Big releases from David Fincher (Gone Girl) and Christopher Nolan (Interstellar) were shown vague and brief moments of enthusiasm by audiences and critics, though neither film was able to set either alight. Richard Linklatter’s Boyhood finally made it to the screen after its twelve years in the making, while Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, released in February, has somehow become a major awards player, simply because there doesn’t seem to be much better to nominate. What a good year it’s been (!)
So with the studios barely able to produce a three star film, it’s been left up to indie films to mop up the good reviews in their wake. The Babadook, Nightcrawler, Under The Skin and Stranger By The Lake were all critical darlings, while the UK’s surprise success came from Pride, which was the most powerful feel-good film in years.
So with all this in mind, let’s take a look at Haus of Phag’s Top 20 Films of 2014:
10. 12 Years A Slave – full review here
There's no doubt that 12 Years A Slave is a fine piece of filmmaking. It's a beautifully crafted historical document, unflinchingly portraying a dark time in Western history, depicting the secret that America is as ashamed of as the Germans are with their Nazi past. That it took until now to make this film (and that it took a British director to make it happen) shows just how deep-seated this shame runs...
9. Inside Llewyn Davis – full review here
There was a time that a Coen Brothers film promised laddish coolness, almost Tarantino-esque in its quotable machismo. Crime was their forte, whether serious or comedic and you knew what you were getting. In the last decade, something has shifted. Maybe it's just that they've grown up a bit, or that the eventual recognition from the Academy meant they could calm down...
Not usually one for a war film, I came away from Fury entranced by the sheer tragedy of war. That so many people could die, even when the end of the war is but days away, makes this film a compelling and visceral watch with Brad Pitt at his machismo best and a spell-binding coming-of-age from Logan Lerman.
7. Gone Girl
David Fincher seesaws between the slick, the dark and the downright evil, but when all are perfectly balanced, the master-director scores a homerun. Gone Girl is another strong turn from this master, though not his best by any stretch of the imagination. Rosamund Pike on the other hand dazzles. With twists and turns aplenty, this is a thoroughly modern thriller that's as beautiful as it is disturbing.
A black and white Polish film about a nun would hardly appeal to a mass audience, but this story of the lasting legacy of the holocaust makes for one of the most compelling and moving indie films I've seen in years. With a story that puts heritage, religion and sex at odds with each other, Ida is a timeless and atmospheric masterpiece.
5. Stranger By The Lake – full review here
Queer Cinema has had countless crises of identity over the years. With low audience figures, this very niche genre has suffered from its greatest pioneers transitioning to the mainstream and away from it, with low budgets often meaning low quality films that focus more on the sexualisation of its characters than its actual artistic merit or entertainment value. In that regard, Stranger By The Lake is a complete anomaly. Taut with tension, drama and sexuality, this is a film that has taken homosexuality at its most base, most explicit and at its darkest, but not lost its focus on telling a damn good story...
Just as Network encapsulated the rise of the media takeover, so is Nightcrawler a perfect reflection of how the public consume news in the 21st century. A dark and cynical piece that exposes even regional news as a dog-eat-dog business venture, it casts Jake Gyllenhaal in the most startling and impressive role of his career. A ruthless and driven high-climber, his ambition is both horrifying and compelling as we watch his steep but rapid climb toward the top of a world that will turn a blind eye to his questionable techniques.
Reminiscent of Drive and its slick 80s slow-burn, this unsettling film feels so retro that it's somehow also ahead of its time. This instant classic will be remembered as one of the finest of this decade, but will go markedly ignored by audiences and awards circles due to its uncomfortable content. In years to come however, this masterpiece will gain its rightful place in the cannon. And in the meantime, Rene Russo's remarkable turn may will reinvigorate her career too.
3. Pride - full review here
I'm a Welsh gay film fan, so a movie about gays and Welsh people was always going to be up my street... but then saying that, I'm not the biggest fan of a British "heart-warming" family romp. Maybe I'm too cynical, but I find the fluffier sides of The Full Monty or Billy Elliott far too saccharine sweet, while The Calendar Girls is just unbearable. But there's something different about Pride. Yes it bears the hallmarks of the life-affirming "community comedy", and we all know that through the community coming together and overcoming prejudices everyone will live happily ever after, but this is a feel-good comedy that, ten years ago, would have been an edgy and risqué indie flick. In the year that the UK legalised same sex marriage, the topic of homosexuality has become so family-friendly and so non-taboo that this film feels like a rubber-stamp of absolute acceptance and tolerance. And I, like the rest of the cinema-viewing public, came out grinning from ear to ear...
2. The Wolf Of Wall Street - full review here
Martin Scorsese and I usually have a difficult relationship. I recognise the fact that he's a master filmmaker, one of the greats, in fact possibly the greatest still working today, but my problem is that he rarely makes a film about something that I have a natural interest in and thus his explorations of most subjects leave me a bit cold. However, this cannot be said about The Wolf Of Wall Street. This dizzy barrage of Luhrmann-esque excess and frivolity could have been written especially for me. I love a film crammed with glamour and characters driven by their love of the high life. Film is the perfect medium to portray this excess, and my word does Scorsese commit to that here. At the excessive length of three hours, we are given an excessive character, driven by his thirst for excess, indulging in all the excesses that his excessive wealth can give him. It feels like Scorsese has acknowledged that the point of this film is to drive our tolerance to its outer limit...
Any good period film should either make you want to live in that time period, or make you realise how lucky you are not to. American Hustle is definitely the former. The camera whizzes through 1970s New York with lush colours, glamorous locations and costumes that would make you think it was the coolest time ever to be alive. Its soundtrack skips through music that sounds as fresh today as the day it was recorded and with its soft-focus, unusual close-ups and wide panning shots, the camerawork leaves you feeling drunk, swimming through this heady world of chintz, hairspray and halternecks. Its art direction, cinematography and costume design are remarkable, giving us the glamour of Boogie Nights with the reality of Mean Streets. And the best way to describe the film as a whole is to say that it's as though Paul Thomas Anderson and Martin Scorsese directed a film together; and that's one hell of a compliment...