19th Dec2014

Ten Best: Phil’s Top 10 Movies of 2014

by Phil Wheat

Well it’s that time of year again – the one where websites across the globe churn out Top 10 list after top ten list. So why should we be any different?! Yet whilst we may be following the predictable end of year lists, I can guarantee that my list is anything but predictable, featuring films from across the globe: including the US, Canada, Italy, Australia, New Zealand and even good old Blighty!

This year more than ever there has been film after film that knocked it out of the park for me – which is why my Top 10 list has TWO sections: the Top 10 and then the pick of 35(!) more brilliant movies (I would have loved this list to be a Top 45, honestly). So what’s my criteria? Well it has to be a movie I’ve seen this year, one that was released this year, i.e. making its UK debut, or a new movie that I’ve seen at a film festival that might not necessarily have been distributed as of yet.

Also, the cut off date for this list was December 15th – so that one film I’ve literally just watched this week, that blew me away, will have to wait till next years end of year list(s). Anyway, on with my Top 10 Movies of 2014…

THE BEST:

  1. The Scribbler

    The-Scribbler-cast

    Based on the graphic novel by Dan Shaffer (Doghouse), The Scribbler is the latest “comic book movie” to grace our screen, telling the story of Suki, a lonely woman dealing multiple-personality disorder, who moves into a halfway house for recently released mental patients. But her arrival coincides with the deaths of other residents, residents who are dying at an alarming rate. Continuing her dissociative treatment at “home” Suki, undergoes an experimental procedure to cure her illness involving ‘The Siamese Burn’ machine which is designed to eliminate her unwanted identities one by one. But each time she uses the machine she black out and the machine changes, doing something new, something that turns her world inside out.

    Shot on a budget that would put Marvel Studios to shame, the The Scribbler is a superb blend of science fiction and traditional murder-mystery that, when all’s said and done, turns out to be one the THE best superhero origin movies committed to celluloid. The last time I saw an independent comic turned movie that was this good was The Crow.

  2. Guardians of the Galaxy

    guardians-of-the-galaxy

    Guardians of the Galaxy tells the story of Peter Quill, a child taken from Earth who grew up as part of the Ravagers, a space-faring fleet of intergalactic pirates led by Yondu Udonta (a character far-removed from the one I grew up with). Quill, who calls himself Star-Lord, finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan, a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits–Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon, Groot, a tree-like humanoid, the deadly and enigmatic Gamora, daughter of the cosmos-threatening despot Thanos, and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer. But when Peter discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a last, desperate stand – with the galaxy’s fate in the balance.

    As a kid I was enthralled by Star Wars, and its sequels, in particular Return of the Jedi – a film I saw multiple times in cinemas as a kid, often lying to friends that I hadn’t seen it yet so they’d get their parents to take me with them – and that infatuation with a sci-fi epic led to me watching a myriad of the “homages” that followed: Battle Beyond the Stars, Ice Pirates, Space Raiders. Movies that, at least in the case of Battle Beyond the Stars and The Last Starfighter, I have come to love MORE than the film that inspired them. Which, if I’m honest, is why I probably loved Guardians of the Galaxy as much as I did. This echoes the B-movie feel of those films I grew up on – the rollocking action and adventure, the strange characters etc., but on a much, MUCH, bigger budget.

  3. The Den

    The-Den-Papalia

    The Den follows Elizabeth Benton who, receiving a grant for her graduate thesis, logs onto a video-chat site known as The Den on a mission to explore the habits of its users. During one of her random video-chats, Elizabeth watches in horror as a teenage girl is gruesomely murdered in front of her webcam. While the police dismiss it as a viral prank, Elizabeth believes what she saw is real and takes it upon herself to find the truth. Soon she finds herself trapped in a twisted game in which she and her loved ones are now targeted for the same grisly fate as the first victim.

    It may seem, given my past reviews of found footage movies, that all I do is spew bile and vitriol when it comes to a lot of these particular movies but that doesn’t mean I’m not willing to still give the genre a a fair shake. Good job too, otherwise I would have missed out on a great example of it in The Den. The idea of using the internet (and webcams) is nothing new in horror, it’s cropped up in dozens of movies, some good, a lot bad. With the advent of webcams, CCTV and “always-connected” devices, any good horror movie villain would – given that using the net is his or her modus operandi – have almost total control over their victims lives. Imagine someone else controlling what we see online, manipulating our emails, our cyber chats. Everything you do online could be at the mercy of someone else, if they were technically adept enough that is. That’s at the very core of Zachary Donohue’s The Den.

    Plus, in all honesty, I think The Den has possibly one of the greatest endings to a horror movie I have ever seen…

  4. 22 Jump Street

    22-Jump-Street-cast

    After making their way through high school (twice), big changes are in store for officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) when they go deep undercover at a local college. But when Jenko meets a kindred spirit on the football team, and Schmidt infiltrates the bohemian art major scene, they begin to question their partnership. Now they don’t have to just crack the case – they have to figure out if they can have a mature relationship. If these two overgrown adolescents can grow from freshmen into real men, college might be the best thing that ever happened to them.

    Movie spoofs and action comedies are both dead genres in today’s world. 21 Jump Street and now 22 Jump Street give us to solid entries into both. They take the ideas of both concepts in new places for a new generation. 22 Jump Street’s action is nowhere near as strong as its comedy, nevertheless it is strong enough to support the narrative. Channing Tatum and Johan Hill have taken both of their respected talents and meshed them together into one well maintained comedic machine. If the brilliantly ironic closing credits are to be believed Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have plenty of material to keep this franchise going, and I for one will be on board.

  5. POE: Project of Evil

    Project-of-Evil

    POE: Project of Evil is a horror anthology which sees filmmakers regroup for another “filmic experiment” which brings the tales of Edgar Allan Poe to life through the distinct lens of Italian horror with spoken English. Whilst the previous anthology, Poetry of Eerie, focussed on the poetic and macabre dimension of the infamous Boston author, the sequel POE: Project of Evil focuses instead on the bloody, violent and disturbing. Stories include ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’, ‘Solo’, ‘Loss of Breath’, ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, ‘The System of Dr. Tar and Prof. Feather’ and ‘The Premature Burial’

    I was not expecting too much from POE: Project of Evil. I certainly wasn’t expecting to see some of the most interesting, if extreme, adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories ever committed to celluloid. Together these seven tales of terror breathe new life into Poe’s work, bringing the classic stories into the modern era, offering a new context in which his tales can be read. I can honestly say these takes on Poe’s classic stories are unlike ANY you have ever seen before, or ever will again. And many leave nothing to the imagination… Absolutely nothing.

  6. Raze

    raze-cast

    Raze follows kickboxer Sabrina (Bell), who wakes up to find herself in an underground bunker. Soon she realizes that this bunker is actually a modern day coliseum of sorts, where, along with 48 other women, they are condemned to fight each other to the death. The game organizers, turn their kidnapping victims into violent femmes by threatening to kill the women’s loved ones should they refuse to participate in this deathly sport, all for the amusement of unseen spectators. Each of these reluctant warriors has something to lose, but only one will remain when the game is done.

    Raze is another top-notch example of independent action cinema – one, like many we review here on Nerdly, that puts mainstream Hollywood to shame. The only let-down about the film is that the UK distributor didn’t see fit to give the film a Blu-ray release!

  7. How To Save Us

    how-to-save-trost

    How to Save Us, filmed down under by independent US film maker Jason Trost (The FP), is a post-spocalyptically styled ghost movie that – like Trost’s other work – is at once both an new take on an old story and an homage to what has come before it. The official synopsis runs like this: Brian’s younger brother Sam goes missing in Tasmania during the middle of a mysterious quarantine. Brian must travel to the deserted island to save his brother from a land now solely inhabited by demonic spirits. In order to survive, he must follow a set of rules: including covering himself with human ashes, to cloak his presence from the malevolent entities haunting the barren landscape. But will this buy enough time for Brian to find his brother, or will they both be stuck in a hellish realm of the dead forever?

    But what that synopsis doesn’t tell you is that this film real tour-de-force role for, and performance from, Trost, who essentially carries the movie as Brian. It is Trost who moves the narrative forward, it is Trost who engages with the audience, and it’s Trost who keeps you watching during the films quiet periods. For this is not a film that is packed with action and special effects, quite the opposite – How To Save Us is a slow, powerful, somewhat introspective, look at family through the eyes of a man who has lost his. It just happens he lost some of his family to a mysterious supernatural force on an island in Tasmania.

  8. I Survived a Zombie Holocaust

    isurvivedazombieholocaust

    New Zealand has, over the years, become renown for producing some superb horror films. From the early work of Peter Jackson and his films Bad Taste and Braindead; to the more recent Frightfest flicks The Loved Ones and this years Housebound. But, and I don’t say this lightly, all of those pail in comparison to I Survived a Zombie Holocaust – a perfect mix of horror and comedy that resonated with me more than any film at this years Frightfest.

    Written and directed by Guy Pidgen, making his feature film debut, I Survived a Zombie Holocaust takes all that is good about New Zealand comedy-horror and ups the ante. The script is incredibly witty, there are a ton of “in-jokes” for genre fans and the main character is one of the most likeable heroes in a zom-com. In fact I could watch Harley Neville’s nebbish script-writer wannabe Wesley over Simon Pegg’s layabout Shaun any day of the week.

  9. X-Men: Days of Future Past

    x-men-dofp

    X-Men: Days of Future Past opens in a futuristic world, where mutants are forced to do battle with relentless machines called sentinels. The sentinels are teutonic robots, constructed by humans to control the mutant population and possess the ability to adopt the characteristics of any enemy almost instantly. We’re introduced to a gaggle of recognisble protaganists; Storm (Halle Berry), Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Blink (Bingbing Fan), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and of course, the infamous Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). The premise of the film is a mixture between the final Matrix outing and Inception. The sentinel machines which plague our infamous superheroes are winning their battle; killing off each mutant through imitation until Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) transports everybody back in time a few days so they can commence battle again. This loop of events cannot continue, so they decide to elect Wolverine to travel back to 1972 and change history and thus the existence of sentinel machines altogether.

    The film follows something of a roller-coaster plot, jumping between future and past (clue’s in the title) and there have been claims that the film is confusing and disjointed. Personally, I found the story simple enough to follow and felt the jolts between the world of Logan, Charles and Erik and the tense atmosphere building up in the future were not so frequent as to become frustrating. Granted, there are a lot of characters introduced in this particular installment, but the fact that director Bryan Singer decided not to dwell too long on each one means the pacing is tight. This latest X-Men film is an enjoyable peek into the history of Professor X and Magneto. It’s a well paced film that offers cutting-edge action sequences, whilst also not taking itself too seriously. Highly recommended for both X-Men aficionados and casual action fans alike.

  10. The Forgotten

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    The Forgotten sees a father and son forced to squat in an empty London council estate scheduled for demolition, seemingly abandoned by the mother. A dark, creepy and foreboding place, the flat is no place for a family; even less so after 14 year old Tommy starts to hear strange noises coming from the boarded-up flat next door… Shot on a London council estate scheduled for demolition, that was once used for location shoots on UK police drama The Bill, The Forgotten is, like all good horror films, not just about the physical, and in this case, psychological aspects of fear. It’s also a fascinating character study, dealing with the breakdown of the family unit, loss/grief, societies underclass and, of course, how you can never truly escape your past.

    In a stunning directorial debut, Oliver Frampton crafts a movie that, even with its supernatural element, never truly feels like a contrived “movie”. There is something eminently true to life about his directorial style and the sublime choice to shoot predominantly handheld, with some truly superb cinematography by Eben Bolter (who also DP’d on last years Frightfest favourite The Borderlands and Paul Davis’ short The Body) only enhances the reality of this movie. The Forgotten is a fantastic British horror movie that, even with its flaws, should be seen by all and marks director Oliver Frampton and writer James Hall as ones to watch.

THE REST (in chronological order):

  • That Awkward Moment
  • Last Passenger
  • The LEGO Movie
  • Cabin Fever 3: Patient Zero
  • Almost Human
  • Veronica Mars
  • Bloody Homecoming
  • Proxy
  • Vampire Academy
  • Neighbors (aka Bad Neighbours)
  • 13 Eerie
  • In Security
  • Ninja: Shadow of a Tear
  • Camp Dread
  • The Art of the Steal
  • Blood Widow
  • Scar Tissue
  • Daddy’s Little Girl
  • Across the River
  • Life After Beth
  • Home (aka At the Devil’s Door)
  • Truth or Dare
  • Starry Eyes
  • The Guest
  • Mercenaries
  • HK: Forbidden Superhero
  • The Sleeping Room
  • Ninja Apocalypse
  • Tapped Out
  • Varsity Blood
  • Sniper: Legacy
  • Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla
  • Under a Kaleidoscope
  • There’s Something in the Pilliga
  • Pernicious

So there you have it. Not only my Top 10 films of the year, but ALL the movies I loved, nay adored, in 2014. Here’s hoping 2015 has just as many great films in store! But what about you readers? What were your favourite films of the year? Let us know in the comments!

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