OK. I made a mistake. I wrote out most of my top 10 films of the year and then, apparently, didn’t save the post. That means I now have to do the whole thing again, which is a bummer, because it took a while. Therefore, this might be slightly abridged as I skim through most of the list.
A couple of other notes. I have included all films released in the UK in 2014, even if they were up for awards in last year’s awards season so some of these you might think shouldn’t be valid, but they are. So there.
Finally, last time I did this it turned out I miscounted and had 11 films in my top 10. I see no reason to change. However, I’m still going to start the countdown at 10. Ha. My list, my rules. I only realised my mistake when I got to number 3 last time, so there were two number 3s, but seeing as I know going in I have 11 films this time, we’ll have a joint 10th.
So, at 10…
=10. Calvary – dir John Michael McDonagh
Where McDonagh’s brother, Martin, followed up his brilliant small Irish crime thriller In Bruges with the underwhelming 90’s-style Pulp Fiction knockoff Seven Psychopaths, John Michael goes a different route after his debut, The Guard.
Calvary takes a philosophical look at matters, slowing the pace down to something far more contemplative. Brendan Gleeson is again the lead, this time as a priest who is told in confession that in one week he is to be killed and he should use the time to put his affairs in order. The time is used to meet his parish and try to diagnose the underlying motives that might exist before his date with destiny. It’s brilliant and understated and well worth your time.
=10. Frank – dir. Lenny Abrahamson
In 2013, Abrahamson’s brilliant What Richard Did made my list. Frank doesn’t quite reach those heights, but it’s still a very funny black comedy about the fictionalised life of Frank Sidebottom creator Chris Sievey. Michael Fassbender takes the lead inside the papier-mâché head (as far as we know) and adds another string to his bow.
9. Paddington – dir. Paul King
Look. When I first heard about this I assumed it would be bad. Like the Thomas The Tank Engine movie or something. It isn’t. It’s delightful. Funny, fun, good all-round family entertainment. So don’t make assumptions.
8. Dallas Buyers Club – dir. Jean-Marc Vallée
It won lots of awards. Justifiably. It signalled a peak in the McConaughsance as well as having a great supporting performance by Jared Leto. It dealt with a difficult topic sensitively and humourously. It was just great. And it’s on Netflix already.
7. Edge of Tomorrow – dir. Doug Liman
If they’d given it a better title (like Live. Die. Repeat. which is all over the bluray box, for example) and a slightly better trailer, this would have been a monster smash. It’s by far the best action film of the year (and yes, I include the Marvel films which were fine, but nothing more). It’s perhaps the best action film since Inception. It’s the kind of thing we need to encourage Hollywood to make more of, rather than Transformers movies, so go out and do your bit by buying a copy. Now.
6. The Boxtrolls – dirs. Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi
A lovingly made stop-motion animation that has undercurrents of Roald Dahl in its heart. It’s delightful and weird and deserves to be seen by many more people. I’m not sure it’s as good as ParaNorman, but that was brilliant. This is close.
5. 12 Years A Slave – dir. Steve McQueen
This has probably only fallen down this far due to recency bias. This came out a year ago and you probably know everything about it by now. It’s a genuinely great film.
4. Nightcrawler – dir. Dan Gilroy
Set aside the fact that I read the title and hear ‘Nightcrawler, Nightcrawler…’ to the tune of the Beegees Night Fever for a moment. This is a great character study with a brilliant central performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal has become a firm favourite of mine now, after a string of great movies (Zodiac, Source Code, Brokeback Mountain) and great performances in flawed movies (Prisoners, Jarhead, End of Watch). He seems to have great taste in scripts. This may now be at the top of the list, certainly performance-wise, if not film-wise.
3. Pride – dir. Matthew Warchus
Pride follows in what has become a tradition in British film-making of funny, heart-warming movies about issues, often with a historical context. The Full Monty was the first, but following on from that was Brassed Off, Billy Elliot and Made in Dagenham. Pride may be the best of the lot.
Set in the mid-80s as the AIDS epidemic was taking off and the miners strike was hitting its peak, Pride follows a group of London gays and lesbians who set to support the miners of a small, Welsh village. An unlikely alliance is made. The film is based on a true story and, by all accounts, gets almost every detail bang on. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry. It’s the feel-good film of the year. And some other clichés. Seriously though, it’s brilliant.
2. Boyhood – dir. Richard Linklater
A film literally 12 years in the making and one that may clean up in the coming months. Richard Linklater got his cast together once a year for 12 years to film the childhood of a boy (Ellar Coltrane). It’s moving and powerful and something that is unlikely to ever be attempted again, let alone pulled off so well. Its strong central dramas at the core are brilliantly realised, with great performances by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. I’m not sure I can do it justice…
1. Under The Skin – dir. Jonathan Glazer
So I want to get into this movie a bit more. In 2013 I reviewed everything I saw. In 2014… not so much. But I feel I have something to say about this. It will contain spoilers though. I’ll highlight the spoiler section clearly when I get there, don’t worry. It’ll be after the embedded trailer.
When I see films I give them a rating in a little database I have. It helps me keep track of what I’ve seen and gives me a broad idea of where films fit in but it’s far from hard and fast. My initial rating for Under The Skin slotted it in 8th for the year, but it’s got the (coveted?) number one slot because, more than any other film, it’s the film that has stayed with me the longest and made me think more than any other.
The film has little in the way of story. Scarlett Johansson plays an alien driving around Glasgow, picking up men to seduce and lure back to her lair where they are engulfed in infinite blackness. It is purposely obtuse, it is unlike anything else. It is bizarre, scary, haunting, and, on some level, erotic. It is, as I am proving, indescribable really.
It’s a film I can’t guarantee you’d like. It’s a film I would expect a lot of people not to like. But, as I said, it stayed with me more than any other film on this list. I think it is a masterpiece.
I’m not even sure these will be spoilers, but they are my thoughts on what the film means and they may give away things that you wish you didn’t know before seeing the film.
Johansson’s alien is seeking out men and through the course of the film her encounters are all different (as you would hope), while her approach in all situations is pretty much the same. Her demeanour doesn’t change. In no way is she the reason the different men react in the way they do.
We live in a culture which demeans women or tries to subjugate them. The culture will try to tell women that the way in which they are treated is because of them, and that men can’t be blamed. ‘Rape culture’ says that women shouldn’t drink to excess, shouldn’t wear short skirts or show skin, and that if they do then it’s their fault if they get assaulted. While that is the extreme end of the spectrum, those attitudes are present in all areas of life – the home, the workplace and all social spaces. There was a revealing video recently of a woman who just walked through the streets of New York recording all the comments that were sent her way. These are things that, fortunately, I am not subject to, and don’t even occur to me most of the time, but which are commonplace across society.
If women are held responsible in society for these things – “It only happens because they dress too sexily/dowdily” is the kind of comment you hear from people justifying the unsolicited complements or put-downs – then this film is a reaction to that. Johansson never alters in her approach to men but the reactions she gets are across the board – nervous, admiring, obsessive, assault. Johansson doesn’t court these reactions. She is neutral. They are the true nature of men asserting themselves in ways they feel are appropriate. The film is designed to show the lie at the core of the ‘blame culture’ that surrounds us. The responsibility for how women are treated by men lies with the men, not with the women.
Now, I don’t know if this is what Glazer and Johansson meant when they made the film, but that’s my reading, and I do find it interesting that Johansson is involved. Johansson was, of course, hacked several years ago, with nude photos being leaked over the internet. This was a massive violation, with many people pointing the blame at Johansson for having the photos in the first place. Things have taken a turn since then and when Jennifer Lawrence was hacked earlier this year, her reaction was not to apologise for having the gall to have nude photos for her own private reasons, but instead label the theft and publication as a sex crime and to call out people for asking her to apologise.
These cases of photo theft are just the extreme end of men taking a form of ownership of female bodies and sexual freedom. It’s an important topic and one that should be addressed. Of course, it’s not one that many in the media want to address because so much of what the media does is predicated on the exploitation of female flesh.
That then gets into whole other discussions about sex, pornography and so on that I’m not tackling here. It’s merely to link the themes of this film to the pervading narrative in our culture.
Under The Skin has a lot to say, but makes the audience work for it. Like great art should. And Under The Skin is certainly that.