It’s Oscars’ Eve and, to mark the occasion, here’s my top ten personal favourites from the 2014 movie calendar. If you missed by top twenty and top thirty you can find them here and here.

10. Gone Girl

Gone-Girl-Ben-Affleck

© TM and © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox and Regency Enterprises.

Perhaps the most talked about film of the year, what’s most gripping about Fincher’s Gone Girl are not the twists and turns, of which there are many, but its unflinching attempt to jab and cut its way into the dark, bleeding heart of modern marriage. There’s also a much more delicate and contentious question about societal pressures, particularly those placed on women, operating within this twisted tale.The genius of Gone Girl lies in Fincher’s dexterity with the language of film, his ability to turn ambiguity and mystery to his advantage and reveal something much darker and more profound than simply whodunit. Gone Girl’s satire is witty, often funny, but Fincher’s film is also firmly rooted in the state of the times. Read the full review.

9. Wizard’s Way

Wizard's Way

A film by Metal Man – a collaboration of authors Socrates Adams-Florou, Chris Killen and Joe Stretch – this priceless found footage mockumentary about players of archaic, maths-based online game, Wizard’s Way, during its final days was filmed on a £350 camera with a boom made from an Argos floor lamp.

Game-player Barry (Adams-Florou) sleeps in a bathtub, next to a toilet, surrounded by VHS tapes. Through Barry we’re introduced to Windows (Kristian Scott), the “Michael Jackson of Wizard’s Way” who spends all of his spare time slaying dragons with his ‘in-game’ wife. Barry and Windows attempt to find a way back to the ‘real world’ when the game’s servers are turned off, rebuilding their empty lives with help of current technology, YouTube.

The dry humour and finely honed characterisation of Wizard’s Way hasn’t gone unnoticed by Hollywood. It turns out Jack Black has already purchased the rights to a remake. Despite his gift for mining niche lifestyles (Be Kind Rewind, Tenacious D) it’s difficult to see what this producer’s quirky style could improve. Despite having pitched their own idea for the remake, Metal Man’s film is now in the hands of Hollywood. Find out more about the film on Vimeo here.

8. Under The Skin

Scotland Under The Skin

© 2014 – StudioCanal

Jonathan Glazer’s adaptation of Michel Faber’s first novel was ten years in the making. Stripping the book back to its bare bones, Glazer’s film is a surreal, atmospheric exploration of humanity and sexuality. Splicing the very real (much of the film was made with unsuspecting Glaswegians unaware they were being filmed) with surreal, near mono-chrome killing sequences, Under the Skin is as disturbing as it is thought provoking.

7. Her

Her Joaquin Phoenix

© 2013 – Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

An extremely late release here in the UK, this grown-up sci-fi drama about a man who falls in love with his Operating System (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), examines everything from monogamy to sexuality and female consciousness.

Shooting his film in warm tones of pinks and yellows, like a soft sunset, director Spike Jonze conjures an intimate mood. His characters dress in cozy, snuggly jumpers, but their loneliness is palpable. This is a world where strangers are employed to write letters to other people’s loved ones, a world where humanity has lost the art of closeness. Will computers supersede humans in their capacity for intimacy? Her suggests that they could.

6. Foxcatcher

Steve Carell Foxcatcher

© Fair Hill, LLC.

Director Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) hits on some familiar themes in Foxcatcher – drugs, patriotism, family rivalry and the power of wealth – but this film about wrestling coach John du Pont (Steve Carell) and his protégés Mark and David Schultz is refreshingly complicated. When the relationship between Mark and du Pont crumbles, there’s no easy answer why. Instead, Miller’s understated and subtle approach reveals a web of causality that divides our sympathies. Read the full review.

5. Little Feet

Little Feet

My alternative recommendation to Linklater’s Boyhood, Little Feet is a black and white wonder, co-written with director Alexandre Rockwell’s eight year old daughter, Lana, who also stars. It’s a magical piece of cinema that takes viewers back to the freedoms of childhood as Lana and her brother Nico embark on a journey to release their goldfish into the sea following the death of their mother. Shot on Rockwell’s Bolex camera converted to Super 16, the cinematography infuses Little Feet with melancholy without ever overshadowing the children’s sense of adventure. Buy or rent the film on Vimeo here.

4. Whiplash

Whiplash JK Simmons

© 2014 – Sony Pictures Classics

“Are you a rusher or are you a dragger?” yells conductor, Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), at student drummer, Andrew (Miles Teller). It’s just one of the many disturbing outbursts we see from Simmons who has deservedly acquired a BAFTA for his role as the passionate, furious jazz orchestra teacher. Whiplash is defined by its intense rhythm – not just the exquisite editing which moves in time with the jazz compositions – but the ebbs and flows of Fletcher’s ferocity. Teller is every bit his equal as the aspiring jazz drummer who pushes through humiliations, bleeding hands and begrudging girlfriends in the quest for greatness. Music is at the heart of this film from Damien Chazelle – the second in his jazz trilogy that includes Guy & Madeline On A Park Bench and a forthcoming ‘Fred and Ginger style’ film about a ‘fully formed musician trying to decide what kind of artist they want to be’ (quotes from Sight & Sound Magazine).

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Ralph Fiennes Grand Budapest Hotel

© 2014 – Fox Searchlight Pictures

Imaginative writer-director, Wes Anderson has done it again. Another stylish flick injected with comedy, stellar performances and glistening visuals. The magical storyline of The Grand Budapest Hotel sees gentlemanly concierge Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) embroiled in an elaborate conspiracy to steal priceless painting Boy With Apple. His accomplice? Impressionable lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) whose previous hotel experience and family connections are non existent. The affection between this almost absurd pairing is made genuine by the sublime performances of Fiennes and Revolori who skilfully play with the subtleties in Anderson’s sharp and witty screenplay.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is brimming with Wes Anderson’s in-your-face styling that divides audiences into love or hate camps. Yet the power of this schismatic director to bring the magic of imagination to the big screen is one of his greatest achievements and The Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception. Read the full review.

2. Birdman

Birdman Michael Keaton

© 2014 – Fox Searchlight

This dark, introspective and ferocious comedy from Alejandro González Iñárritu explores the confused nature of the celebrity machine from the perspective of ageing and typecast comic-book movie star, Riggan (a stellar Michael Keaton). Casting himself in a Broadway play he both produces and directs, Riggan’s efforts to be taken seriously clash with his own internal doubts and desire for popularity, given voice by his former incarnation, Birdman.

Birdman provides an unexpected change in tone for director Iñárritu, known for his heavy-weight and sombre dramas 21 Grams and Biutiful. Yet it’s hard to think of a director who could do this kind of self-analysing, industry-scrutinising film better. Iñárritu, whose earlier films were short lived at the multiplexes despite reaping widespread critical acclaim, peels back the layers of conflict between the artistic, the worthwhile and the popular. “People, they love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit,” says Birdman in one of the many metaphorical conversations that happen inside ex-superhero actor, and Broadway glory-seeker, Riggan’s (Michael Keaton) head. These scenes play out in absurd, surrealist style feeding the piercing, relevant debate about cinema’s current obsession with comic book films.

In Birdman’s technically brilliant camera work, brutal commentary, clashing egos and rapid verbal sparring, Iñárritu finds that perfect balance Riggan cannot, creating both meaningful and fiercely entertaining cinema. Read the full review.

1. Mr. Turner

Mr Turner

© 2014 – Sony Pictures Classics

In the final act of Mike Leigh’s biopic Mr. Turner, the British artist visits a photographer. He surveys the camera with skepticism. After probing the gentleman on the workings of his machine, who informs him that ‘colour is a mystery,’ Turner (Timothy Spall) disparagingly utters ‘long may it remain so’. On viewing the cinematography from Dick Pope (Porterhouse Blue, The Illusionist), Turner might well change his mind. Leigh’s film is saturated with art. And not just Turner’s, but the vast body of work from the painter’s contemporaries Constable, Hayden and Stanfield. The attention to detail in replicating these works is immense, but it’s Dick Pope’s original cinematography that is most striking art of all.

In Mr. Turner Leigh achieves a peculiar tone that effectively combines both the witty, comedic banter of Turner and his contemporaries and emotional gravitas surrounding Turner’s loneliness, the rejection of his children and the artist’s inner struggles that remain enticingly out of reach. It’s a style that does justice to the eccentric characters of the eighteenth century arts scene and yet subtly reflects the experimental nature of Turner’s later work as well.

As Mr. Turner draws towards its conclusion, Turner views the art of the Pre-Raphaelites with mixed emotion. The explosive dynamic between the radical and the reactionary forms the backdrop to Leigh’s film, but at its heart is the very human desire to express life as we see it. Mr. Turner ultimately explores, through an acutely personal lens of grief, the heartbreaking reality that generations pass away and, in doing so, the world as we know it is destined for change. Read the full review.

What do you think to my choices? Let me know in the comments…
 
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