It’s been an especially mixed year in the world of cinema. The quality has fluctuated between serious highs and serious lows, between forgettable blockbusters and awe-inspiring independent efforts. In compiling this list I had to exclude a few really wonderful films; 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street won’t appear on this list because they were screened to most critics in 2013, and the fact I only saw them this year doesn’t make them viable for the list. I also haven’t been able to see critic’s favourites such as Birdman or Whiplash due to their later début dates in the UK, after being praised highly over in the US. This is a very personal list, and is the very best of what I’ve seen this year, and what moved, thrilled and shocked me the most.
Number 5: The Wind Rises
Hayao Miyazaki’s (supposed) final movie The Wind Rises is a special film for many reasons. It signals the end of an era, as the master of animation himself finally hangs up his pens and calls it a day, after garnering almost universal acclaim for his magical, timeless masterpieces of the genre. The Wind Rises is the perfect farewell, a more adult tale about a genius war plane-designer who has to wrestle with his morality as his creations are sent off to kill, all while he finds love and suffers heartbreak. In comparison with his other more imaginative, more child friendly films, The Wind Rises is a fascinating change of pace that almost becomes an autobiographical journey from Miyazaki himself. While being both beautiful, tragic and uplifting, I cannot run from the overbearing feeling that this is the final goodbye to one of my favourite ever film-makers. His films have charmed and inspired people for decades, and The Wind Rises epitomises all that was wonderful about his career. In The Wind Rises, Miyazaki simultaneously says goodbye to us all, while fondly reminding us of the journey his animation has taken us on. Magical cinema.
Number 4: The Babadook
As a lover of the horror genre, but a great advocate against the modern horror style of film-making, The Babadook is an extraordinary tribute to the greats that made my hair stand up on end. In Jennifer Kent’s début movie, Essie Davis gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a suffering widowed mother, Amelia, who has to tend for her problematic, troubled child Samuel, played by Noah Wiseman. After they read a mysterious book together called ‘Mister Babadook’, their lives plummet into fear as Samuel’s problems escalate and Amelia struggles to retain her sanity as she deals with her son while also fighting the suspicion that his fears are very real. With sound production to equal The Exorcist and atmosphere that rivals The Shining (plus one of the scariest monsters ever to grace horror cinema), The Babadook is a horror film for purists, a movie that relies on pure tension and atmosphere to scare you, bordering the plot so finely between the psychological and supernatural elements as to truly unsettle and disturb. A perfectly executed horror masterpiece.
Number 3: Under the Skin
A truly unsettling, visceral take on science fiction, Jonathan Glazer’s tale of an alien both living among us and feeding on us in a bid to survive is a staggeringly ambitious piece of work that is as beautiful as it is haunting. A masterful visual effort, Under the Skin baffles the senses in extraordinary surrealist scenes which depict the alien, played by an almost unrecognisable Scarlett Johansson trap and kill men almost through their own desire and lust in chasing her. She smiles and flirts from her van’s window in the middle of night-time Scotland and then casually takes them back for emotionless, frightening scenes of strange death. At times it is almost erotic, sometimes even quite funny, but most of all it creates a nightmarish atmosphere which really does creep under the skin. Big ideas are explored by Glazer through this incredible tale of a very different type of alien invasion, and Johansson perfectly inhabits a being that is both incredibly appealing and attractive but also strangely off centre, as if out of touch and out of mind with humanity. Wonderfully shot and lifted by the best score of the year, Under the Skin is among the year’s very strangest, and very best films. It works so well because we’ve never seen anything like it before, a truly unique tale of humans told through the eyes of an alien.
Number 2: Gone Girl
After reading a great many of critic’s ‘best of the year’ film lists, I noticed an unfortunate lack of David Fincher’s fantastic adaptation of Gone Girl. I’m flying the flag for it now, right into second place for its wonderful mystery, beautiful cinematography and what must surely be the Oscar winning performance of Rosamund Pike as ‘Amazing Amy’. The story of a man accused of his wife’s murder takes every kind of twist and turn imaginable as Fincher expertly crafts expectations and ideas in the audiences’ mind, only to wipe them all away with a slippery plot that sets out only to excite and shock. A wonderfully biting satire of relationships and marriage, plus the media’s influence on our lives, Gone Girl hit a chord with me that I have not quite managed to shake since I saw it. I loved every second of it, from its satirical points, its blackest of the black humour or its nerve shredding suspense. I haven’t always been the biggest fan of David Fincher; I’ve never got the appeal of Fight Club and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was a bloated mess. However, he hit all of my buttons this time around, and I don’t hesitate when calling it one of his finest ever films.
Number 1: Boyhood
What else? The presentation of twelve years of a young boy’s life, shot over twelve years using the same actors is not only a wonderful film, but a revolutionary example of film-making. Richard Linklater’s crazily ambitious project will be regarded as a classic for decades to come as it perfectly captures the moments not only of a boy growing up, but of a family breaking off and repairing itself constantly under the strain of time. Even though the film contains terrific acting and direction, the simple experience of seeing a human grow up in front of you is unforgettable, a marvel of the medium. It transcends cinema, becoming not only the best film of 2014, but also one of the best films of the last ten years. It finds something in this simple journey of growing up that we can all connect with; a perfect blend of the highs and lows that almost find the answer to what it means to be human, and what it means to get older. There have been a lot of great films on this list, films that scare, uplift, and excite. But I can’t describe any of them as miracles of cinema. With Boyhood, it almost feels like a duty to lavish the highest praise possible upon it. It perfects everything it tries to do, and infinitely more in the process. It is inescapable and unforgettable; an instant classic that will be revered for years to come.