To celebrate the release of the new Transformers film I thought it would be fitting to drop a little list of the films I’ve enjoyed most this year. I haven’t seen Transformers yet due to being on holiday – not that I intend to see it – and it is no doubt the Citizen Kane of cinema and would dominate this list (that’s enough sarcasm). The only criteria for this list is that it was released post-oscars, so no 12 Years a Slave; that I’ve seen them; and I liked them. Sometimes released dates are finicky because of film festivals and what not, but it’s my list. So there.
Remember I’m not a professional film critic, even amateur is stretching it, so I haven’t got around to seeing every film this year and I have admittedly missed some pretty big ones. Notable exceptions include: Transcendence, Captain America 2, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Edge of Tomorrow, Boyhood, Calvary and probably a few others as well. If you are interested you can keep up to date with my irrational viewing habits on Letterboxd.
Lastly, I left the list at the industry standard 5 not to keep up with the pack, but any more (and I did write more) felt like overkill and I’d like to keep what I think are the actual best films of the year on my list.
Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy didn’t arrive with much fanfare in England and hasn’t quite received the attention I think it deserves. It’s about a man (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who finds an actor in a film who looks exactly like him (coincidentally also played by Jake Gyllenhaal). No doubt it is a hard sell, it is often slow, oblique and refuses explain itself to the audience with hands down the best ending to film this year. It works mainly through its psychosexual and psychoanalytic subtext rather than the concrete ‘real’ things that are happening on screen. Both Jake Gyllenhaal characters are polar opposites, one is a dweeby science teach and the other is a (semi) successful Hollywood actor. All however, is not what it seems. I won’t reveal the little details, but rest assured you should seek this out when it comes available.
Under the Skin
Equally, if not more weird than Enemy is Under The Skin. It follows Scarlet Johansson muddle around a mysterious, creepy and just generally unsettling Glasgow whilst sci-fi undertones permeate the entire film. Like Enemy it expects a lot from its audience and as such, cannot be considered a casual view. And it is definitely an 18, there’s nudity of all flavours here (and some particularly distressing scenes, so be warned) which is actually quite refreshing due the numerous taboos that exist (Not the unsavoury acts bit, the general nudity I meant). It is daringly bold and unique as well as being devastatingly disturbing and after you watch it, humans everywhere will start to seem slightly creepy.
The Raid 2
One of the best action films of recent years, it’s only realistic competitor – in my eyes – is the original Raid. One could make a solid case for it surpassing the original, but in truth they are similar in terms of quality. While the first film was as tight and compact as any action film could be, The Raid 2 increases its scope both narratively and in its set pieces. Seriously there is just amazing action scene after amazing action scene. There’s the prison fight scene, the car chase, the hand to hand fight in a car DURING THE CAR CHASE and there’s the final fight sequence (hands down the best I’ve ever seen, far exceeding any fight in The Raid).
The expansion of narrative scope occasionally falls flat but I feel the action scenes wouldn’t pack as much punch (literally) without them however it remains an engaging crime drama in its own right. It does lose the sense that any and all characters were expendable which added to the dread throughout which was a little detail that made the first so visceral and weighty. These are only minor concerns though and the film is a technical marvel and quite simply a brilliant action film. The bar is set very high indeed.
Grand Budapest Hotel (REVIEW)
Recently, I have been catching up, watching and re-watching some of Wes Anderson’s filmography to help me get a better grip on his style and its use in The Grand Budapest Hotel. The experience has been nothing but thoroughly enjoyable and it helped me recognise how refined the style is in GBH. Like Moonrise Kingdom and Fantastic Mr Fox it is played at a rapid, clockwork like pace with a host of memorable and likable characters. Anderson’s eye for a shot is absolutely delightful, almost every shot is symmetrical, yet despite this he still manages to root around the humanity of the main characters. Maybe less so than Moonrise, but Anderson has certainly refined his style to something so esoteric it’s almost worth watch for that alone. One potential problem is that because the narrative is so tightly wound and orchestrated is that on first viewing it could perhaps be a little confusing – a result of too many layers.
I would like to apologise for an error made in my review where I said “I doubt it will linger in your head for long”. How wrong I was. On the other hand I did say in the next sentence that was “bloody enjoyable”. You win some you lose some I guess.
The Lego Movie (REVIEW)
This is probably my favourite film of the year. It’s a film about toys that every adult and adult-that-is-still-a-child-inside needs to see. On its surface it is riotously fun, is bursting with jokes for all ages and has a serious dramatic and thematic turn towards the end. It properly understands storytelling, its tropes, why we tell stories in the first place and why we play with Lego in the first place. It was so much better than it promised to be. Only a short paragraph, but I’ll sum it up here: SEE IT.
Honourable mentions: Noah, Snowpierecer, Godzilla
Wooden spoon: Pompeii, I wasn’t even able to ironically/post-ironically/meta-ironically (that’s enough) enjoy it, a complete mess of a film. Also the director, Paul W.S. Anderson is very confusing, a hybrid of Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson by name yet nowhere near as talented.