My Favourite Films Of 2014

Well, certainly the best films that I’ve actually seen in 2014, anyway. As with any list like this there are some parameters and disclaimers that need to be mentioned. First of all due to international release dates I saw American Hustle, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, Her, 12 Years A Slave and The Wolf Of Wall Street in January and February this year, but I have not included them in this list as I’ve tried to limit it to films that have been widely-released in cinemas in 2014 (i.e. leaving out the films our American friends watched way back in the year of 2013). Still, there’s no hard-and-fast logic to it all – Snowpiercer is included here despite the fact it still hasn’t been properly released in the UK (I…er…stumbled across a copy online, your honour), while some of the other films in this top 20 made their debuts in festivals around the world in 2013.

There are also several glaring omissions that will no doubt be appearing on other people’s lists. Certain movies that have been widely-praised already by those that have seen them, such as Birdman, Whiplash, American Sniper, The Theory Of EverythingFoxcatcher, A Most Violent YearSelma and Inherent Vice have not yet been released over here at the time of writing, and are therefore not included. Lastly, there are many, many movies that I just haven’t got round to seeing that I expect I will enjoy or find very interesting based on the reviews I’ve read elsewhere; that means The Lego Movie, Locke, The Babadook, Pride, TracksAdieu Au Langage, Leviathan, JaujaTwo Days, One NightFinding Vivien Maier, Starred Up, Horse Money, KajakiThe Look Of SilenceFruitvale Station (a 2014 UK release) and plenty more besides aren’t listed here. In some cases they just haven’t been shown at a cinema near me, but I hope to watch all of them at some undetermined point in the future. So that should tell you all you need to know; I’m not for one minute suggesting that this is a definitive list of the best films in 2014, but it is simply a list of my favourites out of the ones that I’ve seen. And if anyone suggests to you that it has been a crap year for film feel free to send them here.

OK…without further ado…

20. Edge Of Tomorrow

Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt star in this Groundhog Day-ish sci-fi / videogame-style futuristic nightmare, directed by Doug Liman, that also looked to the Normandy landings of Saving Private Ryan and the alien-paggering mayhem of Starship Troopers for inspiration. Edge Of Tomorrow arrived with less fuss than most of the year’s blockbusters, didn’t take itself too seriously, and this fun action film showed Cruise still knows how to pick a sci-fi script. (Read full review.)

19. Gone Girl

David Fincher’s icy portrait of a marriage gone horribly wrong was overrated in my opinion, but there was still much to admire; the main twist was well-executed, the lead performances by Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike were decent, and the sudden explosion of violence in the third act was quite something. A clever, multi-layered thriller and media satire, but not one of Fincher’s best. (Read full review.)

18. Guardians Of The Galaxy

Another overrated load of old nonsense, arguably, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Guardians Of The Peace Galaxy nonetheless. It was hailed by many on its release as a breath of fresh air, and while in reality it adopted many of the usual Marvel / comic book conventions, it did contain some genuine laugh-out-loud moments and was very well cast. I steered clear of Marvel’s output this year, by and large, but this was a fun summer film and it was successful in establishing a wide range of little-known characters for the future. Apparently that’s a good thing. (Read full review.)

17. Snowpiercer

Bong Joon-ho’s frenetic Snowpiercer has had such a fragmented release schedule – the result of the director pissing off the dastardly Harvey Scissorhands over at Miramax – it’s hard to know whether it should be included in a top 20 from last year, this year or next year. This dystopian sci-fi action film is set almost entirely on board a train that circumnavigates Earth at high speed, and though its setting becomes less and less credible as the story reaches a climax, it still makes for an excellent dark, claustrophobic setting. Chris Evans is enjoyable as the frowning hero battling his way from one carriage to the next, but Tilda Swinton steals the show with a performance that can only be described as bonkers. (Read full review.)

16. 20,000 Days On Earth
20,000 Days On Earth

This quasi-documentary about the singer-songwriter Nick Cave gives a fascinating glimpse into the artistic process – or rather his artistic process – with a mix of genuine and scripted footage as well as in-car conversations with collaborators as diverse as Ray Winstone and Kylie Minogue. It may be a little self-indulgent at times but, like Cave, it’s always interesting, and worth watching for the Nina Simone anecdote alone. (Read full review.)

15. What We Do In The Shadows

In my opinion it has been a lean time of late in terms of comedies, but this New Zealand film packed in a bunch of laughs as it lampooned the vampire legend, with the team behind Flight Of The Conchords mocking or referencing everything from Nosferatu to Twilight along the way. Genuinely witty, with a warm heart, even if the ‘fake documentary’ shtick is old hat. Destined to become a cult classic. (Read full review.)

14. ’71
'71 film still

Yann Demange’s tense, taut tale of a young British soldier caught behind enemy lines in Belfast during the course of a night in 1971 included some nail-biting sequences, a moody soundtrack from David Holmes, and a very good turn by rising star Jack O’Connell. This underrated thriller does not seek to give an overview of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, but it does offer a carefully-neutral view on the city at that time, and the IRA, the British Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary all appear to be beset by internal problems.  Good support from Sean Harris. (Read full review.)

13. Ida

Paweł Pawlikowski’s Ida is a slow-burning and often beautiful film, controversially examining the role of Poland’s own citizens with regard to the Holocaust. It’s also a film about two related women born into entirely different ages: one who looks to the future in a world where the west is gradually beginning to exert an influence, the other jaded after many years as a prosecutor in the country’s Stalinist regime. A satisfying, rich study. (Read full review.)

12. Frank

Few would have predicted that northern comedian and performance artist Frank Sidebottom would be the inspiration for one of the best films of the year, and fewer still would have predicted that Michael Fassbender would play an American character based on Sidebottom, but that actually happened. Frank was one of the year’s quirky treasures, and a savvy rumination on fame, outsider music and artistic integrity that also featured decent turns from Maggie Gyllenhaal and Domnhall Gleeson. A bittersweet pill maybe, but easy enough to swallow. (Read full review.)

11. Fury 

Brad Pitt played the leader of a tired, battered and bruised tank crew in David Ayer’s hard-hitting World War II film, but this was a meatier affair than many had expected, despite the fact that Pitt’s hair rarely looked shabby. Fury painted a grim picture of the conflict and the inner turmoil experienced by its participants on both sides, all muddy roads and bombed-out towns, and it was an engrossing experience with realistic-looking battle sequences that kept the viewer on the edge of their seat. (Read full review.)

10. The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Grand Budapest Hotel - 64th Berlin Film FestivalThis pink and purple-hued latest effort from Wes Anderson delighted his legion of fans and probably won him a fair few new ones as well. At times it was as sweet as a box of chocolates, but there was a darker edge to this hotel-based caper, which was set against a backdrop of the rise of fascism in Europe. Ralph Fiennes excelled as the hotel’s ebullient concierge Gustave H, while newcomer Tony Revolori provided plenty of deadpan laughs as the young lobby boy helping to clear his superior’s name after he is accused of murder. A host of famous faces camped it up in support. (Read full review.)

9. Vi är Bäst! (We Are The Best!)

2014 saw a return to lighter material for Lukas Moodyson, who made this energetic and hugely enjoyable film about a spirited trio of Stockholm punks, set in the early 1980s. We Are The Best! championed the outsider spirit in a different way to Frank, but it was just as funny and even more heartfelt, and Moodyson’s film never feels condescending to teenage girls (though I guess that’s actually pretty condescening of me to assume so, given that I’m a 39-year-old man). Spiky and effervescent, the three lead performances were magnificent. (Read full review.)

8. Calvary

More a ‘whosgonnadoit’ than a ‘whodunnit’, Calvary features a very strong performance by Brendan Gleeson – arguably a career best to date – as a threatened priest trying to fulfill his duties to the local community and his convalescing, suicidal daughter, all while operating under the knowledge that someone will soon be making an attempt on his life. John Michael McDonagh’s intelligent script ruminated on forgiveness and the role of the Catholic Church in 21st Century Ireland, but it also incorporated plenty of comic moments that made fine use of supporting actors like Chris O’Dowd and Dylan Moran. (Read full review.)

7. Blue Ruin

Jeremy Saulnier’s Kickstarter-funded thriller may have been a straightforward tale of revenge and escalating violence, but that doesn’t make it any less well-made than some of the more attention-grabbing films on this list. A tense, broody affair with occasional explosions of violence, little wonder it drew comparisons with the work of the Coen Brothers; Blue Ruin was one of the indie highlights of 2014 and it will be interesting to see what Saulnier, and lead actor Macon Blair, do next. (Read full review.)

6. Only Lovers Left AliveTilda-Swinton-in-Only-Lovers-Left-Alive

The second film in this list featuring Tilda Swinton and John Hurt (the other being Snowpiercer), and also the second modern take on the vampire legend (the other being What We Do In The Shadows), Only Lovers Left Alive was Jim Jarmusch’s latest quirky genre experiment, and it was a typically idiosyncratic affair, revolving around two vampire lovers, played by Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, living apart in Tangier and Detroit respectively. A great mood piece, filled with a certain woozy, narcotic, late-night ambience. (Read full review.)

5. Under The Skin

Arguably 2014’s weirdest ‘mainstream’ film, Under The Skin was Jonathan Glazer’s triumphantly unsettling return after a decade-long hiatus. It featured Scarlett Johansson as an alien entity who assumes human form before preying on the young men of Glasgow (some of whom, famously, are non-professional actors who must have thought all their Christmases had come at once), as well as a dissonant, experimental soundtrack by Micah Levi that added to the film’s otherworldly vibe. Glazer’s movie asked plenty of questions and left out most of the exposition, treating its audience as intelligent individuals that didn’t need spoon-fed plot explanations every five minutes. The year’s best sci-fi movie by a country mile, and perhaps the most visually arresting. (Read full review.)

4. Nymphomaniac (Parts I and II)

Understandably, Lars von Trier’s 241-minute, sexually-graphic, two-part study of a nymphomaniac woman named Joe between the ages of 16 and 50 isn’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea, and this was certainly heavy going at times, but you can only admire such a great example of a filmmaker’s desire to break taboos and push the boundaries of cinema. Von Trier was aided in his quest by some brave actors: Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stacy Martin were both excellent playing Joe at different ages, while Shia LaBeouf was also impressive, if you’re willing to overlook the fact his oily character spoke with an accent that veered from Australian to English to South African to American … sometimes in the space of a sentence. Joking aside, this pair of powerful films felt like a milestone work, damning just about every subject it addressed, and there were great supporting turns by a host of famous faces (the standouts being Stellan Skarsgård and Jamie Bell). Well worth the effort. (Read full review.)

3. Mr Turner
Mr-Turner-3Mike Leigh’s biopic of JMW Turner, arguably Britain’s greatest living artist (if you ignore the past decade’s output by Jason Statham, of course), was a stately affair flecked with all the grit, grime and illness you’d expect of 19th Century London. Timothy Spall excelled in the lead role, picking up the Best Actor award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and it’s entirely possible that Oscar glory may follow. Cinematographer Dick Pope, who manages to recreate Turner’s pastel-heavy palette in the film’s many stunning scenic shots, may also be in with a shout. And don’t forget the fact that the Academy – quite rightly on this evidence – loves Mike Leigh. (Read full review.)

2. Nightcrawler
nightcrawler-movie-wallpaper-5A satire on the ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ mentality of TV news channels and reporting, Nightcrawler featured magnificent photography from Paul Thomas Anderson’s regular DoP Robert Elswit and a career-best turn by Jake Gyllenhaal as sociopathic freelance cameraman Lou Bloom, who cruises the streets of LA at night looking for accidents and crime scenes. Bloom is a modern day Travis Bickle, and Dan Gilroy’s film occasionally recalls Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece Taxi Driver, though this is a very modern, glossy affair and deserves to be judged in its own right. A terrific film with a memorably unhinged character driving it forward, Nightcrawler is brilliant. (Read full review.)

1. Boyhood
I went to see Boyhood at the cinema twice, and enjoyed it just as much the second time round as I did at first; the 2 and 3/4 hour running time seemed to fly by on both occasions. Richard Linklater’s epic study of a young boy and his family was famously shot over a period of 12 years, and yet it flows together so seamlessly the finished work is a testament to the skill of the director and his cast and crew, who would reconvene in Texas each year for a couple of weeks’ work. Ellar Coltrane is very good as Mason, the boy who grows from 6 to 18, while Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are superb as the divorced parents going through their own mid-life crises. Sincere, honest, warm, sad, funny, inspiring, melancholic and touching, Boyhood is a must-see, and my favourite film of 2014.  (Read full first review / Read full second review.)

So…that’s all from me this year, thanks for reading during 2014 ,and I hope you’ve enjoyed these releases as much as I have. I’ll be back in 2015 with more reviews and general film-related nonsense. All that remains is for me to ask … what are your favourite films of 2014?

Comments 30

  1. Nostra December 28, 2014

    Impressive list. Great thing about these end of year lists is that there are always movies in there you haven’t heard of and this one is no exception. Will be noting some of them down. Will try to get up my own list soon….

    • Stu December 28, 2014

      Thanks Nostra. I will look out for it. I don’t get updates from you for some reason in my WordPress reader but I’ve just rectified that…I think.

      • Nostra December 28, 2014

        Let’s hope that it is fixed! Else you can also subscribe via email. I have to say that my WordPress installation was running on an older version for a while (just updated it this past week), so that might have caused an issue?

      • keith7198 December 28, 2014

        The Nymphomaniac films (what I finished of them) are really the only ones I flat out didn’t like. I think the other two that stand out are Guardians of the Galaxy and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Now don’t get me wrong, I liked both films. But neither reached that level of excitement for me that most people felt. Budapest is one that may be a victim of my ridiculous expectations. I’m definitely going to give it another look. I’m such a Wes Anderson fan.

        • Stu December 28, 2014

          Fair enough … I imagine a lot of people will react one of two ways to the Nymphomaniac films – they’re not the kind of efforts that would leave anyone sitting on the fence either way! What I mean is I can’t imagine anyone saying “they were OK”! I was expecting to dislike Guardians Of The Galaxy but I was surprised that I enjoyed it. I’m not sure how I feel when they milk the characters to death though.

  2. davecrewe December 29, 2014

    Great list Stu! A few of your inclusions just narrowly missed my list (’71, though that’s a 2015 release here, What We Do in the Shadows, Only Lovers Left Alive). Still don’t get the appeal of Nymphomaniac, though!

    • Stu December 29, 2014

      Cheers Dave. I think you’ve seen a lot more than me in 2014 so I will definitely be checking as many films on your list that I haven’t seen and can get hold of. If I’d have been a bit more active in terms of going to the cinema around March-June it’s unlikely my choices for 16-20 would have made it onto this list. Not that any of it matters, of course!

  3. Todd Benefiel December 29, 2014

    Interesting list, Stu, and a fun write-up! I’ve seen exactly TWO movies from it, and they’re my two favorites of the year: The Grand Budapest Hotel and Edge of Tomorrow. What’s funny is, you have a list of Top 20 favorites, while I only saw a total of 20 films this year…five of which were revival-house classics, and ten of which I could’ve lived without. So my ‘top’ movies of the year are extremely limited! I still want to see a few you discuss, especially Boy, which based on your enthusiasm I wanted to catch during its theatrical run, but never got the chance.

    And by the way, here in the States theaters must’ve shown the director’s alternate cut of Edge of Tomorrow, because the version I saw starred Emily Blunt!

    • Stu December 30, 2014

      Todd, the version I saw had Emily Watson playing the lead alien. Motion capture, apparently. Which version did you see?
      OK…unfortunately I made a mistake but thanks for pointing it out…I will change it now and ensure the culprit is flogged through the streets of Chipping Sodbury as a result!
      Thanks too for the kind words – glad you enjoyed those two – and thanks for dropping in and reading throughout 2014. Hopefully you’ll get to see Boyhood soon.

  4. Mark Walker December 31, 2014

    A fine list Stu. My Top Ten wouldn’t be too different from yours. Calvary, Nympho, Boyhood, Nightcrawler, Blue Ruin wpuld definitely make an appearance. I don’t normally compile mine till the end of February though. I include the US 2014 releases which we don’t normally get until a little later. I will also say that I’m happy to see What We Do In the Shadows get some love. Such a brilliant little film.

  5. woman2womenblog January 2, 2015

    Great list! I know most of you will disagree with me, but I did not like much The Grand Budapest Hotel. Yes, it’s beautiful, artsy, grand, with excellent performances… but that’s it…it didn’t grow on me…

    • Stu January 2, 2015

      Thanks very much, and it’s an interesting point. I think his films appeal to a lot of people but equally many others think that they are all style and no substance. I can take or leave his stuff sometimes, but this one I really enjoyed….a lot more than Moonrise Kingdom, in fact, which I thought was overrated.

    • Stu January 5, 2015

      Thanks very much Chris. I hope you get to see those soon, they’re wildly different from each other but very good for a variety reasons! I’d be interested in seeing what you make of them. Boyhood’s a beauty; I don’t think I enjoyed a film quite as much as that one during 2014.

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