31 December 2014

Favourite 10 Films of 2014

So here it is... another year. It seems like a pretty decent twelve months of film even if I have been increasingly slack with my viewing and review writing. I will do a better job summoning the requisite inspiration and bursts of creativity next year. In the meanwhile, below are stats for 2014, thanks to my endless desire to maintain a viewing list on Letterboxd - everything watched in order of viewing here: http://letterboxd.com/davidhunt14/list/2014-films-watched/

221 - total films watched
75 - films watched at the cinema (the lowest since 2009)
100 - films released in 2014 watched
0 - films watched more than once in 2014

And so, in alphabetical order, these are my favourite 10 films of 2014 (favourite does not objectively equate to being the best, rather these are the films I liked the most:

12 Years A Slave

Off the bat this has to be said - Steve McQueen is easily one of the best directors operating in the business today. I was making such bold claims when lamenting his inexplicable lack of awards nominations for his superb work with Shame, but 12 Years A Slave finds McQueen in a more broadly appealing mindset, tempering some of his wilder creativity, but knowing exactly when to make things challenging for the viewer (one scene with a tree, rope and unflinchingly static camera still lingers after almost twelve months). Chiwetel Ejiofor superbly guides this man through utmost likeability, anguished pain and desperation. The power comes from avoiding that Hollywood righteous nobility that's usually applied, whilst letting the rawness take hold and making the audience work too. Again, I cannot wait to see what McQueen does next.

Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

There's a cadence to Birdman. You can feel its pattern pounce around the scenes of Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone superbly sparring through some of the best dialogue of the year. There's wit, humour, intelligence and a pacing that never lets up. You can see its presence as the camera stalks its way around the backstage area of the theatre setting, constantly in motion, always voyeuristically following and shifting the focus of its attention. You can hear it through the incredible score of loose, free jazzy drumming, constantly modulating to the rhythm of the scene. It's a style like very little you've heard in a film before. This all coalesces into a roiling nest of creativity that's thrilling to experience, much like most of the films of director Alejandro González Iñárritu. Birdman marches to its own beat and that sets if loftily above almost every other film released this year.


Much has been made of director Richard Linklater's decision to film Boyhood over a twelve year period in order to keep the same cast, and sure it's a gimmick and a hell of a marketing angle, but it's key to making the film work. Why? Because you know you're watching the same cast and not another child actor of the right age, inserted at the right time to mildly distract. It gives the film the weight it deserves, even when much of what we see feels oh so slight. It's a snapshot of youth. The fleeting ennui of every year of our existence as we shape, grow and never really know it. The insouciance of Ellar Coltrane makes this all the more effective, as does seeing his parents gradually morph their own lives. It's a quietly affecting film that slowly creeps up on you and takes hold.

Cold In July

Three small, dark, somewhat under the radar thrillers stood out this year. I was a fan of Blue Ruin's brooding revenge plotting and The Guest's confidently obfuscating bluster, but the one that stood out the most, that I regularly recommended to people, is Cold In July. It's a film of two halves that's equally as good either side. Anchored by Michael C. Hall playing a nervy against type to the character that he's renowned for, it's pervaded by a gripping darkness that feels unclean as it reveals itself. Yet it operates with a confident slickness and an in-your-face eighties synth score that really drives all this home. The presence of both Don Johnson and Sam Shephard only adds to the quality that's on display here.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Hands down the best cast of the year. And quite probably the most fun film of the year. Of course Wes Anderson's films can be an acquired taste for some, being an overload of quirk and whimsy, but with The Grand Budapest Hotel he just completely nailed that mysterious je ne sais quoi he possesses. A highly enjoyable story that plays up to his screwball sensibilities and fits this strange European mountainous setting of another era, there's the usual manner of weird antics and impressive technical skill. But where it really comes alive is in Ralph Fiennes' M. Gustav. This might just be the role Fiennes was born to play, darling - an indomitable character who you can't imagine any other actor coming close to bringing to life in such a fantastically convincing way. He is the glue that holds everything together, making this quite possibly my favourite film of the year. 

Guardians of the Galaxy

The other film competing for most fun of the year... Guardians of the Galaxy is the film Marvel has been needing to make for the last three years. A deliriously entertaining space adventure that offers the inevitable hyperactive glossy action, but really flies thanks to the superb characterisation. That we're made to care about a talking racoon, a tree and other misanthropes, is testament to the writing and perfectly judged humour. Not to mention the casting and voicework. Ignore the plaudits misdirected at Captain America: The Winter Soldier (lots of words on that here), this is Marvel finally cutting loose again in the exciting manner of their first films from 2008 -2011. The best big-budget blockbuster of the year.
[Read my full review here]


Her represents something of a dystopian nightmare for the future - that is if the continued prospect of actual physical interaction and engagement with people offers any kind of importance for you. It's really a love story, buried within this perfectly utopian world of sunlight, comfortable success and technology intended to control our everyday existence. Joaquin Phoenix's sad-hearted susceptibility is equal part sympathy inducing and sweet, as Scarlett Johanssen's voice mellifluously worms it's way deeper into his being and around our ears. Spike Jonze orchestrates this balance with finesse as we can only ponder if this is a future we're setting ourselves up for - and if it's one we even want. If only more future based films (under broad strokes it can be called science fiction) were to strike such an appealingly low-key approach.

[Read my full review here]


Arguably the most anticipated film of the year, yet inevitably one of the most divisive. Regardless of your thoughts on Christopher Nolan, he is a director intent on making thoughtful, original, hugely-budgeted features and for that he should be applauded. Interstellar goes heavy on the spectacle with it's stunning visual approach and the most impactful sound design heard all year (honestly, what dialogue issue??), with 70mm IMAX experience mandatory. But thankfully it also elects to go heavy on the story and the physics. Is everything always completely understandable without a scientific degree? No. Do you have to suspend your disbelief at times? Yes. Is it emotionally overwrought? Sure. Would it be as good without all these aspects? Probably not. I came out the cinema feeling pretty much blown away. All these weeks later and I'm still a little in awe. 

Only Lovers Left Alive

Films that exist as a mood piece can either be devastating when they connect, or frustratingly boring when they don't. Only Lovers Left Alive bit me. It's slight gothic vibe married to the wastelands of Detroit and the exotic alleys of night-time Morocco present a different flavour for the vampire genre. This is the ethereal longing of hundreds of years lost in the darkness. The literate, suicidal emptiness of excessive existence when it's forever hampered by loneliness and the limitations of your power. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are perfectly cast, whilst Jim Jarmusch's typically laid back direction lets us wallow in this woozy atmosphere. The haunting soundtrack by Jarmusch's band SQÜRL and Jozef van Wissem lingers with a precipitous weight for a long long time. This is the romantic epithet of vampyric existence.

The Sacrament

As a horror fan it's fair to say this year has been exceptionally lacking, but The Sacrament offered something related to the genre that impressed. My severe appreciation of Ti West's The House of the Devil is well documented (read that here), whilst the more subtle ghostliness of The Innkeepers satisfied too, so it's pleasing to see West shooting for something different. The Sacrament is pitched in a totally different environment, utilising a docudrama, found footage-esque approach (it works), yet he retains the very best element of his work - that masterful slow, slow, turn the screw tension. The best approach is of course to watch knowing absolutely nothing and let it do it's work. To say more would be a crime, other than this was the most disquieting film I saw all year, packing a punch like nothing else. Chances are, you will hate it.


To be considered, films must've been released in UK cinemas (or direct to home entertainment channels) within the calendar year of 2014. Birdman, although widely receiving a 1st January 2015 release in the UK, was released in a small handful of London cinemas on 26th December 2014, justifiably allowing it's inclusion on either years list. Leave a comment below if you want to tell me your favourites or commend / berate my taste. 

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