As it’s customary at this time of year to knock out a ‘best of’ list, here are my top 10 films of 2014. Ok, that statement needs some qualifying. Firstly, here at The WildEye we’re not all that fussed about being the first to see a film; whether it’s six days old, six weeks old, six years old, heck, we don’t care. So these are films that aren’t necessarily made this year, but which I’ve seen for the first time – and given the ever growing pile of films I have to watch a lot of them have been around for some time now. Secondly, by ‘best’ I don’t mean that they’re the most technically accomplished or the most intelligent. Some of them have serious flaws but, for some reason, they just stick in the mind; that, for me, is the mark of a good film.
So, without further hesitation, here they are…
Compliance is a truly scary film about just how stupid people can be. It’s not a great film, in fact it’s rather dull in places and there’s little in the way of directorial vision. But the story – about how a prank caller pretending to be a cop encourages various people who work in a fast food store to systematically humiliate an unfortunate female employee – is all the more gripping for being true.
9. Lord of Tears
This is the first of three British horror films (or four if you think Byzantium is a horror film, which I don’t) to appear on the list. What can I say: I like horror films and I especially like British horror films. This was a no-budget 2013 production directed by debutant Lawrie Brewster and largely distributed over the internet. Considering it was made for almost nothing it’s an amazingly poetic and atmospheric achievement. The story: a man returns to the childhood home where he witnessed something bad happens and is haunted by the figure of a mysterious owlman. This is horror of the MR James school and makes up for its limited means by being darned creepy.
8. The Lookout
Dismissed by many critics as being decidedly inferior to Romanzo criminale, Michele Placido’s 2012 film Le guetteur is utterly bonkers but a lot of fun. Beginning as a standard policier with cop Daniel Auteuil hunting down bank-robbing sharpshooter Mathieu Kassovitz, it then completely changes tack and turns into a weird thriller about a serial killer. Granted, it’s not on the same level as Romanzo criminale, but Romanzo criminale was exceptionally good, this is just good. As a result it just about edges out The Great Beauty (which is a better film, but everybody goes on about it!)
7. Outpost 11
Another low budget British horror movie, this is a weird mashup of David Cronenberg style body horror, steampunk and surrealism. In an alternative 1950s three soldiers are stationed in an Arctic military base, charged with monitoring enemy transmissions and looking after a weird contraption known as the ‘Omega Machine’. Then they start having strange visions… Thoroughly imaginative and very well made considering that the budget wouldn’t have paid for Tom cruise’s packed lunch, this is exactly the kind of film that the British Film Institute should be funding.
6. The Liability
A 2012 British crime film that garnered unusually good reviews on its release, and it definitely deserves them. Jack O’Connell is a rubbish youth who is assigned by his dodgy stepfather (Peter Mullen) the task of accompanying an ageing assassin (Tim Roth) as he carries out one final murder. Gripping, occasionally funny and very well acted, this is up there with the likes of Sexy Beast and Gangster No. 1.
5. The Body
Just about edging out Jaime Balaguero’s Sleep Tight is this excellent Spanish thriller from 2012. A body goes missing from the morgue, and the investigating detective suspects that the dead woman might have been murdered by her philandering husband… but it’s all a lot more complicated than that. Twisty, turny and very, very dark, this proves that Spain is continuing to produce excellent films that don’t get the recognition they deserve.
Another British horror film from a debutant director, 2012s Citadel marked something of a calling card for Ciaran Foy. With a bigger budget than Lord of Tears or Outpost 11 it’s slicker and features better acting (from the likes of Aneurin Barnard and James Cosmo), but it’s also an intelligent entry in the hoodie horror strand of horror which has been bubbling away for the last few years (see also Community, Tower Block) which touches on bigger themes like grief, depression and claustrophobia. Barnard plays a widower getting over the murder of his wife by a bunch of feral teenagers who all live in an imposing tower block… but are they quite what they seem or is there something demonic about them? And what do they want with his baby daughter?
I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this film quite as much as I did, but Neil Jordan has a habit of coming out with smashing films when you least expect it. Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan play a pair of vampires who hide out in a seaside town in order to escape the attention of other vampires who want to destroy them (for assorted reasons). Despite the vampires this isn’t a horror move, no more so than Company of Wolves was despite ostensibly being about werewolves. It’s poetic, moving, technically top notch and well acted, with good supporting turns from Daniel Mays and Sam Riley. And it’s filmed in Hastings, which just suits the story perfectly.
2. Kings of Summer
This one has had a lot of plaudits elsewhere but still seems to have remained under the radar for most cinemagoers. It’s a shame as it’s the best coming of age film since Son of Rambow. Over the summer holidays two teenagers get so fed up with their parents they decide to build a house in the middle of the woods and live there. Naturally, it doesn’t work out quite as they planned. This is funny, lyrical and poignant, just what you want from a coming of age movie. (Mud was another good movie in the same vein I saw this year, but Kings of Summer was better)
1. The Hunt
Number one… this is undoubtedly the best film I saw last year, with only Kings of Summer really running it close. Made in 2012, it stars Mads Mikkelsen as a mild mannered teacher who is accused of paedophilia and as a result is prosecuted and ousted from the local community. It shares many of the good aspects of Thomas Vinterberg’s best known film, Festen, but having abandoned the constraints of dogma its more cinematic and less stagey. It’s not a happy-go-lucky film, but it’s one that you really shouldn’t miss.