Another day, another list. This time of some of the best films of 2014 that for one reason or another were either overlooked by audiences upon release, mishandled by studios, or, in some cases, both. Most are available through purchasing, streaming, or the other activity that I assume you’re all savvy enough to understand.
Director: Rithy Panh
Cast: Jean-Baptiste Phou (Narrator)
Released: 3rd January
Director Rithy Panh was just 13 when the Khmer Rouge – under the leadership of Pol Pot – took over Cambodia. It was during this leadership of the Khmer Rouge between 1975-1979 that up to 2 million people were killed, including Panh’s entire family. This documentary – through narration, archival footage, and painstakingly realised claymation – was created in a way to convey the atrocities committed against his country in a unique and captivating way. Devastatingly powerful and unquestionably valuable, The Missing Picture is a vital reminder of a history that should never be forgotten.
Director: Alain Guiraudie
Cast: Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d’Assumçao
Released: 21st February
Blending a handful of different genres with ease is seldom achieved, but the candid mix of dark thriller, comedy, and erotic romanticism is expertly done here, despite there being few moments where character motivation is misplaced in favour of shock value. A narrative shift occurs that replaces the gallows humour of the first half with an impending atmosphere of anxiety that is maintained until the end, but the strengths of the film lies before this switch, wherein Franck’s (Deladonchamps) welcoming nature with Henri (d’Assumçao) holds the most rewarding bouts of characterisation.
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Bérénice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Ali Mosaffa
Released: 28th March
Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to A Separation (quite possibly my favourite foreign-language film of the last decade) arrived with a certain level of anticipation, and while not quite matching up to those undoubtedly unfair expectations, it did serve as an effectively complex companion-piece to its predecessor. Taking a sensitively unbiased approach to marital discord, The Past simultaneously entwines the psychological characteristics of its trio of excellent leads with a mystery that is peeled away piece-by-piece to reveal that things were not as straightforward as they initially seemed.
Director: John Michael McDonagh
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly
Released: 11th April
Brendan Gleeson turns in another superb role in a story about a priest threatened by an unknown parishioner for the crimes committed by another. The serious subject is deftly handled and the dark humour imbues the film with a sense of mystery, but this is often undermined by the entirely generic supporting cast of villagers, of which the majority are outlandish, Hot Fuzz-esque caricatures. It’s thanks McDonagh’s writing and Gleeson’s soulful portrayal of the internally troubled Father that the film is filled with enough warmth and sincerity that these almost cartoonish characters can be ignored.
Director: Doug Liman
Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton
Released: 30th May
Amongst all the X-Mans, the Godzillas and the Guardians, there was a summer blockbuster that was so completely overlooked, Warner Bros. retroactively renamed it for home release to the less interesting tag-line Live Die Repeat (further still from original title All You Need is Kill). Regardless of name, this wonderfully inventive spin on the Groundhog Day format messes with the well-worn structure in a playful and unpredictable way, and through relentless and fast-paced set-pieces cements Tom Cruise as an irreplaceable action star.
Director: Matthew Johnson
Cast: Matt Johnson, Owen Williams, Padraig Singal
Released: 6th June
This low-budget, script-less, and often covertly filmed found-footage comedy-come-drama took me by surprise in its candidacy to approaching the fiercely troubling theme of high-school shootings; at first disguised as a legitimately humorous dark comedy, then morphing into something altogether much more sinister, resulting in one of the most chillingly authentic films of the year.
Director: David Gordon Green
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Gary Poulter
Released: 25th July
What could have been yet another rote teen-meets-ex-con drama was boosted by two pitch-perfect performances steeped in murky Texan atmosphere. It’s Nicolas Cage that has been receiving acclaim for the eponymous character, but it’s Tye Sheridan as youngster Gary who once again proves he can hold his own against his seniors (Brad Pitt in The Tree of Life, Matthew McConaughey in Mud) and anchors the film with a heartfelt earnestness. It’s stymied a little by a frustratingly bleak sub-plot of savage, alcoholic fatherhood, and a predetermined ending, but Joe and Gary’s relationship is the levity the film needs to keep it from being almost unbearably grim.
Director: Gillian Robespierre
Cast: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann
Released: 29th August
If you didn’t believe Jenny Slate was a force to be reckoned with after numerous scene-stealing guest appearances on The Kroll Show, Parks and Recreation, Bored to Death et al, then Obvious Child will be the only showcase you’ll need. Taking a refreshingly frank approach to the subject of abortion, Gillian Robespierre has crafted what is essentially a play-by-play of the rom-com genre, but in a post-Girls industry it’s a joy to see flawed, well-rounded characters with whom you can care for.
Director: David Wain
Cast: Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Bill Hader
Released: 5th September
Reuinting the team behind the willfully absurd Wet Hot American Summer comes the genre-lampooning They Came Together, starring Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd as a couple going through every beat and trope of romantic comedies to get to the wholly expected and unsatisfying end, made all the better by its stream-of-consciousness jokes that hit and miss with equal outcome. It’s not the journey nor even the destination that matters here, but the accelerated speed in which every box is ticked in a knowingly winking fashion, that means it’s easy to ignore its fundamental fault: it’s a 10-minute short stretched to breaking point that merely points out some tropes rather than fully exploring them.
Director: Yann Demange
Cast: Jack O’Connell, Sam Reid, Sean Harris
Released: 10th October
Between this and Starred Up, it has been a very good year for Jack O’Connell, who commands every moment of this taut behind-enemy-lines survival thriller that hurtles through a particularly tense evening in Belfast, 1971. It’s a near-wordless role for O’Connell (a contrast to his swear-a-minute inmate role in Starred Up), who excels as a rookie squaddie thrown completely out of his depth and forced to survive the night in enemy territory, weaving in and out of the debris of bombed-out homes and tower blocks.
Director: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Cast: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh
Released: 21st November
Vampires – as with zombies before them – have resurged in the last decade and slowly but surely worn out their welcome. It’s in this fly-on-the-wall mockumentary style that co-directors and stars Clement and Waititi have breathed new life into the otherwise floundering sub-genre. The humour here isn’t because they’re centuries old vampires, but more that they co-habit like the rest of us: arguing about cleaning dishes or leaving half-devoured body-parts in communal areas. The style lends a unique angle on the oft-eroticised lore, resulting in a cheerful, charming, and frequently funny horror comedy with emotional undercurrents reliable of Waititi’s directorial approach.
Director: Bong Joon Ho
Cast: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell
Completely mishandled by Harvey Scissorhands just months before it was due to see a release, Snowpiercer‘s future was uncertain until finding a way online in early 2014, where it was released in its intended, uncut version. Unsurprisingly it moves at high-speeds: moments of exposition either expressed in transit or within particularly berserk sections of the train. It’s socio-political allegories of class-war are painted perhaps a little too broadly, but it’s filled with such a staggering amount of creativity and intrigue that even when it screeches to a halt during its final, rambling section, it’s hard not to get captivated by the episodic nature of its video-game structure.