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My Pick for Top Films of 2014

And so another year has come and gone and as we buckle down against the cold, make New Year’s resolutions we know we can never hope to keep and eagerly await the onset of summer it is time to look back at a, quite frankly, fantastic year of film.

(Side note in this list I have not included films that were released in the US in 2014 but only made it to the UK in 2015 e.g. Birdman and Whiplash, which are both incredible.)

So let’s get right to it!

    10. How to Train Your Dragon 2

The obligatory animated movie. Although I did not enjoy it as much as the first and I found certain plot points unnecessary, this film series continues to warm your old cockles and builds on the beautiful relationship established in the first film between Toothless and Hiccup, while also telling the most poignant animated coming of age story since Lion King. It addresses adulthood, responsibility and loss and does so not only with grace but also with a certain amount of flare. I look forward to the next one.

     9. Locke

Starring the enigmatic Tom Hardy, the whole story takes place in real time 90 minutes within one location, that of his car. It follows a series of phone calls that serve to completely pull apart one man’s life. Not only do you see his mistakes, but you see the repercussions of them and question what you would do in such a life defining journey. As the only face on screen for the entire film, Tom Hardy delivers a nuanced and gut wrenching performance. Although the film remains open ended, that only serves to make it that more believable and life like. If only for the absorbing and brilliant performance by Hardy, this one is a must see.

     8. Edge of Tomorrow

Mixing Groundhog Day and sci fi, Edge of Tomorrow follows the story of Tom Cruise trapped in an ever repeating day for the battle of earth against an Alien invasion. When I first heard about this I had my doubts. Most sci fi of this sort has not grabbed me particularly in recent years, and neither has Tom Cruise, however this film was more than a pleasant surprise. Not only was it exciting and interesting throughout, it also never once felt repetitive as each time the day reset itself, the filmmakers found new ways to grab the audience. However, the thing that surprised me most about this film was Tom Cruise’s character. He was not the typical reluctant hero, but rather a coward who is forced into a combat situation that he would rather lie and cheat to avoid. This creates a platform where he has to learn to be the hero, which proves for a far more interesting character development story that is normally the case in films such as this. Also Emily Blunt was a pretty kickass female without ever being an overt cliché.

      7. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Following from the first film that served to reinvigorate the franchise and introduce it to a whole new legion of fans, this movie takes place after a highly contagious disease has wiped out most of humanity leaving only a few pockets of society behind. These survivors are not only trying to adapt to this post-apocalyptic world but are also trying to figure out how and if they can coexist with their ape neighbours, who seem to be thriving while the humans struggle along. What makes this film fantastic is that it is not the ordinary post-apocalyptic fare. Firstly it is not the apes that pushed humans to the brink of extinction, which makes it far more interesting. It is political and thought provoking and shows the fear of the unknown when faced with your own possible extinction. The humans are far less developed as characters; which mean that the apes steal the show. We are on Ceaser’s side throughout as he tries to balance the fine line between his loyalties to his own species and his love of humans. Queue treacherous apes that betray him, incredible action scenes and emotional moments that will have you weeping in your seat.

     6. Gone Girl

Gone Girl follows the story of Ben Affleck who is accused of the murder of his missing wife. This film is best left unspoiled, but it is tense, edge of the seat stuff. You spend the whole time going back and forth in your mind, questioning everything as you try and figure out what is going on. I thought I had cracked it about 7 times during the film and each time I was promptly proven wrong. The twist is great and Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike deliver stand out performances. It is twisted, entertaining and also gives an all too real insight into the realities of married life. Prepare to spend the whole time open mouthed and thinking it through for weeks after.

      5. The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch hits it out of the park yet again. I wouldn’t judge anyone for thinking that maybe Cumberbatch is over saturating the industry at the moment, but this film proves that this is deservedly so. The Imitation Game tells the story of Alan Turing who managed to crack the Enigma Code and so was instrumental in the Allies winning World War II which also paved the way for the biggest technological development in the past 100 years, if perhaps ever, the computer. It not only creates a sympathetic, thought provoking and extremely interesting narrative, it also sheds light on the tragedy of being homosexual during a time where you were imprisoned or castrated for being so. It’s funny, sad, exciting and one of the best biographical films and performances I have seen in a long time. Alan Turing is unfortunately an oft forgotten hero, but thankfully this film does him justice.

       4. The Babadook

I truly believe horror films in recent years have been seriously lacking. What seems to dominate is how companies can make the cheapest films, filled with the most silly jump scares, that earn the most money at the box office. I truly believed I could not be surprised by a horror film anymore. Boy was I wrong. Essie Davies plays a single mother struggling to cope with the loss of her husband, whilst facing difficulties raising her son and being alone. Enter a monster through the pages of a children’s book that begins to haunt their home. This film is indeed frightening but it so much more. Serving to shed a stark light on depression, grief and parenthood the whole thing acts as a metaphor that makes you feel uneasy not because of the typical horror film tropes, but because it is so rooted in real life. I left the film discussing not the horrors of the monster, but the horrors of depression and death and that makes it the best horror film I have seen in a long time, and certainly one of the best films of the year.

     3. Nightcrawler

Wow. Jake Gyllenhaal. What can I say? This man just goes from strength to strength. I have been an avid fan since Donnie Darko but damn this performance was next level stuff. Nightcrawler tells the story of a man who sees an opportunity to enter the world of media and news by capturing accidents and death on camera in a freelance capacity and selling them to a news channel. Not only is Gyllenhaal’s character unnerving, obsessive and seemingly unhinged, his character is entirely plausible and realistic. Furthermore, it shows how poorly we know how to find and deal with these types of “characters.” Gyllenhaal completely and utterly embodies the character and absorbs you to such an extent that I found myself, mouth hanging open, feeling like I was watching a documentary of a sociopath rather than a movie. The film never defines what or who he is really, but prefers to leave things open and ambiguous, meaning I found myself thinking about it for days afterwards. And not only is this film a startling portrayal of a deeply troubled deplorable man, but also sheds light on the media industry as a whole. News has become so much about viewing figures, sensationalism and broadcasting the most gruesome horrible acts of society, that it’s turned into a cesspool that attracts characters such as Gyllenhaal’s that relish and thrive in such an environment. It is unsettling and disturbing and unfortunately our current reality.

   2. Guardians of the Galaxy

Based on a comic that no one read and characters that no one had heard of, Marvel took an unprecedented and ultimately genius decision to make a film that made everyone go ‘ugh?’. Fast forward to August 2014 the big boss types at Marvel had reason to sip champagne and pat themselves on the shoulder for a job well done. Boasting great music, likable characters and amazing visuals, Guardians served to open up the Marvel cinematic universe into space and paved the way for any bold decisions that they may decide to make to always go unquestioned. Becoming one of the most successful films of the year it was not only a commercial success but also a critical one. The film follows the beefed up Chris Pratt as Star-Lord who teams up with a group of outlaws, including a tree and a talking raccoon. Tying in with the rest of the Avengers canon, this band of misfits come together to save the day in a hilarious edge of the seat way. My only gripe is that the villain is quite a stock character, however that’s understandable since the Guardians need to be introduced, developed and the audience made to care for them. One of my favourite films of the year and definitely my favourite Marvel film of all.

   1. X-Men: Days of Future Past

Welcome back Brian Singer! Singer does the impossible and combines the old and new X-Men cast in a thought provoking, exciting, interesting and visually stunning way. I personally adored First Class and whole-heartedly welcomed the reboot. After the Last Stand a fresh cast and narrative was essential and First Class proved that the X-Men universe had so much more to give. Based on one of my favourite X-Men story lines in the Marvel Comics (the Uncanny X-Men issues #141-142 published in 1981), it deals with a dystopian future in which mutants are incarcerated in internment camps and hunted down by sentinels that not only are after mutants but any humans carrying the mutant gene (basically everyone). What’s left is a thoroughly bleak future where pretty much everything is destroyed. With very little time left before the sentinels find them, Xavier and Magneto decide to send back Wolverine (instead of Kitty Price as in the comic) to try and convince 70’s Xavier and Magneto to work together to prevent Mystique from murdering Bolivar Trask (who invented the sentinels), thus hopefully changing their future. This film not only handles time travel excellently, which is always hard to do, but weaves a tight narrative that is on point throughout. I loved all the characters, especially Quicksilver who arguably steals the whole movie. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender give stand out performances that rival that of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen and this film not only does the X-Men universe justice but comic book films in general. I loved the film from start to finish and could not be more excited for Apocalypse, hence why this film is my number 1 film of last year.