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: Luc Besson
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked
It is a commonly believed myth that humans only engage 10% of their brain’s capacity. It is a favourite of science fiction speculation; just imagine what could be achieved if we could tap into that dormant 90%. The latest and most outrageous film to ponder this question is Luc Besson’s Lucy.
Lucy is an American student living in Taiwan who, thanks to her new loser boyfriend, falls in with the wrong crowd. Abducted by a Korean drug cartel, they surgically implant a pouch of their new super-drug CPH4 into her stomach for her to smuggle into America. But the pouch springs a leak, and as the synthetic drug floods into her body it starts to unlock the full potential of her mind.
While a number of films have previously toyed with the 10% idea, Lucy must be the most far-fetched exploration we have seen. As Lucy’s brain function increases, rather than becoming an ultra-high functioning human, she becomes almost godlike. She can read minds, manipulate time and space, and defy gravity. This is quite a leap to take, and the film does not offer adequate justification for what we are seeing. Usually a movie like this would engage some sort of pseudo-science (i.e. the DeLorean can travel through time because it has a ‘flux-capacitor’), but even Morgan Freeman’s character Prof. Norman, whose lecture on the potential of a fully functioning human brain is intercut with Lucy’s experiences, admits his theories are just hypotheses with no actual scientific proof supporting them.
The silliness of this premise wouldn’t be such a problem if the film didn’t take itself so seriously. Lucy seems to believe it is making profound philosophical points about the very nature of existence, but it is not. There are moments of humour in Lucy, and it is surprisingly simple humour. Were the rest of the film delivered in the same tone, embracing its silliness, it could be quite a fun movie. But because the majority of the time it takes its premise so seriously, it is hard to enjoy.
The other problem Lucy’s godlike powers create is that with every action sequence there is less at stake. The more powerful she becomes the less legitimate tension can be created by the illusion that she is in danger.
Despite all this, one cannot deny that Besson certainly had a clear vision. For all its faults, Lucy is a bold and interestingly executed film. Besson employs an almost impressionist montage style to bring his themes to the fore. When we first meet Lucy, as her boyfriend is trying to convince her to deliver a suitcase to the mysterious Mr. Jang for him, we momentarily cut away to an image of a mouse carefully approaching a sprung trap. As Lucy enters the hotel with the case, the scene is intercut with footage of a gazelle on the savannah being circled by cheetahs. This stylistic approach – far and away the most interesting thing about the film – continues throughout, being used to illustrate Prof. Norman’s theories, and results in film which feels like Tree of Life spliced with Salt.
Misrepresented in advertising so as to look like an all-out action movie with a butt-kicking heroine, this will undoubtedly help its box office takings but result in a number of miffed customers. Part science fiction, part action movie, part philosophical rumination, Lucy does not really satisfy as any of them, and for a film about unlocking the potential of the human brain, it manages to be quite dumb.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Lucy? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.