Before we begin, a quick note about the rules. This year, I have chosen to go with the cinematic release date in the magical kingdom ruled by the people of Great-Britain. Snowpiercer, Song of the Sea, Whiplash, Still the Water or A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night are therefore not eligible. I am also ignoring last year's awards contenders (Inside Llewyn Davis, 12 Years A Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street), even if they were released in the UK after the turn of the year.
20. Gone Girl (David Fincher)
Best... intensity of the "violent bit" (censored for spoilers).
David Fincher has a lot of fun adapting Gillian Flynn's twisted best-seller. He nails the darkly comedic tone of the source novel to near perfection, thus creating a truly fucked-up satire about relationships and marriage. Casting Ben Affleck as the highly punchable Nick Dunne was a stroke of genius.
19. We Are the Best!/Vi är bäst! (Lukas Moodysson)
Best... cute song (I hate, hate, HATE the sports).
Three young and bored girls decide form a punk band, cut their hair and wave their small fists at authority. Set in 1983 Stockholm (five years after the first wave of punk faded away), this film is full of affection for its young protagonists and captures the fresh, rebellious DIY-spirit of the punk movement better than most cinematic works. Charm alarm.
18. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)
Best... Tilda <3
A vampire movie made by American indie-darling Jim Jarmush starring Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston? Sounds like a brilliant idea and it is. OLLA oozes style in its otherworldly soundtrack (composed by Jarmush's band SQÜRL) and the haunting beauty of its gritty Detroit locations. Possibly the director's best since Dead Man.
17. Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
Best... use of the narrow 4:3 aspect ratio.
Pawel Pawlikowski returns to his native Poland for his latest feature Ida about a young woman confronted with her past. The film was the winner of the 2013 London Film Festival and could end up with a well-deserved Oscar nomination next year. The real star of Ida is the extraordinary cinematography implemented by DP Lukasz Zal.
16. Starred Up (David Mackenzie)
Best... Jack O'Connell breakout performance.
Within one year, Jack O'Connell has transformed from "that bloke from Skins" into one of cinema's most promising talents. His utterly convincing performance as a troubled, extremely violent prisoner in Starred Up justifies this status completely. The intensity and the brutality of this film gave me a slight feeling of discomfort in the stomach which is no mean feat.
15. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves)
Best... apes on horses wielding machine guns!
I never understood the hype for 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but the Franco-less sequel won me over with Michael Giacchino's bombastic score and the surprisingly effective emotional beats. DOTPOTA is a rare blockbuster that is simultaneously intelligent, moving and a bit bonkers. Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell rise motion-capture performances to yet another level.
14. Leviathan/Leviafan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
Best... Vodka, vodka and more vodka.
The hugely critical Leviathan tackles big political issues (corruption, Putin, the political influence of the church) through the simple story of an ordinary man in northern Russia crushed by the authority of the local mayor. There is little to no hope for genuine happiness, so they drown their sorrows in a flood of vodka.
13. Life Itself (Steve James)
Best... bickering between Siskel and Ebert while taping.
Until his tragic death in April 2014 (before filming on the documentary was completed), Roger Ebert was arguably the most influential English-language film critic of the last century. His memoirs and interviews with his family and friends provide the framework for this quite standard, but incredibly moving picture about an extraordinary man and writer. Two thumbs up.
12. The Zero Theorem (Terry Gilliam)
Best... scene featuring Tilda Swinton (<3) rapping.
Terry Gilliam is one of my favourite filmmakers. Even when he is not as his best, his work is reliably fascinating and original. A bald Christoph Waltz leads us into the odd, dystopian vision of The Zero Theorem. Gilliam makes the most of a visibly low budget and creates an inventive sci-fi which doesn't lack ideas. This film did not get the attention or the critical praise it deserved.
11. Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh)
Best... breathtaking opening shot.
Mike Leigh had been working on his biopic of the celebrated British painter for more than a decade when he finally got the green light. This film achieves a seemingly contradictory feat: it's boring in a good way. The amusing 19th-century language and the beautiful cinematography make up for the lack of action. Timothy Spall mumbles and grunts himself to the year's best performance in the title role.
10-1.: go to part two