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: Wes Anderson
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saorise Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson
Wes Anderson is probably the most distinctive cinematic voice in America today. An Indie darling, he has strong sense of aesthetic design and a quirky approach to narrative and character which he has been refining for almost two decades. With The Grand Budapest Hotel,Anderson’s eighth feature, we get his take on the 1930s caper movie, and in many ways the film his entire body of work has been building towards.
The Grand Budapest Hotel presents us with a Russian doll structure, with layer upon layer of prologue leading us in to the story. Each era, each layer of untrustworthy narration, is visually represented by a different aspect ratio. We start in the present day as a girl visits a park where there stands a monument to ‘The Author.’ She opens a book called ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel.’ From there we are taken to 1985, to the study of that author, who sets about narrating to us the story of his visit to the hotel. We then venture back to 1968 when the author, as a younger man, first arrived at the once great hotel and became intrigued by its wealthy owner, Zero Moustafa. Over dinner one evening, Mr. Moustafa begins to recount to the author the story of how he came to own the hotel. Finally, we come to rest in 1932 with the story of the young Zero, a humble lobby boy, and his mentor, M. Gustave. M. Gustave was the heart and soul of the Grand Budapest Hotel. A concierge, Gustave is at the beck and call of the many wealthy dowagers who are drawn to the Grand Budapest by, among other things, the ‘services’ he offers. When one of the older and wealthier of these clients, Madame D, expires, her will is found to bequeath a priceless artwork to Gustave. Her family is outraged and Gustave finds himself accused of murdering her. What results is a good old-fashioned caper farce.
At a time when so many mainstream comedies are built around rambling improvisation, there is something really striking about the meticulously crafted nature of Anderson’s films. The Grand Budapest Hotel is very carefully structured. The dialogue and performances are precisely delivered. The framing of each and every shot has an intentionality to it. The film is alive with Anderson’s trademark bright pastel colours, in this case particularly pinks and purples. This fictional Europe Anderson has created has a sense of fantasy to it (the titular hotel is not in fact located in the Hungarian capital but rather in the fictional country of Zubrowska), with some exterior scenes employ a sort of stop-motion animation style, with a similar mechanical feel to The Fantastic Mr. Fox. All performers speak in their own accents, creating an endearing hodge-podge of dialects.
The Grand Budapest Hotel boasts a truly star-studded cast. There are recognisable names playing even the smallest of roles. The Anderson regulars like Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, take a back seat in this one, filling only very minor roles. Previous collaborators like Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum and Edward Norton are back for another go around to flesh out the cast, but at the centre of the film are four newcomers to the world of Wes; Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law and Tony Revolori. Across the board the cast is wonderful, but it is Fiennes who really shines.
Ralph Fiennes and Wes Anderson seems like a strange combination. But just as Anderson drew one of the great comedic performances out of Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums, Fiennes, despite not being known as a comedic performer, proves to be tremendous as the concierge-gigolo, M. Gustave. While still speaking and moving in accordance with Anderson’s rhythms, Fiennes brings a different presence to the film which enables the character to move beyond some of the constraints of a Wes Anderson character. M. Gustave is a more sexualised character than we are used to encountering in Anderson’s work. He also has these explosive outbursts of swearing, similarly out of character for an Anderson protagonist, but used to great comic effect when contrasted with his usual polished demeanour.
As a filmmaker, Wes Anderson is yet to make a serious misstep in his 20 year career, so expectations are always reasonably high when a new film is released. But The Grand Budapest Hotel is such a well-crafted, vibrant and fun film that it quite possibly could be his best film yet.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen The Grand Budapest Hotel? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.