It gives us great pleasure to do the things we love to do. We feel most content when our time is spent approaching desires and goals we hold dearly to our hearts. Time spent otherwise is usually ponderous. Our ungovernable passions then dictate how we go about our lives, be it either influencing us in choosing our profession, religion, or lover. An indefinable delight arises within us, rendering us beyond excitable, and also rendering us completely oblivious to what potentially awaits us outside of our seemingly impregnable bubble.
Cinema in 2014 dared to expose examples of deeply shadowed avenues of peoples’ existence. The best films showed us territories of individuals’ lives once they became disconnected from that precious desire they held so closely to their hearts. Questions were asked, such as how can I get back the past? In short, the 2014 cinema year recognized a world where individuals were forced to face a harsh reality – what happens when we once thought all that was infallible and undeniable proves us wrong?
In Ida, a novice nun living a content existence firmly rooted in Catholicism experiences earth-shattering revelations that reveal her true identity. In Memphis, a creative and talented young man projected to be a forceful presence in the music industry soon has his dreams squashed due to an unanticipated creative drought. In Foxcatcher, dark times descend on a wrestler training for the Olympics and his wealthy sponsor when things don’t go according to their specific plans. In Birdman, a washed-up actor slowly realizes that he may not be as important as he once was and seeks to change that by moving beyond his comfort level. And in Inherent Vice, a stoner yearns for that specific time when he was once stuck in the rain with the one he loved.
Without further hesitance, the best 2014 had to offer:
30. Thou Wast Mild and Lovely– Directed by Josephine Decker
29. Jodorowsky’s Dune – Directed by Frank Pavich
28. Ilo Ilo – Directed by Anthony Chen
27. Enemy – Directed by Denis Villeneuve
26. Blue Ruin – Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
25. Stranger by the Lake – Directed by Alain Guiraudie
24. The Drop – Directed by Michael R. Roskam
23. Locke – Directed by Steven Knight
22. Joe – Directed by David Gordon Green
21. Nymphomanaic: Vol. 1 and II – Directed by Lars von Trier
20. Selma – Directed by Ava DuVernay
19. Boyhood – Directed by Richard Linklater
18. The Immigrant – Directed by James Gray
17. Foxcatcher – Directed by Bennett Miller
16. American Sniper – Directed by Clint Eastwood
15. Whiplash – Directed by Damien Chazelle
14. Like Father, Like Son – Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda
13. Cold in July – Directed by Jim Mickle
12. Memphis – Directed by Tim Sutton
11. Fury – Directed by David Ayer
10. Mr. Turner
Directed by Mike Leigh
Thanks to an immersive camera (kudos to cinematographer Dick Pope) and Mike Leigh’s assured and flawless direction, Mr. Turner effortlessly captures the grandeur and beauty of 19th century England while also capturing the equally grand temperament of Mr. J.M.W. Turner. Timothy Spall turns in one of the year’s best performances as Turner, the eccentric painter who harbored unorthodox painting traits as well as an unorthodox way of viewing life.
Directed by John Michael McDonagh
Blu-ray | DVD
What seemingly appears to be a film about a mystery, Calvary relishes its opportunity to touch on a myriad of topics, giving its viewers a piercing exploration of faith, morality, and humanity. The script, written by John Michael McDonagh, also the film’s director, inspects the inner tempests that are always waging within us. The film follows an upstanding priest (Brendan Gleeson) faced with a fatal dilemma as he encounters various sinners of his congregation and the bleak fact that his time may be expiring very soon.
8. The Dance of Reality
Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky
Blu-ray | DVD
It is exceedingly difficult to adequately adorn this film with proper praise. It confounds and mesmerizes as it gels together the gorgeous and the grotesque on its way to crafting a most poetic film. The Dance of Reality recalls the work of the great Federico Fellini’s Amarcord in its rendering of a man recollecting his childhood’s sensations.
7. Starred Up
Directed by David Mackenzie
Instant Video | DVD
Director Mackenzie has our interest immediately, taking hold of our attentions and thrusting us into the brutal world of a British prison. Starred Up is a film that can barely contain its violence as it depicts a young man (Jack O’ Connell) with irreparable emotional damage transferring to an adult prison. Mackenzie presents an unsparing amount of violence but somehow magically revealing an overwhelming amount of humanity. The film hits hard, like a face smacking hard against the cold concrete.
6. Gone Girl
Directed by David Fincher
Blu-ray | DVD
Gone Girl is about a woman, a man, authorities, and media pursuing their quest for truth with the utmost deliberation. To provide insight from multiple disparate perspectives and influence us to extremely care for each is a testament to an artist’s creative abilities to manipulate our emotions. Taken from the pages of Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel, director David Fincher uses that book’s twisty and slick narrative to craft one of his darkest thrillers yet. It stays true to the framework that helped construct Seven, The Game, Fight Club, and Zodiac in that Gone Girl has a keen, unending curiosity for certain individuals who are beyond compelled to unearth truth and certainty.
5. Force Majeure
Directed by Ruben Ostlund
Blu-ray | DVD
No film in recent years surgically dissects man’s inherent capacity to be a man as thoroughly as the Swedish film Force Majeure does. While on a skiing vacation a family experiences an avalanche while on the hotel’s patio enjoying a meal. In the midst of the chaos, the father abandons his wife and two children. Director Ruben Ostlund dedicates his entire film comprehending this split-second reaction that has infinite ramifications on their marriage. Questions arise regarding heroism, bravery, courage, and what it means to be a man, resulting in a shattering representation of a marriage on the verge of disintegrating.
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
Blu-ray | DVD
A haunting Coltrane tune, the taste of a man’s luscious lips, and a cool, relaxed atmosphere of a dance hall. All of these things are new for Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), a young novice nun on the verge of taking her vows. At a brisk 81 minutes, this entire world of Anna’s and the lives of those she’s involved with are conveyed to us. No other film immerses us in its cold, unforgiving atmosphere like Ida does. It is a grueling film, no doubt, one that weighs on you months after witnessing it. It is as if this film exists outside of reality, rarely giving us a scene or image that is not indelible. Aside from the film’s stupendous aesthetics, Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski crafts an ambitious narrative out of a simple occurrence. Anna is told by her Mother Superior to make a visit to see her aunt (Agata Kulesza) before she can take her vows. What ensues is a dark family secret being revealed that involves Anna’s parents and their encounter with Nazis. Ida is a film about an unalterable conviction that becomes threatened and a young woman’s exposure to something completely foreign and her learning to cope with the harsh gestures of reality.
3. Inherent Vice
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Blu-ray | DVD
A strung-out lonely man is at the epicenter of a tumultuous tempest in Inherent Vice. Caught in the mighty, relentless whirlwind he desperately attempts to keep afloat while navigating the treacherous waters of 1970s Los Angeles, a time when innocence was fading and when Helter Skelter had just made a resounding impact on society. The man’s name is Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) and he makes a living continuously wading through the rough waters that undoubtedly come along with being a private investigator. Surely he solved many cases and was confounded by even more. But the case he’s currently faced with takes the cake. It involves a Neo-Nazi bike gang, property theft, murder, missing people, and lots of drugs. Akin to the dilemmas that Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe faced, Doc is searching not only for answers pertinent to his case, but subconsciously searching for the answers to life, the American Dream and his past, which seemed to helplessly slip from his clenches. Director Paul Thomas Anderson, adapting Thomas Pynchon’s novel for the screen, paints us a glorious picture of California despite all the corruption and the haze created from marijuana joints. The facts to the case don’t mean nearly as much as the atmosphere (enhanced by Johnny Greenwood’s score and the two Neil Young songs of inexpressible sadness) or the journey that’s being taken by Doc.
Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu
Some see this new film by Alejandro G. Inarritu to be vastly different than his previous works. Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel and Biutiful are films of his that are strongly rooted in dark, despairing themes. Surprisingly, Birdman is no different. Sure it has an upbeat vibe, rambunctious percussion soundtrack and a lyrical camera that documents everything in one long uninterrupted take (thanks to d.p. Emmanuel Lubezki). But don’t let these embellishments fool you. That is all a façade as Inarritu is going after something profound here. Themes of self-worth, self-discovery and battling inner-demons are prevalent in Birdman, as well as misery and self-loathing. He has an inherent passion for dilemmas that give his characters supreme emotional infirmities. Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a washed-up has-been superhero, is the latest of Inarritu’s characters attempting to cope with and even prevail against such infirmities. No longer is Riggan Birdman, the superhero he portrayed enough times to garner him stardom and fame. Instead, he is a first-time Broadway director, actor, and producer seeking to create a new name for himself. Aside from the film’s propensity for self-rejuvenation, Inarritu gives us an unprecedented and exciting look at the rambunctious activities that occur backstage. The romances, rivalries, grudges, and arguments that go on backstage give the film added dimension.
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Directed by Wes Anderson
Blu-ray | DVD
You know the good years when you’re in them? Or you just wait for them until you get ass cancer and realize that the good years came and went? Because there’s a feeling– you might notice it sometimes– this feeling like life has slipped through your fingers like the future is behind you, like it’s always been behind you.
–Marty Hart, True Detective, Season 1, Episode 5
The aesthetic splendor found in Wes Anderson’s previous films has never been more evident than it has in his latest masterpiece The Grand Budapest Hotel. Cinema didn’t see another movie in 2014 nearly as creatively impeccable as Mr. Anderson’s latest (it completely immerses us in a specific time and place) nor as tightly constructed, as this film exhibits an exquisite and fabulous narrative that never succumbs to its preposterous plot that mainly involves a deceased millionaires inheritance that is up for grabs. But what cuts deepest is the film’s acknowledgement of good days gone sour. The hotel itself, located in a fictional European country threatened by Nazis, is a glorious entity replete with the most contented customers. Seeing its glorious veneer diminish due to the inhumanities associated with war and the population beginning to neglect it due to the fear that war initiates, Anderson touches on something profound: that we don’t normally appreciate the good times when we are in them.