As I said in another list, this year was slightly different, not only in that I wrote a heck of a lot more, but also in that I just saw more, at least as far as new releases went. My journey to making these lists was a fun one. Finals were already happening and I thought, oh, I have a couple of weeks to finish the seven or so lists I had to make, I have plenty of time. And then I realized I had just over a week. So I crammed in as many 2014 films as I could, and voila!
So, here it is, folks, my final, locked in list of my favorite 14 films that I saw in 2014 (I’m not worrying about US release date or anything, just counting what I saw.)
You can also find my ranked 2014 list on Letterboxd, my top 20 performances at Under the Radar, some capsules I contributed to Under the Radar’s best films of 2014, and to Sound on Sight (my individual ballot here), and my favorite musical moments in film from 2014. And, also, my superlative year in film. And also, my complete list of all the new releases I saw in 2014. Yes, I made a lot of lists this year.
Thanks for taking this cinematic journey with me! I hope 2015 to be as fruitful and fun! Have a safe and very Happy New Year, folks!
These Are the Best!
14. Mommy | Directed by Xavier Dolan – B+
I feel almost obligated to have this film on my list, but I’m not putting it here out of obligation. I’m putting it here because it is, perhaps above a majority of the films I saw this year, a crucial film in my life, important to my understanding of myself. It helps, though, that the film is truly extraordinary, emotionally potent, ferocious, and exhilarating.
We really don’t get sweet, fun, and lovely musicals anymore, do we? Well, we have Stuart Murdoch’s quasi-autobiographical (from the POV of his band Belle and Sebastian) musical film. Featuring many a lovely pop song, God Help the Girl redefines twee in a good way. Through its sheer charm, the film is nothing but enchanting.
Richard Ayoade’s dystopic vision looks Gilliam-esque, but beyond that comparison, beyond even the comparison to David Lynch’s soundscape or FW Murnau’s harsh chiaroscuro, The Double manages to exist on its own evocative terms, and, to some degree, its own provocative terms. Do we root for this slightly creepy stalker? Do we resent him for such? Do we feel empathy for his self-loathing neuroticism? And what happens when his doppelgänger comes by? It’s undoubtedly impressive Ayoade, and Eisenberg’s, ability to pull bait and switch time and time again, amplified by Andrew Sterritt’s haunting score. It’s a dark comedy and a horror film, and, above all, a thrilling work of imagination.
11. The Babadook | Directed by Jennifer Kent – A
Though first time helmer Jennifer Kent certainly culls from the likes of Lynch and Polanski, The Babadook is truly something original and unique and wholly its own. But it’s successful not from the fact that it’s able to remix the Lynchian soundscape with the kind of Freudian psychology both Lynch and Polanski are known for in their horror, but for its ability to make its content and execution emotionally potent. For, The Babadook, an examination of a mother and son relationship, or an examination of depression, or an examination on the pressures of motherhood, is as heartbreaking and raw as it is absolutely terrifying.
10. CITIZENFOUR | Directed by Laura Poitras – A
On the one hand, Laura Poitra’s Citizenfour is a nice primer on an incredibly complex subject, even an urgent one. But on the other, its urgency lies in how outstanding a documentary it is: chronicling the dissemination of the whistleblowing of the NSA, this is a documentary about data on top of data on top of data, and what to do with it. The audience is given an unprecedented look at how this information was released, as we sit in the hotel room with Poitra’s, Edward Snowden, and Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian, planning and narrativising this information. It’s tense like a thriller and as engrossing a documentary as one could hope. And it’s urgent. It begs that we pay attention to how much of our lives are on the internet and why. Citizenfour narrativizes the narration of our lives when they’re being watched.
We follow Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) and Valentine (Kristen Stewart) up a hill as they begin to argue. It’s a power structure, the younger Stewart clearly in control, with her voice tempered and measured with calculation, as the older Binoche lets her passion reign, flustered and vehement. In Clouds of Sils Maria, Assayas uses the ‘persona film’ to examine the power of art, and it’s an entirely thrilling journey, with Stewart giving the performance of her career.
When the lights go out and the party stops and the stereo is shut off, there’s a longing left in the air. That something in the air is sadness, loneliness, anxiety. Mia Hansen-Løve’s sprawling coming of age film watches the steady rise and fall of a young DJ in France. Its dance and club scenes are pumped with energy (and the sounds of Daft Punk), but when the music stops, you understand just how important DJing is to Paul (Félix de Givry). But it’s a double edged sword, the source of his success and his failure. Hansen-Løve fills the film with texture and presence, with its pure melancholy palpable. It’s filled with music, with every beat, rhythm and scratch making a near perfect composition.
I had Her on my list last year, because it was the film that changed my life. It grounded my feelings in something real. The Heart Machine starts off as the antithesis to that, but, as I’ve said several times, works its way t the middle where the two films intersect, asking the same questions. The film flew under everyone’s radar, but it’s as extraordinary a film as Her is, even able to be better than Spike Jonze’s film in some ways, as far as sentimentality and asking questions about authenticity and relationships goes. Zachary Wigon’s film is every bit as heartbreaking as Her, but succeeds on being even more ambiguous. It’s all about the beat that your heart skips.
6. Under the Skin | Directed by Jonathan Glazer – A
I have put off writing about Jonathan Glazer’s unconventional science fiction film since I saw it sometime in April. On the one hand, its haunting visions leave an indelible mark on your mind; it’s absolutely the kind of film that just stays with you and never leaves. On the other, its examination of performativity, on what it is to be a woman is thankless, uncompromising, raw, and cold, and yet human, heartbreaking, and powerful. Scarlett Johansson gives her alien character true humanity through her depiction of body dysmorphia, and trying to be human. But she’s at as much of a loss of what it means to be human as the rest of us.
While everyone else is singing the praises to Dolan’s fifth film Mommy, I’ll be over here proclaiming his fourth film, Tom at the Farm, as his masterpiece. It has everything a Dolan film should have: soaring emotional highs, ravaging lows, impressive camera work, and a little bit of playfulness. But, rather than mire this tale of intrigue and suspense in hyper-stylism like his previous work, Dolan opts to let tone and atmosphere do the heavy lifting, creating a thriller truly worthy of Hitchcock. It’s as complex as any of his film, but what makes this is best work, even more than Laurence Anyways, is the sheer discipline. We know he 25 year old filmmaker can show off, but this proves that he can restrain himself and still evoke an incredible response: this time, a pounding heart.
4. We Are the Best! | Directed by Lukas Moodysson – A
Yes, I had this on my best of list last year. But, hey, it’s that good. Still a wonderfully good time, the film’s spirit is incomparable, and worthy of being on a best of list two years in a row. Yes, it really is that good.
Though I’m not a Godard fan, even I can recognize a game changer when I see one. While Gravity is a fun and forgettable amusement park ride, Goodbye to Language is a film that seeks to break free of the prison that has been trapped in for decades. Here, the French director truly challenges the medium and what it means to use it and how to use it. And I’m all for starting a new revolution in cinema.
Let me be clear, Lars von Trier’s magnum opus is one film. It must be experienced as one film. And it must be experienced by watching the, yes, five and a half hour extended director’s cut. (I mean, if you’re going to be watching at all, 90 minutes isn’t going to make a huge difference, is it?) It’s tedious, mind numbing, melancholic (of course), graphic, anarchic, and, for a director who has made his living pushing buttons, near revelatory. Upon first watch of the international, theatrical cut, I was slightly lukewarm; but von Trier’s full, provocative vision is in tact in this edition, and it is imbued with his wicked sense of humor, many a digression, his cynicism and romanticism, and artistic flair. While it might not be my favorite of von Trier’s work, it is nonetheless one of the most extraordinary cinematic works to examine sexuality ever. How do you get through this sexual odyssey in one sitting? Well, do what von Trier suggests: forget about love.
1. Gone Girl | David Fincher – A+
At some point, I’ll be able to write about this to my satisfaction. Because it really is one hell of a film. David Fincher, the Kind of Austere, Nihilistic American Cinema, and novelist and screenwriter Gillian Flynn, lob everything they’ve got at the screen, and what’s stuck to the wall is a complex, cynical portrait of marriage, a media satire, an examination of the roles we play in relationships and in life, and how the recession affected upper middle class white people and the viewers who watch them so avidly. This is Fincher’s masterpiece. Sure, Fincher’s film is interesting, caustic, reeking of death all over, but why is it number one? It’s the most purely enjoyable and thrilling film I’ve seen all year, the kind of work that doesn’t feel dense. It just glides right by. The weight of time has nothing on Flynn’s impressive pacing skills, the two and half hours just passing you by. Ben Affleck plays a great asshole and Rosamund Pike gives the performance of her career (how blurby can you get?) as the woman who refuses to be boxed in. But the greatest thing about this film is that everyone’s a monster.
Aaaand here’s everything else I saw…