Here we are. The results are in and I have finally committed to choosing five films that I have rated higher than any other this year. I am looking forward to reading everyone else’s and I want to see what you all think of my list. Also, while I have got you all here, I just want to apologise for an on-and-off absence when it comes to my blog. My computer is breaking on me again and this time I want to bite the bullet and just get a new one. It does mean that I am at the mercy of other people when it comes to laptop-using, which is why I might be posting reviews one day and then be totally absent on the next. I am trying to get things stable again, so please just bear with me and I will try to get things back to normal very soon.
5 – LOCKE
While I am not sure I would be in any particular rush to watch this movie again, I have to admit that it is a film that I truly admire for what it set out to do. Locke, on paper, sounds like a film student’s brainstorm meeting. Let’s set an entire film in one set-piece, a car, and have the full story play out in that small space. We expect to be interested, yet bored after the first twenty minutes. However, somehow director Steven Wright exceeds all expectations. No one is quite sure how he manages it too. He could have gone down the usual road when a script keeps the lead character in a small space for the whole movie and made a thriller, like Phone Booth, but there isn’t so much a single antagonist in Locke. The story is about the lead character, Ivan Locke, driving away from his family, while conducting a concrete deal. It has no twist, few late act surprises and never tries to be anything more than it is. It enjoys being mundane yet captivating the audience at the same time. It is astonishing film-making.
And then there is Tom Hardy. God, what a performance! I know people are raving about J.K Simmons, Eddie Redmayne and Jake Gyllenhaal when it comes to the Best Actor this year, but spare a thought for Tom Hardy in this movie. Two things will let him down. One, this film has been released too early to be remembered when the nominations start getting drawn up. And two, Hardy never breaks into scene-chewing or overtly showing off his acting range. The joy of the performance is in how he can make the smallest emotional tick on his face cut so deep with the audience. However, even if this stops him becoming nominee material, it makes the performance no less thrilling. While Knight’s direction is superb, this is Hardy’s film and a must-see for anyone that just wants to spend 85 minutes watching the man act.
4 – CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
Summer blockbusters are a funny kind of film. Usually, I am torn between the movie-lover that just wants to sit back and watch superheroes beat the living daylights out of each other, and the film critic who needs more to his movies than a few explosions and witty one-liners. It makes Marvel movies in particular very hard to review. For example, I loved Guardians of the Galaxy endlessly, but I needed more to hold it in the same regard as everyone else. It means that a lot of these summer hits get little more than a nod of approval from me. Pacific Rim was fun, but silly. Man of Steel was explosive, but lacked heart. The Lone Ranger was the Lone Ranger. However, The Winter Soldier was definitely some of the most fun I had watching a movie this year. It was, there is no other way to say it, incredible.
Mainly, it acts as a slap in the face to anyone that says that Marvel is stuck in a routine. When the studios plot out their next 18 movies ahead of schedule, they create worries that the producers are so focused on what is coming next that they have forgotten the current movie in production. But Winter Soldier suggests the exact opposite. Kevin Feige spends the running time, tearing up everything we thought we knew about Marvel’s game plan. We get twists, major character deaths and shocking revelations littered throughout the entire movie. The most boring Avenger ends up with the most exciting movie in the Phase Two section of Marvel Movies’ game plan. That deserves a place on the Top Five in my books.
3 – DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Yes! I actually got a prediction right. That doesn’t happen very often.
I actually forgot how much I enjoyed Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I had to go back and revisit it, before I truly felt it deserved to go up on this list. A few months on and I remembered it as a fun action blockbuster. The apes going to battle with the humans was realised terrifically. Toby Kebbell was an amazing villain, perhaps rivalling Amy Dunne when it comes to the nastiest baddie of 2014. The CGI was the factor that raises this movie to levels of perfection. When apes riding horses and using guns beings the norm, then you realise that the visual effects in this movie have earned every penny they were paid. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes acts as a love letter for how far we have come with visual technology.
But the true quality of this movie comes from the deeper reading. Reeves could have made an action with this technology and still made it onto this list, but he also used the current place in the narrative to talk about social problems. It is impossible not to read discussions about the Middle-East, when the humans begin venturing into enemy territory for energy sources. Both societies are defined by the few bad eggs in their colonies. War is never as simple as you might think it is. This might be a fun movie, but if you want more from your cinema, then Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has it all there waiting for you.
2 – THE RAID 2
This movie really blew me away. The Raid 2 had the tricky job of topping the first one, which was so popular, because of the shock factor. Yes, it was a well-directed story, but a lot of the fun we had with that one was the fact that no one quite expected the finished product. It was an explosion of punches, kicks and headshots. That is a tricky thing to pull off a second time around. Gareth Evans doesn’t worry too much about that and simply makes the movie he wants to make. The Raid 2 is so far away from the claustrophobic action of the first, you have to admire his bravery right from the start. We get several characters, Iko Uwais’s lead disappearing off-camera for large moments at a time, jumping from different criminal families continuously. Evans decides to place trust in the audience that we will stick with the foreign language if we really want to get to the bottom of a gripping story. And it really does become a great narrative to get into, fixing the audience on what is going to happen next.
But at the same time, it is totally that action-fest we know and love. When the fighting gets going, it is heart-stopping. The choreography is precise and astonishing. When we get to the finale, our hearts are in our mouths. We get not one, not two, but three show-stopping climax battles back to back. Whenever we suspect the fighting has peaked, Evans goes and raises the bar once again. The Raid 2 becomes the bar that all action movies should aim to reach, restoring everyone’s faith in the idea that there is something endlessly rewarding about a good old martial arts flick.
1 – THE BABADOOK
However, no film has impressed me and left me thinking about it, quite as much as the Babadook. I would never expect awarding Film of the Year to a horror movie, but here I am, hands up, saying that the best movie of 2014 was the Babadook.
We have finally scrapped back some pride with the horror genre, showing that there is a level of talent behind the making of them and that they can be more than a few dumb teenagers running from a serial killer. However, at the same time, things needed to be changed up again. I loved The Woman In Black, Insidious and Sinister, but they were slipping into the same format. A haunted house, a few jump scares and the same night-time wandering sequences. Something needed to change and the Babadook came along, slipping into the peripherals of our vision, and gave us that. It is intelligent, boasts a powerful character piece as well as a nightmarish horror, and relies on more than the jolting soundtrack or monster ‘jumping out’ moment. The horror comes from the darkness of the story and the uncomfortable truths lurking in a broken relationship. Add that to the fact that, if this wasn’t a horror, it would still be a pretty great piece of film-making. Jennifer Kent directs with accuracy and a colour palette just as hollow as the exhausted mother at the centre of the narrative. Essie Davis gives a star-making performance. The horror even has a deeper meaning about, not only facing your fears, but living with them. The Babadook engages the viewer and that made me appreciate it more than any other film this year.