The Best of 2014 in Film

The year 2014 has come to pass, and it sure has been a ride. I decided to follow through with last year’s resolution and start reviewing films online, and maybe it is for that reason, but I feel this year has been pretty generous with its produce of good films. Quite a number of surreal films, a director’s magnum opus twelve years in the making, a David Fincher film (I worship his portfolio), Nolan’s latest science fiction epic, two Marvel goliaths, and numerous career-changing performances together make this year one to remember. With characters ranging from a nun to a super-intelligent ape, there is much to talk about in this diverse list.

I also want to make clear that these lists are in no way conclusive, but only based on my subjective enjoyment of the films, and that any difference in opinion may be addressed in the comments. Although I do need to admit at the start that I have missed two of the year’s praised movies, Birdman and Inherent Vice, for they haven’t released yet here and I have no way to access them although it has been three months since the former came out elsewhere. Suppressing my anger at the local theatres, I apologize for this gap in my lists, but I am sure to come out with a detailed review for both once I get hold of them.

I’m going to start off with the honourable mentions, all of which are movies I would recommend to any of you, but didn’t quite make my top fifteen. Here they are, in no particular order:

SNOWPIERCER

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Direction: Bong Joon-ho
Watch it for: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton

A visually and thematically brilliant take on a post-apocalyptic world where the surviving humans live on a constantly moving train, this movie not only showcases Chris Evan’s acting chops but also makes for one of the best films adapted from comic books.

THE IMITATION GAME

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Direction: Morten Tyldum
Watch it for: Benedict Cumberbatch

While Benedict Cumberbatch most definitely gave a grounded and moving performance, the movie lingers on various aspects from the genius of Alan Turing to his personal struggle with sexuality, and the cold war itself. It is also one of the best biopics of the year and managed to steer clear of the clichés that The Theory of Everything seemed to embrace.

HER 

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Direction: Spike Jonze
Watch it for: Joaquim Phoenix, Scarlett Johannson

A film with beautiful tinted imagery, this science fiction romance that is set in the not too distant future, starts out seeming to be a story about the control that machines exercise on our lives. But what blossoms is a heartfelt and strange romance between a man and his computer, the voice for which is provided quite aptly by Scarlett Johannson. This is in fact only one of Johannson’s three appearances on this list.

THE LEGO MOVIE

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Direction: Chris Miller, Phil Lord
Watch it for: Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Will Ferrell

One of the best surprises of the year, what I expected to be a long laugh-less commercial for LEGO turned out to be one of the most enjoyable cinematic experiences this year. By inserting well-placed and well-used references to Batman, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars, this entertainer also has a quaint message to convey at the end, of what adulthood has done to childhood.

LOCKE

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Direction: Steven Knight
Watch it for: Tom Hardy and his Welsh accent

A theatrical atmosphere was caught within the constraints of a single vehicle with this film, a detailed character sketch where the focus is on the voices of people and the casual glances of one nerve-wracked man trying desperately to not be his father.  The film rests on Tom Hardy, and boy, does he deliver.

THE SKELETON TWINS

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Direction: Craig Johnson
Watch it for: Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig

The story of twins linked to each other through a disturbing childhood, the movie touched the souls of its viewers with the most real and deranged characters of Maggie and Milo, who are outcasts in the world and in constant denial of the same, as they strive towards normalcy. Though they seem to be annoyed by each other’s presence, they find out that they undeniably need the other to lean on. Bill Hader is here with a breakout performance that is a revelation.

PRIDE

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Direction: Matthew Warchus
Watch it for: Bill Nighy, Andrew Scott

Telling the true story of how the Welsh gay community joined hands with the coal miners in a protest against the police, I never expected this one to be as hilarious as it was. Filled with realistic performances and imagery that beautifully captured the time it is set in, this comedy is one of the best in the genre.

Now, onto the awaited TOP FIFTEEN, counting down from 15:

  1. INTERSTELLAR

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Direction: Christopher Nolan
Watch it for: Matthew McConnaughey, Jessica Chastain

This was one of my most anticipated films, if not the most, for this year, especially coming from Christopher Nolan who has delivered to his audience masterpieces many a time before. His are also the first films in which I started taking notice of directorial style and its importance to filmmaking. While I did have my qualms with this movie, partly caused by the poor development of its characters, and also because of the underwhelming (remember that this is entirely subjective) way the story ended, I cannot but admit that this was probably my favourite theatre experience of the year. Featuring some of the best science fiction cinematography and mind-boggling imagery, Interstellar was truly a ride from beginning to end, which managed to find the perfect ratio of real scientific fact and fiction. Whatever troubles you may find with the film, I can guarantee your entertainment, myself having watched it twice on the opening week.

  1. EDGE OF TOMORROW

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Direction: Doug Liman
Watch it for: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt

A very different science fiction entry from the last, this one does not have the ambition of Nolan’s and plays on a much more comfortable level, but ultimately worked better as a whole in my opinion. Setting a very interesting idea from the very start, this film plays to the strengths of its material and handles its time loops with fast pace and a style which really brings to surface the comedic aspect of it all. A perfect metaphor for video-gameplay, the movie has Tom Cruise’s character furthering ‘levels’ and getting past obstacles after repeated tries just as a noob does. One aspect which sets it apart from most other sci-fi blockbusters is its portrayal of the protagonist as a whimp, a coward who is completely lost in the field of battle, and it is the arc we see him go through that pays off in the end and satisfies its audience in the finish. Emily Blunt gives an amazing performance establishing her as a top-class female action star, and it is also good to see them use Tom Cruise’s short stature to highlight how lost he is on the battlefield.

  1. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

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Direction: Anthony and Joe Russo
Watch it for: Chris Evans

Watching this one in the theatre, I really thought this one would make my top ten list this year, and deservedly so, considering the brilliant action sequences and the excellent spy-thriller vibe to the whole film. It is exciting to see Marvel make a change from its usual pure entertainment movies to a darker and real story, while also clearing any doubts as to the character of Captain America. An intricate thriller questioning the very institution of S.H.I.E.L.D and reviving Hydra connections, The Winter Soldier is perhaps the most intelligent Marvel movie to date.

  1. THE GUEST

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Direction: Adam Wingard
Watch it for: Dan Stevens

A stranger arrives in a small town and suddenly, strange deaths and ‘accidents’ start popping up all over the place. Playing to the strengths of this familiar premise, The Guest will have you on the edge of your seat throughout. Easily one of the best atmospheric movies, this relative unknown relies whole-heartedly on the performance of the creepy stranger, played by Dan Stevens, and is capable of using the strange and alluring soundtrack to maximum gratification. Set in the Halloween-filled air of a small American town, the movie and the secrets it holds are intriguing and climax in a thrilling terrifying sequence that is most reminiscent of 80s classic horror.

  1. FRANK

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Direction: Lenny Abrahamson
Watch it for: Michael Fassbender

Always having been an adorer of black comedies, and indies for that matter, Frank delivered on all counts, following a band that makes some of the weirdest music and filled with people who are all equally insane. According to me, the titular character Frank who always wears a huge papier-mâché head over his own is Michael Fassbender’s best performance yet, succeeding in subtle comedy and heartbreaking emotion without the use of his face. This also has one of my favourite endings of any movie this year, truly nothing like anything you’ve seen before.

  1. THE BABADOOK

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Direction: Jennifer Kent
Watch it for: Esse Davis

Undoubtedly the best horror film of this year, this debut by Australian director Jennifer Kent shows clear understanding of the elements that made the masters of horror like David Lynch. Unsettling to its very core and layered with meaning and symbolism, The Babadook is one of the scariest movies I have seen, but its horror lies not in the monster but in what it represents. It plays on never actually showing the ‘monster’ on screen but only in shadows, silhouettes and the absolutely horrifying transformation of the mother. Esse Davis gives one of the best performances in any horror movie in this tale of a family coping with the depression induced by a late father.

  1. NIGHTCRAWLER

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Direction: Dan Gilroy
Watch it for: Jake Gyllenhaal

There is one name that earns this creepy urban thriller this high a position, and that is Jake Gyllenhaal. Based off a ground premise of a man determined to make it big in the freelance news business, the utterly unsettling and magnificent character of Louis Bloom, the gaunt and rodent-like smart guy elevates the night-time L.A and the graphic incidents it holds within to brilliance. A man who believes he can achieve whatever goal he sets his mind to will disturb you for the lengths he goes to realize his ambition, and the effect he has on others along the way.

  1. ENEMY

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Direction: Denis Villeneuve
Watch it for: Jake Gyllenhaal

From the man behind last year’s stunning thriller Prisoners comes the most confusing film this year. Painted throughout in a washed-out yellow, this surreal masterpiece explores the human subconscious and the psychosis of a man at constant battle with himself over his infidelity. Jake Gyllenhall was maybe better in Nightcrawler, but Enemy has far more to talk about and analyze in terms of its subject. Playing the physically identical characters of Adam and Anthony, Jake’s expertise is showcased in the way he is able to differentiate the two on an emotional level, through the subtlest of mannerisms. Also, while The Babadook is my favourite horror movie this year, this complex and deep piece also presents us with the most horrifying ending scene which is sure to garner many screams.

  1. ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE

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Direction: Jim Jarmusch
Watch it for: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton

If you are of the opinion that there is no more original approach to vampires, this entrancing film is here to change all of that. Helmed by the alluring and groovy performances by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, the dream-like world that this tale creates is sure to have you hooked and sweep you off your feet in a mystical beat. A story of two vampires, who have surrounded themselves with rich culture over the ages and revelling in intellectual conversation, growing weary of the human world, is equally gothic and languid with its atmosphere. Playing to one of the most spellbinding soundtracks, it tells the ornate romance between centuries-old lovers who though on opposite ends of the world, share a deep connection. The images are enthralling, from the duo taking seductive sips of scarlet blood to the abode of Adam, filled with music memorabilia from all the decades, equally magical.  There is also an interesting take on Marlowe and Shakespeare in this one. Only Lovers Left Alive, while not leading anywhere with its plot will take you on for a euphoric journey of finding one’s place and meaning in the immortal world.

  1. GONE GIRL

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Direction: David Fincher
Watch it for: Rosamund Pike, Ben Affleck

You can always depend on David Fincher to deliver a meticulously directed and deeply interesting movie that never loses its audience. Gone Girl was exactly that, succeeding in bounds to create an uncertain air about the protagonist, and a true mystery as to the truth which is always seen through the eyes of someone else. It is a brilliant take on perceptions and the media, but it is equally a disturbing look at marriage and how twisted people can be, and how much depravity seeks company of its own. One of the most startling pictures of the year, Rosamund Pike also hits the audience out of nowhere with an astounding performance that jumps off the screen to shock us. Ben Affleck too perfectly portrays the nervous, awkward and subdued character of Nick Dunne who has fashioned himself a perfect visage that we never know for sure what is behind, and also a beautiful resemblance to Camus’ The Stranger in his prosecution in the eyes of the public. Fincher conveys the intricate relationship between people through his exact-crafted scenes and a sombre blue-grey colour that rides throughout. And you know you can always trust Fincher for a good adaptation of a book. [Refer: Fight Club, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo]

  1. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

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Direction: Matt Reeves
Watch it for: Andy Serkis as Caesar

Here we have the second instalment in what has all the signs to be the next big trilogy along the lines of Star Wars and the Dark Knight trilogy. Absolutely entertaining from beginning to end, this epic of huge proportions takes on themes of social hierarchy, revolution, personal emotions and fear of the unknown. While Rise provided an equal balance between human and ape characters, this film is clearly dominated by the apes, and all the better for that. Who would have thought that in a year filled with amazing characters from vampires to numerous superheroes, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jake Gyllenhaal, the most magnetic persona would be an intellectual ape riding a horse? All you need to convince yourself of this deserved position is to watch Andy Serkis as the ever-charismatic Caesar in this film where every frame is elevated by the presence of apes and their slightest emotions depicted on their immaculately generated faces. Managing to capture every emotion from that of battle to humanity and helplessness, and an ever-rising power struggle, this is the highest form of drama.

  1. WHIPLASH

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Direction: Damien Chazelle
Watch it for: J K Simmons

In this year of large-scale epics and dramas that spanned years and distances, this small yet undoubtedly captivating film manages not only to impress but to astound. Exploring the intense and threatening relationship between teacher and student, Whiplash asks all the ambitious questions of how far you are willing to push to achieve your goals. A perfectly edited and rhythmic masterpiece, this fast paced story is as nail-biting and enthralling as the beats it revolves around. J K Simmons is the most disturbing and terrifying presence on screen, his yells and roars reaching out to the audience and chilling us to the core. And with a most exciting finale, this one hits all the right notes.

  1. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

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Direction: Wes Anderson
Watch it for: Ralph Fiennes, Jeff Goldblum

Wes Anderson invites us into his world of forgotten romanticism and quirkiness to sit down with the enigmatic concierge Gustave and partake in the most delicious comedy of the year. The closest experience one can have on screen to actually reading a novel by some nineteenth-century romantic, this high-strung and fantastic screwball comedy is painted with the most enchanting landscapes and coloured with the richest of pastels. With animated performances from the masters like Ralph Fiennes, Jeff Goldblum and Edward Norton, every shot is an illustration in this magical world somewhere on the mountains. A narrative style you will find nowhere else, The Grand Budapest Hotel is as wonderfully imaginative and tasteful as its characters, and is Anderson’s best yet.

  1. BOYHOOD

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Direction: Richard Linklater
Watch it for: Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, actually everyone

At first when I heard about Boyhood, it sounded to me merely an attention-grabbing gimmick, but it is oh so much more than that. Richard Linklater, a truly diverse director, presents the fruit of twelve years of dedication to us, and it resonates with every life, regardless of gender, age or race. This is truly a milestone in cinema, the perfect capture of life on screen in its completion. It is about all of us, and yet about none, as we follow Mason through all of life’s events, letting each moment seize us and fall into place, one by one. Life is but a series of moments, each to be experienced and treasured, not particularly leading up to any great destiny. This is a story of growing up and coming of age told like never before, but it is also about so many other things: a motherhood, fatherhood and sisterhood. Linklater’s magnum opus is sure to grab you by the nostalgic arm and reflect upon the part of our life that is past. This is one film that would be an utter loss if missed.

  1. UNDER THE SKIN

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Direction: Jonathan Glazer
Watch it for: Scarlett Johannson

More than forty years down the line, and no other film has in my opinion captured the essence of Kubrick’s Odyssey quite like this. Surrounded with disturbing music and imagery, Under the Skin is the most interesting film this year. Minimal in dialogue and exploding with surreal metaphors and expression, Jonathan Glazer’s piece of art is stunning and disturbing in its exploration of universal perception of beauty and what it means to be human. If a relaxing time is what you desire at the theatre, I honestly ask you to steer clear of this mentally challenging nightmare, and watch #2 on this list instead. A raw exploration of sexuality and human desire, along with the desire to be human, Under the Skin tells in silence the tale of an alien preying on human males, luring them by their sexual lust and drowning them in dark pools of their own desire. This erotic nightmare exudes a sense of alienation and the supernatural, as we see the world through very extraterrestrial eyes. This is also Scarlett Johannson’s most masterful work, using her sexuality and conventional allure to get us hooked and in a trance with her, finding ourselves diving deeper and deeper into this exquisite piece. While most of the story is left for us to decipher, it does so in an extremely haunting and poetic style.

You can read my individual detailed reviews for each of these movies in the archive ‘Movie Reviews’. See you next year.

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