As 2014 rolls to a close, I've compiled the film releases which I believe to be the ten best that the year has offered. From big-hitting blockbusters to small-time indies, my list includes films which were released between January 1st through to December 31st. This means that films I have been fortunate enough to see this year but are due for a 2015 release (Inherent Vice, A Most Violent Year, Whiplash) can only be in contention in next year's list.
The films I have not yet seen, which will be ruled out as a consequence, include: Boyhood, Ida, Lucy, Pride, Two Days One Night and X-Men: Days of Future Past.
10. The Guest
2014 threw forward a number of relatively successful films drenched in old school elegance (Cold in July, The Two Faces of January) but it was The Guest – from director Adam Wingard – that impressed more than the rest. Former Downton Abbey resident Dan Stevens showcased his chops as a charismatic yet beguiling screen presence in this old school thriller which is surely destined for cult status.
9. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Rupert Wyatt may not have returned to direct the sequel to his resoundingly successful reinvention of the Apes franchise which arose three years previous, but under the direction of Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) and with the greatest WETA performances thus far – both Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell thankfully given top billing as Caesar and Koba – Dawn... didn't propel the overarching plot forward as expected but focused on a crucial battle which left apes as the dominant species going into part three.
8. The LEGO Movie
It's doubtful whether anybody could have predicted the success of The LEGO Movie. Under the guide of duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – who, with sequel 22 Jump Street, scored a cracking 2014 – the year's best kids film (with Paddington a close second) threw in everything it could muster and, somehow, it all proved pretty... well, awesome; if you're searching for a film to bring out your inner child, look no further.
7. The Wolf of Wall Street
Leo DiCaprio failed to win an Oscar once again for his brilliant portrayal of Jordan Belfort in Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street – a film which tracked the real-life story of a wealthy stock-broker's high life to his crime-corrupted dalliance with the FBI. Despite never reaching the heights of the filmmaker's efforts throughout the past decade (The Departed, or even Hugo), this black comedy remains thrillingly debauched throughout and is all the more impressive for it.
6. Gone Girl
David Fincher turned in another reliably twist-laden adult pulp thriller, this time taking the source material of author Gillian Flynn (on screenwriting duties also). If the film's plot concerning Ben Affleck's character Nick Dunne and the search for his missing wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike in one of the performances of the year) has escaped you since Gone Girl's release back in October, then a) where have you been?, and b) great going; there are some films which come along with the need to be simply seen with zero known. Gone Girl, for all of it's screwed-up intensity, is one of them.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy
5. Guardians of the Galaxy
Cinema audiences have such faith in Marvel, what with their past Avengers-shaped successes, that when Guardians of the Galaxy arrived in the summer based on a fresh group of oddball individuals – including a talking raccoon and walking tree, no less – it still managed to prove the commercial and critical success of the year. Not bad going for a film whose downright brilliant opening credits sequence saw a sitcom supporting star (Parks and Recreation's Chris Pratt) jiving to Redbone's Come and Get Your Love in space.
4. Under the Skin
Scarlett Johansson, hidden in a brown fur coat and under a tousled mop of black hair, driving a van around Scotland while picking up the most unsuspecting of blokes was one hell of a cinematic hook. That Jonathan Glazer's – at times – difficult film (based on Michael Faber's novel of the same name) benefits so gloriously from re-watch is a feat which would be scandalous to dismiss.
Up until Interstellar, many would have found it impossible to criticise the impressively illustrious career that British filmmaker Christopher Nolan has crafted for himself in such a short space of time. However, this space opus – which follows Matthew McConaughey's Cooper on a mission to discover new habitable planters – seemed to split audiences right down the middle. In a time of mindless blockbusters, Interstellar remains a lovingly cinematic adventure which is wormholes ahead of the competition.
The King of Comedy meets Drive by way of Network – but to say that Jake Gyllenhaal recalls characters like De Niro's Pupkin is to somewhat disservice what the actor brings to the table in Dan Gilroy's directorial debut. Gyllenhaal is Lou Bloom, a dementedly driven cameraman who scours the night for crime, in a film which will surely be drawn upon as the influence for many pretenders to come.
1. Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coen Brothers's foray into the folk music scene of early sixties Greenwich Village isn't so much a love letter than a pure exploration. Set to the backdrop of the titular Llewyn's muted exasperation at the failure of his singer-songwriting career (in what is sure to endure as a career-defining performance from Oscar Isaac), the brothers Coen once again effortlessly fuse all the required elements (cinematography, screenplay, not to mention a soundtrack to die for) in order to craft a film that would almost definitely be in a list compiling the best films of the past 15 years.