Now that the shaming is out of the way, it is high time I finally got round to listing my favourite films of the past year. Now, just to get this out of the way, this list is entirely subjective; what are your favourites are certainly not guaranteed to be mine. But most importantly, I’m not ranking these based on how well made or important to the cinematic lexicon these motion pictures are. I’m ranking them based on how much I enjoyed them. So don’t be surprised when I put a Hollywood blockbuster over an Oscar worthy tour-de-force. Because I do that a lot in this list.
Now this is how horror is done: suspenseful, creepy and with careful thought. Director Andres Muschietti solidly adapts his own short film into one chiller of a ghost movie. Jessica Chastain puts as much effort into this as she would in a much more serious production, and her dedication helps raise this film even higher. I hope Muschietti finds further success (he is currently circling The Mummy reboot), and this won’t be the last time we’ll see Guillermo Del Toro’s hands on this list…
24. Frances Ha
Frances Ha is a great example of taking an old style and giving it a modern perspective. Whilst it is very reminiscent of the films of the French New Wave and the early works of Woody Allen, it does have a strong relevant view of the lives of those struggling to grow up and enter the real world; a subject matter I can very much relate to. Frances is a likeable character who makes some terrible judgement calls, but they are the relatable kind I’m sure many of us have made at some point. Beyond that, it is just a good character study and is a film that pushes its minimalist approach to the limits.
23. Oz The Great and Powerful
I know this film certainly had a mixed response; heck, I’ve seen it turn up on some people’s worst of lists. But I’m sticking with what I feel and I must admit I really enjoyed this one. Maybe it’s because it reminds me of when kids’ films could be simple and fanciful, maybe it’s the fact it doesn’t completely miss the point of the source material the way Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, or maybe it’s the just the simple fact that I’m a sucker for Sam Raimi. It may not have all the brains, heart and courage you want, but it’s got just enough for me.
22. The Conjuring
You can’t get more classic an approach to horror than The Conjuring. It certainly isn’t the most original film on the market, but it terms of what it is trying to achieve it is damn near perfectly executed. A horror film that has likable characters, a thick chilling atmosphere, and doesn’t rely on jump scares? How does everyone keep messing this up so bad? I’m just glad there’s a film like The Conjuring out there to show that horror is not dead.
21. The Wolverine
He’s the best there is at what he does, and thankfully that statement is true this time around. Making me all but forget the travesty that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, this is the solo adventure that Logan deserves. In many ways, this is less of a superhero movie and more of a samurai/Western type film, and a damn good one at that. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to slow down and give time for character, but when the action does come it impacts sufficiently. If you haven’t checked it out already, The Wolverine is the perfect appetiser before Days of Future Past arrives this May.
20. Star Trek Into Darkness
Whilst JJ Abrams may have now moved his attentions to a galaxy far, far away, he leaves the crew of the Enterprise with a solid effort. Admittedly, the overt references to the franchise’s past can be grating (I think everyone would like to forget Zachary Quinto’s yell that ranks up there with Darth Vader’s “NO!” from Revenge of the Sith). But when the film is allowed to do its own thing, it shines just as brightly as its predecessor. The new cast sinks their teeth more into their roles, there is some great action spectacle, and Benedict Cumberbatch makes for one hell of an intimidating villain.
19. This Is the End
In what ranks as probably the most plain fun movie of the year, This Is the End is a wonderfully self-deprecating romp that has laughs crammed up the wazoo. It’s crass, unrelenting and gut-bustlingly hilarious. There’s not much to say beyond that. Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg’s directorial debut ranks highly amongst their finest work yet, and I can’t wait to see all they have in store for the future.
18. Side Effects
The first part of Steven Soderbergh’s swansong to cinema (I’ve yet to see Behind The Candleabra), Side Effects is a simple but thoroughly well put together thriller. Rooney Mara’s performance as a woman suffering from depression is one of her finest to date, and the film expertly crafts a tale full of shocking turns leading to a conclusion I could not have imagined. I personally don’t think Soderbergh is going to stay away from the director’s chair for too long, I’m sure something will tempt him back, but if this is to be one of his last efforts it’s a good way to go out.
17. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Now this is what I wanted from the first Hobbit movie. Peter Jackson has thankfully made his second chapter in the somewhat needlessly extended trilogy a much more exciting romp than the first one. The film is much better paced, filled with some really stupendous action sequences, and it has Benedict Cumberbatch as a dragon. What more could you ask for? It’s still not quite Lord of the Rings good, but if the final film can nail it I’d say this trilogy was a solid effort.
16. Don Jon
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, how come you are so talented? As if acting wasn’t enough, he’s now taken a shot at writing and directing and done a fantastic job of that too. Don Jon is a very well handled examination of relationships and how they can fall apart when we hold them on too high a pedestal. Scarlett Johansson’s performance is wonderfully layered as probably the most unintentionally manipulative woman put to screen, and the film offers plenty of both laughs and heart. JGL, keep it up.
15. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Now this is a film that definitely deserves a special ‘Most Improved’ honour. The Hunger Games was a solid but flawed film, but Catching Fire manages to take everything wrong with its predecessor and fix it as well as adding to and improving on everything else. It’s got a more riveting story, better-defined characters, comprehensible and imaginative action scenes, and one of the most well handled cliff-hangers I’ve seen in a long time. Mockingjay can’t come fast enough.
The first of three Matthew McConaughey films to make it into my list, Mud is a simple but very effective little motion picture. Creating a somewhat modern fairy tale, Mud is a film firmly grounded in reality and a very well crafted look at the concept of love and maturity. Tye Sheridan’s performance shows he has a lot of promise as a young actor, and everyone else around him supports the film very well. Heck, even Joe Don Baker comes off as good here.
13. Dallas Buyers Club
And all right, all right, all right: here’s McConaughey again! In this true story set during the AIDS crisis in the 1980’s, McConaughey delivers a career-defining performance that deserves all of the Oscar buzz he’s been getting. Right up there too is Jared Leto’s wonderful portrayal of a transgender woman that pulls just as many heart strings as his co-star does. Not much else to say but go see it.
12. The World’s End
Where would a best of list for me be without the presence of Edgar Wright? Whilst I found The World’s End to be my least favourite of his directorial efforts, that doesn’t stop it from being a wonderfully hilarious ride. The film both pays tribute to its predecessors whilst also managing to flip the expected dynamics into a fresh narrative. Whilst the “trilogy” may be over, I’m sure Wright, Pegg & Frost will return one day to make us laugh once again. But for now, Wright can finally make that Ant-Man movie I’ve been waiting bloody ages for.
In what is easily Disney’s greatest animated feat since the 1990’s renaissance, Frozen is a film that both respects the classic Disney formula whilst changing and updating it enough to get rid of its more archaic elements. And damn it, months later I’m still finding myself humming the songs. Don’t let the stigma of it being a children’s film dissuade you. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a massive favour and watch it. I can almost certainly guarantee you’ll enjoy yourself.
10. Captain Phillips
Master of the Shaky-Cam Paul Greengrass proves why he’s the only one who knows how to use it properly in this masterfully taught tale. Tom Hanks’ performance as the titular Phillips is his finest in a long time, and newcomer Barkhad Abdi is truly menacing as pirate leader Muse. But apart from that, this is an effectively paced thriller that not only manages to sympathise with victims, but surprisingly with the pirates to a degree as well. A wonderfully entertaining and pulse-pounding piece of filmmaking.
Bruce Dern delivers a performance that defines his extensive career in Alexander Payne’s latest. A very down to earth and relatable story about family, Will Forte and June Squibb also deliver great work and the script is chock full of those awkward family moments that I think we’ve all experienced at some point. A simple but thoroughly enjoyable film and another hit for the ever-reliable Payne.
8. Pacific Rim
I can’t deny it. This movie is way too fun to not have it this high on the list. A rollercoaster of epic proportions, this is exactly the type of blockbuster that we should be getting more of: self-aware fun that doesn’t have to take itself too seriously. There is just enough story and character to keep the ship afloat, but in the end it is the spectacle of seeing giants mechs fighting giant monsters that makes this film such a pure joy. Pay attention, Michael Bay: this is how you do it.
7. The Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese. Need I say more? An exploration of debauchery and greed, The Wolf of Wall Street is depraved and bombastic and that’s exactly why I love it. Leonardo DiCaprio continues to prove what a phenomenal actor he can be when given the right material, and Jonah Hill proves that Moneyball was no fluke; he really can act. Filled with potently hilarious dialogue and cast list full of huge names, this is one three hour epic that I’d be happy to let go on even longer.
One of the most compelling and exhilarating sports films I’ve ever seen, Rush does everything it needs to do perfectly. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl make excellent rivals, playing off each other incredibly well. The story is expertly told, making us root for both of these people in equal measure. Ron Howard’s wonderful direction is also applied to the racing sequences, which put you right in the action and will have your heart racing. If Formula 1 races were shot like this, I’d be watching them all the time.
5. Iron Man 3
I stated at the end of my review to this that this might be one of the best superhero films of all time. And, having watched it again and having had more time to think about it, I stand by that statement. All the fanboy hate on this one is narrow-minded and pathetic, as it completely ignores all that this movie does so well. It’s a film that reminds you why Tony Stark is one of the best characters to come out of a Hollywood blockbuster in a long time, and adding the genius of Shane Black to the mix just sweetened the deal. As far as summer movies go, Iron Man 3 stands as a gold standard and manages the impossible task of topping The Avengers. Yes, I said it. Iron Man 3 is better than The Avengers. Just my opinion.
Alfonso Cuaron’s groundbreaking space thriller (no, it’s not sci-fi just because it takes place in space) may not quite beat his previous effort Children of Men in my book, but it is still a film that demands to be seen on the big screen. Not since Avatar has a film wowed so much on a technical level, but manages to back it up with a simple but very effective story about survival. Gravity also manages to keep the notion of 3-D alive, proving that it can be a great filmmaking tool when it actually has purpose beyond upping ticket prices.
3. 12 Years a Slave
What is there to say about 12 Years a Slave that hasn’t been said? It is an instant classic that does everything right. The performances are phenomenal, the direction superb, the cinematography gorgeous, the story unforgettable. Other than minor nitpicks, I can’t say a word against how brilliant this film truly is. One of the best films of the year, though it is so impactful I may never feel the need to watch it again. It is that powerful. If you don’t come out of this feeling seriously emotional, you have no emotions.
Prisoners is just as heart-wrenching and difficult to watch as 12 Years a Slave, but I rate it slightly higher because, to be honest, it is a slightly more relatable film. It tackles issues that are constantly found in today’s society and not just our past. Prisoners feels like a documentary at points; an examination of how different people cope in such a frightening situation. Hugh Jackman’s performance is the most underrated piece of acting of the past year, portraying a man at the end of his wits that will do anything to get his daughter back. The rest of the cast is equally wonderful, particularly Jake Gyllenhaal and Melissa Leo. This is a movie that I nearly cried in multiple times and will keep you at the edge of your seat waiting for a moment of relief. I’m not normally one for deeply depressing movies, but this one really just works. If you haven’t already, go watch Prisoners. It is just damn near perfect.
I held out on making this list until Her came out, as I was certain it would make the list once I did. Boy am I thankful I was patient. Her is again, like many of my highest-rated films this year, is an emotional journey but one not so agonising. Like life itself, its feelings fluctuate between high and low but luckily the film’s quality never does. I cannot think of a single thing in this movie I didn’t like, and I tried. The acting is superb, the entire movie looks and sounds beautiful and, most importantly of all, the story is wonderfully told. It is one of the most human and captivating stories I’ve witnessed in a long time; somewhat ironic considering the subject matter. Spike Jonze has once again knocked it out of the park and created a spectacular piece of filmmaking that hits all of the right notes. I left Her overwrought with emotions and thoughts, but not ones of sadness or grief. I left feeling hopeful and inspired. And when a movie can do that, it’s certainly done something right.
And now, for your viewing pleasure, a video montage of my favourites: