It’s that time of year when critics reflect on all the time they’ve wasted watching films (most of them shit), only to pluck the ten they’d actually recommend to anyone else. It’d be depressing if I didn’t get so much enjoyment out of it.
Anyway, here’s my official list. I’d love to hear what y’all thought about the year that was. Leave comments below.
10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Until this year, Cap was one of the least popular members of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. His origin movie was a nostalgic mess and he was the most boring thing about The Avengers. Even in the comics I found it hard to root for him. He’s a simple boyscout with no real inner demons, which is what makes characters like Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark so appealing.
The sequel portrays him as a bit of a badass. It does this by taking the S.H.I.E.L.D-heavy franchise into espionage/spy-thriller territory. It’s like watching American James Bond fight bionic Jason Bourne.
John Michael McDonagh’s debut film, The Guard, was one of the best films of the last decade. It was full of colourful characters and smart, witty dialogue. Calvary is much darker on a whole but those signature traits are very much intact.
It starts with Brendan Gleeson’s good-natured priest being threatened in his own confessional booth. The culprit is unknown to the audience, so it’s kind of a “who dunnit?” before the deed is done.
The most fascinating thing about Calvary is getting to know each of the obscure characters within the small Irish town. Each has their own demons and conflicting views about the place of religion in today’s world. Best of all, they’re portrayed by a fantastic ensemble of very talented and also likeable actors in their own right.
8. Starred Up
Jack O’Connell is going to be huge, especially after landing the lead in Angelina Jolie’s next film, Unbroken. I loved his crazed character in Skins and he’s in similar form here, the intense prison drama from David Mackenzie. O’Connell plays the severely troubled teenager Eric, who is “starred up” from juvenile to adult prison before reaching 18.
Tensions slowly build as Eric tries to prove himself in the prison yard, making many friends and enemies along the way. O’Connell is the heart and soul of this piece, but he’s backed by the always-perfect Ben Mendelson as his bent father, and Rupert Friend as the conflicted therapist.
7. Infinite Man
Every year I pray for at least one brilliant, original Australian film. I just want one promising glimmer of hope that the local industry isn’t dying. This year it came in the form of Hugh Sullivan’s The Infinite Man.
I don’t want to sour it by saying “It’s brilliant for an Australian movie” because that’s condescending. I will say, on the whole, this is one of the best time travel movies I have ever seen.
Time travel is something that’s so hard to get right, and only a few films have really done it well (Back to the Future, Primer, Looper, About Time and obviously Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure). Much like Primer, the reason this works so well is because it plays out in such a confined space.
It’s shot in the one location; with only three characters. As they jump between parallels in time, it’s much easier to track the actions made and the direct consequences they sometimes have on the rest of the film.
Most importantly, it showcases huge talent in the two leads, Josh McConville and Hannah Marshall, as well as a glorious return to form from Alex Dimitriades.
6. Grand Budapest Hotel
This is everything you expect from a Wes Anderson film on a much grander scale. The budget itself feels bigger, even though it’s mostly stylistic effects at play, but the actual scope of the story feels much larger.
Ralph Fiennes is in the role of his career, as the charismatic concierge Gustave H. It’s also littered with familiar faces , including Jude Law, Ed Norton, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and more.
If nothing else, this is just a whole lot of fun.
Technically I saw this film in 2013, but it wasn’t released in cinemas until January 2014. Still, I didn’t get to add it to last year’s list which is why it’s featured here.
I’ve always loved Spike Jonze’s approach to film-making and his signature style – perhaps even more so than I appreciate Wes Anderson films. He uses music and colour to such great effect. His characters, while obscure and troubled in their own rights are much more relatable than Anderson’s typically comical bunch.
That being said, this film would not have had the same effect without Joaquin Phoenix at the helm. How hard must it have been to develop chemistry with someone/something that’s not even there? Everything about it could have been very creepy if it weren’t for the charm and innocence he brings.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy
I wish this film had been around when I was a kid. It’s like The Avengers in space that also pays homage to the best films of our youth, like Star Wars and Indiana Jones. It’s about a ragtag group of misfits who are given a chance to do something special. This is why popcorn cinema exists.
James Gunn deserves all the praise he received, for creating a universe so different to any other Marvel film we’ve seen, not to mention making household names out of characters considered D-list even for diehard comic fans.
Chris Pratt cemented himself as one of Hollywood’s biggest bankable stars, showcasing a lot of charm and wit to go with his impressive new physique. Similarly, professional wrestler Dave Bautista proved he wasn’t just a wad of muscle playing the spiteful alien Drax.
3. The Wolf of Wall Street
A lot of people hated this film, mostly because it glorified white-collar crimes, overzealous drug use and objectified women. I think if that’s all you take from this then you’ve completely missed the point – it’s supposed to be over the top, that’s why it’s so much fun.
To me it depicted the whole lifestyle in the same way as Terry Gilliam’s Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. It’s not like everyone went on a drug-fuelled rampage after watching, it’s just a ride you enjoy watching from the sideline and that’s it.
To me, this was the performance of Leo DiCaprio’s career. He owned each and every scene, from the anger-fuelled pep talk to the lemon incident. A child trapped in a man’s body, too overwhelmed by power to know when to stop.
It seems 2014 was the year of the strong male leads. Not that there weren’t any impressive female performances this year (Rene Russo, Julianne Moore and Rosamund Pike to name a few), but there just seems to be a common thread among my top 10.
Here Jake Gylennhaal returns to Donnie Darko level creepiness… and then some. Lou Bloom sits comfortably on the same pedestal as DeNiro’s Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver) or Bale’s Patrick Bateman (American Psycho); a sociopath of the highest order who has everything to gain and nothing to lose.
Whiplash is one of the most intense films I have ever seen in my life. After the final scene I had huge sweat patches under my arms, clammy hands and I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat. What’s funny is when you explain this film isn’t a thriller or horror of any sort; it’s about a drummer in a university band.
This film is even more impressive when you consider the director, Damien Chazelle, is only 29 years of age. The actual music scenes are presented as though you’re watching a sports film, you feel like you’re right in on the action.
Similarly, the two leads are in perfect rhythm. Teller showcases natural talent on the kit (which you can’t really fake) and Simmons is genuinely frightening as the over-demanding teacher.
There’s not much more I can say apart from you must see this at a cinema. It deserves a big screen and big sound to complement such a big achievement.
Gone Girl, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Raid 2, Love Is Strange, Tangerines, Edge of Tomorrow, The LEGO Movie, Boyhood, St. Vincent, Chef, Frank, 22 Jump Street, Dallas Buyers Club, 12 Years a Slave, Listen Up Philip
The Double, In Her Skin, Let’s Be Cops
Films I (Regrettably) Missed:
What We Do In The Shadows, Two Days One Night, Birdman*, The Imitation Game*, Foxcatcher*, Inherent Vice*, The Skeleton Twins, Top Five*, American Sniper*, Locke, Obvious Child, Only Lovers Left Alive, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
* Has not yet been released in Australia
Most Anticipated of 2015:
The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ant-Man, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Hateful Eight, Spectre (James Bond 24), Jurassic World, Mr. Holmes