Every December I take the time to tally up the total number of released films I’ve seen for the previous year. I use Mike D’Angelo’s well-maintained NYC master list as a guide. It’s never as high a number as I want it to be.
I think I should be seeing some sixty to seventy current films a year. Last year I saw fifty-one films. This year I saw thirty-five. So, quite a bit off the mark, but there’s always next year.
Of those thirty-five films, though, some cream did rise to the top. So here they are, the ten 2014 films I liked the most.
1. The Dance of Reality, Alejandro Jodorowsky
How strange that, after a nearly two-and-half decade hiatus from filmmaking, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s newest film was overshadowed by Jodorowsky’s Dune, a documentary (that I haven’t seen) covering his failed attempt to bring Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel to the big screen in the 1970s.1 I understand the fascination with projects that never were, but if viewers have to pick, they should seek out the octogenarian director’s latest film. His advanced age be damned, The Dance of Reality has more verve for life than any other film I watched this year. Be warned, though, this autobiographical story is decidedly an “after dark” picture. It’s gross and strange and lovely and a wonder to behold. You’re not likely to see anything else like anytime soon.
2. Boyhood, Richard Linklater
I’m not above admitting that part of what’s so impressive about Richard Linklater’s chronicle of a boy’s life is that he pulled it off at all. But just rising to the occasion isn’t always enough; Boyhood actually holds up. There are scenes that affected me in ways I didn’t expect. Linklater instills scenes with senses of childlike wonderment and irrational dread, which are reminders of the positives and negatives that we’re only young once.
3. Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Alejandro G. Iñárritu
If Boyhood is impressive for its temporal expanse, Birdman is impressive for its spatial economy. Taking place (mostly) in a single Broadway theater and unfolding in (mostly) a single take, Iñárritu’s film is at times brutalizing. It’s full of fast-talking and always moving characters (think Sorkin walk-and-talk taken to its logical conclusion) that are hard to love but fun to watch. I’m not impressed by all long takes by virtue of their being difficult, however, Emmanuel Lubezki’s wandering camera is a thing of beauty.
4. Gone Girl, David Fincher
Though probably not winning over any niche title design awards, Fincher’s latest had me from the get go with the incredibly simple opening credits. It’s just well-paced still images with fading words on top, but it immediately sets up the thriller to come. Trust no one, not even words. Having not read Gillian Flynn’s novel, I went into the film completely blind. It’s an excellent, taut, thriller. Hitchcockian. Fincherian. Duh.
5. Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch
Easily the most rock and roll film of the year. Happy to see anyone, least of all Jarmusch, riffing on the vampire romance genre. Let’s call it the thinking person’s Twilight.
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson
This one’s up there for my favorite Wes Anderson film. He’s a director I don’t usually enjoy, but this story dovetails nicely with his usual twee bag of tricks. There are so many things done right in The Grand Budapest Hotel, but each achievement stands in the shadows of the mighty Ralph Fiennes. His is one of those performances that one could never imagine, could never see come to life from reading a script alone. It’s a beautiful, tender and towering outing for him. The whole ball of yarn unravels without his nailing it.
7. Policeman, Nadav Lapid
I saw Policeman at the New York Film Festival in 2011, when I called it one of the best undistributed films of the year. It finally saw a small US release this year, so it makes the list. Here’s what I had to say about it in a piece about Israeli Oscar contenders:
Policeman is a slow, haunting story that depicts the separate travails of both an anti-terrorism police officer and a small band of Israeli extremists. Through acts of violence, the one swears to protect what Israel stands for while the other vows to change it by any means necessary.
8. Non-Stop, Jaume Collet-Serra
Okay, so it’s a Liam Neeson action film on a plane. There’s, decidedly, a lot of silliness in this film, but the plot is astonishingly good. Trust me on this one.
9. Neighbors, Nicholas Stoller
The comedy chops of Zac Efron and Rose Byrne come out in unexpected ways here. Joke after joke hit dead on target.
10. Edge of Tomorrow, Doug Liman
Solid sci-fi that feels like a videogame, but I don’t hate it. Groundhog Day with guns and aliens.