Top 10 Films of 2014
Blue Ruin 
Blue Ruin is an innocently wide-eyed grim smile of an indy revenge thriller, with a pleasing number of darkly comic laughs. It packs a gruesome punch right from the very beginning and is neatly concise at 90 minutes. Dwight has no particular set of skills other than conviction, balls and a decentish aim. Macon Blair is wonderfully endearing as the sad and lonely lead on a killing spree. And Buzz from Home Alone (Devin Ratray) continues his comeback after Nebraska, in a minor role. Good gory fun.
Edge of Tomorrow [12A]
The Tom Cruise film for people who don't like Tom Cruise. He's basically useless and dies a couple of hundred times. Sometime in the near-ish future there's a massive alien invasion happening and Europe is about to fall. Cruise is a cowardly army spin-doctor who's been sent to the front line as punishment, where he gets caught in a time-loop when a giant squiddy alien dies on his face (no spoilers, it's in the first five minutes). Every time he dies, he restarts the same day again. Emily Blunt is a totally awesome heroine with a cool soldier nickname (The Angel of Verdun) who bosses Tom about and, when irritated, shoots him in the face (not a spoiler, he obviously comes back to life). At times it's all so silly that it's just incredibly fun. I was not expecting to enjoy this anywhere near as much as I did!
The Grand Budapest Hotel 
The entire film is as perfectly constructed and finished as the delightful featured cake boxes, with a contents just as delicious. Perhaps Wes Anderson's most refined and accessible picture, it has a constellation cast including Ralph Fiennes, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel, Ed Norton, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldbloom, Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, F. Murray Abraham, and a lovely introduction for Tony Revolori as lobby boy Zero. It has a pretty bonkers yet thrilling narrative, precise aesthetic, universally cracking performances and a kind-natured heart. Warm, funny and weird required watching.
Guardians of the Galaxy [12A]
So much fun, and what a lovely surprise. 2014 was the year Chris Pratt properly arrived, and now he's got Jurassic World, Lego 2 and The Magnificent Seven remake in the pipe too. Guardians is made with the same love and care that Joss Whedon brought to its bigger Marvel sister, by people who genuinely care about the source material. It means that those of us unfamiliar with the comics can still understand their charm and humour. Super funny, suitably exciting and with a cracking 60s/70s cassette-tape soundtrack that makes you want a walkman, Guardians more than deserved to pummel its more established comic book cousins at the 2014 box office.
Expect this to clean up in the foreign-language film categories of the upcoming awards season. Pawel Pawlikowksi has created a stunning, stark, beautiful, measured, warm, truthful and expansive 80 minutes of cinema. Ida is a young novitiate nun who is sent to meet her only living relative aunt Wanda, a hard-drinking and promiscuous former Stalinist judge. After discovering that she is in fact Jewish, Ida embarks with Wanda on a journey of self-discovery that is both personal portrait and pervasive allegory for European history. Every frame of Ida is like a perfectly composed photograph in luminous 4:3 black and white, the characters marginalised to the edges of the aspect with deliberate intent. It feels like a film that could have been made in the 60s, except for the broader narrative perspective granted from the distance of 50 years. A joyous echoey John Coltrane soundtrack is the icing.
The Lego Movie [U]
Please, please let 'Everything is Awesome' win the Best Original Song Oscar! Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (22 & 23 Jump Street, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) have built a clever, charming, brightly-coloured classic, and they definitely haven't followed the instructions. It's as much subversive commentary on contemporary society as it is epic mission to save the "world". I had to stop watching it on a flight as my constant chuckling was disturbing my brother's sleep. Fun for big and little kids alike.
This film is unlike anything I've ever seen before. A rarity in unique subject matter and exquisite execution. Jake Gyllenhaal is a disturbingly driven and pragmatic outsider who will go to any and all costs to succeed in his new-found calling of producing crime footage for local cable news. He is at once a creepy loner and determined manipulator. In his directorial debut Dan Gilroy has made a stunningly atmospheric and uneasy thriller, and Riz Ahmed ( Four Lions) and Rene Russo (The Thomas Crown Affair) offer excellent acting support.
The biggest film to go under the radar in 2014. Due to a falling out between director Joon-ho Bong and producer/distributor impresario Harvey Weinstein (who wanted to change the ending) Snowpiercer never got a proper cinematic release in the US or Europe. But this is a must see. After a catastrophically failed attempt by the world's nations to counter the affects of climate change, the remaining citizens of the human race exist on a never-ending train journey. A class system has evolved, with decadence giving way to desperation with distance from the engine. Captain America and Billy Elliot backed by a sage-like John Hurt plan a revolution to overthrow the unequal status quo, but to succeed they must take control of the train, one carriage at a time… A couple of hours of visceral and cerebral badassery ensue, and thankfully the ending never did get changed. This is also a grittier and much more epic ark story than the one with silly smashy rock monsters and Ray Winstone in an odd accent.
Starred Up 
This gritty British prison drama is totally riveting. Jonathan Asser provides an incredible debut screenplay, writing with personal insight, having worked as a volunteer therapist at HMP Wandsworth. Boy-of-the-moment Jack O'Connell ( '71, Unbroken) gives a typically nuanced and truthful performance as a juvie inmate bumped up to big prison early, only to find he's got his estranged dad (Ben Mendelsohn) as a neighbour. David Mackenzie has made a film that creates a cabin fever claustrophobia for its audience, that's explosively violent, simmeringly tense and offers a serious emotional gut punch. Brilliant.
What We Do in the Shadows 
Who knew a kiwi vampire mockumentary would be the best comedy of the year? Written and directed by Jemaine Clement ( Flight of the Concords) and Taika Waititi (Green Lantern), who also star, here is the beautifully incongruous yet recognisable squabbles of four undead housemates. It's the usual stuff; do the washing up, keep the house tidy, remember to put down newspaper to mop up the spurting blood of your victims. Endlessly quotable, this is a future cult favourite.