For those who discuss film, it seems that conversations are slowly shifting from what you saw to what you will see, sometimes months or years down the line. The fanfare around unheard of comic-book titles being adapted and released when you’ll be very old, and hype of existing franchises getting a new title has become a bell jar, sucking the oxygen out of the discourse of the here and now. You’d be forgiven for thinking that 2014 was a mere palette cleanser for 2015. It’s a bloody shame as this was a very fine year indeed. There were surprises everywhere: Tom Cruise became likeable again, Scarlett Johansson became the queen and ruler of science fiction, a movie about some teenage punks from Sweden was the year’s most charming outing. We had incredible breakthroughs from Lupita Nyong’o, Jack O’Connell and Jeremy Saulnier. Blockbuster season was, for the most part, to a very high standard. And hey, any year that starts with new work from the Coens and Scorsese and ends with an ambitious (if inherently flawed) Christopher Nolan movie can’t be all that bad.
We here at State have all had a say on what we thought was best and the 20 movies below were the outcome. Some of your favourites might be here, lots probably are not. So why not tell us yours in the comment section below.
A lean, mean, gripping thriller, ’71 follows Gary, a young British soldier in Northern Ireland in the eponymous year. On his first day, Gary’s separated from his squad and, in the increasing chaos of the riots, is left behind and lost in this strange, disorienting and dangerous city. ’71 is politically aware and feels authentic, but it is not a political film. This is a thriller about a man desperate to survive the night. As such, it has more in common with Apocalypto or Behind Enemy Lines than it has with In the Name of the Father. Because this is a British indie film with no big stars, the stakes feel real – nobody seems safe or trustworthy on this brutal night. Jack O’Connell is superb in the lead – bringing conviction, determination and terror to his role. And there’s fine support from mean-faced Sean Harris and from the sympathetic Sam Reid. (Joe Griffin)
Patrick Townsend found favour with ’71 too. Read his review from October here.
19. 12 Years a Slave
12 Years a Slave is undoubtedly a landmark movie and in its depiction of life in servitude we are dropped unapologetically straight into the personal hell of Chiewetel Ejiofor’s Solomon Northup. McQueens visceral depiction of life in the slave trade of North America is traumatic for the audience, but understandably never shies away from telling the truth. Ejiofor’s performance earned him many plaudits, but the support cast of Lupito Nyongo and Michael Fassbender are phenomenal with Fassbender disappearing into the role of the sadastic slave owner Epps. Brilliantly acted and directed, 12 Years a Slave is one of the classic movies of our time. (Brian D’Arcy)
Read Hilary A White’s five-star review from January here.
“There are new kinds of nomads, not people who are at home everywhere, but who are at home nowhere. I was one of them,” Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) confides early on in John Curran’s sumptuously-painted portrait of a free-spirit wishing to dissolve into the heat haze. Desperate to break away, the young Queenslander set off in 1977 with four camels and a dog to walk across 1700 miles of parched Australian nothingness. Like his subject, Curran puts one foot in front of the other, tracking Davidson, her animals and the odd acquaintance, and lets the mesmeric scorch of the desert burn itself into your mind. Don’t be alarmed if a woozy, intangible quality hangs in the air as the credits roll. (Hilary A White)
Ronan Brennan’s view fell somewhere in the middle with this one. Read his review from April here.
17. Starred Up
Starred Up immerses you in a world of harrowing violence and explosive machismo as it tells the story of a volatile young offender (Jack O’Connell) who ends up in the same prison as his estranged father. The film exposes the brutalising effect of incarceration on inmates and staff and the methods that both groups employ to maintain their status within the system. O’Connell gives a nuanced portrait of thwarted potential as Eric, an emotionally stunted and rage-filled teen with a prodigious understanding of what it takes to survive inside.Eric’s violent clashes with guards and inmates inevitably puts him on a collision course with his father Neville (Ben Mendelsohn). Their attempts to develop their fractured relationship lies at the heart of the film and the scenes with the two leads crackle with Oedipal tension. Starred Up examines themes like rehabilitation and redemption and contains plenty of black humour but it is the heavyweight performances of the two leads that drive it forward. The film portrays prison as an unforgiving cauldron of tribal loyalties, twisted agendas and predatory instincts but the father/son relationship becomes a welcome beacon of humanity against this toxic backdrop. (Dermot Keys)
16. Edge of Tomorrow
While the trailers sold Edge of Tomorrow as a gloomy sci-fi take on Groundhog Day, where Tom Cruise’s soldier keeps reliving the same day while fighting off an alien invasion, the end product was something much smarter and surprising. While it’s got all the action and explody things you’d expect, it also has likable characters, dark humour and a sense of playfulness. It’s also the first movie to transplant videogame logic to a film in a natural way. You have respawning, training scenes, vehicle sections and even boss fights. And people who complain that Cruise never dies in a movie will have a lot of fun here, as he meets various grisly ends only to start all over again. Edge of Tomorrow is a nice remainder that even a mega budget blockbuster can still yield some surprises. (Paddy Cotter)
Anthony O’Keefe enjoyed this one as well, read his review from May here.
15. A Most Wanted Man
The spy novels of John Le Carre depict the job as a humdrum, hair-greying one, a world away from vodka martinis, saucy Russian agents and sports cars. Anton Corbijn’s nocturnal, contrast-heavy tones are the perfect canvas, then, upon which to render his tale of a chain-smoking Hamburg intelligence agent (Philip Seymour Hoffman) trying to join the terrorism dots after a mysterious stranger arrives on the dockside one night. Most of its 122 minutes quake with intensity, from the muted to the white hot, while Corbijn’s lenswork and a bright, understated screenplay by Andrew Bovell give everything a sense of smouldering desperation. What a way to remember Hoffman. (Hilary A White)
Patrick Townsend rated this highly too, check out his review from September here.
14. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
For added effect, please imagine the following conveyed through sign language by an impressively emotive CGI ape: The term ’thinking man’s blockbuster’ is almost as trite as its opposite number ‘leave your brain at the door’, but the term feels oddly appropriate for this story of a clan of super smart monkeys—excuse me, apes—battling for their place in the world. From the uneasy serenity of the dialogue-less opening twenty minutes to the sickeningly inevitable bloodshed of the film’s brutal man vs ape finale, Matt Reeves has crafted a captivating and human tragedy from the most unlikely of source material. Ceasar’s continuing odyssey transcends it clumsy prebootquel (sequel to a reboot that’s also kind of a prequel) roots to become some of the most thought-provoking science-fiction we’ve seen in years. You can stop imagining that ape now. (Jason Coburn)
Dave Higgins was all in on the chimp chaos too, his review from July is here.
13. Blue Ruin
Blue Ruin leaves you in little doubt about the real perils of seeking vengeance as it inverts the stylised cliches of your typical revenge thriller in favour of a sweaty, bloody retelling. Director Jeremy Saulnier helms one of this year’s most original films with this tale of a beach bum’s botched attempt to avenge his parents’ murder. Dwight (Macon Blair) is a welcome addition to cinema’s roster of iconic losers, a lost soul who is woefully unequipped to deal with the messy consequences of his actions. Saulnier has a rare ability to dwell in the moment and he builds the suspense by giving everything time to breathe at the start of the film. It doesn’t take long for this sense of immediacy to translate into an awkward, claustrophobic tension as he then raises the stakes. The film’s gorgeous visuals and Saulnier’s clever technical skills provide a striking counterbalance to the bloody events that unfold and add to the lingering sense of poignancy. Mixing elements of brooding arthouse beauty with grindhouse terror and Hitchcockian suspense, Blue Ruin is powerful story of a flawed man who sows the seeds of his own downfall. (Dermot Keys)
12. The Raid 2
The Raid did something spectacular for cinema, turning arthouse movie theatres into a version of the old ECW Arena in South Philadelphia,where every punch, kick and impalment on broken doors garnered jaw-dropping awe and the desire to start a “holy shit” chant. For its sequel, Gareth Evans pulled in all manor of nods to modern film makers — Lynchian red rooms and bad teeth, sprawling Scorsese crime narratives and Park Chan-wook’s penchant for claw hammers — to demolish the confines of the originals tower block and expand outward, taking all of Jakarta with him. Its set-pieces are magnificent and many, beginning with a bonkers mud-bath prison riot and climaxing in a viscera soaked Streets of Rage homage. This was a year we went to other dimensions, loved a humanoid tree and realised Channing Tatum was actually a good actor, but nothing sparked the level of shock and incredulity of The Raid 2. (Dave Higgins)
Paddy Cotter loved this one too. Check his review from April here.
11. The Guest
The darkly-comic sleeper hit The Guest was one of this year’s great little surprises. A love letter to the 1980s thriller – its director describes it as a cross between Halloween and The Terminator – The Guest centres on a mysterious and charismatic ex-soldier, David, visiting the grieving family of a fallen comrade and being drawn into their lives as a surrogate brother and son. So far, so heart-warming… until he begins coolly and calmly fighting the family’s personal battles with slick ultra-violence and it becomes clear there’s more to David than meets the eye. The Guest offers a slow-burning twist on the home invasion genre, its retro soundtrack as gloriously-paced as its big set-pieces, which include a diner explosion, a clothes-line shootout, and the film’s exhilarating denouement in a Halloween haunted house. Topped off by a star-making central performance from Dan Stevens, clearly destined for great things, it’s probably the most fun I had in a cinema this year. (Stacy Grouden)