The Ford Five: Best Films of 2014 (So Far)
We’re past the halfway point of the year now, so it only seems fitting to rank my favourite films of the year so far. Some of the choices are obvious, perhaps, but I hope at least one of the films is one you hadn’t considered and will seek out. 2014 has given us some excellent films so far, and these are the five that stood out to me:
Dallas Buyers Club
The deserving winner of both Best Supporting and Best Actor at the Academy Awards, Dallas Buyers Club is a film that’s quality rests almost entirely on the skills of leading men Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. The true story of Ron Woodroof, a homophobic rodeo cowboy diagnosed with AIDS who smuggled pharmaceutical drugs into the country to treat patients, Dallas Buyers Club is a fairly conventional biopic of a bigot whose life view is changed, and could quite easily have been generic, passable Oscar bait. However, the impeccable McConaughey (barely recognisable in his skeletal frame) and the wonderfully sympathetic Leto lend the film real gravitas and depth, and it is their central relationship that carries the film and made it deserving of its many Oscar nominations, as well as its wins.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Though most of his filmography is beautifully shot, acted and directed, as well as critically lauded, Wes Anderson has had his fair share of detractors, often with a fair point. Occasionally, style wins out over substance, characters are emotional blanks and Anderson struggles to rein in his ideas to a reasonable length. However, after 2012’s much loved Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson proves why his cult of fans continue to adore him with one of his greatest efforts, The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Featuring perhaps the most impressive ensemble cast of all time, …Budapest Hotel features gorgeous costume, set design and cinematography, a wide range of colourful characters and some of the greatest living actors giving terrific performances (especially Ralph Fiennes giving a rare comedy performance as the hotel concierge and F. Murray Abraham as the main ‘storyteller’ of the film); the trademarks of Anderson’s films. However, …Budapest Hotel features one other element many feel is missing from Anderson’s filmography: A heart. The central friendship between Fiennes and his lobby boy is wonderfully judged and the film’s success is at least partly due to their wonderful on-screen chemistry.
One of the most demented, out there comedies of recent times, Lenny Abrahamson continues his unspoiled streak of great films (Adam and Paul, What Richard Did) with Frank, a film that hits you like a freight train, with its combination of hilarious dialogue, catchy songs and weirdly emotional twists.
Michael Fassbender, perhaps the best actor of his generation, gives one of the most fearless performances by any major star in years, wearing a giant paper mache head for 90% of the film and showing a full range from whacky comedy to overwhelming sadness. The rest of the cast are game, from the likeable Domnhall Gleeson to the acid tongued Maggie Gyllenhaal, but beyond acting, Frank is truly successful as a music film.
The songs themselves are great, serving as both amusing parodies and homages to outsider artists but also working as just plain good songs, and the film’s depiction of the songwriting process (Gleeson’s frustrations at how his dull life has left him creatively bereft, Frank insisting on spending months locked away in a shack searching for the perfect sound) is one of the most realistic ever.
Not for everyone, Frank is a strange, chaotic, bizarre black comedy that is just as laugh out loud funny as it is utterly emotional, in so many surprising ways. If more people had seen Frank on release, it could have been massive; as it is, it’s destined to be a cult classic and is perhaps the most fun I had at the cinema this year.
12 Years A Slave
Perhaps an obvious choice, given its bucket-load of awards, widespread critical acclaim and phenomenal box office returns, but 12 Years A Slave is deserving of all the praise it gets. The true tale of Solomon Northup, a free man captured and sold into slavery, Steve McQueen’s bold, shocking film builds on the promise of the difficult but well-made Hunger and the terrific Shame and shows itself as by far his best film yet. The direction isn’t at all showy, with long slow shots and still cameras, but it doesn’t need to be; McQueen knows that all he needs to do is focus on his actors and the film will be a success.
In the Northup role, Chiwetel Eijiofor (who I’ve always felt was underrated since his sublime turn in Kinky Boots) takes on an immensely difficult, overwhelmingly emotional role and knocks it out the park. He may have lost the all-important Oscar to McConaughey, but it doesn’t matter; every single person who has seen the film knows he gives a simply classic performance, sure to be remembered in the long list of perfect screen performances.
It would be easy to say Eijiofor carries 12 years A Slave, were it not for the incredible supporting cast who aid him along the way. In his second appearance on this list, Michael Fassbender gives a stunningly scary, violent portrayal of a slave owner (he was deservedly Oscar nominated), whilst newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, amazingly winning the Oscar in her first ever screen performance is devastating, having to perform some of the toughest, most realistic acts of brutality perhaps ever depicted.
There are other brilliant performances, but ultimately, this is about Steve McQueen, who proved himself as worthy of all the hype, and made a worthy Oscar winner. Perhaps the best film of the year, but not my favourite…
Brendan Gleeson has long been one of my favourite actors, giving standout performances in In Bruges and The Guard, as well as mainstream flicks like the Harry Potter series. In 2014’s Calvary, John Michael McDonagh’s follow up to The Guard, Gleeson managed to outdo all previous work and give the performance of a life time. He is so good that if he doesn’t get a BAFTA nomination (and, hopefully, a BIFA win), I will give up all hope for British cinema.
A dark, disturbing and very, very black comedy about a priest who is told in the confession booth he has seven days to live, Calvary is an exquisite film. McDonagh, much like his playwright and filmmaker brother Martin, has a way with words rarely seen in films these days, and just about every character in the film gets a speech which should earn the film a Best Original Screenplay nomination (it’s probably too small and Irish for the Oscars).
Of course, even a bad film can have some good lines, but McDonagh has an impeccable cast to work with. Aside from Gleeson, there’s Chris O’ Dowd, giving a performance that hits several different notes, sometimes at the same time; Aiden Gillen (Game of Thrones’ Littlefinger), who is just as detestable as his …Thrones character as a vicious atheist doctor; and Dylan Moran as a pathetic drunkard not too dissimilar from his most enduring role in Black Books.
The mystery angle of Calvary is a mystery that works in that just about every character could conceivably be the culprit and everyone has something against the church. When the culprit is revealed, it’s a masterpiece of a scene, possibly my favourite of the year.
Much like Frank, Calvary won’t be to all tastes; it’s at times overwhelmingly bleak and cruel to Gleeson’s character, and its brand of comedy is so dark it’s barely visible. Still, if you liked In Bruges (which Calvary is similar to in tone), you owe it to yourself to watch Calvary, a stunning melancholic treat, and my favourite film of 2014 so far.
By Harry Ford
- Posted in: End of Year Review ♦ The Ford Five
- Tagged: 12 years a slave, adrien brody, aiden gillen, benedict cumberbatch, best actor, best films, best films of 2014, best picture, best supporting actor, best supporting actress, black comedy, brad pitt, brendan gleeson, brilliant, calvary, chiwetel eijiofor, chris o dowd, comedy, dallas buyers club, domnhall gleeson, drama, dylan moran, frank, game of thrones, hunger, in bruges, Irish, jared leto, john michael mcdonagh, jude law, lenny abrahamson, lupita nyong'o, maggie gyllenhaal, matthew mcConaughey, michael fassbender, moonrise kingdom, oscars, outstanding, paul dano, paul giamatti, ralph fiennes, sarah paulson, shame, steve mcqueen, the grand budapest hotel, the guard, tilda swinton, tom wilkinson, wes anderson, willem dafoe