Those who complain that all the good films of the year are backloaded until the november/december months have no argument for 2014. It's been a while since a year brought such a consistent crop of really good movies nearly every month. As I mentioned in a post earlier in the year, by April moviegoers had already been spoiled with new films from Wes Anderson, Darren Aronofsky, Jim Jarmusch, David Gordon Green, Lars Von Trier, and Jonathan Glazer. And it didn't stop there. Through the summer we got new ones from Richard Linklater, John Michael McDonagh, Bong Joon-Ho, Kelly Reichardt, Jim Mickle, and James Gray. Now, just because a director has a new movie doesn't mean it's going to be good. However, by and large the films released were spectacular, the kind of works that will probably be talked about years from now. And of course, the fall months proved to be outstanding as well, with nearly every week bringing something outstanding to the screen. Anyway, this is all to say that it was just another great year at the movies. When people talk about cinema being in trouble, at this point it mainly has to do with getting the mainstream excited and actually going out to the theatre consistently. Because as this year proved, the creative energy in this medium is at an exquisite high. And you know it has to be a good year when I'm this enthusiastic and the new films from Paul Thomas Anderson, Mike Leigh, and the Dardenne Brothers haven't even been released in Texas yet. Here's my 10 favorites:
10. Calvary. A fascinating and perplexing film, John Michael McDonagh's folllow-up to The Guard may seem important for the way it tackles its relevant topic of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, but to me its vitality comes more in how it plays around with tone--a la Alexander Payne--while also giving us one of the best movie characters in years in Brendan Gleeson's Father James.
9. Listen Up, Phillip. Alex Ross Perry's ambitious follow-up to The Color Wheel in which we're asked to follow repellent characters not to be rewarded with their positive transformations but to be terribly amused and enlightened as to the ways narcissism reaches such extremes as to almost work as an addiction. The movie also looks amazing and features Jason Schwartzman's best performance.
8. Snowpiercer. Bong Joon Ho has created one of the great train movies of all time, and mind you there have been plenty of good ones. Just when you feel the film is getting a little obvious and worn down it takes fascinating narrative and visual turns. Always entertaining, and at the end something quite more than that.
7. Boyhood. This movie is so good Linklater could sit on its success and take a little step into the shadows, and yet I think we're all quite eager for That's What I'm Taking About, coming out sometime in 2015. We could have said the same thing last year when everyone was putting Before Midnight on their top-10 lists. It's just what Linklater does.
6. Interstellar. It took two viewings of this for me to buy into it, and now two months after it's release I'm still thinking about it and also feeling its emotional power. If you think of it like a giant, geeky sci-fi novel, then all the physics jargon the characters incessantly spout suddenly seems okay. And if you're not wowed by the rest of it-the visual spectacle, the soundtrack, the performances, and the way it converges ideas and emotion, then there's no talking to you.
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson's pastry cake with a haunted soul.
4. Ida. Pawel Pawlikowski's nearly indescribable little drama about history, grief, family, and how to live. That it tackles so much in only 80 minutes and has time for some really good old school jazz makes it one of the truly amazing achievements of the year.
3. Foxcatcher. Masterful in every possible way, but I think what I liked best was the autumnal setting and the way Bennett Miller insists on long wide shots and then lets them simply breathe and be still, letting the viewer simply absorb the environment.
2. A Most Violent Year. The same could be said for A Most Violent Year, another wonderfully controlled drama from J.C. Chandor that also features my favorite performance of the year from Oscar Isaac. Such a finely calculated film in every sense, can't wait to see it again.
1. The Immigrant.
I'd almost like to just keep this list going, because I also loved Whiplash, Fury, Birdman, Nightcrawler, American Sniper, Joe, Cold in July, Gone Girl, and The Babadook, The Raid 2, The Rover.
Also, there were, as usual, lots of older movies I saw this year that blew me away. My favorites:
4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days
Mother of George
The Big Easy
Ace in the Hole
Master of the House
Letter From An Unknown Woman
To Be or Not to Be