The Best Films of 2014

Welcome to the second annual Electric Shadows Top 10.

2014 has been a great year for movies. Here are just a few films that didn’t make our top 10 – Boyhood, 22 Jump Street, Dallas Buyers Club, Under the Skin, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

Okay, 2014 also witnessed the unnecessary continuation/reboot of the Transformers franchise with Age of Extinction. We would love to say it was unwanted, but with $1bn at the global box office ($33m of that coming from the UK), it’s clear a soulless, mean-spirited THREE HOUR advert for toys, cars and Chinese milk can still earn its place in the world. We’re doomed…

But, with the good outstripping the bad, we’ll claim 2014 as a vintage year. And here’s what we thought deserved a place in that all-important Top 10… (and we were kidding about Jack Ryan).

Interstellar poster10. Interstellar

Christopher Nolan has yet to take a serious critical or box office stumble, but he came close with Interstellar. Incoherent, disappointing, exhausting, boring – the naysayers were so vocal Warner Brothers turned the film’s divisiveness into a selling point, asking audience which side they will sit on (after watching it, of course).

We’re on the brighter side of the event horizon. Nolan’s epic adventure tackles nothing less than the survival of the human race, making room for love, betrayal, death and dimensions beyond the three we know (the director amusingly elected not to shoot the film in 3D).

Matthew McConaughey is as good at headlining the thinking person’s blockbuster as he is leading an Oscar winning indie, while Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain and a cameo we’re not going to spoil here also excel in Nolan’s space odyssey.

 

Cheap Thrills - poster9. Cheap Thrills

With thrills to die for, there’s nothing cheap about this viciously entertaining chiller. Debuting director E.L. Katz and writers Dave Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga have concocted a riveting endurance marathon which pits two old school friends against each in a gruelling game of cash prize one-upmanship.  Imagine I’m A Celebrity but with more dismemberment for a hint of what’s in store, and despite the presence of Anchorman’s Dave Koechner as the sadistic ringleader the laughs here are frequently replaced with gasps of shock. Funny Games for the recession generation.

 

 

 

 

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel poster8. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson follows two wonderful kids’ movies – Fantastic Mr Fox and Moonrise Kingdom – with one for the grown-ups. But, it’s every bit as inventive and magical. Johnny Depp was originally up for the lead role as M. Gustave, the concierge in the titular inn of the elite. Thankfully, the role ultimately went to Ralph Fiennes, who demonstrates a usually hidden flair for comedy.

Shot in three different aspect ratios to denote which of the three time periods we’re in, Anderson’s compositions are gorgeous. But, he puts his striking visuals to good use in telling a yarn about Gustave and his protégé Zero (Tony Revolori), their scrapes with vengeful aristocracy, mad assassins, prison lags, and aging society woman, while the wave of pre-World War 2 fascism grows ever larger. A joy, and the first time since Rushmore that an Anderson tale has brought a tear to the eye.

 

 

Two Days, One Night poster7. Two Days, One Night

The double Palme D’or winning Dardennes brothers seemed to risk going all glossy by hiring Oscar winner Marion Cottilard as the lead, but she gives a stellar performance in this recession-driven tale.

Cottilard is a woman retuning to work after being long-term sick, and having to convince her colleagues to forgo their 1,000 Euro bonus so the company will agree to take her back.

Over the course of a weekend she approaches her workmates and the tension generated in how they will react rivals the similarly structured 12 Angry Men. The Dardennes never tip the story into histrionics, instead achieving something both uplifting and believable.

 

Leviathan poster6. Leviathan

Another slice of social cinema came from this Russian stunner. A scathing attack on provincial government’s contempt for the working man and the Orthodox Church’s cynical manipulation of the hoi polloi, it won’t be appearing on Vladimir Putin’s Top 10 list (although Brett Ratner’s Hercules might).

Fiercely intelligent, this is grand, novelistic filmmaking with a remarkable performance by Aleksey Serebryakov as a modern day Job.

 


The Wolf of Wall Street poster
5. The Wolf of Wall Street

Scorsese followed his first family film, the U-rated Hugo, with his most X-rated outing. What made this a five-star experience was the sheer bravado and daring with which the director told the story of city boy pond-life Jordan Belfort.

Back in 1990, GoodFellas ended with mass arrests of sundry mobsters and an on-looker commenting, “Why don’t you go down to Wall Street and catch some real crooks?” 23 years later and the director did just that, shining a light on the unchecked avarice that runs rampant in an accountability free environment. Want to know why the world economy eventually collapsed? Look no further than these scumbags.

As with GoodFellas, Scorsese was criticised for glamourising his subject. This is hooey – the characters are fascinating but utter grotesques. But, it was exhilarating to see the 72 year old filmmaker back at his heyday best. What will he do for an encore?

 

12 Years A Slave poster4. 12 Years a Slave

Best Picture Oscar winner. Best Picture Golden Globe winner. Best Film BAFTA winner. And another 221 awards wins. Yet the most remarkable aspect of 12 Years a Slave is how it reminded us cinema had never truly captured the slave experience.

Adapted from Solomon Northup’s harrowing memoir, John Ridley’s script is slavery 101. The abduction, the boat journey, the slave auction, the abusive plantation owners. But, Ridley refuses to bow to sentiment and director Steve McQueen shoots with an unblinking eye, conveying the corruption and horror that fuelled “polite” antebellum society.

Chiwetel Ejiofor again proves himself one of the best actors currently on the scene, Michael Fassbender is horrific as a psychopathic plantation owner and Lupita Nyong’o devastating as a literal object of his lust and hatred.

 

 

Calvary poster3. Calvary

Paedophile priests. A gutless Catholic church. Economy ruining bankers. The resulting collapse of community. Calvary is a shattering state of Ireland movie.

Lifting it out of total despair is John Michael McDonagh’s defiantly black comedy script. Calvary may see him in darker mood than his debut, The Guard, but there is a leavening streak humour, admittedly as dark as Brendan Gleeson’s soutane.

Gleeson delivers a career best performance as a good priest targeted for assassination by a parishioner abused as a child by a now dead priest. Making stunning use of the County Sligo coastal scenery, Calvary is powerful stuff, performed with conviction by a cast hungrily devouring McDonagh’s dialogue. And Aiden Gillen’s embittered doctor delivers the year’s most haunting monologue.

 

 

The Raid 2 - poster2. The Raid 2

Gareth Evans is the future of action cinema. And fuck The Raid 2’s disappointing box office performance. It joins The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Blade Runner and Once Upon A Time In America amongst other five star movies that underperformed on release but are now recognized as classics of their genre.

Evans follows the bottled adrenalin of The Raid with a far more ambitious crime epic. The Godfather Part II of martials arts movies (yes, we still stand by that), The Raid 2 has the heightened emotion of John Woo, the hard edge of Korean cinema and a prison riot that echoes Kurosawa’s rain soaked climax to Seven Samurai.

And, of course, stunning martial arts scenes. The exhilaration felt watching the climactic kitchen dust-up between Iko Uwais and Cecep Arid Rahman must be akin to what audiences felt in the 1970s when Bruce Lee unleashed nunchuck fury.

 

The-Babadook1. The Babadook

While it whipped up excitement at 2014’s FrightFest, The Babadook essentially sprang from nowhere to steal our top spot. Actress-turned-director Jennifer Kent had only one short (Monster) and a TV episode to her credit before penning and lensing this stunning, emotional, horror-literate chiller.

The world’s scariest pop-up book is the gateway to a world of supernatural peril for single mum Essie Davis, still mourning the death of her husband seven years earlier and struggling with troubled son Noah Wiseman.

Like the best fantastical cinema, The Babadook trades heavily in allegory, chiefly fears of bad parenting and child neglect. And while The Exorcist director William Friedkin hyperbolically declared “I’ve never seen a film more terrifying”, this is about tension and character more than jump out the seat moments.

 

How does this year compare to 2013’s Top 10 rundown?  Click here to find out.

Rob Daniel

 

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