MY TOP 10 FILMS OF 2014 – SO FAR…
Yes, I admit I’m borrowing from Mark Kermode a little bit here, but we’re now halfway through the year, so I thought I’d share my top 10 films of 2014 thus far (this includes some films released in 2014 in France, seen for the first time by me this year, which overlap with films released in 2013 in Britain). However, there are still a few things to come (Interstellar in particular, I’m looking at you), so I expect a fair bit of change as the year goes on…
10. How I Live Now *** ½
A very British film that came right out of left-field (and also right out of 2013 in the UK, but hey), the power and intelligence of this one struck me. Suffice it to say that this story of an American teenager whose idyllic summer with British relatives is torn apart by World War Three ticks a great many boxes. It’s most certainly not for whippersnappers, but it’s done with style, heart and soul. The film’s far from perfect, hence the number 10, but certainly merits recognition, and my opinion of it has not changed with time. That’s why I can foresee a fair few new entries coming and going as the year progresses whilst this one stays firmly in place. Oh, and it also has Saoirse Ronan in it. She’s all over the place at the moment – but that’s a very good thing.
9. X-Men: Days of Future Past *** ½
A disappointment in my view, the latest instalment in the mutant saga left me slightly cold. It does succeed with the tone and the storyline, but ties things up too quickly and feels too much like the middle film in a trilogy. That said, the acting is uniformly good and the crew have fun with the ‘70s vibe. There is much here to bring a smile to your face, and as a summer blockbuster, you could do much worse, but I fully expected this one to be higher up than it is. At least it ain’t Godzilla.
8. Edge of Tomorrow ****
A genuine surprise given my initial thoughts (rip-off of Groundhog Day, rip-off of Source Code, what can it possibly bring to the party), this is a weirdly compelling and playful sci-fi thriller. It may tackle the glum-sounding prospect of a war with aliens, but it jokes around with its time-travel set-up for comedic effect, which leavens the whole thing, and it’s easily the best film I’ve ever seen Tom Cruise in. Emily Blunt is just reliably brilliant, almost without even trying. The way things progress leaves more room for emotion, more room for things to feel earned, and so it builds well. The baddies are also fairly creepy. The climactic battle, and the ending itself, raised a smile for many reasons, and the end credits song may be the best and most fitting tune that the team behind it all could have chosen. The only reason it’s so far down the top 10 is due to the sheer weight of very good (and more original) films above it.
7. The Lego Movie ****
Full of enough subtle gags and digs at modern culture to satisfy all audiences, this one certainly surprised me. The trailer didn’t move me, and the film initially struck me as an idea for a commercial conceived on the hoof. And yes, it is arguably a great big commercial, but it’s surprisingly well thought-out, and has some hilarious moments, as well as – God forbid – a little bit of a message. Everything is not quite awesome, to coin a phrase, but they came close. And anything that manages to unite Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Batman under one reel is probably worth watching anyway.
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel ****
Coming from the King of Wacky, Wes Anderson, this was a bonkers little gem. The first Anderson film I’d seen, I can probably say it won me over to his cause. It convinced me not only of the fact that Ralph Fiennes can do comedy, but also convinced me of a different style of filmmaking, and yes, the film may be ambitious and structurally mind-boggling, but that’s all part of the charm. The lengthy supporting cast all make fine (if small) contributions, but it’s Fiennes, Tony Revelori and Saoirse Ronan who impress the most. Budapest is getting Oscar buzz already, and by my reckoning, it’s deserved. Flamboyantly done but heartfelt, with a side of melancholy, it’s worth catching, and though slightly too offbeat for me at times, it more than deserves to be up here.
5. Dallas Buyers Club ****
Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto both prove themselves to be far more capable actors than I ever thought possible here. Both are riveting, and the storyline is involving too, with the film chronicling the real-life tale of Ron Woodroof (McConaughey), a hard-drinking, crazy-living American electrician and rodeo cowboy who is brought crashing down to earth when he is diagnosed with AIDS – and then what he does afterwards. It may be another one of those where you can’t tell how much was real (see Frost/Nixon, The Queen and Rush, among others), but this isn’t really the heart of the film. It’s about one man’s extraordinary turnaround, and how the news of potential death brought a man back to life (or made his life more meaningful than it ever was before). I’d say that it might work better as a motivational kick-starter than a message film, but it’s still compelling and heartening. However much time you’ve wasted, there’s still enough left to make your life count, and that’s an inspiring thing to go home thinking. Not everything works here, and so it’s smack bang in the middle of the top 10, but it remains a great film.
4. Only Lovers Left Alive **** ½
Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are near-perfect as long-time vampire lovers searching for meaning in a subtle and, to my mind, entirely new take on the bloodsucker myth (with a killer soundtrack to boot). It’s a film which, without forcing itself on the viewer, comes across as winningly clever and important. It suggests that we all have our own drugs, which may ultimately leave us wasting away, but also implies that the one thing which will be left behind, after we have faded away and the world has become as desolate as many of the landscapes depicted here, is love. Through the prism of vampires, director Jim Jarmusch might just have shown what it means (or takes) to be human. Only Lovers is an effortlessly cool and intelligent film, but don’t come looking for plot – it’s likely to absorb your attention in other ways instead, and that (alongside the acting) is why I’ve plonked it so high up on the list.
3. Her **** ½
Joaquin Phoenix is a revelation in Spike Jonze’s latest (fairly off-the-wall) effort. Sporting a ‘tache and some colourful shirts, Phoenix stars as lonesome greeting card-writer Theodore Twombly, whose acquisition of a Siri-like invention (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) turns his (love) life upside down. The human story is as much the selling point as the vision of the future here, and the performances are all great. With a lot to say and a slow-burn way of saying it, the film is by turns beautiful and heartbreaking, but it boasts a finale verging on euphoric. The sheer artistry and emotion of the films that follow are the only things that stop Her from reaching higher levels of my top 10 thus far.
2. 12 Years A Slave **** ½
This is a visceral, starkly beautiful yet harrowing tale. Chiwetel Ejiofor is subtle, almost too subtle, but he gives a powerful and subdued performance as Solomon Northup, a black man sold into slavery in 19th Century Louisiana. Lupita Nyong’o is magnetic, and Michael Fassbender is grippingly mad. 12 Years is the first film about slavery I’ve seen that truly depicts slave-owners as delusional, living in their own irrational fantasy world where their own mad rules are the only thing that goes. Fassbender’s Edwin Epps is the epitome of this crazed righteousness, and he’s savagely brilliant here, portraying an animal trying to justify his inner beast. I’m still annoyed that he didn’t nab the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance, but I can’t deny that Jared Leto did a great job in Dallas Buyers Club. I digress – 12 Years A Slave is a great achievement and undeniably one of the films of the year thus far.
1. Nebraska *****
Superb, I can say no more than that. Well, maybe a bit more. This black-and-white tale of redemption and family ties may start off slowly, but all its little elements build to a beautifully downplayed ending. Strongly acted by all, particularly Bruce Dern and Will Forte, the film is full to bursting with heartbreaking dramatic moments, ones which we can all, perhaps, relate to because they concern the most all-encompassing of things – family. The way Nebraska completely bulldozed my expectations with quiet, admirable ease is one of the many reasons that it’s my film of the year thus far. Yes, it was released in the UK last year, but I saw it in my adopted second country this year (France gets certain releases later on). What’s more, I can see little besides my fervent Christopher-Nolanism knocking this off the top spot before the end of 2014, but we’ll see.