It is often said that there’s never a bad year for cinema and 2014 emphatically proved that. In a year when cinema admissions were down on the highs of the last few years and no single film crossed the £40m mark for the first time since 2003, it would be easy to be pessimistic about the current state of cinema. Then you look at the success stories of the year. We saw the two highest grossing 18-certificate films of all time, a film like 12 Years A Slave out-grossing Transformers: Age Of Extinction, Marvel introduced a whole new team of superheroes in the freshest and funniest sci-fi adventure since we first visited a galaxy far far away and, when the biggest film of the year to date is the wonderful The LEGO Movie, you realise that everything is awesome.
It was a great year for uncompromising, adult drama, with The Wolf Of Wall Street and 12 Years A Slave, both crossing the £20m mark, with the former becoming the biggest 18-cert film of all time and the latter picking up the Oscar for Best Picture in March. The intricate, artful The Grand Budapest Hotel, smashed all expectations grossing over £11m, to become Wes Anderson’s biggest grossing film to date. Aside from Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson’s previous best performing film was 2002’s The Royal Tenenbaums, with £3.3m. In July, one of the most extraordinary undertakings in film history made its way to screen, and the results were hugely affecting. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood was 12 years in the making, reconvening every two years with the same group of actors to watch how a family, particularly Ellar Coltrane’s Mason, developed over the period. It was a bold, audacious idea and even Linklater could have had no inkling that it would turn out so perfectly. Later in the year, David Fincher provided an object lesson in how to adapt a book like Gone Girl, turning in a film that unfolded like a good novel. He also utilised an eclectic cast to deliver the second biggest 18-cert film of all time, falling less than £500k short of The Wolf Of Wall Street.
With the controversy currently surrounding The Interview, Seth Rogen has been in the news a lot recently but earlier in the year he put in one of his best performances, alongside the hilarious Rose Byrne, in Nicholas Stoller’s Bad Neighbours. Its rivals for best Hollywood comedy of the year were the hyper-self-aware but still very funny sequel, 22 Jump Street and Jon Favreau’s utterly charming, Chef, just don’t watch it on an empty stomach. I also thought Leslie Mann put in a very funny performance in The Other Woman, a film that was critically derided but almost hit £10m.
22 Jump Street was from the ridiculously creative duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller and released just four months after they unleashed The LEGO Movie on a cynical public ready to decry the film purely as a toy marketing exercise. It takes about 30 seconds of the film to win even the hardest cynic over as it features more wit and invention than a hundred Hollywood titles. It’s no surprise it’s the biggest film of the year (at the time of writing) and Lord and Miller’s star soars ever higher. After The LEGO Movie‘s release family titles had a slight lull until Autumn, aside from the rousing How To Train Your Dragon 2 in July, but November’s Paddington has almost matched Frozen‘s performance last year and is comfortably distributor StudioCanal’s biggest film of all time, with plenty more to come.
Of the blockbusters, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes was the stand-out summer title, impressing with its craft and intelligence. Edge Of Tomorrow almost ran it close, as the ever-reliable Tom Cruise and a badass Emily Blunt defied an alien invasion in this cleverly constructed Groundhog Day-style sci-fi. Marvel proved they could do little wrong again as Guardians Of The Galaxy, based on a relatively unknown comic and from a director more used to 18-cert indie fare (Super, Slither), went on to become their third biggest film to date. However, all blockbusters were overshadowed by Christopher Nolan’s extraordinary Interstellar. Critics decried its plot-holes and sentimentality but there was no more epic, impressive big screen spectacle this year and Nolan once again proved he’s in a different league to just about everyone (bar, say Cuaron and Cameron) when it comes to thoughtful, blockbuster spectacle.
On the much, much smaller scale, Blue Ruin went from Kickstarter to becoming one of the year’s tensest, tightest thrillers. Gareth Evans once again showed with The Raid 2, that when it comes to close up, brutal action, nobody does it better and Gillian Robespierre and Jenny Slate delivered the best American comedy of the year and the year’s breakout performance with Obvious Child. 20 Feet From Stardom may have beaten last year’s critics’ darling The Act Of Killing to the Best Documentary Oscar but anyone who side-stepped it missed a passionate and compelling look at a group of people who have waited a long time for their time in the spotlight. Great music too. A strong contender for next year’s Best Documentary Oscar was Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour, which featured an hour long interview with Edward Snowden that was as gripping as anything seen on screen this year.
However, my two favourite films of the year were both British and couldn’t be more different. Matthew Warchus’ Pride was the tale of a group of lesbian and gay campaigners who raised money for a striking mining community in South Wales in the 1980s. It featured the best ensemble cast of the year and it balanced the fine line between humour and emotion, perfectly. It should have been massive and is ripe for discovery on home video formats. It was just edged out by Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin, which offered an almost unique cinematic experience. Challenging, disturbing imagery, allied with a remarkable, experimental score and a captivating, daring lead performance from Scarlett Johansson resulted in a film that will be talked about for years. Its power was only enhanced on second viewing too.
Another wonderful year for film then and with some of cinema’s biggest franchises returning in 2015, including The Avengers, Star Wars and a certain Mr.Bond, the minor dip in admissions this year is certain to be just a blip. I can also reveal that at least one film released in January is as good as anything mentioned above. What a year we have in store.