My Top 10 films of 2014

So another year over, as a new year begins. And what a rich year 2014 has been for films. Like every year though, theres always been the odd occasional stinker to unfortunately grace our big screens, but they were few and far between. We’ve had movies that have made us laugh, drawn a tear, emotionally engage us and had the majority of us completely overwhelmed with its sheer visual beauty.
So, here is my countdown of my top ten picks from 2014 that may or may not really surprise you. Enjoy!
10. EDGE OF TOMORROW
During its production, (which felt really dragged out) this film seemed to keep changing titles, first going from ‘All You Need Is Kill’ – which is, coincidentally, the same title of the manga novel its based on (probably the best title if you ask me) to ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ (boring title that takes away the true spirit of the film) and then finally having the tagline “Live. Die. Repeat” dominate the cover for its DVD and Blu-Ray release while the actual title was shrunk all the way down. Hows that for a bit of frustration?

Despite this, it makes me happy to reveal that this film isn’t as messy nor confused as its main title. It also contains my favourite Tom Cruise performance I have seen in any science fiction film he’s chosen to star in – and yes, before you ask, I liked it even better than his role in Oblivion. I love how this film is a cross between Aliens and Groundhog Day, where the Alien is an extraterrestial enemy who can not only reset the same day over and over again, but who also knows the future. I think this is the main reason why I love it so much; that the Alien isn’t just an enemy who just wants to invade Earth, blow everything up and wipe out the whole human race altogether.

Its also the best Alien invasion film we’ve had out of Hollywood for a good while, knowing exactly how to entertain an audience loaded full of rip roaring battle action combined with a smart script too. Maybe the film-makers of ‘Battle: Los Angeles’ and ‘Skyline’ should watch this while taking notes and seriously learn how its properly done.

9.  THE LEGO MOVIE

Here is another movie that became a surprise smash hit. Based on the famous Danish toy brand company responsible for bringing so much joy and imagination to our prestigious childhoods, this film was able to successfully tap into the child in all of us, as well as going on to becoming the most commercially successful animated film made by Warner Bros; making it safe to assume that anyone hesitating to give this a go, need not have to and should just sit back and enjoy the ride.

The stop motion animation to marvel at is one thing, but it takes a lot more than gorgeous animation for a film like this to work and be able to cater for viewers of all ages, and yet, the right balance of comedy, action, romance and anything else you would find in any decent movie is evident here and just works on so many different levels for adults and children alike.

The story centres around Emmett, a perfectly ordinary and average Lego construction worker who’s terribly mistaken as the ‘chosen one’ – a master builder. An extraordinary person with the most extraordinary power in the whole of the Lego world; and with this mistaken identity, he is thrust into an epic journey against his own free will to stop an evil lord tyrant known as Master Business from carrying out his dastardly plans and save aforementioned Lego world.

This family film is ably supported with a star studded voice cast led by Chris Pratt (who has already garnered plenty of attention as an up and rising big movie star) and loaded with more comic book references and memorable quotes, complete with a certain unforgettable song that refuses to leave your brain than Batman’s personally equipped arsenal of gadgetry.

8. STARRED UP

A different style and genre of film from the previous two on this list, this is probably the most grittiest and violent British film to come out of the UK for a good long while. In fact, arguably the most brutal British film since Scum, in which it has so often been compared to; this film is also set in a nightmarish prison where the cell mates are just as evil and abusive as the prison guards. I’ve never been too keen on Scum and the main reason why I wanted to see this wasn’t to compare both of these films, but really because of Jack O’Connell in the lead role. I’ve been following his career for a while, from Eden Lake to ’71 (also released in 2014) and he has just gone from strength to strength, proving to be a most versatile, rising film star; carefully picking roles that require him putting in the hard physical work and determination because of the nature of the characters that he plays.

Here he plays Eric, a 19 year old troubled teenager who gets ‘starred up’ – getting transferred from a young offender institution to an adult prison due to his explosive violence and little does he realise, this is where he meets his long lost father, Neville, (played brilliant by Ben Mendelsohn) who proves to be quite a match for him as they both serve their sentences. While his therapy sessions may have helped control his anger issues after being pressurised to take part in them, its not long before he starts to crack under the seams and become totally reckless beyond his own control.

If O’Connell didn’t understand or connect with his character as much as he clearly did, then I don’t think the film would have such a strong enough effect over its viewers.

7. THE RAID 2
It would surely be one of the biggest crimes committed if I chose not to include this adrenaline pumping, pulse racing and eye popping sequel to the list! Its predecessor released two years before, quickly became one of my top favourite films of 2012. It blasted on to our screens out of nowhere from a then unknown Welsh born writer/director, Gareth Evans. Shot in Indonesia in the Jakarta slums, the first film takes place in a derelict apartment building that has become a safe-house for the most ruthless and dangerous drug dealers and gangsters imaginable. A SWAT team carefully manage to infiltrate the building, something that would soon cost them greatly; facing the deadly mission to somehow figure out how to remove its owner – a notorious drug overlord.
Never have I seen an action film quite like this to be so brutal in its action sequences, so expertly choreographed and well, just so damn exciting! Seriously, you will earn at least 500 man points just from watching this movie.

How then does Evans successfully follow it up with the inevitable sequel? Easy. Take every undercover cop movie ever made and use them as references/inspirations to make a bigger, bolder and more explosive next chapter. Set directly after the events of the first film, Evans borrows heavily from the likes of ‘The Departed’ but has certainly learnt a lot from the first film to add his own personal stamp to it and really ups the ante on just about everything that made the first one so god damn good.

This time the story focuses on what happens to the only survivor of the original – rookie Jakarta cop Rama, after literally fighting his way through hundreds of lethal thugs who were left lying in a giant pool of their own blood and guts; to discover that this messy bloodbath is far from over. He must agree to go undercover and enter the Jakarta criminal underworld, starting from the bottom and working his way up to the top, where he must eliminate the corrupt politicians and police officers responsible for pulling the strings of this carnage.

This sequel is better in every way possible than the first raid film, not something that I ever thought would be an accomplishment; but I was happily proven wrong. The only disappointment I have with it was the fact this scene was deleted from the final cut:

6. THE GUEST
From Adam Wingard, just one of many directors of the not so great ‘VHS’ and its probably even worse but inevitable sequel; comes his latest effort after last year’s surprisingly good, gruesomely brilliant ‘You’re Next’ (a worthy addition to the ‘home invasion’ horror sub-genre) comes this 70s/80s nostalgic home invasion horror slasher. And you know what? Its a bit bloody good! Good as in ‘Hollywood should sit up bolt straight and suddenly take some serious note taking’ – yeah, its that kind of good.
Being the first movie to open up this year’s FrightFest film festival in August, I can only imagine what the atmosphere must have been like screening this at such a prestigious film festival. 
David (Dan Stevens) a soldier recently discharged from serving in Afghanistan, turns up unexpectedly at the home of the Peterson family. After claiming to Laura, (Sheila Kelley) the grieving mother, he was best army buddies with her son Caleb right up until his death; he’s more or less welcomed into their home straight away. Now an invited house guest, he plays the part of a ‘real gentleman’ worming his way into the hearts of the family members. He solemnly tells Laura that he intends to fulfil a promise that he would stick close by and keep an eye over his family which she embraces with open arms. Soon enough, he becomes best buddies with the father, Spencer (Leland Orser) after a few beers whilst hearing him out about the stress-load of his job and quickly earns the admiration of troubled son Luke when making a lesson of his bullies.
Its daughter Anna that sees past that ‘nice guy’ image, highly aroused by suspicion that he may not be quite what he seems. And as the death toll mounts up, it turns out she might be right….

I’ve not seen a single episode of Downton Abbey so therefore unaware of Dan Stevens until this film came along, wondering if he would succeed to impress me. I needn’t have worried as he was absolutely fantastic, playing a character who was incredibly charming and likeable on the outside but a deadly ticking time bomb on the inside, ready to explode at any given second.

I honestly think the real credit goes to Wingard, a fine example of a young horror film-maker who clearly knows his shit in this genre. Set out to make a 70s/80s throwback horror slasher or b-movie or exploitation film (whatever you want to call it) that is every bit as close to anything golden John Carpenter ever did back in his glory days really does tell you something. And boy does he deliver. Drawing much inspiration from the likes of Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing and They Live, he certainly succeeds where Ti West clearly didn’t with The House of The Devil (another 80s throwback horror) that came off as a total boring snoozefest. 

The Guest is however, far from boring. Wingard was able to pull this movie off with such technical and skilled panache behind the camera in knowing how to strike the right balance of action and gore combined with a great dose of dark comedy, cheesiness and surprises that makes it feel like an actual horror film from the 80s. It helps that its very old school too – no computer trickery, no green-screen. Just good old fashioned film making back when horror used to be good (and scary) with its startling opening sequence and its own unique visual flair complete with an end climax that is sure to make any hardcore horror fan leave the cinema complex with a giant grin.
5. THE IMITATION GAME

As most of us Benedict fans are aware, this film was placed as the opening night gala of the 56th BFI London Film Festival. It was unfortunate that I was to be one of the unlucky souls that couldn’t get a ticket in time. But it wasn’t long until the wonderful ‘Show Film First’ team came to my rescue, paving way for the opportunity for me to still see it, complete with the stars walking down the red carpet and everything. It was like I was there for real without having to leave the comfort of my own cinema seat.
The film itself is a work of art, an outstanding British achievement and a fascinating story about one of the key figures during World War II. Being familiar with the Enigma machine and the breaking of the Enigma code, I however, never gained much knowledge of Alan Turing himself. Going to see this film was the only answer I needed to know more about this man and get a real insight into his personal life. The founder of computer science, a brilliant mathematician, philosopher and codebreaker; Turing was also a loner, an individual (due to his arrogance) and a closet homosexual, struggling with his deep secret and identity on the basis of being gay during a time that deemed it illegal and subject to terrible capital punishment.
I can’t think of a more better, more talented and more distinguished actor than Benedict Cumberbatch to play this role. He was born to play the part of Alan Turing, bringing much warmth, intelligence and emotional conflict to this genius pioneer; making his performance staggeringly beautiful to watch. Already having established himself as one of the biggest hard working and uprising actors we have today, proving he can do just about anything in theatre, television and film to name a few, his work in films have actually appealed to me the most. Therefore comparing this to his other notable performances in successful movies that include Tinker Tailor Solder Spy (2011), War Horse (2012) and August:Osage County (2013); its obvious this is his most defining screen performance yet, clearly demonstrating the love and admiration he has for Turing effortlessly coming through.

As the leading actor who carries most of the weight that heavily bares down on both of his shoulders, I shouldn’t forget to mention that Benedict is also greatly supported by a brilliant cast of reliable actors who just happen to be some of the best we have in the British industry. Keira Knightley spends the most screen time with Benedict as Joan Clarke, an English cryptanalyst recruited as the only woman by Turing to work with him as a code-breaker at Bletchley Park, where they became very close friends. They are ably supported by other British talents such as Matthew Goode, Mark Strong and Charles Dance, who all give impressive performances also.

In order to get a more deeper and thorough understanding of Turing as a human being, director Morten Tyldum focuses in creating two simultaneous timelines within the story, one being set at the end of the 1920s where a young Alan Turing is a student at the University of Cambridge, shown as an isolated, socially awkward outcast, being constantly taunted and bullied by his peers not just on the account of his high IQ but because his intelligence makes him different from the rest. And in the other timeline we see him in his adult years from 1938 – 1945, being recruited by the strict and fairly uncompromising Commander Denniston (Charles Dance), working with a secret team of other code-breakers at the Government Code and Cypher School to decipher the messages encrypted by the German Enigma machine. A machine that has 159 million, million possible settings that gets reset at midnight. But if the code is finally solved and broken, it will win the war and end it once and for all.

There are a lot of surprises and shocks along the way that I never saw coming during Turing’s frantic and desperate top secret mission in cracking the code. There’s one scene that is truly heartbreaking, leaving me with a big lump in my throat. It was so affecting and sad, that I was surrounded by so many sniffing, tearful women in the screening room. So words of advice ladies, make sure you have a handful of kleenex at the ready…

There were a couple of story elements I may have been a tiny bit disappointed with. One of them being Mark Strong not given enough screen time as Stewart Menzies, the Chief of MI6, whom while observing the code-breakers and their progress, may or may not have some hidden motives of his own.

Apart from that, this is an absolutely solid and remarkable, British landmark film. Whether its the acting talent on display that attracts you to see it or wanting to learn more about Alan Turing and the efforts he made to help win the second world war like I did, there is bound to be something for you to take away from this film that will refuse to leave your mind for days after.

In an interview with USA Today, when Benedict talks with affection about Turing, he goes on to mention how hopefully, this film will bring to the fore what an extraordinary human being he was and how appalling his treatment by the government was. When you see the film, you will completely understand and agree with what Benedict is saying here. Cannot highly recommend this enough.

4. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

Ouga Chaka! Ouga Chaka! Ouga, Ouga, Ouga, Chaka!! Who would have thunk it that the biggest risk we’ve seen from Marvel Studios would certainly pay off in absolute dividends? With director James Gunn on board from the beginning, and having only made two full length features before this one – ‘Slither’ and ‘Super’, there must have at least been a fair amount of doubt and pre-judgement whether or not he can pull this one off. After going to the number one spot for weeks, showing at cinemas for at least four months, (longest running time of a theatrical release these days) and making over 800 million dollars at the box office; I think its safe to assume that James Gunn is now a big household name in the world of Hollywood.

After Marvel Studios/Disney have relied so much on bringing the most popular Marvel comic book superheroes to the big screen A.K.A Iron Man, Thor, Captain America etc they must have thought why the hell not, by deciding to gamble on bringing lesser known heroes from the Marvel universe to the big screen too. A gamble that of course worked out really well in their favour and with Josh Whedon very enthusiastic about Gunn on board as director, the film surpassed all expectations and became a massive winner. One of the main reasons why the film works so well is for the fact that we end up caring about the five characters so much, their personal journeys and their relationships with each other as they face a dangerous quest to save the entire universe from big, bad warrior villain, Ronan.
It also helps that these characters were bought to life by its cast, with each cast member drawing their own personal inspirations from other movie characters or life experiences to help make these unlikely band of heroes more human and to enable them to relate really well to a modern day audience. Chris Pratt stars as Peter Quill, a young boy abducted from Earth by Aliens outside the hospital where his mum just passed away from terminal cancer just moments before. He grows up to be an intergalactic thief and smuggler, living by the codename of “Star Lord” who sets off an unexpected chain of events in the galaxy when attempting to steal a mysterious orb. It is clear that Chris Pratt channels all of the charm and cocky confidence of Han Solo and the brave heroics of Luke Skywalker through his role, making him a bigger star than he ever was before. We also have Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel voicing Rocket and Groot respectively. Rocket being a genetically engineered raccoon, who has been torn apart, experimented on and put together again, exclusively in that order and Groot – a literally 6 or 7ft tall walking tree who is only ever capable of saying the same three words over and over – ‘I am Groot’. The last two players being Zoe Saldana as Gamora, an adopted daughter of ‘Thanos’ (Ronan’s superior boss, whom also wants the orb for his own evil intentions) swapping her skin colour from blue as Neytiri in ‘Avatar’ to a bright green and last but not least, we come to Drax The Destroyer played brilliant by ex wrestler Dave Bautista, a literally mountain of a man who seeks revenge on Ronan for murdering his wife and family.

After seeing the film countless times, I honestly can’t think of any other film-maker than James Gunn to perfectly helm this movie, perfectly blending the right mix of action, comedy and emotion. I’m so excited to see what adventures this very unlikely band of intergalactic criminals get up to in the planned sequel.

3. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

The latest collaboration from DiCaprio/Scorsese could very well be their greatest effort yet. I would admit that this is the funniest movie that Scorsese has ever given us. Honestly, there’s not one scene that goes by that doesn’t get at least one or two big laugh out loud moments and this film showcases just how amazing these two work together as a long lasting, blossoming director/actor partnership, bringing such a crazy and insane true story to the screen. Also, a perfect excuse for them to go completely off the rails this time.

Money, power, sex, greed, drugs, crime, double crossing. This movie has just about everything to make the perfect crime caper but with plenty of added dark humour that makes it stand out from the rest and just shows how crazy Wall Street was back then in the 1980s. Leo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, (the film is based on Jordan Belfort’s autobiography) a young New York stockbroker; hungry for success, doesn’t take a no for an answer and likes to take full control of any situation he’s in. After he loses his job in the crash of 1987 on Wall Street, he decides to go into business himself, manipulating banks and the finance market to selfishly fund his own criminal lifestyle. Having a film depicting the money grabbing douchebags back then in America and the amount of shit they got away with, makes for essential viewing and probably strikes close to home, what with the recession we’re living in nowadays. Scorsese is able to channel his younger days as a film-maker with this film and able to effortlessly let go by making this story utterly, utterly funny. It is also the best screen performance I’ve seen from DiCaprio, knowing exactly what Scorsese wants from him and being able to click together more than they ever did from the previous four movies.

2. INTERSTELLAR

The most ambitious film from Christopher Nolan, I wouldn’t say its my personal favourite from him but it comes damn close. Regardless, its good to see Nolan return to the Sci-Fi genre fours years on from when he made ‘Inception’. Staggeringly beautiful, philosophical, a universal message of transcending love and what it means to be human, the quantum physics of time travel, which, I’m not going to lie; mostly went well over my head and complimented with yet another amazing and epic music score composed by regular Nolan collaborator, Hans Zimmer.

There’s no denying that this film is incredibly thought provoking and a real visual feast for the eyes, especially the wormhole scenes. But I did feel that Nolan did in fact borrow heavily from Kubrick’s ‘2001’ but managed to still make it his own and in some ways went far deeper and more emotionally draining than Kubrick ever did. A sweeping love story about a father being able to reconnect with his daughter, it could quite possibly be the best film I’ve ever seen set in space. With every Nolan film, I find I need to watch it more than once to actually fully understand and grasp in my mind what I’ve just seen. This film is definitely no exception when it comes to the need for multiple viewings.

1. NIGHTCRAWLER

There have been a lot of films throughout 2014 that have mightily impressed me, some that I wasn’t able to include in this list, most notably Her and The Grand Budapest Hotel; but Nightcrawler was the one that had the most effect on me and was the most psychologically infectious. It’s for that reason why I chose to place this film at my number one spot. I love everything about it. The dialogue, the conflicts of characters, the cinematography, the tension. Arguably Jake Gyllenhaal’s best performance, his character of Lou Bloom has often been compared to that of Rupert Pupkin, a creepy, anti social obsessive who chooses a career where he wants to be the greatest news reporter there is , someone who simply won’t take second place, and will just about do absolutely anything to get all the way to the top. You will not see a better film from 2014 to take such a strangling hold on you, one that will refuse to leave your mind for days on end after.

Here is the amazing trailer for it for your own viewing pleasure:

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