The Best Films of 2014

The thing I used to believe about the Palme d'Or was that it rewarded the film that represented the greatest leap forward in the art of cinema. The film that showed us the way towards a brighter future. I've since learned that that is rarely the case, but I've always kept that principle in my heart. What brings us further into the possibilities of the future? What looks back and forward at the same time. What is fearless? What is graceful? What have I never seen before. The first ten films on this list fulfill those qualifications and then some. They are transmissions from our potential. They are bolts from the clear blue sky. They have broken me down and built me back up. They show how great things can be, and how wondrous they already are. I'm already kicking myself that I couldn't see more...

1. Hard To Be A God
by Aleksei German

As swan songs go, they don't get much better. Aleksei German, one of the greatest filmmakers the world ever produced, died before he could see his final masterpiece completed, but he'd been living it his whole life; he'd once been a respected artist and had fallen prey to a government who would rather take his freedom and privacy than support him. He became a refuge in his own country. His final film, a revisionist take on a Strugatsky Brothers novel, is a grotesque reveling in the worst animal instincts bubbling in man's guts and that useless cushion called a brain. A scientist, a transplant from Earth, wanders through the feudal societies on a distant planet observing their slowly pulling themselves from the primordial mud. They are us, hundreds of years in the past, enlightenment a star's luminescence that hasn't reached them yet. German follows the closest thing they have to a leader, Don Rumata, a wretched intellectual charged with punishing anyone who grows any smarter. Rumata traverses the length of the known world avoiding death through luck alone, as it comes for everyone with no rhyme or reason. Rumata's world is ours, their references occasionally modern to jolt us into realizing it, and German predicts the fall of mankind back into the savage protomen we all descended from. He looked around and saw nothing but chaos, a violent kakistocracy that smothers the spark that makes us human in its crib. German drunkenly ambles through a world without art, a world we're hurtling toward with the speed of a comet. German died for his art. His final masterpiece is a request, like the final vomited howl of a gutshot wolf, to not let art die with him, and every other artist who leaves us before their time. 


2. Actress
by Robert Greene

I've already called this the best documentary of the last ten years, and I don't see much undoing my claim. After all, you'd have to invent a new kind of documentary, a floral language, an uncomfortable closeness, a completely original kind of subjectivity. A way to turn life inside out for our inspection. Film and humanity fusing perfectly. A hundred years from now, Greene's beautiful ode to the life of an actress and the very idea of performance will be remembered as the start of a movement. 


3. Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari
by Aleksei Fedorchenko

Aleksei Fedorchenko is not only one of our most precise image makers, he's also our foremost anthropological fiction filmmaker, turning the customs and colour of the Russian backwater into the stuff of sincere, wild cinema. Following up his breathtaking funerary Silent Souls with an omnibus comedy without a hero, or even any recurring characters, and yet a shockingly clear sense of purpose was a gamble that paid off handsomely. Dozens of women are visited for a minute or two to elucidate an older, long unknown way of life, all of them revolving around odd sexual practice and staggeringly lovely rituals. Fedorchenko finds a vein of rich humour here without once resorting to condescension, and there's more invention in one of these vignettes than a dozen mainstream comedies or documentaries. He gets more pathos and awe in two minute chunks than I thought possible. The pleasures crawl over the viewer like a horde of kittens. A woman with a bird caught in her vagina, a gaggle of ghostly mods frothing over dancing girls, a zombie sent to do some romantic harm to a callous woman but winding up at the wrong house. The sense of exploration is just as thrilling as the gags are timelessly bizarre. Fedorchenko is the kind of director who makes me glad I'm alive now instead of during any other golden age of cinema. 


4. Over The Garden Wall
by Patrick McHale

Patrick McHale is a sort of Chris Van Allsburg meets Jon Kricfalusi, a guy who conjures worlds and fills them with the most insane things he can get away with. Impossibility is just a calm reality. His drawings have just the right mix of specificity and broad, elemental history, and his writing toes the line between perverse and adorable, and that loaded mixture works better for him than almost anyone else. In a climate of brilliant animated films and often even more brilliant animated television, McHale still sets himself apart through his idiosyncratic vision of a past only glimpsed in Dickens, Melville and Irving. His latest, the world's first animated miniseries Over The Garden Wall, is the Berlin Alexanderplatz of children's entertainment; a ridiculously moving fairy tale about boys lost in a world they don't understand. McHale paints a lost American landscape and peoples it with critters of every strip, some cute, others terrifying, each one tailored to their genius creators specifications. There is no world quite like that of Over The Garden Wall, but knowing I can visit one fills me with hope and a child's elation. 


5. Only Lovers Left Alive
by Jim Jarmusch
Jim Jarmusch fans have known what it's like following him down rabbit holes. He's tried everything from urban Jidaigeki to Slow Cinema hitmen, and let everyone know what genre looks like when painted with his brush. What I never expected was for a film in which he nakedly lays out his fetishes to seem so fresh and exciting after over thirty years of watching him recast cinema in his image. What was there left for him to share? Well, his idea of a normal, functioning marriage for one. And the perfect ways in which to wile away the minutes of your life. What's ironic is that the rhythm here is the sprightliest Jarmusch has opted for since...well, maybe ever, and the film is about two people who will be around for all eternity if they're careful. Here's hoping Jim Jarmusch lasts at least half as long as that. He's one of the most vital filmmakers in the world because he still sees life as worth living. 


6. Night Moves
by Kelly Reichardt

Kelly Reichardt is like an American Bela Tarr, a director with a hawk's focus and patience, keeping totally cool while everything explodes a mile beneath the surface. She's been making her way through 70s America, revising as she goes. She turned Jerry Schatzberg's Scarecrow into the achingly sad Wendy & Lucy about two vagabonds looking to belong somewhere. Then she remade the entire Monte Hellman canon with Meek's Cutoff. And now here's her fusion of Arthur Penn's 1975 oddball detective story of the same name and William Friedkin's Sorcerer. Reichardt's Night Moves takes the paranoia of Penn's film and the white knuckle existentialist tension of Friedkin's and lights a fuse on America's increasingly bifurcated sense of self. And then simply watches and waits, making us squirm. The odd Bressonian flourish turns the minutest gesture into titanic cries into the void. A man looks at his hands; could they do what he's going to make them? What if they fail him? Can they act without a man's permission? Night Moves hasn't left my mind for longer than a few days since I saw it. 


7.  Inherent Vice
by Paul Thomas Anderson

There is nothing else in the world to rival the experience of watching Inherent Vice for the first time. A comedy made from the rawest imaginable celluloid, like blotchy paint thrown at a screen. Nothing has its peculiar, bleached vantage point. Nothing has its shocking realness. Nothing has its languid playfulness. 


8. Listen Up, Philip
by Alex Ross Perry

The Color Wheel, Alex Ross Perry's sophomore feature, gestured towards a greatness that only felt out of reach because his budget wouldn't allow him a few key ingredients. Well the budget showed up, and Perry got serious. Aided by Sean Price Williams' sun-baked images and Robert Greene's precision at the editing bay, Perry's gone big and won't ever look back. He's kept his comedy so acidic it melts through the screen, managing to somehow return to the elastic parallel universe he created in his previous films while staying absolutely true to reality when it matters. The insults fly faster than anyone can keep track of them but the cartoonish boors spouting them actually deal with the consequences. The film may seem to entirely surrender the egoist voids at its center, but then it cuts to the people whose real lives are being ruined with every new sling and arrow. Perry may be able to write an asshole better than anyone, but here he crucially makes the fall out felt in tears, screams of exasperation and vacant gazes. The pain of being too close to those who can't love us back is all too real, and Listen Up, Philip knows only too well that when we love ourselves at the exclusion of everyone else, life becomes the nasty, brutish thing we've been promised. 


9. Under The Skin
by Jonathan Glazer

The bliss of knowing you're in safe hands. The shock of realizing you can't know what comes next. The feeling of slowly sinking into a director's wavelength and letting him guide your mind to a warm, safe place to contemplate the image and what wonders it beholds. A work of sensory pleasures and horrors. 


10. Manakamana
by Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez

I may never do better describing this film than when I jokingly said was "life in 2 hours. A real time saver." Here in the foreground is us, homosapiens waiting patiently to get off the ride. There behind them is the screen, showing the world outside. Which do we stare at and why? The characters or the rear projections? Our lives or the natural world we can only gaze at in wonder? It asks us to consider why we stare at a movie screen at all? What comforts do images give us? What do they teach us about ourselves? Why do we keep staring at them, day after day after day? And what do we see in the eyes of others? A sublime rendering of the human condition, which now includes the permanently fixed stare at a falsehood. This film sends shivers down my spine it's so good.


11. Beloved Sisters
by Dominik Graf

George Orwell's Keep The Aspidistra Flying played as a love triangle between romantic poets. Graf tries every imaginable fourth-wall shattering trick to breathe life into conventional lives to remind us that love is always new and original when it happens to us, especially when we don't want it too. Beloved Sisters presents the agony of love we can't control, and the shame of having to feel it's taking up space in our heart when the world refuses to make allowances for it. Your love is not just inconvenient, it's dead, left behind as everything marches forward. Better than any film I've ever seen, Beloved Sisters treats forbidden love as both the serious affront and utter trifle it is. The world is always on the verge of ending and your feelings need edification? It's the cowardly thing to do, but I'm always willing to hear about love that isn't as important as the world around it. 


12. The Grand Budapest Hotel
by Wes Anderson

What is there left to say about The Grand Budapest Hotel? It uses the camera as a practical storytelling device. It has the single most charming performance of the year, if not the decade. It has Wes Anderson's most wicked, morbid gags. It is his most majestic, eccentric, florid and exciting work to date. It's a masterpiece. I wish I had more to offer...


13. Force Majeure
by Ruben Östlund

A film head-over-heels in love with awkward silences and unspeakable explanations. Östlund wrings out two or three Ingmar Bergman scripts into a pot of mordant humour, uncanny interruptions and mise-en-scène so precise it borders on mathematical. Few directors are completely unafraid to dive headfirst into awkward silences and deeply discomfiting situations, and then once they're there, stretch out and make themselves at home. You will want to crawl out of your skin. You will also wish it was about three hours longer to keep hearing how big a grave these poor, hapless fellows can dig for themselves. 


14. Foxcatcher 
by Bennett Miller

In a year filled with cutting examinations of gender and the expectations placed on you because of the gene pool you climbed out of and the organs you were saddled with, Foxcatcher is the most operatically fatalistic. That proved to be quite the turn off for a lot of people, but I fell for it like the star quarterback. Bennett Miller's focus has never been on the exact why's and hows, but the mere horror of what, as that's often the simplest way to make sense of something seemingly impossible to comprehend. Why did John E. DuPont shoot Dave Schultz? He correctly deduced that it's not his concern to figure out why. He's not a journalist nor a psychotherapist. He was interested in the dehumanization that comes from being able to make your brain feel as though it belongs in its body. That you weren't born for greater things. The men of Foxcatcher believe in destiny and it lets them down worse than any father figure could, because they come so close to it. Miller's haunted, brassy compositions and chilling sound design turn this true crime story into something half Ambersons-esque tragedy and half Innocents-esque horrorshow. The world of the rich and their athletic charges, Atlas-like in their perfection, is one painted with formaldehyde. The body must only give up and be mounted on the wall so that the unattainable can remain so. The film observes the conventions of tragedy and fairy tales the same way DuPont must only watch his wrestlers succeed where he fails. The same way Mark Schultz must observe the world DuPont dwells in without ever setting foot in its hallowed ground, no matter how much DuPont takes from him. 


15. Selma 
by Ava DuVernay 

Who was it that said this was the cinematic equivalent of D'Angelo's Black Messiah? Ava DuVernay creates monolithic tableaux of black bodies standing proudly together on hot city streets, unwilling to be moved. Unable to be broken, even by clubs and bullets. DuVernay has a seductive confidence, turning legends into flesh and blood so that we might truly understand the few hours we get to spend with them. She hovers over them, David Oyelowo's Martin Luther King especially, the phantom from the future reminding them that they are being watched by history. King may sit at a table eating grits and cornbread with his friends, but he will always be the closest thing to God that many people have. His performance is a marvel; a man trying to shed his importance and become a cog in the machine he's built. He's at war with his gifts and the hatred that compels every other person on earth and victory of any kind is always just outside his grasp. It comes with a price, measured in bodies, and it tears him apart. DuVernay's loving, trusting camera props him up while he's mired in doubt. It knows the truth even when King forgets it. It's shocking to think we're once more living in an era when images of Black men and women are needed more than ever and incredibly difficult to find in the mainstream. Selma needs to be seen. It needs to win every award. It needs to be on every Movie screen and TV in America. It's a great film about the black experience and when you walk out of the theatre, you realize that we haven't taken two steps forward since LBJ pushed the Voting Rights Act. Walk out of a film since in 1965 and realize that in 2015 we're still so fucking far from free at last. 


16. The Babadook
by Jennifer Kent

I haven't been as terrified of anything since I was a little kid. If Tim Burton had the nerve to really terrify people, he'd have made The Babadook, but then it would have been missing the most essential component of the whole film. Motherhood. The anxiety of being a woman. Of having a child become your sole responsibility. That alone is terrifying, of course. It's a monster that never goes away and it takes the form of the face you love more than anything in the world. The world is full of monsters. Some of them stare at you as you struggle to make your child stop crying. Some of them ride in the carseat behind you. Some of them leave you with the responsibility of raising a child by yourself. Some of them greet you in the mirror. Some live under the bed. Who's to say which is most terrifying. 


17. Snowpiercer
by Bong Joon-Ho

A banquet for fans of 90s Harrison Ford films and dyed-in-the-wool commies alike, Snowpiercer is the adventure film of yesterday tomorrow. Unrepentant in all its excesses.


18. Ernest & Celestine
by Stéphane Aubier, Benjamin Renner & Vincent Patar 

The last ten years have seen animation studios the world over trying to compete with Pixar's reign over the landscape. The only upside in movies like Cars 2 and Monsters University representing the creative nadir of the world champions of honest tears and mile-wide smiles is that a gap opened for animation fans to go looking beyond the usual suspects. The last time we saw this particular team of kooks was the delirious A Town Called Panic, a film bursting at the seams with anarchic invention. In Ernest & Celestine they keep the more-is-more antics intact, and add an ingratiating sweetness. I dare you not to fall in love with the world's cuddliest domestic partnership. There's is a triumph over society's expectations, and the films one of reliable, hand-drawn comforts. I'm all for Pixar returning to form, but there will always be endlessly warm alternatives to find solace and joy in. 


19. Mr. Turner
by Mike Leigh

Mike Leigh's biggest stumbling block at this point in his life is that he's made so many goddamned masterpieces that we have to reckon with each new film's place in his stunningly consistent canon. Mike Leigh made one of the crowning achievements in film biopic in his Gilbert & Sullivan homage Topsy-Turvy, which had musicality on its side. Mr. Turner, on Msr. JMW that, wants for a little of Topsy-Turvy's jaunty rhythm and vivacious score. But that's really all that's wrong with it. Timothy Spall's ragged, jagged performance is one of the finest actor's creations I've ever seen; his rumpled pallet sputtering out Victorian english like a drunken novelist at a reading. He grunts and stumbles around his life and legacy, aware that all that remains is for his art to fall out of favor as he gropes towards modernism. Leigh follows suit, skipping over convention like a missed hopscotch block, leaving traditional biopics behind by just enough to be boldly unsatisfactory as biography. Life just happens. It doesn't mean anything. Mr. Turner embraces the meaningless by painting it the way Turner did, in as rapturously gorgeous terms as possible. The ugliness is there, but life is too vibrant to be pointless.


20. Timbuktu
by Abderrahmane Sissako

The most Fordian film I've seen all year. Sissako is a first-rate symbolist who lets a lithe, aromatic sensuality flutter between the awkwardness of cruelty. You can smell the sweetness of the homes, feel the soft fabric draped around welcoming visages, and feel it in your bones when they're ruined by dogmatic violence. Objectivity and stillness guides a lot of African cinema. Sissako looks to the past, to works like Wend Kuuni and Tilaï as well as golden age Hollywood Westerns for inspiration. The result is a colourful tear-jerker with one foot planted in the disgusting truths about mankind. 


21. Journey To The West
by Tsai Ming-Liang

The patron saint of slow cinema breaks free of the constraints of narrative. Absolutely jawdropping command of space. The purest collaboration with his soulmate, Lee-Kang Shen, and the endlessly game Denis Lavant. No car chase or gunfight could equal the thrill of watching two performers cross axis after axis as slowly as they can manage. The world is their playground. 



22. The Rover
by David Michôd

Mad Max for the slow cinema set, a study in faces and voices. Robert Pattinson and Guy Pearce ricochet off of each other's performances with utter confidence, soft where the other is hard, coiled where the other is loose, scared where the other is threatening. Michôd just sits back and films them like two wild dogs he found. This movie captures you without you realizing it. 


23. Jealousy
by Philippe Garrel

Philippe Garrel's still one of the most vital voices in the French cinema, from his early silent experiments to today, he's known when to cut away from action to inform what he wants us to see. Jealousy is his latest look at the perils of marriage, and at 76 minutes it's most efficiently bewitching. Garrel drops us in one domestic scene after another, allowing us to wonder what happiness means in the 21st century, and how much it's possible to live alone when you surround yourself with other people. Sharp as a tack and soft as snow. 



24. Exhibition
by Joanna Hogg

Joanna Hogg is that rare artist who can make the idle rich more compelling than a natural disaster. They're lush accoutrements are prisons, their unions traitorous, their love untrustworthy. They doubt everything gesture, every bit of ease afforded them. Life at the top is a horror movie with no monster. Trust goes first, then love, and all one can do is peer covetously into strange windows. 



25. We Are The Best!
by Lukas Moodysson
The last ten years taught us that Lukas Moodysson does muuuuch better work when trying to make people happy. He's politely asked his moralizing streak to takes a walk, and in from the cold comes his non-judgmental companion piece to his excellent 2000 film Together. Three girls embrace punk rock, life without rules, freedom from masculine expectation, and most importantly each other. We Are The Best doesn't have a maudlin bone in its body. The journey to agency, compassion and friendship are engrossing enough without help from the director. He knows his trio of rockers don't need anyone telling them how to live their lives.



26. The Boxtrolls
by Anthony Stacchi & Graham Annable

Laika are fast becoming the heir apparent to Aardman Animation. If the leap in quality from the perfectly enjoyable Paranorman to the sublime The Boxtrolls is any indication, we've got a stream of classics in our future from the young turks. An utter delight, creeping and crawling into your heart, coyly divining the nature of human happiness. "We are the good guys, right?" Indeed, indeed, indeed.



27. P'tit Quinquin
by Bruno Dumont

I laughed like a drain at much this year, but never felt as good doing it during Bruno Dumont's send-up of Bruno Dumont movies. 3 hours and change of the kind of sincerely warped fire-and-brimstone as only the monarch of misery, the sultan of sad, the duke of depression, could have dreamt up. For once you don't have to laugh to keep from crying. You can just laugh.


28. Pasolini
by Abel Ferrara

One flawed man pays tribute to another in his own sweet, honest way. I may have cried at the end of this film because Ferrara played his hand correctly and made me care about his character. It may have been because the world was robbed of one of its smartest, most generous artists and socialists. But I think maybe it was because I sensed in Ferrara a respect for Pasolini. Here was his humble offering, a rose on the great man's gravestone. No one now will be able to tell the heroes of the 20th century how much we owe them. We can only try our best to give back.


29. Burning Bush
by Agniezka Holland

One more of Agniezka Holland's outraged political histories. Her years working for TV has given her work a fullness of perspective, covering vast swathes of incident without losing track of the human beings in the eye of the storm. She has the ability to not lose her head when everything looks hopeless, something she shares with her long suffering heroes. 


30. Maidan
by Sergei Loznitsa

An unblinking look at the act of protest. Loznitsa steps out of the past and into the very real, violent revolution taking place on his front door. An essential act of courage from every protestor who passes behind the camera. It's anthropology as much as it's a polemic. And every second of it matters. Revolution matters. Holding a camera or a sign makes no difference, so long as you stand on the right side of history.


31. The Strange Little Cat
by Ramon Zürcher

A quick, warm lesson in how to make the everyday immortal and fascinating. Zürcher grants heartbreaking humanity to an ordinary family, rendering them enormous before our eyes. Every inch of their home is curated to bring out what is hidden behind a glance or a scream. Head to Fandor.com for some of the best writing on this magical little movie. 


32. The Last Of The Unjust
by Claude Lanzmann 

Though The Last of the Unjust serves an imperative function as an investigation into a subject that cannot be covered in enough detail, it's also a weary look at how we record our history. The clarity of digital shows a man in the autumn of his years wondering how we'll look back at the image of our past. The resplendent pastels of celluloid are a brick through the very idea of an untouchable past. The Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein wants to leave his experiences where they lay. Lanzmann and his grainy film know better, that the past exists whether we choose to give it the kiss of life personally with our recollections. Lanzmann struggles with Murmelstein's reticence all those years later. He knew the man, but what did his refusal to become emotional say about the nature of the tragedy he survived. He hid from film as best he could, and now Lanzmann just has digital to help him try to make sense of the man, his memories and the worst crime Europe ever played host to. 


33. Jauja
by Lisandro Alonso

This has been, without question, a banner year for slow or trance cinema. Jauja takes a colonialist, paternalist narrative and stretches it on a rack until all the blood has been drained from Euroheteropatriarchal power. I have a lot more I want to say about this film. Another time. Soon. 


34. The Dance of Reality
by Alejandro Jodorowski

The great surrealist comes out of retirement to dazzle once more with his spinning plates of cinematic tenses. Yesterday and today, real and unreal, possible and impossible, memory and fact. Such splendor in his perfectly sentimental roman-a-clef. His powers haven't dulled a whit. Alejandro Jodorowski is still a magician. He will always be.


35. The Guest
by Adam Wingard

A sexy breach of the fourth wall, as if the characters ask with their come hither glances whether you want to join them on the futon and marathon the best of John Carpenter on VHS. There is much integrity in this loveletter to the 80s, and much to smile at, even when darkness creeps in. Earns every uptick in the body count. A story of many awakenings, not the least of which is that of director Adam Wingard finally making a great film after showing much potential. Dan Stevens is the ultimate impostor, too perfect to be real, too real to be perfect and dripping with ripe, fat carnality. 


36. Obvious Child
by Gillian Robespierre

Unassuming empowerment, the kind that you could watch without realizing you're being shown a devastating show of strength, is quite the neat trick. I like the idea that anyone could laugh at Jenny Slate's adorably prickly performance and the surfeit of gross out humour and not realize how awesomely singular this movie is. We're going to look back on Obvious Child the way we look back at Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. 


37. Story of My Death 
by Albert Serra 

Mayhaps the most colossally weird work of art I saw this year. I treasure my bewilderment as the movie began devouring itself in its lugubrious, teeth-barring second half. The aristocracy as pre-undead, decadence encased in dancing pixels. A construction that never stops giving. 


38. Cold In July
by Jim Mickle

A matryoshka narrative uncovered by a never-better Michael C. Hall who discovers courage in friendship and the catch-22 of male bonding.  Hugely touching when it isn't abjectly bleak and violent. 


39. Nymphomaniac
by Lars Von Trier

Diary as early 20th century novel. Self-effacement and discovery in an untamed narrative. There has been so much great criticism on this movie that even writing these few words feel inadequate. It's such a huge, wonderful film I don't think I could possibly say anything fresh. Von Trier's finally gotten back to making movies I love after a break into the theoretical I found hard to love. 


40. Joe
by David Gordon Green

David Gordon Green's had trouble convincing critics that he's the same old genius they thought they'd uncovered back when he made George Washington back in 2000. I don't really think that guy ever went away, he just followed his muse down a barbed path, one that asked that he leave his skills at home. Well he's back in the wild he knows, and in Nicolas Cage, he's found a kindred spirit. Joe is the roughest film Green's ever made, but also the easiest to love. His formal chops have come out of storage to prop up four characters on the verge of implosion. His post-Malick longueurs are kept to a minimum, and his rhythm is quicker. His orphaned characters are compelling enough without needing to make nature more than just the unappreciated setting for one horrific clash of wills after another. Green is keenly aware that this will happen again tomorrow just down the road. 


41. Goltzius and the Pelican Company
by Peter Greenaway

Peter Greenaway not giving up, despite his apparent disdain for modern art is cause for celebration. His freeform experimentation has never felt so light-as-air, so devilish, so totally mad. Godard may have finally figured 3D out, but my favourite âgée terrible is still Greenaway, a pugnacious wizard, conjuring great roaring seas of metacinema. 


42. The Look of Silence
by Joshua Oppenheimer

Defiance belongs to the smallest and the greatest. Oppenheimer's been giving a voice to the voiceless, practicing slash-and-burn issue documentary technique, making the grammar up as he goes. The hideous intimacy of The Look of Silence outpaces the gonzo artifice of The Act of Killing by refusing to let murderers hide. It does not wait to demand that humanity be recognized. Every war, every conflict, genocide and holocaust needs a Look of Silence. Maybe then they'll stop happening. When those who kill without mercy are really held accountable, really made to understand what they've done, maybe then they can pass that message onto their children, and they to their children's children. 


43. Enemy
by Denis Villeneuve 

Toronto movies are in short supply. Movies that proudly show off the schizophrenic town and its particular anonymity. After a few years abroad Denis Villeneuve returned home anxious to take big risks in little ways. He surrounds his impossible dual protagonists with Toronto's imposing architecture, and coats them in a Soderbergian yellow smog. Their uniqueness is rendered moot by their lack of vision, their stunted ambition, and the mere fact of their being no room for one of them to succeed, let alone both of them. Enemy, like the best work of Villeneuve's countrymen Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg, infiltrates your consciousness like a brooding, viral fog seeping into your ears, putting ideas and thoughts in there that you'd rather not fully comprehend. What mustn't get lost, however, is how much fun this petite brain teaser is. I had such fun waiting for the next bad decision to arrive. Villeneuve has proven he's unafraid of any implication, so it was merely a question of how far he'd go. He didn't disappoint. 


44. The Blue Room
by Mathieu Amalric

Puzzlebox perfection from my favourite person in France. Amalric is a chameleon on and off camera, slipping into characters with the same practiced ease he changes directorial modes. After making his masterpiece, the gently bawdy On Tour, he opted for a conventional mystery told in a dazzling unconventional way. The Blue Room runs through your mind like a bullet, and when it's over, you'll wonder what hit you. 


45. Saint Laurent
by Bertrand Bonello

Bertrand Bonello may never find subject matter that fits his sensibility quite so stupendously as his last film, the 2011 gem House of Pleasures, he had to settle for going completely on the nose. No problem there. The release of a by-the-numbers biopic of the famed designer and his particular buttoned-up decadence highlighted just how well Bonello's sexually charged ennui finds the truth of a subject by revealing the feel of it. Anyone could tell you how Yves Saint Laurent rose to prominence and fell from grace. Who else could give you front row seats to an understanding of the power he felt by being the world's most sought after fashion icon. Bonello describes the condition of being Yves Saint Laurent. Here's how it felt to have a fleet of designers at command, to have boardrooms full of people trading millions of dollars just so that your clothing might be seen on a runway. That is Bonello's gift. Saint Laurent is his gift to us. 


46. Land Ho!
by Aaron Katz & Martha Stephens

Katz finds essential humility in yet another genre,  this time the hoary self-discovery road trip movie, ably helped by Martha Stephens in letting the manginess of the characters blossom. It's good to have Katz back, because I once again trusted him to turn something pat into something vivacious and humble. 


47. The Dark Valley
by Andreas Prochaska

A Western that embraces not only the cursed masculine sexuality of the 1950s, not only the brutal darkness of the 1970s, but the balletic deconstructions of the 2000s. Put more simply The Dark Valley is The Day of the Outlaw meets McCabe & Mrs. Miller through the filter of The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. It's a film we need more of in a hurry. Sam Riley is both hero and villain here, and is just wretchedly alluring enough to pull it off. 



48. Ida
by Pawel Pawlikoski

It's about the simplest sensations. Of a camera remembering to change angles when the dynamic changes and hope falls from the faces of its characters. It's about the sound of jazz music in a big, smoky hall. It's about a woman trying on elegant clothing for the first time. It's about discovering the wide world, one depressing realization and excited new feeling after another. I can see why people took against this, but I don't think it had the ambition many assumed it did based on its positive notices. This isn't a film out to change the world. Just one trying to show one girl's worldview expand by increments. Tragedy is everywhere. That's no longer special. A young girl's life is. 


49. Serena
by Susanne Bier

A pre-code programmer in post-Dogme clothing. Unafraid of great melodramatic gestures, Susanne Bier finds a home for her version of doomed love and broken men that doesn't show the strain of making them make sense to a modern audience. Serena, more than the high profile feel-goodery they've done together, how magnetic and winning Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper can be. They work as the kind of people Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwyck used to play before anyone knew their names because they knew that only abandoning self consciousness could make a film like this, heart nakedly on sleeve, work so well. 


50. Transcendence
by Wally Pfister

The Terminal Man for an audience who didn't appreciate the effort it took to make it palatable for them. I find this movie almost unbearably sad.


51. The Homesman
by Tommy Lee Jones

A psychodramatic western with a heart that sags into its guts, weighted down by sadness. Bemoaning what it could have been is pointless. The film and its protagonist are deliberately ill-equipped to handle the full breadth of a woman's pain and suffering. Women were as foreign to men back then as the natives they took their land from. We have done very little to correct this dissonant attitude. Too few people have made an attempt to understand the gesture that makes the film change horses midstream. Watch this twice if you don't get what Jones is doing. 


52. Djinn
by Tobe Hooper
An urgent plea for an understanding of the pressure facing mothers, and that it becomes amplified when religion is a factor. Hooper still gets much mileage out of filling the dark with ghouls, nearly forty years after he put the ultimate boogieman around the next corner.




53. A Walk Among The Tombstones
by Scott Frank

From the grime to the pace to the shamus calling the shots to the satisfaction of watching a gruff bastard put the pieces together and save a very broken day, everything's an antique in Scott Frank's version of noir. 


54. Rambleras
by Daniela Speranza

In a year full of cutting edge documentaries that scream for understanding, for basic decency, there's maybe no louder demand for acceptance than this deceptively breezy comedy. A friend recommended this film, convinced he'd seen one of the best movies of all time. A few more viewings and I might be inclined to agree. Right now? It's absolutely magnificent. Three women with nothing in common learn to be able to rely on each other when their usual companions prove unreliable. Their crawl toward understanding each other (not to mention themselves) is enthralling. It's so simple, yet it's the hardest thing they've ever done. 


55. Gerontophilia
by Bruce LaBruce
Bruce LaBruce, you old softie. The heart of Canada's raunchiest provocateur grew three sizes that day and out came a pitch-perfect parody of Gregg Araki movies. An uber 90s-punk fantasia of slow-mo caresses and tainted l'amour fou. I'd never been happier that I'd given someone 8 bucks on kickstarter, though I'm quite certain this would have been excellent without my help. 


56. Like Father, Like Son
by Hirokazu Kore-Eda
This is what American studios should be producing every month. The premise is so contrived it could only happen in a movie. Yet the performances and carefully withdrawn direction find the truth in the lie. 


57. Calvary
by John Michael McDonnagh
by John Pogue
When I met Oren Moverman last year, I congratulated not for his very serious statement on the homeless in New York City, the mostly great Time Out Of Mind, but for his rewrite of this possession chamber piece. He looked embarrassed. I stand alone on this, but watching Hammer recast Demons of the Mind in the year that film was made is too much for my nerd heart to resist. And as if that weren't enough, Jared Harris plays the world's worst college professor. The gray, 70s aesthetic is seductive, bringing to mind not only hammer but oddities like Roddy McDowell's Tam-Lin. I may well be the only one talking about it in years to come, but there is much to love here. 


59. Life of Riley
by Alain Resnais
One final laugh riot from one of the artist who helped define the last 60 years of our culture. 


60. Our Sunhi
by Hong Sang-Soo
Borrowing the colour pallet from Bergman's Autumn Sonata, South Korean auteur Hong Sang-Soo casts us adrift in a quadrangle of love.  


61. Two Days, One Night
by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
An economic horror movie about the raw strength it requires to look another human in the eye and say you deserve to be treated as an equal.



62. Cheap Thrills
by E.L. Katz
An economic horror movie about the depravity you'll endure just to pay the rent and look your spouse in the eye. Pat Healy is a national treasure. 


63. Natan
by David Cairns & Paul Duane
Two good friends made this movie, so thank heavens it's fab. A hunt for buried facts that invites you into a dark room waiting for pictographic evidence to develop. A crime was committed, and a man was murdered. The man who gave cinema back to France. Every person who sees this film gives a little back to cinema. 


64. Starred Up
by David Mackenzie
A storm of male ego and violence, a fluid, appropriately edgy dive into well-trodden ground. Mackenzie's camera keeps just the right distance from his subject to build tension in the simple act of walking from one side of a prison corridor to another. Every performance an outstanding balance of broiling rage and hidden sadness. It's the male animal attempting to understand why it's been caged and failing almost every time. Almost.


65. The Captive
by Atom Egoyan
At it's worst, it's a sort of Haggis-ification of The Sweet Hereafter. At it's best, it's about a father who can't come to terms with what he knows to be true. This is Egoyan back on form. I could watch this movie once a week if for nothing other than the tremendous Ryan Reynolds performance at its core. 


66. Edge of Tomorrow
by Doug Liman
This is as good as a movie whose fundamental premise, grammatically, thematically and considering it's another goddamn Tom Cruise sci-fi movie a year after Oblivion put me the fuck to sleep, is as uninteresting to me as it gets. That this works as well as it does is all Doug Liman...and a special ingredient called Emily Blunt keeping Cruise in check. 


67. The Purge: Anarchy
by James DeMonaco
Death Race 2000 by way of J. Lee Thompson. A pulpy good time. 


68. Abuse of Weakness
by Catherine Breillat

Catherine Breillat turns her encyclopedia of pain on herself, in this study of trust and mistrust, the lengths we go to feel loved. An incisive dissection of identity. 


69. Tom At The Farm
by Xavier Dolan

A hyperactive queer fusion of Straw Dogs and The House on Straw Hill. I'm still not entirely sure what I watched and what exactly it all means, but I had a blast being befuddled. Dolan's images are no fucking joke. 


70. Winter Sleep
by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Spend three hours in the frostiest place on earth, mentally and physically. This film is no great shakes stylistically. It only really has the safety of a series of womb spaces to offer. That's enough for me. 

71. '71
by Yann Demange
There is something to be said for a director whose only ambition is playing the audience like a thrift store fiddle. There isn't much more than confidence in set pieces, fine performances and the fear of what happens now. On the other hand what else could you ask for from an efficient thriller such as this?


72. Horse Money
by Pedro Costa
A Herzogian installation about those the world forgets. One indelible image peering into you after another. The greatest, most frightening opening of any film this year. The crimes against the poor become a disease that only the upper class claim to know how to cure. Poverty a mindset as much as a set of circumstances. And both keep the poor where the government wants them. 


73. La Sapienza
by Eugène Green
In which people are almost as difficult to move as the buildings they so admire. A sublime work of transformation. 


74. If You Don't, I Will
by Sophie Fillières
In a year with seven different Mathieu Amalric performances to choose from, sometime I like it when he's called upon to provide the best possible space for another performer to do their best work. Here, his hapless boor sets the stage upon which Emmanuelle Devos can strut. Devos is beyond great as a bourgeois woman who realizes that she never goes anywhere without her husband, who she doesn't even seem to like being around anymore. They've gotten used to each other, so she throws a monkey-wrench into the works. Her usual resolute demeanor is challenged by the sights that greet her on her vacation from normality. She and the natural world size each other up and in case you didn't know you wanted to watch that, you do now. One of the most intelligent romantic comedies of the year. 


75. Step Up All In
by Trish Sie
The 30s by way of the 80s. Call it Gold Diggers 2: Electric Boogaloo. Remarkably old hat, and twice as fun for it. Sie makes a ridiculously assured showing of herself as a first-time feature director. The voltage that flows through Briana Evigan while she dances is not to be ignored. John Wick ain't got nothing on her. 


76. Grisgris
by Mahamat Saleh Haroun
Haroun's latest cry from the gutter concerns a man who for once isn't absolutely gutted by the cruelty of fate. Just when it seems ready for a fall he can't recover from, after a lifetime of such things, he chooses to believe in himself. This time out, he finds a beat that keeps the vicissitudes of unfeeling men at arm's length. Love is finally to be trusted, even if looks ready to fail you. It might not be A Screaming Man (what is?) but it is an incredibly fine piece of work. 


77. Venus in Fur
by Roman Polanski
After a few years playing nice, Polanski returned to what captures his imagination; sexual head games in confined spaces. A devious bit of congress from two of the world's most attractive screen presences, Polanski, the unseen third character egging them on, begging them to get lost in their role-play. 


78. Two Shots Fired
by Martín Rejtman
A deadpan hydra-headed comedy about suicide. I guarantee you won't see anything else like this for a long while. 


79. Mary Queen of Scots
by Thomas Imbach
An abrasive anti-fable about the loss of agency. Edward Hogg and Camille Rutherford both give unfairly fabulous performances as enemies stuck in the same bloodline and under the same roof. These are full human beings and both actors need much more attention for the hard work they do. 


80. Viola
by Matías Piñeiro
A roundelay in close-ups and self-awareness. A souffle filled with knowing smiles and dramatic irony. Shakespeare as backstage hijinks. The human face as a 300 watt bulb, filling a screen and the human heart with intense heat. 


81. Michael Kohlhaas
by Arnaud des Pallières
A brooding anti-western set during the 16th century. A film that morphs with every viewing. A work of vast and impressive textures. 


82. National Gallery
by Fred Wiseman
While my favourite of the great man's work remains La Danse, his treatise on classical art and its place in the world is not to be missed. Wiseman will never stop being among the most important filmmakers out there so long as he chooses to point his camera at something. 


83. Hill of Freedom
by Hong Sang-Soo
Maybe not major Hong (Sunhi's already on this list) but it's non-stop hilarity, with Ryo Kase able to pull the real feeling out from the translation problems. It does have my favourite of Hong's framing devices. 


84. Maleficent
by Robert Stromberg
The film is pretty much all Jolie and Fanning, and that's just fine because they're perfect together. Jolie reminds how spectacularly voluptuous a performance she's capable of, Fanning gives yet another example of how we're all correct to believe her the best actress under 20. But thankfully the people off camera don't drop the ball either. It's a beautiful film without all the murk and poor-me theatrics that ruins these re-Disney films. It's a handsome, quite likable argument for adoption. As if that weren't enough, there's a pretty stellar dragon.


85. Heaven Knows What
by Josh & Benny Sadie
This one hurts like hell, but it demands to be seen. It's all courage.


86. Life of Crime
by Daniel Schechter
The film that finally, mercifully figured out what to do with Jennifer Anniston. In a rogue's gallery of lovable faces, belonging to some of the great character actors of our time, she holds her own. That alone makes this worth watching. But it's also just a rip-roaring good time besides. Daniel Schechter gets the feel of 1978 down pretty good, moving at a brisker clip than Blue Collar or Carwash, but with so much ground to cover, it's a decision that justifies itself. 


87. The Retrieval
by Chris Eska
Showing up the flashy likes of Django UnchainedThe Retrieval asks much deeper and much more difficult questions of an audience looking back on the civil war, only vaguely aware of what former slaves went through. Here two black men become bounty hunters, turning in another for money they need to stay alive and out of bondage. Where do you draw the line? At what point do you become as bad as your oppressor? I would like to have seen this film get six times the attention it did. But I guess America only has room for so many movies about people they don't want to think about, circumstances they don't want to put themselves in, problems they wish weren't real. 


88. Goodbye to Language
by Jean-Luc Godard
Godard decided he wasn't done inventing modern cinema. 


89. Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq 
by Nancy Buirski
An object lesson in negative space and sound design turning a conventional documentary to new heights of sensitivity. An engrossing experience from the word go. 


90. Zero Theorem
by Terry Gilliam
It may just be plastic Brazil with a different ending, but that ending makes all the difference. The choice that Gilliam's paranoid lover makes is the backbone of human folly. I couldn't believe he ended the film where he did. And I quite liked getting there. 


91. Jimmy's Hall
by Ken Loach
Ken Loach, the last honest Commie, the last angry humanist, and still a great director. Loach somehow makes room for both milieu specific discussions of property, education and demonstration rights without ever forgetting he's telling a story about people fighting for the right to get close to each other and dance. I reject claims that this is minor Loach. 


92. Beauty & The Beast
by Christophe Gans
This is cheating, I grant you, as I had to order this from overseas to watch it, but there was no way I was going to wait for the next Christophe Gans film to suddenly appear in American theaters. The odds that a fairy tale, designed primarily for 8-15 year olds in another language, would ever make it's way over are were so small you need a microscope to see them. And just as I suspected, I haven't heard word one about distributors deciding we deserve this film. Which...sadly, is just as well, because I suspect that like The Moth Diaries before it, this version of the old chestnut would be written off as unfit for adult consumption because it was made for a teenage audience. Ignore that. Gans, who has Tim Burton's goth streak, Rob Zombie's flair for stylized violence, and a fondness for Ophulsian unrequited passion, crafts a rich world for his very 2014 take on a country girl and the wicked creature who loved her. It may be too cuddly for some people. I just found it enchanting. 




93. 22 Jump Street
by Phil Lord & Chris Miller
Lord & Miller are not going to rest on their laurels just because most everyone thinks they're winning every hand their dealt. This was not only funnier than both of their previous outings, it also had time for a very real discussion about friendship. Man children the world over need that lesson. 


94. Life Itself
by Steve James
What is there to say? Ebert made it ok for me to tell people I'm a film critic. I owe him, his wife Chaz and Matt Zoller Seitz my self-respect. This film is one more step towards trying to legitimize an artform which is merely the conversing with film. Something I do every day. 


95. Seventh Code
by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
A pint-sized whatchamacallit from the massively busy other Kurosawa, Seventh Code is one zany reveal after another. It's a romantic comedy, then a spy movie, and it's always anchored by a fiercely committed performance by Atsuko Maeda. Kurosawa's other two films this year (the byzantine Real and the behemoth Penance) were missing this little offering's unwavering sense of fun as the structure makes a left turn every few minutes. What ever could happen next?

96.  Norte, The End of History
by Lav Diaz
Lav Diaz doesn't make movies, he makes isolation tanks to dissolve inside, to bathe in ideas, times and places. His latest, a laconic riff on Crime & Punishment, is like entering someone else's dream for four hours, and thanks to his expressive, smooth colour photography, it's the easiest and kindest to drift through, though the fate of his homeland is just as painful as ever. 


97. Red Army / The Unknown Known
by Gabe Polski / Errol Morris
Two whirlwind tales of corruption, betrayal, espionage, failure and escape told by men unwilling to flinch. Of course one's about hockey and the other's about the world almost ending, but both are made with maximum attention paid to how to suck viewers further down the maelstrom.


98. Stray Dog
by Debra Granik
Debra Granik goes back to the Ozarks for a simple, often unbelievable story of perseverance. After writing her own ticket with the quietly successful, incredibly moving Winter's Bone, Granik turned away from fiction and found a story that she cared about. Ron Hall, like any Vietnam vet, has demons he can't always wrestle alone. The film is about the community who helps him, and how far-reaching and tireless those people are. Hall travels the country with his fellow vets trying to make sure that everyone who has ever had a night terror because of the horrors they saw during foreign wars gets the help, love and support they so desperately need. At home, he's a rock to his tenants and his wife, for whom he learned Spanish and she learned better English. The world needs more people like Ron Hall, and more movies like Stray Dog. 


99. Jimi: All Is By My Side
by John Ridley
On top of possessing the most radical montage of any film this year, it also walk the same path as Alex Cox's Sid & Nancy, no mean feat. A film on the cusp of a racial divide. Ridley's portrayal of Hendrix is fascinating, still not used to the idea that he can go anywhere and do anything, thanks to shortsighted parents and the experiences of his adolescence. His optimism is mighty, aware that people do really like his art, but when it's betrayed, he lashes out in frightening ways. It's an important film for white boys who worship him to watch, aware that he struggled, suffered and messed up. Oh, and André Benjamin is Hendrix.


100. They Came Together
by David Wain
This one's all taste. If you didn't laugh, not the film's direction nor the cameo appearance by Michael Shannon was going to save it for you. If you did laugh? You laughed all the way through, and you laughed hardest when Michael Shannon shows up. I went maybe 7 seconds without laughing.

4 comments:

Andreas Astrinakis said...

Wow, these were just the films you saw last year that you liked? Out here in Florida there isn't much in the way of affordable art house cinematheques.

Scøut said...

Yeah this country has a long way to go in supporting the arts. So many films never see the inside of theatres in a given year. It's not ok.

Kevin Powers said...

This is the best "Best of 2014" list I've seen. I only wish it was possible for me to see just about any of these movies where I live, especially in a theater.

Scøut said...

Thanks man! I really appreciate that, and I hear what you're saying. The state of distribution in the world is shameful. So much great art and none of it making its way to the people.