Film and Television Features

No Ripcord's Films Of 2014


While we're on record for not being the biggest cheerleaders for the music of 2014, it was arguably a much better year for movies. Arguably the right films won at the Oscars, for once; everybody's favourite person Jennifer Lawrence was crowned the highest grossing actor of the year; and one of the summer's biggest superhero blockbusters was actually a classic paranoid thriller in the tradition of All The Presidents Men. Before we say goodbye to the year and look forward to spending a rather spectacular-looking 2015 at the movies, the No Ripcord film contributors have selected their personal top 5s of the year, and some other highlights, and lowlights.



Alan Shulman:

1. We Are The Best - An astounding coming of age story, especially compared to the waaaaaaaaaay overrated Boyhood - one that actually deserves comparison with 400 Blows. A sweet, realistic story that contains three utterly amazing naturalistic performances from its leads. A movie that teaches us that growing up isn't only about sex.

2. Gone Girl - A wonderfully arch, satiric look at the crazy institution that is marriage, and one that gives new meaning to the phrase, "staying together for the sake of the kids".

3. Grand Budapest Hotel - Good ole Wes. This is how he sees the world and take a walk if you don't like it. People who think he can't do pathos are simply dead wrong.

4. Nightcrawler - A great satire of corporate double talk and the can-do American ethic. When you put a price on everything then even your soul goes for market value.

5. Under The Skin - The most original vision of the year with Scarlet in a wonderfully controlled performance. It managed to question gender roles with powerful images more effectively than anything that talked about it explicitly

Biggest irritation - Enough with the movies making critics top tens when the rest of world can't see it! My favorite working director and novelist are PT Anderson and Thomas Pynchon, yet I can't see Inherent Vice until Jan 9. Fuck you, Hollywood.

Best Score - Under The Skin

Wish I saw before making this list - Besides Inherent Vice, I needed to see Winter Sleep by the great Turkish director, Ceylan


Angel Aguilar:

1. Boyhood - Thirteen years in the making, Boyhood is a most exceptional film. Director Richard Linklater focuses his Altmanesque eyes on young Mason (Ellar Coltrane), who is living his wonder years in the disruptive aftermath of his parents’ divorce. The film is about the imperative of growing up, though parental authority consists of a barely-making-ends-meet mom (Patricia Arquette) and a seldom-seen musician dad (Ethan Hawke). Linklater’s naturalistic style eschews neat plotting and maudlin scenes to render an honest portrait of the millennial American family. This gamble of a movie has paid up handsomely.

2. Birdman - Director Alejandro Iñárritu has built an impressive tightrope for himself. This three-ring-circus of a movie offers no directorial safety nets. There’s backstage drama, magic realism, a Raymond Carver adaptation, and black comedy, all filmed in seamless long takes. The connecting glue here is Riggan Thomson, a washed up actor played by Michael Keaton, who achieves a late-career feat. His journey through dreams and reality is unpredictable, thanks to a colourful supporting cast. Iñárritu handles his actors with masterful flair, and under his helm there are no loose pieces.

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel - Wes Anderson’s name is enough to bring in the crowds. The audience knows what’s in store: Anderson’s quirkiness and attention to detail will be evident in every frame of film. This time, though, the emotional core is not lost in the shuffle. The heart of the movie is the unlikely friendship between a resourceful concierge (Ralph Fiennes) and an immigrant bellboy (Tony Revolori), and their loyalty drives the plot along. Anderson has assembled the greatest supporting cast in memory, but the tone is never lost. There’s felicity tempered by odd flashes of cruelty. Anderson is a great stylist, but his ironic comic vision is what keeps winning us over.

4. Ida - In a year of overlong dramas, Ida stands apart as an example of taut storytelling. The film is only 84 minutes long, but this study about identity still burns some powerful images into the mind. The narrative takes place in 1960s Poland, at the height of the communist regime. Anna, who’s been raised as an orphan, is about to take her vows as a nun when she learns she has a living relative. Discovering her Jewish heritage is only the first shocker. As she sets off to uncover the mystery behind her parents’ death, the ties of repression come undone to reveal her true self. Pawel Pawlikowski’s grasp of human psychology will earn him a place among the great directors.

5. Mr. Turner - This is a portrait of an artistic genius, warts and all. By this time you must’ve heard of Timothy Spall’s masterful performance as the eccentric, gruff J.M.W. Turner, but the stunning visuals deserve equal praise. Mike Leigh and cinematographer Dick Pope found the key to the character in his creative process. Turner could hardly connect with people, yet his connection with nature, the inspiring play between light and water, filled the void. Leigh’s own inner workings are as sharp as ever.

Best Scene - Found in Birdman. The backstage door closes behind Riggan Thomson, catching his bathrobe and leaving him in his undies. What follows is a mad dash through Broadway crowds to reach the theater’s front entrance.

Best Performance - Timothy Spall in Mr. Turner.

Worst Film- Left Behind. If you thought Nicholas Cage’s downward spiral had touched ground yet, think again.

Biggest DisappointmentJersey Boys, which lacked the verve the story needed. A director like Martin Scorsese could have done wonders with this Broadway mainstay.

Surprise Of The YearThe Interview. Maybe the biggest corporate blunder since New Coke, or perhaps the long-game coup of some marketing genius. The jury’s still out.



Grant Phipps:

1. Ida - Pawel Pawlikowski's piously paced journey of national and personal identity is a passionate interplay of light and dark forces reflected in the remarkable co-leading performances by Agata Trzebuchowska (the mysterious young Ida) and Agata Kulesza (her amusingly flippant Aunt Wanda).  The salient b/w cinematography of Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal recalls the most fruitful European art house period of the 1960s when Sven Nykvist was behind the camera for Ingmar Bergman.  Ida is both a transfixing coming-of-age story and thoughtful examination of secularism and spirituality in the war-torn world of Poland circa 1962 that thrives in the shades of gray of the titular character.  In a modest eighty minutes, the film articulates an aesthetic that conveys as much emotion as an epic-length adventure.
2. Stray Dog - Organically born from director Debra Granik's last film, Winter's Bone, when she was scouting for extras in Missouri, this keen and respectful documentary on Vietnam veteran Ronnie Hall (who plays Thump Milton in Bone) is a fascinating ride through his family's modern lives.  While anchored in Branson, Granik follows Hall cross-country as he reminisces about the war, comrades, and former Korean love, which all lead into the most humorous and heartwarming portion of the film with his Mexican wife Alicia's twin sons, Jesus and Angel.  Balancing picturesque expeditions, bawdy conversation, motivating commentary about the working class, and moments of silence (literally, for fallen soldiers), Stray Dog simultaneously achieves a thrilling and meditative quality that represents complete synchronization between subject and director.
3. Boyhood - This magnum opus of a Texas boy's life is an instantaneously, inherently nostalgic road movie in disguise.  Despite a massive time representation over a twelve-year transformative span with the same core cast, the tone is miraculously consistent due to the concentrated thirty-nine-day filming period.  No peripheral dilemma or transition on- or off-screen interrupts the focus on young Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and family.  With this undertaking, adaptable director Richard Linklater has brought the coming-of-age story to fruition where physical and psychological maturation parallel one another perfectly.  When watching this "Tolstoyan timelapse photography of a human being" (says Ethan Hawke, who plays Mason's father), we never think of narrative arc; we commit to even the most mundane moments, which is a lofty compliment.
4. Under The Skin - Jonathan Glazer's first film in nine years possesses an inviting exterior and chilling interior, channeling cosmic Kubrik odyssey as much as existentialist Antonioni drama.  Following an interstellar genesis, a pitch-black being arrives on Earth to inhabit the body of a drowned woman (Scarlett Johansson), preying the Scottish countryside for oversexed men to imprison by will of her silent nomadic overseer (real-life motorcycle racer Jeremy McWilliams).  Johansson's performance is uncharacteristically unnerving, especially as she comes to fathom humanity's intuitive tendencies and physiological needs, which inevitably lead to a reconsideration.  Glazer ultimately crafts one of the most cynical movies ever about sexual perversions and violence- a statement against humanity's current unsustainable universe.
5. The Strange Little Cat - Developed by one of Béla Tarr's protégés, Ramon Zürcher, the surreal film in miniature is humanity as dreamt by a house cat- a loony, chaotic subversion of domestic life.  As several generations of a Berlin family gather for a meal, The Strange Little Cat's waltz-like rhythm becomes emphasized by the beautiful, recurring chamber motif, Pulchritude, by Thee More Shallows, and compositions jam-packed with restless people.  In addition to its musical theme, the hilariously ingenious and misleading sound design layers and distorts mechanical and organic noises.  Observer to all the strange turns of phrase and miscommunication, the titular tabby is ever-present much like the feline, Ulysses, from last year's Inside Llewyn Davis, making the title an ironic, self-deprecating metaphor for the film itself.

Favorite Scene - Obvious Child: Jenny Slate turns in a funny, courageous, career-defining performance as resilient NYC stand-up comedian, Donna, who must face the consequence of a drunken one-night stand.  Gillian Robespierre's confessional Obvious Child handles the topic of abortion with a confidence of character rather than a constancy of rationalizing or moralizing.  Slate perfectly reflects that, fully committing to every harrowing exposure through self-deprecating monologue.  But it's not a joking jab that's most affecting but rather a somber moment during a late-night taxi-ride that feels so absolutely sincere and relatable.  Leaving a voicemail for the gentlemanly Max (Jake Lacy), Slate delicately captures a regret that is so often overplayed.
Two Sides of the Same Coin - Coherence / The One I Love: Utilizing a similar sci-fi premise in unorthodox ways by splicing two well-worn genres, both Coherence (thriller) and The One I Love (romantic comedy) deal in the convergence of parallel universes and quantum theory/cosmic aberrations.  Although it contains a more intricate design than its sister film, James Ward Byrkit's puzzle-box Coherence is bogged down by hard sci-fi technicality (too reminiscent of Shane Carruth's Primer), amateurish camerawork, and misguided attempts to manipulate its audience through the ensemble of eight at a Hollywood dinner party.  The One I Love locates a more emotionally engaging answer that pares its characters down to a feuding couple to sidestep convoluted pitfalls.  Director Charlie McDowell and screenwriter Justin Lader offer a few self-aware hints when wife Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) turns to her unfaithful husband Ethan (Mark Duplass) to urge him to enjoy the moment and stop trying to understand the enigmas literally standing in front of them.  The One I Love is nowhere near perfect, but, according to its coherent theme, all its pieces needn't fit perfectly into place.


Kai Lancaster: 


1. Ida - In the best of possible ways, Ida looks like an escaped masterwork from the 1960’s heyday of European art film. Shot entirely in crisp black and white, it’s a film that’s almost achingly beautiful to look at. It’s also a film where everything feels perfectly in balance; understated yet intensely emotional.

2. Winter Sleep - Coming out of the cinema after seeing Winter Sleep, it was immediately clear I’d only just begun to tackle the layers of meaning under the film’s apparently simple surface. Winter Sleep uses a seemingly low-key study of a Turkish hotel owner to tell a sophisticated and thematically rich story about class, ego, and power. It also boasts some of the most stunning cinematography I’ve seen this year, only just losing to Ida for the number one spot.

3. Under The Skin - Jonathan Glazer’s mysterious science fiction nightmare is a creation that understands that cinema isn’t just a way of telling stories, it’s also a way of enveloping us in sounds and images. The sights of this film have been imprinted deep in my brain since seeing it, like some sort of sinister alien infestation. Under The Skin contains echoes of some of the great science fiction films that have come before it, yet feels like something utterly unique at the same time.

4. Boyhood - Given the complexity of films and the ridiculous number of often conflicting voices involved in their creation, its miraculous that the final product ever comes to exist, let alone as something even vaguely coherent. In this context, Boyhood’s completion after an ambitious 12 year long production is remarkable. The finished film certainly isn’t without its flaws, but Richard Linklater and his cast have managed to turn a risky idea into something surprisingly poignant and truthful.

5. The Overnighters - The Overnighters is a multi-faceted documentary that attempts to be several things at once, and delivers beautifully on all of them. It’s succeeds as a fascinating character study of a troubled human being, and also as a powerful portrait of the American working classes devastated by the recession. More than anything else though, it succeeds as a deeply compassionate film about human compassion itself.

Best performance – Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler): Gyllenhaal has long since proven his acting ability, yet his wide-eyed and utterly transformative performance here still managed to come as something of a shock. His chilling and oddly charismatic ‘Lou Bloom’ is one of the best portrayals of a sociopath I can remember seeing on screen.

Best music documentary – 20,000 Years on Earth: 20,000 Years on Earth is a film that clear benefited enormously from being a true creative collaboration between artist and filmmaker, rather than an intrusion. An imaginative and expressive blend of truth and fiction that still manages to shine genuine light on its subject.

Best ridiculous toy advert – The Lego Movie: The Lego Movie is absolutely an 100 minute long toy advert. It’s also far, far more enjoyable as a film than it probably has any right to be. Firmly at the top of my ‘I’m slightly annoyed at myself for liking this so much’ list.



Mark Davison:

1. Under The Skin - Michel Faber's original novel is a brilliant, and infuriating reading experience that would be impossible to faithfully bring to the screen. Jonathan Glazer's film version chucks the vast majority of the novel's contents out, to create something that's just as brilliantly infuriating in its own way, and arguably a lot crueller and colder.

2. Boyhood - Was the filming method a bit of a gimmick? Who knows? Does it matter? The melancholic feeling of rifling through old home movies and family photo albums was definitely present and correct, but it was attached to a fascinating character study. I would've gladly sat through another thirteen years of it.

3. Inside Llewyn Davis - Yes, really it was a 2013 movie, but not for us British viewers it wasn't. It had a feeling of the Coens going back over old territory (specifically the interesting, but flawed A Serious Man), for very good reasons, and in turn crafting a film that was both witty and oddly moving, despite focusing on such an unashamedly unlikeable central character, all accompanied by an excellent soundtrack.

4. The Babadook - Children in movies tend to annoy and/or terrify me. It was nice to see a film where that was entirely deliberate. Plus Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman gave two absolutely knock-out performances.

5. Stranger By The Lake - Sticky, sweltering and sinister. As the old French movie cliche goes it was barely disguised soft-core porn, but I was on the edge of my seat throughout anyway.


Wish I'd seen - Ida. I've got no-one to blame but myself, really.

Biggest 'failure as a gay man' experience - Pride: I found it to be a patronising and genuinely irritating watch, where the only thing that came close to moving me came in the final 'what actually happened' captions that are the mandatory way to finish off a movie 'based on a true story'. The rest of the audience clearly loved it though, so I appreciate that I'm most likely in the wrong on this one. (To be fair I did see it on a bad date, but I'm not really in a hurry to give the film a second chance).

Most unexpected delight - While The Lego Movie is the obvious answer, we were at least prepared for that after the excellent trailer. The Guest genuinely surprised me though, being a lot more bold, bonkers and downright fun than I anticipated.



Ryan Finnigan:


For the first time ever, I think, my end of year Top 5 is completely American. I must add that I spent 6 months of this year working on a book about The Room, so should say that I definitely did not consume as many films as I would usually and also perhaps was a little bit mentally damaged. However, I can say with confidence that on a regular year these films (well, the top 4 at least) would still be very strong contenders for the end of year list and I think, although pretty obvious choices, they are an extremely strong handful of films that combine great film-making and the qualities that make a film rewatchable and I'm confident all will remain favourites.

1. Boyhood - Much, much more than the sum of its parts. I adored Boyhood from start to finish and it spoke to me on a level so deeply that I had a pretty much full-on emotional breakdown. When considering the variables at play, the result is a damn-near miracle. Well played, Linklater.

2 (Tie). The Grand Budapest Hotel/The Wolf of Wall Street - Of course, it feels so mandatory to say how excellent Martin Scorsese and Wes Anderson are in the history of American directors that it almost makes a little guilt rise to name both here. I say almost because objectively, both films were exercises in grand storytelling and extreme directorial bravado, each displaying a sweeping scale of assured, offbeat choices that it would be impossible to recognise that two of cinema's greatest assets are still able to produce work which raises the bar for others.

4. Point and Shoot - Marshall Curry's fascinating documentary about Matthew Van Dyke was the film of this year's Doc/Fest for me and still lingers in my mind where others have fallen away. A truly compelling film that is completely of its time whilst also exploring timeless issues.

5.... A Winter's Tale - I could not make my Top 5 films of 2014 without mentioning A Winter's Tale. This film was so, so unintentionally enjoyable that it has dominated many a conversation with others who had the good fortune of having the misfortune of seeing it. It is impossibly bad and mind-blowingly incomprehensible, which is to its full advantage as a shockingly entertaining viewing.


This year has been good for:
The BFI Sci-Fi Season - Just phenomenal. A huge highlight of the year that provided many cinematic delights.
Jim Jarmusch - like Anderson/Scorsese above - one of the great American auteurs really got his recognition in 2014 with Only Lovers Left Alive and re-releases of his astonishing early back catalogue.
Documentaries - Another extremely strong year with Life Itself, Jodorowsky's Dune and Who Is Dayani Cristal? falling alongside some very enjoyable music documentaries including Mistaken For Strangers, Breadcrumb Trail and Heaven Adores You in a crop of films I enjoyed immensely.
The Return of Scar Jo - With Under The Skin, Her and Lucy, this year saw a very welcome and versatile return of the previously presumed-lost actress.
Rosamund Pike - Her turn in Gone Girl was one of the strongest and most commanding performances in recent memory without any of the usual Oscar 'tricks' of weight loss/gain, accents and "issues" that will continue to dominate the end of year lists. Beautifully disturbing.