My favourite place in the world is probably my local cinema. Strange, but I have to get my weekly fix of film, and so each week I sink into the sofa seats with a big box of nachos and lose myself. There’s something special about the way a film can pull you away from your everyday life and take you to places all over the world (and further!) while evoking feelings that you never knew existed, all in the space of a few hours. To show my appreciation, I’ve compiled a list featuring my favourite films of 2014. The high standard on release each week makes it difficult to keep up-to-date with the best films but hopefully this will be of some help.
- Bad Neighbours
Sometimes it’s good to get the snacks in, snuggle under a blanket and have a good laugh; that’s how this one has sneaked on the list. A lot of the films I’ve selected are masterpieces in their own right but also contain a lot of doom and gloom, so including a comedy was a must to avoid appearing like a miserable so-and-so. It was a toss-up between Bad Neighbours and the unpopular Let’s Be Cops, a film scrutinised but equally loaded with slapstick moments. Bad Neighbours has an underlying plot with the characters exploring the tension in their personal relationships as well as with the apparent enemy. It’s a film about growing up and the reluctance to accept the mounting responsibilities that face us all at a certain age. The film is teeming with mischief and the cast fit the bill perfectly; Zac Efron is a stereotypical, roguish heartthrob (bet that was a challenge!), and Seth Rogan is a cautious, new parent occasionally smoking weed. I’m not convinced the storyline is believable but does that matter with this type of comedy? If you’ve had a bad day at work or your dog just died and you need to laugh away your sorrow, then this plot of classic rivalry and the antics that ensue should sort you out good and proper.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
Okay, maybe I lied, not all the films on this list are void of happiness – definitely not The Grand Budapest Hotel anyway. Anderson’s quirky masterpiece, inspired by Stefan Zweig’s novel, pulls the audience into a vibrant world full of eccentric characters, creative plots, and downright silliness. Ralph Fiennes adopts a role quite different to the serious characters he’s rose to fame playing, but nonetheless he is a delight to watch as the legendary concierge. Everything about this film is unique in its unusualness but it somehow works. Anderson’s own world is a visual feast – one I would definitely invite you to devour.
- The Theory of Everything
Stephen Hawking is best known for his renowned work as a physicist, but Marsh has instead decided to provide us with an intimate glimpse into Hawking’s challenging and overlooked marriage with Jane Wilde. Based on the memoirs of Jane Wilde Hawking, it explores the difficulties that Stephen faced in his everyday life and how they affected not just him, but his first wife as well. The Theory of Everything tugs at the heartstrings as Jane’s commitment is emphasised in this biographical romantic drama. Marsh delves into the inner struggles and trauma of natural life. The solid script provides a hard-hitting insight into effects of those (and the families involved) living with motor neurone disease. It’s especially relevant after all the money raised for ALS last year by the worldwide ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ phenomenon which saw Hawking himself get involved.
Louis Zamperini’s early life is brought to the big screen by Jolie in this gripping tale of willpower and forgiveness. The promising Olympian is caught in a tangle of testing trials all taking place in the midst of World War II. The harsh reality and conditions of warfare are explored as the audience is taken on a journey with Zamperini as he fights to overcome the ever intensifying challenges set before him. The likeable character is brought to life by the talented British actor, Jack O’Connell who gives a break-out performance and is definitely one to watch out for; all credit should go to Jolie for recognising the relatively unknown actor’s potential. Despite the film failing to delve into the lives of other characters and focusing too heavily on events rather than character depth, the triumph of human endurance leaves the audience with a sense of hope.
- The Imitation Game
Nominated for a trophy cabinet of awards, this is without a doubt one of the stand out films of the year. Cumberbatch shines in the role of the great mathematician, Alan Turing, while Kiera Knightley is equally impressive. He captures the awkward essence of the pioneer and sheds light on a name not often spoken. It is a poignant insight into a significant project undertaken in secret to try and win the war. A group of unlikely friends’ heroics are exposed while also exploring the personal challenges Turing battled with in the difficult era. The ironic and hard-hitting ending is a testament to those being persecuted domestically at the time despite overcoming huge obstacles together as a nation.
- That Awkward Moment
I’m aware that this choice may be a little controversial as it didn’t go down too well on release. However, I’m all for a classic rom-com and couldn’t note a whole year’s worth of films without including a bit of cheese. That Awkward Moment is a back-to-basics rom-com which pretty much made me want to quit my job and move to New York. If I’m being wholly honest, I think it’s the scenery and depiction of modern Manhattan that won me over, and sadly not the talent of the screenwriting. Although this film depicts the ‘laddish’ take on relationships (which doesn’t really need promoting and can sometimes come off as sexist), it still has some funny scenes and can be quite relatable to young people in the world of dating (unfortunately!) – I can imagine that this film only appeals to me because this confusion of relationships surrounds every twenty-something. Daniel Radcliffe’s, What If was a close contender as it offers an unconventional rom-com with perhaps a stronger storyline, but in the end, Manhattan. Sorry.
- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
If you enjoyed Planet of the Apes, the sequel is even better. The almost absurd plot is made somehow believable in this visually stunning dystopian world. Tensions rise as the bitter apes undergo an intelligent evolution and are given a voice which forces the audience to question their own human morals; loyalty to your own species is shrouded in doubt in this remarkable piece of cinema. It is as though there is a cinematic evolution along with the apes’ as the CGI is extraordinary in this intense sci-fi. The next film will have a lot to live up to but something’s telling me Reeves will deliver the goods yet again.
- Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel has smashed the box office over the past few years, bringing much loved characters to the big screen again and again. Its huge success has to peak at some point, but that doesn’t seem likely just yet after the release of the unconventional, superhero film, Guardians of the Galaxy. Gunn brings new life to the overdone, comic theme by creating unusual (and very sarcastic) heroes; his pack of misfits doesn’t resemble the charismatic Marvel heroes we’re used to rooting for. It’s full of wit and energy and almost mocks 80s motifs making it appeal to adults and children alike. Although the plot seems a bit messy, it has a certain charm with its pure escapism element. This is definitely one to watch if you want to see something totally unique in this genre.
Gilroy exposes the oppressive nature of modern TV and the erosion of privacy in this dark story. Society’s secret desire to witness violence and even death is explored as Gyllenhaal delivers a mesmerising performance in the role of an intrusive entrepreneur looking to gain work any way possible. His character, Lou, fiends on people at their weakest and exploits every situation, yet the audience continue to gun for him right through to the end, despite his creepy persona. Nightcrawler explores the power of desperation and how it has the ability to make individuals transgress. This thriller will have you squirming at the decisions Lou makes and the fact that you, as a modern observer, would probably watch with anticipation the thing that made you squirm in the first place, while tucked away in the safety of your home.
- Gone Girl
If you only see one of the films on this list, make it this one; Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel is without a doubt one of the best thrillers I’ve ever watched. Gone Girl is similar to Nightcrawler as it also mocks the ever present social commentary found in modern life. The audience is constantly forced to question the plot as it has more twists than a helter skelter – it’s as if the characters are on trial and we’re the jury. Fincher plays with expectations as the victim is an unlikeable, shady guy who appears almost reluctant to prove his innocence. Ben Affleck is exceptional as he succeeds in making the audience feel disengaged with his character and root for the apparent female victim. The audience is invited into a trap of stereotypes until Fincher pulls away the rug and transforms the damsel in distress figure into a bored housewife. Despite the main feature of the plot being exposed at the halfway point, Fincher manages to intrigue right through until the final shot, and the audience is left with unanswered questions long after the credits roll. Make sure you pick yourself a comfy seat because you’ll be on the edge of it for the majority of the film.
Well, that’s a wrap (sorry)! Have fun exploring these titles and coming up with your own take on them. Let’s hope 2015 is an equally successful year for cinema – I can’t wait to sift through the competition!