Some years can be easily encapsulated. 2007, for instance, was a notoriously good year for American films, providing the world with adult and thoughtful classics. 2004, by contrast, was perhaps the worst year for American films in recent memory, providing us with very few films of qualitative note (it should be remarked that the better films of the year included
Mean Girls and A Dirty Shame, and the Oscars went to forgettable snore-fests like Ray and Million Dollar Baby).
2014, however, is one of the most balanced and nondescript years in a long while. There were a large handful of great films, an equally large handful of outright stinkers, and a big pile of big-budget blockbusters hanging out along the middle. If 2014 was characterized by any one quality, it was that of maturing. Most of the films selected for the following list were about growing out of childhood, teetering into adulthood, or perhaps just enjoying what the world of adulthood had to offer. That may be vague, but in a year this indistinct, it’s hard to find a common thread.
That said, there were a good number of amazing films that came out this year, and –
– winnowing it down to a mere 10 is massively difficult. As such, I have expanded my list to 15 (including one tie) of the best feature films of the year. as William Bibbiani declared in his list
As usual, I have missed several of the acclaimed movies, so I should perhaps say that as of this writing I have not seen
Selma, Mr. Turner, The Immigrant, The Gambler, or American Sniper. I intend to see these, dear readers. As for now, here are the best films of 2014:
The LEGO Movie/22 Jump Street
Witney Seibold is a contributor to the
, and co-host of CraveOnline Film Channel . You can follow him on “Twitter” at The B-Movies Podcast , where he is slowly losing his mind. @WitneySeibold
The 15 Best Films of 2014: A Third Opinion
14. Nymphomaniac: Volume I
Lars Von Trier has been working his way toward this film his entire career. I feel a lighter touch, a larger ambition, and an actual matter of personal interest in
Nymphomaniac than I have in any of his previous movies. This tale of a beleaguered nymphomaniac (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and the asexual she confesses to (Stellan Skarsg ård) is robust, exciting, detailed, funny, naughty, immature, and frank. I only include the first theatrically released half on this list because of Von Trier's completely misguided tacked-on 90-second ending, which practically ruins the entire epic. Until then, though, this is a towering achievement.
13. Inherent Vice
Languid, misremembered, silly, and calming, P.T. Anderson's latest eschews his ambitious and oblique Portraits of America, making instead what can amount to a stoner comedy for grown-ups.
Inherent Vice, based on a novel by Thomas Pynchon is impossible to follow (by design), and loaded with interesting characters who are allowed, through a slowed pace, to speak their mind. The film will make many people impatient, but it will also amaze and entertain those who can get into its bizarre, sticky, pothead mindspace.
Part Biblical epic, part Hollywood blockbuster, part whacked-out student film, Darren Aronofsky's
Noah is a classic Genesis tale told in a way you never could have imagined. This is a film that looks at some of the more practical, as well as the more magical, aspects of the building of Noah's Ark, turning the ancient Earth into a be-fogged greenworld populated by human monsters and vicious rock-encrusted angels. It is striking and bizarre and ambitious, showing us far more creativity than we typically get from movies of this budget.
11. Edge of Tomorrow (a.k.a. Live, Die, Repeat)
In the modern age of adaptations, comic book fervency, and endless buckets of nostalgia milk, any modicum of creativity should be cherished. Doug Liman's
Edge of Tomorrow, although adapted from a novel - that was, in turn, certainly derived from a “Twilight Zone” premise - still has the refreshing ring of original sci-fi. It is an action film with wit, excitement, a clever notion, and appealing characters. It was the best action flick of the summer, and it was roundly ignored by audiences. This is one that will likely always be ripe for rediscovery.
10. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night & Only Lovers Left Alive
In 2014, the oft-revisited vampire genre was snatched up by two deft, original voices and turned into a pair of moody, excellent horror-ish moodpieces. In Jim Jarmusch's
Only Lovers Left Alive, we meet a pair of ancient, super-adult, relaxed hipster vampires, who look at the world with the bemused interest of a doting teacher, all while fostering their own passions for obscure music and classic objet d'arts. In Ana Lily Amirpour's A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the dregs of a vague Iranian city is secretly protected by a quiet ancient vampire woman. Both films are dreamy and relaxing and scary. Something, it turns out, can still be done with vampires.
9. Why Don't You Play in Hell?
Not since John Waters'
Cecil B. Demented has there been a film that is so enthusiastic about outsider cinema. Sion Sono's utterly crazy yakuza crime thriller/film student fever dream seems to take place within the diseased imagination of an ambitious film purist who believes in the craft more than human life. The story involves a filmmaking team – The Fuck Bombers – who are enlisted by the yakuza to make a “legit” film starring a famous former toothpaste spokesgirl and real gangsters who really murder one another on camera. Why Don't You Play in Hell? swings for the walls, knocks the walls over, and keeps on swinging, all out of the sheer joy of movies. What a delight.
8. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Like Lars Von Trier with
Nymphomaniac, I feel like – with The Grand Budapest Hotel – director Wes Anderson has perfected an aesthetic that he has been chipping away at his entire career. Although this film isn't as sweet or as emotionally resonant as his Moonrise Kingdom, Hotel is possessed of an impeccable mood and aesthetic perfection that has previously come across as a mite shabby. This is an oddball little flick coated in Almond Roca pinks, artificial purples, and comforting, posh, square spaces as familiar as your grandmother's living room.
7. The Guest
If you're as deeply entrenched in trashy genre flicks as most film critics, then you'll likely recognize how amazingly perfect Adam Wingard's
The Guest is. Here is a film that starts with a very quotidian premise – the friend of a dead son (the dash handsome Dan Stevens) arrives to offer condolences to his fallen comrade's family, only to move in, insinuate himself, and slowly reveal himself to be something of a psychopath – and manages to play it far beyond its trashy roots. Don't get me wrong; The Guest still has all of the sleazy and violent stuff left mercifully intact. But it also embraces its inherent craziness with both arms, pushing it forward with sincerity that even some arthouse directors don't possess.
6. Life Itself
Yes, it's true. Few film critics will be able to look at
Life Itself with any sort of objective eye. This warts-and-all documentary based on Roger Ebert's memoir, details the life of a man whose towering presence in the world of film criticism wholly informs any and all film writers working today. I miss Roger Ebert very, very much, now unable to work in his comforting shadow. This is a fascinating story, but also a loving and skilled monument to one of the last old-world giants of my chosen field. Roger, I think, would have loved it.
5. Under the Skin
If it's hard to understand, mostly silent, overwhelmingly ambient, surreal and dreamlike, and features a score that sounds like music is trying to turn itself inside-out, then it's likely I will adore it. I have a weakness for movies like
Under the Skin, Jonathan Glazer's somnambulist sci-fi meditation on sexuality in general, and on Scarlett Johansson's body in particular. This is not only a wonderful new take on the alien invasion flick (sexy alien girl lures hapless men into her truck-bound infinity hole), but also a consideration of how we look at this particular gorgeous actress, and our relationship to her body.
I never thought an extended drum solo would have me as thrilled as it does in
Whiplash, one of the smartest, most intense movies of the year. The excellent Miles Teller plays an ambitious drum student, and J.K. Simmons plays the hard-nosed professor who believes in abusive motivation the way you believe in oxygen. In a lesser film, we would have learned how being a loving person is more important as pushing yourself until you are sick. But Whiplash subverts all expectation, showing that abuse and rage and self-imposed damage can actually turn one into a better artist. It's morally split, and discusses art with an intensity one rarely sees in movies on the topic. It also features two of the best performances of the year.
Richard Linklater's ambitious 12-year project is not just a drama about someone's life, but perhaps the best representation of an actual life as we'll ever see on film. Ellar Coltrane is seen growing from a tiny boy into a college entrant, exploring all the unexpected turns along the way. He is constantly at risk, full of rage, but ultimately a decent human being. Watching an angry boy turn into a man is something that Linklater allowed to unfold in real time, and watching all the characters grow, including Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, both excellent, makes them feel like family.
2. We Are the Best!
Oh, the joy of it. Oh the warmth. Oh how much I loved this movie. Indeed,
We Are the Best! and my pick for #1 are essentially tied. Lukas Moodysson's tiny saga of a trio of haughty Jr. High-aged girls who form their own (unnamed) punk band is a celebration of youthful exuberance. These girls are punkers in that they want to make the world for themselves (despite two of them having no talent, and only having written one song). But they are young enough that their frustrated rage can be mixed with an air of childlike prankstership; it is humor and not cynicism that underlies this movie. These are punk rockers who drop wads of yarn on people from high windows. There was not a more joyful film this year.
1. The Dance of Reality
After a 22-year hiatus, 1970s arthouse darling Alejandro Jodorowsky returns with a film that is just as jarring, just as disgusting, just as towering, just as expansive and even more emotionally significant as his early works.
The Dance of Reality is a magical autobiography of the young Jodorowsky's childhood, and how his memories teeter into the unreal. The Dance of Reality, like a human mind, eschews bland logic in favor of emotional accuracy, folding dreams into the mixture like an aged master chef. And what imagery! Bleeding wounds, blackened skin, political fires, dead firemen. This is the kind of art film that used to be the lifeblood of the Boho circuit in previous decades, and I am pleased to see that it can still be done, if only for one last time.