There were a ton of great films last year. SO MANY GREAT FILMS. I saw 135 films that came out in 2014 and I liked, in one degree or another, 97 of them. There are still a ton of them I would like to see that I’ve missed including The Blue Room, Calvary, Coherence, The French Minister, Get On Up, Happy Valley, The Inbetweeners 2, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, Life of Crime, Love is Strange, A Master Builder, Miss Meadows, The Missing Picture, A Most Violent Year, The Mule, Norte the End of History, Omar, Particle Fever, Showrunners, The Skeleton Twins, Space Station 76, The Strange Little Cat, The Unknown Known, Vic and Flo Saw a Bear, Wetlands, Why Don’t You Play in Hell? and Willow Creek.

 

Since I’m writing about so many films, I’m going to try to keep it brief until I get later in the list. I say that now…

#72

Leviathan

leviathan

Destruction seems like something that will be inherently cinematic, but not every film is able to pull off the emotional weight of it. By the end of this film, you’re really able to feel the impact of all the consequences that these characters had control of and the ones they didn’t.

#71

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Days of Future Past

The more superhero films we get, the more Hollywood can’t rely on the same old stories. This is a complicated and curious story full of worthy twists and a confidence to play around in this universe. My only complaint is that I wish it was longer to allow for even more emotional scenes between its characters.

#70

They Came Together

They Came Together

David Wain continues to be one of the most reliably weird comedy directors and this is his more surreal where every romantic comedy trope is put on display. The cast is game for every silly moment, especially Paul Rudd because there is no actor alive who can play dumb as naturalistically as he can.

#69

Top Five

 Top Five

Chris Rock has always been a comedian I’ve liked a lot but never had a go-to movie that really showed all of his talents. This is easily his greatest achievement as a writer/director. It’s still not perfect, but it’s very successful in balancing the emotional exploration he wants to achieve while having comedy that enhances the journey and doesn’t distract it.

#68

White Bird in a Blizzard

White Bird in a Blizzard

I’ve never disliked Shailene Woodley in anything but I never understood why she was the new go-to actress for all the young roles. I needed to see her work with a really nuanced role like this in the latest Gregg Araki movie. Nobody writes parts for young people like Araki and this one continues his streak in finding the emotional truths in heightened scenarios.

#67

Foxcatcher

Foxcatcher

 

So many brilliant sports movies are devoted around the relationship of the athlete and their coach. Foxcatcher serves a cold counterbalance about what happens when that mentor relationship is unearned with very sad and lonely results for everyone involved.

#66

Manakamana

Manakamana

Different people take a tram up to a temple in Nepal. That’s the whole movie. It begins as claustrophobic people watching and then after seeing so many different types of people (and goats!) take the ride, the little things become secret celebrations.

#65

Obvious Child

Obvious Child

2014 was the year when everyone caught on that Jenny Slate is awesome. The movie is charming without her, but her brilliance on screen makes this a really special movie. The way that she is able (and unable) to find catharsis in her emotional life through stand-up comedy is a highlight to watch because I’ve never seen that depicted so well especially from a voice like Slate’s.

#64

Rosewater

Rosewater

Is it fair for me to ask for Jon Stewart to keep making movies but I don’t want any fewer episodes of The Daily Show? This is a very impressive adaptation of a glorious book by embracing a new perspective on the events. While the book is a memoir written by the man who was trapped in the Iranian prison, this movie has the tone of someone who is friends with the captor. So there is more humor and more anger and a visual sympathy that you wouldn’t expect from a first-time director.

#63

Starred Up

Starred Up 

When you take a violent and aggressive male and put him in prison, from the public’s eye, the story is over. There’s so many things still to explore. This film is able to capture so well what it is like day-to-day in such an environment with an incredible lead performance to carry through the hardships.

#62

God Help the Girl

God Help the Girl

Do you like Belle & Sebastian? Do you like people singing directly to the camera? I do! Thus, I really enjoyed watching this movie. /critic

#61

Like Father, Like Son

 Like Father Like Son

Great storytellers, like Hirokazu Koreeda, can take a simple sounding story and make it seem epic because we’re so invested in the emotions of the characters. In this movie, a couple learns their child was accidentally switched at the hospital and now they have to decide what involvement they want with their genetic son. Different elements of modern Japanese culture are examined through the behavior of the two families with well-done subtle observation.

#60

The Lunchbox

The Lunchbox

In this crowd-pleasing movie, a friendship is formed in India when a wife’s lunch for her husband is accidentally sent to the wrong man and they start a correspondence through letters. I’m always impressed by actors who can do so much without having the other person on the screen. Their performances are even stronger thanks to the depth of the writing of their characters.

#59

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas

Mumblecore was an interesting movement that ultimately hurt itself by being too directionless. It wanted to capture a certain moment but lacked any sort of narrative drive to see how the characters exist. Joe Swanson was one of the main contributors of that movement but is now making movies that really connect with me a lot more. With this and Drinking Buddies, it’s able to have that incredible authenticity while managing a small personal story that isn’t usually told in films. In this an uncomfortably relatable mess played by Anna Kendrick crashes at her responsible sister’s place who has a family. I love watching the awkwardness play out thanks to how well all the actors were able to coexist with an understated familiarity.

#58

The Princess of France

The Princess of France

My first—and definitely not last—film on my list from the Chicago International Film Festival was one I knew nothing about going in. I knew it had a connection to Shakespeare, but I didn’t know how experimental this movie was going to be. Thanks to an unreliable narrative, it becomes a playful game similar to the Bard’s farces as we try to figure out who is playing who and what is really happening. Understanding it 100% isn’t as important than enjoying the theatrical element of it all as perfectly shown by its magically genius long opening show.

#57

Ida

Ida

This is a masterclass in showing how the framing of the camera can reveal just as much inner truth to a character than the performance of the actor. The combination of director Pawel Pawlikowski, actress Agata Trzebuchowska and the cinematography team of Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal make this a beautiful feat of art.

#56

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

 A Girl Walk Homes Alone at Night

It’s an Iranian female vampire film that has western vibes in it! Why haven’t you already watched this already? The movie plays so well with stillness to really give the audience time to question the horror images we’re seeing and why is it this female figure is so creepy in this circumstances.

#55

Two Days, One Night

Two Days One Night

Depicting depressing in film is a tricky thing because it’s such a self-defeating emotion that it’s hard to also convey narrative drive displaying something that makes you want to stay in bed. But this film succeeds because there is this countdown element with a ticking clock where this poor woman has a very small chance to save her job. The repetition of the film ends up working a lot more than I thought it would.

#54

Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow 

Speaking of repetition, that also applies to this film! This could have been a standard space battle with a Groundhogs Day twist, but the screenplay ends up being really smart. It uses the format to create a quietly complex structure to fool the audience about what the characters are hiding from each other. Also it’s really fun.

#53

Virgunga

Virunga

The story of this documentary was already fascinating as people try to protect a national park in the middle of the Congo. It serves as a great metaphor for rebuilding in a land filled with a history of pain. What separates it from so many documentaries right now is its epic lens and powerful editing. Orlando von Einsiedle is a great filmmaker.

#52

Mr. Turner

Mr. Turner 

I keep finding that I really like watching despicable characters who don’t actually pose any threat to anyone. Timothy Spall plays the brilliant painter as someone so unapproachable that I all I want to do is approach him and ask him a million questions. Mike Leigh crafts such a compelling world that always seems to wonder what we want out of our artists beyond the art. It’s great to see a master at work.

#51

Wild

Wild 

There were roughly 2,399 times during this movie when it could have unbearably sappy. Instead the film succeeds at never trying to make this the most important story of all time but one personal story towards acceptance. This succeeds in every way that Eat, Pray, Love failed.

 

#50

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

The Tale of Princess Kaguya 

Since I’m lousy at drawing anything, there will always be a part of me that watches an animated film and will wonder at how they did that. The more animated films go entirely to computer generated characters, the less awe I personally have. Then a film like this will come along and I’m blown away by the sequences and the design and cuteness and the horror and the patience and the scope and the intimacy where I’m just saying “wow” over and over again.

#49

Blue Ruin

Blue Ruin

Characters like John McClaine or Walter White are superheroes. They can pull off the badass things because they live in a world where they can do so. Blue Ruin takes that action movie drive for revenge and puts it towards something who can’t magically accomplish all that he wants to accomplish. The results creates an anxious viewing not because we think he’s going to die every second; it’s that we just don’t know how this will play out in such a realistic society.

#48

Nymphomania Part I

Nymphomania Part I 

Why I like Part I more than Part II is how the main character is using the power dynamic setup of her sexual odyssey to her favor. Her defiance towards the norms fit in well with von Trier’s strange sense of humor and his teasing relationship with the audience.

#47

The Trip to Italy

The Trip to Italy

Sequels are difficult to do but they’re worth it when you just want any excuse to spend more time with these characters. This probably has more laughs than the first one because following Rob’s foils over Steve’s will naturally have more of levity towards them because it’s easier to like Rob. Keep on traveling!

#46

Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars

I was on a road trip from New Orleans to Austin when the Kickstarter went live. I spent most of the drive obsessively refreshing the page to see that this actually was going to happen. I’m happy with the final result because where all the characters ended up years later felt completely real. The mystery was a bit weak because it was (literally) all about the reunion. You got the gang back together, you proved that you could do it, now it’s time to really knock it out of the park with the twists and class warfare we love so much.

#45

Journey to the West

Journey to the West

There’s a giddiness to Stephen Chow that is only emulated by Looney Tunes. I will always see his movies because there will be this grin on my face as the world just twists around to craft the goofiest counter attack. The plot gets a little too serious near the end but the ride is delightful.

#44

The Guest

The Guest

This may be the weirdest movie of the year. It basically took until the final line of the movie for me to understand the tone it wanted to set. Then it all fell into place. This is almost like the Girl Walk All Day of thrillers where the story is boiled down to the bare essentials so they can only have the awesome moments. And it actually works thanks to Dan Steven’s bold performance and just how weird this movie is willing to go.

#43

Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden

The elevator pitch for this one is Broad City meets After Hours. Two clueless girls try to give themselves the day off they definitely deserve as they try to make it across New York to their beach location. The struggle of their friendship and self-esteem is perfectly tested through their hysterically strange world. I want more from everyone involved in this movie.

#42

Witching and Bitching

Witching and Bitching

Do you see the title? Do you see this trailer? You now know if you need to see this movie or not.

#41

We Are the Best!

We Are the Best 

They are because this is one of the happiest films of the year.

#40

The Immigrant

The Immigrant 

Of the two films last year where Marion Coittard suffers from a system outside her control, I prefer this one. The movie pushes this character in such a dangerous corner where bad decisions seem reasonable because they could be the only options available. Curiously shot and extremely well acted, this is worth the misery.

#39

Night Moves

Night Moves 

It’s really easy to say you want a revolution but the actual day to day elements make all of it seem impossible. This story seems like so many familiar acts of activism but there is new suspense when it’s unclear what people actually believe in and who is trustworthy.

#38

Young and Beautiful

 Young and Beautiful

Francois Ozon has now completed his 180 for me as a director. He’s now able to take his curious eye and craft it into a really strong character study with a lot of nuance. There’s such a confidence where he lets Isabelle control the movie through passive uncertainty that is able to examine unwanted sexualization and what it means to take it back.

#37

Beyond the Lights

Beyond the Lights 

What a great romance film! The star and the everyman story has been done a million times but none of them have had the authenticity of this film. The only way to look at sensationalization is to remove yourself from it where everyone seems vulnerable and approachable. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is so fantastic in this!

#36

Pride

Pride

In a year with an alarming amount of British inspirational biopics, the best one was way too overlooked. This ensemble is about a gay advocacy group in the 80s that doesn’t just to work for their own cause, but for anywhere they see injustice. The cast and the film is so charming that it’s impossible not to enjoy this film especially when you have such greats as Andrew Scott, Dominic West, Faye Marsay, Joseph Gilgun, Paddy Considine, and Imelda Staunton.

#35

Zero Motivation

Zero Motivation 

I’m really looking forward to watching this again because for the first third I enjoyed getting into this world of female Israeli army office workers but it was a bit difficult to establish what tone the movie was wanting. Silly things happen and dramatic things happen but by the second segment began, I was completely in the groove with the film and it became the most I’ve laughed in a theatre in a while. There are some hysterical moments surrounding these great characters in a very unique setting.

#34

Locke

Locke

Tom Hardy drives a car for this entire movie. He isn’t in a chase but he needing to be somewhere quickly. But he is a professional and a professional can only speed so much. This amazing film manages to be incredibly dynamic during Locke’s series of phone calls as he drives to his destination. All of the visual tricks to make the film dynamic are completely effective and never distracting from this very intriguing journey. Hardy can do no wrong.

#33

22 Jump Street

22 Jump Street

In every interview, the comedy geniuses Chris Miller and Phil Lord spoke about the difficulty of comedy sequels. What do you do when the surprise is gone from the first installment? Their solution is to embrace the absurdity. The film is in a delightfully meta conflict as forces try to make them repeat the exact same structure of the first movie while actually having its character continue to evolve. I think this one is even funnier than the first one partly because Jonah Hill is way more consistent and has a great foil to play off of with Jillian Bell.

#32

Frank

 Frank

The problem with depicting mental illness or addition with the arts is that it’s too easy to romanticize it because we like their output. Frank has a smarter approach in making us like the artist more than their art. All of the film is the audience wanting to learn more about Frank, the charamstic band leader who only wears a giant paper mache head. Michael Fassbender is incredible as he plays a man who is kind, genuine but is still doing some very odd things. Maggie Gyllenhall has never been funnier and the ending makes this a really special movie.

#31

Ernest & Celestine

Ernest and Celestine 

It’s like Zeus and Roxanne but 200% more adorable and has a very nice message about acceptance. But it is lacking Steve Gutenberg so it gets points off for that.

#30

Big Bad Wolves

Big Bad Wolves

The idea of normal people trying their hand at justice has been done a million times before (and at least once more on this list). This movie excels because it goes for a very strange tone of playfulness and suspense that makes this feel like a new way to approach this story. Also the script is very tight as it constantly plays with the audience’s loyalty and expectations. This is like Prisoners was actually good!

#29

Begin Again

Begin Again

Once is one of my favorite movies ever so any follow-up would have unfair expectations. This never reaches that level of brilliance but it continues this nice series of films of stories about the importance of music. While the plot is very familiar, what’s wonderful about this film are the series of small moments. They give us two moments of watching Keira Knightly sing a song at open mic so we can experience it on our own first and then see how Mark Ruffallo sees something that inspires him. The way the characters use their iPods or dare each other not to dance to a song is this playful encompassing world.

#28

Maestro

Maestro 

I saw this film in an international film festival so this film should have begun with a message saying, “You are the perfect audience for this!” It’s about a bumbling commercial actor who manages to get a role in one of the greatest director’s newest period art film. There’s plenty of humor gently poking at the pretentiousness of art films. The real strength of the film is how it shows how there’s value in poetry and summer action films.

#27

The One I Love

The One I Love

Once the science-fiction reveal happens early in the film, I was worried that it would fall down a very rote path. Instead everything worked well in this strange, personal and intentionally awkward look at a relationship on the brink of failure. I loved the way that Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss’s characters played with the premise in ways that will serve their own needs. Even as things get stranger and stranger, their relationship still remained the most important thing to the filmmakers up to the very end.

 

#26

Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive

This is a vampire film without the threat of a Van Helsing character trying to uncover their secret or sunlight creeping in a window expectantly. This is about a couple of immortals who feed off society and appreciates them more than they do towards themselves. More than blood, these character really love what life has to offer in terms of art, music, and civilization. But even if that inspires you, it can also drain you at times when you are able to stick around to see a great city like Detroit crumble. This is a meditative look at it all through the eyes of foreigners who have been her longer than we have.

#25

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America

We’re 10 Marvel films in and they’ve all been ridiculous successes. Despite being summer blockbusters they aren’t known as much for their action as they are for their cool character moments like a Hulk smash or Iron Man blasting off. With the Russo brothers behind the camera, that really changed for this one. For the first time, the action wasn’t just CGI figures hitting each other but smoothly choreographed sequences with expert level tension. This worked well with the best plotted Marvel story to date, earned humor and a conclusion that makes you excited for the rest of this insanely ambitious franchise.

#24

Under the Skin

Under the Skin

While the vampires in Only Lovers Left Alive had insight into the evolution of society, Scarlett Johananson’s unnamed alien is starting with puzzlingly little information. She’s a predator hunting unexpecting men who don’t see her as a threat because she looks like…Scarlet Johannson. Hypnotic has been the overused word for this movie but it’s a rather perfect word. As her victims become entranced so do we as we search for meaning in her actions and slowly start to notice something stranger happening…

#23

The Double

The Double

I really liked Richard Ayode’s first film Submarine but it felt like the kind of movie that anybody could have made. The Double is a movie that I’m not sure anyone else could have made. It’s so dark, so strange, so refusing to explain anything and also secretly really funny. Jesse Eisenberg can use this has undeniable proof against the ridiculous claim that he only plays the same character. These performances display the power of expectations and what can be accomplished with the right illusion of authority.

#22

Cheap Thrills

Cheap Thrills

While there have been many films and documentaries about the scandals of Wall Street that led to this recession, there still haven’t been enough films about how is just sucks to live in it. Cheap Thrills is about the insane night between two friends who are caught up in an escalating series of bets to see how low they will go for a whole lot of money. All four performances are stellar, every decision is validated and everyone gets to go home with a sick sense of accomplishment.

#21

Venus in Fur

Venus in Fur

Recently Roman Polanski adapted the fantastic play God of Carnage into the serviceable film Carnage. While the script was still excellent, Polanski wasn’t able to get past the claustrophobia of the living room. While he has done wonders with that in the past, it was unfortunately distracting there. Now, Polanski has adapted another beloved play that takes place in one location and it feels like a whole new director. The battle of wits between an actress and a playwright becomes surrounded by the nightmare element of the stage where reality keeps subtly changing around them. It’s a wonderful criticism of female representation, especially as sex symbols, in male driven art and all of the points are made using the tropes against themselves.

#20

The Overnighters

The Overnighters

The Christian films I really like are the ones that look at how you take this philosophy and really apply it to your day-to-day life. It comes with an inherent struggle because it’s harder to do the right thing more than you’d realize. The struggles aren’t because bad liberals are trying to take away Christmas; it’s because everything is so subjective. This powerful documentary is about a very nice pastor who has set up a situation to let homeless people live inside his church. It’s due to the enormous influx of people coming into the town booming with job opportunities. And yet every kind action this man is trying to accomplish is foiled by the Christians in the town not wanting homeless people to be in their city or in their church. It’s a frustrating clash of view that leads to some really human moments.

#19

Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler

This is the only time I’m going to mention the Oscars in this article—probably—but it’s crazy that Jake Gyllenhaal didn’t win Best Actor. But he wasn’t even nominated because nothing makes sense. His chilling unblinking intense performance is a perfect culmination of the go-to attitude that is taught as the only way to succeed in today’s work climate. The film is never a one-trick pony because the screenplay is tight and inventive, the direction is very impressive and I love how they ended the film.

#18

Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer

Thrillers were awesome this year because so many decided they’re just going to be as weird as they want. This isn’t in a super-ironic Sharknado 2 kind of way. It’s in a way where Bong Joon-ho decided he wanted to tell a movie about class and the best way to do that would be to have a post-apocalyptic revolution on a train circling the globe with Captain America, Oldboy, The War Doctor, Octavia Spencer and Tilda Swinton talking about shoes. It’s bonkers, fun, ridiculous and it all magically works.

#17

Tim’s Vermeer

Tim's Vermeer

There were a lot of movies about geniuses this year and almost all of them were terrible. They were terrible because they didn’t know how to make smart look interesting. So those terrible movies had an endless series of scenes where other characters gasped and said “That’s brilliant” after a line of gibberish to the audience. We’re supposed to assume they’re brilliant because someone pretty just said they were. Tim’s Vermeer is a documentary about an actual genius, working on a very clever project and it’s so cinematic. An inventor thinks he’s discovered a previously unknown method for Johannes Vermeer to make sure picturesque paintings. To prove his theory, Tim is going to spend over a year of his life trying to paint one of Vermeer’s paintings one little inch at a time. Never before has the artist’s method been depicting on film so perfectly as we get to see the actual trial and error in real time.

#16

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel

I’ve always liked Wes Anderson’s movies but I think for everyone, including himself, The Darjeeling Limited was when everyone decided we’ve seen this type of story from him before. After that he’s been on a storytelling upgrade as he uses his methods towards Roald Dahl, tales of youth and now a Russian doll formatted caper. It’s easily his most complex movie as he delves into looking at what we hold the most value in whether it be the manners of a hotel, the stories we read or the people who are there for us. It’s hysterical, exciting, silly and quite moving.

#15

The Babadook

The Babadook

The great horror villains are the ones that seem impossible to defeat. No matter what plan you have, they’re always going to pop up from the shadows ready to get you again. That is especially fun when your villain is tall lanky creature from an evil children’s book with a fun catch-phrase. But it’s horrifying when it’s more than that. The Bababook uses horror to explore the soul-draining elements of grief and depression as a mother and her hyperactive son try not only to defeat the monster, but function on an hour to hour basis. The movie is gorgeously shot but the most effective visual moments are not the horror scenes but when we peak into the damaged psyche of this poor woman.

#14

Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice

Poor Doc. The great irony of this crazy, fun, bummer of a tale is that Doc is a nice guy. He keeps getting beat up, threatened and abused and it’s all because he’s a pot smoking hippie. Yet what he does on pot is just asking questions about the absurd level of corruption happening around him. He’s a passive protagonist who just wants to make sure the woman he cares for is okay and once all the pieces are put together of this mystery, he chooses to become active in order help those who have been hurt by this greed. This is an unconventional private eye tale because it’s not about solving a murder but it’s about recognizing that an era is ending. It’s messed up and it’s easy to sympathize with Doc that it hardly seems real at times.

#13

Bird People

Bird People

This is easily going to be the worst paragraph out of the billion that I’ve written for this article because I pretty much want to say nothing about why I love this movie so much because the discovery is part of the experience. Thankfully this is my blog so I can do what I want! This is a magical French film with Josh Charles and it’s on Netflix. Watch it and then let’s talk about it.

#12

Selma

Selma

Inspirational films are the hardest to do because if it’s not real it’s unwatchable. Selma works so well because it is a constant back and forth strategy at play. The goal is clear and there are many hurdles. Not necessarily villains because LBJ and the other advocacy group aren’t wrong in what they’re saying; their way will just take longer or possibly not ever work. Martin Luther King Jr. is so impressive in this movie not because of his speeches but because of the difficult moment to moment plays he has to make in order to get one bill to pass. Director Ava DuVernay brilliantly is able to inspire hope with a quietly beautiful camera and the patience to let the actors command their roles.

#11

Life Itself

 Life Itself

How do you make a movie about a guy who watches movies? Answer: you recognize that’s not why he was great. Based off Roger Ebert’s fantastic memoir, Steve James makes a movie that Ebert would have loved. Not just because everyone is complimenting him, but because it’s a very well made documentary. To do anything less would be a disservice. It had to be James behind the camera because it was thanks to Roger Ebert’s continual endorsement of James’s Hoop Dreams that has given him the career he has now. The film is complicated and never afraid to show Ebert’s troubling side. This film doesn’t just show why this man was loved but why he was. Thumbs up.

 

#10

Winter Sleep

Winter Sleep

This is a three hour Turkish film that is focused on really long conversations with everyone sitting down in the scene. Are you still here? You haven’t gone on to see what I put for #9? (It’s Listen Up Philip.) Good. After this film ended, I was game to watch more of these characters. The longer these arguments go on, the more you realize exactly how these characters think about the world. For people don’t know when they’re actually being destructive especially if they think highly of themselves. I was in awe of how well articulated all of conversations were because they felt so realistic and constructive—even when only a portion of the room is truly listening. This one has stuck with me and is well worth the time.

#9

Listen Up Philip

 Listen Up Philip

In this movie, Philip feels like he has unlocked a superpower. I don’t know exactly how he operated before the first scene but from the beginning of this film, it’s like he decided that he doesn’t need to be nice ever again. Any random thought he has in his head, he’ll say usually to the pain of everyone around him. It’s an unrelenting performance from Jason Schwartzman and a lesser film would just watch this man for the whole length. Instead it really makes this a true ensemble as everyone tries to figure out how to present themselves as they work towards finding a happy center. I have never seen someone emulate the feel and uneasiness of a John Cassevettes film since the master himself.

#8

Citizenfour

Citizenfour 

There were so many things in the news in the past two years where it just seemed insane this was happening in America. Edward Snowden and the NSA leaks were a bit of the beginning of that news avalanche and quickly the media went to blame him as a traitor to our country. This is the first opportunity to hear his story and the results are cinematically chilling. Director Laura Poitras was one of the first people Snowden contacted before he revealed any information. Watching everyone break down exactly how this should play out and how quickly they have to move was stunning. One of the best scenes of the year was when you can’t tell if their paranoia in a Hong Kong hotel room is justified but there’s no reason to think otherwise. Beyond the one-on-one Snowden scenes, Poitras delves more into the privacy invasion with a really passioned argument of how angry we should be. The film isn’t breaking news (anymore) but it took its time to make a well researched argument that has a powerful style to it.

#7

It Follows

It Follows

This is creepy. This is very creepy. It’s effective because they’re playing in new territory. Even a film like The Babadook is original but it plays upon the tropes of a mythical horror villain. This is brand new and terrifying in its simplicity. Obviously because of this, the less you know the better because so many opening scenes put you into the movie because you really don’t know what’s going on and how high the stakes really are for these characters. Beyond its excellent horror scenes, the movie is brilliant in how it handles the gender politics of this age, how people respond to abuse and how people react in a crisis. This film is opening wide this March in theatres and VOD. Either watch it at night or better yet, watch it in the afternoon and then go for a walk outside…

#6

Force Majure

 Force Majeure

If there’s anything to gain from this list—besides the fact that I watched too many movies—it’s that I was really affected by the movies this year that really examined how people live with each other socially and the roles they don’t know they’re playing. This movie works as a very playful essay film as they look at one family and how they responded during a moment where they thought it was life and death. One parent reacted well and one didn’t. At times the movie is very funny, at times it’s very dramatic as everyone tries to come to terms with what happened. It’s scary to look this deeply into yourself or the ones you love but it’s strangely contagious. Other characters respond to this family by asking themselves what they would do and then the audience has no choice but to think the same thing. It’s great because the film knows how contagious it is because as this spiral keeps continuing the score keeps getting more jarring as it knows that we’re all trapped in this madness. This movie sounds crazy as I describe it but the presentation is deceptively civil…or is it? (It is.) (Kinda.)

#5

Gone Girl

Gone Girl 

I really loved this book and I was so worried about this movie. I didn’t know if David Fincher could pull off the right tone, especially after he didn’t capture what worked so well with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Yet his weirdly distant tones worked perfectly with this material because if there’s one thing Fincher can do it’s crazy-time judgment. There’s so much on display as society is skewered on sensationalizing tragedy, creating narratives and simply decimating the way men are treating women. While the film has a very clear agenda, it also knows how to be a lot of fun with its impressive twists and great characters that are more than a soapbox. One of the most fun I had in the theatres was having the audience freak out during a key moment in this movie.

#4

The Lego Movie

 The Lego Movie

I didn’t put my ratings during this whole list but this is when the movies went from A-s to As. These last four are perfect films. I’ve said so much about all of them already in various places to the annoyance of everyone I speak to. So I’ll keep it simple at the end. The Lego Movie is about the joy of playing with a sophistical satire that knows how to question behavior without being cruel and ending with a heartwarming moment of saying that everything is okay. In fact, it’s awesome.

#3

Whiplash

 Whiplash

I was so anxious for hours after seeing this movie. Every scene is inventive, true and impressive as all hell. The last 15 minutes is perhaps the best sequence of film in anything that came out last year.

#2

The Look of Silence

 The Look of Silence

This is kinda cheating since this is going to be seen as a 2015 film for everyone else but I saw it in theatre in 2014 and I paid for a ticket. This is a sequel to the masterpiece The Act of Killing and it’s honestly just as good. Instead of letting the murderers speak for themselves, this time one of the survivors confront them asking why they killed his brother. The results will haunt you.

#1

Boyhood

Boyhood

Yes, this is an American masterpiece and it’s partly because it never treats itself like one. When you watch Gone with the Wind, every frame reminds you that you’re watching Gone with the Motherfucking Wind. This is just showing you a series of moments that all fit together simply because it makes sense that they happened. It’s quiet, it’s passive, it’s confusing, it’s frustrating, it’s inspiring, it’s hopeful, it’s kind, it’s upsetting, it’s life. It’s not the scenes you expect to see, but it’s all the moments you didn’t realize you would remember. Richard Linklater is a writer/director who is driven by the small human moments and when he’s able to capture them, something magical has been obtained. This is what he will be remembered for and that’s quite an honor.

 

Here’s to 2015!