What a year. After the jump are my 25 favourite films from 2014. These are a mix of 2013/2014/2015 releases – all of which I saw for the first time in 2014. 25 might seem too many, but even that was hard. Check them out after the jump and be sure to let me know what you think.
25. Infinitely Polar Bear (Maya Forbes)
One of the last films I saw in 2014 turned out to be the best. Based on writer-director Maya Frobe’s own experiences, this small family drama is both moving and funny. This film covers multiple themes not often broached in film – mental illness, bi-racial families and mothers studying and returning to the workforce (in the 70s no less!) and it does so in such a gentle, thoughtful way. Incredible performances from the whole cast (Ruffalo in particular) cemented this film in my top 25.
24. While We’re Young (Noah Baumbach)
A middle-aged couple become friends with a younger couple and find themselves reevaluating where they are at in their lives. This film was uncomfortably on point and I found myself relating with both the [slightly painful] hipster couple and the older couple who just weren’t ready to let go of their youth, but weren’t quite ready to commit to society’s version of adulthood either. Fantastic performances from the terrific cast, particularly from Ben Stiller who I really saw a lot of myself in.
23. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
This film is just such a delight. I can’t really think of a better word to describe Wes Anderson’s hilarious crime-caper in all of its pastel glory. From the incredible attention to detail in the production design, to Desplat’s jaunty score, the witty screenplay, and the fantastic performances, it really is quite brilliant. Features one of the best supporting cat performances of 2014.
22. Interstellar (Christopher Nolan)
Interstellar captures the joy and the wonder of space exploration. Do you remember being a kid and watching any of the space shuttle launches? I do and I remember being utterly mesmerised by the romance and danger of it all. I got the same feeling while watching Cooper and his crew search previously unexplored realms of space. This film has oodles of issues, but the feeling of awe I while I watched the events unfold on the IMAX screen overwhelmed everything else.
21. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
This film has topped many best of the year lists and I totally understand why. The achievement of constructing a fictional film based around the development of a child from age 6 to 18, which has been shot in “real-time” over a 12 year period, is really quite phenomenal. This is an emotional film, one that speaks a universal language of family, growing up and the joys and pain of change.
20. The Double (Richard Ayoade)
Imagine that one day a person who looks exactly like you appears in your life. This person has a name similar to yours, but their personality is almost the exact opposite. Your friends and workmates don’t think there’s anything strange about this person, and they slowly move in your life. Wouldn’t you feel like you were in a horror film? This exquisitely crafted, mind-bending film has really stayed with me, in particular the score, which is my favourite of the year. Features incredible cinematography from one of my favourite cinematographers, Erik Wilson.
19. Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)
Deliciously dark with a fantastic mix of drama and comedy, Calvary‘s screenplay is incredibly sharp. John Michael McDonagh has created an intense, beautiful film with Calvary. He has a unique voice which blends comedy with tragedy and sets it in a topical Irish context. Gleeson gives such an emotional performance without being overtly emotional, he is a truly gifted actor. I’m so looking forward to their next collaboration which will complete what McDonagh has called, the “Suicide Trilogy”.
18. Girlhood (Céline Sciamma)
In the housing estates on the outskirts of Paris, one young girl starts a new life as a member of an all-girl gang. Marieme tried her hardest to not become her mother, but the lack of support and academic progress sees her future looking bleak and unexciting. This changes when she’s invited to become part of a group – for the first time in her life, she’s finally someone. Beautifully constructed, this powerful film features my favourite individual scene of the year.
17. Tom at the Farm (Xavier Dolan)
An incredibly taut psychological thriller with depth and intensity, Tom at the Farm is also a stunningly painful exploration of grief and the guilt that we can feel when a loved one dies. Tom is eaten up by guilt, he hates himself and his inability to save the man he loved is wrecking him. It is gut-wrenching to watch. Unfortunately for Tom, his vulnerability makes him a perfect target for someone well-versed in the art of coercion. I didn’t know that Dolan had this sort of film in him, the fact he does is incredibly exciting. Contains one of the most chilling and intense scores of the year.
16. Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller)
This is a terribly bleak, tense film, which left me utterly exhausted. Sure, that doesn’t sound like a resounding endorsement, but you should take it as one. This quite drama detailing Olympic wrestlers, the Schultz brothers and their experience on multi-millionaire John E. du Pont’s Team Foxcatcher is an examination of family, of greed and what one is willing to go through to achieve their dream. Ruffalo gives the best supporting performance of the year here, while Carell is almost unrecognisable as the eccentric du Pont.
15. The Infinite Man (Hugh Sullivan)
This low-budget, high-concept South Australian film from writer-director Hugh Sullivan is one of the smartest, funnest films out this year. When a man tries to recreate the perfect romantic weekend with his girlfriend, things go astray when he employs the use of a homemade time travel machine. More that just an excellent genre piece, this sharply written, witty film is a wonderful example of how to structure a multi-narrative film so that it is both intriguing and comprehensible. The barren location is a great setting and it looks incredibly crisp and oddly inviting, thanks to the work of cinematographer, Marden Dean. My pick for best Australian film of 2014.
14. Enemy (Denis Villeneuve)
Mind-bending themes, baffling imagery and shocking plot twists mean you never quite know where the story is going, or what exactly it all means. Enemy is the sort of film that marinates in your mind and you’ll find yourself thinking about it at odd hours of the night, particularly the way it goes out on such a bonkers note. There are rich themes underpinning much of the film, but it might take more than one watch to extract them all. Gyllenhaal continues to impress with what is really two impressive performances here.
13. Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas)
Of all the films about “aging” stars making a comeback that have been released this year (and there has been a few), Clouds of Sils Maria is by far my favourite. An examination of the passing of time, Clouds is a multi-layered, meta film that blurs the lines between acting and life, reality and fiction. Featuring three wonderful female performances, Clouds is definitive proof (for the doubters) that Kristen Stewart is a talented actor and far more than a stammering vampire romantic.
12. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves)
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an astounding achievement. From character development, to special effects and cinematography, this film really is quite special. Caesar must be one of the most fully realised, multi-dimensional characters to grace our screens in recent times. This is my favourite blockbuster of the year – an entertaining film that is both action-packed and intelligent, Dawn is proof that these do not have to be mutually exclusive elements.
11. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her (Ned Benson)
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is a story told from two sides – Hers and His. Her is Eleanor’s side of their story. It’s a story of loss, heartbreak, love, family and finding oneself again. While I enjoyed Him, it was the gentle exploration of grief in pain in Her that really hit me. Chastain and McAvoy have such incredible chemistry and there isn’t one moment you doubt their anguish or their love. Trips in memory through the blurred camera lens show a couple which once had a great love, a love filled with laughter and spontaneity.
10. Beyond the Lights (Gina Prince-Bythewood)
This is an important film – a film about the dark side of fame, mental illness, love, and the overt sexualisation of females in the entertainment industry. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this film since seeing it at TIFF, it is extremely powerful. It is painfully on point about the objectification of women and discusses it in such a real, honest way – it’s something I haven’t seen before. Gugu Mbatha-Raw gives one of the year’s best performances here, and along with her performance in Belle, marks the arrival of a true talent, one I hope we see a lot more of.
9. Coming Home (Yimou Zhang)
Now this is a love story. Lu and Feng are seperated during the Chinese Cultural Revolution when Lu is arrested and sent to prison. Lu waits patiently for her love to return, but due to a head injury, she doesn’t recognise him when he finally does. This is a truly heart-breaking film, one that explores how far you would really go for the person you love, despite how painful it might be for you. Set over a period of decades, this wonderfully paced film is a testament to the power of the heart.
8. Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
If I could turn any film into a book ,which had each frame as a photograph, this would be the film I’d want it done to. Each frame of Ida is like a perfectly composed, perfectly lit photograph. It is an extraordinarily beautiful looking film. Aside from looking amazing, Ida is an incredibly moving film about a woman forced to reexamine her life choices in light of learning new things about her past. Agata Kulesza and Agata Trzebuchowska give such wonderfully nuanced performances, they are a joy to watch.
7. The Possibilities Are Endless (James Hall & Edward Lovelace)
Musician Edwyn Collins suffered a stroke and his mind was wiped of memory, knowledge and language. One of the only things he could say in the aftermath was ‘the possibilities are endless’, which his wife points out sounds profound, but once you’ve heard it 85 times in a day, is less so. The Possibilities Are Endless is a remarkable documentary, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. A rich and textured film, it’s as much a sensory experience as it is a cinematic one. An incredible story told in a wholly unique way.
6. All is Lost (J.C. Chandor)
All is Lost held me captive from the opening shot to closing credits. This film is a near perfect marriage of tension, hope and man’s will to survive. If the title wasn’t enough to warn you that this was going to be a harrowing film, then the voice-over which opens the film quickly installs a sense of fear and apprehension. In some of the film’s only dialogue (it runs perhaps half a page long), Our Man (Robert Redford) is reading what seems to be his final letter or perhaps just a goodbye which he has composed in his mind, but has not put on paper. Beautifully shot with a powerful performance from Redford, this is one of my favourite cinema experiences of 2014.
5. The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (Mami Sunada)
For me this film was an incredibly emotional experience. The structure of the film isn’t revolutionary but the content is mind-blowing. Watching my favourite filmmaker agonise over the lines of a plane for days on end; talk about how much his father inspired him; and speak candidly about the endings of his films was both moving and insightful. Studio Ghibli is the place where dreams are brought to life and this film is a dream come true for all who love their films. The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness is my favourite documentary of 2014.
4. What We Do In The Shadows (Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi)
Lurking in the shadows & hiding in plain sight, the vampires of Wellington are an incredibly charming and rather vicious breed. A documentary team are granted protection and are granted special access to the shared house of one such group of vampires. It turns out Kiwi dead-pan (no pun intended) humour is the perfect vehicle for a vampire mockumentary. This film is an absolute riot – I’ve never heard an audience laugh so loud, so often. This witty, side-splitting, clever play on genre, was both my favourite New Zealand film of the year and the year’s best comedy.
3. Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy)
Nightcrawler is a disturbing film and it’s not just due to the actions of its leading character. The thing that is really upsetting about this film is how closely it mirrors reality. We live in the age of now. Every event needs to be filmed, instagrammed, tweeted, broadcast and made available for our consumption as soon as possible. The lines between news and entertainment are increasingly blurred,and footage of crimes and accidents are played on repeat, with little care for what those affected might feel. I started to think more about where this footage comes from and how it is being spun in a way that garners ratings, rather than just being the “truth”. This film made me dirty about watching the “news”. Gyllenhaal (in his second appearance on this list) gives my favourite leading male performance of the year here, in Gilroy’s exceptionally well-made directorial début.
2. Mommy (Xavier Dolan)
The second of Xavier Dolan’s films to feature in my best of 2014 list, Mommy is a phenomenal achievement and the director’s strongest film yet. You can really see Dolan maturing as a filmmaker here, striking a better balance between style and substance, while still managing to be true to his vision and style. The story of a ill-equipped mother who is struggles to cope with caring for her ADHD-diagnosed son and the neighbour that comes into their lives to help them, Mommy is funny, heart-felt and beautiful. Contains one of the best soundtracks of the year (he does have an ear for music). This film would probably make the top half of this list for THAT montage alone.
1. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)
My favourite film of 2014 since I saw it back in April, nothing was quite able to top this luscious, sexy beast of a film. I am just so in love with how this film looks and how it sounds – the gorgeous red vinyl soundtrack has been on a constant spin for most of the year. This is a love story, the love of two beings who happen to be vampires and their centuries long relationship. Hiddleston and Swinton are so damn cool that it hurts. Swinton is an absolute goddess and she appears as ethereal as it is possible for someone of the dead to appear. The production design is so rich, particularly the house in Detroit which is every bit the rock and roll hovel you could imagine a musical recluse living in. Lamps, curtains, dressing gowns etc – so many rich tapestries from the last few hundred years. Just wonderful.
Only Lovers Left Alive is dead sexy and it is my number one film of 2014.
By Sam McCosh