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: Peter Segal
Hollywood has a history of mashing together popular franchises in the search of blockbuster success. We’ve had AVP: Alien vs. Predator and Freddy vs. Jason. Back in the 1940s you had Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The same mindset is at play in Peter Segal’s Grudge Match, which may as well have been called ‘Rocky vs. Raging Bull.’ Of course, technically it is not a mash up as it presents new and original characters. But in casting Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro in the leads, the filmmakers have inherited the audience’s associations with the legendary pugilists they have previously portrayed. It’s an odd pairing because despite both being about boxing, the two films couldn’t be more different. Rocky is an uplifting sports movie about a likeable underdog who finally gets his shot. Raging Bull is an art-house film about a damaged man whose anger and violence destroys his life. There is a reason there are six Rocky movies and only one Raging Bull.
But this isn’t Balboa vs La Motta. It is Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp vs. Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen. Razor and The Kid enjoyed one of the great sporting rivalries in their prime. They met twice in the ring for one victory a piece, with each loss being the only defeat of that fighter’s career. But the third and deciding bout never happened because in the lead up to the anticipated fight Razor shocked the world by announcing his retirement. Thirty years go by before a down-and-out, motor-mouthed promoter manages to coax them back in the ring for the grudge match the world has been waiting to see.
Grudge Match clearly wants to trade off the legacies of Rocky and Raging Bull. So we first meet The Kid doing a rather pathetic nightclub show which is reminiscent of the final act of Raging Bull, and we have the obligatory scene in a meat locker where Razor shapes up to punch a beef carcass before being told not to. There is also a key plot point relating to Razor and the final fight which comes straight out of Rocky II. But as much as it tries to get you to think of those movies, you are also very aware that what you are watching isn’t them. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the training montage which feels eerily quiet without the brass of ‘Gonna Fly Now’ blaring over the soundtrack.
Rather than being a straight up sports movie Grudge Match is a comedy, and that doesn’t help it. The jokes aren’t good enough to make the film genuinely funny, but they are constant enough to be a distraction. Some of the jokes are also in surprisingly poor taste. While De Niro has settled into a career as a comic actor, and Kevin Hart and Alan Arkin are right at home, the comedy format doesn’t make the best use of Stallone. Sly is a better actor than many people give him credit for. He has a real ability to elicit sympathy for a character – it’s part of what made the Rocky franchise work – and in the more dramatic scenes of Grudge Match he acts rings around De Niro. But he struggles with comedy. His sense of timing and his delivery aren’t as strong as his co-stars and the material isn’t good enough to compensate for that.
All of the film’s plot complications feel unnecessarily forced and the final fight, despite being the thing the whole movie has built towards, doesn’t quite crescendo the way that it should. In the end this movie feels as tired as its two aging stars must have after going ten rounds. The most interesting part of the movie comes in the final credits where there is a short scene between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield.
Rating – ★☆
Review by Duncan McLean