For whatever reason, I didn’t blog much this year, but I did continue to consume media of various kinds. I watched approximately 50 new films in 2014, which feels a bit down on previous years but is still a film a week so can’t be too slovenly as these things go. I’m going to discuss some I liked, some I hated, and some to which I had an ambiguous reaction. Note that this list is new-to-me films for 2014, so there’s some stuff in here that’s probably not new to others.
Only God Forgives 
This isn’t a film so much as a semi-psychedelic mood piece that draws on the Revenge Tale for its basic grammar and syntax. I found it almost unbearably tedious and I am not at all confident I emerged with a single new thought about either the revenge story or martial art cinema. The title sticks with you though, as the basic encapsulation of what revenge means. This should be watched as a double (triple?) bill with Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Between them, they say everything that needs to be said about revenge in abstract terms.
Out of the Furnace  / Killing Them Softly  / Cold In July  / The Drop 
Taciturn hard men go about their business doing what they think is morally right in a bad world full of people who are doing what they think will profit them. I’m more than twice-bitten on expecting anything interesting or new out of this genre at this point. These films didn’t even feel like they were trying though. Instead of this stuff, go watch the original, Taxi Driver , which is itself problematic but at least allows its central hero to be disturbed and troubled without mitigating the horror of the people on whom he is unleashed.
Winter’s Bone 
Noir is alive and well – it just doesn’t wear a trench coat anymore. Fantastic drama of crime and suspense with all the tropes translated and transposed into feminist language. Watch as a double bill with Brick to see the great legacy of the cinema of the 1930s.
Only Lovers Left Alive 
I wanted to like this mood piece about the troubles of immortality, the ennui, the impermanence of the world around them. When you live for ever, everything is temporary. However, this movie was self-indulgent to the point of nausea. It’s what Vampirism looks like when you’re 15, all cool detachment and artistic brilliance. You get bored at being so amazing for so long. Consequently, this is a film with absolutely nothing to offer an audience that’s seen a Vampire before. In other words, this is Interview with the Vampire without the plot.
What We Do In The Shadows 
Just when you give up on Vampires, along comes a comic gem like this. Like any great comedy, it’s slightly dangerous. It accurately nails each of the Vampire tropes, but even as you laugh at the joke, you recognise the underlying horror of the situations in which the characters find themselves. This is a masterclass in sending up a genre while leaving it intact.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 
A lot of critics have complained that this is the boring part, where nothing much happens. They were clearly watching a different movie from me. At last, the franchise sheds the now-banal Battle Royale formula that barely exceeds the horrors of real Reality TV, and starts to get into the real meat of human dramas and relationships. Its use of propaganda techniques has been cited by some critics as the interesting facet amongst the dull talky-talky, and that too misses the complexity and depth of representations. There is a great critical essay to be written about how this film closes the circle between truth and representation time and again. The characters in this film are not real, they are hyper-real.
This is a throw-back to an earlier age of grand cinema. It was, if you’ll excuse the lazy phrase, the most cinematic movie I saw in 2014. It never drew me into that state of perfectly suspended belief, where the action seemed real, because I was continually aware of how awesome the scope and visuals were and how constructed the characters and their scenarios. I mean this as a compliment! One of the appeals of cinema is to feel a sense of awe and wonder, and Intersteller delivered that in spades. This ranks alongside the other great science fiction space films of all time, and I think there will be very interesting work in the future comparing it in detail to its two closest relatives, Sunshine and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The Grand Budapest Hotel 
I didn’t see Moonrise Kingdom because I was feeling a bit of Wes Anderson fatigue. He is a film-maker who does his best work with silence and stillness. His characters are only able to express themselves in limited bursts of ground-shaking revelation, the rest of the time they engage with each other in the coldest and most superficial terms. In his most superficial work, like The Darjeeling Limited I felt like that his characters were a mask with nothing behind them: unable to articulate their deeper emotions because there were none. In contrast, The Grand Budapest Hotel has its characters wear their hearts on their sleeves, at least, for Wes Anderson characters. This is also, by far, his most action-packed story, with events moving on at a cracking pace. By far, Wes Anderson’s best film.
Locke  / Calvary 
A good man tries to live out his life while a succession of bad things happen to him for no particular reason. After each scene, instead of feeling pathos, you wonder what ingenious twist the writers will devise next for their human punching bag. You admire the performances even as you recognise that they are not portraying characters but allegories and parables given flesh. When you start to think that even Steven Spielberg is not this emotionally manipulative, the work has failed on some level.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit 
I’ve rarely watched a film that seemed to terrified of its own basic premise. It wastes nearly half its running time establishing Jack Ryan as an analyst that needs to go out into the field, without really imbuing any of the characters with any kind of personality, history or features of interest. It then launches into a hasty and under-designed spy “adventure” with a ludicrous lynch-pin act as the centre of a plan based around some very fancy money-talk. All in all, I think this film was terrified of being an origin story, scared witless of falling into clichéd villainy, tentative-at-best about its story scope. Just a hopeless mess of individual bits which would, and previously have, worked better in other movies that embraced something, anything, and just got on with it.
20,000 Days On Earth 
A fictionalised Nick Cave meditates on his past, on his creative passions, on the meaning of Art. Assisted by his band and hallucinations of previous collaborators. Like most musings, this could come across as little more than intellectual masturbation, or seem like a work of revelatory genius, depending on your willingness to go with it.
Before I Go To Sleep 
I liked this a lot more than it deserved. It felt like a thriller by Alfred Hitchcock or Stanley Kubrik edited down to a reasonable length at the expense of the visual flair. Solid, not to say stolid, functional, thriller that kept me interested for its whole length.
Guardians of the Galaxy 
I enjoyed this romp, but I am honestly bemused at its massive popularity. Guardians of the Galaxy had the worst villain in recent memory and most contrived group origin story that you could ever hope to see. “We are Groot” – fuck off with your blatant emotional manipulation trying to conceal the paucity of your characters’ relationships. Perhaps what appealed to people was exactly its innate stupidity; whenever I look at almost any detail in the whole thing it is obviously broken or flawed in some way, but the film just barrels on ahead as the perfect antidote to all that cerebral drama we’re being bombarded with. Its popularity is proof that charisma beats all in the film business.
The reason that this film is so good is the detail in the interactions and the relationships it shows. It is a film in which not terribly much happens, but that “not terribly much” is everything that happens in real life. It is a movie of sublime genius whose close attention to detail over a long span of time offers a huge reward to those who’re interested to look for it.
Gone Girl 
This is a pure pulp thriller that tricks you into believing its real. It’s an amazing juxtaposition of thriller content and realist styling.
And the Loser Is
The worst film, that I hated the most… Only Lovers Left Alive. Boring, pointless, self-indulgent rubbish recycling and rehashing tropes that have already been worn down to the nub by other, better, films.
And the Winner Is
By the narrowest possible margin, the best movie I saw this year was Captain America: The Winter Soldier. If I hadn’t seen that, it would have been Boyhood, and while I’ve seen some great films this year, those two are just in a league of their own for 2014.