HMZ Film’s Top 20 of 2014
HMZ Film returns with a vengeance to look back at my cinematic highlights of 2014.
Here are some honourable mentions which just missed out: Only Lovers Left Alive, The Canal, Cold in July, Coherence, The Railway Man, Edge of Tomorrow, The Two Faces of January, Magic in the Moonlight and Killers.
So without further adieu…
The Coen brothers’ dark comedy is grounded in a painful reality. We don’t all make the cut and can’t always live the dream. There are those who continue to strive and long to get that big break but face obstacles beyond their control. The harshness of the predicament is that these hurdles are often of our making, conspiring to defeat us in the greatest moments of need. Oscar Isaac is tremendous as the downtrodden musician seeking to break into the Greenwich folk scene of the early 1960s. A brilliantly sombre score is worth a listen.
Memorable quote: ‘Everything you touch turns to shit, you’re like King Midas’ idiot brother.’
Jean-Marc Vallée’s darkly comic yet bruising biopic on the remarkable life of Texan electrician Ronald Woodruff lands a dizzying emotional sucker punch. Grounded by award-winning performances from a re-born Matthew McConaughey and incomprehensibly transformed Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club is a gritty magnification on the defiant survivalist instincts of a maverick rodeo.
Memorable quote: ‘Let me give y’all a little news flash. There ain’t nothin’ out there that can kill Ron Woodruff in 30 days’
Martin Scorsese’s film based on the memoirs of notorious swindler Jordan Belfort is a belligerent celebration of all of life’s excesses. Crucially, the portrait of Belfort isn’t designed to be a critique on the man’s crimes but instead the facts are served up and we are left to make up own our minds. It will be remembered for Leonardo Di Caprio’s iconic performance that rightly garnered critical acclaim. Just what lengths will Di Caprio need to go to in order to get that Oscar nod?
Memorable quote: ‘So you listen to me and you listen well. Are you behind on you credit card bills? Good, pick up the phone and start dialing! Is your landlord ready to evict you? Good! Pick up the phone and start dialing! Does your girlfriend think you’re a worthless loser? Good! Pick up the phone and start dialing! I want you to deal with your problems by becoming rich!’
The Imitation Game tells the little known story of mathematical genius Alan Turing’s quest to crack the German Enigma code during World War 2. It is a remarkably poignant and dramatic story of a man whose achievements were kept under wraps for a generation. Benedict Cumberbatch’s emotionally captivating turn as Turing is one of the year’s undisputed highlights. Expect the awards to begin tumbling in.
Memorable quote: ‘Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine’
16. Gone Girl
David Fincher’s adaption of Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel is a topsy-turvy psychological thriller that is unapologetically perverse and supremely stylish. No matter how deep it descends into the bizarre, the dramatic mantle keeps being pushed up a notch. Just when you think it can’t go there, it slaps you in the face and keeps going. This is gripping cinema from one of the best in the business.
Memorable quote: ‘When I think of my wife, I always think of the back of her head. I picture cracking her lovely skull, unspooling her brain, trying to get answers. The primal questions of a marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other?’
The arrestingly titled Belgian production The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (L’étrange couleur des larmes de ton corps) is a highly experimental psycho-horror that would be reminiscent of the bastard child of a flawed Argento-Lynch collaboration and a grungy grindhouse thriller. Forzani and Cattet have created a wildly ambitious interpretation of the hyper-surrealistic elements of the Giallo and caked them in subversive and undeniably sensual metaphors.
Memorable Quote: ‘Your dark side is the most beautiful thing you possess and it will always belong to me.’
Jermaine Clement’s vampire mockumentary is the best genre comedy since Shaun of the Dead. It is beautifully self-aware and laugh out loud hilarious. It works just as well as a documentary on a group of friends living together, it just happens that they are bound to live forever and suck blood for sustenance. From the reluctant vampire through to the nosferatu-like sensationalist, we are instantly connected to characters we care about. The introduction and interaction with the werewolves is sublime and baked in comic genius. A real gem.
Memorable Quote: ‘What are we?! We’re werewolves, not Swear-wolves!’
Richard Ayoade’s brilliant interpretation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel is bold, innovative and incredibly memorable. A shy office worker (Jesse Eisenberg) is confronted and surpassed by his supremely confident doppelgänger in a darkly comic turn of events. Ayoade’s imaginative and clever film thrusts the self-esteem issue into the spotlight. What is the best version of one’s self? Are we our own worst enemy? It is a riveting tale that lingers on the mind.
Memorable quote: ‘I don’t know how to be myself. It’s like I’m permanently outside myself. Like, like you could push your hands straight through me if you wanted to.. I’m like Pinocchio, a wooden boy. Not a real boy. And it kills me.’
Wes Anderson’s comedy is a timeless piece of filmmaking that delights in a manner that only an Anderson film can. It’s his finest work. The chemistry between the impressively versatile Ralph Fiennes and newcomer Tony Revolori is tremendous. It’ll be a steep challenge to come across a more witty film in 2014.
Memorable quote: ‘Rudeness is merely an expression of fear, people fear they won’t get what they want. The most dreadful and unattractive person only needs to be loved, and they will open up like a flower.’
One man, his car and a phone line. How interesting could it possibly be? It just happens that it is no ordinary man, it is Tom Hardy. He is one of the finest actors of his generation and if you’re looking for proof, then his turn as Ivan Locke in Steven Knight’s road drama is your answer. We take the passenger seat next to Ivan as he travels from Birmingham to London on a fateful night where his personal and professional lives are in utter disarray. It is minimalist cinema at its very best.
Memorable quote: ‘Well, hear this Gareth, when I left the site just over two hours ago, I had a job, a wife, a home. And now I have none of those things. I have none of those things left. I have just myself and the car that I’m in. And I’m just driving and that’s it.’
Dan Gilroy’s heart-pounding noir thriller hones in on the disturbing underground trade of video news footage in Los Angeles. Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn as the introverted monster willing to do whatever it takes to make a living is phenomenal. Nightcrawler presents a damning verdict on the true nature of the role of the media in creating propaganda, mankind’s sickening desire to see other suffer and the corruption required to excel in a filthy industry. The image of Gyllenhaal with the cherry red Dodge Challenger in the background, holding a camera, is frighteningly iconic.
Memorable quote: ‘But you filmed him dying! That’s my job, that’s what I do, I’d like to think if you’re seeing me you’re having the worst day of your life.’
John Michael McDonagh’s Irish drama is a treasure of rare sorts. Brendan Gleeson stars as the good priest threatened by a member of his local parish. Calvary is tinged with a familiar blend of melancholy and dark comedy. It is a devastatingly impactful drama that tackles important religious themes of sacrifice and forgiveness whilst maintaining a unique tone of voice that is becoming synonymous with the talented McDonagh. This cements the Irishman’s status as one of the most exciting filmmakers out there.
Memorable quote: ‘I think there’s too much talk about sins and not enough about virtues.’
Under the Skin is a cinematic marvel. It is draped with a hallucinatory veil that glimmers with a profound strangeness. Glazer’s abstract and expressionistic brand of film-making has an intensely magnetic pull that draws you in as it spins its elaborate web. The Brit has crafted a masterfully intoxicating seduction awash with wondrous and artful imagery; a piece of cinema that lingers on the mind long after the final credits fade to black. The film translates as a Sci-Fi fable driven by a powerfully understated turn by the supremely talented Scarlett Johansson.
7. The Raid 2
Whilst The Raid smashed through barriers and re-defined a genre, The Raid 2 has obliterated all that has gone before it and chiselled its unique mark in the face of all that we thought possible. Evans has created a skull-crushing phenomenon that is driven by a fearless and gifted group of combat specialists (led by the inimitable Iko Uwais) There is a fierce, raw energy that rages through the spine of each knee-jerking and bone-crunching action set piece that propel Berandal to dizzying heights. This is a transformative experience that is unrivalled both in terms of its relentlessly savage nature but also in its unwavering ambition to interweave multiple strands of storytelling in what unfolds as a sprawling gangster epic.
Memorable quote: ‘ Only a fool argues for the pride of a dead man’
Interstellar is a fountain of ambition that luxuriates in a garden of extraordinary ideas. Nolan’s odyssey is a visual feast that warps the confines of the human mind. It’s the purest, most riveting cinematic experience this year and one that comes close to achieving nirvana. Its highly sentimental core will deter some but it grounds the intergalactic adventure in real emotion. Hans Zimmer’s score is perhaps the most emotive in the past decade. A must see.
Memorable quote: ‘We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.’
Hirokazu Koreeda’s emotionally captivating Japanese drama. It is an eloquent ode to the nature versus nature debate that handles its characters with a lightness of touch and its subject with masterful guile.The 2013 Cannes Grand Prix winning tale is a gracefully balanced, introspective examination of the intimate yet contrasting bonds between parents and their offspring. Koreeda’s moving drama ebbs and flows with a poetic serenity; he rarely shies away from having to grapple universal questions on the role of a parent in the emotional development of a child
Spike Jonze’s futurist screenplay translates into a wonderfully tender yet arresting exploration of life’s most complex emotion: love. ‘I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It’s a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.’ Every frame is considered, whether comic or more profound, this is a gleeful immersion into a world blessed with hope and a lasting appreciation of the human condition. Whist the initial premise seems farcical, Her transpires as a work of immense comic value and poignancy. To deem this a romantic comedy would be doing Spike Jonze a huge disservice, Her has crafted its own unique mark in an age where originality is at a premium. The brilliance of the mercurial Joaquin Phoenix is undeniable and the Academy has quite rightly honoured the film with the best original screenplay award.
Memorable quote: ‘ I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It’s a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.’
3. The Babadook
The Babadook crawls under the skin with a bloodcurdling menace; it unsettles with its uncanny monster before spitting out a jet-black spray of venomous terror. Beneath its brilliantly woven fantastical elements, The Babadook is without question one of the most emotionally captivating, character-driven genre films to emerge in recent years. While being genuinely frightening, newcomer Jennifer Kent’s superb screenplay works remarkably well as a profound yet metaphorical meditation on grief and the rocky terrains of coping after loss. It’s a deeply unsettling slice of Australian horror that truly delivers on its creepy premise.
Memorable quote: ‘If it’s in a word, or if it’s in a look you can’t get rid of the Babadook’
12 Years a Slave is the most blistering, emotionally charged and devastatingly phenomenal cinematic experience of 2014.This will shake you to your core and repeatedly lash your very being. The transgressive recesses of American history and the slave trade are graphically condemned in a visceral coalition of damning cruelty and injustice. If ever there was a film to make you feel alive and aware of your conscience, this is it. 12 Years a Slave is a contemporary classic and an unequivocal milestone in cinema. A bruising masterpiece.
Memorable quote: ‘Days ago I was with my family, in my home. Now you tell me all is lost. ‘Tell no one who I really am’ if I want to survive. I don’t want to survive, I want to live!’
Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a cinematic diamond that has been encrusted over time, withstood immense pressure and emerged as an extraordinary portrait of life. Boyhood is unlike anything that you’ve seen before; it elevates the visual medium into a timeless art-form. This incredible piece of work is a culmination of over a decade of tireless devotion from a group united behind a singular vision. Mason’s (played by a star in the making Ellar Coltrane) life unfolds before our eyes as we witness his growth from an innocent six-year-old boy into a young adult at the tender age of eighteen. Linklater’s script takes us on a trip where the journey is far more important than the final destination.
Memorable quote: ‘You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment? I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around, you know, like the moment seizes us’
What’s your favourite film of the year? Do you agree with this list?
Disclaimer: I do not own any copyright to any of the cinematic posters in this blog post.