Although perhaps not quite as strong as 2013, there’s been a wide range of great films this year. I’ve tried to see as many as possible as a good way of spending a Wednesday night, and although there was a sort of polarisation in that the best films came out either at the start or the end of the year – I think on the whole I’ve been able to see some really enjoyable and memorable movies at the cinema. There are a few that I’ve missed out on, including Mockingjay – Part 1 & Captain America 2 which I’m sure could well have made the list but nevertheless, here are my top 10 films of 2014:
10. The Equalizer
To kick off the top 10 is a good, solid action film: The Equalizer. It stars Denzel Washington as Robert McCall, one of the older employees at a hardware store, well respected but not someone that many thought much of. With his wife gone, he leads a solitary life – but he finds comfort in consoling a young friend Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), that he meets in a café. Getting to know her well, Robert discovers she is a prostitute and when she is attacked by her masters, Robert shows the skills from his former career in going after the Russian mob and saving her. It’s pretty standard stuff for the most part, but Washington does a great job of playing both the action hero and kind, older guy too. Everything fits really well in the film, and at the end of it you’re left with something you would happily watch again.
Films that make you uneasy are somewhat entertaining in a weird way, and Nightcrawler nails that feeling right the way through. From the word go, Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenahaal) is a psychotic creep who lives on the fringes of society. When he spots a way into the limelight of the news business, he takes it; working his way up the ladder with his questionable scruples to being king of the ambulance-chasing photojournalists. Watching his story unfold leaves you in a halfway house of whether or not to like him, and there’s a real art to making a character that can be likeable at times and loathsome at others. A really interesting film that does creepiness in a way that few others do, with Gyllenhaal’s being one of the best acting performances of the year.
8. American Hustle
A stellar cast drives this film surrounding four people out to clear their names of hustling people for money, by doing just that for the FBI. It’s a quirky film that falls somewhere in between a drama and a comedy, with serious-minded plots at play but crazy situations and kooky characters, especially Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), that keep things light. It’s a fun movie to watch, and although the plot is a little lightweight the acting performances of the main four (with Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper joining Lawrence) all make it more than worth seeing.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel’s summer film this year took a bit of a different tone, with the new crew of the Guardians taking to the silver screen in their first outing. A quest by Peter (Chris Pratt), a thief in search of riches lands him in jail – but ends up getting caught up in a plot chasing something thousands of times more valuable. It was a good film, with lots of laughs but perhaps a little light on the action side of things. The 80s soundtrack of the film worked really well too, as Peter’s mixtape given to him by his late mother laces the scenes of the movie together. It might not be a blockbuster that lives too long in the memory, but as a quirky change from the massive budget set-piece laden films it works really well.
6. The Imitation Game
The story of how World War II was won excluded the incredible achievements of the Bletchley Park code breakers for almost 50 years, with their incredible feat of breaking of Nazi Germany’s most secret code being at the heart of the Allied victory but only revealed in the 90s. This film shows the personal side of this effort, in particular the story of its’ leader: the father of modern computing, Alan Turing. Battling through personal struggles and secrets, Turing never wavers in his quest of becoming the man who broke the unbreakable code and Benedict Cumberbatch gives what I think is his best performance to date in showing it.
5. 12 Years a Slave
Slavery is a theme that has been covered by many films in the last few years, but none show the true horrors and injustices of the abhorrent practice in the way that 12 Years a Slave does. Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free black man who is cruelly kidnapped and forced into slavery. His personal ordeal in getting back to his family and regaining his freedom is exceptionally harrowing, suffering beatings, lashings and with threats of worse thrown his way all the time. The horrifying truth that this was in fact a real story hits home hard and although it is an uncomfortable watch, this film really does an incredible job of telling a story too horrifying to forget.
4. Dallas Buyers Club
Even almost thirty years on, the AIDS “epidemic” of the 80s hasn’t really been covered in films very often, but Dallas Buyers Club takes a gritty look at the subject and the work of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) in helping himself and fellow sufferers by using grey market drugs. McConaughey is excellent in it, as was Jared Leto (30 Seconds to Mars frontman) as transgender woman Rayon, with both performances winning them Oscars as lead and supporting actor respectively. It’s an immensely powerful film that strikes at the heart of people’s attitudes towards one another, and despite numerous sad points it’s a movie that instils the value of never losing hope.
This is a sci-fi epic, but in a style that you’ll never have seen before. Christopher Nolan’s take on a space adventure really strikes home as one of the most important films in recent times, with the tremendous acting talents of Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway showing the human side of mankind’s quest for the stars. It’s typically complicated, in true Nolan fashion, as the plot zigzags between galaxies but at its’ heart is the ideal that “love is the one thing that transcends time and space” and once you grasp that then you’re in for a particularly moving film.
2. Gone Girl
Gone Girl was an incredible thriller that was full of great acting, twists and turns and a general sense of mystery that made it both unnerving and exciting to watch. Nick’s (Ben Affleck) wife goes missing and he does his utmost to find her, but as flashbacks reveal that the relationship between Amy (Rosamund Pike) and him and was becoming increasingly strained, more sinister motivations come to the fore. Going into the detail of what makes this film so good would definitely spoil it for those that haven’t seen it, but the way in which the characters are portrayed and developed leave you constantly surprised at the levels to which they are reaching. Gone Girl made something special out of what could be perceived a run-of-the-mill plot, and was one of the best films of this year because of it.
1. The Wolf of Wall Street
An exercise in all-round decadence, The Wolf of Wall Street was thrilling and entertaining the whole way through and never failed to excite. Leonardo Di Caprio leads as playboy Jordan Belfort, caught up in the hedonistic rush of 90s Wall Street and all the trappings of fortune. It’s a story where the main character is both the hero and the villain, and that dichotomy makes it really interesting to watch as you change your mind throughout the film on whether or not to be on his side or against him. The acting performance of Di Caprio and his cohorts including Jonah Hill were fantastic and lended a touch of realism to an utterly bombastic film. An absolute delight to watch, no other movie this year provided the same sort of thrill that Wolf of Wall Street, and that’s why it was my favourite.
So there are my top 10 picks for the year, feel free to let me know which ones I’ve missed or if you would have put different films elsewhere on the list in the comments below!