Top ten: films of 2014
From Wes Anderson's latest to Palme D'Or winner: Culture Whisper's pick of the best films, London 2014.
The year played host to seven international film festivals, and a string of breakthrough acts – particularly notable was Jack O'Connell's spate of impressive roles in '71, Starred Up and Unbroken; the latter, Angelina Jolie's third directorial feat and wartime tale of endurance, to be released on Boxing Day this year.
2014 also saw some enjoyable cringeworthy moments, from Johnny Depp's intoxicated state at this year's Hollywood Documentary Award to John Travolta's failed attempt to pronounce Frozen singer Idina Menzel's name, a knuckle-biting moment fit to go down in Oscar history:
Now, though, we take a look at the hits of the last twelve months:
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Though some might have rolled their eyes at the serving of yet another of Wes Anderson’s obsessively contrived cinematic creations, we have fond memories of the stylish and thoughtful pièce de résistance from the master of quirk. Anderson’s style reached its peak in this delicious dramedy, with perpetual nods to the audience and elegant structural shifts. With an unbeatable cast, including Ralph Fiennes' portrayal of the hotel's eccentric and lovable concierge (Gustave's prison break scene being a particular favourite) and disturbing performance from Willem Dafoe (as Anderson reveals his darker side) The Grand Budapest Hotel was a picturesque display of creativity, as Anderson proved he will defend his uniquely idiosyncratic style 'til the bitter end.
This coarse social drama is a compelling insight into the Russian culture of male bravado, leading its viewers on a journey of biblical proportions to address Putin’s corrosive regime, presented starkly and unapologetically by Russian director Andrey Zvyaginstef. Leviathan depicts a man's struggle to defend his home from acquisition from by the town's mercenary mayor (played by the brilliantly wicked Roman Madyano). Black comedy meets social commentary in Zvyaginstef's bleak world of blackmail and state corruption, a world that repeatedly challenges and enthralls its audience; stunningly shot and powerfully told.
Pawel Pawlikowski’s masterpiece was a fleeting gem, slipped into eighty minutes of exquisite cinematography. We follow the film’s eponymous nun as she delves into her family's past, ahead of taking her vows, in a film that deals with issues of not only faith but identity - both Poland’s and Ida’s - and the ramifications of history on a fragile sense of selfhood. Adding to the intensity is newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska, whose eerie beauty doesn't fail to entrance.
Linklater’s latest epic was a three hour long odyssey – but given the venture, how could it not be? Filmed, as it were, in real time, over the course of thirteen years, Boyhood explores in intimate detail the trials and pleasures of childhood in a series of colourful and hyper-realistic pastiches. Interspersed with frequent doses of nostalgia, we watch trends in technology, fashion and music grow with the actors. An idea so simple and original that only watching it do you realise how striking it is that it’s never been done before.
5. Winter Sleep
The Palme d’Or Winner Winter Sleep was this year's masterpiece from Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Ceylan's film deals with the deterioration of a marriage in a claustrophobic Anatolian hotel at the approach of winter. The fairytale quality of the small Anatolian steppe belies the communities’ internal struggle for harmony and the harsh reality of economic inequality. Typically, Ceylan chills his audience with a stark rendering of the social truths that pervade communities in the face of adversity. Philosophically poignant and cinematically picturesque.
6. The Imitation Game
The year saw Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly join forces in an intense period drama based on the life of Alan Turing, WWII codebreaker whose name is synonymous with the birth of computing. Jumping on the success in recent years of the 'behind the scenes' wartime drama – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy shares much accreditation with The Imitation Game – the film follows Turing from his unhappy days at boarding school to his work with Bletchley park, key in breaking Nazi Germany’s Enigma code, and his subsequent convictions for homosexuality. Occasionally lacking in factual accuracy, the film nonetheless brings an already innately fascinating tale to a wider audience – along with some flawless acting on the part of Cumberbatch.
When investigative journalist and director Laura Poitras started receiving anonymous emails from a person identifying as 'citizen four', she couldn't have imagined how explosive the revelations would be. The emails were, it was revealed, from Edward Snowden, and Poitras' subsequent film documents the tense encounters the two undergo as they seek to reveal the truths behind US national security. A documentary that's utterly gripping without the sensationalism expected of a real-life thriller.
8. Two Days, One Night
Deux Jours, Une Nuit continued the Belgian Dardenne brothers' winning streak with rapturous acclaim at this year's Cannes. Their films have a distinctive naturalist style, addressing the issue of normal people with unstinting documentary realism, crisp cinematography and an almost unparalleled lightness of touch. Marion Cotillard's passionate performance as Sandra, the factory worker threatened with redundancy, is faultless: a simple but compelling plot, told with a great deal of intelligence and emotional subtlety.
9. Gone Girl
Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl was 2014's most hotly anticipated thriller. Adapted (by Flynn herself) from the eponymous 2012 bestselling novel, Gone Girl presents the collision of talented cast and passionate fan base and a director, David Fincher, who has already proven himself with a host of Oscar-nominated movies (The Social Network, Benjamin Button). A dark and stylish adaptation from Fincher, and powerful performances from stars Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.
10. Finding Vivian Maier
This fascinating tale of isolation and eccentricity is interspersed with intimate shots of New York’s streets. At times comic, disturbing and deeply moving, Finding Vivian Maier tells the story of a budding photographer's chance discovery of a suitcase full of film negatives, only to discover the posthumous treasure trove of a woman who will come to be revealed as one of the world's most talented street photographers. John Maloof's film is a fascinating insight into the reclusive life of an understated genius.