There’s something about creating lists which is both comforting – like organising your clothes drawers after a year of unmitigated chaos – and infuriating – like discovering a dozen individual socks which can no longer be paired with their mysterious long lost sister. The whole thing feels too rigid – too regimented. A top 5 often means that films you really loved get shelved in favour of ones which you know deep down are better, overall, regardless of whether they were the stuff of all your most impassioned conversations. A top 10 sometimes means you’re including one or two entries as filler just to make everything tally up.
So here you’ll find a general round up of cinema which really made an impression on me this year. Some of it high brow, some of it downright low. Sometimes the greatest work of art isn’t always the one with the most skilled sum of it’s parts, but the one which struck you at the moment when you really fucking needed it the most.
There’s a lot of Cinema unfortunately missing from the list which, for one reason or another, I never got round to watching this year. I get the feeling that a lot of the following might have made this article if only I had the time (and the right mentality) to actually watch them. A few that are missing which I would have loved to have seen this year are: Birdman, Under the Skin, The Skeleton Twins, A Girl Walks Alone at Night, Dear White People, Nightcrawler and Boyhood.
But fuck it, there’s always next year.
In no particular order, here’s the cinema which really mattered to me this year.
Dir: Adam Wingard
Adam Wingard’s fast paced follow up to his Final Girl / home invasion tribute You’re Next is possibly the most fun film of the year. It’s triumph lies in Wingard’s obvious love for the genres he’s paying homage to – slasher movies and ‘Terminator’ style action from the 80’s – and his ability to weave the narrative around an abundance of tropes belonging to these genres with a knowing wink and dark humour. British actor Dan Stevens provides a fabulously deadpan lead as the mysterious and possibly dangerous stranger ‘David’ whilst Maika Monroe provides us with a cool yet flawed female hero who remains enigmatic till the final, memorable shot. Wingard scores extra points for his employment of the female gaze throughout the film (hooray!).
As an important side note, The Guest is also the reason why I’ve been drunkenly ordering ‘Fireballs’ in every bar I’ve frequented around the UK in the past couple of months.
Dir: Gillian Robespierre
Quite possibly my absolute favourite film of the year, Obvious Child is a piece of cinema which feels long overdue. The sort of movie that I, for one, have been craving since I was old enough to frequent family planning centres in an anguished teenage panic that I felt nobody cared about or was even willing talk about in a mainstream spectrum. Gillian Robespierre excels with terrific direction and a flawless script made perfect by sublime performances from it’s cast – most notably, the always spectacular Jenny Slate, Gaby Hoffman and Gabe Liedman. Obvious Child is unbelievably fresh, face achingly funny and also gratifyingly moving when it wants to be. It’s a rom com (of sorts) which fixates it’s focus away from the arc of a relationship and towards the arc of a single woman: her friendships, her career, her day job, her values. At it’s core, Obvious Child is a movie about how you never really leave that anguished, teenage panic behind.
Dir: David Fincher
I had my reservations about this film, mainly because the book is absolute dog shit with the sort of writing which you’d frankly be ashamed to turn in as a piece of coursework for a Sixth Form English examination. So to hear that Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn was also writing the screenplay for the movie adaptation made alarm bells ring. Luckily, director David Fincher masks a script with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer beneath a camp, melodramatic direction and dry, dark humour. Nobody does western cinematic misanthropy better than Fincher, and Gone Girl excels in this field, laying bare the monsters at the heart of relationships, humanity and society as a whole: manipulation, sexual politics, power struggles, morbid celebrity worship and media circuses. There’s barely any character to root for in Gone Girl – you’ll hate them all by the end – and in age where we’re all a part of the media, baring ourselves on social media and presenting the best version of our identities to our peers, that sort of characterisation is a refreshingly aggressive polarisation.
Cold in July
Dir: Jim Mickle
Considering how fucking awful Dexter was by it’s final seasons (with the worst TV finale in history), it would be too easy to forget what an amazing actor Michael C. Hall is. Thankfully Cold in July is a spectacular reminder and an unpredictable crime thriller which switches gears and changes lanes at will, making the narrative an exciting and fast paced treat, thrilling till it’s final resting place. It’s no surprise that the film is adapted from a book by the long underrated Joe R. Lansdale who has built a career out of surprising and inventive pulp, genre writing, and the screenplay succeeds in maintaining Lansdale’s finesse for cool, prosaic dialogue alongside dark humour and even darker drama. The less you know about this film the better, so do yourself a favour and watch it (if you haven’t already) before anyone has the opportunity to spoil a second of it for you.
We Are The Best (Vi är bäst!)
Dir: Lucas Moodysson
Lucas Moodysson’s rites of passage film about a trio of bored, rebellious teenage girls forming a punk band is a beautiful tribute to being young, restless, pissed off and misunderstood. It’s a wonderful piece of cinema which also celebrates young female friendships as well as the power of music as a form of escapism. Moodysson’s direction feels natural, leaving the young, female leads to take centre stage and experiment with their characters with scenes often feeling as though he left the camera running whilst they were goofing off between takes. We Are The Best feels all the more refreshing for featuring ‘makeover’ scenes which hold a middle finger up at the sort of standardised ‘makeover’ scenes we’re used to seeing forced upon young women in movies, with the girls undergoing an androgynous transformation which gives them the freedom to become their own heroes.
Also a must see film for anyone who spent much of their youth forming bands, making misguided attempts at rebellion and caring less about fitting in than they did about making major statements.
Dir: James Ward Byrkit
Perhaps one of the most surprising films of the year, Coherence is a low budget Sci-Fi Horror marvel which doesn’t deserve to go under the radar. Filmed in just 5 days with a cast of improvisational actors given just a page of notes to work from to cue their characters and dialogue, Coherence is The Twilight Zone hanging out with experimental cinema – and it really works. Smart, witty and so cohesively and intrinsically well thought out that multiple viewings will no doubt illuminate more and more nuances to the overall puzzle, this is Sci-Fi and Horror at it’s purest and very best. The film has quantum mechanic theories as it’s backbone but at it’s heart are some very real insights into the politics of friendship and monogamous relationships. As an added bonus (on the off chance, dear reader, that you too are a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan girl like myself), Coherence also stars an on-form Nicholas Brendon, who takes great delight in poking fun at himself. Glorious, from start to finish.
Dir: Jennifer Kent
Obviously. You can read more about my love of this heartbreaking and terrifying, female directed movie here.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Dir: James Gunn
Now listen, I’m as surprised as you probably are that this film is here, especially considering how absolutely sick I am of the same generic superhero movie getting made and remade year after year, and month after month it seems. There’s only so many times you can see the same story about the same white, meat head, male, hetero hero saving the day and getting the girl before you start to think – ‘…you know, maybe Valerie Solanas wasn’t as radical as I once thought’. Whilst Guardians of the Galaxy might not have been a complete departure from those movies, it at least demonstrated that superhero and comic book films don’t have to follow the same derivative format. It felt fresh. It’s also, perhaps, one of the first films of it’s kind in which the female lead doesn’t provide opportunity to become the love interest. Instead Zoe Salanda’s Gamora is strong, independent, refuses to be degraded by men and has own her narrative arc which doesn’t end with her tonguing the male protagonist.
Sometimes you just need a film that says ‘Life is shite, but here – have fun for a couple of hours’ without feeling like you need a full brain transplant afterwards, and this was definitely it. GOTG is like the drunken, foul mouthed, disco dancing pal who you wouldn’t want to spend every day of your life with, but for that one night out a year, is the absolute perfect specimen. Plus, Chris Pratt dancing, guys. Amen to that.