The turn of the year brings with it the irresistible urge to make a list and check it twice. International box-office takings might be down but the quality and breadth of films available to Irish cinemagoers is as strong and vibrant as ever. I’ve catalogued my 13 favourites here but might easily have included 13 more. The blockbusters might not have a great summer but it’s been a vintage for cinema.
Before we get to the selection, first an apology: I haven't been updating this blog as regularly as before, or as regularly as I should. I can't say that will change in the year to come, as the pressures on my time aren't likely to change. If you want more posts, please say so in the comments.
Now, my film of the year is Ida, the story of a young novice nun who discovers a dark family secret in an austere, almost abandoned 1960s Poland. A haunting meditation on identity, history and survival, crafted with deceptive simplicity and photographed in luminous black and white, Pawel Pawlikowski’s film is a masterwork. The rest of the best, in no particular order:
Unsettling, erotic and dangerously hypnotic, British director Jonathan Glazer’s audacious sci-fi tells the sideways story of an alien, transported to contemporary Glasgow, who preys on the unwitting human inhabitants.
Christopher Nolan’s madly-ambitious sci-fi space opera divided audiences right down the middle but seeing it in a 70mm projection on the IMAX screen was 2014s best argument for watching films on the big screen, with big sound, in the big dark.
Even from under a papier-mâché head, Michael Fassbender is brilliant in Lenny Abrahamson’s funny/sad story of a talentless keyboard player (Domhnall Gleeson) joining an edgy art-school band to make an album in the Wicklow mountains.
12 Years A Slave
Raw and mad, Fassbender again astonished in Steve McQueen’s heartbreaking, Best Film Oscar-winner about American slavery, playing a demented plantation owner refusing to release Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Solomon Northup, a free man stolen into bondage.
The Lego Movie
It might have been just another kid’s toy tie-in cash-cow but Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s visually stunning, funny and subversive Lego Movie turned out to be the year’s best animation. A stirring tribute to the power of the imagination.
Ten years on from his debut The Return, Andrey Zvyagintsev continues his forensic dissection of contemporary Russian life with this angry story of a car mechanic fighting a corrupt local mayor to keep ownership of his family’s land.
The Wolf of Wall Street
His best film in years, Martin Scorsese takes a pop at 90s excesses and their malignant after-effects in this blisteringly paced and packed romp with Leonardo DiCaprio on electrifying form as a junk-bond trader living it up in good times New York.
The book that everyone read became the film that everyone saw. One of the biggest non-franchise films at the Irish box office this year, David Fincher’s take on Gillian Flynn’s novel is a ripe and rewarding circus of pulp noir, black comedy and sly surprises.
Spike Jonze returned from a lengthy absence with this tender and sad film, set in a near future in which Joaquin Phoenix’s lonely writer falls in love with his computer’s operating system (the smoky-voiced Scarlett Johansson, who has had quite a year).
We Are The Best!
An adorable teen comedy from Lukas Moodysson, based on his wife Coco’s graphic novel, that follows three 13-year-old girls who start a punk band in 1980s Stockholm.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson makes possibly his best film yet; a painstakingly beautiful, howlingly funny comedy about lives and loves at a Mitteleuropean hotel, in a fictional mountain state, between the wars. As fun to just look at as it is to watch, Ralph Fiennes’ performance alone made it a must see.
Ellar Coltrane goes from boy to man before our eyes in Richard Linklater’s saga of everyday life, filmed over 12 years, which hangs on the passage of time and our perception of it. Made up of those bits that usually get cut from films about families (as opposed to ‘family films’) it considers the past, present and future all at once and in a unique way.
And the worst film of 2014?
Even in a good year there’s no shortage of bad films but there was only one possible winner (or is it loser?): Olivier Dahan’s purported biopic Grace of Monaco, a deranged and misguided soap-opera.
*Image of Pawel Pawlikowski and cinematographer Lukasz Zal from this story on the American Society of Cinematographers website