The space year of 2014 has come and gone, and in a surprisingly brisk fashion. For me, the biggest surprise of the year (at least in terms of cinema) was the high watermark set be the vast majority of event movies.
New entries in the Spider-Man and X-Men series were top notch, Marvel had a stand out twelvemonth and even the latest Transformers flick was fairly watchable. Blockbusters had form in 2014, which is great for cinemagoers.
But that doesn’t mean it was a poor showing for smaller movies. The advance of digital technology, crowdfunding and more means that feature filmmaker is more accessible than ever, and audiences easier to attain even for tiny pictures.
So read on for my top picks of movies which we released in Ireland between January and December of 2014, with my main regret being that Whiplash doesn’t quite make the cut as it doesn’t release until the 16th of January 2015.
Eastern Promises writer Steven Knight follows up his Statham-starrer Hummingbird with a totally unique drama. All set inside a car on a long car journey from Wales to London, the entire story is relayed through a series of phone calls between Tom Hardy and the various people in his life.
Sounds boring but its anything but, and if your attention ever starts to wander you can just sit back and enjoy Hardy’s charmingly musical attempt to be super-Welsh. A truly unique experience, and not to be missed.
I’m far from a Spike Jonze fanatic but for whatever reason this movie hit me right in the feels. The story of a man who becomes increasingly attached to his operating system sounds like it could almost be a parody of modern technology but the relationship is handled with extreme delicacy and is sold on the merging of Joaquin Phoenix’s subtle performance with the extraordinary tones of Scarlett Johansson.
The fact that it works at all is quite something, but it also has plenty to say about not only our increasingly lonesome lives but also the nature of technology, humanity and relationships.
8. The Wolf of Wall Street
It feels like a long time ago but 2014 kicked off with a real bang in Irish cinemas thanks to the latest collaboration between Martin Scorese and Leonardo DiCaprio. The director’s most raw and vital film in years, with a basis in truth which just makes it even more incredible, the film was powered by DiCaprio’s vigourous performance which still failed to earn him an Oscar win.
At just shy of three hours it’s a film that’s as bloated as they come but that’s just part of the excess which it’s getting across on screen. Surprisingly funny and utterly insane, it’s the kind of film you hardly expect to see from a major studio. And all the better for it.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy
There are many great films on this list but without a doubt I was never more entertained than while watching James Gunn’s Guardians. It’s an utterly strange blockbuster, and a weird sidestep for the behemoth of Marvel but it’s one that managed to work because of the sheer force of charismatic good humour it creates.
Mostly that’s down to the oddly anarchic tone and some terrific performances, chiefly by new superstar Chris Pratt. He’s got the patter down perfectly, and brings it to bear on every scene. The villains may pale in comparison, but when you’ve got characters like Groot, Drax and Rocket, it really doesn’t matter. This is going to be one tough act to follow.
6. 12 Years a Slave
Another film which debuted almost a year ago, 12 Years a Slave is one of those movie experiences that’s incredibly hard to shake. It’s not just that the real story of Solomon Northrup is heart-rending, and harrowing and unmistakably true, but it’s also the fact that these events happened little more than 150 years ago, in the supposedly progressive United States.
On top of that you have what remains one of the most startling performances of the year from Chiwetel Ejiofor, who goes through an incredible range of emotions and tortures at the hands of demons like Michael Fassbender. A deserved Best Picture winner, it’s a film that demands to be endured.
5. Under the Skin
Opinion on Jonathan Glazer’s film have been remarkable mixed, with critics and audiences decrying it as vacuous and dull and glacially paced. Each person’s opinion is as valid as the next but for some reason it captivated me.
There was just something deeply upsetting about a film viewed from this perspective, from the point of view of an entity who is entirely other. Glazer and cinematographer Daniel Landin go to great lengths to make the ordinary strange in each and every scene, conjuring up some images which still haunt the recesses of my brain.
There are moments which are difficult to decipher (and watching a Q&A with Glazer he doesn’t seem eager to discuss them either) but the drift from seductive sci-fi to languid drama and strange touches of horror stayed with more than most films this year. And it’s also worth mentioning as part of the Scarlett Johansson renaissance of sci-fi for 2014.
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel
I’m ashamed to admit I never got around to reviewing this one, but it’s one of the most entertaining of the year.
Wes Anderson’s ‘thing’ has often irritated me but the combination of his rigid style with a considerably more spry and pacy story makes The Grand Budapest Hotel very special. More importantly though is that it’s a showcase for a truly brilliant performance by Ralph Fiennes, who managed to raise more laughs in me than a dozen so-called comedies.
The visuals are amazing and everyone involved is at the top of their game but the best part about the film is that it doesn’t feel anywhere near as alienating as some of Anderson’s work. This is a film which can be enjoyed by just about everyone, and perfect for families this Christmas.
3. Starred Up
In a movie year packed with releases both big and small, it’s very easy to miss pictures which get a limited release. And sometimes they’re real corkers.
That’s a good description of the latest from David Mackenzie, a talented Scottish director whose 2011 film Perfect Sense was also criminally ignored. This movie getting little air time in 2014 was Starred Up. It’s a spare and wonderfully played prison drama with a mix of drama and real-life humour which is nigh on stunning.
It’s also significant for another reason – while many people will probably discover new star Jack O’Connell during his upcoming turn in Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, he gives a towering performance here and one which truly confirms his talent as one to watch for the future.
It’s hard not to admire the audacity of a film like Boyhood, which flies in the face of conventional cinema but manages to create something authentic and accessible and totally unique.
Director Richard Linklater filmed the same set of actors for more than 10 years (for a couple of weeks every summer) to craft a film where we see a young performer (Ellar Coltrane) literally age before our eyes.
Together with Linklater alums Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, the film shows the aging process in a way we haven’t seen before, bolstered by a narrative style which has elements of Coltrane’s own life threaded into heartfelt moments chiefly between father and son.
If you’re ever been a boychild or a parent it not doubt has more resonance but there’s enough human feeling and very fine performance in Boyhood to make it worth a watch for people of any persuasion. And it’s also a patently arthouse film which manages not to feel alienating for audiences used to more high concept fare.
1. Blue Ruin
Well now, I had no idea when I stepped into a late night screening at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival in February that I would be witnessing my film of the year. But Blue Ruin is just that good.
Funded in part through Kickstarter and made for less than $400,000, it’s a film which starts in absolute silence with a heavily bearded man living the life of the homeless in a battered car. It’s a jumping off point which could have been the start of a think-piece about life or a weighty drama but the result was altogether much more intoxicating.
Partly that’s because Blue Ruin absolutely refuses to define itself. It starts out as a meditative drama, transitions to a revenge thriller, then a chase film and even dips into all-out action territory as the finale approaches. But throughout these changes it’s also constantly flitting to different sides of the dramatic divide – showing off deep and dark moments but often undercutting, or even enhancing, them with wry humour.
Lead Macon Blair manages these vacillating tones perfectly, hiding a face that’s filled with innocence behind that facial hair and a whole ocean worth of anger and violence further behind that.
Did I mention that the action is awesome and the effects the equal of any movie you could mention this year? Saulnier is a name to watch, and Blue Ruin is a movie you simply cannot miss. Available on home media and streaming now – you can even find it on Netflix!
Honourable Mentions –
Only Lovers Left Alive, Frank, X-Men Days of Future Past, Edge of Tomorrow, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Amazing Spide-Man 2, Pride, The Imitation Game, 22 Jump Street, Interstellar.
These might be my favourite films of the year but there were many others which just missed out on the top 10, and I’ve listed some of those above. As always, these are just my picks and I’d love to hear the movie moments which blew you away in 2014.