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The 25 Best Films of 2014

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2014 served us up a varied and interesting cinematic array of delights.

The early part of the year was full of the Oscar hopefuls, including 12 Years A Slave and Dallas Buyers Club, where the summer was memorable thanks to a number of smaller films rather than big-budget releases such as Night Moves and Two Days, One Night.

Here is our list of the 25 best films that 2014 has seen.

 25. Violette

An intriguing, romantic and wonderfully watchable drama about Violette Luduc, a writer who becomes a friend of Simone de Beauvoir during a period of major literary and social development in France. The film catalogues their friendship across the years, including times both bitter and euphoric. Director Martin Provost beautifully captures the sense of fulfilment and achievement of expression writers feel when they sit at their desks and put words on the page. Words: Barnaby Walter.

 24. Two Days, One Night

The Dardenne Brothers have always been filmmakers who like to zoom in on moments in people’s lives that might usually be just segments within a larger plot. This film does just that, by focusing on a 48 hour period where a woman (Marion Cotillard, as excellent as ever) tries to convince her colleagues to sacrifice their bonuses in order to stop her losing her job. Involving and impressive. Words: BW.

 23. '71 

This film throws the viewer into the harrowing, apocalyptic carnage of the broken and bloody conflicts in 1971 Belfast. This is like a trip into hell, but a hell that doesn't feel too dissimilar from the world we live in today. This is, in the true sense of the word (rather than the genre sense) a horror movie. Few directorial debuts have this much power and verve behind them. And with each film he makes O'Connell proves himself to be one of the brightest and most talented British actors working in cinema today. Words: BW.

 22. Under the Skin

The highlights of this film are exceptional, including a number of wonderfully unnerving scenes and many indelible images. Mica Levi’s score is outstanding, her screeching strings and steady, pulsing drums not simply underlining but compounding the slow horror of the piece.Words: Andrew Southcott. Read our full review here.

21. 12 Years A Slave 

12 Years a Slave is every bit as devastatingly beautiful as critics and fans predicted. The film tells the unbearably true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man born in New York state who, after being kidnapped in Washington D.C. in 1841, is sold into slavery to toil amongst sugar plantations, cotton fields and other forms of merciless labour. Based on Northup’s 1853 memoirs of the same name, McQueen has created something truly exceptional. Not only does the film serve as a relentless and brutally honest piece of cinema, but also as an important and thought-provoking social document. Words: Chris Pate.

 20. The Railway Man

Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman recently starred together in disappointing thriller Before I Go to Sleep, but this year also saw them come together in a very different feature: The Railway Man. It was an adaptation of Eric Lomax’s memoir of the same name. It tells the story of a young man (played in the film superbly by Jeremy Irvine) who was tortured during the Second World War whilst forced to work on the Thai-Burma Railway. As an older man (played by Colin Firth) he meets a woman (Nicole Kidman) and falls in love and has to face the demons of his past. An astonishing story, beautifully made. Words: BW.

 19. The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street flirted with both the blockbuster and cinephile audience, whilst managing to convey the delightfully outrageous biography without being moralistic. We shall just hope that its director, aged 71, will refrain from the near retirement he announced and gives us more of this fun than the mere two films he declared he had left to do. Words: Virginie Robe.

 18. Inside Llewyn Davis

I’ve always preferred small-scale Coen Brothers works rather than the big-scale crime epics or westerns. I like the intimacy they give us with a collection of characters that may look ordinary at first glance but prove themselves to be extraordinary (sometimes extraordinary in their ordinariness) over the course or the film. Inside Llewyn Davis is small-scale Coens, focused on character rather than landscapes and melancholy comedy rather than tension. Words: BW.

 17. Her

Her is an unconventional romance and a comment on how technology-oriented our lives have become and may become in the future. Beautifully acted by Joaquin Phoenix, with a sublime voice performance from Scarlett Johansson, this was one of the most original and likable films of the year. And the art design and cinematography, with all its bright, glowing colours, is utterly beautiful. Words: BW.

 16. The Lego Movie

The cartoon that surprised everyone by getting four and five star reviews from aging cynical critics, this was a festival of pop-culture references and celebrity voice cameos, evoking everything from classic films to graphic novels. It may be a bit self-consciously impressed with itself for everyone’s tastes but managed to become a much-loved big hit. Words: BW.

 15. Nymphomaniac: Part 1

Controversial director Lars von Trier has been longing to make an erotic film for years. Having slowly gained the reputation of an auteur terrible, his Nazi comment at the Cannes Festival in 2011 finalised his international image of a bad boy, and somehow opened the door to this ultimate provocation. As most of von Trier's films, Nymphomaniac is hard to swallow and conventional reactions are either to hate it or love it. Words: VR. Read our full review here. 

14. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Anderson has said that although the film is a comedy, he intended it to be about barbarism as a cloud hangs over Europe, and indeed as mentioned before the archaic nobility with which Gustave and Zero, who celebrate the finer things in life such as romantic poetry, wine and a cologne called L’Air de Panache, are caught in a dialectic struggle with this barbarism. This film will age well and more viewers will appreciate it as a moving, nostalgic story that ponders the irresistible progression of time. Words: Edward Till. 

13. Labor Day

Jason Reitman, who directed Juno, Up in the Air and more recently Men, Women & Children, has confessed that this picture is very different from any film he’s done before, but the novel upon which it is adapted (by Joyce Maynard) captured his attention. His direction is sublime and he works well with cinematographer and long-time collaborator Eric Steelberg. Together they make sundrenched 1980s New England look gorgeous. It’s a shame the film has had something of negative reaction from critics across the world. I thought it was wonderful. There have been many great films released this year, but Labor Day really is something special. It’s as powerful as a good novel and emotionally intuitive in ways many films can only hope to be. Words: BW.

12. Starred Up

Jack O’Connell has had an amazing year, from big budget Hollywood blockbusters such as 300: Rise of an Empire and Unbroken, to European films such as ’71 and Starred Up. The latter is a searing prison drama or brutal, bloody power, with a powerhouse performance from O’Connell. And supporting actors Ben Mendelsohn and Rupert Friend are also excellent. This is raw, uncompromising filmmaking from prolific British director David McKenzie. Words: BW. 

11. Night Moves

Director Kelly Reichardt, the promising filmmaker responsible for Meek's Cuttoff, has crafter a superb thriller from an interesting premise. She has taken three Hollywood actors - Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard - and thrown them into a deliberately slow-paced, intricately detailed drama that builds into one of the most effective thrillers in recent years. Words: BW. Read our full review here. 

10. Tom at the Farm

Wow. This is a really fascinating piece of work. Released in only a handful of cinemas in the spring, I desperately hope it will find a larger audience on Blu-ray, DVD and VoD. It deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible. Directed by the prolific Montreal filmmaker Xavier Dolan (director of five films, only just 25 years old), this is a swirling, hypnotic, enveloping piece of work, one that is very hard to describe through words. It’s the type of film you experience rather than simply watch. Words: BW. Read our full review here.

9. Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey deservedly won an Oscar for his portrayal of a man who broke down the barriers between people with AIDS and the medication they needed to survive. The performance is raw, soul searching and memorable, though perhaps the real highlight is Jared Leto (also an Oscar winner) for his role as a transvestite AIDS sufferer. Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée, who brought us The Young Victoria, directs with skill and honesty and lets the performances speak for themselves. Words: BW.   

8. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Ground-breaking performance-capture techniques aside, there is so much more to this blockbuster than its stunning visual delights. Dawn combines thrilling action with a multi-layered plot that asks deep questions about human nature and man’s place in nature. Words: Chris Marks.

7. Lilting

Lilting reaches out to the audience through its relatable themes of grief, love and alienation and finds common ground with us. It is a beautifully subtle portrait of the emotional, cultural and physical voids that bloom when faced with loss. And without a doubt, the beating heart of the film is Ben Wishaw, who delivers an exceptional performance. Words: Chris Pate.

6.  Lucy

Audacious, daring, bizarre, over-the-top and furiously entertaining, Luc Besson gets back to his weird best. Scarlett Johansson channels her electric energy into her role as a reluctant drug courier who gets thrown into an extraordinary situation. Directed with a vibrant and buoyant sense of fun, Lucy is an unforgettable ride. Words: BW. 

5. The Guest

Dan Stevens is a million miles away from Downton Abbey with this atmospheric thriller. It’s Drive meets Stoker via The Exorcist, with Stevens playing a mysterious young man who visits the house of his alleged friend from the army. He soon becomes part of the family and then the fun and games really begin. Words: BW. 

4. Mr Turner

Timothy Spall sinks into the role of the celebrated artist with his usual natural ease. Mike Leigh directs the drama with unhurried enthusiasm, letting moments of human drama light up the screen. As a result, we live Turner’s later life with him and get a sense of the genius that has had such a profound effect on the art world since. Words: BW.

3. Interstellar

Nolan as for a long time been making large-scale works of breathtaking scope, and at last he has made one that works more or less perfectly. Whereas some filmmakers make pictures that feel like comfortable village halls, Nolan has strived to build Colosseums; huge, thundering behemoths of art and imagination. With Interstellar, he has succeeded. Words: BW. Read our full review here.

2. The Imitation Game

The ghost of many ruined lives haunts this story, a story that is essentially about saving human life and trying to make the world a better place. The story of Alan Turing is an extraordinary one and it has thankfully been brought to life with the care and respect he deserves. Cumberbatch’s performance is his most effective to date. He truly becomes Turing, at least in the dramatic sense, though how accurate his portrayal is isn’t something I can attest to since there are no recordings or videos of Turing available. In the context of this film, however, his performance is nothing short of mesmerising. Words: BW. Read our full review here.

1. Gone Girl 

Gone Girl is a magnificently compelling (though, crucially, patient and thoughtful) adult cocktail of sex, cruelty and deception. Although the previous rumours about the ending being changed have turned out to be nonsense, the way the film draws to a close works brilliantly onscreen. We have here a rare situation where the film is better than the work upon which it was based. This is the film of the year. Read our full review here.

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