Clash’s Top Films Of 2014

Our critics’ favourite flicks…

Absolutely nobody needs a lengthy intro for a best of the year type list, so let’s keep things simple:

1. Each contributor had an entirely free vote for their film of the year, with the only restriction being a “first come, first served” approach to limit multiple people choosing the same film (which ultimately only affected Gareth Kolze-Jones’s first pick of The Grand Budapest Hotel).

2. Pedants note: to qualify, the film had to receive a full theatrical release in the UK at some point in 2014. Otherwise the likes of Birdman, Whiplash and Inherent Vice could well have made the cut.

3. The many near misses included Nymphomaniac, Inside Llewyn Davis, We Are The Best, The Wolf Of Wall Street, Under The Skin, Two Days, One Night and Starred Up.

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Richard Linklater is well known as an audacious filmmaker. Whether his movies are using innovative techniques to articulate the harder-to-grasp ideas that underpin philosophy in Waking Life or post-modern paranoia of A Scanner Darkly, or are simply offering an account of post-grad malaise in Slacker, all stretch film in some way or another. His relationship series, currently comprising the movie triumvirate Before Sunrise, …Sunset and …Midnight, successfully throw time against the couple at the centre of the story and, in doing so, extend the reach of traditional film form.

With Boyhood, time is again the key.

Charting its characters as they age is a bold move, the many years of filming requiring the total commitment of those involved. But this is just logistics, right? The effect is what makes this film my selection of the year, far beyond the magic of CGI or highfalutin' electrickery. Just a story of an everyday boy, growing into a man. Exceptional. Kingsley Marshall

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Gone Girl

If a movie's success can be rated by online controversy, David Fincher's adaptation of Gillian Flynn's bestseller must rate as an instant classic. The beguiling and constantly shifting plot skillfully takes in mystery and noir influences with a heavy dose of psychodrama mixed readily with on-point satire.

Rosamund Pike enjoys a career-defining role as the eponymous gone (in the head?) girl while Ben Affleck brings a believable loathsomeness to his confused vision of struggling masculinity. Questions of sexism aside – and for my money it's anything but sexist – the film is equal parts pitch-black comedy meets terrifying spectacle. Robert W. Monk

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Her is a supremely cinematic and profoundly complicating movie regarding modern technology, but also modern ideas around love, masculinity, relationships, death and solitude. Spike Jonze’s film has impacted my relationship with my tech and my relationship with love and companionship. It’s scary to see a film that reminds us how little we understand.

It’s a moving treatise on being human and truth telling (to ourselves and others), and Joaquin Phoenix proves how peerless he is. I can’t think of any other actor who could follow The Master with his performance here. He is a chameleon and his performance ensures this film’s greatness. Neil Fox

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Maps To The Stars

Hollywood: a land possessed by poisonous personalities; a place rammed wall-to-wall with bitterly over-indulged souls who have it all and still want more; a toxic environment in which glamour has been eroded by addiction and desperation. Or at least that’s how David Cronenberg’s caustic satire paints it.

The mass of personality defects on display throughout Maps To The Stars gives it the feel of slick soap opera amplified to sick extremities: its characters rejoice when the tragedy of others sparks a personal resurrection; pop pills like Polo mints; and treat their fans like parasitic carriers of disease. If this film so much as touches on reality, ol’ Dave has probably alienated the majority of his industry contacts. Ben Hopkins

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Only Lovers Left Alive

In filmic terms, the undead have had a pretty rough time of late, but all that changed earlier this year with cult director Jim Jarmusch’s return to the director’s chair, which granted vampire lore a much-needed shot in the vein. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are the fanged couple whose long-awaited reunion after decades spent living on opposite sides of the globe is scuppered by the appearance of an irksome sibling.

With its ensemble cast of loveable misfits and their endearingly downbeat perception of immortality, this visionary take on a stagnant genre proudly stands as one of 2014’s funniest offerings. Paul Weedon

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Edge Of Tomorrow

Do not immediately dismiss Edge Of Tomorrow upon hearing “time travel” and “Tom Cruise”. Its saving grace is positioning Cruise as a protagonist who isn’t immediately great at his mission, forcing him to do something that he hasn’t done very well in a long time: act. As an incompetent army PR drone forced to relive the day until he repels an alien invasion reveals a humorous and thespian side to Cruise that we haven’t seen since Rain Man.

A mix of Groundhog Day, Saving Private Ryan, Starship Troopers and The Matrix, Edge Of Tomorrow is an explosive thriller that earns a place in the top movies of 2014. Elijah Lawal

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The Equalizer

The Equalizer sees Denzel Washington in a Neeson-like game of “bad boy bust-‘em-up” that offers a generous mix of violence and justice. And violent justice. Think Taken only with Russian gangsters instead of Albanian, and a teenage prostitute that needs saving instead of a daughter.

Indeed, the only thing more prolific than the violence is the predictability and borderline self-righteousness of Washington’s Robert McCall as he rights other people's wrongs in the only way a retired Black Ops Commando knows how.

It's a route-one story that leaves little to the imagination, and while Denzel’s time-keeping during his enemy encounters is the equivalent of Sherlock’s inner monologue, it does add something more to the proceedings to break up the cracking of skulls.

But we didn't come here for imagination – we came here for justice. Ass-kicking, bone-crunching justice. And we get it in buckets, which is precisely why action junkies will love it. Gareth Kolze-Jones

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

My film of the year is Wes Anderson’s tale of a conniving concierge (Ralph Fiennes) and his protégé’s misadventures at the Grand Budapest Hotel. 

A film can be stylish, funny, or intelligent, but rarely all three, and that’s exactly the balance Anderson strikes. Indulging his love of farce and whimsy, serious takes on love and loss are snuck in amongst the ornate sets and twirly moustaches.

The most remarkable discovery is that of Fiennes as a hilarious comic lead. Much more than a Tommy Lee Jones-like deadpanner, he delivers a performance that is part David Niven, part Peter Sellers.

A director at his best, anyone who fails to see just why Anderson is so adored could do worse than check out this gem. James Luxford

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The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies

Redefining cinema and breaking new ground, Kiwi maverick Peter Jackson has spent the best part of 16 years of his life bringing Tolkien’s Middle-earth to the big screen – pioneering technological advances and big-scale storytelling in the process.

There’s more depth and entertainment in The Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings trilogies than you can shake a wizard’s staff at. Enlivened with myriad subplots, there are also grand-scale battles and thrilling action sequences – and, crucially, an examination of the human condition, as refracted through the saga’s assembly of made-up races.

Much as Tolkien presents a master class in how children’s literature should be written, Jackson shows how children’s films should be made – un-patronising and with humour, and a willingness to tackle adult themes of death, love, war, good and evil without flinching, all set against an engaging fantasy backdrop. Adults love it as much as – if not more than – children; but let it be decreed that this film and its predecessors should be shown to kids (and their parents) over Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games any day of the week. Kim Taylor-Foster

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