It’s safe to come out, 2014’s nearly over. The year that began with Robert Redford mute and alone on the open sea in All is Lost ended with the ocean crushing a few legions of idolatrous, slave driving Egyptians in Ridley Scott’s Exodus – a fratricidal malice-fest that weirdly made him think of his late brother Tony, to whom the film was dedicated. In between the multiplex had a curious year, with the biggest hit at the box office, at time of writing, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy – an adventure staring a raccoon and a tree. What of the rest you ask? Did our weekly trip to the cinema give us anything to live for this year? As ever the answer was largely no, occasionally yes and sometimes ‘the jury’s out’ – except in the case of Colin Firth bore-a-thon Devil’s Knot and Robert Downey Jr melodramedy, The Judge, in which the answer was guilty.
Those who resisted the allure of the Internet and braved the elements to take in a movie, stuck to a seat stained with coke, crushed popcorn kernals and a teenager’s semen, were treated to the usual embarrassment of fool’s gold that is Hollywood product. If you were seeking laughs you were fucked, as the likes of Sex Tape, Blended and Before I Go to Sleep proved. Yes, even the latter literary adaptation – a film so moribund that even Colin Firth’s flip from wet and doting husband to illogical, territorial, murderous nut job, couldn’t pull it out of the fire.
The closest the dream factory came to providing the Holy Grail – that is the big show aimed at an adult audience, was Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar; a film that only fell short of the mark by having a circular and therefore senseless plot – the dreaded ontological paradox that’s been ruining Doctor Who for years. There were other quasi-cerebral blockbusters, notably the Cruiser’s Edge of Tomorrow and Matt Reeve’s chunkily titled Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Dawn didn’t make the final cut), but for the most part audiences were punished for loving cinema with high concept, expensive rectum stuffing like Brett Ratner’s Hercules and the horrific, inevitable Transformers: Age of Extinction. Alleged sex attacker Bryan Singer had an X-Men movie to add to the mix, but Days of Future Past, though entertaining, only seemed to exist to mock those who’d just bought the preceding five movies in a box set, only to see the continuity they established wiped out. A version of Godzilla was made that didn’t feel like an insult to the human condition. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 also happened.
If you weren’t interested in mass audience experiences masquerading as intimate and human stories, there were intimate and human stories masquerading as mass entertainment to be enjoyed. The Babadook was one of strongest horror movies of the decade, grounded in the heartbreaking relationship between a bereaved mother and her wayward offspring. Tom Hardy provided two excellent character studies in the shape of Locke and The Drop, Maps to the Stars was a Hollywood horror show that revealed why your life of anonymity and poor pay isn’t so bad, Mike from Neighbours was beautifully broken in The Rover, and Brendan Gleeson was the year’s best priest in Calvary.
Boyhood may have been a great movie experiment that failed once its child stars, filmed over 12 years, grew up and became blanks, but at least Richard Linklater was trying to do something different. 2014 was a year in which British cinema largely played it safe. ’71 was an excellent thriller, but still the kind of gritty social drama that’s been commissioned on TV for years, headlining a series of largely anonymous offerings. The exceptions were The Riot Club, a blunt force slice of political satire aimed at the Tory government, and Under the Skin – a dazzling bit of anthropological sci-fi that fully utilized its cinematic toolkit to distancing and unsettling effect. More like this, you felt, might even justify the tag “industry” being added to the big screen arm of the TV industry that currently passes for a British system.
So that was 2014 really. Not a golden year or likely to make the shortlist for the ages, but good enough to keep most of us awake and thankful not to be trapped outside in the wind and rain. On the next page is a quick rundown of those movies which made an impression, either for being interesting or ball crushingly dreadful.Pages: 1 2 3