It's so subjective doing these yearly lists. One man's trash is another man's treasure. I attempted to watch as many of the important films as I could. I missed films such as Noah, Big Eyes, Still Alice, The Zero Theorem, Selma, American Sniper, Venus in Fur, The Rover, The Interview, and the third Hobbit movie, I doubt they would have cracked my top 20.
Note, some of these films are listed as 2013 on IMDb, which was the word premiere at film festivals. I'm going by theatrical release for films such as Under The Skin, Locke, The Double, and so on, because the vast majority of audiences were abe to see them in 2014.
Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
The story could easily have felt uneven because the filmmakers and actors filmed annually over 12 years, but it somehow all fits together into a cohesive whole, and that to me is a sign of good directing and editing. When I can watch a three hour movie and never be bored, then the filmmakers must be doing something right. Before Sunrise is still my favorite by the director. I'd rank Boyhood somewhere among Linklater's top 10 films, maybe even top 5. Time will tell if his latest holds up to revisiting.
Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy) (Review)
A suspenseful movie, with food for thought. Jake Gyllenhaal gives a memorable performance as ambitious sociopath Louis Bloom. His obsessed one-tracked mind is creepy. What’s even more disturbing is these nightcrawler guys actually exist. About the need to be first, which is everywhere nowadays; The first to report the news, the first to tweet the news. Whenever I see news footage of crimes/accidents now, I'll probably think of Lou Bloom. The amorality of newsgathering and making money from people’s tragedy is an issue we are facing right now with the likes of TMZ.
You could say the ultimate villain in the film is the relentless 24-hour news cycle, with Louis Bloom a wrongdoer yes, yet he is also a victim of the system, as are the people who end up in the news due to violence or accidents. What is worrying is a lot of this so-called news we don't really need. It's like 1976's Network for our generation, the more sensational the story, the higher the ratings, the more money can be made from advertising. Greed in the face of human tragedy.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson) (Review)
The most visually dazzling movie I’ve seen in quite some time! Happy I saw it on the big screen. Doesn’t have a dull moment, I was captivated by that world which was created, wanting to step into it, and was tapping my foot along to the score. Loosely based on Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig, and perhaps a tribute to a bygone era, the actual story was simple, but the dialogue was entertaining and amusing. Ralph Fiennes' character was fairly odd, yet I couldn’t wait to hear what he’d say next. I used to not get the director’s light-hearted style, which I found pointless and lacking in depth, but I‘ve begun to warm to Wes Anderson’s work, as I mellow with age, and just accept it for the quirkiness, charm, and eye candy. You could probably watch the film like you read a comic. The Grand Budapest Hotel is about that belief in something beautiful, and how it’s worth fighting for. Wes Anderson is able to find humour in the most sad and mundane events.
Home from Home : Chronicle of a Vision (Die andere Heimat - Chronik einer Sehnsucht) (Edgar Reitz)
Directed by 80 year old Edgar Reitz. A criminally underseen German epic, filmed in black and white. A prequel to the director's acclaimed 80s TV-mini-series Heimat, but I’ve read in reviews no prior knowledge of the series is necessary.
Set in a fictional town in the 1800s, I felt transported back to that era, when they faced different problems than we do today. The characters are memorable, and the pacing well-handled, considering a running time of about 4 hours.
Home From Home won several awards in Germany. Hopefully will not remain an obscurity, deserves a proper dvd release with English subtitles. The running time might be a reason for its limited exposure during award season. Could have benefited from being split up into two parts.
Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund) (Review)
Swedish drama/satire. An entertaining look at the modern family and gender roles, with humor and realism so we wonder how we would have reacted in similar situations. How it's tough to live up to pressures put on us by stereotypes in society. Perhaps the problem is the unrealistic expectations that women have toward their men. However the film also points towards the failure of the wife in how she deals with the situations at hand.
If you are single you might actually be dissuaded about going into a long-term relationship, because it is depicted in such a grueling way. It’s tragi-comic. Several audience members were laughing a lot at the screening I went to, while others were quiet. Tough to know if you should laugh or cry.
I was watching Criterion DVD picks by Ruben Östlund on YouTube, and apparently as soon as the director has an idea for a scene, he checks to see if there is a reference on YouTube, this was the case for Force Majeure, with the bus driver sequence, and worst man cry ever.
Surprisingly, the film was not nominated for a Foreign Language Academy Award, although it did grab a Golden Globe nomination. The director even filmed himself getting snubbed
Whiplash (Damien Chazelle) (Review)
The story is so good for cinema. Unforgettable quotes about rushing or dragging, the music, the performances, the editing, the subtext. Whiplash is a film which has it all. The only reason it missed the top 5 is because it seems to endorse questionable teaching methods in order for the musicians to achieve greatness.
The Double (Richard Ayoade)
Mixing the old and the new worlds confused me, but was an original approach. The production design stands out. I enjoyed reading the book ten years ago, and the director did a good job in taking the timeless elements from Dostoyevsky's 1846 novella.
I loved how the film dealt with the idea of introverts and extroverts. The screenplay is quite ambiguous, particularly the aspect of not recognizing him, and the unreliable narrative. A film I could imagine myself going back to.
The similarly themed Enemy was an alluring puzzle. Of the two films, I felt a deeper emotional connection to the characters in The Double.
Finding Vivian Maier (documentary)
A revealing documentary on the late Vivian Maier, a nanny whose previously unknown cache of 100,000 photographs earned her a posthumous reputation as one of the most accomplished street photographers.
You can raise some ethical concerns– for one, writer/director John Maloof wants to generate more interest in Vivian Maier, to make more money for himself, and two, if Maier is no longer around, who knows how she would like her work to be displayed?
That said, her photography will now be exposed to a wider audience to appreciate and be inspired by, and her eccentric behavior is quite fascinating to hear about. The people she met providing their take on who she was.
Other photographers mentioned: Diane Arbus(street portraits), Robert Frank, Lisette Model, Helen Levitt. And also Garry Winogrand, Eugene Atget, Henri Cartier-Bresson(considered to be the father of photojournalism)
Starred Up (David Mackenzie)
I’ve always loved prison dramas. This one is powerful and moving. The volatile characters I would never want to meet in person, so fascinating for me to get a chance to hang out with them through the medium of film. Ben Mendelsohn gives a great supporting performance as the dad, and the relationship with his son is the most memorable aspect. A star making performance by Jack O'Connell as the son.
For me, the realism of the story and British prison slang was new, and I read somewhere that it’s more of a prison of the mind as the boy acts a similar way on the outside.
Of course we’ve seen realism before(McQueen's Hunger), group therapy(1999’s Girl Interrupted) and father/son relationships, with inmates and prison personnel doing bad things(1993's In The Name of The Father), but Starred Up was different to me.
Begin Again (John Carney)
Really liked the first 25 minutes with Ruffalo and Keira. The scenes in the middle of the movie with Adam Levine are weaker and less involving. But it picks up again later on. There are some great scenes. Keira Knightley is adorable and doesn't embarrass herself singing. Very good soundtrack, and the story somehow avoids cliché. I sense it's a film that would hold up to rewatching because of its warmth and charm. All in all, it isn't just a remake of Once, and manages to be its own thing.
Under The Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
My favorite science fiction movie of 2014. There’s a beauty and an ugliness to the film, if I had to sum up the movie in a sentence. A lot is unexplained. Plenty to admire, the atmosphere, Johansson’s performance, tension in the storytelling, and the unique filmmaking style of walking among regular people who are not even actors. The cinematography is brilliant, I especially loved how the motorcycle scenes played out.
To me, the dialogues in the car are more interesting in the novel. The scene with the deformed man is powerful and stayed with me, interesting the way she doesn't have prejudice about beauty and ugliness, as a normal person might have.
On Mica Levi’s soundtrack Ryan Pollard perceptively wrote: "cleverly concocts the feelings of seduction, foreboding and haunting creepiness. (...) has these strange groaning, sound-fragments of what could be like an alien language"
Locke (Steven Knight)
All takes place in one night in a constrained space, with Tom Hardy's character talking to people over the phone in his car. Doesn’t sound that fascinating, yet it maintained suspense with simple means. Hardy's accent is interesting, as if he was behaving like someone older. Generally the voice acting is very believable by the characters he talks to on the phone. Managed to make dialogue about concrete pouring exciting! Locke did have a few contrived moments in how it played out on the phone, still, it was enjoyable for the duration.
“You’re the complete opposite to me, all the things I love mean absolutely zero to you”
Gone Girl (David Fincher) (Review)
A thriller with unexpected twists. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) reports that his beautiful wife, Amy(Rosamund Pike), has gone missing. I enjoyed the thrill ride, though the main characters are actually unlikeable.
Has its disturbing moments, but very entertaining. I hadn't seen characters written that way before. Apparently every scene is important in the movie, so you have to keep your eyes peeled! Now I want to read the novel it's based on.
Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)
Directed by John Michael McDonagh who made 2011's The Guard, which I also liked.
Besides the humor, which really is needed in a story as black as this, there are also truths about our society. For example sad that a priest can’t talk to a child without the parent being suspicious of foul play, and also sad that the victims feel pain for life.
The fact catholic priests have to put up with a lot of ugliness by listening to all the sins of others is a burden that can be tough to bear. I've read that some hated this film, and it certainly is bleak. Brendan Gleeson again delivers fine work in what could be a career best performance as the priest. If you can stomach the ugliness, the film definitely has some things to say. The well-written dialogue held my interest, and the gallows humor was different to a lot of new films out there.
References the novel Jernigan by David Gates, which may or may not have been an inspiration for writing the script.
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (Elkabetz's)
Nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language film. A well-acted court room drama, which brings attention to an important issue not many are familiar with. The way the married couple look at each other in court is handled in an unsettling way. In fact I'll probably never forget their faces. Simply having them stare at the camera is quite chilling, and puts us in the shoes of the person they are looking at. As they say, a look can say more than a thousand words.
While there may be a low percentage of divorces in Syria and in the neighboring countries, this doesn’t tell us the whole story. In Israel, it can be very difficult for a woman to get a divorce, if the husband due to religious traditions wants to remain in a loveless marriage. In the film, a husband stubbornly refuses to give his wife a divorce. If she is successful or not, I won’t reveal. Of course, the story only focuses on the injustice. There are thousands of happily married couples in Israel. Hopefully the film can shine a light on unreasonable rights for women.
What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi)
New Zealand vampire comedy/mockumentary. It feels like a TV-show that has been condensed into a movie. For a low budget film the special effects are quite impressive At only 86 minutes it doesn't outstay its welcome, and is mostly good fun. Apparently more than 120 hours of footage was shot, most of which were improvisations from the leads. I could easily see this getting adapted into a TV-show, especially if they have all that unused footage.
Mommy (Xavier Dolan)
The acting is excellent, the soundtrack great, the cinematography great, and the dilemma and story has energy. I wasn't as moved by it emotionally as Dolan’s previous work Laurence Anyway (2012). Perhaps because I’m the complete opposite I had a tough time relating to the anger of Steve. The characters have a good sense of humor though. Obviously the mother’s parenting is partly to blame for her son’s attitude. He’s definitely quite a handful. The homage to Home Alone when he looked in the mirror was amusing. The strangling scene and the trolley in the parking lot are memorable sequences. But after a while the mood swings are a bit predictable, and the film is a tad overlong. I sensed the stuttering neighbor needed someone to talk to, no matter who(boredom? a loveless marriage? is she a lesbian?), and didn’t mind their eccentric ways. The end scene is the best use of Lana Del Rey's music I have ever seen in a movie, and the Celine Dion dance sequence stayed with me too.
Cinematically the film deserves respect for the scene on the bikes when the screen size changes, which is also part of the story, how life is becoming bigger with more potential. My favorite part is the dream sequence. In fact the last scene could also be a fantasy as right before we see the mother thinking.
The complaint critics have with Dolan's filmography is that his stylized approach seems more important to him than substance, but I love his atmospheric mix of visuals and music. I 've heard from a single mother that the mother-son relationship is quite accurately portrayed, so it isn't all style.
Camp X-Ray (Peter Sattler)
Prison drama. A soldier (played by Kristen Stewart) is assigned to Guantanamo Bay and befriends a man who has been imprisoned there for three years. Better than I expected, I was emotionally involved. Deserves to be seen by a wider audience.
Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman)
A few of the story elements I have seen before in films such as Aliens, Groundhog Day, and the Matrix, yet it’s still a suspenseful action/sci-fi movie. Didn’t matter about the repetitiveness, which I thought might be tiresome.
Snowpiercer (Bong Joon Ho)
Based on a French post-apocalyptic graphic novel from 1982, Snowpiercer paints an intriguing dystopian picture of the future. Takes place in a confined space on a moving train, yet somehow still manages to surprise visually. I really believed they were travelling along due to the special effects. The set design is very impressive, and the filmmakers do a great job of withholding information about the secrets of the train. The weakest aspect is the characterization, as we hardly know any background information about the main characters. There is a scene where Chris Evans reveals his inner thoughts, but for the most part I felt the film was kind of like Tintin(the journey and surroundings are more fascinating than the hero)
Notable films from 2014 that missed my top 20:
The Lunchbox (Ritesh Batra)
Heartwarming food movie set in India. I liked and cared about the characters. A film that will appeal to a mainstream audience, not just in its native country.
The Wind Rises (Hayao Miyazaki)
Hayao Miyazaki has proclaimed this to be his final film as director, there are hints of this during the story. Emotionally involving, and beautifully animated. Probably will appeal to an adult audience.
You can view the film allegorically, in that the main character, like Miyazaki, is attempting to articulate his dreams through technology, and also wrestling between responsibly towards his craft and his relationship to a woman.
The Babadook (Jennifer Kent)
Australian psychological horror film. Made on a fairly small budget of $2 million, there are scary moments, but not relying too much on music or jump scares. The Babadook pop-up book was sold in 6200 copies according to the official website.
The Look of Silence (documentary) (Joshua Oppenheimer) (Review)
A powerful and disturbing documentary, which is a sequel to last year’s Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing. It isn’t as groundbreaking, but is equally as chilling. With the same director on board, this time Oppenheimer focuses on a smaller group of people, especially the victims. Thematically about the co-existence of perpetrator and victim in the present day, atrocity without justice, survivors confronting their relatives' murderers, and breaking the silence which people have been suffering under for years in Indonesia.
Enemy (Denis Villeneuve)
Well-acted by Jake Gyllenhaal in his dual role. A fascinating puzzle while it lasted, but to me it was soon forgotten. All I remember are the spiders, You can go on YouTube and find detailed explanations of the movie, which will give you a new appreciation of the story.
20,000 Days on Earth (Nick Cave documentary) (Review)
The structure of the documentary is quite varied. There’s partly him recording music, partly concert footage, and partly listen to him being questioned by a therapist. Also conversations with various famous or less known people during Cave's journey. The conversations are interesting and revealing, while the recording sessions drag on a bit too long and at times felt like filler.
Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn)
A couple of scenes with Quill stayed with me, introducing the green girl to his music tape, and when he risks his life for her. The prison breakout was also memorable. The blue guy’s arrow is pretty deadly I must say.
A fun blockbuster with a sense of humor, believable CGI characters, and enjoyable retro 70s soundtrack. Maybe I would have liked Guardians even more on the big screen. On dvd it’s a different experience. Blockbusters are not really my thing, so that's a factor too in why it missing the top 20.
Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan) (Review)
Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes. If you want to listen to people attack other people verbally, this is for you. However at over three hours it may put you to sleep, and the story is quite bleak. The fire place scene is the stand out.
Interstellar (Christopher Nolan) (Review)
Lacking substance, essentially an action movie that pretends to be meaningful. Over-explanatory dialogue and some plot holes, yet wows the eyes and ears. A film that must be seen on a big screen. It's a fun ride.
Frank (Lenny Abrahamson)
The theme of celebrity and whether you make music to please your band, or please the audience, is interesting enough. The film is slightly above average thanks to a few memorable songs( I Love You All and Frank's Most Likeable Song Ever), an involving voice-over, and the gimmick of him wearing a fake head works well cinematically. The tweets on the screen was a nice idea.
The Theory of Everything (James Marsh)
For me, Eddie Redmayne gives the best performance of the year and deserved his Oscar. However the screenplay just felt too dumbed down, I wanted to learn a bit more about why Hawkings is so famous. Granted it was focused on the marriage and his disability, but still. Hopefully it can be a starter for looking up his accomplishments.
Life Itself (Roger Ebert documentary)
Doesn’t just praise Ebert, but reveals some of his flaws too. The most interesting part for me is how Ebert was friends with filmmakers like Scorsese and others, and was criticized for this, because it could cloud his judgement. Yet as is said, 200-300 years ago, it was common for critics and artists to mix and encourage each other.
The first half of the doc about Ebert’s rise to fame and early life was the most interesting. His recent problems filmgoers know about already, if you are familiar with Ebert.
Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
In a Russian coastal town, Kolya is forced to fight the corrupt mayor when he is told that his house will be demolished. He recruits a lawyer friend to help.
I'd label Leviathan a drama where the director wanted to have some amusing moments(which an audience may not know how to respond to). Even though I'm not familiar with Russian culture, I compare the film to real life, we joke around, drink or no drink, to keep our spirits up, so we can get through the day.
The last act of the film is too spelled out, which for me prevented it from becoming a great film.
The Lego Movie (Phil Lord & Christopher Miller)
Advertising that you must pay to see. The animation is impressive, part stop-motion and part CGI. Has its moments, the introduction of fun characters like Batman, and the pop-culture parody was mildly entertaining in places. I didn’t laugh at the jokes, and the storyline we have seem many times before, of the chosen one who has to save the world.
I liked the idea that you should find something unique to define yourself by, but it’s tough for me to care about the characters. It hurt my enjoyment that it's like one big commercial, trying to fit in as much of the lego universe as possible. I know it's self-aware about these things, but still it was distracting.
Citizenfour (documentary) (Laura Poitras)
An important film for its subject matter, which won the Academy Award for best documentary. The filmmaking style is very basic. It’s some guys being filmed in a hotel room most of the time. I was expecting a bit more than that.
About invasion of privacy, which is something that affects all of us. I admire the guts to make Citizenfour, Snowden is prepared to go underground and abandon his life for his cause. It's easy to have sympathy for him, the filmmakers, and journalists, putting their careers on the line.
Snowden is not infallible, which became evident in the April 2015 John Oliver interview on HBO’s Last Week Tonight.
Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)
Touches on themes such as vampires in love for centuries, being dependent on blood controls your life like a drug, and that the vampire lifestyle doesn’t have to be harmful to others. How you can learn a lot and have a ton of experience from staying alive for so long.
Hardly anything happens, I would call it a situation, rather than a story. I found it dull. A pity, because there was huge potential in those script ideas. I think the story is better suited for a book, because I sense it’s more about an inner struggle than an outer experience. Could have been a classic, and somehow didn’t quite get there.
Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu)
The uninterrupted camera work is impressive, but I didn't connect emotionally with the characters. I sense Riggan's desire for recognition, but why he loved the theater is absent. I like how Iñárritu suggests that the artists are the ones putting their lives on the line every night, while the reviewers can hate something so easily. A message to all the critics out there to be more respectful and careful with their words.
Mr Turner (Mike Leigh)
Beautifully photographed, the images echoing Turners paintings, and with an excellent lead performance by Timothy Spall. Just I felt the film was far too long and in need of an editor. I'm a big fan of Mike Leigh, this was very different to his usual style. I'm surprised by all the love from the critics. I just wanted to get it over with.
Overpraised oscar-baity film, the performances are the main attraction. There are a few memorable scenes, and the tension between Mark Schultz and John du Pont kept me watching, but the film is too long, and with too many boring parts.
Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. I found it very slow and uninvolving, probably due to the lead actress never changing her expression. I don't think it's in the same league as the work of Polish director Kieslowski.
What Ida has going for it is that it could have been made in any decade since WW2, so there's a timelessness to the story. Unfortunately the 82 minutes felt like three hours. Not for me.
Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard)
A collection of moments and images the viewer has to make sense of. Perhaps as a homage to the donkey in Bresson’s Au hasard Balthazar (1966), a dog wanders around, and observes a married woman and a single man as they meet, love, argue and fight. The relationship is too vague for me to care what happens to them.
Inherent Vice was the biggest disappointment of the 2014 films, I didn't expect to be bored after only 20 minutes. The storytelling is needlessly confusing, and lacking in tension. The only thing I liked was the soundtrack. I didn’t care about the characters or the conversations and I had to force myself from not falling asleep. I prefer PTA's other films.
What do my fellow movie bloggers think of the year in film? Here are their best of 2014 lists:
Josh at The Cinematic Spectacle
Andina at Inspired Ground
Chip Lary at Tips from Chip
Cristi B at The Sound and The Screen
Sati at Cinematic Corner
Steven at Surrender to the Void
Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob
Alex Withrow at And So It Begins
Jack at Lights Camera Reaction
Ruth at Flixchatter
Irene at Mysterious Bibliophile
Keith at Keith and the Movies
Wendell at Dell on Movies
Eric at The Warning Sign
Niels at The Blog of Big Ideas
Pete Turner at I Love that Film
Alex Ramon at Boycotting Trends
Shala Thomas at Life Between Films
Courtney Young at On the Screen Reviews
Katy at Girl Meets Cinema
Msmariah at A Space Blogyssey
Vern's Video Vortex
Alex Thomas at Time for a Film
Dan the Man's Movie Reviews
Luke at Between the Reels
Shane at Film Actually
Thomas at Thomas4cinema
Natalie at Writer Loves Film
Michael Cusumano at Serious Film
Andina at Inspired Ground
Angela at Cinema Thirteen
Busy Returning Videotape
Rhys at feelingfuzzier
Wendell at Dell on Movies
Tom from At The Back
Did I forget your best of 2014 list? Let me know, and the link will be added above.
Agree or disagree? Have I encouraged you to watch anything? Did I miss anything great from 2014? As always, thoughts are welcome in the comments.