Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in Review: My Top 10 Movies of the Year

I am a firm believer that's there no such thing as "bad" movie years. (If you can't find a sufficient amount of good films, you just need to do a little more exploring.) But I will confess that 2014's overall crop wasn't as strong as previous years'. Part of that feeling comes from measuring the amount of straight-As that I gave out in 2014 as opposed to 2013 and 2012, but it's also reflected in the number of movies I thought had a legitimate shot of being considered in my end-of-the-year Top 10. There were plenty of very good movies in 2014, but not as many absolutely astounding ones.

That said, I'm unhappy a handful of standouts couldn't make the list. (And I'm also sad about a few films that I need to catch up on, including The Last of the Unjust, Jealousy, The Story of My Death, the second half of Nymphomaniac, and What Now? Remind Me. And I would have loved another crack at The Immigrant, which I haven't seen since Cannes last year.) But without further ado, here's my Top 10 of 2014....

1. Boyhood 
2. The Overnighters 
3. Under the Skin
4. The Unknown Known
5. Mr. Turner 
6. Foxcatcher 
7. Night Moves 
8. The Grand Budapest Hotel 
9. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
10. Manuscripts Don't Burn

I go into more detail about films 10-6 here. And I wrote about films 5-1 here. (And if you're interested, here's my full ballot from the Village Voice film poll.)

As for my list, I'm reminded yet again how fluid such determinations can be. Coming out of Sundance, I ranked Boyhood second behind The Raid 2 from the festival, although even then I knew that could change. As I wrote at the time...
My head tells me that Boyhood is going to eventually overtake The Raid 2 on my end-of-the-year list. Linklater's film feels like one for the ages, while Gareth Evans's achievement may diminish with multiple viewings. They couldn't be more different films: Boyhood caresses the heart, while The Raid 2 pummels the senses and rearranges your nervous system -- and for this moment in time, it's the grander achievement. But ask me again in about 11 months.  
Multiple viewings convinced me of Boyhood's greatness -- not to mention multiple conversations with people who found the film boring or couldn't see what "the big deal" was. The Raid 2 ended up No. 14 on the year. (It's a sign of how strong 2014 was that I'd sit down and watch that orgy of brilliant action again in a heartbeat.)

A few final notes...

* Three of my top four films screened at this year's True/False. It was an inspired choice on programmers Paul Sturtz and David Wilson's part to include Linklater's film as one of their rare fiction selections since the movie documents time in an innovative way.

* The fantastic Manuscripts Don't Burn, the only foreign-language film in my Top 10 (unless you count all the grunting in Mr. Turner), was one of the last movies I saw in 2014. Its deceptively dispassionate approach to government thuggery was stunning, strong enough to upend the film I thought was going to be my No. 10, the wonderfully meditative and life-affirming Manakamana (No. 11).

* Two of 2014's best films were seen in 2013 -- and both are underrated. When they made their way across the fall festival season last year, both The Unknown Known and Night Moves were labeled as disappointments, not up to the level of their makers' (Errol Morris and Kelly Reichardt, respectively) previous high-water marks. Clearly, I disagree.

* Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the sole representative in the Top 10 from a pretty stellar slate of blockbuster filmmaking in 2014. X-Men: Days of Future Past, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Edge of Tomorrow and especially The Lego Movie (No. 16) were all a kick.

* If you're looking for the best under-the-radar picks from the year gone by, I can't recommend highly enough National Gallery (No. 13), Stray Dogs (No. 15), The Strange Little Cat (No. 17), Policeman (No. 22), Child's Pose (No. 24) and It Felt Like Love (No. 25).

* The above still is from Goodbye to Language (No. 19), Jean-Luc Godard's playful, hypnotizing experiment in 3D. It's the sort of provocation that you're lucky to get one or two of every year. (You know, the more I think about it, 2014 really was amazing.)

On a personal note, this past year saw me travel to the Middle East for the first time: In October, I attended the Beirut International Film Festival. A month later, I was back in Los Angeles as part of the New Auteurs jury for AFI Fest, which was a treat. I couldn't make Cannes this year, sadly -- a book project kept me away -- but Sundance, True/False, Toronto and others kept me plenty busy. 

I want to wish you a happy, prosperous 2015. Many have complained that, out there in the real world, 2014 was overwhelmingly depressing. And it was -- but just like I don't believe in bad movie years, I don't believe in bad years. I don't want to diminish anyone's personal miseries -- we all had plenty in 2014 -- but hope and light always coexist with tragedies and irritations. Remember what Lou Reed once said: "There's a bit of magic in everything/And then some loss to even things out."