Here in the UK, the majority of awards season movies are released during January. It makes for an exceptional month of cinema. This year Birdman, The Theory Of Everything, Foxcatcher and Whiplash were all crammed into January. But this bias towards new year releases poses a problem for end of year countdowns. Many of my personal favourites from 2014 – Inside Llewyn Davis, 12 Years A Slave, August: Osage County – already featured in lengthy discussions about year best cinema twelve months ago. As a result, this year I’ve decided to adjust my 2014 countdown to run from February 2014 to January 2015. Without further ado, let’s begin part one of the Writer Loves Movies 2014 countdown…

Number 30: ’71

'71 Jack O'Connell

© 2014 – Roadside Attractions

This directorial debut from Yann Demange features an exquisite explosion sequence and a compelling performance from rising star Jack O’Connell as a new British Private in Belfast. ’71 dives into Northern Ireland’s struggles, channelling The Raid’s escape concept on a Catholic estate. Not without flaws (flimsy undercover characters and corruption clichés abound) ‘71’s simple plot and documentary style camera work deliver tension and atmosphere.

Number 29: A Most Wanted Man

Philip Seymour Hoffman A Most Wanted Man

© 2014 – Roadside Attractions

Featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman’s swan song, A Most Wanted Man thrives on understated tension and an irresistible palette of grey Hamburg architecture. Based on John Le Carré’s espionage thriller, Anton Corbijn (Control) weaves US-German negotiation with the exhausting human desire to succeed.

Number 28: The Homesman

The Homesman Tommy Lee Jones

© 2014 – Roadside Attractions

Written, produced and directed by Tommy Lee Jones, this Western drama is a bleak journey into the heart of madness. The relentless sombre mood is not for everyone, but the result is thought provoking and visually beautiful cinema.

Number 27: The Drop

Tom Hardy The Drop

© TM and 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Another swan song, this time from James Gandolfini who delivers a convincing performance as a Brooklyn bar owner meddling in the affairs of the criminal underbelly. It’s perfect casting, though less surprising than Gandolfini’s previous role in romantic drama Enough Said. He’s joined by Tom Hardy whose puppy loving sensitivity provides the source of The Drop’s tension.

Number 26: Interstellar

Interstellar Anne Hathaway

© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. and Paramount Pictures Corporation.

With its mind boggling science and grand scope, Interstellar is easily recognisable as a Christopher Nolan movie. The plot has been cursed with believability debates (many of which The Science Of Interstellar, written by Nolan’s consultant scientist Kip Thorne, waylays). The in-space visuals are overshadowed too, by Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. Yet the sheer ambition of Interstellar makes it a rewarding experience. Like Inception, Interstellar has grand questions at its heart. Nolan’s biggest mistake is that he tries to answer too many of them. This is a vast and intricate thinking-man’s blockbuster. If only Nolan had left the gyro spinning it could have been superb.

Number 25: Night Will Fall

Night Will Fall

Of all the films in this list, Night Will Fall is the most important. This documentary about the making of another film, German Concentration Camps A Factual Survey, features unsettling footage of Nazi war crimes at Bergen-Belsen shortly after British troops arrived at the death camp. The historical context provided by eye witnesses and experts explores the reasons why the original documentary was eventually shelved. The most significant portion of the film comes from the original documentary itself, which is due for release later this year.

Number 24: Ex Machina

Oscar Isaac Ex Machina

© 2015 – Universal Pictures International

Alex Garland’s directorial debut explores the sexuality of artificial intelligence through a series of interviews with alluring robot Ava (Alicia Vikanda) and her creator, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Garland’s sedate storytelling echoes the grown-up science fiction of Under The Skin and Her, combining with Oscar Isaac’s taught ambiguity to conjure an irresistibly sinister mood. Read the full review.

Number 23: The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie

© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Everything is awesome. Need I say more? Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s (21 Jump Street) animation is funny and clever with a surprising third act twist. The Lego Movie’s attention to detail and self-referencing make it a joy to watch, while the cinematography replicates the look and feel of stop motion throughout. Read the full review.

Number 22: Tammy

Tammy Melissa McCarthy

© 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc

Could this straightforward comedy about an unappreciated American woman be, ironically, the most undervalued film of the year? I think so. Tammy is Melissa McCarthy’s most accomplished film yet but not for the reasons you might expect. While Susan Sarandon steals the best gags, Tammy shows us what it’s like to be undervalued and unappreciated, exploring what it’s like to hit rock bottom in a world where nothing is handed to you on a plate. Still not convinced? Read the full review.

Number 21: Big Eyes

Big Eyes Amy Adams

© 2014 – The Weinstein Company

Big Eyes certainly makes up for Tim Burton’s last live action effort, Dark Shadows, in 2012. The plot explores mother-daughter relationships, creativity and self-expression from the perspective of 1950s artist Margaret Keane. Amy Adams gives an endearing performance but its Christoph Waltz, in a hysterical courtroom scene, that steals the show.

 

Stay tuned for the second part of the countdown, featuring films 20 to 21, next week.
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