Based on UK theatrical and festival release dates, here are the Top 20 Films of 2014.
20. Starred Up
Director: David Mackenzie // Link to trailer
When describing Starred Up, it can be defined with one word; visceral. However, it is also violent, realistic and unashamedly British. Rising star Jack O’Connell is Eric Love, a 19 year-old with a short fuse. Due to being too dangerous for a youth offender’s prison, Love is transferred to a different jail, where his father is kept. Through the help of therapy, Love tries to settle in with his new inmates, but the volatile relationship with his estranged father is too much to handle. O’Connell’s performance might be one of the toughest roles of the year, as Starred Up is unquestionably raw, explosive and of all things, not to be sniffed at.
Director: Steven Knight // Link to trailer
Steven Knight’s Locke follows one tense and emotional evening for Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), who is a dedicated family man and construction worker. Shot from the confinements of his car (with a few traffic cutaways), Ivan Locke has a secret that will drastically affect his livelihood. Whilst the film’s narrative structure isn’t purely original, it is carried by the weight of the charismatic Tom Hardy, who finally sheds the tough persona we’ve seen in some of his recent work. Locke is a gripping film, and it’s a testament to Tom Hardy’s talent, as he can keep you enthralled and invested in the movie, despite the surroundings. For a brilliant character performance, look no further than this.
18. Obvious Child
Director: Gillian Robespierre // Link to trailer
Robespierre’s directorial debut managed to impress this year, with a movie that tackles the sensitive subject of abortion with maturity, wit and compassion. As aspiring comedian Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) recovers from an emotional break up, a one-night stand results in an unwanted pregnancy. Suddenly, the twenty-something has to deal with the threat of adulthood looming over her directionless life. It’s a breakthrough performance from Jenny Slate, who is joined with a great cast, superb writing and a movie that surprisingly feels authentic. It’s an inventive take on the genre, and it’s about time a film such as this should feel genuine, as it abolishes stereotypical female leads, all whilst maintaining poignant tone.
17. Life Itself
Director: Steve James // Link to trailer
Renowned documentarian Steve James recounts the extraordinary life of film reviewer Roger Ebert, with an affectionate and truly personal film. Shot during his last moments, Life Itself explores the wonderful life of Ebert, touching upon several aspects, such as his peculiar relationship with the late Gene Siskel. Life Itself is a fantastic way of recognising and remembering one of the greatest cinematic staples of our time, without being overly sentimental. Roger Ebert’s life is an inspiration to many, and this film ranks as being the best documentary of the year.
16. The Raid 2
Director: Gareth Evans // Link to trailer
Gareth Evans blew audiences away with his brutal, gut-wrenching Indonesian film; The Raid: Redemption back in 2011, but this year saw the release of its sequel which surpassed the qualities of the first. The Raid 2 follows the skilled Rama, who is set to uncover the corruption within his own police force. Set only moments after the first movie, The Raid 2 dials the action up to eleven, with jaw-dropping fight sequences and outstanding choreography. If there’s one stand-out character in the action genre this year, it’s the deaf-mute Hammer Girl.
Director: David Ayer // Link to trailer
Starring a great ensemble cast, Fury is set in Germany during 1945, as the allies make their final push behind enemy lines. A Sherman tank led by the hardened ‘Wardaddy’ (Brad Pitt) is out-classed by the Nazi forces, whose firepower and armoury is vastly superior. Along with the new recruit, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), Wardaddy’s crew are exposed to the brutality of the SS. Ayer’s film is an unsentimental take on WWII, which is comprised of grotesque scenes and tense action sequences. Thankfully, the film never reaches the jingoism of other recent war movies (see: Lone Survivor), and it excels with its cast (Shia LeBeouf surprising many), and Ayer’s excellent direction.
14. Edge of Tomorrow (Live Die Repeat)
Director: Doug Liman // Link to trailer
Now being labelled as ‘Live Die Repeat’, Doug Liman’s science-fiction movie is equally as explosive as it is entertaining. Starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, military officer William Cage (Cruise) gets thrown into an alien warzone, with a seemingly invincible foe. Killed within moments of joining this war, Cage discovers that he’s trapped in a constant time loop, which resets to the preceding day.
Edge of Tomorrow opened to an underwhelming box-office response (perhaps due to the terrible marketing), but Liman’s movie proved to be one the most exciting action flicks of the year, and it further proved that Tom Cruise can be a fantastic lead. It has spectacle, superb concepts and it’s surprisingly funny in places. It’s blockbuster film-making done properly.
13. The Guest
Director: Adam Wingard // Link to trailer
Adam Wingard’s The Guest is destined to be this year’s biggest cult hit, as it boasts some incredible one-liners, questionable acting, quirky humour and an effortlessly cool synth soundtrack. With an inexcusable US box-office taking of just $280,000, The Guest manages to capture all the classic tropes of 80s thriller/horror movies, with a superb leading role by Downton Abbey’s very own Dan Stevens. It is a pure delight from start to finish, with the final 20 minutes becoming one of the most entertaining and ridiculous sequences of the year. Adam Wingard excels in genre film-making, and The Guest is no exception.
12. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Director: Joe Russo and Anthony Russo // Link to trailer
The Russo brothers managed to transcend the superhero genre this year with The Winter Soldier, which was suspenseful and politically relevant. Loosely based on the critically acclaimed series by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting, the film focuses on a dark secret from Steve Rogers’ past, along with the corruption of S.H.I.E.L.D. Full of dazzling visuals and some of the best hand-to-hand combat seen in the superhero genre, Captain America: The Winter Soldier manages to be one of Marvel’s best efforts yet. It takes the genre seriously, whilst managing to entertain and surprise.
11. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Director: Matt Reeves // Link to trailer
Taking place a decade after the events of the first film, Matt Reeves Apes sequel focuses on Caesar’s nation of evolved apes, who are threatened by the occurrence of a small band of human survivors. The film’s themes are based on trust and survival, as the story has a surprisingly captivating hook. Dawn features some of the best motion capture work to date, which is partly thanks to the talents of renowned actor Andy Serkis and even Toby Kebbell.
The film expands brilliantly on its predecessor, by becoming one of the smartest and most entertaining blockbusters of this year. The CGI is cutting-edge, and whilst it blatantly sets up the third Apes movie, there are no concerns considering Matt Reeves is signed on for the sequel.
Director: Lenny Abrahamson // Link to trailer
Perhaps the most thought-provoking movie of the year, Frank is an endearing comedy with a memorable performance from Michael Fassbender. The film follows young musician Jon (D.Gleeson), who finds himself joining an avant-garde band; The Soronprfbs. Quite the eclectic mix of people, The Soronprfbs attempt to record an album and tour. Frank touches slightly upon the subject of mental illness, and it does so quite commendably. It’s an unusual and clever movie, and it’ll leave viewers thinking for weeks.
09. Dallas Buyer’s Club
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée // Link to trailer
Dallas Buyer’s Club is a career best for Matthew McConaughey, starring as the real life Ron Woodroof, whose life was turned upside down during the AIDS epidemic of the 80s. Ostracised by most of his friends after discovering he’s HIV-positive, Ron Woodroof explores alternative treatment for the disease and attempts to best the FDA. The film boasts an incredible performance from McConaughey, along with an eye-opening role from Jared Leto. Dallas Buyer’s Club sports a remarkable story, which manages joy and sorrow into one delightful mix.
08. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Director: Wes Anderson // Link to trailer
Arguably Wes Anderson’s most accessible movie to date, The Grand Budapest Hotel turned out to be one of the most charming pictures of 2014. Elaborately shot with stunning compositions throughout, The Grand Budapest Hotel recounts the story of the great Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge of the famed European hotel, who is framed for a murder he did not commit.
It’s the quintessential Wes Anderson movie; offbeat, funny, beautifully shot and wholly sentimental. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a visually engaging movie, and it stands as being one of Anderson’s finest accomplishments to date, in his long list of wonderful and heartfelt movies.
07. The Wolf of Wall Street
Director: Martin Scorsese // Link to trailer
Based on Jordan Belfort’s memoir of the same name, Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street is an incredible piece of work, starring Scorsese’s new go-to actor, Leonardo DiCaprio. Returning to what he’s best at, Scorsese brings forth an R-rated overindulgence of sex, money and drugs. Undoubtedly DiCaprio’s finest role to date, The Wolf of Wall Street also showcased the abilities of Jonah Hill and newcomer Margot Robbie.
Whilst The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t in the same league as Raging Bull, it stands as being Scorsese’s funniest film to date. It’s an outrageous black comedy, which is unabashed and unapologetic with its content, lucidly presenting the depravity of its characters. Jordan Belfort’s corruption is an engaging story, which is superbly written and acted brilliantly. At the age of 72, it appears Scorsese is showing no signs of letting up.
06. What We Do in the Shadows
Director: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi // Link to the first six minutes
Movies within the comedy horror genre have always struggled to get it right, and 2014 has been no exception. The abysmal waste known as A Haunted House 2 was released, and Life After Beth failed to impress despite everyone involved. However, this fresh and unique take on ‘mockumentaries’ and vampires managed to be 2014’s funniest film of the year.
Following four vampires sharing a house in New Zealand, What We Do in the Shadows embraces the mundane issues of normal everyday human life, whilst mixing elements of the undead into the mix. Not only do these vampires pay rent, finish chores and visit nightclubs, they also antagonise the local werewolves, avoid sunlight and deal with the rigorous diet of human blood.
It’s a fantastic premise, and hilarious from start to finish. The casting is simply perfect, with Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clements having one of the funniest and most memorable lines of the movie. What We Do in the Shadows truly is the first great vampire comedy to grace our cinema screens.
05. Guardians of the Galaxy
Director: James Gunn // Link to trailer
Marvel’s biggest gamble to date, Guardians of the Galaxy took a fairly unknown superhero team and turned into it a box-office success, as it became the 2nd highest grossing movie of 2014. The film follows an unusual team of criminals, who band together to stop Ronan the Accuser from destroying the universe. Despite its generic plot, Guardians of the Galaxy excelled with some of the funniest comedy seen in sci-fi film, a fabulous 80s soundtrack and some of the best casting seen in the genre.
The film boasted a selection of breakthrough characters, who became fan favourites this year, especially the talking alien tree, Groot. Chris Pratt, who also plays the leader Starlord, proved to be the most charismatic leading man of the year.
It was a pleasurable surprise for cinemagoers, as Guardians is arguably Marvel Studios best movie to date. It is the quintessential blockbuster, chock full with awesome CGI, action, comedy and wonderful characters. James Gunn proved he’s a truly capable director, and his sheer attention to detail should be admired. Here’s to the upcoming sequel.
04. Gone Girl
Director: David Fincher // Link to trailer
Based on the best-selling book by Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl is another outstanding piece of work by director David Fincher. Starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl tells the story of how one man’s wife goes missing, and how he ends up becoming the number one suspect.
It’s an exhilarating piece of filmmaking, and Rosamund Pike managed to surprise everyone with her role as Amy Dunne, which a career best. Gone Girl has Fincher’s trademark fingerprints all over it, as it’s ultimately stylish, dark and character driven. Somehow, Fincher always brings out the best with the actors he works with, and this film is no exception.
It’s an almost perfect thriller, which really kicks into gear after the first hour. A selection of unsettling scenes really set the mood for the final act, which will leave jaws agape. Gone Girl manages to pick apart various subjects, such as the media, the economy and its effect on marriage, and the fatal flaw in any relationship; dishonesty. It’s an inherently smart thriller, with some captivating performances. It might not be Fincher’s best, but it’s still up there.
03. The Lego Movie
Director: Chris Miller, Phil Lord // Link to trailer
Essentially a feature-length advertisement for the Lego brand, Miller and Lord’s animated masterpiece really resonates with viewers of all ages. The movie follows the hapless Emmet, a construction worker who is mistakenly selected as the prophesied ‘Special’, as it is foretold that he has the gift to thwart the evil and tyrannical Lord Business.
Surprisingly, The Lego Movie stands as being one of the best animated movies in recent years, which is all down to a wonderful mix of talent. It boasted the strongest casting of any film this year too, with 2014’s leading man Chris Pratt, the manliest man Nick Offerman and the acting legend Morgan Freeman, to name some.
It is a beautifully constructed piece of work, and whilst it doesn’t necessarily tread new narrative ground, it still feels fresh and unique. It consists of some great underlying themes, such as conformity and individuality, without it being obnoxiously thrown into the viewer’s face. It manages to appeal to almost everyone, with a heart-warming and thoughtful story, which is brought to life with Miller and Lord’s fantastic direction.
Director: Dan Gilroy // Link to trailer
Strikingly cool, Nightcrawler is undoubtedly the best thriller of 2014. Starring a gaunt Jake Gyllenhaal, Dan Gilroy’s movie focuses on the subject of crime journalism, and a group of freelance news crews in LA who sell their shocking footage to bidding news stations. Gyllenhaal’s character, the morally ambiguous and manipulative Lou Bloom, is the actor’s most mesmerising performance yet.
Gilroy’s directorial debut is deliciously twisted with its material and Gyllenhaal flourishes as Lou Bloom, and it’s equal in style as it is substance. It’s satirical in nature and as sharp as a razor, as the script never falters with its disturbing content. Of course, it’s primarily character driven, but it’s aided with a decent cast, and a pure visual feast.
As the film progresses, Nightcrawler does a fantastic job of providing some feeling of discomfort, which can be felt during the devastatingly effect final act. The car chase for example, shows Gilroy’s strengths, as cars frantically speed across the LA streets in a frantic sequence, which results in a killer ending.
It is a career best for Gyllenhaal, who has wowed audiences in the past with Donnie Darko, Zodiac and to a lesser extent, Prisoners. The upcoming film Enemy is also another notch on Gyllenhaal’s fantastic filmography. Nightcrawler deserves to be watched, as it’s a no-nonsense, twisted masterpiece.
Director: Richard Linklater
2014’s best film was Richard Linklater’s ground-breaking triumph, which is unlike anything else that has been in cinemas this year. Filmed over the period of 12 years with the same cast, Boyhood is about how one six-year old, Mason, grows into adulthood. It’s an incredible piece of film history, which intimately documents the human condition.
Alongside the main lead Ellar Coltraine, the film also stars Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as Mason’s divorced parents, who assist as the ideal vehicles for Mason’s journey. The film touches upon all those fond memories of growing up; the first romance, Harry Potter, leaving school, family issues, that first drink and of course, discovering what you really want from life.
Despite the technical achievements of Boyhood, the film can still be recognised as a coming-of-age film that really hits all the right notes. It can resound remarkably well with someone, with its several tender moments, its drama and ultimately, its humanity. Linklater hit the jackpot with Coltraine too, who really manages to ground the film with his natural performance.
The late Roger Ebert once believed that films are machines that generate empathy. They allow you to understand and connect with the feelings of a specific character, and in Boyhood, Ebert’s statement has never been more significant. You get a glimpse of one young man’s transformation, which would not be as effective if Coltraine was replaced throughout the years.
It’s not often that you get to experience something like Boyhood. It’s remarkably condensed into its 166-minute running length, and during that time we are treated to moments of real life moments. It’s truly ambitious and intelligent, and it is Linklater’s finest work to date. There’s no doubt that Boyhood will be recognised for years to come.
So there we have it, the top 20 films of 2014. It’s been one hell of a year, and in retrospect there are a few movies which will be remembered for their storytelling and craft for some while. Despite not being in this list, there are a number of other movies that should be recognised, such as the unique horror The Babadook, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and perhaps even the ambitious yet flawed Interstellar. There were a few abominations this year too, such as Ninja Turtles and Tammy, and we have had some unfortunate disappointments. Here’s looking at you, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies.
All in all, 2014 was still a great year for film. For a medium that is supposedly dominated by the superhero genre, it’s interesting to see that there’s at least been some diversity, and almost every single one of those superhero films released in 2014 has been received favourably. Fox’s X-Men: Days of Future Past was a refreshing return to the franchise, and Guardians of the Galaxy dominated the box-office this year. It’s interesting to note that The Amazing Spider-man 2 had a decent take this year, but critics opinion is generally split, so it’s future is still unknown.
2015 is surely set to be an explosive affair too, with the return of several franchises. Jurassic World has a June release, with the new Avengers and Terminator being nearby. Also, there’s that new Star Wars film out in December, if anyone’s heard about it. Having said that, there’s sure to be some amazing films which aren’t massive blockbusters. Here’s to the following year.