Films of 2014: Aliens, A.I.s and Adolescence

From reptilian alpha males (Godzilla, The Wolf of Wall Street) to females fighting the patriarchy (Under the Skin, We Are the Best!), from troubled pasts (12 Years a Slave, ’71) to troubling futures (Her), the movies of the year are full of contrasts

Feature by The Skinny Film team | 02 Dec 2014

1. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)

Under the Skin is a film that shows you things you’ve never seen before. Jonathan Glazer’s extraordinary and singular picture blends footage shot covertly on the streets of Glasgow with vivid and nightmarish images to create a wholly original and deeply unsettling experience. It is a film about being an alien in a human world, or perhaps being a woman in a man's world, and Scarlett Johansson's work as the film's enigmatic protagonist constitutes the year's most imaginative use of an actor's particular star quality. Under the Skin is a most apt title for this remarkable film. Once it has seduced us into its dark world, there is no escaping it. [Philip Concannon]

2. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)

Everyone was rightly dazzled by the technique and sheer commitment of Richard Linklater’s 11-years-in-the-making journey through a boy’s life, from elementary school to college and with all the growing pains in between, but the real wonder is how intimate the finished article is. While the tribulations of young Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his family themselves elicit pure empathy, Boyhood also acts as a time capsule to a difficult and ever-changing recent history; its discussions, moods, concerns are instantly recognisable to anyone who has lived alongside Linklater’s subjects. It’s as close to reality as fiction can get – messy, sad, funny, mad – and as revolutionary in the medium as when Méliès took that Trip to the Moon. [Chris Fyvie]

3. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)

The Coen brothers don’t trade in success stories, and Inside Llewyn Davis is one of their most perceptive and resonant studies of a person failing at life. The eponymous folk singer is a man with some undeniable talent, but he's also an irascible and self-destructive individual who lacks whatever that indefinable quality is that propels an artist from one level to the next. Instead, Llewyn Davis just keeps wandering in ever-decreasing circles; it's a futile odyssey in which the bleakness is offset by the filmmakers' customary wit and attention to character, and by the evocative cinematography and music. This is a most wintry, melancholy and mysterious comedy, and one of the Coens' very best. [PC]

4. Her (Spike Jonze)

In a year of souped-up superheroes, psychokinetic posthumans and glassy body-snatchers, Her’s Samantha provided Scarlett Johansson with her most recognisably human role of 2014 (paper-thin Chef cameo included). That Samantha is a disembodied, artificially intelligent OS barely matters, such is the quality of both Johansson’s vocal performance and Spike Jonze’s script. The result is an original and warmly rendered love story that doubles as a diagnostic overview of 21st-century solipsism and technological dependence. As the flesh-and-blood half of a very modern romance, Joaquin Phoenix sells Her’s conceit with sensitivity and subtlety, resulting in a ROM-com that’s not only witty, but plausible and painfully poignant too. [Chris Buckle]

5. We Are the Best! (Lukas Moodysson)

Set in 1982, when disaffected Swedish youth was gripped by the sound of derivative post-punk, this sharply observed coming-of-age tale shies away from nostalgic kitsch in favour of something altogether more substantial. Like punk itself, outsiderdom has long been diluted and commodified. We Are the Best! is no more innovative than any number of inferior, coldly calculated movies, but it impresses with its utter lack of affectation. Lukas Moodysson clearly feels an affinity for the three pre-pubescent girls around whom his graphic novelist wife's story revolves, while 11-year-old Mira Grosin’s star turn is played to precocious perfection. [Lewis Porteous]

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)

At first glance, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a typical Anderson confection. This breakneck caper, which centres on the escapade of the eponymous establishment’s rakish concierge (mischievously played by Ralph Fiennes) after he’s been wrongly accused of murdering his much older lover, would get you a full house in a game of auteurist bingo, what with its meticulous set design, deadpan performances and camera work so precise to suggest it was composed with a compass and set square. For the first time, however, real-world peril penetrates the fastidious framing. Namely, the brutality of war. If Rushmore was Anderson’s Catcher in the Rye, this is his For Esmé – with Love and Squalor. [Jamie Dunn]

7. 12 Years A Slave (Steve McQueen)

A film of unparalleled aesthetic beauty about almost unimaginable ugliness, Steve McQueen’s ferocious adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir was the most emotionally intense cinematic experience of the year. Drawing an extraordinary performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor, more great work from regular collaborator Michael Fassbender, and one of the most astonishing debuts in living memory from Lupita Nyong’o, McQueen presented an insight into slavery devoid of sentimentality or respite; he delivers a relentless and horrifying account of a barbarism that barely seems human anymore. It’s a work of immense historical and artistic importance, a work that will be discussed with the greats for as long as the greats are discussed. [CF]

8. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)

The Wolf of Wall Street is Scorsese’s Satyricon, an epic of excess that is both riotously, morbidly funny and actually kind of terrifying. Leonardo DiCaprio verges on the vampiric in parts of his mesmerising performance as real-life tyrant stockbroker Jordan Belfort. This scabrous, unhinged odyssey is its lead actor’s best work and yet another triumph for its legendary director, and it draws real blood in its examination (all horrified fascination, never endorsement) of the home-grown monsters America makes with its mantras of creating as much prosperity for yourself as possible. Greed is good; this is incredible. [Josh Slater-Williams]

9. ’71 (Yann Demange)

This feature couldn’t be further removed from the Britney Spears and Eric Clapton promos on which Yann Demange cut his teeth. A suspenseful historical thriller set during a period of conflict that continues to resonate in the present day, it imbues the basic premise of Carol Reed’s classic Odd Man Out with a modern, nightmarish intensity. Fresh from an impressive turn in Starred Up, Jack O’Connell continues his ascent as the British soldier cast adrift in Belfast at the height of the Troubles. The scenario plays out like Die Hard but with a real sense of jeopardy and danger. [LP]

10. Godzilla (Gareth Edwards)

Heavily informed by Steven Spielberg in his better blockbuster days, Gareth Edwards’ horror-tinged Godzilla update is a big effects movie with genuine poetic craft behind its visual storytelling. Intense, disorienting, intimate, and often rousing in its apocalyptic take on the green giant and company, it has palpable emotion that evades so many blockbusters, mainly thanks to its eschewing of many of their trappings through restraint, patience, and giving every shot actual meaning and weight. And its (much-criticised) decision to stick with bare, archetypal characters absolutely works for its grander preoccupation with how humanity’s personal concerns amount to frivolity in the face of annihilation. [JS-W]

The next ten:

Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne)
Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg)
The LEGO Movie (Phil Lord, Christopher Miller)
Ida (Paweł Pawlikowski)
The Golden Dream (Diego Quemada-Díez)
22 Jump Street (Phil Lord, Christopher Miller)
Gone Girl (David Fincher)
Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier)
Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn)


Chris Buckle
1. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
2. Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
3. Her (Spike Jonze)
4. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
6. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)
7. Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)
8. Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier)
9. Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
10. We Are the Best! (Lukas Moodysson)

Honourable mentions: A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (Ben Rivers, Ben Russell), Gone Girl (David Fincher), Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski), Twelve Years a Slave (Steve McQueen), The LEGO Movie (Phil Lord, Christopher Miller), Mistaken for Strangers (Tom Berninger)

Re-release of the year: Mark Cousins' The Cinema of Childhood season

DVD/Blu-ray of the year: Wake In Fright (Ted Kotcheff)

Stinker of the year: The Other Woman (Nick Cassavetes)

Becky Bartlett
1. We Are the Best! (Lukas Moodysson)
2. Her (Spike Jonze)
3. Noah (Darren Aronovsky)
4. Joe (David Gordon Green)
5. 20,000 Days on Earth (Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard)
6. The LEGO Movie (Phil Lord, Christopher Miller)
7. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent)
8. The Golden Dream (Diego Quemada-Diez)
9. Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn)
10. Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg)

Honourable Mentions: Godzilla (Gareth Edwards), Starred Up (David MacKenzie), The Double (Richard Ayoade)

Re-release of the year: A Hard Day's Night (Richard Lester, 1964)

Stinker of the Year: Devil's Knot (Atom Egoyhan)

Philip Concannon
1. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
2. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)
3. Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
4. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)
5. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen)
6. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
7. Suzanne (Katell Quillévéré)
8. Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
9. Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne)
10. An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (Terence Nance)

Honourable mentions: Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh), A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke), Welcome to New York (Abel Ferrara), The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson), Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiraudie)

Re-releases of the year: A Hard Day's Night (Richard Lester, 1964)

DVD/Blu-ray re-release of the year: The Werner Herzog Collection

Stinker of the year: Fading Gigolo (John Turturro)

Jamie Dunn
1. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
2. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
3. We Are the Best! (Lukas Moodysson)
4. Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg)
5. Her (Spike Jonze)
6. American Hustle (David O. Russell)
7. 22 Jump Street (Phil Lord, Chris Miller)
8. Tom at the Farm (Xavier Dolan)
9. Godzilla (Gareth Edwards)
10. ’71 (Yann Demange)

Honourable mentions: Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski), What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi), The Golden Cage (Diego Quemada-Diez), Palo Alto (Gia Coppola), Cold in July (Jim Mickle)

Re-release of the year: Wind and Willow (Mohammad-Ali Talebi, 2000), Wake In Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971)

DVD/Blu-ray release of the year: Violent Saturday (Richard Fleischer, 1955)

Stinker of the year: Labour Day (Jason Reitman)

Chris Fyvie
1. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
2. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
3. Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
4. Ida (Pawel Pawilkowski)
5. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel & Ethan Coen)
6. Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
7. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen)
8. Gone Girl (David Fincher)
9. Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg)
10. Welcome to New York (Abel Ferrara)

Honourable Mentions: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson), Magic Magic (Sebastián Silva), Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy), Bastards (Claire Denis), Her (Spike Jonze), We Are the Best! (Lukas Moodysson)

Re-release of the year: Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)

Stinker of the year: The Judge (Dobkin)

Sam Lewis
1. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
2. The LEGO Movie (Chris Miller, Phil Lord)
3. Under The Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
4. Edge Of Tomorrow (Doug Liman)
5. The Golden Dream (Diego Quemada-Diez)
6. ’71 (Yann Demange)
7. 22 Jump Street (Chris Miller, Phil Lord)
8. Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy)
9. Grand Budapest (Wes Anderson)
10. Interstellar (Chris Nolan)

Honourable mentions: Lucy (Luc Besson)

Re-releases of the year: M (Fritz Lang, 1931)

DVD/Blu-ray re-release of the year: Le jour se lève (Marcel Carné, 1939)

Stinker of the year: Michael Bay's Turtles nonsense

Ross McIndoe
1. Her (Spike Jonze)
2. Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy)
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
4. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen)
5. Gone Girl (David Fincher)
6. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)
7. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)
8. Interstellar (Christopher Nolan)
9. The Guest (Adam Wingard)
10. Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh)

Honourable mentions: The Two Faces of January (Hossein Amini), Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman), The Wind Rises (Hayao Miyazaki), Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée), The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)

Re-releases of the year: Princess Mononoke (Hayao Miyazaki, 1997)

DVD/Blu-ray re-release of the year: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, 2004)

Stinker of the year: The Judge (David Dobkin)

Scott McKellar
1. Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn)
2. Oculus (Mike Flanagan)
3. X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer)
4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo)
5. I am Divine (Jeffrey  Schwarz)
6. Godzilla (Gareth Edwards)
7. Horns (Alexandra Aja)
8. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen)
9. The LEGO Movie (Phil Lord, Christopher Miller)
10. Maleficent (Robert Stromberg)

Best re-release: Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984)

DVD/Blu-ray release of the year: Theatre of Blood (Douglas Hickox, 1973)

Stinker of the year (no contest): Transformers: Age of Extinction (Michael Bay)

Lewis Porteous
1. ’71 (Yann Demange)
2. We Are the Best! (Lukas Moodysson)
3. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
4. Inside Llewyn Davis (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen)
5. A Touch of Sin (Zhangke Jia)
6. Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
7. Mistaken for Strangers (Tom Berninger)
8. Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier)
9. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)
10. Of Horses and Men (Benedikt Erlingsson)

Honourable mentions: Venus in Fur (Roman Polanski), Joe (David Gordon Green)

Re-releases of the year: Le Jour se Leve (Marcel Carne, 1939), Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester, 1964)

DVD/Blu-ray re-release of the year: Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951)

Stinker of the year: The Wind Rises (Hayao Myazaki)

Josh Slater-Williams
1. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)
2. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
3. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen)
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
5. Bastards (Claire Denis)
6. Godzilla (Gareth Edwards)
7. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen)
8. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
9. The Wind Rises (Hayao Miyazaki)
10. A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke)

Honourable mentions: Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch), We Are the Best! (Lukas Moodysson), Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy), 22 Jump Street (Phil Lord, Chris Miller), Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne)

Re-release of the year: The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)

DVD/Blu-ray re-release of the year: Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971)

Stinker of the year: Postman Pat: The Movie (made by people who hate children)