2014: The Top 20. 10–6

Here’s the next five in my countdown of the top 20 films of the year.

#10. The Lego Movie

Phil Lord and Chris Miller managed to churn out two stellar films in one year. The sceptical-minded questioned the fact that the Lego Movie could end up being a big advertisement for a toy company. More so, perhaps, than the Transformers franchise.

So when Lord and Miller came on board it was with far more confidence that this film was anticipated. And with justification, for it is an inventive, thrilling, hilarious, clever film that takes the idea of Lego and uses it to create a film about identity, individuality, fitting in, society, and throwing in a fantastic father-son relationship to boot.

The Lego pieces adhere to the how Lego pieces can move, and all the pieces in the film actually exist. Should one want to, with enough time, space, and Lego, one could recreate the entire film…

The story is relatively simple, but its setting and manner are what make the film far, far more than a big toy advert. In fact, the word Lego is never uttered once in the film. Batman nearly steals the entire show, and the news that he will have his own spin-off film, encompassing every era of Batman is mouthwateringly tantalising.

Would that every children’s film could be this, well, awesome.

#09. Nightcrawler

Watched on a day when I saw four films at the cinema (hardcore) Nightcrawler and The Babadook both stood out in different ways. But while The Babadook left me immediately reacting, Nightcrawler delved under my skin and stayed with me for days, invading my subconscious like Gyllenhaal’s character, Lou Bloom.

There is a culture around middle of the night accidents where so-called nightcrawlers monitor police radios and get to the scene of the accident early to film it and sell to the early morning news channels. Bloom is a drifter, jobless and getting by as a petty thief, stealing metal, when he comes across an accident by, well, accident, and sees other nightcrawlers at work. Hooked by the macabre this strange, unnerving man becomes hooked. His unnatural confidence and perverse manner set one on edge, and there is an unsettled feeling that pervades the entire film.

It is however the show stealing home entry scene that has one holding one’s breath for about ten minutes. Tense, gripping, vital. This is thriller cinema at its best. Bloom is the personification of an antihero. He’s not particularly likeable, his actions always morally questionable and often reprehensible, and yet Gyllenhaal gives him a charm he ought not to have. That magnetism is the paradox that makes this film work so well. This is Gyllenhaal’s showcase.

#08. Leviathan

I haven’t been to see half as much world cinema as I would have liked to this year, but on particular occasion I was exceptionally blown away. Leviathan is by director Andrey Zvagintsev, a man whose work I have seen none of but whose films I shall seek out now. The comparisons to Tarkovsky, while obvious — they are both Russian — are deserved, with his stark, bleak vision.

Leviathan tells the story of a simple man, going up against a corrupt town council to keep his house and tract of land. Repeatedly, and with increasing vigour, he is beaten down and stamped on. His seems a hopeless venture, but with spirit(s) he maintains his battle.

This is a particularly Russian film, set in a cold northerly town where there is little colour, and no hope. But there is beauty in the telling of the tale, and that is Zvagintsev’s skill.

#07. Edge of Tomorrow

I’m choosing to ignore the ridiculous renaming of the already changed title from the original All You Need Is Kill novel title. It’s the only negative in a film that was a huge surprise at the cinema.

Tom Cruise is a PR suit in the armed forces, helping give a positive sheen to an increasingly difficult fight against aliens in the near future. When he is drafted as a Private and literally dropped into Ground Zero, he finds himself ill equipped to defend himself. When he is killed on the first day in battle he wakes up that same morning, repeating the day over, and over.

It was described on release as Groundhog Day meets Aliens meets Halo, and that’s a fair summation. But it’s more than just a composite of other films, because Cruise — not someone I’m known for having a huge amount of time for — is excellent in his increasingly competent role. And Blunt sparks off him with great chemistry. Theirs is the central relationship and they carry the film through its repeating twists and turns. It’s a solid premise and it’s edited superbly, revealing plot details as Cruise learns them himself.

This is much more than a solid summer actioner. It’s a gripping, fine entry into the scifi action genre. Hopefully one that will stand alone and not spawn the usual ever decreasing sequels that may harm a superb film.

#06. Paddington

Oh, Paddington. You utterly joyous, great big hug of a film. What an absolute surprise this film was. I went in having heard nothing much other than the trailer and some positive reviews. I wasn’t overly familiar with the source material from my own childhood — if I had read them, it wasn’t something that I particularly remembered in the same way as I do, say, Winnie the Pooh.

But Paddington manages to be simultaneously exquisitely traditional, and completely modern. It depicts an England that is at once very familiar and real and definitively now, and yet also timeless.

In presenting a talking bear as acceptable and believable we are introduced to Paddington’s aunt and uncle, talk English by an explorer, and introduced to various Western concepts, such as marmalade. From there we meet Paddington himself as he has to escape the destruction of his homeland, and journey to the only place he knows. The place he has learned so much about from his aunt and uncle. London.

There he meets the Browns — Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins. They are a somewhat archetypal family, but charming with it. With them Paddington navigates the modern world, and all its pitfalls and pleasures, while introducing the Browns, dysfunctional as they have become, to a simpler more appreciative world view.

Nicole Kidman’s nemesis is perhaps a somewhat two-dimensional stock villain, but it allows the story to progress and develop. And in so doing we are treated to some genuinely brilliant cinematic flourishes. This is no ordinary family film. Paddington is no ordinary bear. In one superb sequence, Paddington and the Browns are watching the video that we see at the start of the film, of the explorer meeting Paddington’s aunt and uncle. Paddington, seeing his home once more, as well as a younger vision of his relatives, moves, his eyes wide, towards the screen onto which the film is being projected. In a glorious moment he moves through the screen and into the film, switching from the black and white image to an almost technicolour brilliance, and we see Paddington’s wonder made manifest on the screen.

This is just one moment of utter joy in the film, but it is this moment where I knew that this was something special, something that transcended your average blockbuster, and became a film that will last, and grow, and hang huge in our hearts. It is a film which will bear fruit in time. Big, juicy oranges, ripe for marmalade.

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