The 87th Academy Awards take place this Sunday evening in Hollywood and the movie industry’s finest will gather in the Dolby Theatre to celebrate the best films of 2014. While Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel lead the nominations with 9 apiece, a number of hidden gems have slipped under the Academy’s radar. While you may be trying to catch-up on all of this year nominees, there is an equally impressive wealth of great films that won’t be celebrated this weekend. This list goes through the 10 best films of 2014 that did not receive a single nomination at this year Academy Awards and why they rank among the best films of the year.
This small, intimate film is a welcome return to the indie scene for Jon Favreau after his stint behind the director’s chair of Marvel’s Iron Man films. This is a film as sweet as it is savory, Chef follows a chef (unsurprisingly) who loses his restaurant job and starts up a food truck in an effort to reclaim his creative promise, while piecing back together his estranged family. Chef will make you as hungry as it does joyful, filled with a charming cast of characters, an amusing script and enough feel-good quirkiness to charm even the most suspicious cynic, its a bear-hug of a film made to for not other reason than to bring about a smile. Whatever you do though, don’t go to see Chef on an empty stomach – it’s a feel-good foodie film that will have you salivating within minutes.
The partnership between Brendan Gleeson and John Michael McDonagh continues with the little-seen Calvary and offers perhaps Gleeson’s best performance of his career. Following on from their first film, The Guard, Calvary once again examines the underbelly of rural Ireland, this time dealing with a good-natured priest grappling with his demons. During a confessional, a parishioner declares that after being abused as a kid at the hands of another priest, he is going to kill Father James (Gleeson). In daily visits to all the town members, Father James discovers that there is no shortage of domestic abuse, racism, suicidal tendencies and extreme nihilistic views. A lack of innocence runs deep and a series of criminal acts forces Father James to face his persecutor and the dark consequences from the past of the Catholic Church. While The Guard offered belly-laughs in abundance, Calvary is very much steeped in the dark side of comedy that aims for deep though rather than deep laughs. Featuring great performances from an array of Irish talent (with Chris O’Dowd meriting special mention), Calvary offers a fascinating examination of Ireland’s troubled history with the Catholic church and proves that Brendan Gleeson may be the most underrated actor working today.
Steve Coogan dusts off his beloved character, Alan Partridge, and brings the lovable failed television presenter and radio DJ to the big screen. When Alan’s radio station is taken over by a new media conglomerate, it sets in motion a chain of events which see Alan having to work with the police to defuse a potentially violent siege. Smartly avoiding common traps such as planting Alan in America and relying on fish-out-of-water comedy, Alpha Papa plays to Coogan’s strengths, allowing the hilarious Alan to just be himself. Consistently laugh-out-loud throughout, Alpha Papa succeeds where it could have so easily failed. Alan Partridge makes the transition to the big screen in a form that anybody can enjoy, whether you’re already a fan of the TV show or not.
Funny, smart, and endearingly odd, Frank transcends its peculiar trappings with a heartfelt, and surprisingly thought-provoking, story. Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a young wannabe musician, discovers he’s bitten off more than he can chew when he joins an eccentric pop band led by the mysterious and enigmatic Frank (Michael Fassbender). The real success of the film is in its performances. Despite having a Paper-Mache head covering his face for the majority of the film, Fassbender is able to supply the eponymous Frank with heart, humor and pathos not many other actors could achieve. Gleeson too proves to be one of the best up-and-coming actors out there, in another actors hands Jon may have come across as unlikable and irritating but Gleeson offers enough wide-eyed optimism to make him relatable and real. While the third act takes an unusual route towards the finish, Frank is an oddball film that delivers comedy, drama and rock-and-roll in equal spades that makes it the hidden gem of 2014 waiting to be found.
While perhaps not an original idea, the film follows lonely bartender Bob (Tom Hardy) through a covert scheme of funneling cash to local gangsters – “money drops” – in the underworld of Brooklyn bars. Under the heavy hand of his employer and cousin Marv, Bob finds himself at the center of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighborhood’s past where friends, families, and foes all work together to make a living – no matter the cost. What separates The Drop from other New York gangster films is its smart script from Dennis Lehane of Mystic River and Shutter Island fame, stylish direction from Oscar-nominee Michaël R. Roskam and its terrific performances from Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and James Gandolfini (in his final film role). A thoughtful and well-handled crime drama that offers a twist on the typical gangster film, The Drop proves to be an original and welcome addition to a genre in need new ideas that is likely to entertain despite its slow-burning direction.
A controversial choice perhaps – most people I’ve talked to don’t seem to be to impressed with this hilariously entertaining sequel. While a summer comedy is never high on the Academy’s list of movies to celebrate, 22 Jump Street is largely unrivaled among this year’s releases for sheer laugh-out-loud humor. After the surprise success of the first movie, it would have been easy for directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller to churn out the same movie again but 22 Jump Street is the rare sequel that improves upon the original. While the plot is fairly straight-forward (this time the action takes place in college rather than high-school) the continued back-and-forth between leads Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill provides the movie with equal laughs and heart. The two stars have an obvious ease with each other and the chemistry between them is a constant source of the films comedy. The highlight of the film is the constant Meta references to how bad sequels so often turn out; much of the bawdy humor in 22 Jump Street comes from its makers’ staunch refusal to take anything about the film seriously.
Dubbed this year’s Drive, it’s not difficult to see the comparisons. Effortlessly cool and mysterious, The Guest provides the 2014 update of Gosling’s Driver, with the secretive soldier Adam (Dan Stevens) arriving on the doorstep of the Peterson family, claiming to be a friend of their son who died in action. After the young man is welcomed into their home, a series of accidental deaths seem to be connected to his presence. With a ridiculously hip soundtrack made up of little-know 80’s songs, The Guest is the coolest movie of the year. Perhaps the biggest talking point of the film is the star-is-born performance of Dan Stevens. Stevens, mainly known for his role on the first three seasons of Downton Abbey as the foppish and good-natured Matthew Crawley, is the breakout star of 2014. In his performance, Stevens displays the coolness we demand of our modern movie stars, armed with his charm and six-pack abs, Adam is the surprise character of the year. The action set-pieces are as thrilling as they are humorous, with particular note for the bar-fight scene which shows how dangerous Adam can be. Director Adam Wingard draws heavily on the partnership of John Carpenter and Kurt Russell to offer a throwback to 80’s movies, The Guest seems destined for cult-movie status.
The best summer movie no one saw. It’s difficult to understand why this big budget, Tom Cruise led movie did not become the big success story of the summer. Edge of Tomorrow, based on the manga All You Need Is Kill, is the smartest, funniest and most action-packed film of the year and is deserving of a larger audience. The film takes place in a future where Earth is invaded by an alien race. Major William Cage (Cruise), a public relations officer inexperienced in combat, is forced by his superiors to join a landing operation against the aliens. Though Cage is killed in combat, he finds himself in a time loop that sends him back to the day preceding the battle every time he dies. Cage teams up with Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) to improve his fighting skills through the repeated days, seeking a way to defeat the extraterrestrial invaders. High-concept but great pay-off, a complicated plot is kept simple under Doug Liman’s direction. What makes this movie such a joy comes from the two lead performers. Cruise is a delight here, his best performance since Minority Report, his character being far different from anything he has played before. Cage is a cowardly weasel, trying to avoid going to war through any means necessary. This isn’t a straight-forward action man and Cruise plays the reluctant-hero with relish and humor. Blunt too shows why she is one of the most dependable actresses in Hollywood whether it’s drama, action or comedy. Rita Vrataski, dubbed by the other solders as “The Full Metal Bitch”, is a badass warrior and proves to be the prefect partner for Cruise’s Cage, her brawn to his brain provides the movie with its best action and emotional center. It also has the key element every summer movie should have and that’s humor. Cruise’s numerous deaths offer respite from the energetic action set pieces and provide the films biggest laughs, each one different in some new and original way. If you are looking for a summer blockbuster that’s as smart as it is thrilling, Edge of Tomorrow is the best action film of the year.
This film has no right to be as good as it is. The film follows Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) as he drives from Wales to London on the eve of the biggest job of his career with the entire film taking place within a BMW X5. Hardly a pulsating set-up, throw in the fact that Locke’s job is to supervise a large concrete pour in Birmingham and that only one actor ever appears on screen and this should be snooze-fest. For a movie with an idea as experimental as this it lives and dies on the shoulder of its only actor and this is what makes Locke one of the best gems of the year. Hardy delivers the most impressive performance of 2014, his only outside contact through the numerous phone calls he receives from his wife, children, co-workers and one-time mistress, throughout his journey. We can see the attraction of the role to Hardy, it appears the ultimate test for an actor but when watching the film it is difficult to imagine any other working actor having the balls to pull it off. Hardy presents a man tormented by his inner conflict, a good man torn by a single moment of weakness who feels a responsibility to stand by his mistakes. We only find out the reason for Locke’s journey throughout the course of the film, Steven Knight’s script drawing in the audience and leaving them on the edge of their seat. Hardy has the difficult task of having to show the audience his every emotion while be stuck in the front seat of his car and this is what is most remarkable about Hardy’s performance. We become so invested in Locke’s life, whether it’s his heart-breaking confession to his wife or his angry confrontations with his imagined father. Never forced but always real, Knight has created a three-dimensional character that proves to be the perfect vehicle (no pun intended) for Hardy, who may be the best working actor Hollywood has today. Who knew the concrete industry could be so thrilling?
“If it’s in a word. Or it’s in a look. You can’t get rid of … The Babadook.” No movie monster of the 21st century has been as terrifying or chilling as Mister Babadook, the frightful figure who torments a mother and her son in this small, Australian gem. The film revolves around a single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battling with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her. The Babadook is relentlessly gripping, refreshingly innovative and hide-behind-the-sofa terrifying. In a time when horror films prefer easy scare tactics involving unlikable, good-looking people, director Jennifer Kent instead opts to use old-school frights that are born out of melancholia, claustrophobia and paranoia with characters we become emotionally invested in. Kent lends humanity to the horror genre without sacrificing the creep factor. Gory murders are replaced with psychological terror; The Babadook relies on real horror rather than a man in a mask chasing young people. Essie Davis plays the mother, Amelia, and beautifully portrays the disintegrating psychology of a woman slowly losing her mind. The atmosphere of the film is one of dread and fear, keeping the audience gripped for its entirety. Smart horror seem like an oxymoron in modern cinema but The Babadook proves that the most frightening films are ones that slowly creep up on us, keeping us in constant fear throughout. This is a movie that will not allow you to forget it, staying with you long after the credits begin to roll, and no film this year will terrify, enthrall or entertain you as much as The Babadook.
If there are any other hidden gems not being celebrated this Sunday that you loved please let us know in the comments.