2014 Countdown: Top 25
By Floyd Rock
Coming a little later than I would have liked here is a list of top 25 films from 2014 and specifically films with a release in the U.S. in 2014. I had written about each film a little more in length but due to complications with my computer those writings have been lost and currently my laptop of no use. I suppose fate has been kind to those looking for a little brevity.
25. Big Eyes (Tim Burton Directing)
Tim Burton adapts this true story about a peculiar case of intellectual property theft. At its best the film works as a story of women’s subjugation during the 1950s and 1960s. Expectations may lead one to think that Burton’s unique style may demean the film’s subject matter but it in fact heightens the disappointing absurdity of it like moments when Margaret Keane is asked if she has her husband’s permission to find a job. Starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz.
24. A Most Wanted Man (Anton Corbijin Directing)
Though Anton Corbijn’s moody adaptation of John le Carré’s novel may be Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final leading role he delivers another well-established layered performance. Struggling through a murky world of moral ambiguity Hoffman’s blistering final completed performance elevates an already solid thriller and his fellow supporting cast. Co-starring Rachel McAdams.
23. Joe (David Gordon Green Directing)
A continued return to form for director David Gordon Green and the film’s star, Nicolas Cage. Like the film’s rugged rural American landscape Cage plays Joe as a man boiling near the tipping point in this taut drama.
22. The One I Love (Charlie McDowell Directing)
A cleverly conceptional examination of false notions of idealistic partners in committed relationships. Questioning the degree of sacrifice one may give of authenticity in their mate for what may be a false sense of perfection. It’s a smart and funny balancing act between unobtainable goals of happiness and needs of compromise in romantic partners. Starring Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass and Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss.
21. The Raid 2 (Gareth Evans Directing)
Gareth Evans returns with this much anticipated sequel to his previous breakout Indonesian martial arts success. Here he’s gone bigger and bolder. While the first film was confined in the single location of a dilapidated apartment building the sequel opens up to a grander scale and truly astounding stunt work, fight choreography, and action set pieces.
20. Le Week-End (Roger Mitchell Directing)
Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan are exceptionally well cast in this romantic drama driven by the burden commitment holds on relationships, especially lengthy relationships. To spend time with those we love, while a blessing, also takes committed sacrifice, be it time, a career, and accomplishments. Be it good or bad, love is a dedication.
19. Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman Directing)
Perhaps the movie’s most interesting aspect is that once the viewer understands its concept, that the film’s lead, William Cage, is forced to repeat the same day, there’s a wealth of narrative and character provided, both by what is shown on screen and remarkably by what isn’t. It’s refreshing to see a summer blockbuster put such confidence in its audience and their own participation. It’s a smart exciting action movie and the surprise of the summer. Starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt.
18. Enemy (Denis Villeneuve Directing)
From director Denis Villeneuve comes this shocking enigmatic metaphysical drama that recalls in particular David Lynch’s Eraserhead. A surreal fever dream about the fears of becoming trapped in the routine expectations one may feel towards settling into a normal married life. A film that works more as an occurrence of the mind than an event taking place in the real world. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Jake Gyllenhaal.
17. Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh Directing)
Usually regulated to supporting character roles Timothy Spall gives one of the year’s finest performances in Mike Leigh’s latest film. Leigh’s depiction of J. M. W. Turner paints a fascinating portrait of the famed British artist. It’s a film of earthy rich detail with Spall’s sincere performance serving as the foundation for such a strong biopic.
16. The Immigrant (James Gray Directing)
A Decidedly old-fashioned melodrama with a lot brimming under the surface. Though its production design of 1920s New York City is a highlight, the film really shines in the dynamics between its three central characters. The film follows an immigrant (Marion Cotillard) forced into prostitution to save her sister from immigration, her pimp (Joaquin Phoenix), and the struggling performer (Jeremy Renner) that pursues her. Rather than portraying the two men as a typical thug and a white knight James Gray presents them as flawed complex individuals. Phoenix in particular gives an interesting and nuanced performance.
15. Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy Directing)
Jake Gyllenhaal continues building his impressive body of work with this sharp look at the consumption of scandalous news media as entertainment. It’s a prime example of an otherwise small smart film lifted by a truly virtuosic performance. Gyllenhaal’s fine performance adds to an already well-crafted film with teeth.
14. Stray Dogs (Tsai Ming-liang Directing)
Filmed with his usual long stationary takes, often featuring a lot a negative space, Tsai Ming-liang has crafted another tragic film about souls dismissed, forgotten, and cast aside. Perhaps the least accessible film on this list, and like much of his work may require a bit of a commitment, but a beautiful picture for those able to acquire a taste for it.
13. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch Directing)
Jim Jarmusch uses the premise of two vampires disheartened by the frivolity of the modern world to deliver a distinct film about an artist’s suffering. Juxtaposed against a culture of disposable trends Tom Hiddleston portrays a musician, and vampire, grappling with the struggle of a world that can’t truly value his work while finding solace in the support of his love (Tilda Swinton) and kindred soul. The old vampires in the film are merely a dying breed of person, whose genuine artistic passions are dwindling against a society unwilling or unable to sustain them.
12. Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller Directing)
Bennett Miller has crafted a striking picture told through the physical performances of his film’s three central figures. There’s a wealth of turmoil and narrative in the subtle reactionary gestures between these men and the physicality of their performances while the nature of wrestling itself makes this a story well suited for film. Perhaps Miller’s best, and most cinematic, film to date. Starring Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and Steve Carell.
11. Gone Girl (David Fincher Directing)
David Fincher’s latest film begins as a murder mystery but as it unravels becomes something with a lot more to offer. As the events unfold it depicts a media frenzy unconcerned with usage of hearsay and misinformation and individuals increasingly aware of the societal masks one wears publically and even in personal relationships. It’s a scathing commentary on persona, perceptions, and personally molding the truth. Starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.
10. The Double (Richard Ayoade Directing)
Adapted from a Dostoyevsky story of the same name Richard Ayoade delivers an intriguing comedic existential identity crisis. With an ambitiously designed dystopian world his film does justice to any of its literary inspirations be they Dostoyevsky, Gogol, or Kafka. This conceptional comedy is as humorous as it is fascinating and confirms Ayoade as a peculiar comedic voice and a rising filmmaker to watch in the coming years. Starring Jessie Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, and Jessie Eisenberg.
09. Magic in the Moonlight (Woody Allen Directing)
Continuing his cinematic European tour of the last ten years Woody Allen returns to France for this old-fashioned romantic comedy. It’s an endearing and witty picture where ego and logic have no place in romance, where the mysteries of the universe may just unknowingly reside in the confines of the human heart. Starring Colin Firth and Emma Stone.
08. Listen Up Philip (Alex Ross Perry Directing)
Alex Ross Perry’s sardonic dark comedy would ultimately be fully distressing if it wasn’t so damn funny. Jason Schwartzman gives one of his best performances as the film’s egocentric lead as the picture lampoons intellectual vanity and expressive self-importance. Co-starring Elisabeth Moss and Jonathan Pryce.
07. We Are the Best! (Lukas Moodysson Directing)
Perhaps Lukas Moodysson’s most buoyant film yet. Through a casual act of rebellion two ostracized thirteen year old girls form a punk rock band without any experience with musical instruments. While retaining rebellious punk rock sensibilities the film also portrays the world through the eyes of three young girls. A rousing film about youth.
06. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson Directing)
P. T. Anderson’s adaptation of the dense Thomas Pynchon novel weaves a detective narrative of Chandleresque complexities. Joaquin Phoenix plays Doc, a 1970s private eye, sent on a befuddling case by his ex-old lady. While easy to get lost in its complicated tanged subplots it’s the film’s depiction of 1970s fringe drug subculture that provides much of its poignancy and humor.
05. Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski Directing)
Pawel Pawlikowski’s most recent film is a shattering drama about a young Polish woman (Agata Trzebuchowski) on a journey after World War II to uncover secrets of her family’s past and how they died. With exquisite cinematography Pawlikowski delivers a powerful film about the dark truths of the past and their reconciliation with the generations that follow. Probably the best shot film of the year.
04. Like Father, Like Son (Hirokazu Koreeda Directing)
Hirokazu Koreeda continues his work of films depicting the complexities of familial drama. It’s a delicate and direct portrait of parental turmoil when a father (Masaharu Fukuyama) is faced with the impossible dilemma of giving up his son when he learns that the boy was unknowingly switched at birth. A thoroughly thoughtful drama with weight and impact.
03. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Isao Takahata Directing)
Isao Takahata’s adaptation of this 10th century Japanese folktale is a frank morality tale told with philosophical depth and wonderful animation that reflects the beautiful strokes of watercolor paintings alive in motion. A modern animated masterpiece and one of Studio Ghibli’s best films.
02. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer Directing)
Jonathan Glazer’s experience with music videos perhaps gives him a considerable advantage in crafting the film’s more surreal sequences. This rumination on humanity while narratively direct and minimalistic provides quite a bit to ponder while exploring humanity through its primal properties, their ability to empathize, and the relation between that empathy and their vulnerability. A haunting and provocative film. Starring Scarlett Johansson.
01. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson Directing)
Wes Anderson brings to life the past of the fictional European Republic of Zubrowka in this adventurous comedy. With meticulous set and costume design, sets within sets, miniatures, stop animation, multiple time periods, and multiple aspect ratios this is Anderson’s magnum opus, his most ambitious film to date, and the best of 2014. Starring Ralph Fiennes.