Top Ten Films 2014

This year has been fantastic for cinema overall. The stinger for me has been that the ones that disappointed me, were ones that I was looking forward to a great deal, so they really disappointed me. And at times I remember thinking over summer that the year had been a bit of a damp squib.

But looking back now I can see that those moments of sulking were fleeting, and in fact we’ve been treated to a stunning year when you look at the big picture. So here’s our list of the year’s best.

10. Dallas Buyers Club

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The peak of the McConaughnaissance came earlier this year when Matthew McConaughey deservedly took home the Best Actor Oscar for his role as real-life AIDS medication smuggler Ron Woodruff.

It’s a no hold’s barred, transformative performance in a film that really resonated for both its eye opening truths and emotional authenticity.

9. Grand Budapest Hotel

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Wes Anderson managed to produce the most Wes Anderson-y film of his career to date. Grand Budapest Hotel is loaded with tiny details, unfaltering symmetry and hi-brow wit alongside a brilliantly whimsical story.

The cast is a director’s dream and the film itself was probably the most fun I had in a cinema this year; such a smile generator.

8. Boyhood

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2014 has been an incredible year for independent film, not least for the experiential moment that came from Richard Linklater’s Boyhood.

Filmed over 12 years, Boyhood allows us to watch the film’s lead Ellar Coltrane to age before our eyes, having been cast as a 5 year old and finishing the movie at 18.

It captures childhood, adolescence, adulthood, relationships and love in a way that no other film has ever managed before, and all while perfectly representing each time period it moves through with an iconic soundtrack.

Boyhood truly is a once in a lifetime film.

7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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Still my favourite individual character in the MCU, Steve Rogers has once again been given a fantastic standalone outing in Winter Soldier. It was great to see Marvel not just sticking with the traditional Hero’s Journey tale, and instead creating a 70s influenced political thriller for Cap to fight his way through.

The pacing is incredible, reminiscent of Indiana Jones for its never-let-go attitude towards escalation and brilliantly constructed action. My only complaint is that Marvel need to learn to let people stay dead (here’s looking at you Nick Fury).

6. 12 Years A Slave

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Perhaps the most important film of the year, but also one of its most artistic. Steve McQueen brought his unflinching eye to the subject of slavery, and in particular the tale of Solomon Northup; a man deceived and sold into deep south servitude.

Utilising what has become a signature technique, McQueen managed to wring terror, shame and agonising reality to the film by shooting scenes in single shot takes; holding his camera on Solomon as he struggles against a noose for what feels like a lifetime, and forcing us to watch the flaying of a woman without cutting away.

It is so powerful, as the truth usually is.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy

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You don’t often hear the term ‘Space Opera’ used in cinema anymore. And when you do you tend to think of some over-the-top flop like Battlefield Earth. But with Guardians, Marvel proved that the Space Opera can be the most fun, enthralling and emotionally satisfying genre around.

Praise must mainly go to director James Gunn, who has been awaiting a chance like this for many years and was entrusted to bring his vision in all its glory. Gunn’s irreverent humour, eye for spectacle and impeccable taste in music came together to produce one of Marvel’s largest canvases thus far.

4. Birdman

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Seemingly filmed in one undisturbed take, this backstage drama charts the life of actor Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), a man whose career hit a low after refusing to reprise his role as a 90s superhero (sound familiar?). Now in his fifties, Thompson has ploughed all remaining funds into a self-penned broadway adaptation to earn critical acclaim and show the world the artist he has been all along.

As much a study of lifelong ambition as it is a dark comedy farce, Birdman represents a true return to form for Keaton. As funny as the film is, at its heart resides the serious pangs of difficult family relationships and the tragic nature of an unfulfilled life.

3. Inside Llewyn Davis

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Once again the Coen brothers deliver a piece of glorious art, with a gorgeous soundtrack and the most sumptuous cinematography of the year.

Inside Llewyn Davis charts a week in the life of a folk musician (based on real-life singer Dave van Ronk) whose repeated failures are a direct product of his sense of entitlement, coupled with his belief that talent should be enough.

As with all great Coen pieces this is all about character. In truth nothing really happens plot-wise, but just to spend two hours in the company of these people and their lives is a magical cinematic experience.

2. Frank

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Frank Sidebottom was a character created by comedian Chris Seivey, who occasionally sang eccentric songs and appeared on UK TV.

With Frank the film, screenwriter Jon Ronson takes this character and imagines him in a struggling indie band, battling with creativity in a world where selling out is king. And the result is a fantastic dark comedy featuring great performances in a film which refuses, as with its titular character, to fit any kind of mould.

Whilst for many Frank may be too insane to quantify, for me this film stood out as not just the perfect allegory for being a musician, but also the way we treat people with mental health needs/learning disabilities. When Frank wears the mask people see him as a quirky genius, fun to be around and with an incomprehensible talent. But without the mask he is a fragile, vulnerable, potential risk. There to be spoken down to and pitied.

There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. Frank helps us see that the line doesn’t really exist.

1. Nightcrawler

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Jake Gyllenhaal transforms himself into a desperate, hungry coyote. He appears in the form of Lou Bloom, a man who can only derive happiness in life through success in business, at any cost.

After stumbling upon a freelance film crew shooting a highway accident to sell to the local news, Lou picks up a camera and police scanner and gets to work. What follows is a chilling character study into the lengths people go to for success and recognition. There are literally no depths he will not sink to, and his lack of any kind of emotion is terrifying.

The real brilliance of Nightcrawler is the mirror it holds up. Much like ‘Network’ in the 70s did for TV audiences, so does screenwriter Dan Gilroy send a damning warning to the Lou Bloom’s in every city around the globe. This world is becoming overpopulated with new candidates for The Apprentice; cold, self-serving individuals who would most certainly manipulate life or death situations if it meant impressing their boss.

Lou is a product of our generation. He is to be feared because he is all around us every day. Nightcrawler is social commentary turned into a horror masterpiece. Easily this year’s best film.

James is a movie obsessive with a particular love for scores and screenplays. He has written for numerous blogs, sites and cinemas and has been involved in several screenwriting projects. He can usually be found in front of a large plasma screen devouring Westerns, 80s pulp, Jimmy Stewart movies or anything by the Coens.

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