Top 14 VOD films of 2014
Staff Reporter | On 31, Dec 2014Reading time: 9 mins
As 2014 draws to a close, we look back over the previous 12 months to pick our favourite films to be released on VOD. It’s been a good year for digital distribution, which continues to make movies accessible to the widest possible audiences, regardless of their budget or availability through traditional media.
Films such as Boyhood have enjoyed early digital releases – Richard Linklater’s isn’t out on DVD for several weeks – while a whole wave of smaller movies, such as The Spectacular Now and Two Days, One Night, have been released straight to VOD (or day-and-date with cinemas), helping them to find fans who would otherwise miss them completely. We’ve been there every step of the way, highlighting the gems only available online – and the ones (hello to Inside Llewyn Davis and Under the Skin) already available on subscription VOD services.
After collating the votes from several of our writers, here are our top 14 VOD films of 2014.
You’d like to be rich, wouldn’t you? Do you know what can make you rich? Jordan Belfort does. He, and he alone, knows the secret to money. As Belfort shows, there’s one thing people want more than anything, and they will give anything to have it. The Wolf of Wall Street is The Great Gatsby on cocaine, pot, crack, vodka, whisky – and an arrogantly large overdose of greed.
The Spectacular Now. That’s where Sutter (Teller) lives. It’s a great place, full of alcohol, dangerous driving, the perfect girlfriend and no worries. But when she leaves him, that perfect world falls apart, piece by messy piece. It may not sound particularly original but James Ponsoldt’s film (which was released straight to VOD in the UK in July) feels like a fresh entry in the teen movie canon. Its secret weapon? Honesty.
Speed but with a piano instead of a bus. When you put it like that, you wonder why no one’s made Grand Piano before. Sort of. But Eugenio Mira has picked up the barmy baton before anyone else could, creating a thriller that takes its idea and runs with it all the way up the scale. Its sheer commitment to the silly concept is to be applauded.
Three pale-faced loners sit around for 90 minutes, much like they have done for centuries, just… well, existing. After all, what else is there to do? Jim Jarmusch’s vampire flick shoots the monotony of immortality through a stoner-like haze, his camera falling over the back of the couch as they get high on the red stuff. Amid the colourful sets, hilariously silly dialogue and sexy chemistry between Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, though, lies a deep reflection on mortality. That’s what gives this horror such unexpected charm: our couple are more like people than monsters, stretched out for eternity, struggling to fill their hours with anything meaningful.
Written and directed by two-time Palme D’Or winners the Dardenne Brothers, Two Days, One Night is set in a small Belgian town and stars Marion Cotillard as Sandra, a working class mother of two, whose extended sick leave prompts her boss to decide that the factory can manage without her. He asks her co-workers to choose, via a show of hands, between keeping Sandra on and receiving an annual bonus of €1,000 each, albeit with extra hours involved. This powerfully emotional drama shows the Dardennes at the top of their game.
Artist-turned-director Steve McQueen has made a name for himself for tackling difficult subjects head-on – and for doing it beautifully. 12 Years a Slave continues the first part of that tradition, but skips the second, as the director presents Solomon Northup’s horrible true story of being captured and forced into slavery with minimum fuss – and maximum power. Chiwetel Ejiofor leads an astonishing cast in a film that feels as important as it is upsetting.
Everyone knows Noah. The tale of an ancient cataclysmic flood is embedded in civilisations the world over. Darren Aronofsky’s version highlights its central environmental themes but, between its breathtaking montage of evolution and serious exploration of faith and obedience, resonates with a new-found humanity. The director’s achievement here is not to laugh or lecture, but to bring this tale vividly to life for modern audiences, regardless of creed or culture. A thrilling, shocking, daringly unique piece of cinema.
“Killing a priest on a Sunday. That’ll be a good one.” That’s an unknown congregation member to Father James (Brendan Gleeson) one day in the confession box. Told he has one week to get his house in order, the priest finds himself facing death – for the price of other people’s sins. Blackly funny and movingly sincere, the result is a powerful story of a decent man coming to terms with his own mortality. Killing a bad priest? That’s nothing. Killing a good priest? That really does stay with you.
Easily Marvel’s most surprising movie to date, this superhero adventure puts the “comic” back into “comic book”. The tale of a group of outsiders banding together to save the universe follows a disappointingly familiar formula – complete with giant space ship crashing into a city – but every predictable plot point is undermined by its own subversive sense of humour. Led by a phenomenal Chris Pratt (the world’s most unlikely action star) and supported by a violent raccoon, an infectious soundtrack and a talking tree, this is slick, silly and, most important of all, very, very funny.
hink The LEGO Movie is going to be one long advert for LEGO? Well, it is. But it also isn’t. Why? Christopher Miller and Phil Lord. The LEGO Movie is the perfect fit for the directors of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street. Freed by the toy’s potential to make anything, the duo’s anarchic comedy is more apparent than ever. Barely a plot point goes by without it being undercut by a silly comment or a slapstick stunt (Lord and Miller have a real feel for the clumsy, blocky nature of their subject’s form). For the business lords at LEGO, that makes it a flawless piece of corporate marketing. For everyone else, that makes it an anti-capitalist celebration of beating the system. Deconstructing a whole movie only to build something unpredictable from the pieces? Believe the song they play throughout: everything is awesome.
“If it’s never new and it doesn’t get old, it’s a folk song.”
That’s Llewyn Davis (Isaac), an amazing guitarist and a screw-up of a human being. We follow Llewyn as he strums his way through life a bar at a time, getting beaten up in alleys and surfing the sofas of people who don’t like him very much. Losing cats, sleeping with friends’ wives and never becoming famous, this moving character study explores the pain of loss as well as the necessity of art to express it. Strolling the sorrowful folk scene just before Dylan arrived, the Coens’ anti-hero is a talent without recognition. Does Llewyn deserve stardom at all? Lost in the intimacy of his on-stage performance, the directors, like Davis himself, soon stop caring. It’s not about success. It’s what he does.
“There is still a glimmer of civilisation in the barbaric slaughterhouse we know as humanity.”
That’s Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) to his young bellboy protege Zero (Tony Revolori) at The Grand Budapest Hotel. Located halfway up a mountain in the tiny, war-torn Eastern European Republic of Zubrowka, it’s a frontier for wealth, sophistication, old women with large suitcases and fluffy pink pastries. Wes Anderson’s tribute to the lost decorum of the past as well as the act of storytelling itself feels almost like a summation of the director’s career; combining the naivety of Rushmore with the spot-motion anarchy of Fantastic Mr. Fox, it zips along with mechanical precision, a clockwork dainty that ticks relentlessly against the gloomy tide of fascism.
Jonathan Glazer’s bizarre sci-fi begins with a sequence that could either be something launching through space or the creation of a human. That existential ambiguity – and hint of voyeurism – festers as Glazer introduces an alien (Scarlett Johansson) driving round Glasgow. Shot on the sly, with the actress clad in black wig and furs, she picks up men using innocuous smalltalk from her bright, red lips. Haunting, moving, hypnotic. However your interpret it, the one thing – perhaps the most fascinating of all – you can say for certain? This alien’s reaction to the film would be completely different to any of our own.
There’s something unspeakably wonderful about the fact that if you were to see Boyhood now, you would have a different reaction to it than at any other point in your life. Because Boyhood isn’t just about a boy: it’s about how life is experienced by everyone around us, from his sister to his mum and even his Redneck granddad, who gives him a loaded shotgun for his birthday. Shot over 12 years, every single character develops over the production’s lifespan – and each one triggers a personal memory unique to a person in the audience. Directed by Linklater with the same unobtrusive style as the Before Sunrise trilogy, Boyhood is less like watching a film, and more like watching life itself.
What does it mean? “I don’t know,” admits Ethan Hawke’s dad. “Neither does anyone else. We’re all just winging it. The important thing is you’re feeling stuff.” Unique, ambitious and astonishingly moving, Boyhood is a phenomenal achievement of filmmaking. More than that, though, it’s a chronicle of life across a generation; a whole load of people just winging it. You feel stuff every second.
Stranger by the Lake
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Mars (Geoff Marslett)
What were your favourite films of 2014?