My Top 20 Films of 2014

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 are Steven Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock, and my most watched actor is Tom Hanks.

Here’s my top 20 films of 2014:

20. Boyhood

I love how Linklater uses time scales in his film, and with Boyhood he does something completely original. It’s amazing to see these characters grow older over the 12 years of filming, which really helps to make you feel like part of their family, making every character likeable and engaging and the audience really invested them. There’s so much more I wish the film had time to explore, but fitting all of these years into one film must have been exhausting enough.

19. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Whilst this film works primarily as a teaser for the story’s big finale, a lot happens in this first instalment to get us excited for something big, as Katniss proves that she’s up for the job and that the other districts really do need her support. This opens up some great action scenes and once again highlights the bleak setting of this dystopia. What I love most about The Hunger Games trilogy is that it doesn’t shy away from showing death and desperation. More than once we see the ashes of hundreds of bodies lying on the ground of District 12, reminding us of what happened in the previous films. But it’s all building up to something much bigger and better, and with the final novel being split into two, we don’t get to see the revolution that we’re all dying to see.

Once again, everything in this first instalment sets up Part 2 of Mockingjay being an epic finale, but it’s also this fact that somewhat undermines this first film. It’s a great addition to The Hunger Games film adaptations, but it doesn’t have the entertainment factor that the previous two films have, nor the conclusion that we are becoming impatient to see. I think to properly review this film, Part 2 needs to be taken into consideration, but it certainly promises that what’s to come is going to be the ending we all so desperately want.

18. Nightcrawler

Serving as Gilroy’s directorial debut, Nightcrawler is a brilliant effort. It’s dark, somewhat creepy, sleek, stylish, and full of fast thrills. Gilroy’s directorial style is certainly one of quality, reminding me in some places of Nicolas Winding Refn’s classic Drive in terms of having a somewhat glamorous edge to a dark and dirty story. It’s all to do with how he handles it, and the way he uses dark satire to make us like a character who obviously has some very serious problems.

And that’s because, most of all, Nightcrawler is a great character study, led excellently by the ever-impressive Gyllenhaal. His performance holds your attention and, disturbingly, is almost relatable (“What if my problem isn’t that I don’t understand people, but that I don’t like them?”). I mean, most of us wouldn’t go to the lengths that Bloom does, but he certainly talks a lot of sense.

17. Divergent

Set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic version of Chicago, Divergent will largely be compared to the recent Hunger Games franchise because of its intended younger audience, but Divergent also has many qualities that remind me of some of the most acclaimed pieces of dystopian literature, most notably George Orwell‘s 1984. This is because of how Divergent explores the emotion of fear. A dystopia is defined as an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one, so fear has to play a big part in the society to make it believable. It is how well this fear is conveyed, for me, as to how successful a dystopian piece of work is. 1984 has the infamous Room 101, whereas members of the Dauntless faction in Divergent are tested in their dreams to see how well they deal with their fears. Divergent exceeded my expectations for many reasons, but it was for this reason alone that it stood out from being just another young adult franchise.

16. Dallas Buyers Club

I had no idea what to expect with this film when I walked into the cinema, just that the cast were picking up all the Oscar awards. I was surprised to find out that it was a true story about a man with HIV. I was more surprised to see who Jared Leto was playing.

Dallas Buyers Club is an inspiring story. It’s moving in parts and thought-provoking in the sense that many generations today still don’t know much about the illness at all, but it wasn’t quite the powerful drama I thought it would be.

As the Oscar awards have proved, however, it is filled with phenomenal performances. Matthew McConaughey gives an exceptional performance, and the physical transformation he made is astonishing, but for me this was all about Jared Leto. Wow. I still can’t believe how amazing his performance was; I want to cry just thinking about it.

15. Nymphomaniac Part 1 & 2

Usually, I’m easily bored by Lars von Trier’s films, but I felt that this was quite a stripped back film for him. Sure, it has the odd pretentious moment, prolonged scene of slow motion nothingness, and a lot more explicit content than you would expect from any other director, but at the same time I thought that Nymphomaniac was an excellent, hard-hitting drama. This film could have easily been ruined for me if von Trier took the story too far, but I thought it was all very believable and detailed the extremes of Joe’s life without putting the audience off too much.

On a whole, I found the 4.5 hour run timed went quite smoothly, and I enjoyed how the story was split into chapters. The cast was all fantastic, and although I’m not a huge fan of Charlotte Gainsbourg I thought she held up the film excellently.

14. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America isn’t a Marvel superhero that I particularly like; out of the fantastical team, he’s certainly has the least personality. So before watching this sequel, I re-watched the original Captain America film and realised that Cap may be the least powerful, funny, attractive, and self-obsessive, but he’s got a great story. It was hard to vamp up a character set in the 1940′s when we had the likes of the charming Iron Man and mythical Thor to compare him to, but what Captain America has that these two don’t is honour and duty; he should be the character we find ourselves relating to most, as he’s an everyday man in the modern world, who sets out to stand up for his country and do what’s right for the good of everybody. So that makes up for a lot.

13. Dawn Of The Planet of The Apes

Undoubtedly one of the best summer blockbusters of 2014, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is a powerful sequel with the perfect balance of story, drama, tension, action, character development, and emotion.

I’ve recently re-watched all of the original films and they are immensely enjoyable. It’s a classic franchise, but these new reboots bring so much more to the story, explaining how the apes conquered humanity in the beginning. There’s so much dedication and respect for the story and that’s what make these films work, successfully carrying on a franchise for both old fans and new.

12. Godzilla

With an excellent montage of familiar Godzilla footage running under the film’s opening credits, you know straight away that Gareth Edward’s Godzilla isn’t going to be just another failed attempt at a reboot. Edward’s isn’t starting from scratch to reinvent a classic, he’s using the original films and stories as a backdrop to bring Toho’s iconic character into the modern world.

From the director of the indie sci-fi Monsters, which served as the director’s directorial debut in 2010, this summer’s blockbuster sci-fi action reboot of Godzilla was a massive step-up for Edwards. With the director also working as the visual effects artist on Monsters, however, we could always be reassured that he was undeniably talented enough for the project. And he certainly proved that he was worthy of the opportunity with this tremendous effort.

11. The Lego Movie

For creativity alone The Lego Movie is a five-star film. It’s genius really. Whilst I found the film hilarious and felt that there were many adult jokes/references for the older audience, my lower rating is because I felt that it was very much a children’s film at the same time. But in many ways I still loved it.

It’s phenomenal to think how Lego has evolved over the years. Most of us used to play with the colourful bricks for hours on end as children, but that was it. Now we have games on every platform and short films that have now evolved into feature films, with all kinds of franchises wanted to get involved. And that’s what I loved most about The Lego Movie; there were many ordinary characters, from the retro astronaut to an ordinary working man, but there were also recognisable characters such as Batman, Gandulf, and Dumbledore – all of our favourite characters were involved.

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 heart-breaking 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.

9. X-Men: Days of Future Past

What better way to follow-up a franchise prequel set in the past then to bring that timeline together with one that began a beloved franchise of mutated superheroes? And it couldn’t have been more successful. After a couple of somewhat forgotten origin spin-offs, the original but dated X-Men films were brought back to life in 2011 when Matthew Vaughn directed the prequel, First Class, with a fresh-faced cast playing younger versions of the characters we came to love in Bryan Singer‘s original films. With the director of the first two films returning to direct this fourth instalment, Days of Future Past turned out to be the best X-Men film yet.

Days of Future Past, loosely based on a two-issue storyline from X-Men comics published in 1981, effectively merges the films together, creating a complex but easy to navigate story and combining two fantastic casts and also offers closure to the original trilogy. Carefully controlled, swift, and stylish, Vaughn and Singer, together, have put the X-Men franchise back on top with the likes of the action-filled, comical, and bold The Avengers and The Dark Knight.

8. Her

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.

7. 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 far away 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.

6. Snowpiercer

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’s 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 hae 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 of this year.

5. 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 song writing 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.

4. 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 running time, 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.

3. 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. Set to be adapted by the great David Fincher, as well, the Gone Girl film was always going to make an impact.

2. 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 directed 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 come 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.

1. Interstellar

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 have you thinking about for days after viewing.

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