The title of this post is very deliberately chosen. These are my favourite films of the year rather than the best films. This is not just a concession to the subjectivity of such an exercise but an acknowledgement that I’ve probably not seen most of the best films of the year. I watch a lot of films but it’s still a small proportion of those out there. You won’t see Boyhood, Babadook, Pride, the Wind Rises, Mr Turner, Wolf of Wall Street, The Theory of Everything, Calvary, the Raid 2, Unbroken, Under the Skin, Lucy, The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel or Citizenfour on this list not because I think the films there are better but just because I haven’t seen them.
For the purposes of this post, a film was released this year if that’s when IMDB lists its UK release date as 2014.
And that as far as I’m concerned is a pretty good selection of films. Despite a relatively anaemic box office, there’ve been plenty of interesting films and encouragingly many of them have been the kind of big budget epics that people are most likely to watch. The first film I saw this year was 12 years a slave, which shortly went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars. It was I thought a very worthy winner and I assumed it would my top film of the year. Yet such has been the quality of what I have seen, 12 Years is not actually in my top 5. A lot of other really great films have gone the same way.
The strength that I think unites the films I have chosen is that grapple with important (generally political) themes but do so within the context of riveting filmmaking. They are political without being propaganda. Balancing entertainment and exploring ideas is a challenge for filmmakers and many of them have risen the challenge admirably.
Marvel has had a great year. Guardians of the Galaxy and the Winter Soldier were for my money the best films the studio has made so far. The reason I picked the later film for my top 5 was that it retained Marvel’s usual combination of action and humour but also added some smart political stuff about the surveillance state. Plus it had some really good performances including from Chris Evans in the lead, who I’d not really rated before.
The funniest and cutest defence of immigration you can imagine. A nice mixture of slapstick, satire, visual gags and wordplay. It is sweet without becoming sentimental. The cast is pretty much perfectly chosen and the performances they deliver are great. Particularly remarkable is Nicole Kidman clearly having a riot as the villain.
The Dardenne brothers latest film stars Marion Cotillard as Sandra a working class Belgium women who has a single weekend to save her job by persuading her colleagues to forgo their annual bonuses. I can’t do better job of explaining why it’s such an impressive film than the Economist’s review did: “the Dardennes’ film digs more deeply into the devastating effects of the Western world’s current financial woes than practically any previous feature film. The audience is, of course, eager for Sandra to keep the job which puts a roof over her family’s heads, and which lifts her out of her depression. But when the Dardennes show what goes on behind her colleagues’ front doors, it becomes painfully clear how important their bonuses are to them, too. “It will be a disaster for me if the majority vote for you,” says one. “But I hope for your sake that they do.” It is a complicated, humane idea, expressed with heart-wrenching directness. And there are many more of those in this impressive work.”
Director Yann Demange takes the spirit of Paul Greengrass and Kathryn Bigelow to Northern Ireland for this finger nail shredding tale of a British soldier (Jack O’Connell) lost in Belfast at the height of the Troubles. It is both a wonderfully evocation of a particular point in history and a universally applicable parable about the messiness of counter-insurgency.
My favourite film of the year barely even qualifies. It’s not had a proper cinematic release in the UK (and probably never will) but was shown at the Edinburgh Film Festival. That’s a travesty because it’s a near perfect film. In fact, I’m rather unsure which of its myriad strengths to tell you about. Perhaps the most remarkable is that its preposterous premise about the only survivors of catastrophic climate change being aboard a train that never stops is utterly convincing from beginning to end. Joon-ho Bong creates a remarkable world aboard the train and populates it with an impressive cast (including Chris Evans, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Viola Davis and Alison Pill). I’ve not seen a more compelling exploration of either personal or political themes this year.