The Best (and Worst) Films of 2014

By
Gfw Staff

2014 saw a crazy amount of films from seasoned auteurs: Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Glazer, Woody Allen, Spike Jonze, Xavier Dolan, Michel Gondry, to name a few. But, shockingly, none of those guys made it on to our end of year list. Why? In some cases because we expected more of directors we regularly name-drop as our favourites (waddup, Gondry?) but mainly because, in a standout year for great movies, lassoing twelve was always going to be a herculean task. So apologies if you think omitting that Seth Rogen comedy is an unforgivable injustice.  

In no particular order: 

Inside Llewyn Davis (dir. the Coen brothers)

You totally forgot about this one, didn’t you? And I don’t blame you. Inside Llewyn Davis is just one of those movies that slipped under the radar and out of the cinephilic sightline as soon as the rave reviews died down. It was a lost soul at the Academy Awards under the titanic emotional weight of 12 Years a Slave and Dallas Buyers Club; it’s a lost soul now under the spectacular efforts of Boyhood or Interstellar. Yet no other movie this year has so quietly and so unassumingly carved a hole in my heart and perched there, barely noticed, as the seasons slowly rolled by.

It's the brothers' most affecting and subtly melancholic film yet, a turn away from their usual fixations on the darker corners of humanity, filling screens with murder, extra-marital affairs, and blackmail. Here, Llewyn Davis has been moulded as the champion for the creatively misunderstood. Of the wrong man in the wrong time; an image compounded by the surprisingly tragic closing vision of Bob Dylan sitting in a smoky café playing a song which calls to the end of an era. Traditional folk must die to allow the succession of introspective, original writing, and Davis’ mantra of “it was never new and it never gets old and it’s a folk song" proves to be a statement of devastating irony.

I think we can all relate, in our own ways, to that fear of being left behind by an ever-changing world, of never finding our place in it before it moves on beyond our reach. As time goes by, as the hype fades, we’ll start to yearn for the movies which have come to shape us as people. Inside Llewyn Davis is one of those movies, and one which I will always hold dear to my heart. 

Worst film of 2014Magic in the Moonlight. Oh great, another movie about a charming, young woman falling in love with a misanthropic, old fart. 

Follow Clarisse Loughrey on Twitter: @clarisselou

Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater)

The morning after watching Boyhood for the second time, my boyfriend and I sat in bed crying together. I mention this to illustrate (via that gleeful currency of embarrassing images) that Richard Linklater's passion project broke into, not just my life, not just my boyfriend's life, but our shared life. Great cinema is not just a question of originality or technique or understanding the film canon. Great cinema touches you and changes you. It connects to something lurking in the recesses of your psyche that you sense but don't have the power to bring up in casual conversation. Boyhood is topping end of year lists galore and this is encouraging. It means that in our droves we are accepting that life passes and people fall away but that we forge on just the same – "like boats against the current" as Fitzgerald would have it.

A space like this is not for reviewing (there have been many insightful pieces written already) but for reflecting on the impact of Boyhood. After both viewings, the groups I saw it with lingered socially to talk in intimate tones about growing up. Mason's childhood did not overlap with mine by one iota. But it didn't matter. Time still happened to him. It aged him and everyone around him, not by trickery but by a brilliantly simple application of fact. Whoever we are, whatever our parents were like, whether they're still together or even alive, whatever jobs we do or friends we have, we are all going the same way: forwards, always forwards. It's liberating by virtue of momentum and unbearably sad because of death. Both of these stances jostle for dominance, captured in this gently existential, funny, anecdotal and deeply loving film.

Worst film of 2014: Think Like A Man Too. A randy puppy yelping for two hours has more to offer than this headache of a Kevin Hart non-movie.

Follow Sophie Monks Kaufman on Twitter: @sopharsogood

Dear White People (dir. Justin Simien)

The myth of a “post-racial” America was exploded this year by a series of horrific real-life events, but also received a thorough kicking in Justin Simien’s witty, complex debut, set inside a fictional Ivy League college. There’s so much going on in Dear White People (romance, comedy, deception, satire, cinephilic references) that it sometimes feels like the film equivalent of arguing with lots of different people on Twitter. Yet it ultimately coalesces to become a powerful statement on identity, and firmly aligns itself with the outsiders: those marginal types either unwilling, or unable, to tether themselves to a tribe. When I left the cinema, I felt like punching the air.

Worst film of 2014: A Haunted House 2. Everyone involved in this disgraceful farrago should be locked under the jail.

Follow Ashley Clark on Twitter: @_Ash_Clark

20,000 Days on Earth (dir. Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard)

For me, 20,000 Days on Earth was one of the year’s most exciting music films. Artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard fictionally recreated a day-in-the-life of the Australian post-punk rocker and romantic troubadour Nick Cave on his 20,000th day on earth. A hybrid documentary vaguely inspired by Jean-Luc Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil, it managed to combine the gloss of digital (sometimes ugly, sometimes overshiny) with the fuzzy textures of archival footage. This gave it a personal, scrapbook touch, akin to the collages and diaries that it repeatedly mentioned, as well as reminding us of the directors’ own backgrounds in multi-screen installation.

The film is as much an elegy to rock ‘n’ roll and making things as an attempt to reconstruct memory in some way – a memory either lost or gone irrevocably fuzzy. Its directors try to restructure these psychic spaces on screen, either through experimental passages using light and drone music (The Possibilities), or by creating a metaphorical place in which these memories might take place again. In 20,000 Days on Earth, it’s Darian Leader’s psychiatrist’s chair, but it's also the Jarmuschian car, which Iain and Jane discussed in interview with me as being "like a psychological bubble”: “We thought of it [as being] like the inside of Nick's head, so it felt entirely possible for characters to appear and disappear without any word of explanation". 

Worst film of 2014: Guillaume Canet's Blood Ties.

Follw Sophia Satchell Baeza on Twitter: @SophiaSB1

The Babadook (dir. Jennifer Kent)

Graced with the most fun-to-bellow film title of the year (‘Ba...Ba...DOOK!’), Jennifer Kent’s low-budget, Kickstarter-backed Australian gem is also one of the year's very best films period, both in its genre – creepy domestic horror – and in the mix with dramatic heavyweights.

The spindly, shadowy Mr Babadook, whose calling card is a mysterious, foreboding pop-up book, effectively reclaims nightmarish Expressionism from decades of Tim Burton twee, and is every inch as instantly-iconic as any economical horror flick's visual hook (The Purge's masks; The Conjuring's creepy dolls).

But the key to it all is Kent's strict commitment to exploring the breakdown of a single parent family in the face of a visible, fantastical threat (the titular boogyman) and a more sinister, invisible yet wholly real monster that endangers both son and mum. This is horror as it should be – a deeply moving metaphor for human drama that is equally as sad as it is scary, and as upsetting as it is harrowing. 

Worst film of 2014Let's Be Cops. Let's not.

Follow Michael Leader on Twitter @nevskyp

Stranger by the Lake (dir. Alain Guiraidie)

Though I caught Alain Guiraudie's Stranger by the Lake well over a year ago, as part of the 2013 Brighton Cinecity Film Festival, nothing I've watched in the intervening period has stayed with me as much as this deeply engrossing psychological drama. Guiraidie's fourth feature-length movie is a sexually explicit, taut and intelligent tale set around a remote lakeside cruising spot for gay men in rural France. When Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) falls for Michel (Christophe Paou), a charismatic, virile but dangerous man, a deeply complex exploration of desire, loneliness, jealousy and relationship dynamics unfolds.

Hinging on one terrible act of violence witnessed by Franck, and his subsequent reaction to it, Stranger by the Lake is perceptive and lays bare many universal truths about the human condition. As well as being alternately humorous and melancholic, it also contains moments as tense and gripping as any conventional thriller. The most pleasing aspect of Guiraidie's stylistically assured movie is the mature manner in which the director treats both his subject matter and its audience. A richly layered film for adults about adults and the, sometimes deadly, physical and emotional games they play.

Worst film of 2014The Sacrament. As dull as database management.

Follow Neil Mitchell on Twitter: @nrm1972

The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears (dirs. Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani)

A labour of love from Belgian writer/director couple Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, and forming a complementary diptych with their female-focused 2009 feature debut Amer, The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears is a giallo-inflected journey into a middle-aged man's troubled psyche.

When the wife of Dan Kristensen (Klaus Tange) vanishes in their locked-from-the-inside apartment, the businessman turns to his strange neighbours – and a detective (also played by Tange) – for help. Through an Art Nouveau building whose confounded architectonics and hidden spaces come to reflect the labyrinthine structure of the film's narrative, Dan – and we with him – get increasingly lost in the storeys searched and stories heard, all of which feature holes, wounds and blood, and point, in very different ways, to the same primal scene.

Boldly baroque stylistic flourishes make the film an aesthete's wet dream – and the first time I saw it, I just surrendered to the heady sensorama of its pure cinema. Yet there is method in the madness. As all the sadism and surrealism open up to an interior tale of schizophrenia, gynophobia and abjection, this film oozes ever more of its secrets on each subsequent viewing, and turns out to be a meticulously structured edifice of modernist storytelling. 

Worst film of 2014Before I Go to Sleep. Amnesia thriller anaesthetised by Kidman's overacting and rote twists. 

Follow Anton Bitel on Twitter: @AntBit

We Are the Best! (dir. Lukas Moodysson)

When friends mention tennis in conversation, I respond with the lyric: “The world is a morgue/ But you’re watching Bjorn Borg.” If I ever visit a morgue, I will consider doing the same. Basically, I haven’t stopped raving about Lukas Moodysson’s accurately titled coming-of-ager since I first saw it, and it improves upon every viewing.

Set in 1982 Stockholm, three 13-year-olds learn how to overcome major hurdles of adolescence – heartbreak, physical insecurities, not understanding the rules of basketball – by forming an all-girl punk band that cements their close friendship. That’s not my childhood, but I wish it was.

It’s the kind of film I wish existed when I was younger. At that age, I remember going to the cinema and learning how music geeks were either Jack Black in School of Rock, or Jack Black in High Fidelity. But We Are the Best! serves a valuable lesson in how its central trio follow their passion and stop caring about what strangers think. When Hedvig plays classical guitar to her booing schoolmates, it’s more powerful than Dylan going electric. It’s also the most I’ve laughed all year, and something I’ll treasure forever like a personalised mixtape from a Swedish director back to his best. Moodysson 4-ever!

Worst film of 2014: Chef. A tepid stew of unimaginative cooking montages and outdated social media gags.

Follow Nick Chen on Twitter: @halfacanyon

Concerning Violence (dir. Göran Olsson)

Leaving the screening, I blinked repeatedly to order my thoughts, to settle back into the usual experience of things. Concerning Violence will tear you out of your usual patterns of thought: it’s dazzling and depressing. My friend and I went to a café. Waiting at the counter, a cigarette lighter fell out of her pocket and exploded on the floor. When we realised where the tiny bombing came from, we laughed hysterically. It felt horribly appropriate.

Concerning Violence has real persuasive force, which is interesting for a documentary that avoids an explicit thesis. What did it convince me of? I’ve read it described as “didactic” but that misjudges the experience. Director Göran Olsson (Black Power Mixtape) doesn’t moralise about the rightness of Southern Africa’s violent decolonisation in the 60s and 70s. He instead uses his 80 minutes to replace the lens in your glasses, to demonstrate an alternative logic of history. Through this worldview, history and resistance are the same thing. Any moral conclusions, you draw yourself. 

I found Olsson’s use of rhetoric, text and imagery profoundly unsettling. The rhetoric comes from Ms. Lauryn Hill’s narration, delivered with a clipped accent that belies her anger. The text comes from Franz Fanon’s foundational work on the psychology of colonialism, The Wretched of the Earth: extracts appear coolly on screen. The imagery comes from Sweden’s documentary archives and journalists who – thanks to their country’s political neutrality – gained astounding access to conflict sites. Göran Olsson historicises Africa’s attempt to rid itself of European colonialism but doesn’t make any knowing references to the modern day. He knows he won’t need to, if Concerning Violence is used properly.  

Worst film of 2014: God Help The Girl. A 111-minute long argument for abolishing Kickstarter.

Follow Yohann Koshy on Twitter: @YohannK

Enemy (dir. Denis Villeneuve)

'Enemy' will be released in the UK on 2 January, 2015.

At the suggestion of a work colleague, a university lecturer rents a movie. To his horror, he finds himself confronted by an actor with exactly the same face, the same voice, the same torso scar. Is he really seeing what he is seeing? Is he cracking up? Why did the colleague suggest that particular movie? Why did he go ahead and rent it? What’s the deal with those effing blueberries? And why does the city of Toronto look like a totalitarian hellhole? Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy well and truly pecked my head for days. Weeks, even.

I love nightmarish, weirdo flicks, and this one baffled and haunted me like no other this year. There are times, too, when Enemy feels less like an adaptation of José Saramago’s novel, The Double, and more like an experiment cultivated and spliced in a laboratory from the DNA of cinema’s two mighty Davids – Cronenberg and Lynch. Imagine Dead Ringers meets Lost Highway.

The jaundice-hued visuals, the cityscape that looks freakishly bland and uniform, Sarah Gadon’s portrayal of a confused but sympathetic housewife, Jake Gyllenhaal acing in dual roles, and the most frightening final scene/image of the year: Enemy is a nerve-shredding horror puzzle that pretty much showcased everything I’m looking for in a film.

Worst film of 2014300: Rise of an Empire. Weirdo fascist trash masquerading as screen entertainment.

Follow Martyn Conterio on Twitter: @cinemartyn

Interstellar (dir. Christopher Nolan)

Sometimes the best films aren't defined by what you can pin point as exemplary filmmaking, but are instead proven by how they make you feel.

Masterpiece or not, Interstellar was a personal reminder of the films and filmmaking that gave birth to my own passion/obsession with cinema. Whether it was trips with my Dad to see the likes of Robert Zemeckis' sorely underrated Contact or even the admittedly terrible Kurt Russell and James Spader led Stargate, their cosmic ambition were awe-inspiring to a young mind.

Juggling the grand visuals and abstract ideas you'd expect from a Christopher Nolan sci-fi epic with a newfound emotional outpouring, Interstellar has divided audiences who have found themselves lost in the cracks. Perhaps the Spielbergian sentimentality and austere, Kubrickesque visions of space and time proved to be an uncomfortable combination. But any film that can take me back to the way I felt when I first started watching movies is a great achievement; one I rarely experience at the cinema.

Worst film of 2014: The Grand Budapest Hotel. A giant macaroon of a movie – and I hate macaroons.

Follow Jack Jones on Twitter: @JackJonesFilm

Night Will Fall (dir. André Singer)

Thankfully I went alone to see this harrowing Holocaust documentary at the BFI Southbank one night after work. I emerged from the sparsely attended screening a complete mess: sweating, sobbing, dangerously dehydrated. I swiftly called my girlfriend – whose family background is largely Jewish – to tell her about the visceral experience (this post-screening scene was, in retrospect, cringeworthingly melodramatic).

Nothing quite prepared me for the blistering truth of the images André Singer presents: barely recognizable human beings with their anuses hanging out, among other corporeal horrors. But it was the sight of everyday objects – confiscated kids’ toys, soap, hats, bags – that brought home the true disconcerting terror of the Nazi concentration camps.

Unearthing previously unseen footage – some of which was initially intended for an Alfred Hitchcock documentary that never saw the light of day – from cameramen that were simply instructed to prove that this calamity had actually happened, Night Will Fall is essential viewing: a lesson for posterity. “I thought as time went by I would forget. But it never does leave you,” one man says in the film. The experience of watching this film is much the same.

Worst film of 2014: Interstellar. A seemingly interminable wormhole of crap.

Follow Oliver Lunn on Twitter: @OliverLunn

Two Days, One Night (dirs. the Dardenne brothers)

Two Days, One Night made me rage and rant, and then after the sense of furious injustice, I wondered: what would I have done? Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, a woman who, after a bout of depression, loses her job at a factory following her co-workers' decision to take a pay rise that effectively leaves her redundant. It's a tragic tale and deeply relevant to today's society.

We walk with Sandra, we see her personal struggle, but there's always a hint of guilt. Are we complicit in the society that would commit such callous acts? In many ways, it's a classic ‘what would you do?’ tale. In this austere economic situation, where the NHS is coming under increasing threat, it makes me wonder how far we will go, in order to preserve our selfish desires? The fact that Sandra also suffers from mental heath problems gives the Dardenne Brothers ample time to comment on the current attitudes to mental health, an issue close to my heart. Sandra becomes a pariah to her ex-colleagues, easy to blame because she suffers from depression (an illness often greeted with distrust at best and abuse at worst, at least in the UK).

Frank and deeply sensitive, the Dardennes don’t preach their morality; they call for us to bare witness and think. It’s a wake up call. It makes you hope that, in this situation, you would have never taken the money.

Worst film of 2014: A New York Winter's Tale. Like being locked in a Clinton's card shop being bombarded with the most pathetic, prosaic messages about love for two hours. 

Follow Joseph Walsh on Twitter: @JosephDAWalsh

Notable omissions:

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Starred Up
The Wolf of Wall Street
Her
12 Years a Slave
Dallas Buyers Club
Under the Skin
Starred Up
Mistaken for Strangers
Ida
Gone Girl
Nightcrawler

 

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