2014 has proved an exceptionally difficult year to select just ten best films from. I considered a more gimmicky list to expand the field (eg 14 best films of 2014), but in the end decided to limit myself to only my absolute favourites. But I must make honourable mention of a few – The Grand Budapest Hotel, Ida, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Belle, The Wind Rises, The Lego Movie, The Imitation Game, Night Will Fall, Two Days, One Night and Captain America: The Winter Soldier – that narrowly missed out.
Also – and I don’t know if this says something about my current state of mind or the kind of year I’ve had – this list contains more dark entries than usual. Don’t worry too much though, as there are also one or two family friendly choices.
Here then, is the countdown:
10. Inside Llewyn Davis – The latest from the Coen Brothers was cruelly overlooked during awards season. A real shame, as Oscar Isaac delivers a superb, darkly comic performance as a down-on-his-luck folk singer with the fortunes of Sisyphus.
Best Bit – The “Please Mr Kennedy” music recording session. Hilarious.
9. 12 Years a Slave – Gruelling, brutal and unrelenting, Steven McQueen’s Oscar winning slave drama proved an essential, hugely powerful experience. Tremendous performances all round but especially from Lupita Nyong’o.
Best bit – “Best” is an unfortunate term to use here, but for sheer unflinching nerve in depicting what slaves actually had to endure in the Deep South, I’ve got to go with the excruciating near lynching, where Chiwetel Ejiofor dangles whilst other slaves continue their work in the background desensitised and powerless.
8. Boyhood – Richard Linklater’s bold experimental drama might be entitled Boyhood, but it’s just as much about motherhood, fatherhood, siblings, friendships and early romantic relationships. Ellar Coltrane is a revelation as the young Mason in a leading performance filmed over several summers.
Best Bit – Patricia Arquette’s powerhouse “I just thought there would be more” speech, directly followed by the montage of Mason leaving for college to the strains of Hero by Family of the Year. A highly emotional one-two punch.
7. Calvary – Michael McDonaugh follows The Guard with a superb, thought-provoking drama shot through with a similar dark humour. Brendan Gleeson is absolutely superb in the lead as a Catholic priest threatened with death by a sexually abused parishioner.
Best Bit – That opening confession. I don’t think I’ve ever heard quite such a shocked intake of breath from an audience at an opening line.
6. Paddington – The best all-round family film of the year adapts Michael Bond’s beloved books with wit, whimsy, slapstick, thrills and tears with a just dash of social satire (a swipe at anti-immigration nastiness). Ben Whishaw gives a brilliant vocal performance alongside a superb supporting cast.
Best Bit – The chase with the pickpocket; a fantastic, laugh-out-loud slapstick set piece.
5. Interstellar – Christopher Nolan’s flawed, mind-bending but beautiful and brilliant science fiction epic, chronicling the search for a new planet for the human race to settle following an ecological disaster.
Best Bit – Matthew McConaughey views over 20 years of missed video messages after a brief spot of planetary explanation. A genuine emotional sucker punch.
4. Nightcrawler – Jake Gyllenhaal excels as a Travis Bickle-esque purveyor of lurid news footage. A blackly comic, brilliantly scathing satire of both a fearmongering US news media and modern corporate culture.
Best Bit – Gyllenhaal lectures his hapless assistant on key skills and performance reviews whilst tampering with the scene of an accident to get a better shot. Dark but hilarious.
3. Gone Girl – David Fincher’s superb thriller features a potentially Oscar winning, career best performance from Rosamund Pike. Adapting her own novel, Gillian Flynn delivers an incisive, darkly comic dissection of a marriage in meltdown.
Best Bit – The mid-point revelation, including the infamous “cool girl” speech. Very uncomfortable viewing, for all the right reasons.
2. The Babadook – Debut director Jennifer Kent helms the best horror film of the decade to date, crafting a movie that manages to be both deeply terrifying and deeply moving. No mean feat.
Best Bit – Two words: the ceiling. Nightmares for weeks guaranteed.
1. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Once again Middle-earth proves as irresistible as the One Ring. I know some viewers didn’t respond as well to Peter Jackson’s second Middle-earth adaptation, but I have enjoyed them immensely – enough to put this at the number one spot for the third year running.
Best Bit – Thorin’s farewell to Bilbo, which proved every bit as poignant and heartbreaking as it is in the book.
So that’s it for another year, although as ever one could argue this list is a little premature as I have yet to see Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, Exodus: Gods and Kings (Ridley, don’t let me down again – I’m still reeling from Prometheus), and Tim Burton’s new film, Big Eyes, all of which are out on Boxing Day. If any of these merits a place on the above list, I will update it.
2015 could be a potentially cracking year for big budget movies, with the long awaited Jupiter Ascending finally hitting screens this February. From then one mega-blockbuster will follow another, as Avengers: Age of Ultron, Antman, Jurassic World, Pan, Pixar’s Inside Out, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, the new James Bond film Spectre, Terminator: Genisys and Star Wars: The Force Awakens all compete for our attention.
Before that plenty of heavyweight potential awards fare is still to be released, including The Theory of Everything, Foxcatcher, A Most Violent Year and Inherent Vice. In fact, 2015’s best films roster could prove an even tougher exercise than this year’s proved. And with that thought, it only remains for me to wish you all a very Merry Christmas!
Simon Dillon, December 2014.