30 December 2014

The Must See Films of 2014

At long last, 2014 fades to a close as 2015 looms ominously before us, the passing seasons and changing of calendars alerting you to the ever quickening journey of life itself, the end of which is only getting closer every minute of your continuing existence. You start asking questions - did 2014 really last as long as other years? Have I achieved anything this year? What percentage of my life remains?  Will anyone remember me when I die? Has time started speeding up as my responsibilities grow, burdening me like an ever-expanding weight on my soul?  What good films came out this year?

Well it turns out that actually, 2014 has been a pretty good year for cinema - despite a few disappointments, the majority of anticipated pictures have lived up or even exceeded the hype surrounding them, a situation that comes around just once a blue moon. So I've made a list of the films released in 2014 in the UK that I would consider the ones you need to see.

This is by no means a definitive list - there are a fair few films that have been making the rounds in other lists that I never got round to seeing or haven't been released in the UK yet, but of the films I have seen, these are the ones I would most recommend, the films that for one reason or another I would consider 'required viewing'.

So, in the order that I saw them;

The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street follows the life of Jordan Belfort, a real life stockbroker who lived a life of excess using the money of those he conned and lied to. A return to the biopic-esque structure of his previous films, Martin Scorsese once again proves he is a master of cinema in a confident, superbly directed film with a fantastic cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie and Jonah Hill, each giving excellent performances in career defining roles. A film of ridiculous highs and crushing lows, The Wolf of Wall Street perfectly encapsulates both the lure of power and the destruction it can cause in the wrong hands, and despite being based on a story 30 years old, still feels surprisingly relevant today.


Her is the story of Theodore Twombly, a recently divorced man who cannot seem to connect with people on an emotional level, despite making a living as someone who writes other peoples love letters. When his new PC comes with an artificial intelligence operating system, he finally finds someone he can talk to and the two of them start to date, attempting to work around the obvious limitations of a human/OS relationship. Despite the potentially off-putting premise, Her is one of the most sincere films released this year, avoiding obvious sci-fi tropes in order to tell a deeply personal and focused story of loss, heartbreak and moving on, with great performances from Joaquin Pheonix, Amy Adams and Scarlett Johansson really helping to sell this near future world to us. Despite critical acclaim, I haven't actually met many people who have seen Her, and I would strongly recommend giving it a chance.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Commonly referred to as "the only Wes Anderson film with a story", The Grand Budapest Hotel follows concierge Gustave H and his loyal lobby boy as they attempt to solve the murder of a wealthy older woman who frequently visited the titular hotel. Starring Ralph Fiennes and supported by an all-star cast including Willam DeFoe, Jude Law, Jeff Goldblum, Adrian Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton and Harvey Keitel, each of them bring their A game to a film that is weirdly unpredictable, charmingly stylish and chaotically comic. Potentially Wes Anderson's best film, The Grand Budapest Hotel reuses and refines a lot of the unique directorial quirks that make a Wes Anderson film feel so distinct, all culminating in a uniquely entertaining film that feels infinitely rewatchable. 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Continuing the Marvel Studios winning streak, Captain America: The Winter Soldier takes Steve Rogers into modern day Washington DC, where a global conspiracy to control the population through fear begins to come to light. Filled with amazing action sequences, The Russo Brothers turn one of Marvel's weaker properties into one of it's strongest in a film that isn't afraid to take a look at hot political issues such as terrorism and national security while somehow managing to avoid the overly serious and overtly gritty tone that the DC superhero films suffer from. Captain America: The Winter Soldier works as both a standalone action film and a continuation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, developing characters and the world as a whole in one of the strongest superhero films ever made, and my personal favourite.

The Raid: Berandal

The Raid: Berandal picks up the story immediately after The Raid: Redemption ends, following Rama as he goes deep undercover in order to expose police corruption. The larger story in Berandal means that some of the focus that helped made Redemption so intense is swapped for better writing and character arcs, but the fight scenes are just as impressive, if not more so, and they add in a level of imagination that Redemption did not have. The crazy action, the great camera work and the gorgeous cinematography make The Raid: Berandal the best action film of the year, and a great example of how good martial arts films can be when a director really understands what they are doing.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Marc Webb reinvents Spider-Man in the best superhero film containing the song "Itsy Bitsy Spider" on the electric pylon ever made, ever. A deconstruction of the character of Peter Parker, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 takes a harrowing look at global commercialisation, the energy crisis caused by unsustainable fossil fuels and the destructive force of ego and wealth in a film that is, quite simply, a masterpiece. With outstanding performances from Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Dane DeHaan and my attention span, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is literally the best Spider-Man film released this May, maybe even the best Spider-Man film of 2014. Everyone involved deserves multiple awards, and we should just accept that film making peaked this year with the release of this film.

No but in all seriousness the film sucked so bad it made me start a blog just to get the word out. You can read my full hate piece review here.


I'm kind of breaking my own rules with this one because it never got a UK release, but it's my list and I'll do what I want. Snowpiercer is set in a bleak future whereby the planets temperature has dropped below the level at which life can continue. The only surviving members of the human race live aboard a constantly moving train that travels all around the world, the poor living at back of the train in poverty and the elite living at the front in a state of luxury, an unequal system that provokes a revolution amongst the lower class, seeking to take the front of the train by force. The fact that Bong Joon-Ho's science fiction masterpiece didn't get released in the UK means that most people probably haven't even heard of it, which is a real shame - Snowpiercer is undoubtedly one of the strongest science fiction films released in years, at once an exercise in world building, an allegorical look at the class system and a great action film, bolstered by outstanding performances from a strong cast including Chris Evans, John Hurt, Jamie Bell and Tilda Swinton. If this ever hits UK cinemas (or if you have access to the US Netflix, hint hint), make sure you see this film.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Following a rag tag group of criminals as they attempt to save the galaxy from Kree supremacist Ronan the Accuser, Guardians of the Galaxy takes the Marvel Cinematic Universe into deep space in a film that adheres to the Marvel template while also very much being its own thing, resulting in a weird and unique film that has quickly become a fan favourite. Chris Pratt stars as Peter "Star-Lord" Quill, a human who was abducted from Earth just minutes after his mother died, and is supported by Gamora, a green space assassin with a dark past and a secret agenda, Drax the Destroyer, a tattooed and menacing powerhouse with an inability to understand metaphors, Groot, a sentient tree that can only repeat the phrase "I am Groot", and Rocket, a genetically engineered Raccoon with an affinity for heavy weaponry and alcohol. James Gunn makes this seemingly ridiculous premise work wonders while at the same time building an entirely new part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that is both believable and imaginative, a real feat of writing that helped make Guardians of the Galaxy one of the highest grossing and most entertaining films of the year.

You can read my full review of Guardians of the Galaxy here.

Gone Girl

Based on a best selling book by the same name, Gone Girl is the story of Nick and Amy Dunne, a seemingly ideal couple who end up at the centre of a media storm when Amy goes missing and Nick ends up as the main suspect. Director David Fincher brings his trademark gloomy realism into a film that grabs audiences from the beginning and never lets go, twisting and turning throughout and delivering one of the most interesting stories of the year. Both Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are fantastic as the starring couple, each of them developing over the course of the film to become completely different characters from initial expectations. Despite the overstated controversy surrounding some aspects of Gone Girl, it remains one of the best films of the year and offers an in depth look at the nature of relationships and public image, thought provoking without ever becoming too heavy handed.

You can read my full review of Gone Girl here.

And below I've listed a few films that aren't quite must see, but are definitely worth a watch for one reason or another.

Godzilla - A fun, suspenseful monster movie that was maybe a little too restrained for some people. Full review here.

Edge of Tomorrow - A solid story executed perfectly that somehow avoids being overly repetitive, paired with a tight, smart script and visually interesting action. Full review here.

22 Jump Street - A comedy sequel that's funnier than (although not quite as good as) the original. Full review here.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - A solid sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes marred only by poor development of the human characters. Full review here. 
- A superbly directed, intriguing story about overwhelming ambition with great performances from the whole cast. Full review here.

Interstellar - A smart, well made sci-fi film slightly let down by an emotional undercurrent that's poorly handled by the director. Full review here.

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