When we look back at 2014, it’s been a year of extreme highs and lows for the film world. We lost a number of genuine Hollywood greats – Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bob Hoskins, James Garner, Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall and Richard Attenborough – but we were also given the gift of some truly remarkable pieces of cinema. The passing of such legends reminds us of the magic of cinema and what joy these actors and filmmakers bring to the lives of cinemagoers.
As the year comes to an end, there’s no better opportunity to look back at some of the best films from the past 12 months. From trailblazers such as Pride and Boyhood, to big-budget blockbusters like Guardians of the Galaxy and The Hunger Games, cinema has never been so good. See which films the Culturefly writers picked as their favourites from 2014.
12 Years A Slave
In an interview he gave while promoting 12 Years A Slave, director Steve McQueen pointed out a cinematic travesty: that more films had been made about Roman slavery than American. With this incredibly moving and indelible film, McQueen righted that cinematic wrong. Driven by a haunting central performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, McQueen conjured a tableau of terror that vividly confronted the realities of American Slavery in an honest and utterly heartbreaking way. America may now be known as the land of the free, but given how Hollywood has strived to ignore this key chapter in their nation’s history, it can hardly be considered the home of the brave. JM
There were few films released in 2014 that managed to embody the warmth and wit of Pride. Based on a true story, Matthew Warchus’ film tells the profound tale of how a group of gay activists helped support miners striking in Wales during the summer of ’84. Bold, bittersweet, and bolstered by an array of terrific performances from the likes of Imelda Staunton and Bill Nighy, Pride perfectly composited heart with humour while addressing a serious socio-political situation from our recent past. Not only is it a great film, it’s arguably one of the most important contemporary British films ever made. JM
Still without a UK release date, Snowpiercer is the best film you didn’t see this year. Bong Joon-Ho’s blisteringly visceral and violent sci-fi apocalyptic tale of the last of humanity surviving on a super train after the world has succumbed to a new ice age, is a thrilling portrait of class revolution, amped up by Chris Evans’ terrific central performance. I was lucky enough to catch this when it was released in the US this past summer, and hopefully it won’t be too long before the rest of the UK sees it too. NS
We Are The Best!
Lukas Moodysson’s story of three young girls who form their own punk rock band in 1980’s Stockholm is a beautifully warm and humorous coming-of-age tale that sparkles with wit and a feel good factor that reaches heights that few films of this kind can match. With three astonishing central performances from the lead trio, you’ll no doubt be chanting the film’s signature song long after the end credits roll. NS
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Director Wes Anderson is at his most stylized and eccentric in this thoroughly charming romp through a romanticised war-torn Europe. Thanks to inventive visual design and truly lovely music, I was transported into the bizarre world of loquacious hotel concierge Monsieur Gustave H. and when I reluctantly left, it was with a great big smile on my face. KB
The Raid 2
The original Raid came out of nowhere and instantly won me over with its non-stop, staggeringly choreographed action and relentless pacing. For this fantastic sequel, director Gareth Evans expands his canvas far beyond the confines of the original’s claustrophobic tower block for a gruelling under-cover thriller that spans an entire city. It also casually redefines the idea of what a car chase can be along the way in one of several jaw-droppingly staged action scenes. The bar for action cinema has once again been well and truly raised. KB
With Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy having come to an end, I wasn’t the only one waiting to see what the director would do next. He took the psychological exploration of human nature from Inception and moved the action from deep within the human mind to the far-flung reaches of space. Interstellar did not disappoint. Nolan carried on his tradition of not patronising his audience by basing his script in real world science and putting a family drama at the heart of the story.
While some of the dialogue leaned a little to the twee side, the real jewel in Interstellar’s crown was the draw dropping visuals. From a trip through a wormhole to desolate planets, this was a film that had to be seen on the big screen. SB
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The next couple of years are certainly something to look forward to when it comes to Phrase Three of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange to name a few). But if we’re talking best superhero films of 2014, my pick is Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the second blockbuster focusing on Marvel’s all-American hero. While The First Avenger had a nostalgic feel with its retro 1940’s backdrop, The Winter Soldier is firmly rooted in the modern, technological world. With the help of some well-known Marvel favourites (Morgan Freeman’s Nick Fury), as well as newcomer Anthony Mackie as Falcon, this film provides a satisfying level of emotion and character development. From the well-executed action set-pieces, to a neat little twist involving Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, The Winter Soldier is a brave and bold addition to the MCU, and every bit my superhero movie of the year. NX
Guardians of the Galaxy
There was so much about Guardians of the Galaxy that could’ve gone wrong. The tone that naturally comes with it being a James Gunn movie could have simply not fitted in with the energetic, slick Marvel style. The humour could’ve been lost in the dizzying array of special effects and main characters. Instead, what a treat Guardians was. A welcome break from the now rather-too-established superhero formula, it managed to get everything right. The central quintuplet all pulled their weight admirably, each offering a different kind of entertainment – Rocket’s brash attitude, Groot’s naivety, Gamora’s ruthlessness, Drax’s literal nature and Quill’s arrogance. Add in a well-conceived story, well-paced action, and just the right level of FX, and Guardians is one of the best action films in a long while. JCS
Those who have criticised Boyhood have claimed that it was only good because of its ‘gimmick’ and, that beyond the 12 year time lapse that takes place over the course of the film, there isn’t that much to it. Yet to say this is to do a disservice to both the raw effect of the concept, and to the fact that there is certainly more to it than just that. The cast, for a start, do a great job of keeping the characters uniform over the years. While of course Mason, for example, was moulded to where Ellar Coltrane went in life, he still could’ve quite easily lost touch with that same young boy who began the process, and in doing so taken away the emotional tug of his growth; the fact that this didn’t happen is a testament to his, and indeed all the cast members’ work. Boyhood is a film that truly has to be seen to be believed – the effect is that great. JCS
Expectations were high from both ends for this one: fans of the original Gillian Flynn thriller, and fans of Fincher and his previous work. It did not disappoint in the slightest. Every shot, every word, the casting, the score; everything was spot-bloody-on. Very little was changed and the things that did divert from the book only served to improve the film, as a result of having Flynn as screenwriter. Being a masterpiece of a film aside, this also shows exactly how to adapt a book to screen. It’s nothing short of amazing. MK
The Lego Movie
The Lego Movie serves as an example to marketing experts that if you produce a film with the intention of selling more products, people won’t care so long as it’s a good film. The Lego Movie is a brilliant film. Consisting largely of adlibbed lines, children and grown-ups alike will find it impossible not to fall in love with its contagious optimism and effortless but masterful humour. Everything is awesome. MK
This year I learned that there are few things I love more than Lily Collins and Sam Claflin muddling their way through life in a journey filled with missed opportunities, ill-fated romances and life getting in the way. Not only was this film a young adult fiction lover’s match made in heaven (bringing together Clary Fray of The Mortal Instruments and Finnick Odair from The Hunger Games), but it was also 102 minutes of good old-fashioned, feel-good British comedy. Claflin’s portrayal of the bumbling, awkward Alex Stewart is a far cry from the charming Finnick and the entitled Alistair Ryle of The Riot Club, that it was a genuine joy to behold, and my love for Lily Cole now knows no bounds. With an emotional story at its heart and plenty of laughs along the way, Love, Rosie was everything I wanted it to be and so much more. MD
The Wolf of Wall Street
Just watching Martin Scorsese’s blistering take on the financial misdeeds of Jordan Belfort is enough to make you check into rehab. Leonardo DiCaprio has never been better as the poor boy making good/making off with everyone else’s money. Moving at pace, DiCaprio and Jonah Hill are the perfect buddy act as they drink, snort and smoke their way into the high life and straight back out again. It’s a frequently hilarious and subtly perceptive account of a society corrupted by the pursuit of artificial riches. SM
Ryan Coogler was only 26 when his debut film premiered at Sundance in 2013. Since then praise has been lavished wherever it plays. Finally rocking up in the UK this summer, Fruitvale Station follows Oscar Grant’s final day before he was gunned down at the Fruitvale Bay Area Rapid Transit station in California on New Year’s Day 2009 by the police. Grant is played with astonishing complexity by Michael B. Jordan who brings out his strengths and failings gradually. It’s at once a tragic character study and an indictment of a country that continues to kill black men in dubious circumstances. Not easy going to be sure, but unmissable all the same. SM
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
I’m ashamed to admit it but I had no experience of the Hunger Games frenzy before the release of the second film last year. Being one of those people who prefers reading the book before the film I had to admit defeat and watch the first on Netflix before heading out to catch the second at the cinema. I was aware that I would be hooked and happily accepted this whilst sipping on my coke and delving in to my popcorn. I was able to appreciate the buzz surrounding the third film this year and was intrigued to see what was going to happen next. What I loved about the series to begin with was the sadistic side to the Big Brother vibe the world is so obsessed with. Although I missed the ‘games’ side in Mockingjay Part 1, the fact that it was emotionally charged and action-packed – with that ‘community defeats evil’ feel – really worked in the film’s favour. The questions ‘what’s going to happen next?’ and ‘how are they going to get out of this’ constantly entered my head throughout the 2 hours. Bring on 2015 and Part 2, and whatever my idol J-Law is going to do next. NW
I always judge my love of a film on whether I’ve looked at my watch. Granted, I forgot my watch this time but I still had my phone and no annoying iPhone screen light distracted my thoughts in this screening. As an avid lover of Denzel Washington and Chloe Grace Moretz I had been enticed by the trailers for this film and sat down with high hopes of being entertained. Washington didn’t disappoint. He played a character with such a normal life, fighting crime like the super hero he is, kicking butt by ridding his town of the bad guys and saving the sweet innocent Moretz. Who wouldn’t love this film? It’s like a gangster reality-driven superhero movie. Oh and the cherry on top? Denzel slow-mo walking through a warehouse sprinkler. Denzel Washington, you badass dude you. NW
What was your favourite film from 2014?