Sunday, 10 May 2015

Top 13 Films of 2014

An all-encompassing, eclectic year in film, 2014 brought audiences a range of unexpected joys and bitter disappointments. Christopher Nolan delivered Interstellar, a spectacularly spirited but ultimately oversimplified rendition of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Darren Aronofsky polarised critics with his biblical epic, Noah, visually stunning but falling short everywhere else. Tedious, banal British bios The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game played about in the limelight, warranted by little merit. The year was far redeemed however, by a strong league of independent films, foreign films, (surprisingly) Australian films and arguably the most fun and openly flippant Marvel movie to date, Guardians of the Galaxy. Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater entered the big award leagues for the first time with The Grand Budapest Hotel and Boyhood respectively. 

From over 50 films and 26 reviewed, below are the top 13 films responsible for my insanity in the year 2014.

13. Breathe In

 Breathe In validates director Drake Doremus once more as the craft master of intimate portraits. Achingly patient, ever nuanced and deceptively simple, Breathe In illustrates, with quiet finesse, the slowly developed extra-marital affair between British exchange student, Sophie and the father of her host sister, Keith. Breathe In's precarious synopsis is handled with delicacy and intelligence, a slow-burning spectacle and introspection of bittersweet desire. Felicity Jones and Guy Pearce are mesmerising in their respective performances, the growing intimacy between their characters never crassly portrayed. Doremus abandons the conventionality of explicit narratives and in its place, offers evocative portraits of immerse environments, raw, brutish, urgent acting and the evolving associations between real people.

12. Galore

Plagued by vibrant nostalgia, Galore illustrates with startling poignancy, the fleeting, overwhelming experience of first love, first loss, depicting youth to be a time when every emotion is experienced with romantic abandon and unwavering intensity. Galore tells the story of teenagers Billie, Laura, Danny and Isaac living out their idle summer in a simple rural town, the impending threat of the bush fires looming darkly over their heads. What Galore manages to capture with sharp insight is the way in which youth is shaped around how we react to novelties. Most notably, young love is painted as an experience dripping with desperation and the urgency of every moment whilst the death of a close friend is portrayed as a strangely liberating experience from which reckless action ensues. Director and screenwriter Rhys Graham revives and refreshes the tired material of teen lust and heartache, with feverishly youthful empowerment and a quiet grace.

11. Leviathan

Accused of perpetuating innumerable racial stereotypes of government corruption and portrayal of Soviet citizens as vodka-swigging, cussing, aggressive individuals, Leviathan's mastery has been overshadowed by a wave of sensationalist controversy. Nonetheless, Leviathan is undoubtedly an achievement in film-making, as inherently a film to be admired more than liked. The most intriguing feature of Leviathan is the way in which it experiments with the positioning of the viewer, specifically how much of reality is exposed at each point of the story. A distinctive window of perspective is opened for the audience, allowing us to look into the simple lives of mechanic Kolya, his wife, Lilya, and son Roma residing in a rural Russian town, the greedy politician threatening to derail their peace and Kolya's loyal friend, a hot-shot city lawyer, who becomes more of a scapegoat than a hero. A film to be appreciated retrospectively, Leviathan is a layered story built on smart political subtext and emotive, patiently evolving character development. Every act of the film serves a lucid purpose, coming together, as promised, in a seamless, satisfying and yet wholly unnerving lustre.

10. Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1

Ballsy, bold and unapologetic in his direction, Lars Von Trier presents the final instalment to his Depression Trilogy (Antichrist, Melancholia) - the wildly explicit self-discovery of a self-confessed nymphomaniac. Stacy Martin, in the lead role, is an eclectic vision of passivity, deadpan comedy and as her character progresses from naïve youth to a woman fully realised in her boundless sexuality. However desperately uninhibited and liberated Nymphomaniac may be, the film is hardly sensual. It is far too blunt and intrepid,  almost satirically metaphorical, decidedly abrupt in its approach - nothing simplified or restrained. An unexpected treat comes in the form of a fiercely dramatic turn by Uma Thurman in a part which could easily have been dismissed as inconsequential and forgettable. Rough camera-work is accentuated in these sequences featuring Thurman, darkly humorous in her role of the distraught mother, jettisoned by her weak husband, adamant on showing her children the "whoring bed".

9. Whiplash

A technical marvel, Whiplash succeeds on so many levels: as a pulsing performance vessel, a demonstration of flawless editing and framing and a vibrant departure from archetypal music films. Complemented with decadent sound design and technician, the film is more than just a seamless tech package - it is engaging, intelligent, beautifully personal and wildly entertaining. A piercing portrait of painstaking blood ambition, Whiplash chronicles the turbulent relationship between young music student, Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller), and his conductor and instructor, Terrence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons). Whiplash is essentially structured as cathartic sequence after cathartic sequence as the young jazz drummer struggles repeatedly to redeem himself before his relentless, black-lipped teacher. In the role of the villainous instructor, J. K. Simmons comes through as terrifying, emotive and altogether spectacular - a dramatic force to be reckoned with, pushing the feature into greater notoriety.  

8. Two Days, One Night

Each successive flick of the Dardenne Brothers' improves upon the last, Two Days, One Night claiming its title as the film-making duo's magnum opus, the luminous Marion Cottilard at its centre. There was no film last year, so beautifully structured and endearingly crafted as Two Days, One Night. Cottilard's character, Sandra, is tasked with the challenge of requesting that each of her co-workers consider forgoing a bonus so that she may avoid dismissal. The joy that graces its characters are real, the sorrow and desperation is true - a stirring honesty breeds upon each encounter with Sandra's colleagues.  
7. Ida

Ida is arguably the greatest piece of cinema to come out of Poland this decade. The film, barely 80 minutes in length, illustrates during the jarring time that was 1960s Poland, an intriguing reunion between a disciplined young nun and her aunt, a liberal woman - sexually promiscuous, heavy drinking and hard-spoken. The melancholias little piece of cinema is an intimate epic, moving, uncompromising and understated in its insight. Ida's departure from her simple, celibate world into the harsh one introduced by her cynical aunt occurs in the form of a cross-country road trip. The two travel to a small town, where her parents were said to have lived the last of their days, in attempt to shed some light on the cryptic family history they share. Technical symbolism is apparent throughout the feature - the 1.37 aspect ratio, the lack of a musical score, the static position of the camera (until the very end) and the unusual composition of each frame. Seldom are the characters centred within each shot, conventional photography all but abandoned.
6. Under the Skin

An eerie, disquieting scene sets the stage. Human is created from alien. The alien stalks her prey. Her prey is weak, succumbing easily. The human body she inhabits begins to affect her ability to hunt. Self-awareness and curiosity proceed. It feels fear, desire, sympathy, affection. Seductive, eerie visuals and the unusually ambiguous content of the feature establish Under the Skin to be the one truly original piece of cinema to come out of 2014. A transcendent cinematic experience, it was as if director Jonathan Glazer projected his vision directly onto a screen in  the visual medium of film without bothering to alter it to cater to any understanding capacity. Simply said, no intellectual concessions are made. Where Von Trier is unapologetic towards his viewers, Glazer is simply entirely unencumbered by the presence of an audience - akin to the way Kubrick once made films. 

Read the full review here.
5. Birdman

Sparkling with vigour, quick insights and a wistful poignancy, Birdman is that strange composite of biting cynicism and infectious innocence. Michael Keaton stars as the washed-up superhero actor Riggan Thompson, desperate for a comeback and egotistical enough to believe his best chance of redemption is to write, direct and act in his own broadway production. The feature is a constant stream of sharp wordplay, revelatory musical moments and captivating exchanges between Riggan and other characters, in a spectacular lack of context. The film boasts a collection of vivid characters - from Riggan's sardonic, rehab-graduate daughter to his classically deranged lover and co-star to the narcissistic talent of his show - a man with his own ideas. It is a beguiling blend of fantasy and reality, the unbroken, arresting portrayal of a series of events that occur in the days leading up to the opening night of this train-wreck/masterpiece. 

Read the full review here.
4. Boyhood

Brutally honest in a way that is singular to the witchery of director Richard Linklater, Boyhood captures the mundane commonality of childhood with a terrifying accuracy. The real magic of the film however occurs when little bits of poetry slip in, capturing Linklater's sentiment that life's happiness rests on moments. Filmed over the course of 12 years, with the same cast performing the parts of Mason Jr, his sister, single mother and weekend-father. Watching Mason grow from a boy we once knew to a man we now know feels like a privilege. Its a beautiful thing to witness the way a little person's mind grows and develops via the changes in his conversation with his father. One day, Mason is asking his father about the existence of magic in the world, the next its his right to his fathers' car and finally, its "what's the point?". Exactly.  

Read the full review here.

3. Charlie's Country 

In Charlie's Country, a wondering camera treads the road lead by blackfella community leader, Charlie, capturing the strange, hybrid life that he has created for himself (or has been created for him, depending on your political conviction). Charlie squats on his own land, surviving on what remains of his welfare payments whilst dancing precariously on both sides of the law - often assisting policeman and drug dealers in the same day. But his most significant struggle is his efforts to salvage the dying ways of Aboriginal custom his community no longer seems to care about. The young ones are sorely disconnected with his rich heritage and many of his friends are lost to alcoholism. Films exposing the modern Aboriginal condition are far and few between, Charlie's Country the first being the first of any significance. It is the collaborative proficiency between Australian director Rolf de Heer and veteran performer and screen-writer David Gulpilil, which results in the masterwork standard of Charlie's Country. Gulpilil harbours an astonishing chemistry with the screen which is perfectly matched with the poetic narrative of Charlie's life. 

2. Force Majeure

Force Majeure is best described as a disaster film where the real horror lies in the disaster failing to occur. The feature profits off soft observation and beautifully still camera-work. It is a richly involved character study of intriguing individuals yet is still highly situational. Tailored with biting social commentary, understated choreography and an abrupt, orchestral score, Force Majeure is a savagely comedic and uncomfortably truthful illustration of the divergence between a person's ideals and their actions. When a fathers' weakness is laid plain for his family to see, the entire family dynamic is shattered, the glorious remains a goldmine for humour, insight and surreal retrospection.

Read the full review here.

1. Gone Girl

A polished work of exuberant style, elaborate sound mixing and understated cinematography, Gone Girl achieves classic Fincher greatness. With intrigue calling at every artfully crafted plot twist, the feature is a master-class of film-making, spectacularly original, slick, a stimulating recall of everything a crime thriller should be. The alluring Rosamund Pike delivers the greatest performance of the year, slipping into each persona of her complex character with ease and a seductive prowess. The first act of the feature is beautifully ambiguous, each sequence shrouded in dark cloud of confusion and mystery, achieved with the nuances of a spectacular script and a truly indelible atmosphere.  The second act, sitting proudly on the shoulders of a perfectly executed plot twist, moves in mesmeric ways, cutting between the now established realities of Nick Dunn and his lovely, lovely wife. Decidedly warped and deliciously indulgent, Gone Girl is the epitome of cinematic escapism, sensationalist and lurid it may be, but in any way flawed? Not a chance.

Read the full review here.

Honourable Mentions

Edge of Tomorrow
Two Faces of January 


  1. Love seeing Gone Girl at the top of your list. Also happy to see Under the Skin get a high ranking. Still working my way through 2014 flicks before I post mine. I'm getting there. Great job with yours.

    1. Thank you! I'm looking forward to reading yours.

  2. Very interesting remarks, but I see in your list are mostly drama movies, I do not see the other films as Fury, 22 Jump Street, ...

    1. I saw over 50 films in 2014, including 22 Jump Street and Fury. Fury I found to be ridden with war film clichés and 22 Jump Street was an accomplished sequel with great self-referential humour but fell short in terms of its narrative structure. My list consisting primarily of drama films is something to be expected. A decent comedy is hard to come by. Thanks for reading and commenting :)

  3. Great list! LOVE that Breathe In made the cut. I really enjoyed that movie, and I wish more people saw it and talked about it. Pearce and Jones were incredible.

    1. Thank you. Breathe In surprised me in so many ways. I loved how urgent, simple and painfully realistic it was. Definitely the best performances of the two from last year. The Rover and The Theory of Everything didn't do much for me.

  4. I was also a fan of Breathe In, I didn’t expect to be moved by this film in the way that I was. ( in my top 20 of 2013). Drake Doremus has a new film out soon called Equals (2015), so I'll definitely be seeing that.
    Also great to see Force Majeure so high on your list(in my top 5), a travesty it didn't even get a nomination for foreign language film.

    I've added your link to my best of 2014 post:

    1. I definitely did not expect to enjoy the film as much as I did either, especially as I wasn't too fond of Like Crazy. It will be interesting to see how Doremus tackles the utopian/dystopian genre.
      I couldn't agree more! Force Majeure should've won that category.

      Thanks for reading and linking my list Chris!

  5. Great list (and blog). Good to see Force Majeure so high, and the inclusion of Breathe in and Nymphomanic vol 1.
    Feel free to check out my list of 2014 films. Its the first post for a blog Ive just started, taking inspiration from this and all the awesome film blogs out there.

    Also, do you know any other Melbourne based (or any Aus) film blogs? Just wondering as thats where I'm based.

    1. Thank you! It's great to hear that. I too was inspired to begin this blog after reading various prolific film blogs such as Alex Withrow's *And so it begins* and Wilde Dash's *Love and Squalor*. Love your list too. I commend the inclusion of Frank and Palo Alto - some great films I saw only after 2014 was over. I don't know any other Melbourne based film blogs but there is Rhys Drury from Perth over at