If you don’t read this now, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life. Yes, it’s that time of year when trees start to die, and my annual film roundup is published. I’m missing more films than a Penrose triangle has corners, so get your dagger ready (and stop thinking of Daniel Agger).
In 2011’s roundup I swam through cold weather to Bill Callahan’s favourite island. In 2012’s roundup Joaquin set the Instagram filter to “Kenicky”. In 2013’s roundup Carruth paddled with red herrings. This year? Well, like I always say: life’s not worth living, but let’s relive it anyway.
1. We Are the Best! (Lukas Moodysson) – 9.5/10
“The world is a morgue/ But you’re watching Bjorn Borg.”
2. Boyhood (Richard Linklater) – 9.5/10
The viewer comes to know Mason as a fully shaped human being, one whose adolescence isn’t a three-act structure. His surroundings – relationships, politics, geography – evolve at the same time, creating a wider environment where the understated details are what build the character. If any copycats are right now bullying a 5-year-old into signing a contract, don’t bother.
3. Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski) – 9.5/10
A nuanced coming-of-age story about the trivialities of identity and running from demons. It’s also a road trip through post-war Poland, both depleted and beautiful in its simplicity.
4. Inside Llewyn Davis (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen) – 9/10
The cat is one of the great animal performers of our time, and is bound to inspire a suffocating number of YouTube compilations, gifs and Buzzfeed features. The cat moves from home to home, like Llewyn, as a sort of Inside Mewing Davis.
5. Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier) – 9/10
Five thrusts of hilarity, three thrusts of depression, and a polyphony of ideas; it turns out Fibonacci numbers apply to cinema.
6. Her (Spike Jonze) – 9/10
An advanced iPhone app can satisfy that need for human comfort – not by replacing a companion, but by sharing the user’s depression.
7. The Double (Richard Ayoade) – 9/10
So idiosyncratic that J. Mascis as a janitor is one of the most normal characters.
8. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson) – 8.5/10
Anserson has “the Lubirsch touch”.
9. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer) – 8.5/10
A visual kick to the head, complete with an ambient score shoved aside by shrieking strings. ScarJo visits shopping centres and flirts with strangers, filmed by Glazer with hidden cameras. No one recognises her – it’s the black wig, or We Bought a Zoo really is that forgettable.
10. Night Will Fall (André Singer) – 8.5/10
This year’s Act of Killing. Apart from The Look of Silence, of course.
11. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen) – 8.5/10
The torture is physical and psychological: Solomon can read and write, but risks death if anyone knows; every part of existence, even pride, becomes a punishable offence.
12. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese) – 8.5/10
Leo sells you a pen. You may not like him. In fact, you almost certainly despise him. But he sells you that pen, sticks it into your eye, then reveals the ink is an amalgamation of cocaine and Quaaludes.
13. The Spectacular Now (James Pondsoldt) – 8/10
Everyone dances to an Ariel Pink song, except for Sutter and Aimee who watch from their seats. Sutter gushes that these magical minutes are the happiest he’ll ever be and it’s why he only cares for the present. It’s a flawed manifesto, but hard to disagree.
14. Gone Girl (David Fincher) – 8/10
A film journalist called Nick who doesn’t show much emotion and has trouble sleeping more than three hours a night.
15. The Way He Looks (Daniel Ribeiro) – 8/10
Love is blind.
16. The Past is a Grotesque Animal (Jason Miller) – 8/10
Of Montreal gets a doc.
17. Lilting (Hong Khaou) – 8/10
Hong Khaou poignantly explores a multitude of themes – grief, loneliness, regret – through a deceptively simple premise about language barriers.
18. Cheap Thrills (E.L. Katz) – 8/10
Ever had a competitive game of charades descend into a knife fight? Katz carves a spiralling tale that bleeds desperation and demented humour, while literally increasing the stakes at each step. Here’s the “American Dream” on a platter: collapsed, damaged, then shoved down a chute for a final humiliation.
19. Ilo Ilo (Antony Chen) – 8/10
The Singaporean 400 Blows.
20. The Guest (Adam Wingard) – 7.5/10
The word “ghost” is a mixture of “host” and “guest”. Just noticed.
21. The Wind Rises (Hayao Miyazaki) – 7.5/10
Cursed dreams waiting to be swallowed by the sky.
22. Two Days, One Night (Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne) – 7.5/10
If the Dardennes knocked on more doors, it’d have won the Palme d’Or.
23. Starred Up (David Mackenzie) – 7.5/10
It’s in prison where claustrophobia sends Jack O’Connell in circles, lost in the emptiness of a small room, with only a gleaming light shining through the window, that maybe, just maybe, one of those sun rays will have Wi-Fi.
24. Obvious Child (Gillian Robespierre) – 7.5/10
Not only has Jenny Slate urinated in every swimming pool she’s been in, she’s not afraid to let you know, and it’s oddly charming.
25. Goodbye to Language 3D (Jean-Luc Godard) – 7.5/10
See it in 3D, or not at all.
26. Joe (David Gordon Green) – 7.5/10
Green is not “most directors”. Firstly, he’s not a plural. Secondly, crestfallen men in a rural environment is the director’s speciality.
27. The Overnighters (Jesse Moss) – 7.5/10
Pastor Jay Reinke enforces a strict rule in his church: don’t spill coffee on surfaces. This request is to guests who sleep overnight in Concordia Lutheran Church, much to the community’s disapproval.
28. Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev) – 7.5/10
There are plenty of scenes that will be remembered for some time, as long as the vodka doesn’t cause a blackout.
29. ’71 (Yann Demange) – 7.1/10
What about “The Nisha Call”?
30. Tracks (John Curran) – 7/10
Tracks avoids being an expensive production of someone’s gap year stories because of the cinematography (no walls) and Wasikowski’s performance. The absence of motive will likely infuriate others, but I was bowled over by someone who abandons everything to wander and camp in her thoughts.
31. 22 Jump Street (Phil Lord, Chris Miller) – 7/10
Like the ugly duckling that turned out to be a swan, 22 Jump Street is a pleasant surprise that doesn’t resemble a duck.
32. Lucy (Luc Besson) – 7/10
Lucy reads minds, can’t be penetrated by bullets, and can use two laptops at the same time. She’s the ideal freelance journalist.
33. Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy) – 7/10
An accurate reflection of film journalism.
34. Crystal Fairy & the Magic Cactus and 2012 (Sebastián Silva) – 7/10
Michael Cera and his friends visit a beach to eat a cactus.
35. Exhibition (Joanna Hogg) – 7/10
Middle-class relationships are the same as architecture: tall glass windows, a spiral staircase, inert people. If walls could talk…
36. G.B.F. (Darren Stein) – 7/10
High school. It isn’t fun, especially when you’re unwillingly outed to classmates because of an iPhone app designed for same-sex dating. Wittier than said Mean Girls, and crescendos into an affecting drama that exceeds its initial gimmicky premise.
37. 20,000 Days on Earth (Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard) – 7/10
Brighton & the Bad Seeds.
38. Mistaken for Strangers (Tom Berninger) – 7/10
I used to think The National were for anyone too embarrassed to admit they like Bruce Springsteen. Mistaken for Strangers doesn’t change that, but it isn’t really about The National.
39. As I Lay Dying (James Franco) – 7/10
Faulkner. Franco. Faulkner. Franco. He splits the screen, he splits the audience; oh, he’s sliced my heart into tiny bits. Performance heart!
40. Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler) – 7/10
A touching eulogy for someone who didn’t deserve to die; a painful reminder that racism still exists and often requires a camera phone to pick up the evidence.
41. Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh) – 7/10
A portrait of the artist as an older version of Boyhood.
42. Palo Alto (Gia Coppola) – 7/10
A hazy dream sympathetic to the pains of being a teen.
43. How We Used to Live (Paul Kelly) – 7/10
London in pristine time.
44. Yurusarezaru Mono (Lee Sang-il) – 7/10
Japanese remake of Unforgiven.
45. The Congress (Ari Folman) – 6.5/10
The visual flair and incoherence of an acid trip. (I imagine.)
46. Adult World (Scott Coffey) – 6.5/10
John Cusack is a mean-spirited writer called Rat Billings. I think it’s a pseudonym.
47. Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiraudie) – 6.5/10
Kudos to the sound design – water hitting rocks, ejaculate splurting on skin – for building up the tension of a thriller at the beach; the naked bodies expose the nature of human urges..
48. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Marc Webb) – 6.5/10
Like a controversial Oxford comma, New York persistently wonders if it needs Spider-Man. Garfield has perfected the art of nimbly bleating one-liners at inappropriate moments, rather like a hairdresser who won’t stop talking. That should be the next villain.
49. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent) – 6.5/10
Kent reworks The Monster into a spooky exploration of things that go bump in the night. Except that “thing” is a mother’s lumbering guilt for resenting her annoying son.
50. What We Do in the Shadows (Jermaine Clement, Taika Waititi) – 6.5/10
Everyone in the conchord died.
51. Björk: Biophilia Love (Nick Fenton, Peter Strickland) – 6.5/10
All is full of Björk. It’s oh so Björk. Army of Björk. Venus as a Björk. Her Tree-melo of Life.
52. Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt) – 6/10
Incredibly tense until the dam explosion destroys the personal touches.
53. Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier) – 6/10
The momentous moment comes when Dwight shaves off his forested beard to reveal he is in fact Joe Lo Truglio.
54. Frank (Lenny Abrahamson) – 6/10
I’ve anticipated this for years, and it was just okay. Lesson learned.
55. All Cheerleaders Die (Lucky McKee, Chris Siverson) – 6/10
A kinda funny horror version of Mean Girls: “Somebody got fucked, somebody got killed, and I’m going to PE.”
56. Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Callée) – 6/10
A 7/10 film with 9/10 acting. Which makes it a 6/10 film, if you think about it.
57. Veronica Mars (Rob Thomas) – 6/10
Major and minor characters reappear, which is both comforting and frustrating considering how much it takes up of the running time. Seriously, it’s like the homecoming scene in Elizabethtown when figures of the past keep reappearing to say hello.
58. Plot for Peace (Carlos Agulló, Mandy Jacobson) – 6/10
Informative doc about the businessman who worked behind the scenes to release Mandela.
59. Muppets Most Wanted (James Bobin) – 6/10
Finally, the Muppets reference The Seventh Seal.
60. Mr. Leos caraX (Tessa Louise-Salomé) – 6/10
A decent DVD extra celebrating Leos Carax.
61. Paddington (Paul King) – 6/10
Exit stage left.
62. The Love Punch (Joel Hopkins) – 5.5/10
A gang of middleclass parents drug and tie up unsuspecting strangers, and then laugh it off in the car afterwards. Taken out of context, The Love Punch could be a Chris Morris sketch.
63. Godzilla (Gareth Edwards) – 5.5/10
Godzilla represents Godzilla itself, as the unsinkable behemoth franchise that comes and goes at will, forcing onlookers to pay attention.
64. Magic in the Moonlight (Woody Allen) – 5.5/10
The emergence of a new Woody Allen film is a reminder of mortality: a whole year has already passed, and chances are you’ve accomplished less than Allen himself.
65. Locke (Steven Knight) – 5.5/10
Nothing in the film – Tom Hardy driving a car – is remotely as interesting as this fact: Steven Knight co-created Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Well, Locke is sort of a “Phone a friend” situation.
66. A.C.O.D. (Stu Zicherman) – 5.5/10
The hook’s about a book, and overall it’s not worth a look.
67. Mystery Road (Ivan Sen) – 5.5/10
A dusty noir that’s neither Chinatown nor whatever high benchmark people always use for some reason. Still, it has the best shootout of recent years.
68. The Strange Colour of Your Lover’s Tears (Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani) – 5.5/10
I enjoy a giallo as much as the next emotionally dead film reviewer, but this is one for die-hards only. There’s lots of hard dying.
69. Delivery Man (Ken Scott) – 5.5/10
Vince Vaughn finally approaches someone resembling a human being.
70. Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman) – 5/10
Like watching someone play a computer game where Tom Cruise is the only available avatar.
71. Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn) – 5/10
A talking tree becomes a meme.
72. Half of a Yellow Sun (Biyi Bandele) – 5/10
Not as good as half of a canyon.
73. Magic Magic (Sebastián Silva) – 5/10
The curious title artificially inserts mystery into a drama that too replaces suspense with rote confusion.
74. Life of Crime (Daniel Schechter) – 5/10
Mild-mannered pawns in a bad Fargo.
75. The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum) – 5/10
The magnificent contours and mysterious blankness on the face of Benedict Cumberbatch aren’t really the key to unlocking the potential behind a biopic of Alan Turing.
76. Tom at the Farm (Xavier Dolan) – 4.5/10
If early Dolan is represented by The Knife’s “Heartbeats”, then Tom at the Farm is a passable b-side.
77. Benny & Jolene (Jamie Adams) – 4.5/10
When Craig Roberts’ character is replaced by a tree on an album character, it reflects on the screenplay’s flimsiness. I kinda liked it, though.
78. Noah (Darren Aronofsky) – 4.5/10
The film’s curveball comes from a staunch pro-vegan message running throughout, whereby The Creator kills off mankind to save CGI animals. And when that turns out to be as effective as the mooing cow in “Meat is Murder”, there’s the moral quandary: do you kill your two grandchildren because of the voices in your head?
79. Horns (Alexandra Aja) – 4.5/10
I can’t hate a film that’s so self-indulgent it has a 20-minute flashback after 15 minutes, but Horns wastes its intriguing premise – Radcliffe wakes up with a supernatural dysfunction and must solve a murder mystery to clear his name. I’m going to name all my children Ig and never allow them to read Harry Potter.
80. The Rover (David Michôd) – 4.5/10
The strangest of the Twilight films.
81. The Two Faces of January (Hossein Amíni) – 4.5/10
The less interesting Mr Ripley.
82. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch) – 4/10
I prefer Jarmusch when he’s dealing with outsiders upsetting the rhythm, and was pretty bored when Mia Wasikowska wasn’t disrupting the terrible vampire gags.
83. The Skeleton Twins (Craig Johnson) – 4/10
Swimming pools are a metaphor for drowning in real life worries; it’s an image that runs so dry, a goldfish ends up dying (via drying).
84. Bad Neighbours (Nicholas Stoller) – 4/10
The defining moment is when Rogen and Byrne fight over who gets to be Kevin James.
85. The Fault in Our Stars (Josh Boone) – 4/10
I wish it was better, but the world’s not a wish-giving factory.
86. Interstellar (Christopher Nolan) – 4/10
If I could go back in time and tell myself not to watch it, I would; but that’s just too stupid an idea to contemplate.
87. The Sacrament (Ti West) – 4/10
A found footage horror about VICE journalists, but has nothing on the time I accidentally spilled a glass of wine over a colleague.
88. They Came Together (David Wain) – 4/10
Not as funny as the poster.
89. T.S. Spivet (Jean-Pierre Jeunet) – 4/10
Helena Bonham Carter is an academic who doesn’t notice her son’s emotional anguish, possibly because her glasses aren’t 3D-compatible.
90. The Zero Theorem (Terry Gilliam) – 4/10
Christoph Waltz yells, “I don’t think this means anything!” Was he just reading a producer’s script note?
91. Fury (David Ayer) – 4/10
Logan Lerman stars in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, with a tank instead of Emma Watson.
92. The Canyons (Paul Schrader) – 4/10
Too many canyons. Should have stuck with half.
93. August: Osage County (John Wells) – 4/10
More a collection of show reels than a film.
94. Life After Beth (Jeff Baena) – 4/10
Baena supposedly conceived of the idea – comedy about a zombie girlfriend – long before Shaun of the Dead and its imitators made zom-coms that left audiences groaning like the undead. But that doesn’t explain why he went ahead with the idea, or why he didn’t use that time to carve out a more individual niche.
95. The Lego Movie (Phil Lord, Chris Miller) – 4/10
More of a toy advert than Transformers, and indistinguishable from bad children’s TV.
96. This is Where I Leave You (Shawn Levy) – 4/10
The worst episode of Arrested Development.
97. sx_tape (Bernard Rose) – 3.5/10
It’s a found footage horror, not a saxophone instruction manual.
98. St. Vincent (Theodore Melfi) – 3.5/10
It uses a Green Day version of “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”.
99. Grand Piano (Eugenio Mira) – 3.5/10
The piano key to unlocking a giallo thriller consists of an unplayable piece thrust upon Elijah Wood, who learns that a sniper will stick a bullet into his forehead if there’s a single wrong note. That perfectionism doesn’t apply to the script.
100. Hide Your Smiling Faces (Daniel Patrick Carbone) – 3.5/10
A really obvious George Washington rip-off, right down to the cinematography, storyline, and obligatory motorcycle ride.
101. A Long Way Down (Pascal Chaumeil) – 3.5/10
Title sounds a bit like IMDb.
102. American Hustle (David O. Russell) – 3.5/10
Any richness or texture is a con, right down to the year-long pretence that the film would be released as American Bullshit. Celebrities do funny things irrespective of the final product: Bale wears a wig, Lawrence does karaoke, Adams does an accent. I empathised with Louis CK as a cynical agent, staring at Bradley Cooper with hatred.
103. Begin Again (John Carney) – 3.5/10
Once and never again.
104. Sex Tape (Jake Kasdan) – 3.5/10
It’s not a tape; it’s an MP4.
105. The Other Woman (Nick Cassavetes) – 3.5/10
Closer to The Sweetest Thing than Bridesmaids.
106. Transcendence (Wally Pfister) – 3.5/10
Chris Nolan’s former DP uses a script made by computer software.
107. The Judge (David Dobkin) – 3.5/10
The least riveting murder trial imaginable. A plane film. Also, a plain film.
108. Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg) – 3/10
Didn’t find any of it funny, apart from the bad CGI.
109. Grace of Monaco (Olivier Dahan) – 3/10
The world needs Grace Kelly back on the big screen now,” insists Hitchcock. At the end is a final message on screen: “Grace Kelly never acted again.”
110. Last Vegas (Jon Turteltaub) – 3/10
The morbidly titled Last Vegas turns out to not be so morbid after all. Its central cast is big Hollywood A-listers playing old friends (old in both senses of the word) who take a trip to Vegas just because they can. With so little to lose, Last Vegas turns into a party where the viewer isn’t offered a drink. A better film would be the contract negotiations that explain how much the main four were paid.
111. Grudge Match (Peter Segal) – 3/10
Maybe you saw De Niro and Stallone limping from TV show to TV show, lifelessly promoting Grudge Match. The two former acting champs play two former boxing champs who plan a grudge match; before that, the pair lifelessly promoting the grudge match. Life imitates art – except co-written by the creator of Entourage.
112. Let’s Be Cops (Luke Greenfield) – 3/10
Not a laugh riot.
113. Aatisinki: The Story of Cowboys (Jessica Oreck) – 3/10
Like watching paint dry, except it’s reindeer instead of paint.
114. Gone Too Far! (Destiny Ekaragha) – 3/10
A BBC3 sitcom pilot about staying true to your root, let down by the kind of gags that killed BBC3. One example: “Where do you think Adam and Eve come from?” “Well, his name is Adam, so it must be Dover.”
115. 8 Minutes Idle (Mark Simon Hewis) – 3/10
Dan works in a call-centre, and, to make life worse, moves in overnight. He also sleeps with his boss and a number of co-workers. My guess it was written by an underpaid employee who, while on the phone, scribbled on his pad his fantasies about work colleagues and how to save rent. It’s a miracle that any studio funded this. They didn’t. It was Kickstarter.
116. Touchy Feely (Lynn Shelton) – 3/10
The only solution for these hollow figures is an artificial storyline, and Shelton really does keep it artificial: ecstasy pills to overcome personality woes. For all its attempts to be sensuous and emotionally raw, it’s completely numb.
117. Labor Day (Jason Reitman) – 3/10
A knowingly implausible hostage situation and a ridiculous take on the nuclear family. After 20 minutes, it’s apparent that the viewers are being held hostage by a misguided disaster. Kate Winslet survives another sinking ship. (Because of Titanic, you see…)
118. Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets (Florian Habicht) – 3/10
Pulp haven’t been away for long, and don’t have much to say.
119. Dinosaur 13 (Todd Douglas Miller) – 3/10
It’s already dead – who cares? No need to cry over spilt bones.
120. Fading Gigolo (John Turturro) – 3/10
No wonder he’s confident in being able to make a Lebowski spinoff.
121. The Machine (Caradog W. James) – 3/10
“A fact’s a fact.”
122. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (Felix Herngren) – 3/10
Bill Murray famously hit a low-point in his career with Larger than Life, a road-movie with an elephant as a co-star. What’s most damning about The 100-Year-Old Man… is how the elephant fits the tone, right down to a gag involving animal dung.
123. Say When (Lynn Shelton) – 2.5/10
It’s like Freaky Friday if the supernatural elements are replaced by poor decision making. How long can someone keep a lie? Two acts.
124. Hello Carter (Anthony Wilcox) – 2.5/10
The flimsy premise revolves around a string of incomprehensible decisions that are punctuated by philosophical questions like: “Why set the alarm clock?” Carter is annoyingly cartoonish and stands as if posing for a film poster. The blandness is encapsulated by the soundtrack’s use of the Jose Gonzales version of “Heartbeats”.
125. Men, Women & Children (Jason Reitman) – 2.5/10
The smug, zeitgeist-y premise proposes that the internet is the latest threat to the nuclear family, but actually it’ll cause more lasting damage via social media upon Reitman’s credibility. Panicked by modern trends, he’s left to exclaim: won’t somebody think of the children? The internet: enter a Wi-Fi password; see your life ruined.
126. Cuban Fury (James Griffiths) – 2.5/10
The title implies some form of energy or emotion. Well, the Fury bit. Instead, everyone sleepwalks (apart from when a stand-in does some semi-fancy leg kick).
127. Afternoon Delight (Jill Solloway) – 2.5/10
A middle-class woman turns a stripper into her surrogate daughter, but also strips everything else down to Sundance-by-numbers.
128. God Help the Girl (Stuart Murdoch) – 2/10
Considering Murdoch has been nursing the project for nearly a decade, he lets slip a few secrets, like his thoughts on the rest of Belle & Sebastian – “Ugh, but I don’t want anybody else in the band!” – and perhaps his own doubts on the film itself. By this, I’m referring to James making his only salient point: “There’s nothing more boring than other people’s dreams.”
129. My Stuff (Petri Luukkanen) – 1/10
It’s always a bad sign when a documentary reminds you of Garden State.
130. Chef (Jon Favreau) – 1/10
Large portions consist of the trio riding in the truck, pondering over the marketing value of social media. If you’re not a fan of cooking montages, then stay away.
There are a few 2015 releases that would have made this year’s top 10: Mommy, Whiplash, Casa grande, Phoenix, The Duke of Burgundy and Eden. But they must wait. Life can only get better. Take care.