TOM BAYNTONS' TOP 20 FILMS OF 2014 (and some other stuff.)
2014 was a great year for film, choosing this list was really hard. Special mentions to
The Imitation Game, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Wind Rises and Maps to the
Stars, all of which were heavily considered but didn’t quite make the final list.
Sadly not even I can see everything, and I never got around to seeing Pride, Fury,
Cold In July, Calvary or Mr. Turner, all of which I heard were pretty good.
20. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson’s latest is probably his most Wes Anderson-y film to date. An all star
cast farce set in a hotel in a fictional Eastern European state, it’s quirky as hell but
utterly charming. Ralph Fiennes is fantastic as hotel owner M. Gustave, and there
were few better set pieces than the high speed chase through the Winter Olympics
course (incorporating just about every discipline.).
19. Under The Skin
Jonathan Glazer’s first film for 9 years was this surreal tale of an alien (Scarlett
Johansson) stalking the lonely men of Glasgow. Heavily Kubrick-influenced, if the
last half an hour didn’t quite match up to the brilliance of the first hour it didn’t really
matter. Some fantastic imagery and one of the great soundtracks of the year. And
Johansson was ace.
18. 22 Jump Street
It was a fantastic year for directing duo Lord and Miller (see also no. 15.) Their
genius approach to sequalising their 2012 hit was to embrace the repetitiveness of the
plot (“We want you to do exactly the same shit as last time” sighs the weary police
captain) and just amp up the bonkers. Worth seeing for Channing Tatum describing
the plot of Dora the Explorer in a terrible Mexican accent and perhaps the best end
17. The Babadook
This Australian horror was such a breath of fresh air, working hard to create an
atmosphere in a field that these days is pretty much dominated by cheap jump shocks.
Dominated by two terrific performances and superb use of visuals you spend half the
movie checking the extreme corners of the screen. Did something just move?
Shot in gorgeous black and white, Ida follows the titular nun as she tries to discover
what happened to her parents in post World War 2 Poland. Director Pawel
Pawlikowski offsets the admittedly dark subject matter with flashes of humour and
stunning visuals. A fascinating hybrid of road movie and historical drama.
Lars Von Trier’s four hour sex epic (sensibly divided into two parts for its UK release)
is by turns provocative, hilarious, compelling and moving. Best taken as a very black
comedy (Stellan Skarsgaard’s monologues comparing sex to everything from fishing
to Bach are brilliant), this is proof once again that no-one is making films like Von
Trier right now. Would maybe have been higher if Shia LaBouef could have managed
a cockney accent.
14. The Lego Movie
What many expected to be nothing more than a feature length product placement took
everyone by surprise. 21 Jump Street directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (busy year
for them) applied their usual anarchic comic style to the whole thing and came up
with this often bonkers, frequently hilarious ode to creativity. Personal favourite:
Benny the (literally) cracked spaceman. Interesting footnote: Fox News’s Charles
Payne condemned the film as anti-capitalist. All together now: “Everything is
One of the most frequently mentioned events of the year was Russia’s official
nomination of Leviathan as their official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film
Oscar. Did they see it?? This slow, heartbreaking tale of the destruction of one man
under the wheels of the state is hardly a glowing advert for Russia (although the
cinematography makes the countryside look beautiful.). As protagonist Nikolai battles
local government, church and small time mobsters to keep his house from being
seized, the effect is compellingly tragic.
12. Gone Girl
David Fincher’s made a career out of films with seemingly simple setups that have
untold depths underneath, so he was perfect to adapt Gillian Flynn’s bestseller which
is about way more than a search for a missing woman. The story slots perfectly into
Fincher’s usual style of cold visuals, ambient Trent Reznor score and cracking
performances from a cast of largely underrated actors. (Affleck and Pike are great but
take a bow Neil Patrick Harris for managing to obliterate all memories of How I Met
Your Mother.) A darkly funny dissection of a marriage which might make any
prospective couples think twice about the whole thing.
Few films this year were as dominated by one performance as Nightcrawler. As
freelance news reporting sociopath Lou Bloom, Jake Gyllenhaal is never off-screen
and his burning intensity dominates throughout, whether he’s ruthlessly manipulating
those around him or silently stalking through a crime scene, camera at his side. First
time director Dan Gilroy perfectly captures the seedy, late night LA atmosphere as
well as providing a cracking car chase and some moments of real tension that often
play with audience expectations. Mesmerising stuff, and if Gyllenhaal isn’t Oscar
nominated in a couple of months it’ll be an absolute travesty.
10. The Raid 2
Whereas the first Raid was relatively simple (lone cop trapped in a building of
gangsters must fight his way out.) the sequel went positively epic, introducing
multiple characters (all hail Baseball Bat Man and Hammer Girl) and plot strands. If it
all got a bit confusing at times, then the constant was once again the jaw-dropping
action as Iko Uwais trashes numerous foes at lightning speed. Even director Gareth
Evans has admitted he has no idea how to top this for the inevitable (but extremely
welcome) The Raid 3.
Christopher Nolan’s latest came in for a bit of a critical kicking in some quarters, but
for fans of pure cinema it’s a big, bold, thought provoking slice of sci-fi with imagery
on a massive scale (this is NOT one to watch on your phone.) It’s refreshing to see
sci-fi so teeming with ideas, how rare is it to see something new done visually with a
robot? By turns dramatic, exhilarating and humorous and bolstered by Hans Zimmer’s
greatest score to date. Even if the only person who really understood what happens in
the last twenty minutes is probably Christopher Nolan.
After a bunch of promising yet flawed films, 2014 saw Spike Jonze deliver his
masterpiece. With a plot that sounds like a bad Adam Sandler comedy (a man falls in
love with a computer operating system), Jonze succeeds by delving deep into the life
of Theodore (another brilliant study in buttoned-down loner by Joaquin Phoenix) and
making the film less about a love affair between man and machine and more about
Theodore’s journey to coping with life. Beautiful and often very funny (loved the
abusive interactive computer game.)
07. The Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese does comedy! Although based around a clear rise-and-fall structure
which he’s used numerous times before, Scorsese never delivered anything as funny
as the sequence where Leonardo DiCaprio, off his face on Quaaludes, attempts to
drive his car home. DiCaprio’s intensely charismatic performance keeps Jordan
Belfort likeable even as he sinks to lower and lower depths and the support cast are
great too, particularly Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey. There’s a lot more
going on here though than drug fuelled hijinks though, as the film is also a damning
indictment of capitalist overindulgence. Although this doesn’t mean you can’t laugh
at two men so off their faces they can barely move fighting over a telephone.
06. The Guest
I know I’m going to take some flack for putting this above Interstellar and Wolf of
Wall Street, but for my money this was the most downright enjoyable film of the year.
Retro eighties style in visuals and soundtrack and boasting what should be a star
making turn by Dan Stevens, this story of an unhinged former soldier looking after
the family of a fallen comrade had some very dark laughs and some pretty hard arsed
(given the obviously low budget) action. Sadly made as much in its entire cinema run as Transformers 4 made in its first week, it’s the best John Carpenter film John
Carpenter never made. Did I mention the soundtrack was awesome?
05. The Double
If David Lynch really has retired from filmmaking, then his fans need look no further
for a successor than Richard Ayoade. Heavily influenced by Eraserhead’s look and
sound design (the two films share a permanent low industrial rumble on the
soundtrack), this nightmarish future is brilliantly realised, as office drone Simon
James meets his absolute doppelganger in new employee James Simon, although noone
else in his office notices. Jesse Eisenberg is fantastic, you’re never in any doubt
as to which of the two identically dressed characters you’re watching. The supporting
cast are great too; more films should have Wallace Shawn in. Unsettling but
absolutely compelling stuff.
04. 2 Days 1 Night
The year’s most devastatingly high concept yet simple plot – Marion Cottilard’s
worker has the titular time frame to convince her colleagues to vote for her to keep
her job at the expense of their 500 euro bonus. Absolutely nerve wracking stuff with a
tremendous performance from Cottilard as we see her beg for her job repeatedly, each
time getting a different result. There was no blockbuster this year which could match
this for edge of the seat tension.
03. 12 Years a Slave
Proof that the Oscars do sometimes get it right. Released right at the beginning of
January, Steve McQueen’s Oscar winner was still one of the first films that jumped to
mind when the time came to assemble this list. A superb cast and McQueen’s
typically unflinching directorial style (try getting that held shot of the hanging out of
your head) add up to the intense experience. It’s deeply layered too – consider this: Is
Benedict Cumberbatch’s character, who knows what he’s doing is wrong but does it
anyway, actually crueller than Michael Fassbender’s, who believes what he’s doing is
right? Take that for character depth!
02. Inside Llewyn Davis
A slice of beautiful melancholia from the brothers Coen, this tale of a folk singer
struggling to go solo following the death of his partner is up there with their very best.
Oscar Isaac is superb as the self-destructive Llewyn, managing to make him likeable
despite his frequent torpedoing of his life, this is a guy who impregnates his best
friend’s girlfriend and then tries to borrow the abortion money from said best friend.
Populated with some really memorable supporting characters (the campaign for a
Roland Turner and Johnny Five spinoff starts here.), the greatest trick in the film is
that the Coens never let on whether Llewyn’s music is supposed to be any good or not,
most reactions to it are sheer indifference. It’s very very funny too, check out the
parody of sixties political songs Please Mr. Kennedy (UH OH.). Although the Star
Wars casting has lent some irony to Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver begging not to be
shot into outer space…
This so easily could have just been a gimmick. Filmed over twelve years with the
same cast, director Richard Linklater one ups his own Before trilogy (a trilogy with
each part made ten years apart so the characters age naturally) by following Mason
(Ellar Coltrane) from boy to man. Dropping in and out of Mason’s life at random
intervals (some characters suddenly disappear and circumstances differ in the change
of a scene) this brilliant character study just brings on waves of nostalgia and emotion,
not once flagging over a 165 minute running time. It’s not just about watching Mason
mature either, you see the people around him change too. We see Ethan Hawke’s
immature father figure accept responsibility and succeed in a second marriage, while
Patricia Arquette’s mum struggles as her children grow up and fly the nest. Brilliantly
acted and with a soundtrack guaranteed to bring on waves of nostalgia, this is pure life
affirming cinema. I’ve seen it three times and I can’t wait for the DVD so I can see it
again. If you haven’t seen it, you really really should. It’s a masterpiece.
And the worst three…
1. A Million Ways To Die In The West
There’s nothing worse than watching a bad comedy, and this was truly a bad comedy.
Script written by a four year old for whom wee and poo are the most hilarious things
2. The Monuments Men
Tragic waste of a good cast as George Clooney and co. get several men killed in order
to get some paintings back from the Nazis. A mishmash of war movie clichés.
3. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
I know I saw this but I literally can’t remember anything about it.
PLAYLIST OF THE YEAR.
1. Justin Timberlake, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver – Please Mr. Kennedy (Inside
2. Micah Levy – Lonely Void (Under The Skin)
3. Blue Suede – Hooked on a Feeling (Guardians of the Galaxy)
4. Annie – Anthonio (Berlin Breakdown Version). (The Guest)
5. Family of the Year – Hero (Boyhood)
6. Various – The Interrigation Song (Muppets Most Wanted)
7. Joe Hisashi – A Journey (The Wind Rises)
8. Paul Simon – Obvious Child (Obvious Child)
9. Alexandre Desplat – Moonshine (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
10. Keira Knightley – Tell Me That You Want to Go Home (rooftop version) (Begin
Again.)11 Hans Zimmer – Stay (Interstellar)
12. Teagan and Sara – Everything Is Awesome (The Lego Movie)