I’m late to the program, I know—Mr. Turner (above) is not pleased with me. It’s currently January 24, 2015. Why haven’t I gotten my Top Ten of 2014 list together sooner? I have no excuses, but please, don’t hold that against me.
A few notes about this (half) list before I continue on:
- While the creation of Top Ten lists coincide with the announcement of cinema’s biggest awards (Golden Globes, Oscars, the various Guilds), I am not going to take those into consideration. Spoiler alert: my number one film is the subject of much Oscar buzz and discussion following a disappointing nomination tally. However, I’d like to think my adoration of the film craft extends beyond the HFPA and Academy’s (often incorrect) decision-making, and my appreciation/disdain thereafter.
- I do not keep a definitive list going all year long, therefore I am likely to make revisions when I realize I’ve left a masterpiece off of here.
- There are no documentaries on this list. Why? Because I did not see many documentaries this year. I am kicking myself for missing gems like Life Itself. Hey, we all have to recognize our blind spots, right?
Alright, here it is. My late-to-the-game, non-influential, and totally subjective Top Ten Films of 2014 (Part One):
10. Two Days, One Night (dir. Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
Spare and unflinching, the Dardenne Bros.’ wrenching and deceptively slight drama hit me hard when I saw it at New York Film Festival. The film follows Sandra (stellar Marion Cotillard) as she pleads with the very coworkers who recently decided to take a bonus rather than keep her on at work. It’s a strange, alienating concept, but one that allows for a complex, albeit brief, look at a petri dish of working-class Belgian life. Cotillard’s lived-in performance is the steady-yet-unstable through line in my favorite foreign language film of the year.
9. Gone Girl (dir. David Fincher)
This deliciously deviant thriller, superbly-adapted by Gillian Flynn—author of the best-selling novel— will raise your pulse and leave you feeling ill (in the best possible way). From the trippy, full-circle opening and closing shots to the inspired, dangerous blood shed on display, Fincher has crafted a truly disorienting and somehow convincing take on gender stereotypes that is both fresh and a true throwback. With a fabulous central performance from Rosamund Pike (and great supporting work from Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, and Tyler Perry), this wild ride is almost on par with Se7en, my favorite of Fincher’s filmography.
8. Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater)
It’s difficult to fault a film so ambitious and long in the making. Good thing Linklater’s crowning achievement is so damn good. Filmed over 12 successive years, Boyhood feels like a cohesive whole, bolstered by believable performances from adult leads Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. While some may find the lengthy runtime daunting and dawdling, I sat rapt in the everydayness, the incredibly relatable ins and outs of a family struggling to stick together even as they’re pulled in different directions. Though the film starts on a high note with Lorelei Linklater’s stirring rendition of Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time,” it just keeps moving, hitting peaks and valleys along the way. A singular and highly entertaining experience, to say the least.
7. How to Train Your Dragon 2 (dir. Dean Deblois)
Anyone who knows me knows that my love for this series has no bounds. While the first film is beautiful and daring in its own ways, HTTYD2 extends leaps and bounds beyond its predecessor, reckoning with Hiccup’s (Jay Baruchel) young adulthood by presenting him with his most difficult challenges yet, and expanding the animated environments far beyond where we ventured in part one. The gorgeous animation and incredible world-building belies the grim heart of the film, though. Its emotional climax, while I won’t spoil it here, forces Hiccup to learn forgiveness and self-worth, tasks unusual for the heroes of animated family films. Unusual makes for better in this case, as does the writing—sharp, funny, and eloquent—and the voice acting, superb throughout; Cate Blanchett really steals the show as Valka, a mysterious dragon rider who befriends Hiccup after he’s lost his way. The best sequence? An aerial ballet in which Valka hops between dragon wings, Hiccup in awe of her, accompanied by John Powell’s soaring Celtic score. It’s truly Miyazaki-level animation, y’all.
6. Mr. Turner (dir. Mike Leigh)
Mike Leigh’s superior biopic of J.M.W. Turner is superbly shot, meticulously designed, and terrifically acted. A film I was not terribly excited to see at NYFF, I ended up feeling captivated throughout. I found myself falling for the semi-disgusting, reclusive charms of Mr. Turner (Timothy Spall, the most evocative grunter I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch) as much as for his hazy, churning paintings. Despite his limited use of speech, the protagonist lends surprising weight to the film’s emotional beats—and there are quite a few—while also nailing the dark humor which Leigh writes so expertly. A delicacy of a film, Mr. Turner is a must-see biopic in a year rife with them.
Runner-Ups: Foxcatcher (dir. Bennett Miller), Obvious Child (dir. Gillian Robespierre), The Imitation Game (dir. Morten Tyldum), Whiplash (dir. Damien Chazelle), The Grand Budapest Hotel (dir. Wes Anderson), Ida (dir. Pawel Pawlikowski)
That’s it for now. I’ll be back tomorrow with my top five films of the year! ‘Til then, comment, share, and subscribe.