A year after starting this here blog, I have returned. There’ll be no fanfare, nor any traditional celebration to mark this anniversary, because despite owning this domain for a whole lunar year I also gave it up immediately (granted, I had a small stint of writing over at The 405). Regardless of this passing of time, I’ve compiled my end-of-year lists in order to shove my opinions into your complex optical systems. My selections are thus: the best films from each month of release because it’s my blog and I dowhatiwan. So a Top 12 it is.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
Released: 17th January
Martin Scorsese is one of the most frustrating directors of the past 40 decades. His filmmaking ranges from the unquestionably faultless (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull), the bloated-yet-captivating (Casino, Goodfellas) and the woefully unwatchable (Hugo), so it was with great pleasure to see that his latest dip into the world of morally reprehensible arseholes was as close to perfect as 3-hours of midget-tossing, ‘lude-popping, car-wrecking could be. Scorsese was robbed once again.
Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johannson, Amy Adams
Released: 14th February
The award for the best relationship drama this side of 2010’s Blue Valentine goes to Spike Jonze’s charming, incandescent love story about one man and his connection to the disconnected, computerised voice of Scarlett Johannson. Wrapped in a casual sci-fi plot that feels entirely credible, Jonze starts off with the experiences of isolation and tense sexual encounters, then later the experiences of a new love – with all the nervousness, giggling and grins that come with it. Joaquin Phoenix is – role-after-role – a revelation (just you wait for Inherent Vice you guys), his Theodore is our bridge to this plausible, modestly beautiful future.
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Saoirse Ronan
Released: 7th March
Wes Anderson’s recognisably meticulous compositions, colour schemes and costumes have never been better in this effortlessly alluring, frequently awe-inspiring whodunit-come-love-story. Perhaps incorrectly marketed as an ensemble piece, this film is wholly focused on its two protagonists: Fiennes’ eruptive hotel concierge bouncing off newcomer Tony Revolri’s laconic-yet-learned lobby boy, their back-and-forth bringing some of the best, most honest laughs of the year.
Director: Gareth Evans
Cast: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Julie Estelle
Released: 11th April
Its predecessor was a brisk, bone-crunching, wall-to-wall action marvel, but its sequel ups that tenfold, moving the flurry of fists out of a tower block to a prison yard, a highway, a kitchen and more, all the while weaving in a family crime saga set to fiercely violent choreography expertly directed by Evans, who proves Merantau and The Raid: Redemption were more than just flukes. Here’s hoping The Raid 3 – set 3-hours prior to the ballroom show-down – cements itself as the best action trilogy of all time, after all, it’s already two thirds of the way there.
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Cast: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves
Released: 2nd May
Eschewing everything one would presume about the revenge film, Jeremy Saulnier’s second feature is a master class in defying expectations of genre. Blue Ruin begins with the startlingly brilliant Macon Blair determining his path by committing the act where countless others would build toward; showing not only the ill-formed actions, but also the subsequent descent toward inescapable disaster, never once spelling out the slight particulars of the characters’ pre-film lives. Of all the films on the list, this holds my absolute favourite scene of 2014: the heartbreaking diner confessional which shows its maturity in one moment of pure, terrified sadness, expressed with perfection by Blair.
Director: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Cast: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Jillian Bell
Released: 6th June
Essentially the exact same as its precursor, this meta-sequel is as lively, boisterous and ludicrous as you’d want from a self-aware bromantic film filled with a barrage of hugely satisfying jokes and sight-gags. No matter how good the writing is, without the perfect chemistry of Tatum and Hill to bring the script to life, the film would have to rely on its very knowingly basic story. Thankfully though, amongst all the mirth and slapstick, there’s a real heart found in its themes of belonging that lends the film a great deal of watchability. Here’s hoping we get to see some of these in the future.
Director: Dean DeBlois
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler
Released: 11th July
The beautifully animated How to Train Your Dragon came out of nowhere in 2010, where people were expecting another Dreamworks story of an unconventional hero with a cocky, wise-cracking sidekick, fears were quashed as fast as a Night Fury when it transpired that Toothless was closer in character to Stitch than to Donkey. Wisely, the sequel doesn’t try to replicate the first, but rather transports the characters to their teenage years and expands upon the Viking-Dragon universe whilst giving the characters space to breath and evolve. The emotional beats are perfectly realised, treating the audiences with the respect deserved of their investment, and with some truly breathtaking animation (Roger Deakins once again served as visual consultant) it’s highly possible that it is the most visually exquisite I’ve seen. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Catherine Saleé
Released: 22nd August
Watching a character teeter on the brink of emotional collapse for an entire film is never an easy viewing experience, and Marion Cotillard’s door-to-door journey into convincing her colleagues to forego their bonus in order to save her job is as poignant as you’d imagine. The Dardenne Brothers have crafted an elegantly simple and realistic look into a financial crisis, and by grounding it to an identifiable level, it’s impossible not to get caught up in Cotillard’s situation, and wonder what you yourself would do.
Director: Ian Forsyth, Jane Pollard
Cast: Nick Cave, Susie Bick, Warren Ellis
Released: 19th September
If there were any proof needed that Nick Cave is an ice-cool motherfucker, it’s this. A semi-fictionalised, semi-documentary wrapped-up in faked scenarios and dinner-table conversation, it brings to light how dedicated a showman he is to both his art and his storytelling, in revealingly poetic monologues. Perhaps a little too inaccessible for non-fans – especially during a full 8-minute recording studio scene set to ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ – it can often feel like a film by Nick Cave, for Nick Cave; but the result is an infectiously funny (as in the aforementioned dinner-table conversation with frequent collaborator Warren Ellis, in which he offers up a portion of jellied eels) and downright cool semi-concert movie, that only someone like Cave could have been part of.
Director: Dan Gilroy
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed
Released: 31st October
The most frightening film creation this year wasn’t found in a darkened, syrupy lair in Under the Skin, nor in the psychological manifestations of a Mister Babadook, but rather in Jake Gyllenhaal’s sociopathic Louis Bloom; a respectably determined, albeit morally bankrupt L.A. native whose sole purpose is to manipulate his way to the top of the freelance crime journalism circuit, whatever the cost. Drenched in atmosphere like no other film this year, Dan Gilroy’s breakout feature is the perfect example of a film that takes a specific tone, sets it to boil, then gives room for it to bubble over into one astonishingly tense pay-off. But it’s in the progression from thief, to bull-headed sycophant that is this year’s greatest character arc, and paired with the hypnotic Enemy makes Gyllenhaal the MVP of 2014.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain
Released: 7th November
As frustratingly flawed as the best in Nolan’s catalogue, Interstellar manages to overcome its narrative full stops; baggy moments of exposition (thanks to King of Exposition Michael Caine) and needlessly clichéd script in favour of some truly otherworldly visuals and an incredibly strong emotional core, no instance better realised than the unquestionably gut-wrenching moment in which Cooper receives 23 years of missed familial milestones.
Director: THERE ISN’T ONE
Cast: THERE IS NO CAST EXCEPT MAYBE THAT GUY
Release: NOTHING HAPPENED
But Richard, you said this was a Top 12 but I only count 11! You’re not wrong. Not only did I not see a single December release, but if I had it probably would’ve been The Hobbit: The Interminably Long Ending: a film I’d rather smash my keyboard than write about.