Harder to find at the cinema, but well worth seeing.
With so many great blockbusters this year it was hard to get the right balance between independent and mainstream movies, so I decided to split up the lists.
Rather than have Edge of Tomorrow and Guardians of the Galaxy vying with Her and Blue Ruin for a prime position, why not give them room to breathe in independent Top 10s. So here's the first of the pair of Top 10 2014 lists that I've compiled. Some of the best movies you may have missed at the cinema, more often than not because they were either not promoted well, not given a wide release, or simply not released at all! Enjoy (they're all available on Blu-ray too!)
10. The Raid 2
After the breakthrough that was The Raid, Gareth Evans’ didn’t just churn out a repeat-formula sequel, but instead took things to another level, giving us a film that infused the striking martial arts action of the first movie with an epic gangster story. Whilst the end result is far from perfect, it’s also undeniably ambitious; one of the first films to successfully fuse these two genres, and offer satisfying impact for fans in either camp.
9. Starred Up
Jack O’Connell is clearly one to watch; he’s come a long way from E4’s Skins, and has thrown us a couple of strong efforts this year alone – fall’s ’71 and the even more impressive prison drama, Starred Up, which is arguably the film which helped him graduate (much as his character did) from small to big time. Brutal and relentless, it’s another tough-to-endure effort (no surprise given the setting) which deserves to be watched.
8. Blue Ruin
Almost an anti-revenge movie, the third of this year’s greatest 80s-styled efforts is a taut and unpredictable little Kickstarter-funded gem; a supremely stylish, dark and moody thriller which belies its low budget origins and totally defies expectations. Revenge will likely never be a simple thing again.
7. Cold in July
Another one of this year’s excellent retro 80s-style gems, fitting snugly between the last entry – The Guest – and the next one, this impossibly unpredictable low budget mystery thriller also borrows heavily from John Carpenter (again, in particular, on the score front) and plays repeatedly, and successfully, against expectations, as it effortlessly traverses tragic revenge drama, to murder mystery to depraved killer territory.
6. The Guest
Whilst many were disappointed that this didn’t quite turn out to be ‘this year’s Drive’, it’s largely only expectations that took the shine off what was still a surprise gem. The makers of ‘You’re Next’ have managed to craft as unpredictable a thriller as their last, playing with 80s action movie riffs in much the same way as they shook up 80s horrors last time, whilst developing moody Carpenter-esque undertones, not least through a fantastic score.
5. Out of the Furnace
It’s not really a big surprise that one of the worst promoted – and worst titled – films of the year also happens to be one of the best. Featuring great performances from the likes of Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana and Sam Shephard, it’s a wonderful little mood thriller built on characters more than action, and peppered with surprise turns all set within a very real world. However it’s perhaps Christian Bale’s superb contribution that feels most ironically overlooked – since it was totally overshadowed by the disappointingly shallow caper flick that was American Hustle.
4. All Is Lost
Gravity, at sea. Redford’s dialogue-less solo voyage into troubled waters is a wonderful low-key work of extreme tension; a true testament to the strength of the survival gene within us. Although it doesn’t have any wonderful 3D space effects to wow you with, the much more relatable sheer expanse of water is arguably just as effective, and Redford’s clearly still got it.
Beautiful sci-fi trussed up as a futuristic parable on modern relationships, there’s so much more going on in Spike Jonze’s drama – and those wondering how a film about a guy who falls in love with his phone’s version of Siri could possibly work, were likely blown away. One of Scarlett Johansson’s best features in a year of no less than three sci-fis from the leading lady. Highly recommended.
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson’s latest witty, wacky adventure plays with multiple timelines and even multiple aspect ratios in a crazy bid to bring together a few dozen stunning cameos across a dozen episodic moments of pure madness. Again, acquired taste, but if you enjoy Anderson’s work (even I haven’t embraced it fully) then you’ll likely love this.
1. Upstream Colour
Undoubtedly one of the most obtuse entries in this list, this frequently intangible, elusive sci-fi-infused mystery is a startling sophomore effort from the writer/director/stars of the brain-melting time travel flick, Primer. Beautifully shot, with a narrative structure that doesn’t pander to audience expectations – or needs – Upstream certainly isn’t to everybody’s tastes but, for those who embrace it, the rewards are undeniable.
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