With the end of 2014 in sight, it’s time to look back on the best of this year. It’s been a great year for film franchises, superheroes, reboots, and lego men. With releases from some of the best, including Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, and Hayao Miyazaki, there’s been something for everyone with a thrilling murder mystery, an animation about aircraft engineering, a space adventure spanning the galaxies, a dark drama about sex addiction, and a true-life story about HIV.
This year I’ve watched 785 films (90 released this year and 241 for the first time). My most watched directors were Steven Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock and my most watched actor was Tom Hanks.
And here are my top 10 films of 2014. This list changes quite often so you can view a constantly updated list on my Letterboxd page.
10. The Wind Rises
I’m a big fan of Studio Ghibli films but they usually have to be full of fantasy for me to love them. Yet this historical drama, based on a true story, blew me away (no pun intended). Beautifully animated, as always, not only is The Wind Rises an interesting story about ambitions and dreams, it’s also a heartbreaking romance. It’s just stunning. There’s also a great English dubbed voice cast. I wouldn’t usually opt for the dubbed version but I find that they always well-fitting for Studio Ghibli films.
Unbroken is a film that I’ve been anticipating for a while, and that’s because of the talent (or potential talent) involved. With direction from Angelina Jolie, a screenplay adapted by the brilliant Coen Brothers, and a promising performance from the recently impressive Jack O’Connell, Unbroken had all the right people involved to make this one of 2014’s best. And for me, it was.
Earlier in 2014, The Railway Man told a similar true war story, but it missed the mark on so many levels so much so that most won’t even remember its release. Unbroken, however, nails these same characteristics right on the head. It’s a powerful story full of heart, anger, strength, motivation, and passion; an inspirational biography which, although is hard to watch at times, is both heartbreaking and empowering.
8. Guardians of The Galaxy
Expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cosmos, it’s exciting in itself to be introduced to a new set of superhero characters. We all love Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, but this was the perfect time to throw some new faces at us Marvel fans. With an outlaw cowboy space pirate, a green chick, a WWE wrestler, a racoon, and a tree, we couldn’t be happier.
Not only is Guardians of The Galaxy the best summer blockbuster of 2014, it is also the best superhero film of the year, which says a lot to top the likes of Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. But Guardians of The Galaxy has it all – comedy, action, likeable characters, evil villains, epic moments, great special effects, and one hell of an excellent soundtrack. Set in a bright, new world set in a faraway galaxy, Guardians of The Galaxy is a pretty unique film for Marvel and there were some big risks to be taken, but they certainly pulled it off. This really is Marvel at its most fun.
I say this a lot, but dystopian literature and films are my favourite; when they are done right, that is. Snowpiercer is undeniably one of the best examples of how to work with the genre, and there are a few people we have to thank for that. First off, Lob, Legrand and Rochette have obviously written a tremendous novel, as a film like this needs a strong source to work from; background, development, structure, and setting are all incredibly important when creating a futuristic environment, and that’s usually why dystopias work best when they are adapted from novels. But most of all, we must put our hands together for director Bong Joon Ho; it’s always obvious when a Korean filmmaker is behind a film, and I’m in awe of his efforts here. Korean filmmakers have a certain knack for stripping back a genre to reveal a rawness that not many directors are able to capture. And that’s why Snowpiercer is one of my favourite films this year.
6. Inside Llewyn Davis
A soundtrack can often hold the heart of a film, and that’s how Inside Llewyn Davis lured me in from the second the curtains parted. As we open to an image of Llewyn in a smokey, downbeat bar, finishing his set on stage, your breath is stolen as soon as he opens his mouth. And what a beautiful talent Oscar Isaac has, one that captured my attention immediately from his performance in last year’s 10 Years. With Mark Mumford of Mumford and Sons having given a hand in the songwriting department, as well, these songs were already determined to be topping my iTunes play count before I had even heard them. For me, the soundtrack of Inside Llewyn Davis is musical perfection.
Of course, it’s not all about the music, though, not quite anyway. Ethan and Joel Coen have recently become two of my favourite directors as well, after a friend convinced me to watch all of their filmography, so I caught up just in time for this cinematic treat.
5. The Wolf of Wall Street
The Wolf of Wall Street is entertainingly outrageous. Just like the coke he snorts and the sports cars he drives, the film has an energetic pace, buzzing from one extreme to another. Far from subtle, I tensed up in my seat every time Jonah Hill stood up to do something, not knowing how far he would go next.
Much like Scorsese’s Goodfellas, there’s a long runtime, this being Scorsese’s longest fictional film at 179 minutes, but this means we get to see into every little detail of Belfort’s life. It lacks some of the emotional range that many of Scorsese’s biopics have, but you wouldn’t want to feel empathy for this character, just utter shock at how unbelievable and ruthlessly courageous this man actually was. But we’ll applaud him anyway.
4. 12 Years A Slave
Dealing with its subject matter honestly, this uncompromising look at slavery was even more difficult to watch than I imagined it would be. Reducing me to tears more than once, the camera is held for minutes at a time to show the full impact of some of the worst of situations that these people had to live with on a daily basis. The violence is enough to make you wince but director Steve McQueen knows how to handle such bleak topics excellently, with his best examples including Shame and Hunger. His filmography is a showcase of powerful work because he does not shy away by desensitising such realities; it made be hard to watch, but that’s how it went. Letting us see every lash of the whip, every scar, and every tear from these people, nothing is held back. But the most depressing thing is that is only one man’s story, and in fact, this happened to hundreds more men, women, and children, most without such a happy ending. Its story is heartbreaking and affectively eye-opening in its seriousness, but also stunning in its delivery at the same time, with beautiful location shots and a lovely score.
Chiwetel Ejiofor holds the camera with extraordinary integrity and in my eyes should have been the Oscar winner for Best Actor, though co-star Lupita Nyong’o was well deserving of her Best Supporting Actress win. The cast all deliver some of their best performances, with Michael Fassbender, especially, giving a dark performance that makes the journey all the more uncomfortable to witness. This extraordinary cast comes together incredibly and are half of what make 12 Years A Slave such a magnificent achievement. But 12 Years A Slave is about more than just its cast, as it is a truly impressive piece of film-making from an exceptional director, and will be near impossible to better this year.
Spike Jonze knows how to create characters and worlds perfectly. Her is the perfect example of that. This not-so-distant future is incredibly well thought out and designed and the concept itself is original and thought-provoking. Everything about this film feels simple and natural; there are no distractions to advert your attention, it’s just about people, souls, and emotion.
Joaquin Phoenix is purely amazing and the voice of Scarlett Johansson is incredibly well-fitting. From the use of vibrant colours, hipster stylisations, a beautifully subtle score, there is so much to love about this film.
Interstellar was one of the most anticipated films of 2014, but for some reason, I didn’t share the enthusiasm for its release as most others did. I’m not sure what the reason for that was, because Nolan is one of my favourite directors and there was no doubt that Interstellar was going to be anything but spectacular, but I’m glad that I didn’t over-think its potential beforehand. Maybe it was because there was so much excitement for this film that I took a step back, but whilst I still had high expectations, not over-hyping the film in my head was probably the reason I left the cinema in absolute awe.
Interstellar is ambitious, intelligent, and the pure definition of mind-blowingly good. It’s a thought-provoking film that will keep you thinking and has you thinking about for days after viewing.
1. Gone Girl
The adaptation of Gone Girl was one of my most anticipated films of 2014 after having read the book a couple of months before its release. The novel is an intense mystery thriller hard to put down; every twist poses a new question, and with a somewhat psychotic conclusion the book is one that has your brain ticking at full pace until you reach the very end. It was this intense and never-ending suspense, as well as the idea of never knowing the whole story, that made the Gone Girl novel such a gripping read. Adapted by the great David Fincher, as well, the Gone Girl film was always going to make an impact.