Over the past few weeks, our writing team has been voting for their choice of their favourite film of the year. It’s all very democratic, with everyone getting their chance to rank films from 5 to 1, with weighing applied appropriately. We have not reinvented the wheel here.
Still, over the coming week or two, we’re going to be talking about the films that made the top 20, and we’re kicking off with the ones just on the outside of the top 10. Democracy, as you are about to find out, has its drawbacks, as we’d imagine that one or two of these would be breaking into the top 10 had a few more seen the movie in question. Without further ado, though…
Steven Knight’s second film as director showed an expertise in generating tension from the barest of ingredients. Locke is a film, after all, that’s about Tom Hardy in a car, driving from the Midlands down the motorway. The drama is played out by a series of phone calls that Hardy’s title character receives, as his life as he knows it starts to unravel.
As with many thrillers, the colder you approach the film, the more you get out of it. But as well as Hardy, it’s Knight’s screenplay and directorial ability to make a motorway drive gripping that deserves plaudits.
19. Mood Indigo
After his brief flirtation with the mainstream with Green Hornet, Michel Gondry returns to France for the romantic drama Mood Indigo – and the result is one of his best films yet. Romain Duris and Audrey Tatou play central couple Colin and Chloe, who meet at a party in Gondry’s likeably surreal version of Paris. But as Chloe’s health begins to falter, the once cheerful world around the pair begins to change, too.
Beautifully shot, elegantly acted and relentlessly imaginative, Mood Indigo is like a cinematic poem: Gondry uses his hand-crafted props and set pieces to express emotions of elation and sadness. It’s a moving film and, not unlike Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, a love letter to the history of filmmaking itself.
18. Inside Llewyn Davis
One of a bunch of films that got 2013 releases in the US yet only landed in the UK in 2014, Inside Llewyn Davis is the Coens brothers in excellent form. Furthemore, it gave Oscar Isaac a breakthrough role, if not quite the level of awards attention in the end that he deserved for it.
Loosely based on the real life story of folk singer Dave Von Ronk, the movie follows the character of Llewyn Davis over the course of a week, as he holds his life together whilst pursuing his singing dream. In spite of critical acclaim, Inside Llewyn Davis still didn’t get too much of an audience. One to discover over the Christmas break, maybe?
17. The Wolf Of Wall Street
Another 2013 movie that we didn’t get to see until January in the UK. It was worth the wait, though. Martin Scorsese’s three-hour telling of the story of Wall Street boiler room trader Jordan Belfort was, at its worst, captivating filmmaking, with the movie asking the audience whose side it was on: Belfort, with his seductively lavish yet seductive lifestyle, or the FBI agents struggling to bring him to book. That debate still rages.
Still: powered by Leonardo DiCaprio’s best performance in years, The Wolf Of Wall Street is a mix of shock, laughs and fright that few movies all year got close to offering. Divisive, certainly, but at its best, outright superb filmmaking.
16. The Grand Budapest Hotel
If you’ve ever wondered what a Tintin adaptation directed by Wes Anderson might look like, The Grand Budapest Hotel may provide the answer. The closest we’ve yet seen to a pure action adventure film from Anderson, it’s a ripping yarn from start to finish. Ralph Fiennes plays the concierge of the titular hotel, a loveable rogue who’s falsely accused of murder and teams up with a newly-appointed bellboy (Tony Revolori) to find out who framed him.
Intricately plotted and as beautifully designed as you’d expect from an Anderson movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a great showcase for Fiennes; he proves equal to all the rich dialogue and physical comedy the script can throw at him, and turns in a performance that is both funny and full of pathos. Look out, too, for a magnificent supporting cast, including an almost unrecognisable Tilda Swinton as an elderly millionaire, and Willem Dafoe as a freaky, Nosferatu-like henchman.
It’s Karen Gillan versus a magic mirror in director Mike Flanagan’s atmospheric horror Oculus, adapted from his own 2006 short film. Gillan plays Kaylie, a 20-something woman who plans to exact revenge on the demonic mirror that ruined her childhood. Loaded with some highly effective scares, Oculus is at its best when it starts to mess around with the conventions of film editing. At first, the movie cuts quite logically from events in Kaylie’s childhood and those in the present. But as the mirror exerts its supernatural power, the lines between past and present become confused, as though the demon behind the glass is affecting the nature of the film itself…
14. Edge Of Tomorrow
Given that our end of the year vote is a democratic process amongst our writers, it means that some films a few of us absolutely loved didn’t gravitate as high as some of us would have liked. Doug Liman’s Edge Of Tomorrow being a case in point.
In truth, given that it had changed name and given that the trailers hardly sold it well, few of us went in to see the film expecting too much. Yet Edge Of Tomorrow, starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, has a case for being the best blockbuster of the summer. A poor last five minutes let the side down, but even so, Edge Of Tomorrow is a captivating standalone sci-fi blockbuster.
13. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Joe and Anthony Russo took on the Captain America director’s chair from Joe Johnston, and managed to deliver a strong, ambitious sequel. With tips of the hat to a range of other movies, their Captain America 2 injected politics, one or two big surprise twists, and as we wrote here, talked about surveillance and state control in there too.
The last act feels like the more traditional end of comic book movie beat ’em up, but Captain America: The Winter Soldier impressed first time, and impresses on repeated viewings too. Bring on the Civil War…
12. The Guest
A mysterious, wolf-eyed stranger walks into the lives of an ordinary American family and wreaks havoc in director Adam Wingard’s gloriously retro thriller. With a superb lead performance from Downton Abbey alumnus Dan Stevens, The Guest is like a knowing, self-aware retooling of Hitchcock’s classic Shadow Of A Doubt. The more Stevens’ title character charms and beguiles with his winning smile, the more we suspect that he is, in fact a psychopath.
Wingard previously brought us the violent horror thriller You’re Next, and The Guest comes loaded with the same sense of fun and mischief. In a year that saw the release of a surprising number of great thrillers (among them Blue Ruin and Cold In July), The Guest ranks among the very best of them.
11. Gone Girl
David Fincher can direct a thriller better than just about any filmmaker currently working, and Gone Girl provided just about everything you could want from the genre: a plot filled with twists, some shocking moments, entertaining characters and a biting sense of humour. Ben Afleck is perfectly cast as the husband caught in a media glare when his wife goes missing, but it’s Rosamund Pike, as the elusive spouse, who turns in the most mesmerising performance.
As trashy as an airport novel and guiltily addictive as a result, Gone Girl also provides an astute portrait of a modern interconnected landscape where individuals are deified or vilified by a gossip-hungry public. Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel is a rare example of a modern, decidedly adult thriller done spectacularly well.
Join us later this week, as we begin our countdown of our favourite films of 2014, from 10 to one.
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