The 10 Best Films of 2014

2014 has sailed past us and long since disappeared off in to the distance, meaning that all that is left for us to do is to examine what it left […]

2014 has sailed past us and long since disappeared off in to the distance, meaning that all that is left for us to do is to examine what it left behind on the way. Luckily, there are many gems to be found amidst the sludge of the movie juggernaut, and what awaits you is a list of my ten favourites. Remember that films qualify via their UK release dates, meaning that films that will have been considered at last year’s awards season are eligible while some films that are going to be considered this year are not. Feel free to join me as we delve in to the depths of 2014’s best work on the big screen:

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10. ‘The Imitation Game’

Morten Tyldum’s respectful yet captivating examination of Alan Turing’s time at Bletchley Park manages to be funny, thrilling, triumphant and tragic and is bolstered by a fantastic performance by Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role. He encapsulates Turing, from his mannerisms to his posture and without a performance as accomplished as his it’s easy to see the film floundering and reverting to stereotypes that are difficult to avoid. Indeed, one character in particular that could easily have fallen in to that trap was Keira Knightley’s Joan, but she also acts herself out of that hole and turns her in to a believable and interesting person. Sure, the film sometimes takes a few too many liberties attempting to elicit an emotional reaction but its resounding success lies in its characters, their interactions and the way they deal with the obstacles laid before them, and it manages to do it all with a good dollop of humour too.

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9. ‘Nightcrawler’

‘Nightcrawler’ is the sort of film that surprises you with how good it is. It didn’t garner much publicity on this side of the pond so it was something of an unknown quantity going in and despite good reviews emanating over from America, it was hard to know what to expect. What we got was a tense, intelligent and captivating thriller featuring a stunning performance from Jake Gyllenhaal at his sinister, slimy best. Shot beautifully by director Dan Gilroy, it’s a film that glows with the light of the Los Angeles night, but has a distinctly dark underbelly, piling in moments of black humour in with the tension and the relentless machinations of Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom. The success of ‘Nightcrawler’ comes not only in these things, which are highly commendable and good enough in themselves, but in its examination of the role of the media in bringing us news of violent incidents such as crashes and murders which is thoughtfully handled and very interesting to follow. A quiet triumph.

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8. ‘The Past’

Asghar Farhadi stepped in to the international limelight with 2012’s ‘A Separation’, a film that won the Academy Award for best film in a foreign language, and his follow up is just as good. Switching languages from Persian to French, Farhadi continues to examine family life in a way that is insightful, realistic and always gripping, knowing just what he wants from his actors and ensuring not one of the lines he gives them is a dud. Bérénice Bejo puts in a stunning, understated performance as Marie, winning the award for Best Actress in Cannes to go with her Academy Award nomination for ‘The Artist’ a few years ago. She is ably supported by Ali Mosaffa and Pauline Burlet, both of whom match her intensity and deliver every line impeccably, making every tense situation and veiled insult all the more powerful. It’ll be interesting to see what Farhadi does next after two hugely successful films and some of the best scripts around. If he can keep it up he’ll certainly be a name to remember.

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7. ‘Interstellar’

Having achieved great success with his previous science fiction film in ‘Inception’, Christopher Nolan’s return to the genre ups the ante in terms of scale and scope, and has resulted in his most ambitious feature yet. While ‘Interstellar’ is by no means a perfect film and has sections that could do with revising or even being completely cut, what it achieves is true spectacle as the power of the big screen is there for all to see. It features a great leading performance from Matthew McConaughey and a particularly brilliant turn by the young Mackenzie Foy who contributes hugely to the film’s most emotional moments and also its integrity in a role that could easily have been miscast and gone down a less successful road. Ultimately, it’s a film that revels in its cinematic presence and weaves a narrative of both emotional and moral complexity while also managing to stick by its science, as provided by theoretical physicist and consultant Kip Thorne, in a way that intrigues and astounds, even if it does perhaps take it a little too far. Nevertheless, it’s a success, and definitely one to catch at the cinema if any near you do a special screening.

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6. ’12 Years A Slave’

Going back all the way to the start of the year and a film that did incredibly well over awards season in Steve McQueen’s powerful ’12 Years A Slave’. A brutal adaptation of Solomon Northup’s harrowing memoir, it captured the hearts and minds of audiences and critics alike with its heartbreaking and harrowing story and the unrelenting way it was shot. It also features career defining performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor and débutante Lupita Nyongo’o whose performance is truly astonishing as Patsey, a slave girl belonging to the incredibly vicious Edwin Epps, as played by a fantastic Michael Fassbender, who truly shows us his dark side in a consistently frightening performance. McQueen ensures the film is as intense and difficult as it needs to be considering its subject matter, and is definitely helped by fantastic camerawork from cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, whose wonderful work and breathtaking capturing of the scenery serves as a stark juxtaposition from the events of the film. Powerful and affecting, it’s easy to see why it did so well in last year’s awards season, and definitely deserves a spot on this list.

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5. ‘Locke’

‘Locke’ is a special film. Not just because of its ingenious and innovative narrative, but because of its ability to keep you gripped to the screen when all you have to look at is the interior of a car and Tom Hardy’s bearded face. Indeed, the fact that writer-director Steven Knight has managed to make something that’s so intense and captivating in such a confined space is a definite victory for minimalist film-making and could never have been successful without astute direction, a flawless script and exceptional acting, all of which is provided in ample amounts. Voice performances from the likes of Ruth Wilson, Olivia Colman and Andrew Scott are also great, and throughout the course of the film’s 84 minute runtime it gradually hypnotises you as you follow every second of what is most likely to be the most horrible day of the main character’s life, enraptured as everything crashes down around his ears. The film, however, also does that very human thing of offering hope in even the darkest of places, and its ambiguous ending leaves the trajectory of the story up to the viewer, providing us with an experience that refuses to let go from the beginning to the end.

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4. ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’

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The Coen brothers have already been recognised as masters of cinema, with their work spanning a few genres and garnering acclaim, and their latest effort is no different. ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ is a melancholic look at the life of a struggling musician who is most definitely not very easy to like, but is still an interesting character to follow and one that you start to feel for as the story progresses. Portrayed wonderfully by Oscar Isaac, who in my mind was snubbed by the Academy Awards last year, the titular Llewyn Davis goes on a journey that in most movies would end in untold riches, but for Llewyn ends very differently. Sporting a soundtrack that was one of the best of last year and a genuine love for folk music, the film is an emotional and darkly comic treat, heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time.

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3. ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’

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In the current climate of vampires who revel in romance and sparkly sullenness rather than their once considerable scare value, it’s nice that someone like Jim Jarmusch is around to show us the other side of that trend. Very much the antithesis of the ‘Twilight’ series, ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ is the tale of the enduring love of two vampires and their everyday lives, brought to life so well by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton. Hiddleston’s Adam is dryly humorous and suicidal, while Swinton’s Eve is much more accepting of their fate, no matter how mundane their lives have become. Indeed, the tale of their endurance in the modern world is far more interesting than any showdown between vampires and wolves, and it sports a soundtrack that is easily the best of last year. Gothic in the extreme and indicative of the atmosphere of the film, composer Jozef van Wissem’s collaboration with Jim Jarmusch’s band SQÜRL is haunting and heavy, full of pounding drumbeats and guitar feedback that washes over you like a tidal wave. This is definitely the best vampire movie of recent times, by a long stretch.

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2. ‘The Double’

Richard Ayoade’s return to the big screen after his début success with ‘Submarine’ was a moment I was looking forward to, and not without reason. His retelling of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s source text is equal parts bleak and humorous and epitomises how a black comedy should be done. It features a fantastic central performance from Jesse Eisenberg who plays both Simon James and James Simon and could not have been asked to play two roles more suited to him. Nevertheless, he excels at being shy and perpetually downtrodden on the one hand and charming and quick-witted on the other, making for some wonderful scenes where the two interact. Mia Wasikowska makes a great foil for both characters and all of it is bolstered by the ambient, dark style that Ayoade maintains, his cinematographer Erik Wilson making every shot look impeccably sinister. It’s Gilliamesque in the best possible way, and another reminder that Ayoade’s many talents definitely do stretch to film-making.

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1. ‘Boyhood’

For the second time in a row Richard Linklater nabs the top spot (last year’s title was taken by ‘Before Midnight’) having outdone himself once again with a film that is truly excellent. ‘Boyhood’ is one of the most ambitious projects ever to have hit cinema screens, and it takes a director like Linklater to be able to pull it off. Twelve years in the making and charting the life of a fictional character using actors that age along with the film, what Linklater has created here is a film that examines what it means to grow up and the challenges therein, exploring things that appear normal and finding the emotional value within them to express just how important they are. The performances in it are universally brilliant, from débutant actor Ellar Coltrane through to Ethan Hawke, who always brings out his A game when working with Linklater (it would be nice if we saw it all the time) and Patricia Arquette, who is stunning as the main character’s mother and deserves a lot of recognition over this year’s awards period.

There really hasn’t been anything like this film in the history of cinema, both for the scope of its ambition and the sheer tenacity required to film a movie over the course of twelve years. The level of emotional connection, together with the impeccable quality of the script and the amount of pivotal moments in a young person’s life that Linklater manages to capture makes this film a fine follow-up to the ‘Before’ trilogy, showing once again that Linklater is one of the greatest directors of our time, and a master of capturing what makes us human.

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Sep Gohardani

About Sep Gohardani

Sep is an avid film and music enthusiast who takes any opportunity to verbalise his often snobbish opinions to any unlucky soul who is near him. He was editor-in-chief of independent student newspaper The Student Review from 2013-14 and is an ardent writer of reviews and feature pieces.