At year’s end I usually find myself defending the previous 12 months from people convinced that films don’t matter, they don’t make them like they used to, and TV is so much better than movies now anyway. The year 2014, however, was admittedly weak. There was one film that towered above all the others, and most everything else felt either fascinating but flawed, or small and perfect but inconsequential. With that in mind, and with hopes that 2015 will be a better crop, here are the ten best movies of 2014:
10: Under the Skin
Jonathan Glazer’s haunting sci-fi head-trip about an alien learning about humanity would benefit from a smidge more exposition, but the stellar cinematography and haunting images cast such a distinct spell in viewers that the finale becomes a poetic, heartbreaking reminder of the cost of being human.
Full review forthcoming
Adapting Thomas Pynchon for the big screen seems like an impossible task, and while Paul Thomas Anderson’s attempt isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as the book, he does capture Pynchon’s ability to go off on tangents that feel both utterly bizarre, and oddly in keeping with the main storyline.
8: Big Eyes
Tim Burton had the best creative rebirth of any director this year, shaking himself out of a decades-long slump with the story of Margaret and Walter Keane. The whole movie seems like not so much an apology or defense, but an explanation from Burton about everything since Ed Wood, and it provides a way for him to finally evolve into something much closer to naturalism than he’s ever let himself get before.
Laura Poitras was at the center of the most important international story of the year, Edward Snowden releasing sensitive material about the American spying programs. Her fly-on-the-wall movie would be just as tense if it were all made up, but because it’s true you realize how close your favorite paranoid thrillers are to how real-life whistleblowers risk their lives.
Full review forthcoming
A perfect script, anchored by yet another award-worthy performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, this biopic of Alan Turing is an efficient wartime thriller, and a penetrating profile of a man whose inability to connect with other people both allowed him his greatest achievement, and led to his early death.
Shown before Big Hero 6
Sure, everybody loved Big Hero 6 and with good reason, but Feast, the short that played in front of it in theaters, is a tiny work of utter perfection. Sweet, sad, funny, and wise, the tale of a slacker growing up as seen through the eyes of his dog captures everything about Disney animation at its best.
Stephen Sondheim finally gets the big screen treatment he deserves with this adaptation of one of his most accessible shows. Funny, unapologetically theatrical, and a total delight, director Rob Marshall doesn’t leave behind the darker elements of the play, but he also never magnifies them so that they obscure this loving ode to the power of storytelling and myth. It’s a grandly entertaining movie.
3: The Drop
Tom Hardy is rightfully getting some year-end love for his one-man show in Locke, but his turn as the decent blue-collar bartender in Michael R. Roskam’s old-fashioned B movie throwback The Drop, scripted by Dennis Lehane, was just as good and the movie is even better. Setting expectations, and then promptly turns them upside down with a confident and unhurried pace, The Drop lets Hardy, James Gandolfini, and Noomi Rapace shine.
John Michael McDonagh’s sophomore feature was read by many as a black comedy, and while there is certainly gallows humor scattered throughout this tale of a priest who expects to be murdered in seven days, Calvary is a deadly serious movie about faith, the Catholic church, and the strength required to lead an upstanding life that gives Brendan Gleeson the kind of rich, complicated role he was born to play. shine.
It took twelve years of filming, but Richard Linklater did the seemingly impossible, he made-up a fictional human life in such a realistic way that his nearly-three hour, modestly intimate epic never feels falsely dramatic or impressed with itself. Boyhood is a one-of-a-kind experience that will probably never be duplicated, not just because of its now famous production schedule, but because arguably no other film in history has captured so completely the rhythm, poignancy, boredom, and all-around mostly manageable messiness of growing up. Linklater made the best film of the last decade, Before Sunset, and Boyhood is the best this decade has seen so far.