This list is based on UK cinema releases within 2014 which excludes festival screenings, of which many would feature here. For a comprehensive look at the 88 new films to the UK that I saw this year, see my Letterboxd list.
1. HER | Dir: Spike Jonze
Read my review here. I saw this on Valentine’s Day, which perhaps enhanced my connection to it. A film I’m both anxious and afraid to revisit.
3. BOYHOOD | Dir: Richard Linklater
There is already so much that I have forgotten about the magnificent Boyhood, from the action in little scenes to how it transitions between years, yet the feeling of the sitting in the cinema during its closing credits is much too overwhelming to displace. I fear that in the long run that it’s pioneering achievement of a 12 year continual project coming to fruition will overshadow the actual film itself, which is so understated and effortlessly engaging. Never attempting to overly dramatize the conventional moments in adolescence, it still vividly depicts a multitude of feelings in these familiar moments and opens doors to idiosyncratic reflection due to Linklater’s astute talent and awareness for human interaction which impresses with every film. Watch it to observe life ordinary occurring in a manner that Eric Rohmer would be jealous of, relive moments from the last twelve years with added perspective, and simply experience transcendent cinema.
4. WE ARE THE BEST! | Dir: Lukas Moodysson
Read my review here. The nicest cinema surprise of the year, not knowing anything prior to viewing and being delighted to no end.
5. TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT | Dir: Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne
Read my review here.
6. LOCKE | Dir: Steven Knight
Read my review here. This is now on Netflix, so finish reading this post and then get to watching it.
7. GONE GIRL | Dir: David Fincher
I like to hope that the FX sitcom You’re the Worst will eventually climax with something resembling this film, where two wretched people battle (or perform against one another, adopting identities and manipulative tactics) for constant revenge and triumph in the game of marriage only to prove that they deserve each other. It’s a progressively layered puzzle which plays with audiences sympathies in darkly comic and captivating fashion. Classic Fincher who noir’s it up with pronounced textures and tonal movements that make for a sensational experience.
8. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL | Dir: Wes Anderson
Read my review here.
9. THE SKELETON TWINS | Dir: Craig Johnson
Read my review here. An evolution of the Judd Apatow dramedy, overall funnier and more affecting than all the film within that bubble. Wiig and Hader’s performances continue to impress me in memory alone six months on.
10. THE LUNCHBOX | Dir: Ritesh Batra
Read my review here.
11. THE DOUBLE | Dir: Richard Ayoade
Read my review here.
12. CITIZENFOUR | Dir: Laura Poitras
Phenomenal tone, breadth of commentary and sharpness of message. It doesn’t necessarily present any new information that we don’t have access to in January 2015, but its insight into the series of remarkable and monumental meetings is extraordinary viewing. That much Glenn Greenwald can never be a bad thing. Not as thoroughly engaging or, perversely, entertaining as 2013’s We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, but comes with different documentation intentions and a stronger structure. Darker, grittier, bleaker and better.
13. ’71 | Dir: Yann Demange
Memorable action thriller in the mold of Paul Greengrass with top performances and a top script complimenting one another. Moody, gripping and perfectly tense. Keeps the plot taut, the action engaging and cleverly never complicates Gary’s journey. Striking cinematography that nails the feel of its time and includes a pleasingly symbolic final shot. What a debut film from Demange.
14. FINDING VIVIAN MAIER | Dir: John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
Intriguing, moving and fascinating, Finding Vivian Maier focuses on an enigmatic personality with such an astonishingly reclusive talent for photography who withered into obscurity as a lifelong nanny and died a penniless hoarder. Purposely concealing the exploits of her obvious passion, she actively avoided fame during her living days but is now dutifully receiving it posthumously thanks to the dedicated efforts of John Maloof. There’s obvious concerns about the exhibition of a woman’s life and mental state that she so obviously intended to keep private, which becomes unsettling at times and distracts from the documentary’s priority of joyously devouring her breathtaking work. Contradictions and necessary assumptions are made but it remains a highly recommended piece that doesn’t quite find or define Miss Maier but inspires efforts in us all to explore further for ourselves.
15. BLUE RUIN | Dir: Jeremy Saulnier
If Gone Girl is the meticulous revenge movie of 2014, Blue Ruin is noteworthy for its ordinary and unremarkable disposition. It’s a brutal, violent and darkly humourous revenge flick that presents more Coen Brothers characteristics than they’re likely to in their next project yet maintains its own identity in that unpolished low budget indie sort of way. The wrath escalates alongside Dwight’s inability to pull it off. While the ending misses the target, it’s a deeply impressive debut whose execution sometimes equals the meekness of its protagonist.
16. FRANK | Dir: Lenny Abrahamson
Read my review here. Very conveniently (and truthfully) ranked behind Blue Ruin, which makes the tweet screencaps flow.
17. FRUITVALE STATION | Dir: Ryan Coogler
I’m all about exposing horrendous and pervasive police brutality but Fruitvale Station is actually at its most rewarding before the inevitable concluding act. The slow building, observational narrative where we learn who characters are through handheld cinematography, semi-improvised dialogue, unspectacular situations and a distant, unbiased portrayal proves truly engaging amongst the circumstances depicted here. Although the ending plays a little too strongly for emotions after the well-refined first half, it’s a powerful and candid film that exceeds expectations thanks to a compelling performance from Michael B. Jordan.
18. TOM AT THE FARM | Dir: Xavier Dolan
Read my review here.
19. OBVIOUS CHILD | Dir: Gillian Robespierre
Jenny Slate fart jokes her way into a loveable leading lady in this refreshingly hilarious comedy. Known as the delightfully irritating Mona-Lisa on Parks and Rec and Jess in the too-good-for Married (as is Judy Greer), Slate is somewhat typecast in these unlikeable roles which also includes Bob’s Burgers’ Tammy and House of Lies’ Sarah. Obvious Child offers her another variation on this and has regularly been called “unsentimental”, but Slate and director Gillian Robespierre turn this flawed and crude character into something truly heartfelt. She may be the worst person in the world but her bluntly unsentimental moments are complimented by moments such as in the taxi, at the doctors, on stage talking about abortion and of course the ending. These are wholly sentimental and affecting moments that charm the brass instruments off your shirt and transform her from the horrible coffee described towards the start of the film – cold, grind-y, bitter, disgusting. Those moments humanise her and the film on a whole. Slate is at all times well measured in her performance, rarely producing a false note and displaying a dynamic charisma. The one letdown of the film lies in the character of Max being too unbelievably perfect, with faulty motivations and actions seemingly written in to aid the narrative to progress. Still, it’s a really funny and welcome comedy that swiftly moves from a film of lewd laughs to something of genuine warmth and meaning.
20. MOOD INDIGO | Dir: Michel Gondry
Read my review here. Divisive as anything this year, but no one has yet to answer how they cannot enjoy a film where Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris cuddle in bed.
This year in UK cinemas I also enjoyed The Wolf of Wall Street, Leviathan, Joe, Cold in July, 20 Feet From Stardom, A Most Wanted Man (review), What We Do in the Shadows, Mr. Turner, Guardians of the Galaxy, Palo Alto, 22 Jump Street(1) (2), Tracks, Night Moves, American Hustle (review) and Mr. Peabody & Sherman (review).