and paying $30 for a cup of coffee whilst they obliviously live in an Orwellian state ruled by a megavillain who wants nobody to have individual freedom and nothing to change. It represents the wool over Emmet’s eyes, shielding him from the fact that he has no friends, that there is nothing remotely interesting about him and that he’s stuck in this life of denial. Yet, by the end of The Lego Movie you’re singing ‘Everything is Awesome’ because it comes to mean something a lot more positive. Suddenly you’re driving in your car, and the Tegan and Sara version comes up on the radio, and you are still singing. Congratulations, you have been won over by the Lego movie.
THE BEST MOVIE OF 2014!
From the moment I saw The Lego Movie at the start of the year, I kind of already knew that everything else would be 2nd place. The worst thing about it, is that the movie is so blatantly one big toy commercial. It functions on so many different levels to entertain kids and adults who grew up with the toy. It plays exquisitely on the nostalgia of past Lego ranges, for instance – Benny’s astronaut helmet is cracked in the exact place where all of the helmets of the late 80s Lego space range inevitably cracked. Everything on screen is made out of lego, including the screen transitions. The lighting and filtering emphasises each brick’s plasticness and they appear positively gleaming! On top of it all, this toy commercial ties the Lego brand with the wholesome message that everybody is important and capable of amazing things so long as they believe in themselves. How’s that for brand awareness? Most of the creations of the master builders can now be purchased as Lego sets, which you can diligently put together. If you follow the instructions of course, despite the movie’s themes of rebel against the instructions and unleashing you’re own creativity.
So The Lego Movie is just another piece of branded content, like the latest Sainsbury’s Christmas ad. We usually complain about blatant product placement in movies, had this been the Coca Cola or Microsoft movie it may have been evil, but because it’s Lego it isn’t and so it tops my list…
Why didn’t I just to a top 20 list? Here are some more films I enjoyed over the year.
The Wolf of Wall Street – Martin Scorsese directs another 3 hour epic, the duration of which we spend in the company of a collection of despicable people. Which was better the Matthew McConaughey scene or the ludes scene?
Mr Turner – Thanks to Merchant Ivory and Downton Abbey, you go into British period dramas with a certain set of expectations, but Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner is a slow burn of a film that offers up a very different perspective of Victorian England. Timothy Spall’s grunting ineligible turn as famed painter William Turner doesn’t fall into the trap of depicting the romantic vision of the artist as a vaulting creative genius, but rather somebody who is flawed, full of animal passion and deeply committed to his craft even if his audience routinely show they have more money than sense in the full appreciation of his work.
Edge of Tomorrow – In a typical Tom Cruise film, Tom Cruise cannot be killed. Edge of Tomorrow subverts this notion by killing off Tom Cruise repeatedly, sometimes incidentally, sometimes brutally, sometimes humourously. It’s a film that takes the video game concept of dying and respawning and uses it as a focus for a intelligent dose of electric sci-fi action. It’s basically Starship Troopers by way of Groundhog Day and it was far better than I had any right to expect. It also underwhelmed at the box office which was a shame. Look for it on DVD, where the marketers changed the name to Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow but don’t let their lack of confidence in the film stop you from enjoying one of the better action movies of the year.
X-men: Days of Future Past – Marvel is getting all the credit for superhero movies these days, but Bryan Singer’s return to the X-men movies was a welcome one. Though it’s not quite as good as X2 and Jennifer Lawrence is mostly sleepwalking through the film, it reprises John Ottman’s fantastic score, and completely retcons Brett Ratner’s rubbish Xmen: The Last Stand! Most excellent.
Locke – I was expecting a high octane thriller starring a heated Tom Hardy performance that somehow involved gangsters and missing drug shipments, and the inevitable “WE HAVE YOUR DAUGHTER LOCKE” phonecall. In reality, Locke is a lower key thriller about a normal man trying to make amends to his life whilst it is seemingly falling apart all around him. This doesn’t make it any less effective in being a thriller however. It’s a measured and collected performance by Tom Hardy within the cosy confines of his BMW X5. I sincerely hope the next Mad Max takes inspiration from it. But probably not.
Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier – Whilst all the political intrigue and NSA related substance evaporated by the time the bombastic third act came around, Captain America 2 was a strong entry to the Marvel cinematic universe, once again proving that Marvel seem to know what they’re doing when it comes to adapting their characters for the big screen. There were discrepancies, the winter soldier felt like another wasted opportunity to create a lasting villain and the film ended with another aerial battle in which things exploded out of the sky. The redeeming factor was Chris Evans, who invigorates old Cap with a likable sense of righteousness. It’s the way he tells Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow to get her feet off the dashboard of the car they just stole. We believe he has every intention to return it to its rightful owner once he is done saving the world. Little quirks like this are quickly making Captain America my favourite Avenger.
The Imitation Game – Benedict Cumberbatch seems to have nailed the ‘high functioning sociopath’ character but his turn at Alan Turing is more sympathetic and tragic than Sherlock. The Imitation Game is pure Oscar bait of course but by the end, it’s the barbarity of the UK justice system against homosexuality throughout most of the 20th century that leaves you hanging. Within our parent’s lifetime, the UK government willingly destroyed the life of one of our greatest inventors and war heroes, and that goes without mentioning the others who suffered.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – This probably should have been in my top 10 instead of Godzilla, but in the end I think I preferred the first movie. Dawn is a solid if predictable parable about how things would be so much better if we humans (and apes) all just got along.
The Raid 2: Bendragal – The first movie was tighter and more character driven. The sequel by contrast is the exact opposite, a sprawling whirlpool of chaos, that evolves the operatic ballet of ultra violence to unprecedented levels. It’s completely relentless and becomes almost artistic in it’s use of violence.
Okay, I’ll just stop now. It’s been a good year for movies apart from that business with North Korea, but to be honest who really cares about another Rogen/Franco bromance in which they smoke weed and probably fart loads? I hate farting. I guess it’s still the principle of the thing. The movie I mean. Not the farting. Unless it is all a marketing stunt to get more people interested in the film before it gets an inevitable release later in 2015. I mean who really opens a film on Christmas day?
Roll on 2015! From here on out, it’s all about sequels, ‘reboots’ and more sequels. Most of them will probably be shit so let’s not get our hopes up. Okay?
I feel nothing.
Nothing at all…