So it seems that the amount of feature films I get to sit before each year is continuing its downward trend. I’m not saying that my interest in cinema is waning in anyway, but when you find yourself binge watching hours of engaging stories such Jill Soloway’s brilliantly observed Amazon original Transparent or Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld’s Vimeo on Demand web series High Maintenance, not to mention the numerous shorts which captured my attention daily throughout 2014, then something has to give.
Fortunately there were still a lot of feature length narratives that got me excited and while I’m going to share my favourite ten in a moment, there are a few near misses which deserve a mention namely; Hungry Hearts, Her, The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Frank. My poor time keeping also kept me out of the screening for Justin Simien’s Dear White People, a film I’m looking forward to almost as much as Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure which hasn’t made its way to the UK yet. That’s the apologies and regrets out of the way, now onto 2014’s favourite ten:
10. WHIPLASH – Damien Chazelle
J.K. Simmons nails his performance as a psychotic jazz band teacher who demands a perfection that few of the students he harangues can maintain. Playing more like an extreme boot camp, tensions build, blood is shed, and tempos rise to blistering speeds in Damien Chazelle’s proof of concept short turned feature.
9. NYMPHOMANIAC: VOLUME I & II – Lars von Trier
Yes technically two films but this epic 4 hour tale of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a woman who divulges the history of her ceaseless pursuit for sexual gratification regardless of the consequences to Stellan Skarsgård’s cloistered, elderly bachelor after he finds her beaten and bloodied on the street, is exactly the (at times) punishing type of cinema we’ve come to expect, and perhaps even, look forward to from the enfant terrible of European cinema. I’d probably suggest you don’t watch it with your parents through.
8. THE ONE I LOVE | Charlie McDowell
Charlie McDowell strikes a perfect tone of intrigue in this tale of Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss’ fractured couple who head for the curative sanctuary of a couples retreat only to discover that finding their better halves might be the thing that ultimately tears them apart. Funny and great at engendering feelings of ‘What would I do?’ The One I Love is perfect viewing for anyone who’s wished they could change their partner for the better – so that’ll be all of us then.
7. THOU WAST MILD AND LOVELY – Josephine Decker
One of the great joys of cinema for me is discovering a new director whose work will surely carry me through many future years of film watching. The first of those such directors on my 2014 list is Josephine Decker whose Thou Wast Mild and Lovely played alongside her previous feature Butter on the Latch at this year’s London Film Festival. Staring DN favourite Joe Swanberg as Akin, a drifter with a secret alongside Sophie Traub’s ethereal Sarah and Robert Longstreet’s scary, bat shit Jeremiah, Thou Wast Mild and Lovely uses nature (including a ‘cow cam’) and an experimental structure to deliver an unhinged story of love, hurt and forgiveness.
6. COHERENCE – James Ward Byrkit
A passing comet and a slip in intersecting parallel universes, sees James Ward Byrkit’s dinner party expand out to encompass a raft of possibilities, paranoia and conflict. Coherence’s most impressive feat is how Byrkit steered his in the dark cast through their improvisational performances through the sole use of motivation and back story notes to ensure the story of infinite what ifs followed the complex time/space plotting he meticulous crafted over a year long writing period. Also, the full on indie spirit of wanting to strip things back and shoot a film “without a crew and without a script” is to be applauded.
5. THE TRIBE – Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy
Who’d have thought that a Ukrainian drama set in a boarding school for deaf children, in which not a word is spoken aloud by its raw, non-professional cast who communicate solely through un-subtitled sign language would be such a lean forward rather than isolating viewing experience. But in The Tribe Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy expertly propels us towards the devastating consequences of the collision between love and violence.
4. THE GOOB – Guy Myhill
Coming of age in rural Norfolk is a rough affair for the teen at the centre of Guy Myhill’s The Goob. Created through Creative England’s iFeatures low budget initiative, Simon Tindall’s cinematography coupled with a brilliantly heartfelt performance from Liam Walpole undercuts the film’s grim reality with moments of freewheeling beauty and joy.
3. BLUE RUIN – Jeremy Saulnier
Jeremy Saulnier takes the everyman set on the path to revenge cinema staple and places it in the messy, blundering reality of the real world with stomach churning, edge of the seat results. Not to mention Macon Blair’s haunted performance at the centre of Blue Ruin, which brings a humanity and empathy to a character who has been lost for a long time but never loses the audience.
2. UNDER THE SKIN | Jonathan Glazer
You wait nearly 10 years for a new Jonathan Glazer film and not only does he create the most compelling science fiction film of the year (brilliantly adapted from Michel Faber’s 2000 novel), but he also has one of Hollywood’s most recognisable stars turn in a performance which shatters any pre-conceptions you had about her acting range. Also, Mica Levi’s eerie score has been impossible to get out of my head ever since its first discordant note sounded.
1. A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT – Ana Lily Amirpour
A black and white Iranian Vampire Western which has an accompanying graphic novel and a kick-arse soundtrack to boot – how on earth could that NOT be my favourite film of 2014. In her debut feature A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night Ana Lily Amirpour populates the ghost-town of Bad City with a lively band of distinct, colourful characters, stalked through the city’s depravity by a stoic, skateboarding, chador wearing vampire.
Amirpour is a director who wears her cinematic influences proudly (and literally) on her chest, yet whose work is in no way derivative or defined by what has come before. Also any filmmaker who can loves Die Antwoord as much as we do will always have a home here at DN.
Listen to our interview with Ana Lily Amirpour