TOP TWENTY BEST FILMS OF 2014
20. WINTER SLEEP
The art-house darling of 2014 and the winner of this years Palm D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, “Winter Sleep” is yet another fantastic achievement from Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. With his latest film, Ceylan gives up on his usual visual signatures of the gorgeous Turkish landscapes (although not entirely), and instead helms a film that takes place mainly indoors of a hotel that our main character, Aydin, runs in central Anatolia with his much younger wife Nihal. Residing with the pair is Aydin's sister Necla who is attempting to recover from her divorce, but with everyone living in close proximity with one another, politeness begins to break down and their true animosities towards each other come to the surface. This is just the bare bones of the plot of this amazing film as there is a lot more going on here which you would expect from a film that runs well over three hours. This is not an easy film to ingest, and certainly wont be for everyone, with the majority of the drama being played out over long scenes of intense and complex dialogue. The pace of the film is very deliberate, but those unfamiliar with Ceylan's style my find it all too slow. Performances are all stellar and as you would expect, and visually “Winter Sleep” is a sight to behold. It is true that it is an exhausting experience but one that rewards the viewers who give the film a chance richly.
19. IT FOLLOWS
At the time that I saw “It Follows” at MIFF, I was unaware that it had been little screened elsewhere in the world, and it is only just now that real buzz for this film has begun in earnest. This was a horror film that I knew nothing about going in and it turned out to be such a creepy little gem. The film is about a teenage girl named Jay, played by Maika Monroe (who is also in “The Guest”), who after a sexual encounter with a boy, starts to be followed by a mysterious and insidious force of some kind that's only intent is to kill her. I'm not sure that description does the film justice at how scary it is. While the force is an obvious metaphor for a sexually transmitted disease, what makes the film so creepy is that the thing that is following Jay could be any person at all. It just walks in a straight line and continues following her. It may be hard to explain in words, but visually it is terrifying. Imagine the image of a nice elderly woman just going for a walk, and then morph that image into thinking that that innocent walk the old lady is taking is an attempt to kill Jay. Again, I do not think I am doing this film justice, but believe me, this will be one of the most talked about horror films of 2015. Its original and terrific.
18. THE ROVER
David Michod's previous film, “Animal Kingdom”, is one of my all time favourites and was my number two film in its year of release. To say that I had big expectations on “The Rover” would be a massive understatement and while I do not think it was quite as good as “Animal Kingdom”, I think that it was great enough to confirm what was already thought; David Michod is going to be a force in cinema for a very long time. “The Rover” is a much different film to its predecessor; it is much more quiet and insular and it is not until the film's final scene that we find out exactly what the movie is all about. The actual reveal is unexpected and actually turns the film on its head, because while the film is contained in these massive outback landscapes, the point of the film is something very small. Unlike “Animal Kingdom” this film is presented at a very slow pace and is incredibly violent, however it is never boring, nor does the violence come across as gratuitous. Our “hero” has a single purpose, which is to retrieve his stolen car, and nothing or no-one will stop him from achieving this goal. Because of this myopic vision, “The Rover” is a very intense experience and one that continues to build until its finale where all of that intensity if finally allowed to be expelled. From a cinematic point of view, “The Rover” is stellar in every department with the Australian outback never looking more desolate and beautiful than it does here, and the film is littered with stunning acting performances with none better than the star of the film, Guy Pearce. This is an intense role because his character bottles everything up inside; he is like a ticking timebomb and he lets his actions do the talking. Seriously I doubt Pearce has been better than he is here, and he is amply assisted by Robert Pattinson who plays the brother of the person who stole our hero's car. Due to the fact that this is not the apocalyptic thriller everyone was expecting from “The Rover”, the film is seriously undervalued, but believe me it is well worth anyone's time to check out.
17. ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE
This is such a silly little film but man, I loved ever second of it. I am a big fan of director, Lucky McKee and his work, but I must admit that even I was unsure about this film when it was announced as his latest project. McKee actually co-directs with Chris Siverston and the film is a remake of a film the two of them made together back in 2001 (shot on video). I have not seen the original, so cannot comment on how they compare but what I can say is that “All Cheerleaders Die” is just a rippingly fun horror film. Sure, it is gory at times, but overall this is a film that does not take itself too seriously at all. Coming from the directors of such dark films as “May”, “The Woman” and “The Lost”, it is nice to see that they have an ability to make a film that is just fun and to make it just as entertaining as their other films. The premise of this film is so dumb but McKee and Siverston treat it seriously which is the key to the film's success; if they played the film for laughs it wouldn't have worked but because they do the opposite the situations the girls find themselves in is hilarious. “All Cheerleaders Die” is about a group of cheerleaders (duh!) who die in an automobile accident caused by the jocks of the highschool. Brought back to life by some mysterious gemstones and the local wicca girl, the girls head out for revenge against the guys that killed them. Where a lot of the comedy comes from is that each girl feels everything the other girls do via the gemstones implanted in them, be it pain, sorrow or ecstasy. Anyway, like I said, the film sounds dumb but it was one of the most fun times I have had watching a film all year.
This was originally one of my most anticipated films for 2013 but thanks to the Weinstein Brothers idiocy, this film was not released outside of Asia until well into 2014, thankfully though in the directors desired version (which did not look like it was going to be the case at one time). Being as the film was directed by one of the geniuses of South Korean cinema, Bong Joon-Ho, it came as no surprise that “Snowpiercer” was an absolutely brilliant film. This man has yet to come close to making a bad film. It is everything you would expect from the director of such hits as “Memories Of Murder”, “The Host”, and “Mother”; it is smart, original, visual stunning and entertaining as all heck. While the film is filled with subtext about class warfare, abuse of the environment, and dictatorships, (particularly about the danger of when a single message is constantly drummed into a human being, how those said humans will end up ultimately believing and conforming to said idea) Bong Joon-Ho is smart enough to never let these ideas bog the film down. Rather he has also created one of the finest action films of the year. Click here to read my original review.
15. LABOR DAY
Having just written about this exact film in my “Most Underrated” film of 2014 section, I am not sure there is much more I can add. This is an emotionally rich film about a single mother suffering from debilitating depression and an escaped convict looking for a place to hide, who come together over the course of a Labor Day Weekend. To say that the time they spend together changes their lives forever would be a massive understatement. Each has what the other needs and together they open their eyes once more and believe in life and love again and by the end of the film, they both are ready to face the world head-on. The film is about many things, not least the fact that before you can make plans for the future you must come to terms with your past, and it also looks at just how much influence one person can have on another's life in such a short period of time. It's such a beautiful film.
14. COLD IN JULY
Next to Jeff Nichols, it is my opinion that Jim Mickle is the most important new director to come out of the United States in the past ten years. With each film he continues to get better and better, and “Cold In July” is his best film yet. Sadly though it is the kind of film that you really cannot talk about because the enjoyment you receive from it is in discovering all of its twists. What little I can say about it is that it is a crime thriller, and a superior one at that. The film begins when Richard (Michael C. Hall) accidentally kills an intruder in his home during an attempted robbery. Shaken and disturbed by the incident, it isn't long before Richard learns that the person he killed was the son of a dangerous criminal, and worse he has just gotten out of jail on parole. The first thing the man does once out of jail is look for Richard to take revenge for his son's death, but things are not what they first seem. To give away any more about this film would be itself criminal but what I will say is that from where the film begins, you would never guess where it ends. The film does not have a bad performance in it with Michael C. Hall exceptional as Richard (making you completely forget about his “Dexter” character), Sam Shepard intimidating as the ex-con, and a scene-stealing flamboyant performance from Don Johnson who plays a suave aging bounty hunter. Cinematically, Mickle continues to be at the top of his game following on from where he left off with “We Are What We Are”. The film is gorgeously shot with classic compositions and I was also very impressed by the detailed period design of the film (it is set in the 1980's). I love “Cold In July” and all its surprises and look forward to whatever Jim Mickle commits himself to next.
The first of two doppelganger thrillers that are on this list, Denis Villeneuve's “Enemy” is a glorious mind-fuck of a film. It is a film that has smartly been left up to the interpretation of each individual viewer. Nothing is over explained, but little clues are left throughout the film to help work out exactly what is going on. Visual motifs such as spiders, keys, high heels are constantly highlighted in the film but it is up to the viewer to work out what each means or represents. This is the kind of cinema I love, because it makes the film forever rewatchable as each time you look at it, you seem to notice another piece of the puzzle. For now I will say that I have my own theory as to what is going on that involves a past infidelity, and a current temptation which is causing our main character to have a mental breakdown of sorts. However, I must stress, this could be totally wrong and the doppelgangers of Adam and Anthony may indeed be two totally different people. The plot, as per my original review of the film, is “about a university teacher, Adam, who one day by chance, happens to notice his exact double in a movie he is watching on dvd. This revelation seems to shake Adam up, and he becomes obsessed with meeting the actor, Anthony, at first on just a curiosity level. When the two boys finally meet and realise that they are indeed exact doubles of one another (with matching scars to boot), it sets into motion a series of events that sees Adam and Anthony start to infiltrate the lives of the other, with their unsuspecting wife/girlfriend being pawns in their games of duplicity”. Jake Gyllenhaal plays both Adam and Anthony and he does a fantastic job of differentiating the two so you always know who is who, mainly through the use of body language. While this is the second collaboration between Gyllenhaal and director Villeneuve to be released, it was actually shot before the earlier released “Prisoners”. It is obvious that these two have fantastic chemistry together and I sincerely hope they work together again in the near future.
12. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
We finally make it to the prerequisite Coen Brother's title on this list. While I always love whatever the Coen Brothers dish up, lately I have found myself gravitating more towards their “smaller” films (like “A Serious Man”) as opposed to their bigger budget stuff (“True Grit”). Their latest film, “Inside Llewyn Davis” is what I would consider another of their small films and it is simply fantastic. The film is about the folk singing scene in the early sixties and as you would expect from these perfectionists, the period detail within the film is spot on. What makes this film so delightful is its melancholic tone, and yet despite this tone, the film is quite uplifting and funny at times, with Llewyn Davis very endearing despite his view and outlook on the world. Oscar Isaac is superb as the title character truly getting across his love of music and his constant tiredness of being rejected. As much as he loves his art, the constant failure is wearing him down and as such he is the kind of person that is hard to be around due to his glass half empty mentality. He is a character that also lacks any sort of adult responsibility and makes no apologies for who he is. One amusing character trait is the fact that Davis is always carrying his neighbours cat who he was in charge of looking after before locking himself out of the apartment. Within moments of deep sadness, there are these almost slapstick scenes involving the cat which work beautifully in the film. Other supporting actors in the film are Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake and Garrett Hedlund who are all pitch perfect. The songs are great, the look of the film is stunning (the Coen's regular DP Roger Deakins was unavailable to shoot this film, so Bruno Delbonnel ably filled his shoes creating a different looking Coen Brothers film that is no less beautiful); “Inside Llewyn Davis” is just a great film.
11. GRAND PIANO
Out of all of the plots of all of the films on this list, “Grand Piano” probably has the most ridiculous (with “All Cheerleaders Die” a close second), but the reason this film makes the list and so high on the list, all has to do with technique. Eugenio Mira's direction on “Grand Piano”is a tour de force, as he makes a potentially silly film into one of the best thrillers of the year. As per the IMDB synopsis, the film goes something like this: “ During his comeback performance, a pianist who suffers from stage fright finds a note "play one note wrong, and you die". The notes continue on his sheet music and he is instructed to play the most perfect performance of his life or his wife will be murdered in retaliation. He is about to find out the true definition of stage fright. The greatest compliment I can give both Mira and “Grand Piano” is that the film actually felt like a Brian De Palma film. What I loved about Mira's direction is that he used every cinematic trick in the book to build suspense including a couple of terrific set pieces. The way his is able to make a seemingly boring act like playing the piano, so interestingly cinematic is testament to his talents, as is his ability to create such a tense atmosphere around a guy sitting in front of a piano for the majority of the film. Where the film gets really hokey is when we learn why the sniper wants the pianist to play the perfect performance of his life; it is just plain dumb, but again Mira makes it work when there is no way in hell it should of. Elijah Wood once again comes across as believable as the pianist but also as someone in well over his head. While John Cusack is fine in his role, he is relatively underused here. I know I may get some raised eyebrows for this decision, but I absolutely love “Grand Piano” and am not at all ashamed to add it to this list. Click here to read my original review.