I simply won’t allow myself to agree with those that believe this was not a good year for movies. Not that I won’t let myself, I mean, it is out of my hands. Many of the movies that follow jumped in and out of my Top 10 of the year. It was tough this year, and in the end I had to just draw the line and stop going around in circles. That is to say, who knows which of these would have made the ten best, had I done this on a different day.
Having not seen the most talked about documentary of the moment Virunga (even though it is now free to view on Netflix), I have to hang my head in shame a little. The current favorite to take the Oscar for Documentary is one I have managed to see. Citizenfour is a stirring look at how the privacy of our personal data can be compromised, and it plays like a spy thriller at times.
Dark thrillers seemed to come out in their droves this year, and many have had a successful run in the awards season. Many were a whisker away from my Top 10, including the near-immaculate Foxcatcher from the expertly consistent director Bennett Miller. Jake Gyllenhaal was utterly captivating, as well as creepily determined, in Nightcrawler. There was more eeriness and ambition in Whiplash, with J.K. Simmons possibly providing the year’s biggest impact as an on-screen presence.
There was little escape from bleakness in many of the foreign language films of last year. Russian drama Leviathan (Oscar nominated) was a grounded, intimate story, but makes you ache with the pain of loss and interpretation of religion. Although Force Majeure (not Oscar nominated) interweaves a family of four’s holiday with beautiful snowy landscapes, this is still an emotionally haunting, and sometimes awkward, drama.
With the Oscars just around the corner then, I feel I have seen the majority of the big contenders, though very few of those made my Top 10 of the year (nor does their status matter in personal preferences). The Imitation Game was a really accomplished and involving drama, the fact it is perhaps over-achieving awards-wise has dented it’s reputation with some public opinion. I honestly wanted to be blown away by Birdman, and although it was truly addictive and bravura stuff, there were movies that hit me harder. A Most Violent Year was one such movie, an intelligent and perfectly paced crime drama, featuring should-be Oscar winner Jessica Chastain.
Punching above their weight, and giving much needed credibility to the “action” move genre, was the runaway apocalyptic train Snowpiercer, and the terrifically emotive second Caesar instalment Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Both fine movies. And although there was uproar when the excitement of The Lego Movie faded, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is, in my view, a much better, and more enthralling experience, and the animation is too spectacular to ignore.
Isolation was certainly demonstrated strongly, but very differently, in two of my other choices. Wild, with an excellent Reese Witherspoon, was one woman’s redemptive hike across the great outdoors of America following the death of her mother and a divorce. Were as in Locke, immense Tom Hardy was literally stuck in his car for an hour and a half, speaker-phoning with various participants of his life-changing dilemma.
When Obvious Child finished after that wonderful scene with Jenny Slate and Jake Lacy snuggled on he couch, I said to my wife “That was a perfect little movie”. Less than ninety minutes, and crammed with real emotions, laughs and spontaneity. A little on the stranger side, but still delved deep into the feelings between a couple, was The One I Love. What starts as a couple’s retreat, soon becomes a paranoid exploration of human interaction.
Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin really twists the nerves with it’s relentless flow. There is a scene with a crying baby is left on a beach, it is beyond heart-breaking, and stays with you for a long time. Scary in a very alternative way is Jennifer Kent’s psychological monster tale The Babadook. It follows classic horror genre elements, while still appearing fresh and original.
And then there was the music. Bringing his own music to a big screen narrative, Stuart Murdoch delivered one of my guilty pleasures of last year. God Help the Girl might be, like styles of music itself, an acquired taste, but a real personal pleasure all the same. In Begin Again, we have Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo (both utterly compelling here) making the music. A movie where music helps carry the story, music influences characters, and music make us glad we have it.
30 through 11 (alphabetical order)
A Most Violent Year
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
God Help the Girl
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The Imitation Game
The One I Love
Under the Skin
Coming up: 2014 Films of the Year: The Top 10