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David Poland

By David Poland

2014: My Best Films Of The Year – The Top 10/11 (Part 2 of 2)

As I noted in Part 1 of this year-end wrap-up, I didn’t find bringing this list down to ten to be terribly difficult. I don’t quite know why. There are some films in the other 32 “runners-up” that could have moved into this list. But there was no movie gnawing at me that I feel terrible about not including. It was a good year for films, but it was a year of relative subtlety.

There is this one glitch. A quirk in the Box Office Mojo charts that I used to lay out the year for picking somehow didn’t offer up A Most Violent Year, so it didn’t make either list. And just this morning, I was discussing with a friend that the film was in my Top 10, because I knew when I wrote the piece about the “runners-up” that it wasn’t there. So it had to be in the 10. But it wasn’t.

And now it is.

J.C. Chandor’s third feature has a quality that runs through this entire list. It is a bit inexplicable. It is profoundly more than the sum of its parts.

It is true of many films on the “runners-up” list as well. Blue Ruin, Foxcatcher, Leviathan, Two Days, One Night, Tales of The Grim Sleeper, Under The Skin. All films with a deep emotional undertow.

Big Eyes – Perhaps the most shockingly underrated film on this list. This is one of the great coming-of-feminism movies ever made, right up there with An Unmarried Woman and Belle de Jour. The take by Alexander and Karaszewski is nothing like those other films. The issue of feminism is barely ever touched upon. But Margaret Keene, as portrayed by Amy Adams, is a woman with the talent to be successful, but is forced (in many ways) to rely on a man, who shows her no respect… until she finds her voice and demands her place. Tim Burton’s skill as a director is in evidence, but I am afraid, also a distraction as viewers go in with the expectation of something wilder. You will find no better acting performance this year than Amy Adams’ work here.

Birdman – Alejandro Iñárritu has been a genius in search of the right tone for his vision. He finally found it in this pitch-black comedy. Just turning 50, he finally stopped trying to tell the world how to feel and just got to telling the audience how he feels and let us participate in the journey. The result is a glorious ride, perhaps my favorite film of the year, an instant classic. Not only is there not a bad performance in this film… there is not a minor role. (Okay… the brilliant Merritt Wever is a bit underused. But aside from that…) Michael Keaton gives it all up, including his 63 years of aging. Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Zach Galifianakis, and in just a few screen minutes, the amazing Lindsay Duncan. Wow wow wow wow wow wow. And in the end, the mysteries of this film remain mysterious… and fascinating… and glorious.

The Book of Life – My favorite animated film of the year going away, this is a film doing what mainstream of animation has stopped trying. Pixar may flip that script again next summer with Inside Out. But for me, this simple tale of a girl, two guys, and two competing “gods” is endlessly inventive, wildly beautiful, fearless about mixing and matching genres within sequences, and manages to deal with life and death in a way that kids won’t fear. This is one that got away.

Boyhood – Rick Linklater is one of those rare directors who is always busy, makes films of many different sizes, shapes, and tone, and always delivers something compelling, whether the overall film is great or not. Contemporaneously with cutting the edge with the second and third films of the “Before” series, Linklater and his financial partners at IFC were doing something didn’t have to be a disaster to be money thrown down a pit. It could have just been not very compelling. But this film is profoundly compelling, not showy, but singular as cinematic experiences go. Life is not a before and after… it is an incremental journey. Everyone seems to have their favorite moment or favorite character from the film. That’s a sign that there is a buffet from which to choose. And as an added bonus, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

Calvary – Usually you either get The Clock approach to a mortal threat or the slow, thoughtful consideration of life. This film, written and directed by John Michael McDonagh (best known for The Guard), manages to deliver both. At the center is the ever epic Brendan Gleeson as a priest, whose life is threatened—though he personally has done no known wrong—in the first sequence of the film. Thinking that your life may end in just a few days changes everything instantly. And this film is as demanding as it is generous.

Frank – I don’t know why I loved this film… but I did… and I do. Domhnall Gleeson is the one taking the journey, trying to find his way. Michael Fassbender is the man under the giant paper mâché head, who somehow manages to give a rather remarkable performance while utterly obscured. This is as weird a road trip as you will ever have. I won’t try to explain it. A film you feel.

Fury – I thought this film did everything you could ask of a modern war movie. Firstly, it isn’t about sides (though there is no doubt of which side we are on). It’s about the men in the tank… the family… trying to survive… constantly aware that the odds are against them, even in the last days of WWII. Nothing could be more iconic than The Existing Family, The New Kid, and The Father Figure Trying To Keep Everyone Alive. Every man in the tank is a type. But the actors manage to find truth in each of these iconic figures. And the sequence in which Pitt’s character tries to find a moment of humanity in the midst of the war is right there with the most powerful and memorable work of Lean or Ford or Boetticher.

The Gambler – I know that a lot of people will not like this movie at all. There are some clear flaws. But the beating heart of this thing got me and got me good. A meditation on doing everything you can to fuck your life up on the sheer possibility that a better self lies on the other side of your bottoming out. Mark Wahlberg gives one of his rare deep acting performances. This is not a movie star turn. This is commitment. Jessica Lange and (wow) John Goodman are mighty mighty mighty in just minutes of onscreen time. Brie Larson is wasted, as her character is not as central to the story as was Lauren Hutton in the original Karel Reisz film. But this is one of those films that I will get hooked on every time I run into it on the tube… I see it coming.

Inherent Vice – I’m not a stoner, but Paul Thomas Anderson got me stoned with this movie. And I guess I am still high, because I can’t really explain what the hell this film is doing on my Top 10… but it just demanded a slot. In a year of movies whose surfaces are not as rich as their underbellies, this one is all underbelly. I feel no need to get into how good all the performances are. Music. Image. Just floating in my mind, man.

A Most Violent Year – A movie that isn’t about the violence of the 70s, but about the violence in our lives that we deny every day. Abel is the good guy in the movie of his life, never allowing himself to believe that he might be the bad guy, even by association. He’s not stupid. He’s quite bright (perhaps not as bright as his wife), but reality just isn’t the address at which he wants to live. He wants to believe that he did it all himself… or at least has clean hands. But when you aspire to lead leaders, you’re going to get dirty. I would love to see the movie in which Abel meets The Gambler‘s Jim Bennett… the man who can’t take responsibility for what he causes and the man who takes responsibility that isn’t even his. Hmmm…

Nightcrawler – Dan Gilroy and Jake Gyllenhaal deliver perhaps the creepiest movie character since Freddy Krueger… except this guy doesn’t go away when you’re awake and you don’t have to live on Elm Street to find him. I said just after I saw this the first time that it isn’t quite Chayefsky. And it isn’t. But damn it, who the hell else is out there chasing that incredibly high bar? The movie is about TV news, yes. But it is about so much more. It is about the choices we all make… the compromises… the mission creep. We aren’t all Louis Bloom… but most of us look away from a Louis Bloom now and again, preferring just not to think about it.

And that is it. A group of films that I think will linger with me (And be repeatedly watched) for years to come.

I can only hope that you loved your movie year. Happy New Year. Onwards 2015!

My Best Films Of The Year: Part I

19 Responses to “2014: My Best Films Of The Year – The Top 10/11 (Part 2 of 2)”

  1. leahnz says:

    as is often the case i’m kind of underwhelmed by several of the conventional ‘awards-worthy’/critics’ 6 pet poodle movies this time of year, it’s like watching sheep herding. my best of 2014 in no order at all (have yet to see a few things i’m keen for such as ‘nightcrawler’, ‘night moves’ and ‘Eleanor rigby’):

    ‘only lovers left alive’ (jarmusch)

    ‘boyhood’ (linklater)

    ‘under the skin’ (glazer)

    ‘ida’ (pawlikoski)

    ‘selma’ (du vernay)

    ‘obvious child’ (slate)

    ‘the babadook’ (kent)

    ‘what we do in the shadows’ (waititi, clement)

    ‘live, rinse, repeat’ (liman)

    ‘mommy’ (dolan)

    ‘wild’ (vallee)

    ‘a girl walks home alone at night’ (amirpour)

    ‘laggies’ (Shelton)

    ‘dawn of the POTA’ (reeves)

    ‘wild tales’ (szifron)

    ‘joe’ (Gordon green)

    ‘in order of disappearance’ (petter moland – had to look up that Norwegian dude, what a fucking weird hilarious movie)

    …no doubt forgetting something mention-worthy and unique, i need to start doing a written list instead of relying on a mental one

  2. leahnz says:

    derp ‘robespierre’ for ‘obvious child’, not slate, obviously

  3. EtGuild2 says:

    Nice lists. Leah, you have the benefit of including stuff that hasn’t been released over here too :)

    Mines a bit offbeat too this year. One of those years where I either could respect some contenders, but didn’t resonate with them (Boyhood, Foxcatcher, Budapest), or in the case of the bio-pics found them annoyingly trendy in a way that will age them in the near future (Imitation Game, Theory of Everything). For my money, Chadwick Boseman as James Brown was timeless in comparison to the portrayals of Turing and Hawking.

    Foreign: “Ida,” “The Empty Hours”

    “The Babadook”
    “The Congress”
    “The Double”
    “Hide Your Smiling Faces”
    “Only Lovers Left Alive”
    “Run & Jump”
    “Under the Skin”

    Yet to see: “A Most Violent Year,” “American Sniper,” “Two Days, One Night

  4. MarkVH says:

    Glad to see Calvary on here. Between it and Ida (I’m sure there are one or two others I’m missing), this was a very solid year for serious, considerate films about faith – if you knew where to look for them, that is.

  5. Chris Price says:

    Nice lists by others in the comments. Some of the films you mentioned are things I never got a chance to see (Mommy, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Wild Tales, The Congress, The Double) and there were others nobody mentioned as well (Goodbye To Language, Enemy, Nymphomaniac, Stranger By The Lake, Leviathan, Gloria), but such is the case every year. Here’s my list:

    The Babadook
    Blue Ruin
    Captain America: The Winter Soldier
    The Dance Of Reality
    Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
    Dear White People
    Edge Of Tomorrow
    Force Majeure
    Gone Girl
    The Grand Budapest Hotel
    The Guest
    The Immigrant
    Inherent Vice
    Jodorowsky’s Dune
    John Wick
    The Lego Movie
    Maps To The Stars
    Men, Women & Children
    A Most Violent Year
    Obvious Child
    Only Lovers Left Alive
    The Raid 2
    The Skeleton Twins
    Top Five
    We Are The Best!

  6. Jeffrey Boam's Doctor says:

    Leah how’d you manage to see a girl walks home alone at night in Wellywood?

  7. EtGuild2 says:

    Nice list Chris. Locke, Maps to the Stars, and Dear White People were close for me. So was Nymphomaniac, but the jarring gulf between the quality of Volume I and II (for me anyway) was too much.

  8. leahnz says:

    i saw a few things at film festivals this year so i never know if i should include them on my ‘list’ for the year (for example ‘snowpeircer’ was on my list for last year) — but i may not be able to see those films again for a while what with the freaky voodoo of the international release schedule and i often see things after everyone else, so i just decided to put the festival films on my lists – or stuff i get to see on the down-low – since that’s when i first watched them (i saw ‘a girl walks home alone’ at a festival in aus JBD)

  9. lazarus says:

    There’s some essential stuff I still have to see (like Boyhood and Inherent Vice), but since people are doing this now, here’s what I have:

    1. I Origins (I’ve never felt in such a small minority as I do with this one)
    2. Force Majeure
    3. The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya
    4. Mr. Turner
    5. The Congress
    6. Calvary
    7. Mommy
    8. The Immigrant
    9. Interstellar
    10. Birdman

    * Wild Tales would definitely be on this list but I believe it’s looking like a 2015 U.S. release.

    H.M. Nightcrawler; Snowpiercer; A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night; Like Father, Like Son; Ida; Norte, The End Of History, The Grand Budapest Hotel, La Fille du 14 Julillet; Ida

    Acting Citations: Emily Blunt (Into The Woods), Suzanne Clement & Anne Dorval (Mommy), Marion Cotillard (The Immigrant), Brendan Gleeson (Calvary), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Agata Kulesza (Ida), Michael Keaton & Edward Norton (Birdman), Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar)

  10. Larry Gross says:

    Calvary didn’t quite make my top ten, but glad to see it on yours…and boy was Brendan Gleeson superb in the hardest of all parts to play–a credibly good if not particularly heroic man. And of course Frank. We in the tiny cult of Frank will be confirmed!

  11. Jeffrey Boam's Doctor says:

    thanks Leah I didn’t think it had made it down to NZ. Looking forward to it a lot. Does it live up to the hype?

    I’m surprised by the love for Nightcrawler which is compelling but I don’t think a great film. It has some serious flaws and some strange choices. Worst of all is the star himself who delivers a rancidly good performance but the character is all noise and tics with zero substance. It comes off like one of the best 90s tele-movies. I enjoyed it but a great film?

  12. greg says:

    Under The Skin
    Blue Ruin
    It Follows
    What We Do In The Shadows
    I Origins
    and…Wolf Creek 2/Town That Dreaded Sundown/Joyride 3 (I have a soft spot for horror sequels)

  13. Bulldog68 says:

    Am I a contrarian if I say that I thought that Emily Blunt was actually better in Edge of Tomorrow? Both great performances, but man did she nail that role.

  14. leahnz says:

    JBD I don’t know what the hype was for TGWWHAN, but overhyping is the devil (as always) it’s kind of a modern ghost town farsi western vampire romance revenge flick, hard to describe really, a genre mash up (plus skateboarding). but unique because of the striking design, feels fresh but retro at the same time, subversive. also freaky. but at times romantic and sensuous. Sheila vand is awesome (and filmed in like Bakersfield, i didn’t know that till after, just to add more random)

    i was just thinking, i have 3 ‘vampire’ flicks on my faves this year (last year), i hadn’t really considered that before, whoda thunk it. that seems excessive, but Only lovers and this movie ‘the girl’ are amongst my most coveted of the year, stylistically bold, and ‘wwdits’ is my top comedy so that’s not for nothing. maybe trippy, stylistic ‘the hunger’-esque vampires are having a resurgence, here’s hoping. ‘the girl’ and ‘only lovers’ should be a box set (plus a three-set with ‘what we do in the shadows’ for a new vampire chronicles – i guess ‘box sets’ will be going the way of the dodo in this digital/downloadable age though, bummer. that seems like the best job in the world, thinking up good box sets)

    (eta emily kills)

  15. leahnz says:

    er i don’t know what TGWWHAN is, i think the spellcheck on my tablet must have autocorrected AGWHAAN and i didn’t notice, or a heinous typo, at any rate i meant ‘a girl walks home’ obviously

  16. EtGuild2 says:

    Re: “I, Origins,” I found the first half pretty insufferable…but the second half mostly made up for it. Enjoyable conceit, but not nearly as well executed as “Another Earth,” or Brit Marling’s other mind-expanding sci-fi/mystical endeavor, “Sound of My Voice.”

  17. John E. says:

    Still trying to see some of these end-of-year top-10 listmakers like Most Violent Year and so on, but I don’t see anything knocking Edge of Tomorrow, Grand Budapest Hotel, Nightcrawler, Birdman out of my top 10.

  18. Stella's Boy says:

    Still need/want to see Birdman, A Most Violent Year, and Inherent Vice, but at this points it’s Boyhood, Selma, The Babadook, The Guest, Nightcrawler, Interstellar, Under the Skin, Snowpiercer, Locke, and Life Itself.

  19. Hey David, you have made a very good list of movies here, that’s great! please check out our best movies of 2014, we will come to visit more often, thanks and good luck to you and to your readers.

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