My quirky, surprising + maybe a little expected top 10 films of 2014 list


entertainment, film reviews, top 10 films of 2014, what’s happening in New York, best of film 2014,

With my film and theater top 10 lists separated this year, I held off the film post to see as many late-in-the-year-releases as possible. Of course seeing everything is not possible. Still on my list: Citizenfour, A Most Violent Year, Top Five, Selma, Goodbye to Language, Manakamana, Winter Sleep and Force Majeure to name only a few. I would lobby for dispersed distribution throughout the year, but I’m sure it would be a lost cause.

I liked a lot of films in this year. No one title stuck out as my favorite – the one I’d be rooting for through awards season – as in previous years. That’s a good thing, I can spread the love around.

As I whittled down the films for my best of 2014 list, I gravitated towards original, well-made films that surprised me in some way. Doubtful that a few of these would make anyone else’s top 10 or best of lists. But I found them worthy, so off we go.

Top 10 Films of 2014 (in alphabetical order)

1 > Boyhood directed by Richard Linklater

While filmmaking is a normally lengthy process, Linklater upped the ante filming the same cast for 12 years. His efforts paid off in spades as we literally watch a boy grow up before our eyes. A coming-of-age film where everything and nothing happens, it’s both gratifying and unsettling to see the kids grow up, and the adult actors age without make or prosthetics in a nearly three hour span. What the film does beautifully is remind us of the passage of time and that seemingly random moments are never just that. Captivating.

2 > The Double directed by Richard Ayoade

Who doesn’t love a dystopian black comedy? Based loosely on Dostoyevsky’s novella of the same name, Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon/James, a wimpy clerk whose lonely, structured life is disrupted when a slick, aggressive employee who looks exactly like him joins the company. In Ayoade’s second feature, he again brings his unique visual style to this comedy of paranoid entrapment with homage to Orson Welles adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial, and many other films. He embellishes this familiar tale with a great cast, sets it in a world that seems like the future, but details point to the past. I’m looking forward to Ayoade’s next. Claustrophobic.

3 > A Field in England directed by Ben Wheatley

One of the more unusual, but highly unique films of the year, Field is set in 17th century England during the English Civil War. Simple enough. Then there’s a power trip, a forced treasure hunt, and the pièce de résistance: the ingesting of magic mushrooms. To say it’s crazy, or perhaps psychotropic, would be putting it mildy. It’s either the worst trip, or the best that you’ve ever been on. Monochromatic, gorgeous, funny and violent, this film must be seen to be experienced. Demented.

4 > The Grand Budapest Hotel directed by Wes Anderson

A frothy and zany confection with an undertone of melancholy, the film centers around the adventures of Gustave H (a brilliant comic turn by Ralph Fiennes), a legendary European concierge, and his protege Zero, the lobby boy and his most trusted friend in the famous hotel. With Anderson’s signature style stamped on every frame, the film is set between the World Wars. The subplots and flashbacks track a heightened world that appears elegant on the surface, but foreshadows the fall of Old Europe. The zither and organ score by Alexandre Desplat is sublime. Nostalgic.

5 > Ida directed by Pawel Pawlikowski

A visually exquisite, black-and-white film set in the early 1960s, a young novice in a Polish convent is sent to meet her aunt, her only surviving relative whom she doesn’t know, before taking her final vows. The secret that Anna learns from her aunt sets her on a journey, both physically and mentally, forcing her to reconsider all that she knows about herself and her choices. The film rests on the terrific performances of the two women, specifically Agata Trzebuchowska’s quiet, but powerful performance as Anna/Ida. This stark road movie follows the women as they wrestle with loss, guilt and resilience. Powerful.

6 > Jodorowsky’s Dune directed by Frank Pavich

Anything Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky does is out there, and this story is no different. In the mid-70s, Jodorowsky began preparing a film version of Frank Herbert’s Dune – having never read the book. Single-minded and passionate in all projects, he launched a full scale, international pre-production team into action. This documentary is based on one of the last-surviving manuscripts of notes and storyboards of the never-made film, and is likely more entertaining in death than it ever might have been in life. Jodorowsky dreams big, and to live fully, he encourages us to do the same. Trippy.

7 > Locke directed by Steve Knight

Locke is a mesmerizing one-man show. A terrific actor, Tom Hardy commands the screen as the title character, Ivan Locke, a construction manager whose life is unraveling both personally and professionally. So we have a man, in a car, on his Bluetooth. During a 90-minute drive from Birmingham to London, Hardy is hypnotic, carefully modulating his voice to exude calm as various facets of his life collide and collapse. With real-time storytelling, the film is a minimalist original about how life can turn on a dime. Compelling.

8 > Nightcrawler directed by Dan Gilroy

Likening this film to the scene of an accident, where I couldn’t look away is not only apt, but accurate. Jake Gyllenhaal unsettlingly plays Lou Bloom, an ambitious, sociopathic video newshound, trawling the underbelly of Los Angeles at night for the most gruesome crimes. Part thriller, part black comedy, this film shines a light on the race for one-upmanship among news organizations and their thirst for ratings. It’s riveting but not easy to watch as Lou sells his product, and the news outlet packages the fear and shamelessly peddles it. Toxic.

9 > Only Lovers Left Alive directed by Jim Jarmusch

One of my favorite directors, Jarmusch’s style excels in stillness and silence. Since the leading characters here are world-weary vampires, the fit is perfect. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston play longtime lovers living a world apart, he in Detroit, and she in Tangier. As Adam and Eve, they are artists who live in the shadows of the night – in the modern world, but also out of step – longing for an existence that has passed and they know will never return. Is it a cultural statement from Jarmusch of artists as outsiders? Perhaps. But I reveled in the bone-dry wit, the languorous unfolding of the narrative, and the aching loss below the surface. Poetic.

10 > Under the Skin directed by Jonathan Glazer

This arty, sci-fi thriller stars Scarlett Johansson who gives a fine performance as an otherworldly woman – maybe, luring unsuspecting young Scotsmen into her van. Once in, it does not end well for them. To what purpose – don’t know. The film is hypnotic with very little dialogue, and distinctive and frustrating at the same time. While I fit pieces together, I never saw the big picture, yet I couldn’t look away. Visually stunning with a soundtrack that is also not of this world, a hunter stalks her prey and experiences the consequences of what it is to be human. Or something like that. Haunting.

Honorable mentions: The Babadook, Birdman, Finding Vivian Maier, Gloria, Foxcatcher, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Imitation Game, Le Week-End, Mr Turner, Stranger by the Lake, Snowpiercer, The Theory of Everything, Tracks, The Two Faces of January, We Are The Best!

Theater fans, check out my 10 best plays of the year here. And the curious g’s wrap up is fini.

What films did you love – or not – in 2014?

Poster montage: Design + animation © 2014 Janet Giampietro

4 Responses to “My quirky, surprising + maybe a little expected top 10 films of 2014 list”

  1. Frank N. Says:

    These are some really strange films that you call your top 10. How can Foxcatcher and Birdman be honorable mentions?

    Thank you.
    Frank N.

  2. Janet Says:

    Well. Frank N., chacun à son goût, as they say.

    I thought the performances in Foxcatcher were excellent, and the story was fascinating. The film was a bit too long and slow for me. As for Birdman, there was something too scattered about the narrative. But above all, there were 10 other films more interesting to me.

    Thanks for reading. Cheers,

  3. hugh_mckay Says:

    Hello the curious g,

    I stumbled upon this post. You must live somewhere that they show a lot of different kinds of movies. I never heard of most of your list. That Locke and Jodorowsky’s Dune sound pretty interesting. I’m gonna check them out.


  4. Janet Says:

    Hello Hugh:

    Welcome, and thank you for your comment. I am lucky that most films pass through my area. I’m glad that you found two films on the list that interested you, and that you may not have otherwise seen. Happy screenings. Feel welcome to post your reviews here. It’s good discussion.


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