This year gave us a deluge of great films. Looking back over the year, the amount of quality cinema is quite astonishing. With such a huge crop to pick from, how on earth do you pick the best films of 2014? After much painful soul-searching and deliberation, here are five of the best films that hit Australian cinemas in 2014. You may have seen some you enjoyed more (who could resist the rollercoaster ride of David Fincher's Gone Girl?) or that made you laugh harder (22 Jump Street might have even transcended being a guilty pleasure) but these five films are an attempt to represent a variety of genres and showcase the most original, intriguing, technically brilliant pieces of cinema of the year.
The Babadook is only just seeing wide release outside of Australia, but the home-grown horror movie has been haunting our dreams for months. Plot-wise, The Babadook isn't necessarily the most original horror movie you're likely to see, but while it is terrifying, there's also a lot more on its mind than just cheap scares. The malignant presence known as the Babadook that haunts widow Amelia (Essie Davis, in an incredibly moving performance) and her nervous, troubled six-year-old son Sam is more than just a supernatural monster. The Babadook is a film about loneliness, loss, depression and fear itself, making it far more emotionally affecting than any other monster movie. Its enormous emotional heft is ultimately a re-affirmation of the power of love, kindness, compassion and bravery, making this a horror movie with a soul.
It would have been easy for Boyhood to sink under the weight of hype; The film was shot over twelve years so that the cast (Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and Ellar Coltrane as the boy of the film's title) age in real time. It doesn't really have a plot, just like the best of the work of director Richard Linklater, and yet its screenplay is tight and confident, making each scene a marvel in its own right. Boyhood is a big, soaring movie, full of uncomfortable moments, sadness, joy, nostalgia and confusion, just like the life of anyone watching it. You may ask what's so fascinating about watching one young man grow to adulthood, but Boyhood taps into something implaceable and beautiful. It is an experience that you will never forget.
Some might be incredulous at the act of placing a film as gleefully silly as The Grand Budapest Hotel on this list, but this film is the point at which Wes Anderson proved that his heavily-stylised, hopelessly twee films are more than just a curiosity. This is the film that cemented his place as one of the most exciting and original directors working today. The twisting, rollicking tale, framed as a story within a story within a story features Anderson's trademark pop-up book visuals (including some shots of tiny cardboard miniatures representing the setting), but the quirky cast of characters are fully three dimensional. The humour is weird, the story is sprawling, the cameos are cheeky, but there is a real heart beating at the centre of this movie. By the final scene, you will be in love with Ralph Fiennes' brilliant portrayal of Gustav H. and more than a little sad that the story had to end.
We already knew that director Spike Jonze was in a class of his own. With masterpieces like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation under his belt, he has proved that he is a director capable of being both arty and accessible at the same time. Her may be his personal peak. Perhaps the film's main success is in Joaquin Phoenix, who spends much of the film completely alone, talking to Sam (the voice of Scarlett Johansson) who happens to be his computer operating system. Phoenix's portrayal of lovesickness and heartache is subtle and brilliantly affecting, assisted by a screenplay (an Oscar-winning screenplay, no less) that is full of humour and pathos. Her is that rare thing, a genuinely original love story, and a truly wonderful piece of cinema.
If you hated Under the Skin, it's probably because you were expecting a traditional sci-fi film. Jonathan Glazer's film, adapted from the novel of the same name by Michel Faber is slow, eerie and very enigmatic. Somewhere in Scotland, a soft-spoken woman played by Scarlett Johansson is driving around in a van, luring men into a dilapidated building, where they disappear to a mysterious, terrifying fate. Under the Skin raises more questions than it answers, but despite that, it is a surprisingly touching film. Johansson's character, never named in the movie, spends most of the film in silence, but we acutely witness a change come over her; we see a solid and real representation of that elusive concept known as "humanity." Under the Skin is a bold experiment in filmmaking that pays off if you only give it a chance.