1. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
Wes Anderson has for two decades now been the most distinctive cinematic voice in America, and this 1930s-style caper film is the most complete realisation yet of his aesthetic. Anderson first-timer Ralph Fiennes is not known for comedy, but he is tremendous here in leading an all-star cast. In a time when so many comedies are built around rambling improvisation it, there is something really striking about the meticulously crafted nature of The Grand Budapest Hotel. With a Russian Doll structure, the film is beautifully designed and precisely shot. A real treasure.
2. Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)
Irish director John Michael McDonagh managed to one-up his brilliant debut feature, The Guard, with this poignant, powerful and yet still very funny film about a rural Irish priest who receives a death threat in the confessional. What starts as a black comedy transitions into a quite profound modern passion play, with Brendan Gleeson delivering what is for mine the year’s best performance as Father James Lavelle, a good man who must bear the sins of the institution that he represents, an institutation that has failed both the wider community and himself.
3. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
Where so often movies about music focus on passion, soul, creativity and love for the art, Damien Chazelle’s debut feature chooses to explore the determination, single-minded obsession and dangerous perfectionism that goes into the pursuit of greatness. This emotionally and psychologically brutal film features a powerful and controversial depiction of the student mentor relationship as a determined young drummer is brought to the brink by a borderline psychotic conductor. JK Simmons is surely a short price favourite to walk away with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar early next year.
4. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
There has never been a film quite like Boyhood. Writer-director Richard Linklater shot the film over a twelve year period, following the same boy (Ellar Coltrane) as he grew from a six year old into a young adult. Incredibly ambitious and effectively executed, the film manages to not only explore the evolving family dynamic as this family grows up together, but also to navigate the cultural and political changes the world experienced over the twelve years of production. Managing to be at the same time epic in scope and incredibly intimate, Boyhood is a truly unique cinematic experience.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn)
How hot are Marvel Studios right now? In what looked like a questionable step following the success of The Avengers, they announced they would be bringing a minor comic book about a motley crew of space adventurers that includes, among others, a talking raccoon and a walking tree, and they have turned it into the most exciting, fun and fresh blockbuster in decades. Rather than repeating the formula of The Avengers, James Gunn has gave Guardians of the Galaxy a completely different style and tone. This 1980s style sci-fi adventure is Marvel’s funniest film and has made a legitimate movie star out of Christ Pratt.
While it lacked the mainstream potential of True Grit and No Country for Old Men, Inside Llewyn Davis saw the Coen brothers in top form. This character study of a neurotic, arrogant but undeniably talented folk musician offered significant insight into the mind of an artist while poking gentle fun at the earnestness of the Greenwich Village folk music scene. Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography is stunning, with its muted colour palate of greys, greens and browns making the film feel almost black-and-white. The soundtrack, arranged by T-Bone Burnett is outstanding.
7. Locke (Steven Knight)
One man in a car making phone calls. Who’d have thought that could be the basis of the year’s best thriller? Steven Knight’s variation on the one-man play breaks with formula and bravely rethinks how to tell a story on screen. Carried by a compelling performance from Tom Hardy – one of the few actors in the world who can carry a film on their own for ninety minutes – this minimalist piece of filmmaking reimagines the very nature of what is cinematic.
8) Chef (John Favreau)
Jon Favreau got back to his indie roots in 2014 with his passion project Chef, the food porn film of the year. With its simple story, Chef is a completely endearing celebration of food, cooking, creativity, passion and family, with many critics seeing more than a hint of autobiography in chef Casper’s quest to rediscover his creative spark. Vibrant and alive with the Cuban inspired flavours of the food and the music, Chef is a joyous film and not to be seen on an empty stomach.
9) What We Do in the Shadows (Jermaine Clement & Taika Waititi)
With What We Do in the Shadows Kiwi duo Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement take a subject matter, vampires, with which popular culture is teetering on the edge of overload, and a form, the mockumentary, that is every bit as tired and combine them to create a vibrant, original and downright funny movie. Juxtaposing the extraordinary with the mundane, the film follows a trio of vampire flatmates living in Wellington. The New Zealand sense of humour brings a slightly different sensibility to the film than we’d get from an American or British equivalent.
This year saw two films in which Scarlett Johansson got a bit cerebral. While Lucy was among the year’s worst films, Under the Skin was among its best. This odd film sees Johansson driving around Glasgow and the Scottish highlands, picking up men and then… well it’s best not to give away too much. A most peculiar and entrancing film, when you get to the end of Under the Skin you won’t quite know what you’ve seen but you’ll know you’ve seen something.
The Next Best (alphabetical): The Dark Horse (James Napier Robertson), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves), Frozen (Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee), The Lego Movie (Phil Lord & Christopher Miller), Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy), The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)
The Worst Movie of the Year:
I, Frankenstein (Stuart Beattie)
200 years after being brought to life, Frankenstein’s monster finds himself in the middle of an ongoing war between demons and gargoyles for… You know what? It’s not worth going on. This diabolical film which recasts Frankenstein’s monster as an action hero is utter nonsense and would have Mary Shelley rolling in her grave.
by Duncan McLean
What were your best and worst films of the year? Post in the comments section and let us know.
Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Jon Favreau, Emjay Anthony, John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, Bobby Cannavale, Scarlett Johansson, Oliver Platt, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downey Jr.
Jon Favreau started his career as an indie sensation with Swingers and Made, but the overwhelming success of Iron Man in 2008 drew him into the world of the blockbuster. With Chef the talented writer/director/actor returns to his independent roots.
Favreau plays Carl Casper, a highly regarded but burned out Los Angeles chef. His career took off ten years earlier as a result of a glowing review from influential food critic Ramsey Michel, but since then he has fallen into a bit of a rut. The news that Ramsey is going to return to his restaurant for the first time since that original review inspires Casper to plan an exciting new menu especially for the critic. But the restaurant’s owner steps in, insisting that the chef cook the existing menu, that he play the hits. The result is a scathing review which starts a Twitter war between chef and critic, ending in Casper losing his job. On a trip to Miami to clear his head with his ex-wife, Inez, and son, Percy, Casper buys and refurbishes an old taco truck. With his son and sous chef, Martin, by his side he drives and cooks his way back to Los Angeles, via New Orleans and Austin.
It is hard not to read this film as at some level allegorical. Is this really the story of a successful movie director who longs to make films that inspire him and that he is proud of, but is convinced by the studios that pay the bills to stick to the tried and tested and give the people what they want, only to then be slammed by the critics for being tired and unoriginal? Whether Favreau intends for Chef to be read as somewhat autobiographical or not, one thing is for sure, his heart and soul are completely in this film.
Chef has the feel of a passion project. This is a film that was made because Favreau wanted to make it, needed to make it, not because any studio was demanding it. Clearly there have been some favours called in, with previous collaborators like Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson appearing in smaller roles and giving the film some weight by association. But that passion pays off. Chef is so vibrant and alive. The food, the flavours, and the Cuban inspired soundtrack all combine with Favreau’s passion to create a film with a real sense of joy.
A word of warning: Chef is not a film to see on an empty stomach. Favreau has clearly not only learned to cook food (he was tutored by Chef Roy Choi), he has also learned how to shoot food. The food in Chef looks amazing. There is even a scene where Casper makes a grilled cheese sandwich for Percy which is somehow made to look like the most delicious thing in the world.
Yet while Chef works as pure food porn, the film has enough heart to ensure that it is more than just that. As well as being a celebration of food and cooking, Chef is about the reconnection of a father and a son. There is a great chemistry between Favreau and Emjay Anthony, the young actor who plays his son. As writer, director and performer, Favreau clearly has a great affection for this character and delivers the best performance of his career, and the ten-year-old Anthony gives an impressively natural performance, particularly in the scenes with Favreau and Leguizamo which would appear to be quite improvised.
Once the truck has been collected Chef becomes a meandering road trip, a film about taking the time to engage with your family, your friends, and your passions. A deceptively simple story, the film finishes quite abruptly, but that is not surprising because there is very little that needs resolving. Chef is an endearing celebration of food, cooking, creativity, passion and family which you can’t help but embrace.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Chef? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.