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.
Directors: Steven Knight
Starring: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Ben Daniels
Filmmaking can be very formulaic, so it is exciting when you encounter a film that tries to do something quite different, a film that attempts something truly unique. In its brave rethinking of how to tell a story on screen, Steven Knight’s film Locke is such a film.
The evening before a major concrete pour, the biggest non-military pour Europe has ever seen, Welsh construction manager Ivan Locke gets in his car and leaves the Birmingham construction site, heading for London. He starts making phone calls. The first is to home, where his wife and two sons are waiting for him to join them for the big football game. He tells them he won’t be able to make it. The next is to his subordinate at work. He tells him that he won’t be on site tomorrow so must delegate responsibility for the pour. Where is he going? What is it which requires him to drop everything at such a pivotal moment? As Ivan’s journey continues, and calls are made and received, we come to understand the predicament he finds himself in and watch his endeavour to manage the situation.
A masterful piece of minimalist filmmaking, Locke reimagines the very nature of what is cinematic. Knight’s compelling script is a variation on a one-man play, with the entirety of the film taking place in Ivan’s car in real time as he drives to London. With no flashbacks or cutaways, the film places an incredible faith in the power of dialogue, with all of our narrative information coming through the phone calls Ivan makes and receives on his journey. Despite the seeming limitations of its format, Knight’s film is a gripping and suspenseful thriller.
There are very few actors in the world who can hold you in the palm of their hand for ninety minutes on their own, but Tom Hardy is definitely one of them. It is difficult to imagine this film working without Hardy’s performance. Having played some incredibly intense characters in his career, Hardy here delivers a wonderfully restrained and layered performance as a man trying to stay calm in a crisis. Ivan Locke is a really interesting character psychologically, as he wrestles with notions of culpability and responsibility. A meticulous man, he is determined to fix things. He is determined to control the chaotic situation in which he finds himself, and while we can see the flaws in what he is attempting to do, we also perfectly understand why it is the only thing that he, being the character that he is, can do in this situation.
This unusual film required an unusual shoot. The entire film was shot in six days. Each night, as the car was towed along the motorway, Hardy would perform the film in its entirety, from start to finish, stopping only to reload the memory cards on the three cameras mounted on and inside the vehicle. He had six autocues hidden around the vehicle, and the phone conversations were actual calls, with the rest of the cast located in a hotel by the motorway. With the whole project going from the initial idea to its debut at the Venice Film Festival in only a few months, there is an incredible energy in the production.
While the film is not perfect – there are moments in which Ivan addresses the ghost of his father, who appears in the rear view mirror in the back seat of the car, and these feel a bit forced in comparison to the rest of the film – you forgive those slight missteps because of the overall boldness of the piece. Coming in at just under ninety minutes, a perfect length, this unique, compelling piece of storytelling will have you absolutely riveted from beginning to end.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Locke? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.