Here we are folks! Some of the films we couldn’t get out of our head throughout the great year of 2014. These films were released in the aforementioned year in the city which we are based; The fair city of Barcelona, Spain. Many lists tend to favour late running Oscar contenders which we won’t have a chance to see until the beginning of next year so its nice to look back to the beginning of the year and look at some movies which you may have all forgotten about in the December rush for awards contention.
Hope you all enjoy; Let us know if you think we’ve missed any of your favourites…
20. NYMPHOMANIAC (PARTS 1 & 2)
Dir: Lars Von Trier
The sly Dane’s latest controversial morality tale is one which unexpectedly (for some) flows with a poison edged humour, gleeful interruption and ludicrous digression but, most striking of all, all it comes with a deft knack for defusing what we as consumers of sex consider to be sexual. Lets get this straight, Nymphomaniac is not a sexy film.
For each ounce of potent audacity apparent in the brilliant “O face” marketing campaign the film contains an ever greater sense of sadness, loneliness and pain. But remarkably, despite the headline for the film, the final part in Von Trier’s “Depression Trilogy” after Melancholia and Antichrist, Nymphomaniac is one of the most playful of Von Trier’s miraculous career.
Dir: Dan Gilroy
Jake Gyllenhaal‘s sunken glimmering eyes may be the most disturbing image you’ll take away from Dan Gilroy‘s excellently shady L.A thriller but behind them and the film is a beautifully satirical look at the vulture like nature of news broadcasting and even our own obsession/repulsion to video images. Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a down an outer a la Paul Schrader, who stumbles onto career to match his sociopathic nature, recording murders, car accidents and crimes of the night for a local news broadcast.
Gyllenhaal puts in an intelligent, nervy, unsettling career best performance and Gilroy, against the mentality he’s portraying, leaves just the right amount out of Nightcrawler to make it a wonderful first time watch, thrilling and direct till the last frame; Sex and violence is largely left offscreen but the lack of apathy or empathy in Lou’s shimmering eyes is far, far more shocking.
18. GONE GIRL
Dir: David Fincher
Gone Girl remains a cynical, obsessive, darkly complex and nuanced examination of a failing marriage, filtered through a fantastical pulp chiller. A missing wife in a small town sends the friends and family of Nick Dunne into a frenzy as Ben Affleck uses his quiet charm and his naive man-child temperament to brilliant effect. The joy of Gone Girl lays in its twists; Not so much twists as much as swerving bends in the road on a long country drive.
A fascinating (Oscar favourite) performance by Rosamund Pike and with David Fincher‘s effortless precision within the frame heightened once again by Trent Renzor and Atticus Rose with a beautiful droning score, it’s up there with some of the directors best work. All of the elements are seeded in noir, nurtured by a cynical hand and delivered with a cool sheen; It may have grown from a very dark place and be disguised as a very good thriller but Gone Girl is mainly a fantastic piece of work about couples worthy a of conversation between our very, very different sexes.
17. STARRED UP
Dir: David Mackenzie
David Mackenzie left behind the quietness of Young Adam and the almost American Indie feel of Hallam Foe to turn over this Alan Clarke influenced slice of gritty prison life in 2014. Skins star Jack O’Connell gives a blistering performance as Eric, a dangerous young offender upgraded to an adult prison where his endless violent fury may be reeled in by an anger management do-gooder (Rupert Friend) and his very own incarcerated father (another incredible role from Ben Mendolsohn).
The sheer intensity of O’Connell and Mendelsohn turn this near Greek tragedy into a suffocating and fantastic piece of work. Every time O’Connell walks into a room the picture boils on-screen and, although Eric’s fury is a leaf straight from the Tim Roths and Gary Oldmans of Clarke’s work, it’s refreshing to see the style of the original “bad boy against the establishment” in cinemas once more.
16. STRANGER BY THE LAKE
Dir: Alain Guiraudie
Throughout Alain Guiraudie‘s explicit thriller there’s not a single note of music. No rising strings not operatic tones to guide. There’s very little in fact to label Stranger By The Lake as a thriller at all but some how it succeeds as one. It’s Hitchcock with few hitches but many, many cocks and it’s easy to see why the more prudish male critics could have turned on Guiraudie’s tale of a murder on a nudist beach renowned for its easy cruising.
Stranger By The Lake may have some graphic content (including real sex) and a pace which will turn a lot of people off but the skilled way in which this very simple one location film unfurl makes it a wild and unique watch. Humour even rears its head in the form of a sad, lonely peeping tom who is berated by some lovers and encouraged by others. Fine performances, beautiful cinematography by Claire Mathon and natural, layered and claustrophobic sound design by Nathalie Vidal make this an intense and interesting film which unsettles in the most remarkably calming fashion.
Dir: Alex van Warmerdam
The shock and whimsy of Giorgos Lanthimos‘s exellent Dogtooth and the steady potency of Michael Haneke‘s most vicious efforts are the cornerstones of Alex van Warmerdam‘s deliciously odd Borgman; The story of a weirdy-beardy (Jan Bijvoet), chased from his underground lair along with his cohorts in the film cryptic opening, who seeks refuge with an upper class family on their large estate. As Borgman worms his way into the family, with his own band of followers, things start to get rather sinister indeed; Poison, cement, materialising greyhounds (yup) and amateur performance art all feature in the quiet mayhem but the director is in no hurry to spell it all out for anyone.
Minis and Bijvoet are both fantastic with Jeroen Perceval playing the tormented husband with a quiet menace. Extra help is on hand for us and for Minis in the rather beautiful shape of Sara Hjort Ditlevsen as Stine, the family’s long suffering nanny. It’s totally unclear exactly what van Warmerdam is getting at with Borgman as a whole, but that only makes it’s images all the more fascinating. Whether a critical attack on the upper classes of The Netherlands, an allegory of American homeland security or a stab at the home invasion genre it really is a wild and unsettling little film.
Dir: Steven Knight
The fabulous Tom Hardy gets every second of screen time to deliver a cool calm Richard Burton like Welsh drawl in this unconventionally tiny thriller from writer turned director Steven Knight. Hardy is the Locke of the film’s title and Ivan Locke is as strong and safe as his name suggests. A famed professional on the building sites which he works, he decides to flee on the eve of his biggest job to date in order to drive to London where a voice only Olivia Coleman is waiting for him in quite a predicament. Remarkably it’s this drive which encompasses the entirety of the film; It’s basically 90 minutes of Hardy on speaker phone in his BMW but my word is it tense.
Knight and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos soak up the yellow highway lights in many creative ways, floating around Ivan’s car like the ghost of christmas past, the film looks great, but of course Hardy is the star here and he relishes it with a genuinely brilliant quiet-loud-quiet performance. Locke is the everyman that the actor has avoided like the plague after in his rise to stardom but there is a gentleness and a vulnerability here which the actor seems to be able to turn on like a tap at any moment. A tough role and winning one in a film which could have gone horribly wrong without such a good driver.
13. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Dir: Martin Scorsese
The 71-year-old legend of cinematic crime capers takes on Jordan Belfort‘s lunacy driven The Wolf of Wall Street and delivers a 3 hour ode to filth, excess and insanity by way of the New York stock exchange. Scorsese rounds up every trick in his book; Multiple voiceovers, a constantly moving camera, slow motion, freeze frames, 60’s blues music and a lead character pushed, laughing crazily, into the darkest recesses of human nature. Leonardo DiCaprio shines as Belfort, flexing his comedy muscles like we’ve never seen before yet somehow never letting the downright despicable cocaine addled depravity of this turned up to 11 Gordon Gekko dull the ride.
It stands as a still misunderstood, vile document of materialist masochism which induces the gobsmacked feeling of watching a super slo-motion crash test film. Think of Henry Hill’s final day in Goodfellas; The pasta sauce, the drugs, the family, the police helicopter, that suffocating sense of paranoia and stretch it to 180 minutes. You’re behind enemy lines with the men robbing the world, you’re in the thick of it at all times and worse than that you’re disgusted to be on the wrong side. It’s one of Scorsese’s funniest films, paced like a punk rock song and force-fed Quaaludes. The performances are hysterical, it’s impeccably designed and as for the cries of a “glamorisation of a lifestyle” being screamed from the pulpits, well, if you think this film is glamourising anything, you might want to take a look at your own values first.
12. BLUE RUIN
Dir: Jeremy Saulnier
The much talked about Blue Ruin is an everyman revenge film tainted with humour and peppered with brutal violence, set within the gothic-backwoods landscape of America. A story of a man, destroyed by the murder of his parents, who takes bloody revenge on the party responsible; It’s certainly filled with familiarity and, truth be told, the plot is downright threadbare but Jeremy Saulnier‘s second feature is a taught, atmospheric and chilling one.
Blue Ruin‘s dark heart is set within a frame of Coen Brotheresque mishaps and governed by Hitchcock like pacing; It’s also weirdly and surprisingly funny. Self administered leg surgery and fire arm 101 classes from a childhood friend give it a giddy, wincing, comic tone but underneath its drab colours and atmospheric score its biggest surprise is a nearly unbearable tension. Although Dwight’s path could, in the end, be one of self-destruction rather than retribution, and this could be too dark for most to stomach, Blue Ruin is an intense story from a director with a bright future and featuring a remarkable, moving central performance from Macon Blair.
11. MISTAKEN FOR STRANGERS
Dir: Tom Berninger
This rock documentary of The National’s time on the road could have been a tired and one noted affair had it not been created by lead signer Matt Berninger‘s younger brother, Tom Berninger. Like some the bands best work its awash with envy, discord and sadness. Thankfully though it’s also brilliantly funny. 9 years his brothers junior, Tom is an outsider from the get go, openly admitting a disdain for the band’s music, when Matt invites his lay about brother along on tour as a roadie with a camera. The beer swilling metal head sets about documenting his slacker adventure with no real idea.
There are portions of the film which reek of self knowing (some are even potentially set ups) but as Tom’s fear of forever being the black sheep to his rock god brother gets the better of him we see the film begin to take shape with help of Matt’s wife Carin Besser, becoming a touching portrait of brothers separated a gulf of ones successes and the others failures. Part American Movie, part Spinal Tap, Mistaken for Strangers is darkly funny piece of work which is set around the band only as a family, not about them or their music in the slightest, which is what makes it so perfectly human and surprisingly touching in the films final scenes.
10. ALL IS LOST
Dir: JC Chandor
JC Chandor‘s 32 page, near silent script about a man lost at sea in his damaged sail boat must have resonated somehow with Robert Redford. The old man and the sea is such a striking image of course and the 77-year-old actor and now indie film godfather has taken a huge chance on this bold and interesting film and its young director. Chandor’s Margin Call was a very talky almost Mamet-esque expose of the beginning of the financial crisis. The film was crammed with sharp words, hurtful, steamroller Glengary Glenross chest beating and a multitude of fine performances. With All is Lost Chandor strips everything away; There is barely a word beyond the opening monologue which may or may not be a penned letter to the sailor’s family but it’s incredibly gripping and a strangely contemplative piece of work.
As a survival film its flawless; What would you do in this situation? A question which drives our want for Redford to survive and Chandor’s infatuation with the old man’s method. He even shaves before a huge storm, weighs his options slowly and so quietly that his thoughts are nearly deafening, he rations his food, stitches his wounds, haplessly fishes but he is found breathlessly desperate over and over again; He is totally alone and with All Is Lost subtly and wonderfully handing over control to mother nature it’s also filled with enough space to ponder our own lonely planet and its own survival. An intense, silent, winner quite unlike anything else.
9. ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE
Dir: Jim Jarmusch
The laconic and super cool Jim Jarmusch’s latest film is exactly that. This slow, suave tale of a couple of centuries old vampires effortlessly swipes the new millennium’s fangy fad off the table by finding a fresh and remarkably funny angle, playing out like a rambling nocturnal and atmospheric record rather than a film. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleson are Adam and Eve, cast to perfection; He’s become a reclusive underground music hero in Detroit, paying off a blood analyst for the best stuff, and she has withdrawn into a world of literary cool in Tangier, shooting the breeze and acquiring the precious red stuff from a grizzled John Hurt.
Swinton and Hiddleson are wonderfully endearing as the ever knowledgeable couple, waxing lyrical over Tesla, Fungus and Doo-Wop in scenes which will have your average audience groaning in discomfort. But those of us who know the world of Ghost Dog or the seriously underrated The Limits of Control among old Jim’s other work will find much to love here, including a subtext which may have the director laughing a little at himself.
Dir: Alexander Payne
When the cantankerous old Woody (a superb, subdued Bruce Dern) receives a sweep-steak marketing leaflet declaring that he has won $1m he attempts to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska to pick up his prize. The mother hen-pecked youngest son David (Will Forte) decides to drive the alcoholic old coot there himself at the behest of his foul-mouthed battle-axe mother (played incredibly by June Squibb). He sees it as a connection he can make between himself and his physically there but mentally absent father, weary and knowing of the disappointment at the end of their journey. But as someone once said; It’s not the destination, it’s the trip.
Dern’s performance is his best in about 25 years, curbing the crazy eyed rebels on his resumé for a quiet complex character who is all at once sad, beautiful, broken and hopeful. Forte is also magnificent, going through a crisis of his own, playing referee, confidant and cry baby with gusto. The final scenes are a marvel in nuanced cinema and Nebraska becomes easily Payne’s greatest achievement in all its black and white and grey, perfectly captured by the directors frequent collaborator Phedon Papamichael.
7. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
Dir: Joel and Ethan Coen
Sitting somewhere between Barton Fink and O Brother, Where Art Thou composer and musician T Bone Burnett and Joel and Ethan Coen are back with an entirely different sing-song beast of a film. It’s disarmingly simple, painfully sad and beautifully shot by Bruno Delbonnel and, as Llewyn Davis himself says; There’s not one good thing to be said about him or the people Inside Llewyn Davis. Oscar Isaac plays Davis with a sleepy-eyed, heavy-hearted, tight-lipped swagger; His career as a folk singer in Greenwich Village is failing, the 60’s are just kicking in but there’s not an ounce of free love to be found for our couch surfing misfit. Every room he stays in somehow seems familiar to him and us, his record company hasn’t paid him one red cent, its freezing cold outside and, to make things worse, he’s stuck with a family cat with no name.
This is a film which embodies its time in the strangest detail. It’s impeccably designed and shot, each frame evokes the blurred cover art of some early Bob Dylan record and its strength is that it rolls and rambles like the best of his fever dream songs. The inclusion of the afro haired master of war himself never feel trite or obvious and a strange kick at the back of the film turns every preceding scene into a huge time and space question mark but the Coens cleverly don’t make a big deal of it. It is in itself a folk song, one which you could start from any scene and loop back around on yourself never knowing where the final verse is. If you need shoe horned exposition, a tearful finale, obvious redemption or your characters motives spelled out for you stay well clear but for those of you who like their films to unfold with time and multiple viewings you might have already seen your favourite film of the year.
Dir: Pawel Pawlikowski
Pawel Pawlikowski is a seriously talented director; His films seem born of an English mentality to the countryside, the city and the isolation of being a stranger in both of those strange lands. Ida channels the stark films of Carl Dreyer and Ingmar Bergman to tell the uncompromising tale of the titular young orphan (Agata Trzebuchowska) raised by the catholic church. Before she takes her vows at the age of 18 she is ordered by her Mother Superior to visit her only known relative; An aunt by the name of Wanda (an incredible Agata Kulesza) who tells the naive young lady of her true Jewish past. At the bare bones level, Ida is really a road movie, a film about reconnecting with a past, about becoming a woman.
The performances and pacing are flawless and, apart from Pawlikowski’s direction, the cinematography by Ryszard Lenczewski is the most immediately striking and brilliantly consistent practice on offer. Jarring at first with its top-heavy composition it eventually speaks volumes with Pawlikowski’s film. Hinting at two characters which, in one way or another are either looking upwards or backward. Put simply Ida is an 80 minute monochrome masterpiece which begs to be seen; Evocative and important film making from a director whose recognition of and re-connection with his own motherland has created a mature and beautiful film, filled with sadness and wonder.
5. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Dir: Wes Anderson
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a breakneck Ernst Lubitsch inspired comedy which centres on a Hotel Concierge with a love for the older ladies. The eloquently pompous Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his confidant and lobby boy ludicrously called Zero (Tony Revolori) struggle to hide a painting left to Gustave by one of many ancient names in the concierge’s little black book; Nods at Buster Keaton, Stanley Kubrick and most notably (for Anderson at least) Austrian author Stefan Zweig; A writer who led a fascinating life as a within the bourgeois of pre 1930’s Europe, taking his own life during the second world war.
The Grand Hotel Budapest is a fantastic film; The kind of film whose ending you can feel coming and no matter how far you push it to the back of your mind you can already feel how disappointed you’ll be when it ends. It’s shot through with fascinating characters, a wonderful sense of humour and, at its centre, a truly incredible performance from Fiennes who’s comic timing is absolute perfection. Revolori’s naivety works wonders against his know it all’s perpetual hand kissing and soliloquising which is always somehow interrupted.
Told as a story within a story for the most part (complete with aspect ratio changes to announce each period) Anderson strangely never gives up anything of Gustave’s past or the past of any of his players but the history of Zero is revealed in one of the best scenes in the film; A heartbreaking moment which hints at much more than most American directors could even begin to show and gets a reaction from Fiennes which is one of the most perfect things I’ve seen in cinema for a long time.
4. UNDER THE SKIN
Dir: Jonathan Glazer
From the opening moment of this, Jonathan Glazer‘s third film, we are thrown head first into nothingness. A point of light grows, morphing darkly into a fading sun, a space ship, an eye. A voice is practicing, some kind of language comprehension test. It’s an introduction which is immediately throat grabbing. The eye blinks and just like that we are hurtling down a country road outside of Glasgow on a motorbike. The world rushes past and a woman is picked up from a field and loaded into a white transit van. Were we just born? Did we land?
Glazer’s adaptation of Michel Faber‘s novel is never interested in answering your questions. Its goal to create a cold atmosphere dripping with dread and mystery with which it succeeds in spades. Born again perhaps, our “alien” is now a beautiful woman (played with an otherworldly quality by Scarlett Johansson). She takes a transit van (her motorbike accomplice hurtles into the morning light) and she begins a curb crawling hunt for eligible bachelors on the street of the Scottish city: With her over emphasised English accent, piercing stare and red ruby lips it’s needless to say she doesn’t find it too difficult.
Though Under The Skin isn’t a particularly violent film (the hapless suitors are calmly despatched with into a tar black lake) that whole piece reeks of it. In the films most shocking moment a non plussed Johansson experiences a death on a windswept beach and, as a turning point, it later forces her to become aware of something within her programming. Empathy? Is this the curse of beauty giving way? It questions societies pressures to be beautiful, wonders what a true foreigner might see in our own good “human” nature and with a shock and awe ending, filled with that threatening violence which hangs like the only star in the night sky over the whole of this wildly flawed but inspired piece of film making, it also leaves you deeply saddened with our own species.
3. THE BABADOOK
Dir: Jennifer Kent
Few and far between are the horror films which really hit home. More staggering then is the arrival of Jennifer Kent‘s debut film; A bona fide left field modern horror masterpiece about grief which truly utilises the classical strengths of a genre in order to keep the supernatural monsters in background while the very real life horror plays out in front. An inspired and spiralling performance by Essie Davis as mother Emilia and an equally jaw dropping debut from the 7-year-old Noah Wiseman as her son Samuel are firmly at the centre of this swirling storm of a film.
From Roman Polanski‘s Apartment trilogy to F.W Munrau‘s playful shadows and light and right up until last year’s devastating We Need to Talk About Kevin it twists and turns the very female horror of the latter around the aesthetics of the former, transforming tried and tested ingredients into something fearful, intelligent and remarkable, using loss and grief as the most despicable of monsters. The design is spot on and Kent smartly eschews jump scares for pot boiling terror and tense character action, using titular monster sparingly and quite beautifully towards the films intense, upending finale.
Much has already been written about this wonderful piece of work (Master horror man William Friedkin showed his love in fact) but it is quite striking and vitally important to note that the 2 finest horror films of the last 5 years have been conceived and directed by women. Talented women who have pinpointed and sharpened the maternal influences of horror films such as Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion and have rightly taken them back to new and brilliant places. The Babadook is a film which has a timeless quality and fantastic air of care and sincerity about it. It really believes in its own terror. And rightly so; It is not only an assured pitch perfect piece of horror but it is also an absolutely brilliant drama with one of the finest child performances ever put to film; It will haunt you and thrill you to bits.
Dir: Richard Linklater
With Boyhood, surely Richard Linklater‘s magnum opus thus far, the director and its stars have created an absolute flat-out joy of a film; A film about time, responsibility, love and the power of family. A film about a mother, father, daughter and son growing up in their own unique ways. Linklater started with the project 12 years ago when the focus of the film (Ellar Coltrane) was only a 7-year-old boy. The endlessly creative writer wanting to shoot for a week per year until Coltrane was 18. These tiny segments of life, not subtitled nor indicated, flow by and, much like life’s own weeks and months as one gets older, seem faster and faster as the essential 164 minutes of Boyhood give way to the end.
Along with Coltrane’s Mason we also see what time does to his sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the directors own daughter) and to their parents; The struggling, back to school single mother of Patricia Arquette and the wayward wanna be musician father of Ethan Hawke. We drop in occasionally to see how they’re all doing, the way a relative might along the years; We’re stunned by their growth and their choices.
I didn’t grow up with divorced parents or with a smart phone or reading Harry Potter but none of that matters while watching this remarkable film. It really does pass by in an instant despite its near three-hour running time and through Mason’s ever-changing frame we are simply and poignantly reminded of how quickly life can pass you by or creep up on you unnoticed. The young Ellar Coltrane has the good fortune of inhabiting a role that we’ve never seen anything like (outside of the documentary world of the 7-Up series) and for that it’s one of the most fascinating “fictional” performances ever put to film but there’s so much more here than watching Linklater’s brain wave experiment mature; Boyhood is incredibly inventive, important and creative film making which is epic as a whole but always heartbreakingly intimate with its characters. A rare feat indeed.
1. THE TRIBE
Dir: Miroslav Slaboshpitsky
The Tribe is a film set within a viciously corrupt school for the deaf and contains no dialogue and no subtitles; An Experience which takes us back to a mentality of watching expressionist silent films of years long gone and using the conceit, the unknown, as a marvellous tool, to manipulate, shock and confiscate. The film, as original as it is, begins simply, almost as cliché; Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko) is trying to find his new school. He asks at a bus stop before arriving late to an induction in a court-yard with all students an teachers in participation. We, as an audience are kept at arm’s length, watching from across roads and though panes of glass to begin with. Then, slowly, through sign language and action we are let in to discover a different kind of induction by the students within The Tribe.
It is a mystery of sorts, in that it’s subtleties are hidden in plain sight. It is (though many people would disagree) also a comedy. It’s also, in fact, a love story (maybe) about breaking the rules. But it goes without saying that there are a multitude of forces at work here. Themes of despair, the prosecution of subcultures and the oppression of an iron fisted government all permeate The Tribe.This is a marvel of long take cinema which unfolds often like a dance piece, often like a horror film and often like something else, never seen before.
It repels and intrigues with dazzling technical skill from its young director and it reminds us of the power of the body in many ways; Though the language of it is at the forefront, in the film’s coldest and hardest scene Slaboshpitsky reminds us of its fragility. And, in the absolutely devastating final shot, of its inherent violence. It speaks volumes without saying a thing and it is the most original, thought-provoking and divisive film of the year.