2014 was a pretty good, if not a great year for cinema. Surprisingly, a few mainstream films like The Lego Movie, Captain America 2, Edge of Tomorrow and Dawn of the Apes turned out to be really great. The trusty old auteurs too hit gold with The Grand Budapest Hotel, Gone Girl and Boyhood.
Since the Oscars only tell you who the best dressed celebrity was, and not which the best films were, I take this opportunity to give you 40 of the best movies of 2014:
40 - CITIZENFOUR
The Edward Snowden documentary by Laura Poitras was not just revelatory but also a deeply incisive and upsetting look at the how the NSA spying drama unfolded. The footage itself is explosive, but how she managed to capture it for the film will blow you away.
39 - Coherence
Yet another example that proves one can make a tremendous movie even with frightfully tiny budgets. A comet passes by on a dark night, and a group of friends dining in a house discover another house down the road that has clones of themselves. Trippy and imaginative stuff.
38 - IN FEAR
Couple goes on a road trip towards a romantic getaway. They get lost. Shit happens. A clichéd plot executed with incredible freshness and a chilly as fuck atmosphere. Directed by Jeremy Lovering, who helmed the Sherlock episode ‘The Empty Hearse’.
37 - I Origins
Mike Cahill followed up ‘Another Earth’ with another sci fi indie featuring Brit Marling and a much greater ambition. The film delves into the fine line linking science and religion, but enveloping the philosophical mumbo jumbo is an incredible well-made and moving love story between Michael Pitt and Astrid Berges Frisbey.
36 - THE ROVER
Aussie filmmaker David Michod’s follow up to Animal Kingdom isn’t as great but is definitely an excellent post apocalyptic thriller featuring a career best performance from Guy Pearce.
35 - LIFE ITSELF
Ebert made it look easy. His biography showed how complex it was. It’s pretty much a go-to movie for anyone who writes about cinema, or even digs cinema with all his heart.
34 - IVORY TOWER
Andrew Rossi’s documentary takes an introspective gander at one of the most important subjects of modern America – the exorbitant college fees that forces students to repay loans over 15-20 years. It’s depressing to know the extent of the system where most kids either don’t receive higher education or are forever struggling with debt, and to see it affecting the economy of the entire world.
33 - CALVARY
The new Irish film by The Guard director John Michael McDonagh is a gorgeous dark drama with heavy-duty existential themes executed with dry British humor. Brendon Gleeson, who plays a priest facing an imminent death lost out on an acting nomination.
32 - HOUSEBOUND
A throwback to Peter Jackson’s disgustingly hilarious horror comedies from the 90’s, this Aussie movie delivered by the truckloads in scares and laughs. The ’reveal’ in the movie has got to be one of the most fun mystery unravels in recent cinema.
31 - WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL
If you thought Birdman was a great meta film about the film industry, Sion Sono’s new movie dips the theme in some acid and splashes it on your face. It’s surreal, crazy, hilariously over the top and very entertaining. It’s also a little less fucked up than Sono’s general output.
30 - THE CANAL
A dark, dark psychological horror murder mystery with even darker mood and atmosphere. Keeps you guessing until the very end, and even though the payoff polarizes viewers, the journey is terrific. And yes, it’s scary too.
29 - SNOWPIERCER
The Weinsteins clearly had a bone to pick with director Bong Joon Ho. Not only did this excellent film not get a wide theatrical release, but it also didn’t receive any push in the awards circuit. It’s a pity that Chris Evans delivered the best performance of his career as an antihero in this movie and he’ll still be known as Captain America.
28 - WEB JUNKIE
Web Junkie had very interesting subject matter – the film shed a light on Internet Rehabs in China. Teenagers who perceivably spend too much time on their computers are forcibly sent to these military camps and are subjected to brutal psychological and personality shakeups. It’s kind of a horror movie because it makes you ponder over how you’d deal with an internet addict child, if you think brute force is an unfair option.
27 - FRANK
Director Lenny Abrahamson’s film chronicles the bizarre real life story of musician Chris Sievy (played by Michael Fassbender) who wears a large mask and turns into an alter ego named Frank Sidebottom. The film co-stars Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scoot McNairy and is a funny and bittersweet debate on an artist’s insecurity, and dependence of someone other than himself to find his artistic inspiration.
26 - THE RAID 2
This.. well.. it kicked a lot of ass.
25 - WILD TALES
Packed with six shorts connected with the singular theme of revenge, this Argentinian film is darkly hilarious and enormously entertaining stuff. It’s also not often that we see six short stories by the same filmmaker presented as film.
24 - ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE
Jim Jarmusch mixes up the vampire genre with Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as a vampiric couple with existential problems. Jarmusch wonderfully subverts the nature of cinema vampires by making them a bored couple tired of living forever and staying hidden from the rest of the world. The monotony of constantly searching for blood without alerting the cops, and the humdrum nature of being in love forever is explored to smashing effect.
23 - CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA
The passage of time in the film industry has seldom been captured in cinema and director Oliver Assayas does this beautifully in Clouds of Sils Maria. This is yet another meta Hollywood film, where Juliette Binoche plays an ageing superstar coming to terms with a younger starlet taking her place. Like Birdman, this film also transitions in and out of reality, and it also takes digs at snooty celebrities, and is also crowd pleasingly fantastic.
22 - THE BABADOOK
Directed with stunning precision and sensitivity by debutant Jennifer Kent, The Babadook is spine tingling hair-raising razor sharp entertainment. Dook, dook, dook.
21 - THE GUEST
The folks behind 2013’s surprise You’re Next up the ante in narrative, humor and genre parodying. Dan Stevens is fun as the mysterious 80’s antihero on the run.
20 - PREDESTINATION
Perhaps the most underrated movie of the year, Predestination has a tremendous script that puts a new spin on the time travel genre. Writer-directors Peter and Michael Spierig explore the predestination paradox to great effect and make Looper look simplistic. The film also signaled the arrival of a major talent in the form of Sarah Snook.
19 - TWO DAYS ONE NIGHT
The Dardennes never disappoint, and with Marion Cotillard in a stripped down, unglamorous role they make it even easier for us to love them.
18 - SCHIMBARE
Through the eyes of a truly desperate couple (Candela Pena and Luis Zahera) director Alex Sampayo’s Spanish film takes us through an existential dilemma wrought with manic depression, blood, murder, illegal organ transplants and kidnapping. Brutal stuff.
17 - CHEAP THRILLS
What if you found a guy in a bar who offers you ridiculous amounts of money to indulge in the most bizarre challenges? How far towards depravity would you go when the chips are down? Do you really care about right and wrong when defecating in your neighbors house gives you one thousand dollars? Debutant director EL Katz answers all your sickening queries in this pitch black, hilarious, and audacious horror comedy.
16 - WHIPLASH
If you haven’t seen this yet, you’re most definitely dragging, when you should be rushing.
14 - JODOROWSKY’S DUNE
What if every science fiction film you’ve seen since the 80’s was based on a project that never got made? And the director of said project faded into depression and oblivion because his dream was shattered? Director Frank Pavinch whips out a revelatory, moving film about the forgotten legend that is Jororowsky. It’s poetic injustice that the Academy failed to greenlight even this movie.
13 - ENEMY
Denis Villeneuve’s takedown of the human condition explained with baby spiders being crushed to death by strippers. Difficult to decipher, but easy to fall in love with.
12 - THE DOUBLE
Another takedown of the human condition, but this one did it with the metaphor of office space, the choice of good vs evil, and an elegant rendering of existentialist angst in society. Not to mention it was hilarious and absolutely gorgeous to look at.
11 - A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT
Yet another fresh spin on the vampire genre, Iranian-American Ana Lily Amirpour’s part noir, part horror, part drama, part romance, part expressionist art, part comedy, part thriller, part western, part social commentary is one smooth, seriously gorgeous, black and white, sinfully entertaining package. If there was an Oscar for the best on screen kiss this would win it, because a stunning electronic music based five minute slow mo take preceeds the lip lock.
10 - 71
A soldier stuck alone in the midst of a raging war. Fighting for survival. Bullets, bombs and blood. It’s been done before, but never in such a brutally beautiful fashion. Special mention to David Holmes’ minimalist electronic music that intensifies the tension to unexpected levels.
9 - NIGHTCRAWLER
Michael Keaton will walk away with the acting trophy, but although he was terrific, he had nothing on Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler. It’s not often that an actor completely disappears into his character. And it’s very rare that a movie character scares you and makes you laugh nervously. Gyllenhaal was the devil incarnate, and he was me and you, and he probably didn’t get nominated because he was the voters too.
8 - BARF
Mehdi Rahmani’s stunning writing and direction showcases why Iranian cinema is regarded so highly. The film, set entirely inside a dysfunctional Iranian house weaves through themes of abandonment and social responsibilities, often veering between laugh-out-loud comedy and bitterness.
7 - GETT: THE TRIAL OF VIVIANNE AMSALEM
The Israeli French drama produced the single most stunning female acting performance from Ronit Elkabetz as a woman who is desperate to divorce her husband in a patriarchal kingdom of Israel. Elkabetz also co-directed the equally hilarious and heartbreaking film, it did manage to come under the Oscar radar but lost out in the penultimate round.
6 - MOMMY
Xavier Dolan knocks you in the face with his powerful story of a single mother and her tumultuous relationship with her son, played to pulsating manic energy by Antoine Oliver Pilon. The scene when Pilon tears the cinema frame, or the one where he whirls a shopping cart around in a parking lot, repeatedly kicking and screaming ‘Who’s your daddy’ should have been enough to score a bunch of awards.
5 - BLUE RUIN
With razor sharp pacing, a smart script, and a fantastic cast of newcomers, director Jeremy Saulnier’s film represents the best the thriller genre has to offer. The film takes familiar elements of a revenge story and approaches it with less emphasis on the sensational and more on the moody and surreal atmosphere of vengeance.
4 - FORCE MAJEURE
Swedish filmmaker Ruben Ostlund’s gorgeous film makes you question the accepted definition of the ‘man of the family’, and the divide between cowardice and survival instinct. It’s possibly the biggest upset at the Oscars, and aptly Ostlund, going with the theme of the film even made a viral video of himself and his producer watching the Oscar nominations and facing bitter rejection.
3 - STARRED UP
David McKenzie’s ferocious and uncompromising prison drama boasts the most explosive acting performance of the year from Jack O Connell as a volatile underage inmate hauled up in jail. Apart from O Connell Ben Mendelsohn lost out a supporting actor nom as the estranged father trying to make amends with his newly arrested prison mate son.
2 - THE INTERNET’S OWN BOY
The most important and significant story of 2014, Brian Knappenberger’s film chronicled the rise and the tragic murder of Aaron Schwartz, the kid responsible for some of the internet’s most iconic applications. The film brings you the hypocrisy of privacy laws in the US, along with the accompanying corporate bent and capitalist agenda. Depressing, but vastly brilliant.
1 - WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
A New Zealand comedy about a bunch of vampires living as roommates, bickering about each other, and having catfights with Werewolves. The single most hilarious movie of the year, and also the best. Directors Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi have arrived in a big way.
Honorable Mentions: Black Coal Thin Ice, Guerros, Party Girl, Girlhood.