It’s worth repeating, 2013 was an amazing year for movies. By mid-year I already had three or four movies in mind for my Best of the Year list. Then came another six months of great films, plus a couple of last-minute entries, and by New Year’s I had a list of ten movies I unabashedly loved.
2014 has been different. It’s not that it has been a bad year for movies, I wouldn’t say that, but it has been more fragmented, and its riches have been a tad bit harder to unearth.
On the winning side, much to everyone’s surprise, has been Hollywood. I’m not sure if financially the major studios had a good year, but in terms of quality, it has been notable. We all bemoaned another summer of sequels, prequels and reboots, and yet when it rolled around I found myself thrilled and delighted week after week at the cinema.
Sure there was still some rubbish, but I could easily have included any or all of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The LEGO Movie, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Edge of Tomorrow or Lucy on my list. And that’s not even including the biggest money maker of the year, Guardians of the Galaxy, which I was one of the few not to fall madly in love with.
On the other hand, the major studio “prestige” season was a bit of a flop this year, with the usual tepid biopics and tearjerkers feeling that much more uninspired this go-around.
Luckily, masterful indie movies have been coming out all year and will now hopefully dominate the awards season. Not all of them have been instantly loveable, but many have images, ideas and performances that stick with you hours, days, months after the movie ends, inspiring a slowly-growing appreciation which by year-end has blossomed into full-on praise.
As I do every year, I must offer a disclosure. I love Victoria, BC with all my heart, but it is not a major film market and many limited releases pass us by. So even though I attended two film festivals and haunted our local major and art house cinemas, I still have not had the chance to see Inherent Vice, Selma, Two Days, One Night, Starred Up, Mr. Turner and others for year’s end.
Without further ado, may I present my picks for the Ten Best Films of 2014:
10. Nightcrawler, directed by Dan Gilroy
Lou Bloom, as played by an electrifying, hollow-eyed Jake Gyllenhaal, is a demented little dweeb of a loser. He’s also a modern-day master of the American Dream, as he breaks all boundaries of moral good taste to get the grizzliest video footage of car accidents and murder scenes to sell to local news networks. He thrives. Nightcrawler is a fascinating, darkly funny and occasionally thrilling look at media, modern capitalism and a man willing to do anything to succeed, just as he has been taught to.
9. Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan
Haters gonna hate. And although, yes, I do agree there is too much expositional dialogue, and that, yes, one section is pretty clunky, and that, yes, the movie skirts hokey on more than one occasion, watching Interstellar was still without a doubt the most awe-inspiring experience I had at a movie theatre all year. Nolan is often too cold for my taste, but with Interstellar he went the other way, centering an epic space opera around the love between a father and daughter. With both thrilling visions of space and time, and also the most emotive shot of the year, a close-up of a man crying as he watches decades-worth of videos of his children, Interstellar is a great experience, perhaps more than it is a great movie. And I have no problem with that.
8. Under the Skin, directed by Jonathan Glazer
My initial reaction to Jonathan Glazer’s dark, elusive nightmare called Under the Skin was a combination of “whoa” and “huh?” But I knew the experience of seeing it had got to me somehow when months later I was still thinking about its Kubrickian imagery, its deft use of DIY guerilla-style filmmaking and its commentary on gender and humanity. This is an insidious movie, one with the potential, the power to make you feel very uncomfortable, as it should. And while it can be at times baffling, it is constantly fascinating, and, ultimately, haunting.
7. Frank, directed by Lenny Abrahamson
Frank is a film I thought would be getting a lot more notice this time of the year on best of lists, but maybe I’m the only one who found its mix of funny and sweet, manic and merry, troubling and touching perfect. Michael Fassbender is superb as the paper-mache-head-wearing lead singer of indie art band Soronprfbs, using body language and eccentricity alone to express Frank’s unique and sometimes troubled views on music, fame and inspiration. Add into the mix a perfectly sour Maggie Gyllenhaal and a deadpan Scoot McNairy, and you’ve got the makings of one weird, fun and ultimately emotive little movie.
6. Snowpiercer, directed by Bong Joon-ho
Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer is on my list for being both an inspired commentary on capitalism and the wealth gap and, at the same time, the most kickass action movie of the year. This insane, fiercely energetic vision of a group of malcontents from the poor back of the train fighting their way to the rich front of the train is a perfectly choreographed mashup of martial arts madness and social commentary, supported by outstanding performances from Chris Evans, Jamie Bell and, most notably, a raving, hilarious Tilda Swinton. It’s one hell of a ride.
5. Force Majeure, directed by Ruben Ostlund
Critics keep going on about how funny Force Majeure is, and I don’t disagree, especially regarding a scene at an outdoor bar where the main character’s masculinity in first propped up and then hilariously undermined all within a single medium-shot take. But it’s also one of the most delightfully uncomfortable films of the year to watch too, as a literally picture-perfect family begins to unravel during a ski vacation after its patriarchal foundation is shaken. Beautifully shot, expertly paced and with a lot to say about gender roles, human instinct and love, Force Majeure is a force to be reckoned with. (Sorry.)
4. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, directed by Matt Reeves
I wrote in the intro it has been a great year for Hollywood blockbusters and the best of the bunch was a sequel to a reboot prequel, not a normal breeding ground for legitimately great movies. But Dawn of the Planet of the Apes proved to be an exception, as it mixed thrilling action with stunning special effects, all within its Shakespearian story of power, loyalty and human nature. Other summer films are getting more end of year love, but to me Dawn is the perfect example of a big budget film done right, with grand vision and a determination to balance story and character with action and visuals.
3. Whiplash, directed by Damien Chazelle
Who would have guessed that one of the best action movies of the year would be about jazz band? OK, so there are no guns or martial arts, but there is a battle of personalities, marvelously clashing and banging together for the length of the film, before squaring off for a thrilling, jaw-dropping finale. Miles Teller plays the student, J.K Simmons the unrelentingly cruel teacher, and the sparks fly as these two duke it out over music, control and the boundaries of artistic pursuit. Chazelle, as a sophomore director doesn’t merely do a “good job,” he blows it out of the water.
2. The Missing Picture, directed by Rithy Panh
I had no idea what to expect going into this heartbreaking documentary on the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror in Cambodia in the 1970s, and was pleasantly delighted. Rithy Panh primarily uses clay figures to tell his story of growing up under the Khmer Rouge, bringing to life the voices of those who lived and died through a poorly documented chapter of history. Even though they are crude, the figures bring a humanism and a poignancy to Panh’s personal history that archive footage never would, making The Missing Picture a touching, fascinating look at memory, trauma and healing.
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel, directed by Wes Anderson
I must admit I nearly wrote Wes Anderson off after Moonrise Kingdom, a film I believed felt like quirky, perfectly symmetrical tire spinning. But I shall eat my hat, as it turned out all it took was a new era to focus on (mid-wars Europe) and a new actor (Ralph Fiennes) to put Anderson back to the top of his game.
This lavish, lovingly designed romp of a film is so pitch-perfect, so madcap funny, so delightfully energetic, it feels like a breath of fresh air from a filmmaker I doubted had it in him. Fiennes really makes the movie as Gustave H, concierge of the titular hotel, turning in a performance so perfectly suited to Anderson’s vision it’s baffling the two haven’t been working together for years. Throw in a delightful supporting cast (Tilda Swinton, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton) and you have the makings of the best movie of 2014: The Grand Budapest Hotel.
So that’s it for another year, folks. Thanks for reading, feel free to comment here or holler at me on Twitter (@CineFileBlog) to let me know how wrong I am. I’d love to hear your picks for the best of the year. For now though, it’s time to start thinking about 2015. Want to go see a movie?