SCM’s Best Films of 2014
CHOOSING the best films of 2014 was a tricky one. In a cracking year for cinema, any number of films could have made this list; many of those omitted will show up in an Honourable Mentions article still to come. In a year replete with both quality blockbusters and indie gems, it was inevitably a tough job narrowing them down to 12. For the sake of convenience, we’ll be using UK release dates. Without further ramble, here are SCM’s best films of 2014, in no particular order.
The Raid 2: Berandal – More Donnie Brasco than the original’s Dredd, The Raid 2: Berandal finds writer-director Gareth Evans, in his two-and-a-half hour examination of the Indonesian underworld, displaying almost-Kubrickian visual flair in his long takes and colour palette. Though the gangland aspects could use more development, what really sets Berandal apart is, of course, the visceral brutality of its action sequences.
Berandal is astonishingly fluid and crisp in its fight scenes, but with greater scope, moving outside of the enclosed apartment halls of the original and into nightclubs and onto motorways. It hurtles through each precisely-choreographed palm thrust and elbow swipe with a demented recklessness. Though perhaps not The Godfather: Part II to the original’s more focused brilliance, Berandal can’t be faulted for its sprawling ambition and beautiful carnage.
The Wolf of Wall Street – Scabrous, volatile and foul-mouthed to the extreme (only a documentary on ‘fuck’ has more instances of the word), Martin Scorsese’s best since Raging Bull takes capitalistic greed to its logical conclusion: Total, unfettered hedonism. Adapted from real-life Wall Street swindler Jordan Belfort’s memoir, Scorsese’s riotous three-hour monstrosity not only presents a scathing depiction of amoral 90s stockbrokers that would make Gordon Gecko upturn his nose in disgust, without soapboxing(!). It also gives us Leonardo diCaprio’s finest role.
DiCaprio is phenomenal, pouring every facet of himself into the Belfort character. Smooth-talking and charismatic, we’re repulsed by just how drawn into his rhetoric we become. Criticised for a perceived sympathetic portrayal of Belfort’s crimes, The Wolf of Wall Street is the ultimate example of how depiction does not equal endorsement.
Interstellar – Christopher Nolan has a tendency to mind-fuck the audience and nothing he’s done has managed it better than Interstellar. Its gob-smacking theories and effects are nothing short of amazing. Like a modern-day 2001, Interstellar was built to blow its viewer’s minds, and blow minds it did.
Stretching over a massive 169 minutes, Interstellar is the very definition of epic, crossing the boundaries of space and time to stretch what cinema can do (and what the human brain can handle). Even when all logic and reason is thrown out of the window (about 2/3 of the way through the film), it still continues to amaze. Interstellar is Nolan at his brain-melting best.
The Babadook – Horror films have long been one of the more maligned genres; plagued by suggestions of laziness, unoriginality and even moral bankruptcy, it’s lost a certain amount of respect, if it ever really had it. So, when The Babadook came around and the reviews were as good as they were, it was obvious it would be worth checking out. A superb debut by director Jennifer Kent, with a fantastic central performance by Essie Davis as the mother struggling with a difficult son, a dead husband and certain supernatural goings on, this is true bible-black horror.
It’s difficult to really describe the film as its true effect is going into it completely unknowing. Perhaps it’s possible to say that when you actually the see The Babadook, it is never as terrifying as what your mind creates, but that’s only a small quibble for what is a truly unnerving experience and a great example of how to do a modern horror film.
The Wind Rises – Whenever I enter a discussion regarding The Wind Rises, I instantly remember the 2014 Oscar winners and how The Wind Rises lost to Frozen, proving once and for all that the Oscars only exist as a circle jerk to the American cinema industry. It’s not that I hate Frozen but what did it offer to the collective film community? Female empowerment and the importance of family? Well Brave already did that and much better.
Perhaps it’s just that I’m biased, but The Wind Rises was a beautifully animated masterpiece that showcased the heart and soul of the world’s most renowned and loved animator, Hayao Miyazaki. His final piece, with which he leaves the industry he so dearly loves, hinges on the story of a real-life person as he enters the moral dilemma between doing what he loves and making weaponry for a bloody war. Oh, but Frozen had a singing snowman so I suppose that’s fair.
Guardians of the Galaxy – What do you get when you cross a failed comic book series, the writer of Scooby-Doo and Vin Diesel playing a tree? Only the finest superhero movie of the year. Guardians of the Galaxy was a surprising hit both commercially and critically.
The storyline was absorbing, the characters were loveable, the soundtrack was pitch perfect; it simply could not put a foot wrong. The film wormed its way into the hearts of many a Marvel fan and firmly fixed itself there. Guardians of the Galaxy opened up a new world to the MCU in one of Marvel studio’s best films yet.
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Taking inspiration from the pages of Steffan Zweig, Wes Anderson’s latest oodles with charm, right down to the little cartoon Hussar folk-dancing in the final minute of the credits. It feels like a Technicolor relic of a bygone era, lavishly restored to modernity.
Armed with a cavalcade of wonderful cameos, sumptuous visuals, gorgeous sets, and a remarkably funny central performance from Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel is an off-kilter delight from start to finish. Just another day at the office for Anderson at this point, but no less brilliant for it.
Gone Girl – With a glacial pace and sense of hollow detachment, David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s potboiler seems, on paper, a mismatch made in hell. Au contraire. It ends up an electrifying thriller; even as the central plot derails into absurdity, this two-and-a-half hour feat had its audiences on the proverbial (and even literal) edge of their seats.
Steely blues and greys dominate in white-picket Missouri suburbia; sunshine seems joyless, and rarely have two characters felt so lacking in warmth than career-best performances from Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. An arctic examination of marriage and media manipulation, Gone Girl is a thriller that takes its time for all the right reasons.
Frank – One part Spinal Tap, one part Flight of the Conchords, one part latter-day Beatles, Frank is hilarious, poignant, devastating and inspiring, often all within a single minute. Michael Fassbender as the titular man with the papier-mâché head is a perfect, wounded vessel, encapsulating themes as wide-ranging as social media’s intrusiveness, mental illness and the nature of creativity.
Seen through the capable eyes of Domhnall Gleeson and a cracking supporting cast headed by Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scoot McNairy, Frank is a truly unique vision from director Lenny Abrahamson. It’s a fantastic collaboration from both sides of the pond, and it’s even got a mostly-diegetic, Electric Wizard-esque soundtrack. What’s not to love?
Only Lovers Left Alive – It became abundantly clear that vampires had lost their mystique at the creation of the ‘…still a better love story than Twilight’ meme. This is not the film to restore that bite. This isn’t a horror – it’s barely a comedy – but it’s definitely a Jim Jarmusch film, with its focused palette, cooler-than-thou music choices and languid, drifting pace. What the film does is present a film about vampires that is, indeed, a better love story than Twilight.
Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton play the subtly named Adam and Eve, a pair of vampires (though they never call themselves that name) who split their time between Detroit and Tangiers. With some great supporting roles for Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Jeffrey Wright and Anton Yelchin, this is a modest, wry, gallows comedy with confident, cool direction by Jarmusch. It threatens to become generic in the middle when it introduces a plot, but it quickly recovers and moves back to focusing on Swinton and Hiddleston who form a fantastic, hypnotic nothing. Bloody, beautiful and seductive, this is vampire filmmaking at its best.
Jodorowsky’s Dune – Buoyed on the insane charisma of its central subject, filmmaker and bug-eyed mystic Alejandro Jodorowsky, Frank Pavich’s endearing documentary captures the frenzy of a creative spirit at its most manic. Chronicling his aborted production of Dune – widely regarded as the maddest film-that-never-was – Jodorowsky’s Dune is a beautiful tribute to a visionary deprived of his – deeply impossible – vision.
Though Pavich perhaps spins the narrative a little too much in the line of “this could have happened” for plausibility, the tangible results are a joy regardless. Jodorowsky himself is one of the most engaging artists alive; wild with enthusiasm and mercurial in his approach, he charms us all into truly believing the possible world-changing importance of his Dune. Either way, even though his “prophet” never surfaced, Jodorowsky’s Dune is a marvellous testament to the genius behind the failure.
So there’s the best films of 2014, as chosen by SCM. Feel free to send in your suggestions; we obviously haven’t seen every single film released in 2014, so be sure to tell us how horribly wrong we are. The Honourable Mentions of 2014 list will be coming soon, which will include the ones we’ve left off from this list. Here’s to an even better 2015.