Charlie, Editorial Manager for Gollancz, drops by to take us through his favourite films from the past year.
It’s the end of another year, so here are my favourite films from 2014. The list is based on based on UK release dates, so the likes of Birdman, Whiplash and Inherent Vice will have to wait for my Favourite Films of 2015 list to see if they make it (though obviously I expect Age of Ultron to be No. 1 in that).
Honourable Mentions: Ida, Calvary, The Babadook, Life Itself
20. We Are The Best! (dir. Lukas Moodysson)
Lukas Moodysson goes full circle and returns to the gleefully anarchic spirit of his early films, building up an even more gleefully shambolic ending. Even a massive sports fan like me can’t help but sing along to the chorus of Hate the Sport.
19. The Grand Budapest Hotel (dir. Wes Anderson)
Wes Anderson does a caper movie this time. You either love or loathe his style by now, and even with the possible lack of substance this time I really enjoyed it. Plus it’s a reminder of how good Ralph Fiennes is at comedy (see also: Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit).
18. Obvious Child (dir. Gillian Robespierre)
Three reasons to watch this film – the fact that it’s very funny, Jenny Slate’s performance and its sensibly clear-eyed take on abortion, a topic which most TV and cinema tries to pretend doesn’t exist at all.
17. Pride (dir. Matthew Warchus)
Not exactly subtle at times, but undeniably effective, Pride is both funny and moving (even at moments which by rights should be horribly corny) and a reminder of how far we’ve come in the last thirty years.
16. Locke (dir. Steven Knight)
No, it’s not a Lost spinoff. Tom Hardy in a car talking to people on speakerphone – it couldn’t possibly sustain an entire film, right? But Locke is gripping throughout, anchored by Hardy’s performance. Not too sure about his Welsh accent, mind you.
15. The Raid 2 (dir. Gareth Evans)
Action really doesn’t get any better than this, as Evans ups the ante from the first film, culminating in a car chase and a series of fights (Rama vs Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man!) that leave you breathless. It’s kind of depressing that people seemingly wouldn’t see this film simply because it had subtitles.
14. Leviathan (dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev)
Bleakly funny in its first half, and just plain bleak in its second half, this is a timely take on life in present-day Putin’s Russia and what happens to those who try to fight the layers upon layers of corruption. It’s a delight watching everyone get it in the neck.
13. Stations of the Cross (dir. Dietrich Bruggemann)
Another film where the format on paper (fourteen scenes, nearly all of which were static shots) left me apprehensive. But like with Locke, it holds the attention (especially in a terse dinner scene), again largely thanks to a terrific central performance from Lea van Acken. And it provides much food for thought on the subjects of faith and religion.
12. Guardians of the Galaxy (dir. James Gunn)
Great soundtrack, a script that’s sharper and funnier (I’m not sure any film made me laugh out loud more in 2014) and wittier than 99% of films made this year, a group of protagonists that are all well-characterised and who all get their moments – what’s not to love? Get some better villains for the sequel and it’ll be brilliant. Anyone who says it’s better than The Avengers is clearly crazy, though.
11. Gone Girl (dir. David Fincher)
A brilliantly executed thriller with a heart of stone, exactly what David Fincher excels at. Rosamund Pike deserves all the awards going. Even Tyler Perry is good! And if you’re ever feeling down about being single, watching this is a great way to remedy that.
10. The Lego Movie (dirs. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller)
EVERYTHING IS AWESOME! I don’t know how Lord and Miller keep managing to turn films that sound terrible on paper into cinematic gold, but I hope they keep on doing it. And Will Arnett’s Batman might be the best Batman of all.
9. 12 Years a Slave (dir. Steve McQueen)
It’s difficult to imagine how a film can manage to be both this beautiful and brutal (there’s a Pseuds Corner entry for you right there) – at times it’s hard to keep your eyes on the screen, but 12 Years a Slave is a work of immense power and it needs to be seen. Certain scenes will stay with me for a long time.
8. Inside Llewyn Davis (dirs. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen)
If Leviathan is the really depressing take on one man being constantly defeated by the world around him, this is the comedic, typically-Coen brothers take on the same idea. I’m surprised some people really didn’t take to it, it’s another fantastic Coen brothers film in my opinion, populated with some of their best supporting characters to date. Plus it has a sweet cat in it.
7. Nightcrawler (dir. Dan Gilroy)
Did this film really cost less than $10 million? It looks incredible, and I loved the car chase scene. Jake Gyllenhaal puts in a probably career-best performance as our generation’s Rupert Pupkin in a film that throws in one fantastic ‘he didn’t just do/say that, did he?’ moment after another. And Rene Russo reminds Hollywood that chucking actresses on the scrapheap simply because they’ve hit 40 is a really stupid idea.
6. Two Days, One Night (dirs. Luc Dardenne and Jean-Pierre Dardenne)
One of the great performances of the year from the reliably brilliant Marion Cotillard, and one of the best depictions of living with depression I’ve ever seen in a film. The set-up may seem contrived, but it works as a way of exploring these people’s lives and how those at the top try to screw over those at the bottom. And it maintains the tension and uncertainty over the outcome to the very end.
5. Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer)
At times maddening, but at other times simply extraordinary, Under the Skin lives up to its title, seeping into you as it goes on. It’s cold, clinical and unforgettable, and probably the best view we’ll ever see of humanity as seen through an extraterrestrial’s eyes. And did I mention how fucking amazing Scarlett Johansson is in it?
4. Frank (dir. Lenny Abrahamson)
It’s always difficult for a film to balance comedy and pathos correctly in my opinion but Frank carries it off to perfection, especially as the film transitions to its darker second half and moving final scene. It’s about music, about genius and talent, about mental illness, and it’s a riposte to romantic ideas revolving around these concepts. Most of all though, it’s brilliant.
3. The Wolf of Wall Street (dir. Martin Scorsese)
Hilarious from beginning to end, and absolutely electric. Who would have thought a film almost entirely populated by arseholes would be so enjoyable? As I saw someone write recently, Martin Scorsese directs this film like a guy a third of his age – the energy buzzes off the screen and three hours fly by. Inevitably some idiots will entirely miss the point of the film (see also: Scarface and Fight Club) but this shouldn’t detract from how great it is.
2. Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater)
Another film that almost touches three hours, and another film that nevertheless never drags. Boyhood is an astonishing achievement, a film that admirably avoids high drama and obvious ‘big moments’ and instead often touches on the small-scale moments that make up one’s childhood. People change, grow older, drift in and out of one’s lives, and it’s all here in an immersive film. As the credits rolled, all I could do was sit there stunned.
1. Her (dir. Spike Jonze)
This won’t come as any surprise to anyone who knows me, I’ve been raving about Her to anyone who will listen since I saw it in February. I haven’t been this affected by a film for a long time. It’s not just my favourite film of the year by a long, long, long way (with terrific performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson and Amy Adams, three of the best actors in Hollywood at the moment), it’s my favourite film of the decade so far and probably my favourite SF film since Blade Runner. There’s so many things to love about Her: how it’s a touching love story, a very plausible take on the near future (especially how men will wear their trousers really high), a hugely relevant look at our relationships with technology and with each other, without ever falling into finger-wagging or lecturing. Not to mention the brilliant score from Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett. I urge people to see it if they haven’t already, it’s a work of genius and it deserves to be remembered and loved for years to come.