This has been a great year for homegrown cinema. British and Irish films have consistently been amongst the most exciting releases showcased in UK cinemas throughout 2014. Just a quick glimpse of the winners at the British Independent Film Awards (BIFAs) is enough to see that.
The thing that really stands out is the sheer variety of British films that have been released in 2014. There has been everything from bawdy comedies to kiddie animation, via mature thrillers and offbeat drama.
It’s a mark of how good this year has been that a handful of really impressive films don’t even fit on this list. The likes of Mr Turner, Belle and The Zero Theorem came very close to winning a spot, but the standard in the end was just too high.
Here are the top ten British and Irish films of 2014.
It takes a laudable lack of ego for a performer to agree to a role in which they spend almost every moment of the film with their face obscured. It’s even laudable when their face is obscured by an enormous papier-mache Frank Sidebottom head. Step forward Michael Fassbender, star of Lenny Abrahamson’s incredibly bizarre dramedy Frank.
Domhnall Gleeson plays a young musician, who is thrown into a band with an unpronouncable name, fronted by the enigmatic title character. As he begins to win the band mainstream appeal, they must learn to deal with the pressure.
For all of Frank’s flaws, it is admirably committed to its bizarre concept and tone and packed with impressive performances. It also has plenty to say about the price of fame and the inherent battle between art and commercialism.
Frank is available now on DVD/Blu-ray.
9. Black Sea
The most recent entry on this list, Black Sea is the latest in a long line of thrillers set aboard submarines. Despite Jude Law’s awful Aberdonian accent, the film uses its claustrophobic setting to construct a tense story of male greed, machismo and murder.
Despite its British trappings, the film boasts a heavyweight international cast, including Aussie Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy from America. Everyone involved rises to the challenge and keeps the tension broiling right up until the explosive climax.
Black Sea is a real ride of a movie that makes the most of its environment and cast to produce something that’s genuinely gripping from start to finish.
Black Sea is still showing in some cinemas and will be released on DVD/Blu-ray in 2015. Read my full review here.
The streets of 70s Belfast became a battleground for Yann Demange’s debut feature ‘71, starring surging British star Jack O’Connell as a squaddie abandoned in the heart of a hostile area.
It’s very much O’Connell’s film, with his character in almost every frame as he flees the murderous men at his back. The Midlander brings his trademark rawness to the part, but also imbues him with real vulnerability in the face of huge adversity.
Demange proves hugely accomplished for a first-time filmmaker, with ‘71 his attempt to stick a flag in the ground. And then probably blow it up.
‘71 will be available on DVD/Blu-ray in March 2015. Read my full review here.
It’s always a daunting task to bring an iconic children’s character to a new generation, but Mighty Boosh director Paul King did a great job this year with Michael Bond’s refugee bear Paddington.
Ben Whishaw does a tremendous job as Colin Firth’s replacement in the lead vocal role and the human cast provide great support. Doctor Who’s Peter Capaldi excels as an anti-immigration neighbour and Nicole Kidman goes full panto as an evil taxidermist.
The true success of this new Paddington, though, is its heart. King conveys the character’s very modern immigration message with real charm and warmth, whilst still preventing the film from becoming sickly and saccharine.
It’s a compelling mix of offbeat British humour and broad comedy.
Paddington is still showing in cinemas and will be released on DVD/Blu-ray in 2015. Read my full review here.
6. The Inbetweeners 2
The boys are back! After the perfect ending to The Inbetweeners Movie, the idea of a sequel left many wondering whether the E4 television series was beginning to overreach itself. Thankfully, the film was every bit as funny and filthy as its predecessor.
Will, Simon and Neil jet off to Australia, where Jay is in the midst of a “mental gap year” – a fact which of course turns out to be one of his classic exaggerations. On their impromptu odyssey, the guys butt heads with – amongst other things – pampered rich boys, old flames and a turd on a water slide.
Whilst perhaps not as instantly rewatchable as the first film, The Inbetweeners 2 is yet another fitting continuation to the saga. The show has been a huge part of the lives of a whole generation and it continued to hit a high standard in 2014.
The Inbetweeners 2 is available now on DVD/Blu-ray. Read my full review here.
5. The Imitation Game
Since screenwriter Colin Welland announced that “the British are coming” at the Oscars in 1982, films from this side of the Atlantic have regularly appeared on the Academy’s shortlists. World War Two biopic The Imitation Game looks set to be this year’s big British contender.
Benedict Cumberbatch is terrific as renowned codebreaker Alan Turing, brilliantly conveying the man’s icy genius and inner turmoil regarding his sexuality. Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode also shine in support.
The film manages to take a group of people standing in a room and turns it into something thrilling. It’s a prime example of how top-notch direction, script and performance can work together to make a story pop out of the screen.
The Imitation Game will be released on DVD/Blu-ray in 2015. Read my full review here.
4. The Riot Club
Bullingdon drama The Riot Club took a bit of a hammering from some critics on its initial release. They decried it for lacking edge and taking facile shots at the privileged societal order that produced many of the UK’s top politicians.
However, the film is a brilliantly bitey satire that exposes the grotesque opulence prevalent amongst British high society. Laura Wade’s script works far better than most stage-to-screen adaptations and never feels as if it’s constraining its cinematic vision for the sake of faithfulness.
The centrepiece dinner scene is a masterpiece of tension, building expertly towards its genuinely shocking finale, which had me legitimately gripping the armrests of my seat. In fact, The Riot Club might be the most underrated film of the year.
The Riot Club will be available on DVD/Blu-ray in January 2015. Read my full review here.
Pride was a deserving and rightful winner of the top prize at the BIFAs earlier in the year. The fact-based dramedy shone light on a forgotten portion of the miners’ strike – the relationship between a Welsh mining village and a fundraising group of London gays and lesbians.
Warm performances from Paddy Considine, Ben Schnetzer and others carry the film’s emotional heft, whilst Imelda Staunton and Joseph Gilgun bring the comedy. Despite its feel-good tone, the film is equally comfortable when exploring darker material, with Russell Tovey coming close to stealing the film in a goosebump-inducing cameo.
Boasting incredible acting and a script punctuated by one-liners aplenty, Pride deserves its place as one of the best British or Irish films of 2014.
Pride will be available on DVD/Blu-ray in March 2015. Read my full review here.
2. Starred Up
Jack O’Connell makes his second appearance on this list with the brutal, grimy prison drama Starred Up. Written by former prison therapist Jonathan Asser, the film gives an insightful and realistic perspective on the way in which the nick works and the dynamics at play between inmates.
O’Connell’s bravura performance is, as with ‘71, at the centre of everything. His barely concealed rage and aggression creates a palpable sense of tension that only escalates with the involvement of his character’s convict father, played by Ben Mendelsohn.
By the time Starred Up reaches its climax, it really leaves a mark. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a stiff right fist to the face.
Starred Up is available now on DVD/Blu-ray. Read my full review here.
The McDonagh brothers are responsible for some of the most interesting films coming out of Ireland today. Martin struck gold with In Bruges and entertained with Seven Psychopaths, whilst John Michael McDonagh stayed at home to make chaotic cop comedy The Guard. His follow-up to that film – Calvary – might be the finest film either brother has produced to date.
Regular McDonagh collaborator Brendan Gleeson plays a priest who is told during confession he will be murdered in a week. The film follows Gleeson as he visits his congregation and goes about his business in the week he has left to live.
The plot of Calvary might seem threadbare, but there’s a real depth and maturity to McDonagh’s script that provides great richness. This is less an exploration of one character’s life than it is a study of humanity.
As well as getting stellar performances from his actors, McDonagh uses the Irish scenery brilliantly as an extra character. The final scene, set on a beach, is as pure a cinematic moment as any film has produced this year.
Criminally underseen on its cinema release, this is definitely the best British or Irish film of 2014.
Calvary is available now on DVD/Blu-ray. Read my full review here.
Do you agree with my list? Are there any other British or Irish films you think should be considered amongst the best of 2014? Let me know in the comments section below.