2014 saw a terrific array of popular sci-fi, horror, dark-comedy and thriller films, from Interstellar to Nightcrawler to The Babadook to Gone Girl. This list aims to shed some light on twenty films which perhaps were overlooked by audiences or did not garner the critical acclaim they may have justly deserved. What titles may you have included on such a list?
20. Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla
Something of a cross between Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) and Ice Cream Man (1995), this Australian indie psycho-drama is definitely one of the most uniquely bizarre films of its kind.
Warren Thompson (Glenn Maynard) is a lonely and socially-inept ice-cream man with an unhealthy and troubled fixation on soap star, Katey George (Kyrie Capri). Warren’s humdrum life is worsened by him being continually accosted by a local thug, but things seem to take a turn for the better when Katey begins to frequent his van and offer Warren the chance for conversation which no one else would.
From the moment we meet Warren, it is understandable that he is a few scoops short of a banana split, but his plight is one which is so very easy to sympathize with due of how life is constantly trampling over him and because of Maynard’s all-out performance. Conclusively, Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla is a weird little curio from down-under – one that blends bitter humour, savage violence and even a palpable aura of melancholy.
19. The Zero Theorem
The final film in Terry Gilliam’s “Orwellian triptych” trilogy of futuristic satires – following Brazil (1985) and The Twelve Monkeys (1995) – is another visually astounding and intellectually confounding piece of work which the director is known so well for.
Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) is an uneasy computer-programmer who is given admission to work from home in order to put more focus on the task he has been assigned – to discover the origin of human existence. Meanwhile – and somewhat taking precedence over his all-important task – Leth is also waiting for a mystery phone call which could ostensibly give him a happiness he has been longing for all his existence, never mind anyone elses.
Typically for a Gilliam picture, many rewards of the film lie in the details of the meticulously constructed world in which the film takes place: the send-up of advertisement, appliances, modern technology, and so on. On the other hand however, is the sheer magnitude and scope of the visuals that the existential plot calls for and are enhanced by. It’s another film to behold from the ‘American Python’.
18. The Sacrament
Ostensibly a found-footage rendition of the horrific Jonestown Massacre of 1978, this brooding thriller is one of Ti West’s best films to date, and which thankfully does not rely merely on jump scares as many recent found-footage films do. Instead, this film employs the uncertain atmosphere it creates and simply lets it brew to boiling point – something which many contemporary big-budget horror films could take note of.
Patrick (Kentucker Audley) receives a letter from his estranged drug-addict sister, Caroline (Amy Seimetz), telling him that she has settled in an isolated but spiritual drug-free camp in South America inviting him to visit. Along with a camera-crew, Patrick ventures down in order to hopefully bring her back home. Upon meeting the compound leader however, (Gene Jones) it is very obvious that something is very much amiss in the camp.
Some may be let down by the fact that the film is heavily influenced by the Jonestown Massacre as it could potentially dispel any sense of mystery for those who are aware of the real-life atrocity, but this does nothing to hunder the impending dread that is manifested during the apocalyptic finale.
17. The Raid 2
The Raid (2012), was a much needed shot in the arm for action films; a genre which was growing increasingly lethargic by relying heavily on Hollywood’s new wave of ‘geri-action’ films such as: The Expendables (2010) and The Last Stand (2013). This sequel is essentially sticking the needle in again, with twice the dosage.
The Raid 2 kicks off a few hours after the events of the first film – after having taken down a tower block full of bad guys (almost entirely with his bare hands), our protagonist, Rama (Iko Uwais), is immediately thrown back into some brutal and treacherous circumstances.
With the events of the first film unveiling a level of corruption in his police department, Rama is now coerced into delving undercover in order to pervade a merciless crime syndicate which will lead him to the core of the corruption, and also protect his wife and child.
With the first Raid essentially being ‘Die Hard with MMA’, fans will perhaps be surprised by the scope of this sequel: it boasts clear influences from crime-dramas such as Heat (1995), A Bittersweet Life (2005), and perhaps even Donnie Brasco (1997), not to mention a run-time which nears two-hours and thirty-minutes! It is a sequel that does not so much expand on the premise of its predecessor, but further eschews it for a different direction entirely. All in all, The Raid 2 is a bold new entry into action cinema.
A hugely enjoyable horror-comedy from New Zealand, Housebound is essentially a supernaturally riotous rendering of Disturbia (2007) and has enjoyed acclaim at festivals but has sadly not yet reached a wider audience.
Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) is placed under house-arrest to live with her well-intentioned mother after attempting to rob a bank. After a few days of pottering around the house spurring mind-numbing boredom for her, Kylie begins to notice the odd creaking door and weird sounds coming from the basement. Before she knows it, her domestic-imprisonment has become part of a paranormal mystery in itself.
Although it may seem a tad overlong, the constant switches in tone, its sharp mirthful wit, domestic comedy and tendency of being unpredictable ensure that Housebound was one of 2014’s most thoroughly entertaining but overlooked films.
15. Only Lovers Left Alive
Jim Jarmusch’s latest film, Only Lovers Left Alive, is a vampire film without the horror tropes. Instead of featuring vampires who prey on humans, offering copious amounts of bloodshed and sex, it denies us these pleasantries, thus subverting the genre almost entirely.
Jarmusch’s vampires (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton) sate themselves by acquiring pure type O negative blood non-violently (as blood from humans is considered too contaminated) through various dealings with doctors and other vampires – after which, they elegantly sip it from small chalices.
Furthermore, rather than stalk people around old Transylvanian castles or consider some sort of momentous world domination, these vampire’s agendas are largely taken up by donning dark sunglasses, attending garage-rock bars, driving around Detroit or making music with vintage guitars.
Would garlic, sunlight or a stake through the heart kill Jarmusch’s vampires? Who cares?! It’s much better watch these ones ‘live’ anyway.