All of these fall into at least two out of: 1. released in the US in 2014; 2. released in the UK in 2014; 3. I saw them for the first time in 2014…
(Edit: after thinking a bit more about The Interview, I dropped it in favour of the very fun Edge of Tomorrow…)
25-21: The Flawed Gems
25 Edge of Tomorrow
Tom Cruise only makes two good kinds of movie these days: ones where he plays a slimeball, and ones that have the words “Mission Impossible” in the title. “Edge of Tomorrow” (now sort-of-retitled “Live. Die. Repeat.” for VOD) looks like a bit of hokey sci-fi, and it is, but it’s also a great Tom Cruise slimeball pic. He plays a cowardly soldier exposed to the reality-warping effects of having an alien explode all over his face. He’s then forced to relive the same beach invasion over and over until he finds a way to not die during it. The ending is kind of a dud, but in the meantime it’s Groundhog Day meets a sort of demented Tom Cruise snuff film. If you enjoy watching the smile get wiped off his face, congratulations – this is the movie for you. It happens dozens of times.
There’s never been a Biblical film quite like this before, and it’s very much a movie of two halves. In the first part, Russell Crowe builds his ark with help from giant rock monster fallen angels, then then defends it from Ray Winstone’s warrior tribe in a massive fantasy battle just as the deluge hits. That part’s pretty good. In the second half, Russell Crowe is sailing along with Emma Watson and threatening to kill her unborn children if they turn out to be girls. That half is less good, even once you factor in the secret twist – down in the bowels of the ark, Ray Winstone is slowly eating all the animals.
23 Maps To The Stars
Cronenberg’s acid satire of Hollywood families has the pH dialled right down to 1. Ultimately the storytelling doesn’t quite flow right, but in the meantime Juliane Moore is phenomenal.
Some great sequences. Beautiful effects. Workmanlike acting. Terrible plot.
21 The Babadook
Effective domestic chiller with a stressed-out mother, repressed emotions, and a child who can “see” something crawling from the depths of their subconsciouses via a mysterious children’s book. But lord oh lord is the child annoying. I started to identify very strongly with the mum.
20-11: Very good
20 The Guest
First it’s a mystery, then its a thriller, then it’s an action movie, then a horror. In something like Gone Girl that could be unsatisfying, but in a schlocky movie like The Guest, it works. An ex-soldier (or is he?) comes to offer comfort to a family who lost their own son in the war. They were comrades (or were they?). A nice throwback to late-80s straight-to-VHS fare, in the best possible way (or is it? Yes, it is).
Prestige cinema, and great acting, but it’s the same darn tone throughout. Wintery and bleak. Easy to admire but hard to love.
18 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
Some people found this too talky, but there’s airstrikes, commando raids, someone is brainwashed to kill, and a hospital explodes. Plus, as ever, Jennifer Lawrence sells the hell out of it.
Fun, stupider-than-it-thinks action-packed Marxist fable. Amazing sets, and some lovely surreal moments.
Lars Von Trier hasn’t failed me yet. Deadpan ridiculousness.
15 The Lego Movie
The best realisation of Batman for decades, and an ending that made a little bit of dust land in my eye. Dust!
14 Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Features Toby Jones trapped inside a 1970s computer. Job done.
13 The Raid 2: Berendal
If you wanted highly choreographed violence, this is the movie for you. Blazing lay intense action that puts its foot on the pedal and never lets up, until it slams into the credits.
12 22 Jump Street
No apologies – there are a lot of apparently dumb comedies around these days, but this was the funniest, smartest stupid movie of the year.
11 Gone Girl
Almost every part of Gone Girl is great, as are all the performances. But as a whole it seems uncertain about what kind of movie it wants to be – mystery, thriller, high-camp melodrama – and as a result it never quite gels. That said, Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike both give career best performances, and it’s the only Tyler Perry movie worth watching.
Does Miles Teller have what it takes to be one of the trio great jazz drummers? JK Simmons thinks… maybe, but probably not. As the need to prove himself slides into dangerous obsession, Whiplash delivers the most intense final half-hour of the year.
Lean, keen, pop-eyed Jake Gyllenhaal will do anything for success in the tightly competitive world of chasing down crime scenes and selling the gore-strewn footage, in this searing tale of obsession and manipulation. Rene Russo guards the gateway to a total moral void. But how far is Jake willing to go? (Spoiler: right off the edge).
8 Guardians of the Galaxy
Probably the best Marvel movie to date, albeit with their traditional problem of a bland villain. Chris Pratt’s dancing is a particular highlight.
Michael Fassbender rocks a paper mâché head, in a bittersweet tour of creativity and madness.
6 We Are The Best
Swedish punk teen girls in the (other) great coming-of-age movie of the year. Not nearly enough people went to see this, but it really was lovely.
5 Only Lovers Left Alive
Deadpan vampire poets in one of Jim Jarmusch’s greatest films. The ruins of Detroit prefigure the coming end of human civilisation. But in the meantime, Tilda Swinton is a Stax girl.
There’s nothing else quite like Boyhood, the anti-coming-of-age-film coming-of-age-film. As much about being a parent as it is about growing up; Patricia Arquette gives the performance of the year.
This had all the bells and all the whistles. Working within self-imposed limits – almost the entire film has the appearance of a single take, despite taking place over several days – Iñárritu delivers a spinning catherine wheel of a movie, supported by a fantastical cast with Keaton, Norton and Stone the highlights.
2 Under The Skin
Jonathan Glazer defamiliarises Earth and its civilisations, watching Glasgow through the eyes of Scarlett Johanssen – and watching Scarlett Johanssen through the eyes of Glasgow. From the shopping centres to the slip roads to the nightclubs to the sub zero beaches and wintery forests she moves; an absence behind a human mask. This movie contained both the most haunting moment and biggest shock of the year. Unforgettable.
1 The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson’s grand return to form, this had as much heart and depth as Boyhood, but through some kind of alchemy achieved it via stylised comedy rather than earthy drama – a far harder trick to pull off. Just as one indicator of how much of a return to form this was, it featured – like The Darjeeling Limited – a dead child. But whereas in that film it was a cheap plot device, here it’s the hidden heart of the the whole thing, lost in a throwaway remark in the folds of the history.