2014: A Year in Review

(originally published between 17 January-1 February 2015)

Addendum 1: The original introduction to the first of these blogs is way too long, so I’m cutting it completely. Fuck that. Basically, I give my exceptions to what I count as a movie from that year (released in whatever format that makes it legally viewable here within said year), I’m not listing movies I haven’t seen, and I don’t count documentaries (I’ve changed my stance on that one). Really was just waffle.

Addendum 2: I’m removing The Tribe from my Worst list. While I still have fundamental issues with it (bleakly nihilistic tone, aggressively cynical use of shock value, and unlikable terribly simply drawn characters), it’s technical prowess in being told entirely in sign language is more than enough to not have it placed on a Worst list. It’ll be added to the Dishonourable Mentions. Anybody who disagrees with my stance on this film, please feel free to discuss with me as it’s something I think has a lot of merit and well worth trying to change my mind on. The rest are trash, so there ya go!

Worst Films of 2014

 

To start off, here are my dishonourable mentions. These are movies I did not like, but had enough going for them so that they just missed the cut-off point:

American Hustle, Before the Winter Chill, Brick Mansion, The Drop, The Expendables 3, God’s Pocket, I Frankenstein, Jack and Ralph Plan a Murder, Kid Cannabis, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Monuments Men, Night Moves, Non-Stop, Northern Soul, Poison Pen, St. Vincent, The Stag, Sin City: A Dame to Kill for, Transcendence, The Tribe

Now, onto the list! Starting with:

  1. Palo Alto

palo-alto-01Based on James Franco’s short story collection (he also stars in the film), it’s the directorial debut of Gia Coppola, granddaughter of legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola and yet another from the Coppola stable to get into film. Sadly, it’s a dry, meandering film with very little character and feels all too similar to every indie flick that has come out in the last decade.

22. Yves Saint Laurent

yves-saint-laurent06Why do biopics just hone in on certain aspects of a person’s life, usually at the behest of what made them famous? I know Yves Saint Laurent has a wealth of interest behind him outside of his clothing line, but you’d think that would get a bit more attention other than his drug problem and homosexuality, or at least the balance would be a little better done? Focusing on his relationship with Pierre Bergé, this movie is a slogging and surprisingly colourless trip into the life of the famous fashion designer, which doesn’t seem to believe that a man who underwent electric shock therapy is interesting enough to carry his own movie. Let down by an amazingly banal performance by lead Pierre Niney, one has to wonder if the other YSL movie that came out this year just personally financed his forgettable slog in order to be the superior movie (those who have seen Saint Laurent feel free to confirm or deny this).

  1. Willow’s Creek

4-willow-creekWhat really hurts this movie is that it does have a lot of potential. Behind the lifeless plot and overemphasis on build-up over…well, atmosphere, tension, pacing, or character development, we have two pretty decent actors and a horror story about the legend of Bigfoot. It all builds up to the ending but, outside of a really intense scene in a tent, the leads are annoying as hell (the male should have died earlier because of what an idiot he is), and the last shock would have shocked if I had cared what was going on. Another disappointing entry by Bobcat Goldwaith, who I can’t believe is the same director behind World’s Greatest Dad.

  1. Into the Storm

785355703303158339It’s the found footage version of Twister. Does the found footage version of Twister sound good to you? No? Don’t watch this movie. A breathless bore where the cast just hit their marks and the tornado is way too controlled and convenient to be believed that it’s a force of nature and not deliberately trying to kill these group of people. Skip it and watch Twister, it’s at least more entertaining.

  1. The Sea

the_seaIt kills you when you see great actors waste their talent on such lacking material. Outside of the cinematography doing the MOST OBVIOUS AND OVERDONE PALETTE CHANGE FOR THE FLASHBACKS, this movie drags its feet through a very unengaged story with little weight or impact. Ciaran Hinds and Charlotte Rampling are way too good for this material, and the always great Ruth Bradley gets a very thankless role in this badly structured, terribly clichéd mess.

  1. The Amazing Spider-Man 2

amazingspiderman2If I let my own personal biases and love for this character get in the way, it would be higher on the list. As it stands, this film is absolutely awful and an insult to Marvel’s flagship hero. Terribly unfocused plot, where Peter goes from puppy dog cute love to full on stalker, villains that have the dumbest motivations with great actors not having a clue what to do, terrible effects which are either goofy or look unfinished and product placement that would put Man of Steel to shame. This is looking to be the straw that broke Sony’s back as they are contemplating bringing the character back to Marvel (Note: Hah, fucking Nostradamus over here!) and their plans for an expanded Spider-Man universe franchise (really?) seem to be dead before they’ve even begun. Let’s hope they stay this way so we don’t have to suffer more cynical, ugly and badly constructed ads for whatever they have planned for later.

  1. No Good Deed

no-good-deed-trailerIt has not been a great year for Idris Elba. After disappointing earlier this year in a terribly pedestrian Nelson Mandela biopic (despite him and Naomi Harris being amazing in their roles), we then get one of the most contrived and terribly thought out home invasion thrillers I have ever watched. It’s an interesting enough setup: a bored housewife lets a handsome stranger in her house under the guise that he’s waiting for his care to be towed from a crash, not realising he could be a danger to her and her family. The problem is that the situation just lacks tension as we know Elba is a murderer straight from the off, so this movie seems to mistake ‘tension’ for ‘waiting for the inevitable’. The story is so unoriginal, the cameraman even looks like he’s asleep with no sense of dread or even some decent shots, the score is like something you’d pull out of ‘Evil Scores no.2,482’ and the only thing that keeps this standing is that Elba and bored housewife victim Taraji P. Henson are both great in their parts. Let’s hope that they can shine in the coming years and leave this disappointing mess behind them.

  1. Expelled

largeThis movie tries way too hard to be a 21st Century Ferris Bueller. It just lacks the charm, laughs, smarts, decent writing and likeable characters. Outside of that, sure, it hits the mark! A woefully obnoxious fratboy comedy, it goes out of its way to show how unimaginative and just utterly unoriginal it really is. The acting is either flat or standard, there’s a really forced love interest that only seems to be there because movies need a love interest, it has the most annoying lead who will bash on stage and ruin a play and we’re supposed to root for him despite him being an unbearable twerp and it’s just baffling how completely lacking in charm or wit the film is. Let’s just hope it stays expelled and long gone.

  1. Deliver us from Evil

deliver-us-from-evil-movie-2014-sean-harrisOne of the greatest comedies I’ve seen all year! Oh, wait. It’s supposed to be a horror? Really? With the…and the, uh…yikes. Awkward…

Uh, nothing I can say, really. The acting is bland, whatever scares it’s going for just don’t work, and Sean Harris and Joel McHale are way, way too good for this shit. Harris, in particular, is really creepy and should have had this performance in a movie people would actually be frightened by. The director is doing the Doctor Strange movie, may God help us all (Note: It was alreet).

  1. Horns

o-horns-facebookSo let’s take a good idea with a good actor and make one of the most fucking unbearably stupid and by-the-numbers horror/thriller we can even imagine. Daniel Radcliffe gets gifted with powers of the devil, which forces people to be brutally honest with them. He uses the powers to track down who killed his girlfriend, played by Juno Temple, who he has been accused of murdering. A great premise which has hilariously bad effects, the pacing of a slug, nearly every cast member outside of Radcliffe phoning it in and if you do not guess who the killer is within 20 minutes, get your head checked. Juno Temple’s character really makes my skin crawl in how much of a victim they make her and how utterly in love and perfect she is beforehand. She’s a prop for the story and it’s uncomfortable how the movie treats her. Do no watch this even for Daniel Radcliffe’s saving grace performance, this movie goes out of its way to insult you with how bad it is.

  1. I, Origins

i-origins-michael-pittFirst of all, fuck you for that pun.

There were a lot of pretty bad religious movies this year. Here is one that seems to want to cater to the hipster crowd, with its soft tan lighting, its quirky, young and spirited characters exploring oh-so-kooky things, and a love story that starts with a quicky in a tiny bathroom (I am not even kidding). The lead is a creepy asshole, the girl is just there to force creationist shit down the audiences’ throats, its ideas on reincarnation and spirituality are…strange, and it tries to give a scientific explanation for a literal look into the phrase ‘The eyes are the windows of the soul’. Intrigued? Great, don’t watch this movie.

  1. Noah

Russell Crowe as NoahOkay, I championed this film. Hard. Darren Aronofsky is my favourite director, and while this is a weird step in a new direction for him, I’m open to change. I went in hoping it’d be good despite the criticism layered on it. Unfortunately, they were all right. This movie is a fucking trainwreck of weird ideas, confused Christian imagery, a thoroughly unlikeable lead, some weird additions to the story that don’t make a lot of sense, and rock monsters. The rock monsters are cool (Note: not sure if I knew back then that they’re actually a referenced beings in biblical text, but I don’t think they were rock monsters). The film would have been bad, but pretty passably so if the final act in it wasn’t so stupid, badly paced and crazy that it brings this movie from a unique but bland take on the story of Noah into an insultingly deranged film that is likely to piss you off no matter what religious affiliation you are. You broke my heart, Darren. You broke it.

  1. Transformers: Age of Extinction

optimus-prime-riding-grimlock-transformers-extinctionOkay, I really didn’t want to go for the obvious choice and put a Michael Bay movie on the worst list, but this one is so fucking terrible it really has an earned it. There’s not a hell of a lot to say about it, except that the Transformers continue to get uglier and more over-designed, the catering to the Chinese market is so obvious it borders on unpatriotic for the cornbread Americana Bay, Mark Wahlberg further proves that I have no idea why people keep on casting this guy, and at over 2 and a half hours, it’s a fucking drag to sit through. Terribly shot, terribly acted, awkwardly written (the ‘Romeo and Juliet clause’ scene comes to mind), and just overall another terrible addition to the Bayformers franchise.

And no, the Dinobots do not make up for it!

  1. Pompeii

pompeii-movie1While too late to jump in on the interest in ancient Greek and Rome culture with the popularity of Rome (finished 7 years ago) and more pertinently Spartacus (which ended in 2013), they did manage to cash-in on the Game of Thrones popularity by getting a cast member from it!

It’s a Paul W.S. Anderson movie that does Paul W.S. Anderson things: terrible shooting trying way too hard to be cool, production values that wouldn’t feel out of way of a pre-school play, actors who just look bored or embarrassed to be there (how miscast is Kiefer Sutherland in this movie?!) , terribly slow pacing and unintentional hilarity in otherwise drab places. I can no longer tell if Kitt Harrington is a terrible actor (I liked him in How to Train Your Dragon 2!), or if he just picks terrible roles because good lord, he managed to find a character more boring than Jon Snow (Note: As much as this will get me killed, I don’t think Kitt Harrington is that great an actor at all)!

The movie just meanders around in a dull, boring gladiatorial story arc (Spartacus!) while we wait for the only thing Pompeii is really known for to happen over 2/3rds of the way to the end. It tries to do the Titanic thing of banking on the audience’s knowledge of the story. The difference is that Titanic focused on the fucking boat. This gives  halfhearted hints at what’s to come tipped off by a story so boring I am legitimately struggling to remember what happened in it. A shameless cash-in seemingly made so they can put cool lava shots on the promotion.

  1. Maleficent

20140318_maleficent_trailer3revHow do you fuck this up? How do you make something so painful out of an idea as great as focusing a movie on one of the most memorable Disney villains of all time? Simple, you inexplicably make her totally the victim and a  goody good girl who was just misunderstood!

I’m not going to sit here and insult your intelligence by pretending that Maleficent was some complex and multi-dimensional villain, but she’s memorable for a reason. Proud, dangerous, takes charge, delights in what she does and is powerful and creepy. In order to make her relatable, they make her a victim of an attack from the King in the story with some rather disturbing rage/genital mutilation imagery, even if it’s likely unintentional. It’s an insult that they remove all the power out of one of the most powerful villains in Disney canon. Especially in such a disturbing way. Which is a shame; when Jolie is allowed to be menacing and charming, she’s really damn effective.

Even ignoring Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, it’s a pretty terrible film on its own merits. The effects are garish and ugly looking, most of the cast are annoying or so hammy you cannot take them seriously (which is a pity, as the actors they got  are usually solid), the message of the movie is both odd and anvilicious, it feels tired and completely lacking magic, and the Fairies go down as the most annoying characters of 2014.

This movie is not only an insult in a really gross way, it’s just not that interesting or fun. I don’t think anybody was expecting Maleficent to be completely evil (this is Disney, after all), but she could at least be a lot more dynamic and less  victimised than this.

  1. Tarzan

tarzantrailerIt’s the Disney version set in modern time. And the apes don’t talk. And the animation could not be more terrible if it tried. I just…I got nothing else, really. This one won’t be as long-winded, thankfully.

The story is stale, the modern day incorporation into the classic tale is awkward and really forced in order to buy the legitimacy of the conflict, none of the characters have any real development or just gain stalker feelings because…because, and the plot revolves around an alien rock. There’s a fucking alien rock in a Tarzan movie. I can’t actually think of any other adjectives outside of ‘That is strange’ to describe it (Note: I’ve since been told the original Tarzan stories can be this bizarre, so there’s precedence for this, but that still doesn’t stop this from being awkwardly placed within the narrative).

The insane plot can’t even make it unintentionally hilarious-it’s just a slog and I can’t really see a child sitting through this entire snore fest without bothering their parents at some point. All of this combined with some of the most horrifically awful animation I have seen in an officially released animated movie in a while just tops off this confused, boring and really creepy looking film.

Seriously, the character designs will haunt my nightmares. It’s like those creepy claymation horror cartoons from the 80s got skin. Their eyes are dead, man…

  1. Knights of Badassdom

19ewbekmhgcykpngYep. I said it. Fight me!

Now, admittedly, this  movie was absolutely destroyed in post. The studio didn’t think they could sell this thing, so they cut the shit out of it to the point where the director more or less said it wasn’t the same movie. It’s a pity it was dumbed down so much, especially with how it was stuck in post-production hell for so long.

That doesn’t excuse how painfully weird and just meandering this film is. The story tries too hard to be crazy and silly and just comes off as extremely obnoxious. As much as I appreciate that they try to portray nerds in a way that nerds would actually be, can they not just rely on stoner loser stereotypes?! The lead is an asshole, most of the best characters are removed pretty quickly, its stellar cast of beloved actors like Peter Dinklage and Summer Glau are not used as best they should, the editing is weird and really choppy and it’s just kind of a mean, bro-medy when it could have been a love letter to LARPers and their culture.

It’s a shame this movie was torn up so much, but it really does seem like a badly thought out mess that was an excuse for the crew to mess around than to make an fully-fledged movie. I hope a director’s cut that’s closer to his original vision, but for now, it’s just a substandard, annoyingly obnoxious flick.

  1. August: Osage County 

august-osage-countyWhat happens when you put a talented as hell cast at  a dinner table together? What happens when you think you can successfully adapt a stage play by changing very little to make it, you know, cinematic? For the cinema? What happens when you take one of the most beloved actresses of all time and make her acting so goddamn hammy and painfully forced that you know the only reason she was nominated because she’s Meryl freaking Streep? Th…The answer is this movie. I hope I didn’t play my hand too soon, there.

Dialogue-heavy plays don’t translate to screen well, and while exceptions can be made, this is not one of them. Every character has a forced conflict and are so terribly unlikeable that you have a hard time really caring about what’s going to happen to them unless you like the actor beforehand. Not to mention they’re dialled up to 90 because this movie is going for Oscar gold! So usually restrained actors like Ewan McGregor turn up the hamminess because the script needs them to be over-characterised to make up for how lacking and passionless the plot is!

It’s also a really ugly looking movie. There’s this weird orange tint to a lot of the shots, it really fails to make the movie feel melancholy and the sets and shots are straight out of Norman Rockwell’s wet dream. If you want movies pandering to the critics, you can do a lot better than this melodramatic, extremely harsh and hard to sit through film that goes to show that plays need a lot more thought put into them when being put up on the big screen.

  1. Mr. Morgan’s Last Love

mr-morgans-last-love-bigshotWhy does Michael Caine keep on being in terrible films?

The premise is actually pretty decent and somewhat relevant. It’s about a man who tries to find a new lease on life after losing his wife,  with the unique twist about a much younger woman being the one to help him lead the way. This isn’t a terrible premise, but its execution…

Well, Caine openly stalks our heroine, played by Clémence Poésy. Which starts off a rather unhealthy relationship where it’s not really sure what Póesy’s character gets out of this interaction outside of helping some self-pitying old man who is kind of manipulative and complete jerk to his children (yes, the movie acknowledges this, but it also seems to justify Morgan’s actions). Not really helped is Weed’s Justin Kirk, who is good at making obnoxious characters likable, but he’s unbearably whiney and self-centered that you can almost sympathise with what a prick his dad is.

And I could deal with all that, even with the dopey script that refuses to develop its premise or characters leaving the love interest a Manic Pixie Dream Girl for a depressed old man with an inconsistent accent (seriously, there are some scenes where it’s neutral, some places it’s heavily Southern…I think? I know Caine’s American accent is terrible guys, but at LEAST keep it consistent!). The direction is actually pretty solid, and Gillian Anderson is a lot of fun in the little of it she’s in (did she owe someone a favour?). It’s the ending that really put this on my shitlist. It’s tone deaf, completely goes against any point the movie could have been developing, is a pretty fucking terrible message to get across to the elderly and seems to have no issue with how problematic it is. It is easily the worst ending of any movie I saw all year, and I saw Interstellar.

(speaking of Nolan, Hans Zimmer’s score does not fit, like, at all)

  1. Here Comes the Devil

photo_01This rather strange horror movies starts out as a psycho-sexual horror (the parents bone when their kids go missing), then a revenge thriller, then turns into a possession movie, then turns into straight up horror, then has a really dumb twist and really doesn’t amount to, well, anything really. This movie goes into so many weird directions that Alfred Hitchcock would have went ‘Woah! Slow down, son!’

I think what really hurts this movie is, again, it has a lot of potential. The idea that parents take ‘revenge’ for a person they thought killed their children, only for their kids to turn up later, is a great set up to get some wonderfully psychological ideas from it. It’s only hurt by the fact that the direction is amateurish and unfocused, the tone is all over the place going from creepy to really goofy, the acting is barely passable, the direction the story takes is really obvious, and the kids are not as creepy as the movie is building them up to be.

It’s got some great looking locations, so the fact that the cinematography is tepid and really uninspired just goes to show whoever was handed this movie should do some schooling in film before going behind a camera. A dull, confused, pretty annoying and, most importantly, disappointing horror film.

  1. God’s Not Dead

960Like the movie above, putting a Christian movie on here is probably below the (Bible) belt. I mean, are these ever good?! No, but they also never make 31 times their budget back, so I say the kid gloves are off.

Do I even need to get into how stupid and one-sided this movie is? There is a way to make this concept and making it Christian-friendly without making the opposition the most card-carrying Evil Atheist dude you could find! All he’s missing is a fedora and a goatee.  It’s not just atheists that get a rough deal, though; there’s a really uncomfortable moment of islamaphobia that really just feels like a low blow out in service of the Christians.

Our message of God is sent by the idiots from freaking Duck Dynasty and some weird Christian band. The title is an insult to Nietzsche, which of course even the freaking PHILOSOPHY LECTURER seems to misunderstand its meaning! Also, famous scientists like Hawking and Dawkins get dragged into the mud. And Shakespeare. We even find out that that our nemesis is an atheist, not because he has opposing ideological beliefs that don’t adhere to any set religion or belief in a deity…but because something bad happened to him. Smallest violins, folks (Note: Yeah, don’t care about spoiling freaking God’s Not Dead-you find out his mom died of cancer when he was a kid. Still a really weak origin from a narrative standpoint, but ‘Smallest violins’?! Jesus fuck, Past Dan!).

Look, Christians all over the world out there. You’re pretty cool people. And ye still have a majority, especially in the USA. So please, pleaaaaase stop acting like you’re being persecuted in some ways. At least stop giving us your pathetic attempts at hitting back at your opponents if you’re going to continue with this persecution complex. It’s just a shambles of a movie in every way you can think of, and that doesn’t even touch on the billion and one subplots the movie tries to cram into its nearly 2-hour painful runtime!

  1. Coherence

coherenceApparently, ‘complex’ and ‘convoluted’ means the exact same thing to people.

So somebody was making a really boring one-room drama (similar to Osage: Orange County) and then decided it was more interesting to make it about time travel! At least I think that’s how it happened.

This movie is an amazing mess, doesn’t try to portray the time stuff in any consistent capacity and is filled with some of the most stock, wooden and just all-round unlikeable cast of characters you could find. While it’s admirable from a financial standpoint that the director shot the majority of the movie in his house, it’s so dimly lit and terribly underutilised that you almost develop cabin fever being in this damn location. That could have worked for the story, but it’s rarely ever brought up.

I just do not see what you can get from boring, rich assholes doing boring, rich asshole things. At least in Orange: Osage County, their conflicts were somewhat sympathetic! These people can live in an eternal weird loop that pretends its clever with recurring tropes, self-fulfilling prophecy, confusing the shit out of the viewer in lieu of making them think and just being a flat, unmovable bore which I’m totally comfortable labeling as pretentious. It thinks it has a lot to say, so it repeats its nothing ad infinitum.

  1. The Canyons

linday_lohan_james_deen_the_canyonsYeah. Anyone who has even heard of this movie will probably not be surprised that this is my worst movie of the year.

Now, I don’t hate Lindsay Lohan. Once upon a time, she had the potential to be a really decent actress, and unlike most people, I don’t look at her downfall with scorn and derision. So her making a comeback movie isn’t, in of itself, a terrible idea.  So it’s a good thing that she decided to make her comeback this absolute horror of a film, because otherwise people would have taken the idea of her doing a comeback seriously.

So why is this the worst? To put it simply, nothing works about it. It’s an examination of Hollywood, sexual politics and the power of privilege. Not only do they hit all these with the subtlety of a bulldozer, it doesn’t really say anything about them. It has this framing device of abandoned buildings to symbolise the decay of Hollywood, but it feels poorly incorporated and doesn’t really add much to the overall plot of crazy former porn star tries to control a former Disney star.

Yeah, this movie introduces the world to James Deen. That’s Deen, the porn star, not Dean the legend of cool. If this movie is any indication, he should have stayed in porn because he is awwwwwful (Note: Yeaaaaaah, Past Dan, from what we found out later about this arsewipe, he shouldn’t stay in porn either…)! And he’s in the movie so much, it’s hard to escape just how terrible he is.

(Note: Cut a paragraph here where I show my film knowledge by assuming people would only know Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis by their most popular works they were known for because they’re really fucking obscure guys only us dedicated indie film geeks know amirite…rereading over these articles has been a blast!)

There’s nothing redeemable about this movie. People are saying it’s this generation’s Showgirls, but at least that was unintentionally funny! This is an endurance test: no pacing, terrible acting from everybody, characters who get randomly added and dropped whenever they’re needed, some of the ugliest, flattest cinematography I have ever seen, and an overall mood that is in no way moody, it just seems tired and jaded. Lindsay Lohan is miscast as the abused Hollywood hotty that everyone loves and tries her best in a bad situation, and everything it’s trying to say about Hollywood and privilege has been said before and much better.  The former was done his year in Cronenberg Maps to the Stars.  The latter in a movie based on the writer of this piece of shit’s previous work!

Worthless, trashy in all the wrong ways, banal, painful, and most importantly empty. This is a soulless and completely mismanaged film and is not worth your time at all. Do not watch it, even out of curiousity of a person you inexplicably despise failings to come back.

Best Films of 2014

Addendum 1: Small bitta waffle cut off! Skipping straight to the honourable mentions. Also, if I was doing this list again, Enemy would be in there somewhere, but unlike The Tribe, tis easier to add than to subtract and I’m lazy, so…yeah. Watch Enemy. One of the best films of the past 5 years.

Addendum 2: Laziness prevented me from writing new copy for Enemy, but not for rearranging already written material in the blog! Three of my choices were bumped up the list-I’ll note which ones.

22 Jump Street, A Most Wanted Man, Atilla Marcel, Blue Ruin, Boyhood, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Cheap Thrills, The Congress, The Dance of Reality, Dead Snow 2, Enemy, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, Gone Girl, Guardians of the Galaxy, In Order of Disappearance, The Invisible Woman, Love Eternal, One Christmas Eve…, The Sacrament, The Skeleton Twins, Strangers by the Lake, Under the Rainbow, The Unwanted, The Wind Rises

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s start this countdown with:

  1. Ladder to Damascus

ladder_to_damascus_h_2013The first movie of legendary Syrian filmmaker Mohammad Malas in about 8 years, and it’s made all the more heartbreakingly poignant due to the events that befell his country this year (Note: Okay, from what I recall, the Syrian War reached a pretty tumultuous tipping point around the time I wrote this, late January 2015, so for the sake of my sanity I’m assuming that’s what I’m referring to, and not that the fucking Syrian War started in 2014 or, to follow the grammar of the sentence, January 2015. Jesus Christ, I was working for a newspaper when I wrote this, proofread your fucking articles!).

In the time he took out, Syria went from a time of economic prosperity to a horrific civil war, which this movie wishes to reflect. A young filmmaker finds a woman who claims to be the inhabited by the soul of a girl who drowned the day she was born. Fascinated by her, he takes her under his wing and helps her find a place to stay, a dormitory with himself and several other students. As the relationship between the two (or three) leads blossoms, the streets are filled with conflict.

This is a very lyrical, flowing film and can be read in a lot of ways. Personally, I see it as a metaphor for film itself, and how we use it as a form of escape. Our lead character, Fouad, wishes to capture the life of modern girl Ghalia and deceased spirit Zeina, both representations of a life sheltered and a spirit rocked by tragedy. Each character can be seen as taking a role in this ‘movie’, ala Inception, but the movie is not a reflection of how ideas are implanted, more that they’re sidetracked or ignored. While film is important, it can sometimes be used to point in the wrong direction, most pointedly demonstrated by the movie’s brilliant use of limited staging. We rarely leave the dorm after we go there, the characters exiled there just as the city starts to burn, trapped in a relic of a tight dorm and the technology that once enriched their lives.

While this movie is wonderfully intelligent and quite symbolic, it does suffer from a lack of focus. None of the characters are terribly interesting and it kind of meanders and stumbles in the middle, after a very strong opening. Still, this doesn’t take away from what a beautiful film this is. Both celebrating and condoning artistic vision and creativity in the midst of horrific event, it makes smart choices with its cinematography (the dorm feels big, like they’re trapped in another world completely separate from the outside, only to slowly crumble once they realise they’re living in a delusion), and has one of the most powerful final images of any film I have seen all year. Definitely one worth checking out.

  1. Starred Up

starred_up_54569This intense and very real prison drama is certainly one that stands out from the crowd. Based on the writer’s real life experience as a prison therapist, it follows Eric Love (Jack O’Connell) as he gets transferred from a juvenile facility to an adult prison, being introduced to his father (Ben Mendelsohn) for the first time; a lifer.

The story makes the smart choice by portraying everyone evenly. Nobody is glorified or really condemned for who they are, it just tells the story and lets you make up your mind if the prisoners or the police staff are the worse off.  While Jack O’Connell is amazing and proves once again what a force to be reckoned with he is, it’s Ben Mendelsohn that steals the show, giving one of the best performances for a supporting character all year as Eric’s emotionally stunted, angry but oddly caring in his own way dad.

All the supporting cast is great, in particular Rupert Friend who plays the sympathetic and frustrated prison therapist. If there’s any character that feels underdeveloped, however, it’s Peter Ferdinando who is fantastically terrifying as Dennis Spencer. His character’s role ends up not amounting to much, and he feels a little out of place in what is otherwise a very grounded and realistic look at life in a prison system.

Not to be outdone by it on a writing and acting level, the direction is quite brilliant. Like Damascus, it’s in a limited setting, but unlike that movie, the set is used to be as tight and constrained as possible. Everything closes in around our characters, and particularly Eric, as he seeks to be free of both his mental and literal holdings.

With some amazing performances, impressive sound design, clever direction, a wonderfully honest script and a very sombre, effective tone, Starred Up is a triumph from all involved, and a must-see for those looking for a prison movie with a bit more grit.

  1. The Babadook

the-babadook-4So there was a horror movie out this year that was actually scary. Go figure.

This creepy and incredibly effective film gets to the core of what makes horror work. It’s not the big monsters, or the jump scares, or even the screaming. It’s the unknown we fear the most. Seeing Amelia (beautifully portrayed by Essie Davis) slowly deteriorate into madness over a monster that may or may not be there is so excellently handled, you begin to question if the Babadook really is real. Its long, lingering shots and tension built up on simple things like a mother and son arguing really hypes up the tension and adds to the generally unpleasant, extremely unsettling tone.

Not only that, it works as a great metaphor for loss. At its core, it is a movie about a mother and son trying to move on from the loss of the father and the deterioration of their family unit. How people react to this, and especially the son’s issues with the passing, is very real and you truly feel sorry for their plight. Even if you can’t get into the creep factor and scares of the film, it’s still a great story about a woman trying to hold it together after such a devastating passing.

(Note: There was a paragraph here about how annoying I found the kid. Looking back at this, this was one of the last films I saw in 2014, so now that I’ve had more time to let the film sit…he’s fine. He’s not a bad actor at all, and sure he’s annoying, but he’s meant to be. I don’t know if I’d bring this movie’s ranking up because of it, and I did admit my reason was petty, but eh…)

The Babadook is one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in years (Note: Saw The Wich the year after-it’s better) and a fantastic debut from director Jennifer Kent. Here’s hoping she has some more great films in her system that she can get out there.

22. Nymphomaniac

seligmanI contemplated whether or not I consider this one of my favourite because it is kind of flawed Note: While I still like this film enough to justify it being in my Best of 2014, ‘kind of’ is a severe fucking understatement). Its treatment of the lead can border on insulting, the story is very weird and meandering, I don’t think the run time and two movies is really necessary, and has a dumb as hell and incredibly insulting ending. Yet, when thinking about it, what makes it so great is that it really gets a life across. Especially with someone who has such an ill-defined and unexamined addiction to sex.

Charlotte Gainsbourg is, as always, wonderful in the role; she has a great sense of melancholy and weariness to her performance as she regales her life. The movie feels like a reflection of Trier’s career framed in a character study of someone with sexual addiction, which is an odd thing to do but this is coming from the ‘I am a Nazi’ guy. He goes through different styles and cinematography changes to reflect different parts of his career and his work. The always fantastic Stellan Skarsgard offers critical insight, and it’s clearly rambling nonsense that doesn’t get to the heart of the issues displayed in this film.

The movie is bold, shocking and controversial. While it will rub (heh) people the wrong way, it’s wild and passionate, and gives us a very painful look into how unsatisfying and lonely sex addiction can be. It’s a great reflection of a fascinating life, both of the character and the director. It’s probably the most flawed movie that will get on this list (Note: Probably not-I like fucking weird movies for fucking weird reasons), but it is also one of the most fascinating and is one that can be dissected, looked at and heavily criticised (VERY heavily criticised) as much as can be done. It’s 4 hours of brilliant madness, and well worth checking out.

21.The Summer of Blood

large_summer-of-blood_web_2This is arguably the funniest movie I saw all year. (Note: Nope. Lego Movie, bizatch!)

While it can come off as a bit self-indulgent (the director/writer is also the star), it’s a rather clever and hilarious twist on vampire lore; what if a completely annoying, charmless loser got the powers of the undead?

Erik is not someone to be admired. At all. He’s whiney, self-centered, self-entitled, kind of creepy, incredibly annoying, a complete jerk to every person and all around him, and yet he’s so engaging and funny to watch. This truly is down to Onur Turkel managing to find the charm in someone who has absolutely none whatsoever. You don’t like Erik, but you follow his journey pretty easily and it just goes from hilarity to downright insanity after he gets turned.

Watching him abuse these powers for awful personal gain is both incredibly cynical and really, really funny. It cleverly subverts the vampire lore, which in turn really highlights how awful someone with these powers would be. It’s got an honesty not a lot of vamp flicks have, showing that people  would likely use these powers to satisfy themselves sexually and abuse it for their own narcissistic purposes.

Not much to say about this one, it’s just really, really funny. Your liking on it may depend on how much you can stand this guy, and he can be pretty grating, but if you can get behind what the movie is doing, it’s a hilarious ride.

20. Wrong Cops

wrong_cops_1Quentin Dupieux is something of an acquired taste. His movies are plotless, strange, incredibly surreal, and seem to fight against any form of any real thematic depth. It seems almost like a joke to try to put them up in any real critical capacity, or put above a best list. And yet, it’s a movie I’d watch over and over again.

It follows a world where lawlessness is the norm and cops do awful, self-centered things in order to get their kicks. Not only is this a pretty hilarious message in its own way, the movie is filled with such creativity and hilarious ideas. There’s the cop trying to make a record with a  bleeding man, two of them try to dispose of said dying man because one of them shot him accidentally, one deals with a woman he sexually harasses, one harasses a 15-year old teenager hilariously played by Marilyn Manson with no attempt to hide how old he is…it’s just a bizarre ride.

There are a few returning cast members from Wrong, and Dupieux even tries to create a connected, insane universe (Rubber is apparently a movie in this movie). While it comes as a little full of himself, it’s clear that he doesn’t take himself seriously at all, and that kind of laisez-faire, caution-to-the-wind kind of mood is infectious and takes you on this bizarre, clever and very funny journey.

His movies may not be for everyone, but if he continues to be a creative and unique voice in cinema, while also making somewhat pointed statements all throughout the insanity, I’ll be along for the ride.

19. The Grand Budapest Hotel

(Note: Moved from 21)

homepage_grandbudapesthotel-2014-1Wes Anderson gets more and more…him as he goes on with his work. Which is not something I have any real issues with at all.

A wonderfully bright and hilarious look into a bygone age, the layered structure gets across this idea of history and how stories are integrated and preserved over time. This is as much a tribute to a bygone age of cinema as it is the age it’s set in. The effects are very crude and overly simplistic, but are deliberately so to give it a sense of classic Hollywood. You know a movie has impressed you when even its mistakes seem genuine!

It’s not even the visuals, however. The story is very engaging and is a very entertaining madcap adventure also reminiscent of a classic socialite comedy, except maybe a bit more sexually suggestive than movies of old. Ralph Fiennes gives one of his most entertaining performances, with Gustave being such a charming bastard while also being really likeable. Tony Revolori is equally as engaging as Gustave’s  loyal and unassuming employee Zero. They have great chemistry and are a double act for the ages.The cast is impressively filled, as is the case with most Wes Anderson fare. You’re bound to love an actor who appears, and there are great cameos throughout.

What’s most impressive about the movie is that  it finds a lot of heart near the end. It has such a powerful thematic resonance that it’s really hard not to be touched by. It’s a tribute to an age of gentlemen and women that has sadly passed, how we choose to remember our personal histories and history as a whole, how legends are made and remembered, and how we take a bit of it with us in this long road of life.

Wes Anderson continues to be an intelligent and incredibly competent filmmaker. He has a style utterly his own and manages to tell stories charming, irreverent, uniquely shot, meticulously blocked, wonderfully awkward and just fascinates and absorbs you into these worlds he creates. Never has a sense of unreality felt so real, it’s like his own personal dollhouses come to life, and this one is about a grand hotel in Budapest that will live on through the tapestry of time.

18. Tracks

tracksThis emotional and triumphant movie is based on the true story of Robyn Davidson, who in 1977 crossed nearly 1,700 miles across Australia on foot to get to the Indian Ocean.

A project in the works for years, the movie opts out of being grand and epic and focuses mainly on our protagonist, played perfectly by Mia Wasikowska. What’s great about the film is that her reasons for making the trek are never really emphasised; she feels the need to travel across Australian deserts, and that’s all you need to know.

The desert of Australia is shot in a very real way; beautiful when it needs to be and equally as treacherous. It fits the move of our heroine as she battles exhaustion, the sun, loneliness, loss, and her own sanity in order to complete this incredible journey.

What really makes this movie work is how slowly built up it is. It shows Robyn preparing for her trek; training camels, dealing with scammers, meeting her friends and the photographer who meets her at certain points to document her, Rick Smolan (Adam Driver).  It truly treats it like a dangerous trek; she’s warned to turn away, that she won’t finish it, and that it’s a death sentence. It’s through her strength and determination that helps pull her through.

The movie is very rarely boring, despite what its setting may make it appear. There’s always something going on, places and even people Robyn comes across, giving us great culture and life to an area we’d just assume totally abandoned. The surroundings are greatly used both as an insight into indigenous Australia and as a really engaging adventure drama. It also does a great job giving the animals a presence. I really want a camel, now.

Adam Driver is great, and it’s beautifully directed to let the physical environment reflect on the personal journey, but it truly is Wasikowska’s movie. She makes you feel every bit of pain, all the joy, wonderment, despondency, hopelessness and triumph. It’s an inspiring, surprisingly understated movie that shows the real strength of the human spirit. A perfect little movie and tribute to a great woman.

Also, every person should have a Mr. Eddie in their lives.

17. Locke

tom-hardy-in-lockeOkay. Just throwing a bold statement out there; Tom Hardy is the best working actor at the moment. Not only can he do any voice and just transform into any character, the man is incredibly engaging to the point where he holds an entire movie up on his own.

This brilliantly effective domestic drama is set entirely in a car, with Hardy being the only face we see as he drives to a hospital to get to a woman he impregnated by cheating on his wife. Not only is Hardy chillingly good as his façade slowly descends as he tries desperately not to crack, he plays off the supporting cast really well. They’re all incredibly accomplished actors who do a great job only interacting with him on loudspeaker.

Ivan Locke is also a pretty engaging fella. He’s an ordinary guy who did a pretty horrible thing. It works around to break his life down, while the man tries to remain cool and collected, as it is his default. While he’s kind of cold and a bit of an asshole, you can’t help but feel sorry for him as he races to the hospital trying to do the right thing.

The movie is also pretty stunning to look at. The cinematography is completely on point, giving us gorgeous visuals all while we’re in a car. It gives a great insight into Locke’s descent to madness and really keeps the movie alive while in the one location.

Original, emotional, unbelieving engaging and potent, Locke is a great movie carried on the back of a great actor. I cannot wait to see what this director and this actor do in the future.

16. 12 Years a Slave

12 Years A SlaveLast year’s Best Picture winner. It’s why I put it at number 16.

It’s kind of hard to talk about this movie in a way everybody else hasn’t. It’s so raw and real and gets under your skin with how uncomfortably potent the entire experience is. Chiwitel Ejiofor gives the performance of his life as he dramatizes the life of Solomon Northup, a free man tricked and sold into slavery, remaining there for 12 years as he’s transported from owner to owner.

The theme of freedom is obvious, but it’s more in the way of how it’s explored that this movie gets its power. What does it mean to be free? What do we do with our freedom? Is Cumberbatch’s Ford, the kind-hearted slave owner, any better than the emotionally and physically abusive Epps (Michael Fassbender), or is he trapped by his surroundings?  Lupita Nyong’o Patsey is broken by her abuse, but Solomon tries to remain dignified and hopeful during his. They are all elements of a system that was horrific and a massive human tragedy, and this pulls no punches with its effects.

Steve McQueen continues to be one of the most interesting directors out there, with a wonderful handle of cinematic language. This is his best movie yet, and his long lingering shots and uncompromising displays of violence continues to shock and engage audiences, and here’s hoping he’ll have a great career in the future.

It’s not my favourite movie, but it’s beautifully real and incredibly important, showing a system that still has ripple effects to this day. It’s a pure display on what it means to be free and the human struggle to obtain it, in honest or insidious ways. Here’s hoping it will be remembered as the fantastic movie it is.

Also, Lupita Nyong’o is one of the best discoveries of the year and can she stay around please? She’s in the new Star Wars movie. Make her character big. This lady needs her  name in the lights, and not just an Oscar win where she’s then forgotten (Note: My lady Lupita’s still going strong! Also legitimately unsure about the placing of this on the list, but as I’m going back and forth in my head here it stays).

15. The Wolf of Wall Street

9632_5Martin Scorsese further proves that he’s a master of his craft, and he shows no signs of slowing down. In his latest high-energised comedy, he looks into the rather depraved life of Jordan Belfort, a stock broker who used every trick in the book to get rich, and even more tricks to spend it.

This movie is filled with drug use, prostitution, insane and dangerous activities and has this feeling like you’re on the biggest high of your life as it zips through Belfort and his cohort’s activities at its huge run time of 3 hours.

Despite all this, what is framed to be a rather hedonistic comedy showing off how awesome it is to be rich and powerful, it’s honestly a huge condemnation of this as well. Belfort is a pretty nasty guy, played perfectly by DiCaprio who just shows that he’s one of the best in the bizz. Jonah Hill is also excellent, earning himself a second Oscar nom.

With all the high-octane insanity, it isn’t afraid to tear these men down and just show them for what weaselly, unlikeably sad they all are. It feels more on the side of the poor bastards who were caught in these guys’ lies, while not shying away from the fact that they got away with what they did.

Even with this, the movie is just fun. The quaaludes scene is one of the most side-splittingly hilarious thing I’ve seen in film, the actors are great and clearly having a lot of fun and it’s sort of infectious. Demented, funny and, most importantly, very honest, this movie goes to show how much fun despicable people can be.

14. Veronica Mars

VERONICA MARSYeah, I’m putting what was essentially a really pricey fan movie (made by the cast and crew from the original show, granted) on this best list (which is my really pompous way of saying ‘favourite’, of course). I make no apologies, as if you’re going to make a movie that pays tributes to a great show, you do it like this.

I mean, yeah, Rob Thomas isn’t that stunning a feature director, the mystery is pretty tepid, even if it cleverly incorporates background characters, Dan Lamb is basically a meaner Don Lamb who doesn’t have the same connection with Veronica, and Weevil’s presence is very lacking, but everything this movie gets right, it really does get right. All the important surviving characters without the surname ‘Kane’ return, and have such natural and believable developments. Leading the charge is Veronica herself, Kristen Bell felt like she never stopped playing the character 9 years on.

It’s still very sharply written, with the story being a metaphor about how inescapable our past really is. Veronica has a really deep connection to Neptune, and it’s great that they chose to look at this, as it’s never really been explored on the show. It ties into the mystery really well, and the high school reunion was a great way of getting everyone back together.

The movie is even filled with great cameo or bit roles. James Franco has a hilarious scene, and it even has Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis (Note: Hah, this has double meaning now). There is a great balance to get this to appeal to a new audience and make it something the fans would love and connect to.. I recommend you see the show first (or see it anyway, because it’s brilliant), but even if you haven’t, it’s still a fun watch and easy to follow (Note: I highly recommend NOT watching the movie first, as it gives away a lot of the show’s mysteries).

Veronica Mars continues to prove why it’s the perfect modern noir. The town of Neptune is a great backdrop, almost a character itself, the cast fit their roles perfectly, it’s moody and dark and technologically savvy, but it also has a great sense of humour and modern-day self-awareness not to take itself too seriously. It’s shocking and funny and dark and clever, and all the elements of the show fans loved are captured in this great little movie. If a continuation is never made, I’m honestly satisfied to end it here. Well worth the nine-year wait.

13. The Lego Movie

(Note: Moved from 22. It deserves it)

makingoflegomovieEverything, indeed, is awesome.

This movie just feels like it was done on a dare. Like a major studio and toy brand just went to a couple of directors and went ‘Bet you a tenner you can’t make a glorified marketing gimmick that’s good!’. And, thankfully, they went to the guys who made Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street and we both went ‘Oh, you are so on!’ I hope they spend that ten dollars wisely.

Not only is this a feat in animation, it’s just a hell of a lot of fun. It has a great tone and fast-paced energy that just never lets up right until the end. There are laughs a minute, and has such a great, loose and hyperactive sense of humour that you’re bound to find a joke you appreciate. There’s are pop culture references that are cleverly integrated, jokes about generic children’s movies that feel good natured and don’t ignore what makes them so popular, jokes at the expense of Lego themselves, and just plain old witty lines or clever puns.

It’s also got a script that is way, way smarter than it should be. It has a lot to say about corporate control and how designed and conservative life can get through our media and marketing, without getting too heavy or in-your-face about it. This stuff is there, but it doesn’t bog the movie down by trying to look really smart. What’s even better is that it doesn’t really take a side on the ‘imagination vs. control’ theme it brings up; it’s genuinely wants to find a middle ground here, which is so rare for a Hollywood movie, let alone one aimed at children.

On top of that, it just has a lot of heart. The cast are great, and really put their all into it. Mostly comedically, but also emotionally. There are some genuinely touching moments at the end of the movie, brought on by how clever and subversive this film is. The inclusion of Batman, the ‘Chosen Boy’ narrative, the obsession with the freedom fighters being ‘cool’ and the rather crude jokes about ‘adult’ things all have a purpose and are very deliberate. You find out why at the end of the film. It’s a reveal that’s surprising and actually makes a lot of sense, and leads to a very touching climax to a wonderful movie.

It’s fun and funny, greatly paced, has a cast that you just love, wonderful CG made to look like stop-motion Lego movies, is made by two masters at subverting your expectations and will go on to be a beloved classic for everyone to enjoy.

SPACESHIP!!!

  1. The Past

the-past-2A moody and effective French drama with a brilliant cast of three. While most of the focus would be on The Artist’s Bérénice Bejo, all of them are equally fantastic and carry what is basically a very simple and tender family drama.

While it eventually develops into a much more elaborate conflict, it really does start off being a simple domestic issue. The first hour or so just deals with the relationship between Bejo’s character Marie and Samir (Rahim), and the family’s reaction to that. The dynamic feels very real, making what could be a mundane problem very poignant and relatable to a lot of people. Helped is the excellent cinematography and music, making the film look intimate and personal.

When the more dramatic turn of events finally comes into play, it’s built up so slowly and carefully that it really doesn’t feel like it comes out of nowhere. Nothing feels rushed and there’s a real weight and tension that feels earned rather than them throwing something dramatic into play and hoping the audience just goes along with it.

The child actors here are great. Props in particular going to Pauline Burlet, who plays the eldest daughter Lucie. She has a lot of emotional baggage to carry due to her role in the story and she handles is brilliantly, almost on par with the three leads.

I think the reason I love this movie so much is that, no matter their actions or crappy tendencies, there is no ‘villain’ of this story. Everyone feels justified in their positions and no one character is diminished for the sake of another.

This is just a triumphant film about a personal issue from the brilliant Asghar Farhadi, director of A Separation. Let’s hope he has more great movies in his future. This is a taut, personal and quite brilliant insight into a family split apart by tragedy and circumstance, and leaves on a powerful and memorable final image. Well worth the watch.

  1. Two Days, One Night

Two Days, One NightDepression is not an easy thing to film, especially the aftermath of a depressive episode. So to see a movie not only get it, but do it perfectly, it’s one that’s absolutely deserving of attention.

Emotionally wrought and incredibly honest, it tells the story of a woman trying to keep her job after she was fired due to absenteeism. She’s given the rather uncomfortable task of trying to convince her co-workers to give up their Christmas bonuses in order to cover her salary, and has to do it in a weekend before they vote on the matter.

This set up is amazing, as it gets across a lot of things. People’s senses of self-preservation, their value of money over people, their attitudes of depression, and it helps layer our lead with her interactions with each one of them. They all give different reactions, but not in a way that feels disingenuous or contrived; you truly buy that these are real people in a very hard conflict.

During all of this, our lead Sandra is fighting her own weak mental state, not helped by this undignified and eye-opening request for people to give their salary up to let her keep her job. What’s great about this is that it’s never repetitive and all of them feel real. There’s truly a grounded sentiment to this movie; the camera is very constrained on Sandra, we take this journey with her and we’re put into her pretty awful situation. Every moment of joy when somebody takes her side we feel, as well as every soul-crushing rejection she receives. It’s a stark and incredibly uncomfortable movie, not helped by the fact that there’s very rarely background music.

Now, to my favourite part of this film; Marion Cotillard. I can say, without any hesitation, that she gives the best performance of 2014. Her emotionally naked and ugly transformation into someone with serious depression is absolutely awe-inspiring. She not only nails every varied emotion and range, but she even looked haggard and extremely fatigued. She looks like she’s been put through hell, which really sells how much this has taken it out of her and she nearly always looks ready to end it. There are probably more engaging performances, more emotionally charged performances and even more meticulous ones this year, but there has hasn’t been a more real one.

I love this movie for just how honestly it gets it. It’s important and truly powerful, and I recommend anyone to check it out. It’s not a happy watch, but it’s definitely worthwhile.

  1. Joe

“I ain’t afraid”

joe-day2-523small_wide-f5495e4fec1737604cb53159e19f21490ef551fc-s900-c85Auteur director David Gordon Green returns to his roots after a break into comedy, and the result is one of the most cerebral and haunting movies of the year.

Almost a spiritual sequel to last year’s sublime Americana drama Mud, Tye Sheridan ‘once again’ plays the boy (this time named Gary) who is taken in by a surrogate father figure named Joe, played by Nicolas Cage. This time around, however, the boy is being dominated and controlled by his alcoholic,  selfish father Wade, a.k.a. G-Daawg, played by Gary Poulter.

Nicholas Cage reminds us why exactly he has an Oscar to his name in this raw, understated performance of a man trying to fight against his violent nature. Tye Sheridan is also strong as a boy lost and beaten by his horrific and frustrating situation. It’s Gary Poulter, however, who steals the show as the horrifying, but ultimately pathetic, alcoholic father, who made his mark before tragically passing away. Poulter is spellbinding in the role and though he’s gone, he is immortalised in this amazing performance.

Not to downplay the direction, as the movie has this wonderfully gritty atmosphere that truly shows off the roughness and survivalist nature of this Texan town. The scenes of violence are harsh and unpleasant, and the visual metaphors are subtle and really add weight to the story. This is a brilliantly sombre and highly emotional movie about what it means to survive and be a good person in a rotten and horrible situation, and what it means to give in and let it transform you into a monster.

  1. Calvary

“There’s no point in killing a bad priest, but killing a good one? That’d be a shock, now.”

c7Religion in Ireland is not an easy discussion to be had giving the scandals brought to light. It’s a good thing, then, that we have a men like John McDonagh and Brendan Gleeson to truly explore what is God’s place in our current society.

Father James is not only a great man, but more importantly a good one. He’s easily the noblest person in this year of film, and it’s not because he’s altruistic or always does the right thing. It’s because he acknowledges his flaws, humbly accepts he’s part of a faith that’s been rocked to its very core, struggles with the implications and doubts he has because of this, and yet does what he sees as the right thing. He makes the noble choice to face his fate.

Given a week to live, the story brings out the best and worst in not only James, but the supporting cast. We have an all-star cast of Irish actors and comedians, showing off their comedic prowess while also representing certain vices and failings in the Irish people. From the cynical doctor to the apathetic banker, they all have their significant roles to play. Particular praise must go to Kelly Reilly as James’ delicate but tough-spirited daughter Fiona, Dylan Moran as the aforementioned banker Michael and Chris O’Dowd in a powerhouse performance as Jack Brennan.

Gleeson is the focus, however, and Gleeson steals the show. We don’t get a ‘priest’, or a moralising figure, we get a person struggling to figure out what is right in the world anymore. Offset by a haunting score and the beautifully scenic, but thematically empty, rural isles of Wexford, all this combines to give us a reflection of what it is to be a good Catholic man in Ireland but, more importantly, how important forgiveness is for all of us.

8. Pride

“When you’re in a battle against an enemy so much bigger, so much stronger than you, well, to find out you had a friend you never knew existed, well, that’s the best feeling in the world”

25846_43_2014-08-06_pride2_senatorSet in England during the Thatcher regime, the awareness group Lesbians and Gays Support the Minors end up protesting in a Welsh mining town due to a misunderstanding. This inspiring true story doesn’t try to push on the melancholy or teach you a lesson in a ham-fisted way, it rather just lets the action play out naturally.

What’s more important is that it’s fun. Stephen Beresford’s intelligent and hilarious script manages to find that middle-ground between injecting levity into the situation of a conservative mining town being forced to interact with a group of gay and lesbian people, while also never forgetting the seriousness or gravity of how they were treated at the time. Most of the best laughs come from the endlessly quotable script, reminiscent of Richard Curtis.

The cast are great and play off each other beautifully. From pros like Bill Nighy, Dominic West, Andrew Scott, Paddy Consindine and Imelda Staunton to rising stars such as Joe Gilgun, Faye Marsay, George MacKay and Ben Schnetzer, every actor plays their part brilliantly and they work as a great ensemble.

The core of this movie, and the thing to take away from it the most, is that it’s about solidarity. It’s about putting your differences aside and seeing people as human beings being caught in some similar turmoil as you may be. It’s a touching, wonderful thing to see the residence of this small town come to accept and truly appreciate this community as individuals, and it’s such an important message that we see people as people first and leave our prejudices behind.

This is a movie that has self-acceptance, solidarity, fighting up against a common enemy united with friends, a lot of laughs, a lot of heart, and a dancing Dominic West. It rightfully deserved its 15-minute standing ovation at Cannes, and is a must-see.

Seriously, though. Dominic West is an amazing dancer. I wish I had his moves.

7. Mood Indigo

“If we screw up this moment, we try the next. And if we fail the next; we have our whole lives to get it right.”

hero_moodindigo-2014-1Michel Gondry is slowly becoming one of my favourite directors, and he has a very fascinating understanding of dream language.  While I haven’t seen a lot of his work, this movie follows his thematic ‘series’ about examining dreams. Of his previous movies, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind looks at subconscious desires, and The Science of Sleep looks at how dreams can affect our daily routine and guide us. This one looks at dream imagery, how it can guide our emotional journey into adulthood and how it can crash all around us very quickly and without warning. A blissful dream turned into a horrific nightmare.

Based on a novel by Boris Vian, it’s a rather simple a love story set in a surrealist world where technology seems more based on music and emotion than on actual materials. The Claymation-esque style he used in The Science of Sleep is reincorporated here, and it works wonders as this world really feels alive and distinctive. Despite how crazy the imagery can get, you never don’t believe the characters aren’t interacting with it.

What makes this story work are its two leads (though the supporting cast are also fantastic), Romain Duris and the wonderfully talented Audrey Tautou. You truly believe their quaint, charming little love story, which helps once the movie takes a suddenly darker turn. The beauty of it is that the world changes around the characters; everything gets darker, gloomier and more closed in as we are taken through the characters’ anguish and grief.

While it’s not for everyone, as with most of Gondry’s work, it’s a beautiful movie with very rich and astute understanding of human emotion. It’s full of bizarre and clever imagery, it’s not afraid to go to the darker places, and has a spoonerism of Jean-Paul Sartre. Funny, whimsical and truly emotional.

6. Class Enemy

“A man’s dying is more his survivor’s affair than his own.”

(kind of cheating as this is a Thomas Mann quote, but it’s used, and works in context with, the movie)

razredni_sovraznic_class_enemy_5_-_c_triglav_film_2013It’s so fascinating to see a movie that seriously questions what children can get away with in school nowadays. With stricter laws on teachers and more lenient punitive efforts, it’s hard not to get people who long for the ‘olden days’ of when teachers were allowed to be a little harsher and more authoritative, to a degree. What’s even better is that it puts both sides of the argument on trial.

This little-known Slovenian drama which just missed out at being an Oscar contender focuses on a classroom that goes to war with a new substitute teacher as they blame his harsh and no-holds-barred style of teaching for a tragic event.

What makes this movie so strong is that it’s not afraid to show both sides of this argument. The teacher is neither glorified nor condemned for his actions, he’s simply trying to teach in his style. Yet, the children aren’t wrong in their actions, either. While their efforts to try to get him fired border on insane, they all have different motives that are completely understandable, and they certainly have a point.

Far from that, the film manages to reign in a lot of shocking and clever imagery despite being set in one location. The use of light to symbolise the other world and a sense of clarity is subtly implemented, and the movie almost feels like a nightmare war where neither side looks good or bad.

While the movie seems to slightly be on the teacher’s side, at the same time it’s very fair in its handling of its cast and all of the principle characters get their proper development and motivations. It’s an uncompromising and daring film that looks at the effects of suicide and a perhaps too lenient school system with the effects of maturity and the different ethos of life. A coming of age movie with a difference.

Also, how rare is it to get a movie where, not only do the teenagers look like teenagers, but they can all actually act?! Props to that alone!

5. Ida

(Note: Moved from 8)

“You should try. Otherwise, what sort of sacrifice are these vows of yours?”

1378722163Another religiously charged movie, but this one with an entirely different angle. If Calvary explores how we can be fateful, Ida explores why we are, what we ignore to be so, and what we give up to do it.

The movie explores the life of a nun in Poland after discovering her Jewish heritage and her long-lost aunt, Wanda. From there on, it’s a roadtrip between two very different personalities; the repressed, naïve young nun and her cynical, straight-talking aunt who forces her to face exactly who she is and who she wants to be.

While the dynamic is fantastic, and the story is driven by the chemistry between the two leads, what really makes this movie is how stunning it is to look at. The precise and intelligent direction from Pawel Pawlikowski gives us a stark and very real look at the barren, unpolished Poland of the 1960s. Through the lens of a Jewish woman that survived World War 2, it gives us a land still rippling from the effects of war, showing how this passes on so painfully through the generations.

Wanda is easily my favourite character of the year. No-nonsense, challenging and direct, she had to awful things in order to ensure her survival and suffered the loss of her family. Agata Kulesza shines in the role and should have been nominated for her performance. That isn’t to downplay the other Agata, Agata Trzebuchowska, who slowly and effectively portrays the transformation of a woman raised under strictly puritan laws her whole life discovering another world altogether.

It’s a story that  explores how history can truly shake a person and how easily our beliefs can be shaken or even completely dropped. It’s an important and harsh film, managing to show the humanity in even the greatest of atrocities and leaving the audience with one of the most wonderfully shot, effectively moving and intelligently handled ending scenes of any movie this year. Despite being set in the 60s, it is relevant to this very day.

  1. Fruitvale Station

“I told him to take the train. I told him to catch the BART. I didn’t know they were gonna hurt my baby.”

fruitvale-station-mainThis movie made me cry. Hard. If you didn’t cry, I have to question your humanity.

Based on the last day of Oscar Grant’s life, this debut feature from writer/director Ryan Coogler knocked it out of the park with an emotional and fair script. Nobody is lionised or demonised in this picture; these are people first and subjects of a horrific crime second.

Michael B. Jordan is a revelation in the role. He carries the entire movie on his shoulders, finding that middle ground between making Grant both a screw-up and somebody very likeable and fun. You feel what a loss this man’s life was, and that nothing he did could remotely justify what happened to him. It’s a breakout role for the actor and here’s hoping his star shines all the brighter for it (Note: Yep. MBJ is on the up-and-up).

The rest of the cast are great too. Octavia Spencer (who forewent being paid to get this movie finished) is a powerhouse performer, playing Grant’s long-suffering but devoted mother. Melonie Diaz is fantastic as his girlfriend Sophina, while Ariana Neal is a wonderful young talent as his daughter Tatiana. Kevin Durand is also of note, as he provides the movie with one of its most unexpectedly human moments.

As much as I keep on repeating it, that’s what the movie is: human and real. While there is this dazed state around it as Oscar goes through his day and a potent sense of foreboding, it’s just a day unlike any other. He gets in trouble at work, he plays with his daughter, he has moments with his family members, he meets his friends, etc. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about this day until the end, when the events happen. That’s the beauty of it; it could happen any day, at any time, for no reason.  It’s both an important and quite scary a lesson.

On top of all this, it’s a wonderful love letter to a fallen, ordinary guy who did not deserve what happened to him Emotional, honest, and respectful, while also tapping in to the unfairness of what occurred that day in Fruitvale Station. (Note: Strategically ignored the racial factor I see, Past Dan! How daring of you)

  1. Inside Llewyn Davis

“I’m tired. I thought I just needed a night’s sleep but it’s more than that.”

inside-llewyn-davis-oscar-isaacThe latest Coen Brothers affair borrows a lot from their repertoire to tell a very compelling story; an artist who just failed.

Llewyn Davis is not a very likeable person, but his plights are very understandable and easy to take pity in. He’s a folk artist who lost his writing partner and, like Fruitvale Station, it just follows him around. He’s spat on by everyone around him and utterly deserves it by how self-centred and insufferably full of himself he is.

More than anything, however, it’s about being rather mediocre. Llewyn Davis isn’t a misunderstood genius, he’s just not that good a musician. All of this weight falls on the talented shoulders of Oscar Isaacs, another breakout who’s really going places with his career (Note: Oh, hell yes!).  Deservedly so, as he takes on the both the music and acting of this character, truly transforming him into his own.

And yet, despite Isaacs being the highlight of the film, it’s a very Coens-y affair. Stark humour, bizarrely unconventional scenarios, repeated motifs throughout, going against the grain, and of course beautifully shot to give it this dark meandering nature which totally works with the character. It’s also got an impeccable cast, which includes Carey Mulligan, John Goodman and the very underappreciated Justin Timberlake.

It’s a movie that manages to be a celebration of folk music while also being a condemnation of those who think they’ll succeed automatically. It never relents on the suffering it gives its lead, and there’s a real pathos to his depression and overly-lofty ambitions. I love a movie that can take a critical eye on its own subject matter, where lesser filmmakers would try to codify it or make it fluffy because they love it and therefore it has no flaws. Trust the Coen Brothers to do something out of left field and brilliant.

  1. Nightcrawler

“I’d like to think if you’re seeing me you’re having the worst day of your life.”

K72A3451d.tifAre the ideals of the American Dream something to live up to? What if somebody who really shouldn’t follow them takes them on?

It’s hard for me to point to a part of Nightcrawler that just doesn’t work. It looks amazing; visceral and yet grim and moody, which perfectly encapsulates the movie’s tone. It’s seeped in satire about that aforementioned Dream and about how the media works and how people feed off it. Lou Bloom doesn’t see the wrong in his actions because the public don’t see how wrong it is to get so close and personal to such horrific acts. Even without this, it’s a wonderfully suspenseful thriller, with endlessly quotable dialogue that’s both funny and snappy. It also has one of the best car chases of the year; I mean the climax is good.

Of course, this is nothing on who the real star of the show is; the incredible Jake Gyllenhaal.

Gyllenhaal’s had a good year. After starring in the cerebral Enemy (which just missed the cut of this list [Note: WHY IS THAT, PAST DAN?!?!?!?!]), he went up several thousand notches and gave a career best performance. Lou Bloom is the breakout character of the year. He’s a sociopath who uses the ‘rags to riches’ narrative to woo people into following him. When people eventually see through him, like the equally ignored in terms of awards Rene Russo as the opportunistic news producer Nina, he’s so trapped them in his web that they almost need him. He has the means and intelligence to use people, and that comes out of every pour of Gyllenhaal. He’s both engaging and utterly terrifying, everything about him just works.

While Gyllenhaal is getting a lot of the credit for this movie, and understandably so, it’s hard to forget that it’s just great. Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut just shines in how astute and professionally handled it is, knowing exactly how to incorporate Bloom’s rise to success through staging and visual cues. It’s a very down-to-earth movie, despite how extravagant and hyper-realistic it can get. The writing taps into ideas of people’s obsession with horrific news and the rat race to get this out there before others break it, which is also some of the best incorporation of tech I’ve seen from a modern day flick.

This movie manages to get great performances out of its stars, which also includes Riz Ahmed as Bloom’s desperate assistant Rick, who Bloom treats psychotically like an employee of a huge firm. Bill Paxton also has a really memorable, if brief, role as a rival nightcrawler. With everything you can praise the movie on, it’s just a really clever set up. It takes a relatable premise that everyone recognises and turns it on its head by having our focal character be a completely manipulative sociopath with no moral boundaries or care about the people around him.

Nightcrawler is destined to be a classic. It’s slick, well written and directed. It has a lot of probing social commentary for film fans to love and a lot of intrigue and tension for general audiences to get behind. It has a legendary performance from one of the greatest actors of his generation. It’s stylish, clever, shocking, hits on a very disturbing home truth and will keep you glued and talking about it long after the credits role. It’s as addictive and as watchable as the breaking news stories that outrage you.

1.

You know what? No. I love this movie so much, and I have so much to say about it, that rambling on about it in four or five paragraphs won’t do it justice.

(Note: It’s Spike Jonze’s Her. I wrote a full review on it, which honestly was one of the better ideas I’ve ever had because it’s excellent. It will also be on this blog)

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