2012 and 2013 were both great years for cinema, but 2014, at least for me, had a lack of great cinema. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of films I loved (and I haven’t even seen such acclaimed pictures like A Most Violent Year or Nightcrawler), yet there weren’t too many movies this year that genuinely moved me.
Though I feel I’m selling 2014 short; it was overall a stellar year for cinema and all ten movies I name below are highly recommended. Honorable mentions go to the Lamb of God documentary As The Palaces Burn, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and The Zero Theorem
10. A Most Wanted Man (Anton Corbijn)
In his final leading role, Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a German espionage agent searching for the son of an Al-Qaeda operative. A Most Wanted Man‘s Hamburg setting reflects the iciness of the Cold War as well as the paranoia in a post 9/11 setting, and Corbijn’s direction creates one of the year’s most entertaining and clever pictures.
9. Life Itself (Steve James)
A celebration of famed film critic Roger Ebert, Life Itself is a fantastic tribute to one of the medium’s best writers. Featuring a selection of Roger’s friends and colleagues, including Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Werner Herzog, and A. O. Scott, Life Itself delves into Roger’s life, providing a nostalgic and sentimental take on the critic that will certainly please his devoted readers such as myself.
8. Interstellar (Christopher Nolan)
Though many joked about the logistics of the film’s complex ending, Interstellar was one of 2014’s most provocative and intelligent movies. Continuing both Nolan’s and Mathew McConaughey’s winning streaks, Interstellar mixes Spielbergian wonder with Kubrickian dread, and is thoroughly magnificent.
7. Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
After Anna, an up and coming nun in the convent, discovers her parents were Jewish, she embarks on a road trip with her aunt Wanda, leading to an identity crisis for both women. Ida has the feel of an Ingmar Bergman picture and its storyline certainly merits comparison to Wild Strawberries. The performances by the two leads are amazing, and with its stark black and white cinematography, Ida provides a poignant look on the crossroads of morality.
6. Gone Girl (David Fincher)
By now, you’ve likely heard of Gone Girl‘s big twist. Fortunately, I walked into the movie without any knowledge of it, and Gillian Flynn’s screenplay caught me completely by surprise. Yet Gone Girl doesn’t simply rely on shock value and it is the year’s most solidly entertaining movie. David Fincher once again proves he is a master of the thriller genre, providing a chilling and brutally realistic scenario that will surely connect to anyone who has followed the trials of O. J. Simpson or Casey Anthony.
5. Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund)
A tale that mixes morbidity with dark humor, Force Majeure is like if Michael Haneke directed a movie with a Larry David script. After a husband abandons his wife and children during a staged avalanche, the spouses question their solidarity of their marriage as well as the future of their family. Östlund leads viewers to analyze the characters’ intent, leading to a fascinating case about the ethical guidance of manhood.
4. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)
In the screening I attended to see Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, about five or six people left their seats halfway through the picture. Three-fourths into the movie and several others walked out (and I was at a manatee showing). Inherent Vice may be the most decisive picture of 2014, but its a solid comedy that part Master part Boogie Nights. Anderson’s bleak and often absurd humorous take on Raymond Chandler-esque mysteries certainly evokes the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski (and not just because both movies’ protagonists are pot-smoking hippies) and through his surreal lens, Paul Thomas Anderson examines the cultural anxiety of an early 70s Los Angeles. While Inherent Vice won’t win him any new fans, it further demonstrates why PTA is the best director working today.
3. Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller)
Miller’s previous movies Capote and Moneyball were great pictures but with Foxcatcher the director moves to a whole new level of filmmaking. A chilling tale between a troubled millionaire and his wrestling prodigy, Foxcatcher is gripping throughout its two hour running time, not to mention that Steve Carrell’s dramatic turn as John duPont was one of the most enthralling performances of the year.
2. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
No film in the past twelve months, or perhaps even this decade, has drawn as much critical praise as Boyhood. The result of twelve years of filming, Richard Linklater’s latest picture about the transition of growing up hit home for me, though I fortunately didn’t have divorced parents or financial troubles in my childhood. Echoing real-life experiences from switching schools to falling in and out of love, Boyhood is a thoroughly realistic and emotional piece of cinema that fulfills film’s ultimate purpose to duplicate life on screen.
1. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
While Boyhood may be the most expansive film about adolescence, Whiplash is the best. The story between an aspiring jazz drummer and his abusive mentor, Whiplash is often funny and terrifyingly real, forcing viewers to question the lines of devotion. The highlight of the picture, of course, is J. K. Simmons’ performance, the strongest in the actor’s career, though Miles Teller’s role is equally as good as the dreamer student. It’s incredible that this is Damien Chazelle’s directorial debut, which had the sharpness of a veteran filmmaker. Whiplash may be made for jazz fans, but all moviegoers should see this.