Tomorrow marks a fortnight since the staging of the 87th Academy Awards. To celebrate the pinnacle of awards season, we are revealing our own Top 20 Films of 2014. Yesterday we announced those entries that placed 20th through to 11th. Today, we can exclusively reveal those that came 10th (well, joint 9th) through to the heady heights of 5th.
Only Lovers Left Alive
Only Lovers Left Alive sees Tom Hiddlestone and Tilda Swinton star as centuries old vampire husband and wife….and nothing much actually happens. There is a little about Swinton’s wild sister Mia Wasikowska turning up and disrupting their lifestyle, getting involved with Hiddlestone’s friend Anton Yelchin and drinking all of their best blood; but that small piece of drama is the oasis in the middle of a two hour desert. Despite a lack of anything much going on, Only Lovers Left Alive is an enjoyable watch because of two strong lead performances, a delightful cameo turn from John Hurt, a smart script, exquisite dark visuals and several genuinely funny lines. It’s not the kind of film you could watch every day, but if you’re ever in the mood for a sedate vampire-romance this comes highly recommended.
Spike Jonze wrote, directed and produced this intimate story, in fact acting is basically the only thing he didn’t do in its creation. In Jonze’s directorial debut Joaquín Pheonix dons a formidable moustache to portray Theodore Twomblay a name that should only exist in fairy tales or Middle Earth. Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt, Amy Adams and Olivia Wilde are the supporting jewels in the crown of this surprisingly understated film that refuses to shove it’s talent in your face. Theodore is a quiet man in the near future obviously broken from one past relationship in particular and well and truly out of love. When he gets a new and adaptable operating system which is basically sentient, an unorthodox relationship sparks into life. It helps that the system, Samantha is voiced by the husky Scarlett Johansson, totally re cast after originally filmed with Zoe Saldana’s tones.
Pheonix is adorably flawed and a tightly wound case of emotion going to waste, while Johansson injects every ounce of charisma and feeling into the purely audible character. There are awkward scenes as well as endearing comedy and sweet moments of defining, childish romance adapted to the situation such as Samantha guiding Theodore as a camera phone in his chest pocket. The stumbling blocks to the relationship also hurt as real as any its audience will have experienced and the moments all couples know such as “we’ll talk about it later” make this an accessible and relevant story in its absurdity. It is a shame how it’s shies away from some issues it brushes against such as people detaching from society with immersive technology, and the ending is maybe too philosophical for its own good. At its heart though this is an unconventional love story made real by its believable warmth and wounds.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Our second outing with Marvel’s premier World War II hero sees Cap (a returning Chris Evans) team up with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) to take on the titular assassin (Sebastian Stan). While a formidable opponent, it quickly becomes apparent that he is the least of their worries, as they uncover secrets that will shake S.H.I.E.L.D. (and the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe) to its very core.
Using a popular, critically acclaimed Ed Brubaker comic as a guideline, the conspiracy laden thriller was rightfully received with much fanfare and adulation. With very few scenes that threatened the verisimilitude of the piece (I’m looking at you, Arnim Zola), this relatively grounded action drama was able to appeal to a broad audience.
Aided by a tight script, good acting and excellent direction, Captain America: The Winter Soldier managed to buck the Studios’ ‘first sequel creative slump’ trend (see: Iron Man 2, Thor: The Dark World) to become their best dramatic output to date.
Wes Anderson films can often feel esoteric and be difficult to fully engage with, but The Grand Budapest Hotel is his most accessible film to date, capped with a fantastic lead performance from Ralph Fiennes as hotel concierge M. Gustave.
Gustave is a concierge at the Grand Budapest Hotel. An eccentric known for his affairs with older women, Gustave finds himself bequeathed a valuable painting when one of his ladies passes away, much to the fury of her son Dmitri. Dmitri is intent on framing Gustave for his mother’s death, so the concierge and his lobby boy Zero hatch a plan to hide the painting and evade the authorities.
Funny and genuinely touching, The Grand Budapest Hotel fully deserves all of its widespread critical acclaim.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Funnier than most comedies and livelier than anything else you saw last year, The Wolf of Wall Street is a romp through the life of Wall Street stockbroker Jordan Belfort. Critics point to a lack of balance or conscience; there is little to no denouncement of the outrageous sums of money Belfort makes and wastes on extravagances and drug-fuelled parties, but this is pure hedonistic fun from start-to-finish and doesn’t feel anywhere the length of its near three hour run-time. Jonah Hill continues his streak of excelling as the comedy-relief in dramatic film – admittedly in his silliest serious role yet and he is surrounded by am impressive supporting cast which includes Kyle Chandler and Jean Dujardin.
Guardians of the Galaxy
After stealing a powerful artifact, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) – aka Star Lord – leads a ragtag group of bandits, assassins and anthropomorphic ne’er-do-wells fleeing across the cosmos. Ultimately forced to face down their pursuants, this quintet of loners are compelled to become the galaxy’s most unlikeliest of guardians.
So much of Guardians… just works. The script is funny, the CGI impressive and the casting spot on (who knew that Dave Bautista had comedic timing?). While the plot may seem a little hackneyed, it is not to the film’s detriment. In fact, the familiarity helps the viewer settle into proceedings swiftly – like changing into your slightly worn pyjamas, settling on your slightly tatty settee to watch your favourite film. You know exactly what you are getting, and you love it all the same.
Then there’s that soundtrack. Centered around Blue Swede’s Hooked on a Feeling, the compilation (comprised entirely of songs from the 1960s and 70s) serves as a unique backdrop for the otherworldly hijink. Juxtaposed brilliantly against some of the crazier action sequences, these hits of yesteryear have become resurgent. Having them resonate with what was undoubtedly the blockbuster of the Summer will do these old favourites no harm, and as a side effect perhaps turning a new generation onto some near-lost gems.
If Captain America: The Winter Soldier is Marvel Studios’ best dramatic entry to date, then Guardians of the Galaxy is by far their best comedy. Imagine a traditional 70s space opera infused with a contemporary, knowing humour. This is Star Wars meets Firefly, or The Last Starfighter crossed with Farscape. Simply, this is excellent.
That wraps up part two. Check back tomorrow for the third and final part to this opinionated trilogy, and see who induct into our Hall of Film.
Did you see any of the films listed above? What do you make of our commentary and their placement? Too high/low? Please leave us a comment below.