Oh hey, I’m finally making at ‘best of 2014’ post.
First Things First
This is just my personal top 10. Meaning that, I am in no way asserting that other films that were made this year aren’t really great too. In fact, there are actually a fair number of noteworthy and acclaimed films from 2014 that I have not yet been able to see.
I live in an area that tends not to show well reviewed and artistically interesting films. It sucks. Some of the films that I have not seen are A Most Violent Year, Inherent Vice, Foxcatcher, The Theory of Everything, Mommy, and Starred Up. Keep that in mind.
What follows is a very loosely ordered list of my top films of 2014.
Directed by Alejandro Iñárritu
U.S. Release Date: 14 Nov 2014
For me, Birdman has it all. It’s dark, comedic, complex, inspired, and original. It’s packed with strong performances, its cinematography is fantastic, and its score is incredible.
As I wrote in my original review of the film, “Birdman is a meta, postmodern, and darkly delightful work of satirical and sometimes comedic magical realism. It’s also fine example of thoughtful and thoroughly engrossing film making. With Birdman, Iñárritu has created a film that questions the nature of everything from film and fame to love and reality, and the results are (more often than not) pretty spectacular.” The film offers viewers a unique and thoroughly memorable cinematic experience, and Iñárritu, Lubezki, Keaton, and Sanchez all deserve high praise for their work on the film. Birdman truly is a sight to behold.
Directed by David Fincher
U.S. Release Date: 3 Oct 2014
Unlike the group of crusty old white guys that is ”””””’the Academy,”””””’ I absolutely loved Gone Girl. The film is dark, slick, intense, and incredibly entertaining. It’s also smarter than it’s huge popularity might have you think, is well directed, has an unsettling and amazing score, and features Rosamund Pike in what is (to my mind) one of the very best performances of the year.
Gone Girl is hypnotic It’s funny, it’s sinister, it’s tense, and it isn’t afraid to manipulate its audiences either. As I wrote in my original review, “Gone Girl offers a haunting, scathing, and wonderfully wicked look at relationships, gender relations, and human nature” and “Strong performances, a brilliant soundtrack, and a dark as night sense of humor abound” in it. Gone Girl is delightfully haunting. It’s “pulpy and trashy and it knows it.” For me, Gone Girl is one of Fincher’s best films to date, and it’s easily the best Hollywood thriller of 2014.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Directed by Wes Anderson
U.S. Release Date: 28 Mar 2014
This is actually the only film on this list that I have not written about previously (it was released several months before I began this blog), so….yeah
Hilarious, heartfelt, and well written, The Grand Budapest Hotel provided me with the most fun I had at the movies all year. The film juxtaposes the comedic with the tragic, the absurd with realistically grotesque, and the artificial with the sincere, and it all makes for one extremely enjoyable ride. This is the kind of film that I expect to find myself watching again and again with friends and family, and while that is not typically how I find myself describing the films I love, I most certainly mean it as a compliment here.
This delightful and smartly written comedy is a visual feast. Anderson is known for his symmetrical shots and his use of strong colors, and both are more than present in the film. The film also boasts whimsical and carefully constructed sets and, like nearly all of Anderson’s work, has a distinct (and strangely comforting) aesthetic. With this heavily and playfully stylized film, one gets the sense that setting his film in past somehow freed the already quirky and creative Anderson to be even more fantastical than usual (and it totally works). In addition to its screenplay and visuals, perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of this film is Ralph Fiennes memorable performance. As the enigmatic Gustave H., Fiennes is charming, ridiculous, mysterious, genuine, superficial, and so much more.
Under the Skin
Directed by Jonathan Glazer
U.S. Release Date: 04 Apr 2014
Under the Skin is a beautiful, haunting, intelligent, and deeply disturbing film that is much more than the sum of it’s parts. “With it’s moody, stunning, and disturbing visuals, with its hypnotic and tense soundtrack, and with its obscurity, Under the Skin makes for an unforgettable cinematic experience.” Glazer’s film “takes willing viewers into itself forcefully and overwhelms them with itself. [It] is strange and hypnotic. It is beautiful. It is terrifying. It is unsettling.”
As I wrote in an earlier post, Glazer’s Under the Skin “presents itself as elusive, mysterious, and strange, but it is also powerful; in this way, Under the Skin is just like the otherworldly woman/creature at its center. No matter what one thinks of Glazer’s most recent effort, the film makes it very difficult for anyone to leave it unchanged. Under the Skin is a scary and beautiful sci-fi film that repeatedly demonstrates the power of cinema to change how people feel and to alter how they see the world. If someone leaves Under the Skin bothered by how utterly uncomfortable or confused they feel, they would also do well to remember that the film works very hard to make them feel that way.”
Directed by Ava DuVernay
U.S. Release Date: 25 Dec 2014
Selma is certainly one of the most powerful and the most important films I have seen in a while. It is also an example of a biopic done right. It’s tightly focused scope increases the film’s potential for impact, and it’s strong performances and direction take full advantage of that potential.
Oyelowo, DuVernay, and Young all deserve a great deal of recognition for their fantastic work in this film. Selma humanizes King while presenting a complex take on an incredibly stirring and terribly unfinished chapter in America’s history. “Selma is emotional, decidedly human, and razor sharp all at once”
(quoting myself again). And though it portrays a figure as surrounded in mythos as MLK, it “takes root firmly in the real and in the deeply personal. DuVernay’s presentation of King and Oyelowo’s masterful performance” bring King down to earth, which is exactly where he lived his life. “At the same time, those who marched with him are also afforded some of the recognition and the pathos that they deserve” (if only I could say the same for the film. *cough* academy *cough*).
Directed by John Michael McDonagh
U.S. Release Date: 01 Aug 2014
Though it probably wasn’t seen by nearly as many people in the U.S. as other films on this list, John Michael McDonagh’s cynical and darkly comedic Calvary really is one of the best films of the year. With great writing and a strong performance from Brendon Gleeson, Calvary makes for both an intriguing, emotionally moving, and thoroughly entertaining film.
Though a bleak comedy about a week in the life of a Catholic priest may seem like an odd choice for a film, Calvary has the intelligence to make it all work. As I wrote back in August, “Calvary is certainly interested in the powers of faith and forgiveness, but it also knows that both have their limitations,” which makes for an honest though potentially unsettling tale. On top of that, Gleeson’s portrayal of Father James is fully-realized, touching, and magnetic.” Moreover, “this melancholic and engrossing film does a great job of walking the line between entertainment and brooding and, for all its caustic moments, Calvary manages to remain touching.”
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
U.S. Release Date: 22 Aug 2014
Everything that follows is from the review I posted a week or so ago. I still agree with everything I said, so here: “Frank is, quite simply, one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a while… The film is cleverly written, is quirky without being off putting, and is both genuinely thought-provoking and enjoyably entertaining.”
“[Frank is] quaint without trying too hard. It’s charming, dark, touching, and absurd all at once. It’s kooky, but it never really severs ties with the real world, and it manages to be emotionally affecting without too much sentimentality or sensationalism (which I certainly appreciate).” Also, “though it is certainly possible to enjoy Frank as little more than a quirky comedy about some rather odd musicians, there is a lot more to it than that (thank god). Abrahamson’s latest offering presents a nuanced exploration of creativity, fame, and mental illness that asks audiences to consider to what extent such topics are (or are not) interconnected.“
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
U.S. Release Date: 6 Feb 2014
Something tells me that this will be the most unpopular choice on this list. Oh well don’t care I liked it.
Enemy is a cryptic, unsettling, complex, and well-crafted psychological thrilller that deliberately presents its viewers with a puzzle for them to untangle upon further reflection. The film is tense, is tightly wound, and is crafted in a way that invites various interpretations. It is also darkly compelling and offers two strong, subtle, and well-restrained performances from Gyllenhaal.
This haunting, eerie, and strangely colorless film blurs the lines between reality and imagination, but it does so quietly (almost sneakily) and without fanfare. Enemy is dreamy and unsettling. It’s odd, it’s beautifully shot, and it’s just creepy enough. To me at least, there’s something almost Hitchcockian about Villeneuve’s latest effort (it’s as if some of the anxieties common in Hitchcock have been given a sleek and temptingly enigmatic 21st century makeover). As I wrote in a post in which I discuss some of the more potentially confusing aspects of the film, Enemy was not made “for the lazy viewer.” “The film opens with a title card that claims, ‘Chaos is order yet undeciphered’; in a sense, the entire film can be seen as an effort to present a work of art which viewers can then use to prove the claim’s truthfulness to themselves.” The results are quite fascinating.
Directed by Joon-ho Bong
U.S. Release Date: 11 Jul 2014
Though I absolutely loathe the term “guilty pleasure,” you could sort of say that Snowpiercer is the closest thing to one one on this list. It’s an action movie. It’s got lots of fight scene. Chris Evans is in it. And it’s also really really good. “With its beauty and horror, its intense fight scenes and philosophical musings, Snowpiercer is a film fueled by juxtaposition,” and it’s a strangely wild ride from start to finish.”
Snowpiercer is a film that respects the intelligence of its audiences. As I wrote back near the inception of this blog, “this unapologetic and self-assured film offers pure entertainment coupled with profound reflections on humanity, the environment, and the dangers of capitalist society.” Joon-ho Bong’s bleak futuristic sci fi flick is “fun, visceral, and though-provoking”, and much like the train on which it is set, it moves with a relentless momentum that one can’t help but admire. Ultimately, the dark and visually stylized Snowpiercer occupies a rather interesting space somewhere between self-indulgent action film and more markedly intellectual arthouse fare, and it does it well.”
Directed by Dan Gilroy
U.S. Release Date: 31 Oct 2014
Nightcrawler is a lean thriller and an engrossing character study with a dark comedic streak running through it. Gyllenhaal gives an absolutely gripping performance as the terrifyingly tenacious Lou Bloom, and Gilroy’s screenplay offers a bleak, provocative, and strangely amusing take on American dreams of success and monsters they have the ability to create.
Nightcrawler “is dark and unsettling in it’s comedy, and those moments in which audiences find themselves smiling are also some of the film’s most memorable for being downright disturbing.” As I indicated above, the film simply would not be what is is without Gyllenhaal’s performance. After all, “the film is far more concerned with presenting Lou as an object of interest than it is in hitting viewers over the head with some moral epiphany.” As I wrote in November, “Louis Bloom is terrifying, and Gyllenhaal brings him to life in an unforgettable and fully realized manner.” The film’s slick and darkly realistic cinematography is also noteworthy; Elswit’s work in the film is crucial to its overall tone and success.
The films that nearly made my list (and may have had I put it together on another day) are The Double, Ida, Blue Ruin, A Most Wanted Man, and Boyhood. The last few spots really were a toss up,
so don’t freak out if you disagree with them.
Until Next Time
Thank you so much for reading. Feel free to let me know what you think of this list with a comment below!