n the previous year’s entry I may have opened by saying it was the best year of films since 1999 while having a whole lot of garbage. I could say it this year with even more conviction but the worst films have seemed distinctly bad while showing a foreboding trend. But this post isn’t where I complain about movies. This is where I praise them.
As you should expect it is completely subjective and biased. I am what I love.
10. Snow Piercer
South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho fought fiercely to maintain his directorial vision against the editing decisions of Harvey Weinstein. We could have had it significantly shorter with voice over narration written by Neil Gaiman. Like the theatrical cut of Bladerunner I wish I had access to this oddity of an idea. Instead we receive the imaginatively pessimistic film in all its glory starring Chris Evans in contrast to his role as Captain America describing the taste of baby flesh. This film is a going trend on my list where acting favourites like John Hurt and Tilda Swinton keep popping up. See Snowpiercer if only to see something completely different from anything else this year.
Curtis: You know what I hate about myself? I know what people taste like. I know babies taste the best.
9. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson‘s Grand Budapest Hotel is a joy to behold from beginning to end with a story nested within a story jumping between aspect ratios and film stocks with pleasure. Ralph Fiennes could carry the film on his own with his brilliant performance as Monsieur Gustave but instead is surrounded by a dream team of characters actors. Tilda Swinton shows up again (above) only briefly but it is Willem Dafoe’s Jopling and Adrien Brody’s Dmitri that stood out most to me with their ability to chew scenery. Wes Anderson seems to dwell on violence and death in GPH more than any of his previous films and it is his ability to present it with a macabre humour that makes it a unique package. Now how do I join the Society of Crossed Keys…
M. Gustave: You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh, fuck it.
The feature directorial debut of Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler for me is somewhere between Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream. Aesthetically it reminded me distinctly of Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive with plenty of help by being set in modern day Los Angeles. While Ryan Gosling portrayed a “good” sociopath, a good shark if you will, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom is on the polar opposite end of that moral scale. He is introduced assaulting a security guard and selling copper wire. He just happens to discover the field of criminal journalism by accident. Worth watching for Gyllenhaal’s performance alone, I think Gilroy also paints a picture of modern day America more accurate, and brutally honest than any other I have seen, as pessimistic as that sounds. Also Lou Bloom is far more terrifying to me than Godzilla.
Lou Bloom: What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you for this? I mean physically. I think you’d have to believe afterward, if you could, that agreeing to participate and then backing out at the critical moment was a mistake. Because that’s what I’m telling you, as clearly as I can.
7. Under The Skin
Okay, what in the heck can I say about Under The Skin without admitting that I can’t quite express why this film affected me so much? Jonathan Glazer directs an experiential film with the premise of a predatory female alien seducing men in the night throughout Scotland. So, try to imagine what Stanley Kubrick would do with the premise of Species. I know I just likened Glazer‘s film that of Kubrick but I won’t take it back. The cinematography is phenomenal and eery. The sound mix will linger in your mind long after viewing and it is likely the best performance of Scarlett Johansen‘s career. I get chills thinking of the beach scene alone. Definitely not a date movie.
6. Mood Indigo
I don’t want to understate how long I anticipated seeing this movie. Michel Gondry is one of my favourite directors and its not just because we share the same first and last initials. Love stories can only end one of two ways and neither are happy. Michel Gondry approached one side of it with the Charlie Kaufman scripted Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind which is undoubtedly a favourite of mine in 2004. Mood Indigo covers the other side of the coin which is the best case scenario in love: someone dies. I don’t mean to sound morbid. This is honestly a sweet and romantic film with imaginative set pieces and editing tricks that Michel Gondry has established as his trademark. It is just not a first date movie. I could not be bothered by the saccharine dishonesty of The Fault in our Stars but by contrast Mood Indigo manipulated my emotions seemingly effortlessly.
5. The Zero Theorem
Terry Gilliam is my hero. To have the balls to tell a story of this intelligence and ambition is well… well it’s ambitious. Gilliam is an existential philosopher’s best friend. I cannot confess to grasping the film completely on first viewing but I knew I had witnessed something I would be ruminating on for days if not weeks. The Zero Theorem like another film on this list features a surprise performance from Matt Damon. Watch The Zero Theorem two times or more at a minimum. And yes Tilda Swinton shows up yet again, this time as a computer based psychiatrist. It also seems to express to me the disconnectedness of connectedness better than any other film.
Bainsley: It’s better than real. You’re in your computer and I’m in mine. We’re connected by memory chips and fiber optics. We’re safe here.
4. Inherent Vice
In spite the fact that Paul T. Anderson is channeling the words from the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name, his directorial voice and approach to comedy shine through. This is not a stoner noir where you make a real effort to solve the mystery. Like the Big Lebowski and After Hours just sit back relax and enjoy the ride as Doc, a standout performance by Joaquin Phoenix, leads you around Southern California to massage parlours and hippy pizza parties. Ask me in ten years and I am sure I will have watched this more than any other on the list.
Doc Sportello: Did I hit you?
There hasn’t been a film that has evoked the word “spectacle” out of me since throwing on 3d glasses to watch Avatar for the first time. To the Nolan brothers credits, they actually have an amazing script that lives up to the the physics know how of Kip Thorne and the special effects. I have since seen the film twice, once in Imax, then on a standard screen, not to mention I have read both publicly available drafts of the script. What I love most about Christopher Nolan’s approach is that he avoids two dimensional antagonism and is sort of a glass half full Spielbergian approach to 2001. Thankfully no ex machina space aliens in this one.
Cooper: We’ve always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible. And we count these moments. These moments when we dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars, to make the unknown known. We count these moments as our proudest achievements. But we lost all that. Or perhaps we’ve just forgotten that we are still pioneers. And we’ve barely begun. And that our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, because our destiny lies above us.
2. Only Lovers Left Alive
Now I saw this all the way back at TIFF in 2013 but I abstained from placing it on my Best of List knowing it would not be released theatrically till 2014, and I was very confident it would make either list regardless. This is the fourth film to include Tilda Swinton on this list and the first to have in a starring role as Eve to Tom Hiddleston’s Adam. Hiddleston plays a depressed musician vampire that is a cross between David Bowie and Jack White. Writer/Director Jim Jarmusch makes a film for the snob, the person who thinks they have already seen it all and have grown weary. Only Lovers Left Alive is a breath of fresh air with performances by Anton Yelchin and Mia Wasikowska but I felt everyone was outshone by John Hurt’s role as the vampire playwright Christopher Marlowe.
Eve: How can you’ve live for so long and still not get it? This self obsession is a waste of living. It could be spend in surviving things, appreciating nature, nurturing kindness and friendship, and dancing. You have been pretty lucky in love though, if I may say so.
Even though I consider the order of my top ten lists to be mostly abritrary I can’t help but save what I think is the best for last. There are plenty of reason to defend Birdman‘s position. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu throws caution to the wind directing an acting powerhouse of a film shooting and editing the film in such a way so that it appears to have been made as once epic single take. Think Russian Ark but with better actors and a more compelling story (forgive my bias) and a lot of cheating by comparison. The acting collaboration between Michael Keaton and Ed Norton is the best I have seen since Philip Seymour Hoffman opposite Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. While Nightcrawler may be the most accurate depiction of modern day America, Birdman makes a similar consensus of the war between Art vs Entertainment. The conclusion: Art is losing.
Mike Shiner: Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.
Honourable Mentions (aka other movies I enjoyed in 2014)
The Dance of Reality
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
Edge of Tomorrow
X-Men: Days of Future Past
22 Jump Street
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Trip to Italy
The One I Love