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Friday, 2 January 2015

The best of 2014 part 4

I keep hearing how it hasn’t been an especially good year for film but I couldn’t disagree more – I could have easily done a top 40 and filled it with movies I thoroughly enjoyed. There are some fine pictures that didn’t make this list – Paddington, The Box Trolls and The Lego Movie, if we are talking kids’ films; Leviathan, Heli, Norte: The End of History, and Two Days, One Night, if we’re talking challenging foreign cinema. Add to that Jimmy’s Hall, Calvary, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Possibilities Are Endless, The Punk Singer, Fruitvale Station, and Exhibition – all of them crackers...

So, then, to my favourite film of 2014…

1. Under the Skin (Director: Jonathan Glazer)





Scarlett Johansson has done some great work this year – as a kick-arse Avenger in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and a disembodied artificial intelligence in Her. The actress' role as an extra-terrestrial femme fatale in Under The Skin, though, is in a different league altogether: eerie, erotic, unsettling, mesmerising, terrifying. At first, an alienated, emotion-free void; later, confused and vulnerable as her mission on Earth starts to go horribly awry.

The film itself – Glazer's third following Sexy Beast and the underrated Birth – is not only my favourite film of 2014 but a genuine, copper-bottomed masterpiece. A sci-fi horror for grown-ups, the like of which I haven't seen in a depressingly long time. Sure, you can see the DNA of Kubrick, Roeg and Lynch here and there but Glazer is nodding respectfully rather than appropriating. Sparse of dialogue, dripping with atmosphere and buoyed by Mica Levi’s beautifully discordant soundtrack, Under The Skin feels unique, fresh and utterly vital.

Scene after scene punches you in the guts and lingers long in the memory – a truly disturbing sequence shot on a freezing-cold beach featuring a howling toddler, a drowning couple and an exhausted would-be rescuer perhaps being the standout moment.

It’s a clever film, too. What better way to explore themes of otherness and alienation than by sticking an impossibly glamorous A-list Hollywood actress in the middle of Glasgow on a boozy Saturday night and getting her to interact with the real people she meets there?


A lot of movies I’ve seen this year – even a couple of the very good ones on this list – are great for the first hour or so, before losing focus in their final act; barely able to stagger over the finish line. One of the things I love most about Under The Skin is that its ending is so perfect – a brutal coming together of many of the film’s themes and ideas as hunter becomes hunted.

The picture was well loved by critics but seemed to divide audiences. Its detractors – many of whom dismissed it as pretentious (code for “I didn’t understand it”) – are hopelessly, embarrassingly wrong. In 10-20 years time, it will be a thoroughly adored sci-fi cult classic with a pile of books written about it. It will be afforded the same reverence as Blade Runner, Alien or The Man Who Fell To Earth. And it will deserve every bit of it.



Next: the year's biggest turkeys...

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