Friday, 2 January 2015

Top 10 Films of the Year: Part 1

Stephen Puddicombe chooses his favourite films from 2014. 

10. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

This year’s installment of the Hunger Games franchise has been deemed the worst so far by most commentators, with most criticism directed towards the lack of on-screen action brought about by the decision to cut the final book into two films. But one consequence of this now sadly standard practice is to pare down this installment into a sleek, straightforward plot dramatising the propaganda war between Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and the rebels, and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and the government. Thanks to some astute satire and involving characterisation, this is an intelligent and rousing film in its own right that exposes the laziness of the scripts in most other blockbusters.

9. The Raid 2

Gareth Evans’ ultra-violent martial arts sequel may neither have neither been as purely visceral nor breathtakingly original as the first film, but it remained the most thrilling action film of the year by some distance. It never really justifies the 2-and-a-half-hour running time, and does not fulfill its epic scope with the necessary substance. But no matter - the stunning choreography confirms Evans as the most talented director of action sequences around, and this sequel is alive with imaginative ideas and extraordinary stunts that make the more mediocre plotting well worth sitting through.

8. Birdman

One of the year’s most audacious films was Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman, which (thanks to the occasional digital trick) looks as though it was shot in one very, very long continuous take. This restless, insomniatic editing aptly reflects the psyches of the cast, most of whom are anxiety-ridden actors whose anxieties threaten to overflow at any moment and jeopardise the Raymond Carver adaptation they’re rehearsing for. Ex-Batman Michael Keaton is captivating as the director of the play haunted by his past Hollywood role as superhero ‘Birdman’ in a meta-commentary typical of the film, while Edward Norton hilariously sends himself up as a pretentious method actor. An exhilarating, if a little indulgent, ride.

7. Two Days, One Night

The Dardennes brothers use a simple premise to tackle a big theme: employees of a small Belgian factory are forced to choose between accepting their end of year bonuses or allowing Sandra - who has been off work suffering from depression - to keep her job, leaving Sandra two days and one night to one-by-one convince each of sixteen colleagues to vote for her. At a time of zero-hour contracts and vanished trade unions, this film is well in touch with the zeitgeist, and naturalistic performances from the cast (especially the brilliant Marion Cotillard) effectively dramatises a troubling social issue at a very personal level.

6. The Babadook

One of the best horror films of the decade, The Babadook announced a major new talent in director Jennifer Kent. By emphasising character and emotion over cheap thrills and jumps, she breathed new life into tired horror tropes, and provided a timely reminder of the genre’s potential to inventively explore potent themes likes grief and motherhood.The Babadook itself is less a monster of the external world than it is the manifestation of deep, dark internal thoughts - and is for that reason all the more scary. 


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