A Polish Immigrant, a Concierge, and a Selkie Walk Into a Movie Set: 2014 Cinema in Review

2014Banner

When I sit down every year to write this introduction my goal is to summarize what the year in films was for me. For example, the first time I wrote a thing like this, in 2009, I wrote about how I saw a great female influence throughout every facet of the medium. The following year I wrote about how Hollywood’s output had been so disappointing outside of the film that topped my list that year that at some point I was desperate for some great films. Even last year, when I felt I was at my weakest when it comes to writing, I managed to churn out something about how I felt the year really wasn’t as great as great as many made it out to be (despite the number of very-good-to-great films). This year though, I don’t know what to write about. I could write about how a fairly large component of my top 10 is made up of what some would call 2013 “leftovers,” meaning films that first made an impact the previous year even if they only had a festival showing. But even then, that doesn’t feel right. My top 25 is such a cluster fuck of genres, and there’s really no thematic thread connecting them in any sort of way that I can’t possibly tell you why a lot of them spoke to me on a personal level. On that note, although I love every single film on the top 25, I can’t say I felt true passion for more than five of them at the most. Well, I don’t know where I’m going with this. I guess all of this is to say that I felt 2014 was an odd year for cinema. And would you look at that, I managed to write an introduction. So, like always, I now present my top 25 films of the year. They are preceded by a few honorable mentions, and followed by the superlatives in various categories. HMsBanner HMBeginA HMGodzilla HMPenguins HMVincentHDDropHM22JSHMBoxtrollsHMDoubleHMEdgeHMGodHGirlHMmuppetsHMsnowHMdragonhmFoxCHMggHMhomesman HMViolentHMtop5HMPridefHMAloneGHMmostwantedHMAnnieDWPhmHMtracks Top25Banner

25.

 photo 25_zps96kwx1db.gifInherent Vice Title

Having read the book in preparation for the film, I was initially underwhelmed by the film. The book is, to me anyways, a pretty straight forward detective story that slowly reveals its true colors as a love story, but it never forgets about the story that we had been following in the beginning, and it relies on prose to set the mood and transport us to the time the story takes place. But of course, film is a different medium. Had Paul Thomas Anderson been completely faithful to the book, the film would have been at least four hours long. But he focused on what ultimately mattered the most in the book: Doc’s feelings for Shasta. As such, there’s no way to make a truly cohesive narrative unless you changed things completely but Anderson chose to remain pretty faithful to the source. Hence my disappointment. But then the film would not leave my head for days after watching it. The way the images Anderson created with Robert Elswit, Mark Bridges, et al. put you in Doc’s period-appropriate state of mind is hard to shake. Days after I still thought about how Shasta pretty much looms over every action Doc takes, even when it seems it has nothing to do with her. No other film made me feel like this, so I thought it was the best one to start this countdown with. I still have problems with it considering how much I love the book, but I look forward to visiting again it over the years.

24.

 photo 24_zpsn4mjlnd9.gifLEGO title There was absolutely no reason why this film should have worked, and yet, on February of 2014 the world was shocked by how well it did just that. Though it ultimately is the ultimate product-placement film, thanks to the creativity and imagination of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, on the page and on screen, the film became more than that. I mean, really, who expected a film based on construction blocks to end up being about an existential journey to discover your purpose in the world that has the lead character literally meeting his maker in order to save his world? And also, who expected it to be as beautifully designed as it was? Ultimately, the film doesn’t hold up as well on repeat viewings, but the craft elements, the zany energy, and the memories of that glorious viewing on opening weekend makes the film deserve a spot on this list.

23.

 photo 23_zpsr0thquiy.gifweek-end title Call it a prequel to Amour. Though far from being as visually elegant or heart-wrenching as Michael Haneke’s masterful film, Le Week-End is an often hard-to-watch film about a couple (Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan in career-best performances) who have been together for a long time, and yet are only a bad fight away from breaking up. The film is about how they take a trip to Paris, where they went on their honeymoon, to try to rekindle their love, but memories of those early years, as well as encounters with people from their past only make them feel even worse about their present. This could have easily been an over-the-top melodrama, but thanks to restrained direction from Roger Michell, great chemistry between the leads, and a script that mixes the raw emotions with a fair amount of levity, it became one of the most honest films on relationships and aging that we have seen in the last few years.

22.

 photo 22_zpsuq72nid2.gifFIOS titleThere are so many ways this film could have gone wrong. The book itself is almost too precious for its own good, but it ultimately hit the right buttons. With the film, a director and the writers would have had a hard time making it work without going into histrionics while also being extremely serious about the subject. However, director Josh Boone and writers Scott Neustadrer and Michael H. Weber got it right by embracing the preciousness of the next, the sappiness of the story, and by treating the story of cancer patients falling in love with the lightest touch they could have given it. And besides that, there’s just something Demy-esque about it that made it stand out to me.

21.

 photo 21_zpsqtlbg0ac.gifPaddington title Paddington is about a talking bear from Peru who moves to England and gets taken in by a family made up of a loving mother, two children with very different personalities, a father who wants to get rid of him as soon as possible, and a quirky aunt. It also features a ninja taxidermist. There were so many ways this could have gone wrong, but under director Paul King and producer David Heyman it worked out beautifully. There’s not much going on in the film as the story is merely about how family is the most important thing, and pretty much every scene involves Paddington getting into crazy shenanigans as he tries to get acquainted with his surroundings. However, the filmmakers take the premise so seriously and have so much fun putting together the elaborate gags that every minute feels vital. Not only that, but the film is also a visual treat, with the costumes, cinematography, and production design looking as if they were thought up by Wes Anderson and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s lovechild. But its best asset is perhaps the cast. Every single role is perfectly cast. Who better to play a quirky but loving mother than Sally Hawkins? And could anyone have played an incredibly uptight father as well as Hugh Bonneville? And really, no one else could have played a ninja taxidermist with a hidden agenda like Nicole Kidman. But the greatest piece of casting has to be Ben Wishaw as the titular marmalade-loving bear. He was a late addition to the cast as Colin Firth was originally going to play him, but no one else could have done the character justice. His voice carries the perfect mix of child-like innocence and gravitas for when things get serious. I was not aware of the existence of the “Paddington” books until the film was announced, but I’m glad I gave the film a chance despite the dreadful marketing. Like the similar Winnie the Pooh films, it’s a masterpiece of simplicity, the kind that we often desperately need.

20.

 photo 20_zpslbskiob7.gifBig Eyes title
Big Eyes is your typical underdog story with a clear-cut protagonist we have to root for and a villain who we love to hate. It all culminates in a triumphant scene where we get the hero get what they deserve. But there are a couple of things that make it stand out from the rest. One is how outrageous and absurd the real story war, and yet it managed to change the art world. The other is Tim Burton’s involvement. He brings and energy and playfulness missing from his work since at least Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. These qualities also make it stand out against other fact-based stories because if anyone else had directed it, they would have taken it too seriously. Also, despite being grounded in reality, it features some of Burton’s most creative and colorful visuals. It also features some great work from everyone in the cast, specially Amy Adams, who may very well give the best performance in any Tim Burton film. it’s far from perfect though (a painfully bad Lana Del Rey song sticks out like a sore thumb), but much like how we root for Margaret Keane, I was rooting for this to be some sort of return to from for Burton, and he did not disappoint.

19.

 photo 20_zpscbp09sa8.gifInterstellar titleInterstellar is a very flawed film as it suffers from Christopher Nolan’s usual exposition vomit and devotes way too much time to a subplot that turns the movie into something completely different. But even then I couldn’t help but fall for it. It’s Nolan’s most ambitious film, but thematically and visually. The former is at times too much for him to handle as there are some scenes that play out like silly science babble even though this is all based on real science. The scenes involving “love,” what the whole thing is ultimately about, do work,  ad are what gives it the warmth and emotion that sets it apart from his other works. And visually, he and his crew just rocked it. They made the most believable dystopian future, and for the space scenes they make the most beautiful sight they could have created. It will no doubt keep growing on me over the years.

18.

 photo 18_zpstielauze.gifNightcrawler title Nightcrawler is the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy, brother of Tony (Michael Clayton) Gilroy, and writer of Real Steel and Tarsem’s The Fall. To be honest, based on his previous work, I never would have thought that he’d have something like this in him. This is a great character study in the vein of There Will Be Blood and Taxi Driver. Like “Daniel Plainview” and “Travis Bickle” in their respective films, “Louis Bloom” is a charming, but despicalb eman that you just love to hate. He is very ambitious and he does everything in his power to achievement, whether it is to attempt murder or blackmail to get his way. And thanks to Jake Gyllenhaal’s career-defining performance, he became a character for the ages. However, the greatness of the film doesn’t rely solely on him as Gilroy’s direction is dowright fantastic. In addition to his leading man’s performance, he managed to get a career-topping performance from Renee Russo, and a (hopefully) star-making one for Riz Ahmed. He also made the great decision of enlisting Robert Elswit as his director of photography as every frame of this ting is beautifully surreal, which is perfect considering the character whose point of view we are following. With this and Inherent Vice, Elswit is easily of the DP of the year. Hopefully everyone involved in this will move on to bigger and better things, but this will forever remain a particularly great achievement.

17.

 photo 17_zpsturnvs4k.gifDreamsMadness title
This grabbed me in a way I never expected. Set inside Studio Ghibli as Hayao Miyazaki is working on The Wind Rises , it is one of the best films about filmmaking that I’ve ever seen. Although we don’t go deep into the animation master’s creative process, there is still plenty of materials that show us how complicated the filmmaking process is for a relatively small animation house like Ghibli. We get to see how passionate the workers can get, as well as how cold the whole enterprise can be. We are also shown glimpses of how difficult the marketing decision can be, how a seemingly throw-away thought can make or break things, and how changing just one line of dialogue can alter the meaning of the whole film. We also get a brief glimpse at how the slow the process of making Isao Takahata’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya was, and how those delays caused a lot of chaos within the company. This could have been a just a standard behind-the-scenes documentary, but there’s are so many emotional aspects to it that draw you in more than any you would find in a special feature on a DVD. If you are a fan of Studio Ghibli, or just animation in general, you owe it to yourself to watch this.

16.

 photo 16_zpsg3b8ftiz.gifJohn Wick title
John Wick was sold as an actioin movie about nothingmore that Keanu Reeves avening his puppy’s murder. What the marketing didn’t show was that there was an emotional core to the film, that the puppy had a bigger meaning than what we were told. But then it’s also a fantastic action film. Though it is the directorial debut of a couple of stunt men (with only one credited), it looks like it was made by one of the masters of the genre. It is stylish as hell, sporting some of the best cinematography of the year. But best of all, it has some of the best action choreography in a Hollywood film in years. In every fight you can perfectly see everything that is happening, and they don’t actually feel staged at all. A few months before watching this, I saw John Carpenter’s The Live for the first time, and it features that legendary fight fight. Though the action in John Wick is more stylized and over-the-top than that, it made me have a similar reaction. There’s gravity to every punch and kick, and you can just feel as if you are there, witnessing those events in the flesh.  There simply was no better example of the action film in 2014.

15.

 photo 15_zpsjwv6qije.gifBoyhood title Towards the end of the year, after being the critics darling since its release in the Summer, Boyhood began to experience backlash. Those who instigated it argued that there was nothing original about the narrative and that being shot over the course of 12 years was a gimmick that anyone could do. They are mostly right in that the narrative is nothing special and that it is a gimmick, but for me that’s what made the film special. Richard Linklater set out to do something unique, something that had previously only been done in documentary form: to capture life as it is, with its ups, downs, and the mundane things in between as they happen naturally, and not with as little movie magic as possible. Despite the fact that it was inspired by his own childhood, as I saw Mason (Ellar Coltrane) grow up and go through various phases, or as we see his parents (Patricia Arquette & Ethan Hawke in career-best performances) age and evolve as a result of their parenthood I couldn’t help but connect with the film and the characters on a personal level.This would not have been the case if the film had been made in typical fashion, with different actors playing Mason and with prosthetic makeup being used to age the parents. By seeing them grown we understand the characters more because all of us have lived and have seen how we change and understand that all kinds if experiences lead that change. Is it a gimmick? For sure, but it’s a great one that improved cinema with the simple fact of its existence.And really, no one but Linklater could have done this. Most of his films deal with the events that happen during a specific period of time, and how they can change us, whether it is the first day of Summer vacation in Dazed and Confused, or a 90-minute walk through Paris between two former lovers in Before Sunset. With Boyhood he set out on his most ambitious study of time yet, and the result was a film that no other director could have ever realized. It may not be on my top 10 of the year because admittedly I tend to fall for the more polished and shiny stuff, but if this is the film 2014 is remembered by, there will be no complaints from me.

14.

 photo 14_zpsvralvtqc.gif!Whiplash title
They say practice makes perfect. But then what is perfect? For a musician, is it hitting the proper notes at the proper moment or simply making the best sound you can possibly make? Whatever it is, how do you know when you’ve achieved it? Is it when you are personally satisfied or when other people tell you? And how much are you willing to sacrifice to get there? Will you take mental and physical abuse from those who supposedly know better than you? Maybe even life or limb? How about your artistic soul? Is it worth losing these things I pursuit of a subjective definition of “perfection?” These are the questions that writer/director Damian Chazelle asks in his breakout film, Whiplash. It is an intense, intricately constructed drama about Andrew, a young jazz drummer who wants to be one of the greats, and Fletcher, the abusive teacher that wants to take him there. For two hours we are subjected to seeing this toxic relationship unfold. It’s so intense that at one point I just started to laugh because of how nervous it made me feel. In the end we witness the results of this, and it’s a glorious 10 minute sequence. But instead of feeling happy for the Andre, looking at everything that happened and all that he potentially lost, I wondered if it was all worth it. It’s a question that divided all of those in my household who saw it, even to this day.

13.

 photo 13_zpsuoidpz30.gifcheatin title
Cheatin’ is a prime example of how animation and a mind like Bill Plympton’s can reinvigorate the oldest and weakest of tales. The film tells a simple story of a relationship between two individuals who are madly in love, but then is interrupted by lust and then nearly destroyed by jealousy- standard Lifetime movie of the week stuff. But under the direction of Plympton, you can be sure it’s not going to be that simple. Thanks to his signature grotesquely beautiful designs and animation, and the way he expresses simple actions with complex and experimental sequences instead of mere words (i.e. the act of falling in love is shown as a complex medical procedure performed by cherubs), the story is given a sense of urgency and turns it into an odd and twisted emotional experience. Even at some point some magic elements are even introduced, but you just buy into it because we are in a world where the most amazing and bizarre things can happen. Cheatin’ is yet another reminder that animation is not just great for taking us to places beyond imagination, but it can also give us a new outlook into ours.

12.

 photo 12_zpsz5wprg7k.gifBig Hero 6 title
Big Hero 6 is not the most original film there ever was as you obviously tell that it was very much influenced by films like The Iron Giant and How to Train Your Dragon, and the script follows a basic “hero’s journey” formula. However, there is so much greatness otherwise that it deserves its place on the list. First, there’s that beautifully diverse cast characters. The film is led by an Asian boy, and is supported by a neurotic black guy, a bad ass Asian girl, an adorable Latina, and a goofy white guy. And best of all, they are shown to be some genius scientists and engineers (except for the white guy, but he’s rich so that evens things out). They are also all well-developed and have their own personalities that could potentially carry an entire film. Then there is the actual filmmaking. First the city of San Fransokyo is beautifully designed, one of the most beautiful and fully realized settings in any Disney film. It actually looks as if it could be a city of the future. The action sequences are thrilling, the best in a superhero film since The Incredibles. This is everything that modern superhero movies strive to be, but fail to become.

11.

 photo 11_zpsp57jhuem.gifGuest title
From the first 15 minutes or so of the film, I just knew there was no way I wasn’t going to like it. It had brilliant cinematography, a fantastic synth score, a palpable Carpenteresque atmosphere, and plenty of eye candy courtesy of Dan Stevens. But much like Adam Wingard’s previous film, You’re Next, it starts going places you never could have guessed and becomes a supremely entertaining thrill ride. There’s obviously not much going on beneath the surface, but this is the most purely entertaining film of the year, and for that alone, it deserves to be here.

10.

 photo 10_zpsx0rkivsw.gif BTL title
Given the plot, Beyond the Lights could have been an entire different film, a more forgettable and familiar one, but not under the direction of Gina Prince-Bythewood. Instead of being the ripoff of The Bodyguard that the marketing made it out to be, it became a character study of the price of fame. For Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw giving a performance that should make her a star), that means the loss of her personal and artistic identities, which lead her to try to kill her self. For Kaz (Nate Parker), it means being forced to follow a career path that he doesn’t even know he wants to follow, simply because he is told it’s the right thing to do. For Macy Jean it is breaking the spirit of her child, and risking the loss of their affection. All of this could have led a typical show biz melodrama, but it is told in such a raw, emotional way that it ended up being one of the best films of its kinds. Hopefully we won’t have to wait six more years for another film by Prince-Bythewood as cinema needs her voice out there.

9.

 photo 9_zpsdepw7pds.gifUnder the Skin title
An alien invasion film unlike any other. When we think of these kinds of films we think of big special effects extravagazas. This film does feature some great FX work, but it’s in a much smaller scale, and it doesn’t really spell out what it is about. Rather, it builds the character played by Scarlet Johansson by showing us what she is here on Earth to do. Through her performance, we see a cold individual who will just do what she has to do, and not question it. But then, like films about characters who are hellbent on destroying humanity, she finds beauty in the world. She doesn’t find it in nature or in the creative works created by artists throughout the years, but rather in the outcasts of society, people she can identify with. Jonathan Glazer tells the story in a cold manner that might seem uninviting, specially since he doesn’t ever tell us why the aliens do what they do. Instead, he made a very intelligent, visually driven film, with a great score by Mica Levi that hypnotized me from the very first scene, and made me feel confused yet entertained. It made me dislike the main character, but then made me feel empathy as her story comes to the inevitably tragic conclusion.

8.

 photo 8_zpsfgecsizs.gifOnly Lovers title2
I’m not very familiar with the films of Jim Jarmusch so I may not be reading this film properly, but I see this as a fantastic relaxation film. It has some deep themes, with Tom Hiddleston’s immortal Adam being sick and tired of humanity, and Tilda Swinton’s Eve being madly in love with its creativity, and how each other having someone who loves you gives you a reason for living. But then you mix that with Yorick Le Saux’s haunting images of night time Detroit and Tangiers, the music, Hiddlestone’s brooding, Swinton’s joie de vivre, and the conversations of what makes life worth living just give off something that made me feel good. Then there are some silly shenanigans thrown in that give the experience a bit of a bizarre edge, and makes things even better. It’s just lovely.

7.

 photo 7_zpsq6z1hqw4.gif2Days title
Having never seen a film by the Dardennes, I wasn’t ready for what was about to happen upon watching this. I knew that they tend to dwell in minimalist, down-to-earth, and sometimes bleak stories about the Belgian lower class,but I never predicted that it would take me on an intense roller coaster ride of emotions. We start out with a depressing moment where Sandra (the brilliant Marion Cotillard) being told that her co-workers have voter to have her lose her job in order to receive bonuses. Things then keep getting worse as we find out why she was the target of this vote, and as we see her struggle to convince her co-workers to rething their vote. But for every moment we get of them refusing, often for legitimate reasons, we get a beautiful one where they do even when they do need the bonus. These moments brought tears to my eyes, and even reassured me, even if for a minute, that humanity isn’t all that bad. In the end, we don’t get a resolution that would be featured in a Disney film. Instead we get a better one that shows us that we can get much more out of the struggles of the journey than what we expect to get in the finish line.

6.

 photo 6_zpszqflom8c.gifIda title
The main reason why this film is on this list is its striking cinematography. But then the overall production wouldn’t have had the impact that it did if there hadn’t been some purpose behind those images. Taking place in post-World War II Poland, the stark black and white puts is in the state of mind of some of the citizens of the country at the time- confused and still trying to understand everything that happened to them. The film is also about coming to terms with one’s cultural and religious identity. This is shown through Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) and Wanda (Agata Kuleszka). The former is a novice nun who is told that he must meet her last surviving relative before she can take her vows. The latter is a jaded, traumatized judge. Once they meet, Ida finds out she is actually Jewish. And so, they head out on a trip so Ida can learn what happened to her parents and why she ended up in a convent. During most of the film the images are composed to allow a noticeable amount of negative space. Most often we see it above the character’s heads, showing us that although they may be alone, god, their religion, and their heritage is present. For instance. take the scene where Ida takes off her habit in a bathroom after she meets and man that may steal her affections. Here, this act of doubt is given more power thanks to the negative space as it visualizes how her chosen religion still weights heavily upon her. Other instances of similar symbolism is found all throughout and it makes an already-powerful story have more impact, and the film much more memorable.

5.

 photo 5_zpsxicnxtsl.gifBabadook title
In general, the horror genre can be used to explore the darkest aspects of humanity. But when you’re dealing with a visual medium, it can be easily used for cheap thrills. There’s nothing wrong with that as we have seen many horror masterpieces that don’t have a deep meaning, but today horror with a conscience can be hard to come across. But then along came a first-time director from Australia named Jennifer Kent with a tiny independent film  called The Babadook, a horror film for the ages that no one saw coming. The film uses the genre to explore grief and postpartum depression in a way that allows the audience to understand a bit of what a day in the lives of people who suffer from these afflictions is like. Doing this successfully in horror is not easy without resorting to cheap tricks, but Kent, despite having no experience directing a full feature film handles things like a master. She assembled a crew that brought the vision to life in a beautiful manner that makes everything believable, which only makes the times when the lines between the real world and fantasy blur even more disorienting and disturbing. Seeing gems like this be discovered is one of the reasons why being a cinephile can be so exciting.

4 (tie).

 photo 4a_zpsequypf0b.gifsong of the sea
Song of the Sea is a simple coming of age story about a boy whose mother disappears mysteriously one night after giving birth to his sister. He then finds out that she’s a mystical selkie, and that it’s up to her to save the spirit world, and it’s his job to protect her from the evil forces who want to take over control. But as simple as that is, it’s still one of the most moving and thrilling films of the year. Irish director and animator Tomm Moore, who first gained international attention after getting a surprise Oscar nomination for his first film, The Secret of Kells, absolutely loves the folklore of his homeland, and you can actually feel that love as you watch the film. It’s obvious that he loved listening these stories as a child as the intricate designs and animation make the film feel like a living storybook. Watching this work of art actually made me feel like I felt while listening to my culture’s folk tales. It’s only Moore’s second film, but now with Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata retired from filmmaking, I can’t help but feel like he’s become the gatekeeper for international animation. This is not just because of his awards success, but because he’s that good. 

4b_zps4jg7onttKaguya title
Speaking of Isao Takahata and his retirement. Although perhaps he will mostly be remembered for his harrowing The Grave of the Fireflies, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is his grandest achievement in every possible way. Narratively, it’s his most ambitious, taking one of the oldest recorded tales in Japanese history and rather than telling it straight, turns it into a critique on the role women traditionally had in society during those times (and maybe still have). It’s a story filled with as many joyous moments as well as sad and tragic ones, and they are made very powerful by animation. Rough, yet very detailed, the animation makes it feel like you are watching an old painting come to life. Takahata started experimenting with similar animation techniques in Only Yesterday, where the flashback scenes looked hazy and incomplete, as memories tend to feel. He then advanced on this technique with My Neighbors the Yamadas, where he made seemingly-simple watercolor doodles to tech us silly life stories. And here he brought this powerful tale to life with a combination of watercolors and rough-looking charcoals. It’s so goddamned gorgeous that I actually got teary eyed from the first minute, and felt a rush of excitement when we first see Kaguya come to life (where the screenshot on top comes from). It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that we won’t see anymore films from Takahata, especially when he made something this monumental, but at least he we out with a bang.

3.

3_zpspjh8swjcGrand Budapest title
As it tends to be the case with Wes Anderson’s films, The Grand Budapest Hotel’s greatness didn’t become apparent until repeat viewings. The first time around I of course had fun with all the crazy shenanigans that M. Gustave H. and Zero go through, but at the same time it’s frustrating because you know there’s so much more going on beneath the surface but all the grand, gorgeous visuals and the structure of the story overwhelmed me. But on subsequent viewings something else happens. The film is not just a wacky art heist, but rather it’s a lot like Bob Fosse’s Cabaret in that all that goes on in the characters’s lives hides them not only from their personal truths, but also distracts them from eventual life changing events that are happening around them. Not only that, it’s also an exploration on how stories, whether the ones we tell our selves or to other change us, and often not in a positive way. When I realized this, it hit me hard. Being able to experience the film in all it’s glory, with the knowledge of the film’s meaning, the glorious visuals, and Ralph Fiennes masterful performance combined, revealed it as a masterpiece, Anderson’s very best film so far.

2 (tie).

2a_zpssu8jyiqrimmigrant title
Being an immigrant myself, this film spoke to me on a personal level. I was not separated by my family or forced into prostitution, but I know of people who struggled like Ewa (Marion Cotillard) in different levels, and this film just gets the immigrant experience so right. It reiterates how this country was build like immigrants, and how pretty much they have always been treated like trash upon arrival in this country. It really makes you think that how even after all these years, things haven’t changed (just look at things that presidential candidates say). Then you factor in how beautiful the filmmaking is, from James Gray direction, the impeccable performances from Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix, Darius Khondji’s haunting golden-hued cinematography, and it becomes a more harrowing experience, because the look is often associated with stories of better times, when there is very little happiness to be found here. I was floored when I watched this in theaters (this is despite having never been a fan of Gray’s previous work), and I still constantly think about it and remember most things vividly a year after the fact. I said then that The Immigrant was a masterpiece, and I still stand by that statement.
2b_zpsascynacwSelma title
Then there’s Selma. You’d think that being a film based on events that happened 50 years ago that it would merely serve as a dramatization of stuff that’s in the past, but sadly it ended up being a sad reflection on today’s society, as events that happened in the year, like the Ferguson protests, show that things have changed very little over the years, but people were able to hide their true colors better. Ava DuVernay’s energetic, fresh vision shows us how difficult it was to put together the historic Selma-Montgomery march in 1965, not just because of opposition from those in power, but from struggles within the community trying to come together. It shows how so much work goes into making something that in the end might have no effect on the grand scheme of things. But perhaps it’s best aspect (besides David Oyelowo’s powerful performance as Martin Luther King Jr.) is how it doesn’t shy away from showing the true horrors of living in the time period, but without being overtly violent or gratuitous. This stands out to me because very few films from major studios be this raw on such subjects. Selma is one of the few Hollywood films that earns the title of “important,” as it achieves it with artistic and powerful storytelling from one of the most important new voices we have in cinema.

1.

1_zpscywahibaGardenTitle

Over the Garden Wall aired on Carton Network as a miniseries of 10 12-minute chapters and proceeded to win an Emmy and has become a cult favorite. However, the format and the episode breaks do the entire thing a disservice as it demands to be seen in one sitting to properly enjoy Wirt and Greg’s journey into “the Unknown.” At first you get into it because of the fantastic atmosphere, designs, and music. It honestly feels like you’re watching something that someone in Europe in the early 1900s might have created. Then the Adventure Time style of humor wins you over. But although every chapter seems to stand on its own, there are little clues that tell you that something bigger is at play. When all that is revealed, the whole thing is given a new meaning, and you can finally see what a daring piece of fiction came from Patrick McHale and Nate Cash’s mind. Thanks to that and incredible performances from Elijah Wood, Collin Dean, Christopher Lloyd, and especially Melanie Linskey, Over the Garden Wall is the best film of the year, and the finest American feature-length animated production this decade.

SuperlativesBAnner Dir pic DirBanner

  1. Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  2. Ava DuVernay, Selma
  3. James Gray, The Immigrant
  4. Richard Linklater, Boyhood
  5. Jennifer Kent, The Babadook
  6. Pawel Pawlikowski, Ida
  7. Tomm Moore, Song of the Sea
  8. Isao Takahata, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
  9. Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne, Two Days, One Night
  10. Jonathan Glazer, Under the Skin
  11. Christopher Nolan, Interstellar

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  1. David Oyelowo as “Martin Luther King, Jr.” in Selma
  2. Brendan Gleeson as “Father James” in Calvary
  3. Ralph Fiennes as “M. Gustave H.” in The Grand Budapest Hotel
  4. Jake Gyllenhaal as “Louis Bloom” in Nightcrawler
  5. James McAvoy as “Conor Ludlow” in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him
  6. Philip Seymour Hoffman as “Günther Bachmann” in A Most Wanted Man
  7. Andy Serkis as “Caesar” in Dawn of the Planet of the Ape
  8. Jim Broadbent as “Nick” in Le Week-End
  9. Joaquin Phoenix as “Bruno Weiss” in The Immigrant & “Doc” in Inherent Vice
  10. Ben Affleck as “Nick Dunn” in Gone Girl

Actress pic ActressBanner

  1. Marion Cotillard as “Ewa Cybulska” in The Immigrant as “Sandra” in Two Days, One Night
  2. Gugu Mbatha-Raw as “Noni” in Beyond the Lights & as “Dido Elizabeth Belle” in Belle
  3. Amy Adams as “Margaret Keane” in Big Eyes
  4. Essie Davies as “Amelia” in The Babadook
  5. Agata Kuleszka as “Wanda” & Agata Trzebuchowska as “Ida” in Ida
  6. Jessica Chastain as “Eleanor Rigby” in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her
  7. Scarlett Johansson as “The Female” in Under the Skin
  8. Rosamund Pike as “Amy Dunn” in Gone Girl
  9. Keira Knightley as “Gretta” in Begin Again
  10. Lindsay Duncan as “Meg” in Le Week-End

S.Actor S.ActorBanner

  1. Toby Kebbell as “Koba” in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  2. J.K. Simmons as “Fletcher” in Whiplash
  3. Edward Norton as “Mike” in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  4. Noah Wiseman as “Samuel” in The Babadook
  5. Ben Kingsley as “Archibald Snatcher” in The Boxtrolls
  6. Tom Wilkinson as “President Lyndon B. Johnson” in Selma
  7. Alex Lawther as “Young Alan Turing” in The Imitation Game
  8. Willem Dafoe as “Tommy Brue” in A Most Wanted Man
  9. Jeff Goldblum as “Morgan” in Le Week-End
  10. Tyler Perry as “Tanner Bolt” in Gone Girl

S. Actress S.ActressBanner

  1. Julianne Moore as “Havana Segrand” in Maps to the Stars
  2. Renee Russo as “Nina Romina” in Nightcrawler
  3. Tilda Swinton as “Mason” in Snowpiercer
  4. Patricia Arquette as “Mom” in Boyhood
  5. Carmen Ejogo as “Coretta Scott King” in Selma
  6. Melanie Linskey as “Beatrice in Over the Garden Wall
  7. Minnie Driver as “Macy Jean” in Beyond the Lights
  8. Carrie Coon as “Margo Dunne” & Kim Dickens as “Detective Rhonda Boney” in Gone Girl
  9. Melissa McCarthy as “Maggie” & Naomi Watts as “Daka” in St. Vincent
  10. Rosario Dawson as “Chelsea Brown” in Top Five

O.Screenplay O.ScreenplayBanner

  1. The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson
  2. Two Days, One Night by Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
  3. The Babadook by Jennifer Kent
  4. Nightcrawler by Dan Gilroy
  5. Calvary by John Michael McDonagh
  6. The Immigrant by James Gray & Richard Menello
  7. Ida by Pawel Pawlikowski & Rebecca Lenkiewicz
  8. Song of the Sea by William Collins
  9. Dear White People by Justin Simien
  10. Only Lovers Left Alive by Jim Jarmusch

A. Screenplay A.ScreenplayBanner

  1. Under the Skin by Walter Campbell & Jonathan Glazer, based on the novel by Michel Farber
  2. A Most Wanted Man by Andrew Bovell, based on the novel by John LeCarré
  3. The Fault in Our Stars by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Webber, based on the novel by John Green
  4. Paddington by Paul King, based on the characters created by Michael Bond
  5. Inherent Vice by Paul Thomas Anderson based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon
  6. The Boxtrolls by Irena Brignul & Adam Pava, based on the book “Here Be Monsters!” by Alan Snow
  7. The Double by Richard Ayoade & Avi Korine, based on the novel by Fyodor Dostoevski
  8. Big Hero 6 by Jordan Roberts, Robert L. Baird, & Daniel Gerson, based on the characters created by Man of Action
  9. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, based on her novel
  10. The Lego Movie by Phil Lord & Chris Miller, inspired by the toys.

Cin pic cinBanner

  1. Inherent Vice & Nightcrawler
  2. Ida
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  4. Under the Skin
  5. The Immigrant & Magic in the Moonlight
  6. Big Eyes
  7. The Guest
  8. Selma & A Most Dangerous Year
  9. Calvary
  10. God Help the Girl

costume pic costumeBanner

  1. Inherent Vice
  2. Dear White People
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  4. Magic in the Moonlight
  5. God Help the Girl
  6. Big Eyes
  7. Only Lovers Left Alive
  8. The Boxtrolls
  9. The Guest
  10. Gone Girl

editing pic editingBanner

  1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  2. Whiplash
  3. Under the Skin
  4. Boyhood
  5. The Guest
  6. Nightcrawler
  7. Interstellar
  8. Selma
  9. Edge of Tomorrow
  10. The LEGO Movie

makeup pic makeupBanner

  1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy
  3. Under the Skin
  4. Snowpiercer
  5. Only Lovers Left Alive

score pic scoreBanner

  1. Inherent Vice by Johnny Greenwood (Outstanding track)
  2. Interstellar by Hans Zimmer (Outstanding track)
  3. Song of the Sea by Bruno Coulais (Outstanding track)
  4. The Guest by Steve Moore (Outstanding track)
  5. The Grand Budapest Hotel by Alexandre Desplat (Outstanding track)
  6. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya by Joe Hisaishi (Outstanding track)
  7. Under the Skin by Mica Levi (Outstanding track)
  8. Cheatin’ by Nicole Renaud (Outstanding track)
  9. The LEGO Movie by Mark Mothersbaugh (Outstanding track)
  10. Only Lovers Left Alive by Jozef Van Wissem & SQURL (Outstanding track)

song pic songBanner

  1. I’ll Have to Dance With Cassie” from God Help the Girl
  2. Everything is Awesome” from The LEGO Movie
  3. Hal” from Only Lovers Left Alive
  4. Glory” from Selma
  5. Grateful” from Beyond the Lights
  6. Like a Fool” from Begin Again
  7. Yellow Flicker Beat” from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
  8. I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me”
  9. I Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)” from Muppets Most Wanted
  10. Immortals” from Big Hero 6

prod pic prodBanner

  1. The LEGO Movie
  2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  3. Inherent Vice
  4. Paddington
  5. The Immigrant
  6. The Boxtrolls
  7. Snowpiercer
  8. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  9. Big Hero 6
  10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

sound pic soundBanner

  1. Under the Skin
  2. Godzilla
  3. Fury
  4. Whiplash
  5. How to Train Your Dragon 2
  6. The LEGO Movie
  7. Planes: Fire & Rescue
  8. Big Hero 6
  9. Edge of Tomorrow
  10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

fx picfxBanner

  1. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  2. Under the Skin
  3. Godzilla
  4. Interstellar
  5. Paddington
  6. Lucy
  7. Noah
  8. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  9. 300: Rise of an Empire
  10. Edge of Tomorrow

ensemble pic EnsembleBanner

  1. Selma
  2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  3. Paddington
  4. Pride
  5. Boyhood
  6. Inherent Vice
  7. Dear White People
  8. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
  9. Calvary
  10. Maps to the Stars

debut pic debutBanner

  1. Jennifer Kent, The Babadook
  2. Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
  3. Ned Benson, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
  4. Justin Simien, Dear White People
  5. Stuart Murdoch, God Help the Girl

surprise DLego

The LEGO Movie

disappoint Dwoods

Into the Woods

DHobbit

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

fail DSabotage

Sabotage

Underrated DMuppets

Muppets Most Wanted

overrated DBirdman

Birdman

DGuardians

Guardians of the Galaxy

Moments

  • When Benny finally builds his spaceship in The LEGO Movie
  • The chase down the mountain in The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The finale of Whiplash
  • When Godzilla finally uses his atomic breath in Godzilla
  • The scenes in the water planet in Interstellar
  • When Hayao Miyazaki and company take a seemingly throw-away thought of casting Hideaki Anno into an exciting possibility in The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

Line

You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh, fuck it” -M. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), The Grand Budapest Hotel

“I thought we had Cate Blanchett.“- Jenko (Channing Tatum) in 22 Jump Street

shots noahshot

Noah

kaguyaShot

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

GodzillaShot

Godzilla

apesShot

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

immigrant shot

The Immigrant

CropperCapture[8]

Top Five

GGshot

Gone Girl

Single singcost

Under the Skin (Costumes by Steven Noble)

CostuFun

The Guest (Birthday suit by Mother Nature)

poster apesPoster soundtrack

soundtrack girlSoundtrack GuestSoundtrack InherentSoundtrack lightsSoundtrack WorstBanner

  1. The Equalizer– It asks us to cheer for endless, gratuitous, and extreme violence after the main character runs out of reasons to use it after his first five kills. Not only that, but it has zero artistic value.
  2. Exodus: Gods and Kings– The best FX, costumes, and sets that money can buy can’t do anything for Ridley Scott’s lazy vision.
  3. Hercules– The visuals and the script tell me it’s supposed to be pure camp. The direction tells me I’m supposed to take it seriously. The performances told me no one ever wanted to make it in the first place.
  4. Transcendence– A visually incompetent, ideologically stupid, lifeless slog. Made me wish celluloid would die so that Wally Pfister would end his career.
  5. Fading Gigolo– In theory a film where Woody Allen plays John Turturro’s pimp sounds like a fun time. But you know what isn’t a fun time? Shameless misogyny.
  6. What If– Unlikable characters doing stupid stuff while uttering the most cringe-worthy dialogue.
  7. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit– I honestly don’t remember anything else about this other than Keira Knightley’s horrid American Accent.
  8. Wish I Was Here– Zach Braff is sad, his dad is dying, his daughter shaves her head, his brother is a furry, and his wife is being sexually harassed at work, and everything is okay after a quirky animated sequence. I honestly have no idea what this was trying to achieve.
  9. Magic in the Moonlight– Neither the handsome production values or Emma Stone’s lovely work can distract us from the creepy romance and the paper-thin story.
  10. The Judge– It can’t decide whether it’s a comedy, a thriller, or a heartwarming father-son story, and as a result it’s tonally jarring mess (incest is funny!). Also, it features a mentally-challenged character character that only pops up when emotions need to be stirred and is then forgetting about

And that is that for 2014! My rankings will no doubt change with repeat viewings and as I watch films that I missed, so head on over to Letterboxd to see my complete rankings of every 2014 film that I saw and that’s where any further changes will be made. So I hope you enjoyed this, and share your thoughts on the comments section.

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