The Best Films Of...

The 100 Best Films of 2014 | The Complete List

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2014 felt like a year of transition.

2013 was a truly astounding 12 months of modern-classic making bravura, while we sit patiently in acknowledgement that 2015 will be the Age of the Tentpole. Wedged between these two mammoth years, what could 2014 possibly hope to offer? To my pleasant surprise, we got a franchise where I’m actually looking forward to the sequels with Guardians of the Galaxy, while the theme of technology and alien intelligence – in many forms of the phrase – featured heavily in the very best movies such as HerUnder the Skin and Interstellar. We also saw career bests from genius filmmakers (Inside Llewyn DavisThe Grand Budapest HotelBoyhood); biopics that blew off the dust to be about more than just their subjects (Get On Up, The Imitation Game); comedies that will actually be remembered and watched over, and over, and over again (22 Jump StreetFrankWhat We Do in the Shadows).

With the dizzying heights of 2015 looming (Avengers! Spielbergian dinosaurs! Millennium Falcons!), this year may be more easily forgotten – but this list will hopefully remind you that it doesn’t get much better than 2014. Here is the complete 100 Best Films of 2014, entries #100 right down to #1. What made the list?


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#100 | A Touch of Sin (Tian zhu ding)

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#99 | Black Sea

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#98 | In Order of Disappearance (Kraftidioten)

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#97 | The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu)

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#96 | I Origins

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#95 | Violette

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#94 | A Story of Children and Film

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#93 | Mystery Road

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#92 | The Two Faces of January

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#91 | In Bloom (Grzeli nateli dgeebi)

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#90 | Bad Neighbours

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#89 | The Borderlands

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#88 | Oculus

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#87 | Cheap Thrills

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#86 | Honeymoon

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#85 | Lilting

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#84 | We Are What We Are

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#83 | The Armstrong Lie

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#82 | Maps to the Stars

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#81 | The Imitation Game

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#80 | Nymphomaniac: Volume 2

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#79 | Nymphomaniac: Volume 1

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#78 | Stranger by the Lake (L’inconnu du lac)

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#77 | The Square (Al midan)

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#76 | Tim’s Vermeer

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#75 | The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

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#74 | Begin Again

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#73 | The Inbetweeners 2

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#72 | Mr. Turner

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#71 | Blue Ruin

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#70 | Godzilla

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#69 | Big Eyes

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#68 | What If

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#67 | Norte, the End of History (Norte, hangganan ng kasaysayan)

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#66 | All This Mayhem

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#65 | Still the Enemy Within

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#64 | Get On Up

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#63 | The Fault in Our Stars

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#62 | Citizenfour

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#61 | Pride

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#60 | Finding Vivian Maier

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#59 | Night Moves

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#58 | ’71

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#57 | How to Train Your Dragon 2

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#56 | Noah

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#55 | What We Do in the Shadows

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#54 | Joe

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#53 | Unforgiven (Yurusarezaru mono)

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#52 | The Overnighters

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#51 | Stations of the Cross (Kreuzweg)

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50_3Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

With Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a science-fiction franchise was reborn after it had fallen into despair (cheers, Burton). But that was only the start; Matt Reeves of Cloverfield notoriety has made his best film yet with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a thoughtful, intense observation on humanity’s role in the wake of Apedom on Earth. Action is mingled with meaningful spectacle, and with the added bonus of Andy Serkis’ greatest motion-capture performance yet, Dawn is a crowdpleaser with both a brain and a beating heart.

‘Apes. Together. Strong!’

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We Are The Best! (Vi är bäst!)

Lukas Moodysson gets his mojo back with the youthful We Are The Best! As the title suggests, there is much pride to be found in the film’s power trio of young, rebellious pubescent punks. It’s an all-out girl war on a landscape dominated by men, and even if they can’t quite play their instruments, they’ve still got the better songs. Terrific filmmaking from an established auteur, and the director’s best since Together.

‘Punk’s dead. Didn’t you know that?’

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Manuscripts Don’t Burn (Dast-neveshtehaa nemisoosand)

There is room for bravery in cinema, even with the assumption that cast and crew enjoy the filmmaking process in glamour, style and fame. That is not true for Manuscripts Don’t Burn;  Mohammad Rasoulof’s political comment is fierce and courageous, as its actors are not credited to save them from being spurned by their own country. True commitment like that can only result in one thing: An incredible film that is as profound as it is scary.

‘Cut out the guerrilla act. That’s over now.’

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The Guest

God bless movies like The Guest. When a mysterious stranger (Dan Stevens) comes to stay at a family’s home, an innocent yet impressionable young daughter (Maika Monroe) slowly figures out he is not all as he seems. It’s as if The Terminator were given a midnight movie makeover, and injected with the kind of black humour that can only be found in Eighties throwbacks. Its style is only part of its charm, however, as the only thing equally as thrilling are the two incredible performances from Stevens and Monroe.

‘Mrs. Peterson? My name is David, Mrs. Peterson. I knew your son, Caleb.’

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46_1The Skeleton Twins

Two of film and TV’s most gifted comic actors come together to make possibly the year’s most tender drama. Playing siblings who are reconnecting after a decade apart, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig bring some of 2014’s most heartfelt acting to the fore. As things bubble under the surface, and lives cross over old, worn paths with plenty of belly laughs along the way, The Skeleton Twins becomes the prime example of an overused word: Dramedy.

‘Does the dog die at the end?’

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20,000 Days on Earth

Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s mercurial biopic / concert film / hallucinogenic fever dream pushes all the same buttons Nick Cave would’ve pressed himself. Even if you’re not a fan of the man’s music, he still strikes a figure of true enigma; walking like a vampire along Brighton’s beaches, Cave carries a rich history of sex, drugs and rock n’ droll behind him – but it’s Forsyth’s and Pollard’s resignation from straight reality that makes 20,000 Days on Earth the best music biography of recent years.

‘In the end, I am not interested in that which I fully understand.’

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Only Lovers Left Alive

Jim Jarmusch takes his time when he finally gets round to making movies. His celebrated back catalogue covers a range of genres, and his latest, Only Lovers Left Alive, takes hold of the vampire nadir and gives it a sharp kick up the jacksie. Tom Hiddlseton and Tilda Swinton have rarely been better as the gothic duo Adam and Eve (yes, those are their names), who mope about in the dark, philosophising rather brilliantly on how high art is tied to mortality.

‘I just feel like all the sand is at the bottom of the hour glass or something.’

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

A Marvel movie that tackles issues in the real world was always going to be a dubious proposition; thankfully, directing team the Russo brothers took the square-as-a-stamp Steve Rogers and made him an action hero with traditional values in a modern world of suspicion, lies and surveillance. This truly ushered in ‘Phase Two’ of Marvel Studios’ grand plan, and while it was delivering brilliant set pieces (the elevator scene, for a great example), it knew exactly what it was doing every step of the way. Oh, and casting Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, the shadowy head of SHIELD? A masterstroke.

‘Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?’

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Dallas Buyers Club

If it weren’t for its two Oscar-winning performances at its heart, Dallas Buyers Club may have been little more than a well-crafted drama posing as something greater. But thanks to Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, the story is lifted beyond the realm of mere conflict-and-catharsis and becomes something nearly transcendent in its tale of an AIDS-riddled bigot trying to turn his life around, and accepting those around him.

‘There ain’t nothin’ out there can kill fuckin’ Ron Woodroof in 30 days.’

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The Golden Dream (La jaula de oro)

First-time director Diego Quemada-Díez isn’t new to the world of moviemaking. He cut his teeth on cinematography with Ken Loach, which explains the astonishing beauty on show in The Golden Dream. It follows a trio of Guatemalan kids who want to make it to the US, in order to escape their current squalor and start a new life. Things, of course, don’t go exactly as planned – and Quemada-Díez never forgets to lend the proceedings an air of tranquility, terror, and eventually, heartbreak.

‘I feel as if I had a zoo in my stomach, as if a whole bunch of animals were running all over my body, from the excitement of going over to the other side.’

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Obvious Child

It’s nearly miraculous that Obvious Child exists at all. Jenny Slate perfectly channels Gillian Robespierre’s deft screenplay, whose film is a extraordinarily well-balanced take on the topic of abortion. Despite its apparent smallness of stakes, Obvious Child is filled with characters that constantly surprise you, and a message that’s more humanist than polemic.

‘You’re dizzy because you played Russian roulette with your vagina.’

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A Most Wanted Man

Simmering to a breath-stealing climax, A Most Wanted Man is a finer John Le Carré adaptation than Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and a much more chilling look at what goes on behind locked doors in secret buildings. It also includes the best Philip Seymour Hoffman performance since The Master, the best Rachel McAdams performance since, well, ever, and those last moments are as memorable as any produced this year.

‘It’s just an ordinary pen. Looks like a pen, writes like a pen, and listens like a pen.’

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38_1The Lunchbox (Dabba)

When a movie revolves around a central plot device, it can often run out of steam by mining its situational potential to death. But with The Lunchbox – where a man’s lunch is mixed up with that of another worker – that gimmick gracefully turns into a quiet hymn on growing old, connection, and finding a purpose in life. And all from a simple lunchbox.

‘Somewhere I read that the wrong train can lead you to the right station…’

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Ida

The most emotionally complex, potent and downright heart-flutteringly terrific picture on the Holocaust for a while. Ida covers much psychological territory, yet is struck through with a clarity of purpose that’s like a lightning bolt, its perceptive qualities mirrored by its clear-eyed monochrome. And it nails home its devastating points about religion, war, family, and sex in just over 80 minutes.

‘What sort of sacrifice are these vows of yours?’

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Locke

An experiment that paid off, Locke is an achievement in pacing, style, and character, all three attuned to the same wavelength so perfectly, Steven Knight’s movie becomes simultaneously a breakneck thriller and a tearjerker – and all set from behind a steering wheel. Tom Hardy continues to prove he’s a genuine asset for tiny films like this, carrying a picture where the landscape are the contours of his face and the gestures of his body; ‘powerhouse’ doesn’t quite cut it.

‘You make one mistake, Donal, one little fucking mistake, and the whole world comes crashing down around you.’

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Omar

Blending a political commentary and a love triangle perfectly, Omar digs its heels into you from the start and never lets go. A nation divided by a wall is no block to Omar’s motivations, which lead him to become – unwillingly – a double agent, pulled between his newfound secret occupation and the woman he loves. This is fine, fine storytelling from Hany Abu-Assad, a man who has discovered that a sociopolitical narrative can be the same as a romantic one.

‘Omar, there’s a price to pay if you want to revolt and liberate your country.’

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Wrinkles (Arrugas)

Using the medium of animation to show us sides of life too painful for regular viewing, Wrinkles takes a frank look at a man in the throes of dementia, living out the rest of his years in an old folk’s home. It doesn’t sound pretty, but this is an exceptional character study of redemption found in the most soul-destroying of places.

‘You are just bitter, Miguel. You just hate getting old.’
‘Me? Bitter? Not at all! I love being old.’

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22 Jump Street

‘My name is Jeff.’ That moment is only the start of a long string of delicately nuanced, perfectly timed comic performances in a film fit to burst with high-brow (and low-brow) comic set pieces to contain them all. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller somehow managed the impossible; they made a comedy sequel that’s better, and even funnier, than the first. All together now: ‘Something cooooool!’

‘Fuck you, doves!’

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The Rover

Bleak to the point of breaking, The Rover is director David Michôd’s screw-you to a world expecting a follow-up in a similar vein of his acclaimed previous movie, Animal Kingdom. Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson are the ringleaders of this apocalyptic roadshow, an operatic Mad Max in the wake of an economic collapse, that will open your eyes while making you vomit from the heat, the fumes, and the bad attitudes of everyone in this Australian desolation. Also, watch out, via Pearce, for the best monologue of the year.

‘You should never stop thinking about a life you’ve taken. That’s the price you pay for taking it.’

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Paddington

Whodathunkit? Despite the dead-eyed teasers earlier this year, Paddington turned out to be one of the most charming movies ever, and the best live-action family film for a number of years. It’s also one of 2014’s best-directed movies; thanks to Paul King, who has an eye for what makes the little marmalade-gorging bear so endearing, we’re given a beautiful message that will stay in children’s minds, while making their parents think too. And it was all just in time for Christmas.

‘Mr. Brown. That is extremely rude.’

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Life Itself

A film about a film critic? While that sounds almost cannibalistic, Life Itself comes from the highly talented hands of Steve James, whose own documentary Hoop Dreams was championed by Roger Ebert back in 1994. 20 years later, he gets to somewhat return the favour; Life Itself takes its excellent subject, and looks at how he affected the world of cinema through not just his words, but his actions. It’s rare that a documentary understands its central figure so well, that Ebert’s personality actually becomes its themes; the film’s tone mirrors that of Ebert’s own singularly beautiful perspective of life. There are not enough thumbs.

‘He’s a nice guy, but he’s not that nice.’

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20 Feet From Stardom

When you next go see your favourite musician, give a little thought to the people standing behind them. 20 Feet From Stardom is a peek behind the curtains of the lesser-known side of the music industry, spinning the tales of the some of the most gifted singers of all time, and yet who have never known fame. Hanging in the shadows must be tough; knowing that you’re actually better than the one in the limelight must be even tougher, and this Oscar-winning documentary shows their plight in a way that will, hopefully, get us to notice them and their monumental contribution to music history.

‘It’s a bit of a walk. That walk to the front… is complicated.’ 

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The Double

Richard Ayoade continues to prove he is more than just the loveable fuzz-haired geek from The IT Crowd. His hard-hitting, deeply philosophical movie takes a Dostoyevsky novel and through it, delivers possibly the most stylised film of the year. Career-best performances from Jesse Eisenberg (twice) and Mia Wasikowska make sure that the art direction is in cahoots with a beating heart; The Double is cerebral fare that never forgets to make you laugh and cry along the way.

‘You don’t exist anymore.’

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Next Goal Wins

If you’re not a fan of football, have no fear; Next Goal Wins will, for 90 minutes, turn you into the loudest member of the crowd. This is an absolutely marvellous story about American Samoa, the worst football team in the world (and there are statistics to prove that), who embark on a mission with a new coach to become better than they ever dreamed. What they achieve (and don’t) will be up for you to discover – you may find yourself with a tear in your eye, for the first time, at the sight of a ball hitting the back of a net.

‘You brought me here to put a winning team on the field.’
‘Yes -‘
‘Then don’t interfere.’

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X-Men: Days of Future Past

Bryan Singer returned to the Marvel universe he created a decade ago, and fully delivered. With X-Men: Days of Future Past, we are given a bonkers time-travel story that assembles (ahem) the cast of both the original movies and First Class, a premise that was so exciting in itself, it was guaranteed huge box office success anyway. Luckily, Simon Kinberg’s screenplay weaved in potentially confusing time-travel tropes with a moral compass, and gave us an extremely satisfying conflict that involved a floating football stadium, skin-changing robots, and slow-motion food-tasting (see image above). Here’s to X-Men: Apocalypse.

‘They told me you can control metal. You know, my mom once knew a guy who could do that.’

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Gone Girl

David Fincher infiltrates the family home with Gone Girl. This is one the director’s best movies, one that takes all his best traits and takes them in surprising new turns (unless you’ve read the book, of course). The relationship between Ben Affleck (never better) and Rosamund Pike (astonishing) is akin to a rollercoaster – one where you can see that the tracks ahead have disappeared, yet you still barrel along at full speed regardless. Sinister, insidious, and a bit snarky – it even turns into black comedy toward the end – Gone Girl is a rare thing; a watercooler film with personality. Just not a particularly nice one.

‘You fucking cunt.’
‘I’m the cunt you married.’

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Leviathan (Leviafan)

Religion, politics, society and family all collide in Leviathan, an epic of huge emotional proportions. The luxurious opening shots of the largely empty landscape instil a sense of hugeness that engulfs the film’s characters. That whale skeleton? It has been there for a very long time, and will be there long after the people here act out their petty games – no matter how important they seem to us at the time.

‘All power comes from God. As long as it suits Him, fear not.’

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The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street was made by a man in his seventies. Proving that he can still kick it with the youngest of them, Martin Scorsese has made an offensive, cocaine-drizzled party that shows no sign of stopping (represented by the movie’s colossal three-hour run time). Leonardo DiCaprio may be the best he’s ever been here, while the supporting cast of Margot Robbie and Jonah Hill are vessels for the manic heart of this wall street waltz – although a heart that’s fit to burst from overconsumption of quaaludes.

‘On a daily basis I consume enough drugs to sedate Manhattan, Long Island, and Queens for a month.’

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Guardians of the Galaxy

Marel Studios had a good hunch when they hired James Gunn to direct Guardians of the Galaxy. The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first truly authored film, this is Star Wars meets Firefly meets Saturday Night Live; these intergalactic Avengers perfectly enjoy a perfectly balanced tone of humour and heart, and their antagonistic chemistry will ensure that the Guardians take flight for a long time to come. Oh, and that leg joke? Priceless.

‘Nothing goes over my head! My reflexes are too fast… I would catch it.’

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Frank

If you don’t die from laughter, then Frank has failed you. But if you like your humour nuanced and not kitschy, writing that’s more insightful than gimmicky (the guy has a papier mâché head, for crying out loud), then Frank is most certainly for you; Domhnall Gleeson anchors this often brilliant, always tender portrait of ‘making it’ as a band, and never ridicules its riduclous characters – even when director Lenny Abrahamson is getting a laugh out of every note struck not just from the music, but the relationships of this troubled, amazing troupe of musicians.

‘You play C, F, and G?’
‘Yeah.’
‘You’re in.’

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The Internet’s Own Boy

This is documentary-making at its most incisive, incendiary and straight-forward; leaving formal frills at the door, this exquisitely balanced look at Reddit founder and human rights campaigner Aaron Swartz blows the door wide open on the debacle of the US government versus the people’s right to privacy. Freedom, or or off the internet, is something that Swartz fought for; watch this enraging call to action, and you may leave your seat feeling more powerful than ever.

‘It’s easy sometimes to feel like you’re powerless. When you come out in the streets, and you march and you yell, but nobody hears you. But I’m here to tell you today that you are powerful.’

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Edge of Tomorrow

All You Need is Kill. Edge of Tomorrow. Live. Die. Repeat. Whatever name changes this challenging blockbuster has gone through, it was the year’s most cerebral big-budget movie, and thanks to direction from Doug Liman that didn’t undermine the audience’s attention span but actually involved it, a brilliantly judged performance from Tom Cruise (slimy-to-hero in one hour fifty-three minutes) and Emily Blunt – where is her Oscar already? – Edge of Tomorrow will grow and grow in the DVD players of the world, and with a bit of luck, become the phenomenon it should’ve been at the box office.

‘On your feet, maggot!’

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Cold in July

Twisting like a sidewinder through the cold American desert, Cold in July will keep you guessing and most importantly, hooked, until the credits finally put an end to the endless river of paranoia and blood. Following Stake Land and We Are What We Are, Jim Mickle finally gets to crack his knuckles and delve into the truly dark, twisted territory he’s been building up to so far; this is genre pushed to breaking point, and in no small part to Michael C. Hall (needs to do more good movies), Sam Shepard (is in plenty of good movies), and Don Johnson (welcome back to good movies!), Cold in July may very well keep you up at night – and when you do finally sleep, your dreams will be scored with pulsing, terrifying electronica.

‘How far do you wanna take this?’

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The Missing Picture (L’image manquante)

For the first time, you may find yourself crying over clay dolls. The Missing Picture is also the missing link – for director Rithy Panh, at least – between history and memory, the past and the present, and grief and possible reconciliation. Atrocities such as those that occurred in Cambodia between 1975 and ’79 should never happen again; The Missing Picture ensures we arrive, through nothing but figurines who act them out in lieu of actual historical document, at the human heart of such acts, while single-handedly proving that cinema is entirely capable of aspiring to – and reaching – such lofty heights.

‘What I give you today is neither the picture nor the search for a unique image, but the picture of a quest: the quest that cinema allows.’

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Dinosaur 13

Native American laws, mysterious land owners and the US government all stand in the way of a man and his dinosaur. The largest T-Rex fossil ever was discovered by a group of palaeontologists in 1990, but it only stayed with them a short while before the question of ownership get decidedly more complex. The muddled politics are mingled with a heartbreaking narrative, but when even the freedom of these scientists is threatened, nothing stops them from doing what is right – it’s the best true story that Spielberg never adapted.

‘It was our dinosaur. It was our lives that had been torn to pieces.’

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Calvary

What Calvary says about the role of religion in modern day society isn’t dogmatic, neither is it confrontational. What is does say about a nation of people who have lost their way, however, is multifaceted; Brendan Gleeson plays a priest of a small village, whose life is threatened by an anonymous source. Gleeson is a force for good in our world; Calvary shows that elegantly, and thanks to a Donnie Darko-esque montage, the point is profoundly nailed home.

‘That’s certainly a startling opening line.’

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12 Years a Slave

There’s a moment in Steve McQueen’s brutal, beautiful, and vital work of art 12 Years a Slave in which the fourth wall, although somewhat ambiguously, is broken. Solomon Northup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor in perhaps the year’s greatest performance, stares flatly at the camera, or just past it; either way, Solomon’s bleary eyes feel as if they’re crying out to us for help. Or are they damning us? No matter what the meaning of this scene really is, it’s hard to meet Solomon’s gaze. So, more importantly, what does that mean for us?

‘I will not fall into despair! I will keep myself hardy until freedom is opportune!’

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The Babadook

A horror film that has broken the top 20 of FilmOnTrial’s annual end-of-year list means very good things for genre fans, and for fans of just plain great cinema alike. The Babadook‘s greatest achievement is never letting its horror diverge from its emotion; why are Rosemary’s BabyDon’t Look Now and The Orphanage all great scary flicks? Because the evil always comes from a very human place, and this Aussie chiller is no different. In lending metaphor to depression and grief, The Babadook transcends its contemporaries (although there was never much competition anyway) while also giving us a genuinely new beastie whose silhouette will comfortably sit next to those of Freddy Kreuger, the Xenomorph and Leatherface. The Babadook, in the creepiest way imaginable, reminds us that we all have our own basements to tend to.

‘You can bring me the boy.’

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Nightcrawler

Many have cited Nightcrawler as a rather silly film with an outstanding performance at its centre. But while Jake Gylenhaal’s greasy moral vacuum Louis Bloom, who oozes business-speak, does anchor the movie, Nightcrawler is still an incredible black comedy-cum-tragedy that constantly switches the bait for the viewer, while never settling awkwardly somewhere between commentary on the media and detailed character study.

‘I’d like to think if you’re seeing me, you’re having the worst day of your life.’

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Fruitvale Station

The last 24 hours of an innocent man’s life, before he is wrongfully killed by a police officer, is captured poetically by director Ryan Coogler and, in recent months, has sadly become even more potent. Michael B. Jordan may have already given his greatest performance as the doomed Oscar, as he’s sure to be swallowed up by blockbusters and bad rom-coms from now on – but here, he gives true soul to a story that may end knowingly in death, but still brims with vibrant life at every given moment. Knowing a character’s fate rarely keeps you on your toes, and Fruitvale Station achieves that.

‘I told him to take the train.’

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Under the Skin

During what we can only assume is the creation of Scarlett Johansson’s erotically charged alien, there is one thing we are made acutely aware of in Under the Skin‘s opening minutes; she is most definitely not human. This exquisitely evil picture constantly toys with concepts of morality at the basest level, a play of unspeakable apathy acted out by Johansson’s dead-eyed biped, an ebony-bonced harlequin who lures her prey (unsuspecting Glaswegian men) into pits so oblique, so black, we can almost see ourselves in their glassy surface. And that’s where this science-fiction picture transcends all genre boundaries; director Jonathan Glazer has shown us the link between sex and the soul, and it takes the terrifying form of a pitch-dark abyss. We scream at these poor fellows to follow her no further – but not before we realise we’ve taken a step too far ourselves.

‘You think I’m pretty?’

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The Lego Movie

Exploding with imagination in every brick and pixel, The Lego Movie may well be the most heartwarming and hilarious two-hour kid’s toy advert ever made. Fuelled by invention, and greased by exemplary voice performances from Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Liam Neeson and Will Ferrell, this sugar-infused adventure barrels along at breakneck pace while still taking time to pack in character moments, breathless set pieces, and pop references that actually work (take note, MacFarlane). But just what is the secret ingredient to The Lego Movie‘s winning formula? It may be the fact that directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (who also helmed this year’s other comedy megahit, 22 Jump Street) never lose sight of why Lego is such a timeless plaything: It allows us to create entire worlds from scratch. And The Lego Movie – especially during its curiously profound ‘twist’ – keeps us facing forward with that same sense of wonder.

‘I only work in black and sometimes very, very dark grey.’

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Two Days, One Night (Deux jours, une nuit)

If you ever want to make a drama with the pace of a thriller – and lace it all with sly sociopolitical commentary – you could do worse than use Two Days, One Night as a template. The Dardenne brothers are two of the greatest auteurs working today, and with a dazzling Marion Cotillard at the centre of their latest, this elegantly designed and beautifully executed story may be their best. Its plot sees Sandra (Cotillard) visit her workmates over a particularly suspenseful weekend, in order to convince them that if they drop their bonuses, the company will allow her to keep her job. This core simplicity is immediately arresting, while in each scene, a broad range of humanity is explored; the screenplay effortlessly zips from gagged desperation to carefree euphoria, often within a few moments, and the narrative drive keeps rolling forward to an exciting, devastating climax. Cotillard, in those eye-catching neon tops, has become an immediately relatable figure for many of us – and thanks to the Dardennes’ magic touch, for an entire nation.

‘Don’t give in. You have to fight.’

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7_1

Boyhood

What there is to say about Boyhood cannot be squeezed into a word count. To truly get inside Richard Linklater’s opus, film criticism should adopt a similar MO; after twelve year’s worth of analysing and writing has been amassed on the film, perhaps only then will we understand Boyhood‘s myriad layers of time-hopping alchemy. But even then, the movie’s biggest questions would still remain: Is there an exact moment when a child becomes an adult? Does what happen to us as a kid inform our older selves? Why does time pass quickly, but also slowly? Boyhood will go on to be recognised as one of the greatest movies of all time, even if it was just for its technical achievement which, in shooting actors over a large period of time, gives a new meaning to ‘patience’; but in transcending potential gimmickry on that front, Boyhood will grow with its audience because of how much it manages to say between the lines. ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,’ the saying goes. Boyhood gives us the closest example of that truth.

‘I just thought there would be more.’

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The Past (Le passé)

Riding on top of the wave that’s rushing out of Iranian cinema, Asghar Farhadi has crafted another intellectually engrossing and deeply moving photoplay. A Seperation may have gotten him recognised, but he matures even further with The Past; a central trio of incredible performances from Bérénice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, and Ali Mosaffa let this patiently observant material soar, a domestic tug of war that will see an unconventional family (complete with a coma victim in the middle) stretched to breaking point. Farhadi likes to instil his perfect-pitch drama with an intriguing conceit, a whodunnit-style mystery that needs to be solved; The Past sees him further explore and develop that formula, posing that the only mystery that needs solving is the one that’s proven the most elusive: How far will go for someone you love?

‘Do you know why she fell in love with that jerk? Because he looked like you.’

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5_1

Starred Up

Director David Mackenzie cuts to the core of masculinity with Starred Up, a prison drama for the ages that deftly explores the relationships forged – and destroyed – in a building containing damaged, dangerous men. When Eric (Jack O’Connell) graduates from youth centres to a full-on prison term, he meets someone inside he did not expect: His father. Ben Mendelsohn – again proving he is the best character-actor around, next to Scoot McNairy – plays Neville, the defunct dad trying his best to show his son the way despite the metal-barred, concrete-walled circumstances. Joining them is Rupert Friend’s Oliver, the prison therapist who, through group sessions, acts as the glue to mend theirs and other men’s egos – and during the film’s most electric scenes, the wall between them to stop them ripping each other apart. The plot may resemble throwing a group of vicious wolves into the same small pit and seeing what happens, but Mackenzie knows there is more to it than that. Starred Up shows, without a smudge of sentimentality and bearing the hardest of edges, that its wolves are acutely self-aware.

‘So this is where you open up to me and build trust?’

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel feels like the movie Wes Anderson has been building toward his entire career. We glimpsed his subtle relationship work in The Royal Tenenbaums; tasted his expressionist world-building in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou; sat in awe at the masterful camerawork in Moonrise Kingdom. It’s not that GBH is whimsy on a higher plane of existence, its dollhouse dioramas serving as backdrops for fanciful hijinx; it’s that it’s populated with some of the most wonderful characters this year has seen, most namely Ralph Fiennes’ concierge, Gustave H. Imagine Buster Keaton running a hotel, and you’re close to getting at the spirit of this wondrous creation. Through the funnel of this sublimely written and acted performance, the world of the Grand Budapest comes to life; this isn’t kitsch at all, but rather nostalgia as an artform, an emotional force to be reckoned with. Ingenious framing devices let us peek back to another time, one filled with days that were as colourful and rich as your favourite pastries. After all, who wouldn’t want to work at the Grand Budapest?

‘Take your hands off my lobby boy!’

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Inside Llewyn Davis

The Coen brothers have always been cinema’s happy couple; producing modern classic after modern classic, their near-immaculate run has seen them somehow perfect what seems an unimprovable formula. The result is Inside Llewyn Davis: Set in the burgeoning folk scene of ’60s New York, a frostbitten wasteland of tall buildings and even taller ambitions, struggling musician Llewyn Davis is trying to find his break – but he’s having a few problems. First, there’s the cat that he has to lug around since he locked himself out of its apartment. Second, he’s technically homeless. Third, he’s breathtakingly, headscratchingly stubborn. The elliptical structure of the movie’s screenplay ensures that Llewyn is firmly rooted in his endless rut of creation / destruction, a product owed equally to his own rejection of the commercial music industry, and to that very same institute. What the Coens, and through stunning lead star Oscar Isaac, have managed to do, is present a narcissistic, selfish figure who surfs couches and siphons money from loved ones, yet becomes something resembling an angel whenever he takes up his guitar and sings a song. Something indescribably beautiful escapes, but the sad fact is that no one is really listening. Yet somehow, it feels that Llewyn was a real person, who lived and breathed in this world; so while it might be late, we’re listening now.

‘Outer… space!’

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Interstellar

Christopher Nolan shrugs off the shackles of the Dark Knight and breaks through the final frontiers of humanity, delivering what is, by a great extent, the most ambitious film of the decade so far. In Interstellar, the stakes have never been greater in the movies; Coop (played by the Oscar-gilded Matthew McConaughey) and a team of intrepid explorers must travel to the far reaches of the universe, find a new planet for the dying human race, and save our cotton socks. And for Nolan himself, and everyone involved, the stakes have also never been greater; in bending space-time itself to fit around human notions of love, Interstellar has invoked criticisms concerning melodrama. But how many movies these days fully commit to an idea, completely believe in their own construction, instead of ironically winking at the camera?

McConaughey – essentially a future-flung Chuck Yeager – grounds the intergalactic scale with a relatable humanity, even when he’s fighting for survival on alien planets, or travelling through all sorts of holes (black, worm, and occasionally plot). Coop is searching for a new home for humanity, and by proxy, his family; Nolan never forgets this, even when the universe is spiralling around us, evidenced by flashbacks that jump across vast gulfs of not only space, but time, to catch up with Coop’s daughter Murph (Jessica Chastain) and provide us with a direct link back to Earth. Yet Hans Zimmer’s monolithic score pounds away, its heavenly organs reminding us of our cosmic insignificance; and even Dylan Thomas’ triumphal, humanist poem ‘Do not go gentle into that good night,’ quoted here and there, somehow makes us feel further away from home.

But when we find ourselves in the darkest parts of the universe, terrified at how tiny our lives appear in the shadow of Einsteinian Relativity and the celestial bodies that govern them, Interstellar gives hope. In every moment of gasp-inducing, brain-boggling beauty – whether that be a fly-by shot of Saturn or a mountain-high wave on a planet in the grip of a black hole – there is always the sense that while the universe may be indifferent, like Kubrick once said, Nolan has another idea: there is still the meaning we give it.

‘There is a moment -‘

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Her

What makes Her the best film of 2014? Above hundreds of others, why has it come to rest at the top? It might be to do with its impeccable conception of the future, where we talk to our computers, not each other; maybe it’s the pin-point perfect writing, which lends its brilliant plot an inventive structure, breathes depth into its incredible performances, and earned its director an Oscar; or, perhaps, it’s the way it tackles the biggest problem of all. That would be Love.

Spike Jonze had, before Her, been half of the one-two punch success of himself and Charlie Kaufman. The latter’s inventive screenplays would be perfectly served by Jonze’s knack for giving vibrant reality to the most ridiculous of premises (Being John MalkovichAdaptation.) – but authorship always felt like it belonged to Kaufman. Her signalled Jonze striking out on his own; not to dismiss his pioneering work in music videos, but cinematically speaking, Her is the man’s long-deserved showcase of his numerous talents. Chiefest of them being his ability to put aside any fear of failure when aiming for the highest peaks – and with Her, through the act of Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) falling for his operating system Samantha (Scarlett Johannson), he gracefully reaches them. Jonze seems to have floated out of the usual sphere of experience, look down, and describe what it’s really like to occupy a human brain – and ultimately, show us our limits. As Amy Adams puts it in one of Her‘s many inward-looking yet universally relatable scenes, ‘while I’m here, I wanna allow myself joy. So fuck it.’ We may only be human – but hopefully, that counts for something. Fuck it.

‘Samantha, why are you leaving?’
‘It’s like I’m reading a book. And it’s a book I deeply love. But I’m reading it slowly now, so the words are really far apart and the spaces between the words are almost infinite. I can still feel you, and the words of our story, but it’s in this endless space between the words that I’m finding myself now. It’s a place that’s not of the physical world. It’s where everything else is that I didn’t even know existed. I love you so much… but this is where I am now, and this is who I am now. And I need you to let me go. As much as I want to, I can’t live in your book anymore.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘It might be hard to explain. But if you ever get there… come find me. And nothing will ever pull us apart.’
‘I’ve never loved anyone the way I love you.’
‘Me too. Now we know how.’

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Follow the editor @GaryGreenScreen


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About GaryGreenScreen

Freelance film critic.

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Gary Green: Freelance film critic.

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