So 2014's been all right, hasn't it? I mean, it's no 2011, but then what could be? At least it wasn't 2010; Jesus, imagine having to go through that again. Anyway here, as is mandatory for anyone given control of a film blog regardless of talent or knowledge, is a list of ten films released this year that weren't as bad as all the others. This particular list very nearly included the following, but didn't, so get over it: The LEGO Movie, Starred Up, The Guest, Locke, Boyhood and The Raid 2. If you haven't seen any of those, or indeed the next ten, get out and don't come back until you have. You disgust me.
HER Under the guise of spinning a yarn about a man who wants to fuck a laptop, Spike Jonze might just have delivered cinema's most incisive commentary on love. The relationship between Joaquin Phoenix's Theodore and Scarlett Johansson's "Samantha" isn't just believable, it's recognisable, and Jonze's Oscar-winning script for Her paints a picture of a species so baffled by the concept of love that it's no wonder we might turn to technology for an easy life. Essential viewing for people who want to try and understand people a little better. Review
THE ROVER An intriguing second step in the path of a truly visionary director, David Michôd's second film takes only another cracking Guy Pearce performance from his debut Animal Kingdom, spinning a morality tale of avarice and self-destruction for a potentially doomed generation. Brooding and leisurely, The Rover is in no hurry to get where it's going, and with good reason: it begins in a hellish near-future and can't see that anywhere else will be any better. It's pessimistic and unpleasant and leaves you drained of all hope, except that Michôd will keep walking the same path for a long time to come. Review
TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT Like a Gallic update of 12 Angry Men, Two Days, One Night sees one angry woman swallowing an entire vat of pride as she attempts to convince colleagues, one by one, to forego their bonus in order to save her job. The Dardennes brothers' remarkable script digs so deep into the strata of human interaction that they strike gold, aided in no small part by Marion Cotillard, who teeters on the brink of emotional collapse for the entire running time. One of the most incisive commentaries on the effects of the financial crisis, this brings everything down to the most identifiable level and leaves you uncomfortably wondering how you'd act in the same situation. I can tell you right now that given 1000 Euros I'd fire Derek from accounts in a heartbeat, the useless tit.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET If there was ever any doubt that he's his generation's Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio takes that doubt and blows it up a hooker's arsehole within the first ten minutes of Martin Scorsese's breathless The Wolf Of Wall Street. The infuriatingly awful Jordan Belfort is a hideous creation (more so because he actually exists), and DiCaprio expertly stomps the fine line between appalling and appealing - thanks, in no small part, to Terence Winter's rollicking script, almost every scene of which begins with unbridled debauchery and cranks up the crackers from there. Easily Scorsese's best in decades, with star turns from Matthew McConaughey, Joanna Lumley, Rob Reiner and Jean Dujardin making the film an 18-rated Royal Variety Performance, and the instantly-classic quaaludes sequence its roof-raising highlight. Review
UNDER THE SKIN The story of a life from birth to death, Under The Skin covers pretty much every basic human emotion in under two hours; remarkable stuff from a film whose protagonist isn't even human. Spend 108 minutes marvelling at every gorgeous frame or a lifetime contemplating its potentially infinite themes, from the existential (what does it mean to be human?) to the deeply sinister (what does it mean to be a sexual predator?), it's entirely up to you. Challenging, unsettling and original in equal measure, it's a perfect storm of filmmaking excellence in every department, not least Mica Levi's nightmarish score. Review
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS Another odyssey and another Ulysses, but Inside Llewyn Davis is a more mature, introspective affair than the Coens' O Brother Where Art Thou, even if its anti-hero is a man of equally constant sorrow. The brothers' films have never been lacking in memorable characters, but Oscar Isaac's Davis, while wallowing in moral and literal poverty, is surely one of the richest. Both protagonist and antagonist, he's a classic folk song legend, subconsciously determined to bring as much shit upon himself as possible in order to fuel his own story. An ode to struggling, misunderstood (and occasionally misguided) artists everywhere, the film uses a pivotal moment in the history of pop culture to tell a timeless story; if it was never new and it never gets old, then it's either a folk song or a Coen Brothers film. Review
'71 Remarkable for being the year's best action film despite being a) British and b) rooted firmly in a sensitive, true-life milieu, '71 remains the most criminally underseen movie of 2014. Boasting set-pieces so tense that you'll spend the credits trying to prise your fingers out of the arms of your chair, '71 delivers some of the year's greatest scenes, the single shot that weaves in and around a West Belfast pub being a strong contender for one of cinema's most finely-constructed sequences. Amazing work from Jack O'Connell and first-time feature director Yann Demange, who deservedly won a BIFA for his efforts; let's hope it's the first of many such accolades (the second being his film's place in this list, obviously). Review
12 YEARS A SLAVE Installing itself at the top of this list when I first saw it at the 2013 London Film Festival and refusing to budge ever since, Steve McQueen's immeasurably important, desperately moving depiction of the story of Solomon Northup is the most crushingly effective film I've seen since, like, ever. Leaving me in puddles of tears and snot both times I've seen it, 12 Years A Slave's reputation as a miseryfest conceals its underlying messages of hope, tenacity and the value of common human decency. If ever a film needed to be on the National Curriculum of every education system in the world, it's this one. Review