The 20 Best Movies Of 2014
As much as we loved last year's slate of film releases (particularly Frances Ha, an LAist staff favorite), what's impressive is that this year brought us an even stronger and highly diverse batch of films that blow last year out of the water. Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!
(Films eligible for this list received at least a theatrical run in New York in 2014. Where applicable, click on the film's title for our review of the film from earlier this year.)
1. Snowpiercer [directed by Bong Joon-ho]
A well-oiled, high-performance machine of a film, Korean director Bong Joon-ho's English-language crossover is a nearly perfect blend of ass-kicking action, a blunt parable of capitalism's failure, and sci-fi gonzo eccentricity. On top of all that, you have Captain America himself (Chris Evans) ditching the Red-White-and-Blue to lead a revolt of the proletariat. Harvey Weinstein (of course) did whatever he could to torpedo the film's success in the United States, but audiences took immediately to Bong's latest masterpiece as it became a sleeper hit.
2. Stray Dogs [directed by Tsai Ming-liang]
The darling of the festival circuit last year, Stray Dogs marks the supposed farewell from Tsai Ming-liang, one of the vanguards of the Taiwanese art cinema. Stray Dogs is an strange marvel of a film, likely only suitable for those that have a palate for the slow and contemplative. But if you're game, it's easy to get lost in the dreamlike trance of Stray Dogs, a reserved yet angry depiction of the futility of poverty. (Stray Dogs received a theatrical run only in New York back in September. The Cinema Guild will release it on DVD/Blu-ray in January.)
3. In Bloom [directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili & Simon Gross]
A startling and exciting debut feature, Nana Ekvtimishvili dives back into her own personal history as an adolescent in the early days of Georgian (the former Soviet Republic, not The Peach State) independence to tell this story of the coming of age of women and a young country in a world of violence. Lika Babluani gives a strong performance the steadfast and defiant Eka, whose dance in In Bloom one of the most arresting moments to be seen on the screen this past year.
4. The Missing Picture [directed by Rithy Panh]
The film that should have won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the last Academy Awards (losing to the ghastly and godawful The Great Beauty), Rithy Panh's personal documentary of life during genocide is a heartbreaking and poetic work of poignancy. With Pol Pot having ordered the destruction of photographic evidence of the Khmer Rouge's atrocities, Panh relies on his memories and clay figurines to reconstruct his family and nation's tragedy.
5. John Wick [directed by Chad Stahelski & David Leitch]
Snowpiercer is the best action movie of the year, but John Wick has the best action at the theaters this year. With fistfights and gunplay shot, choreographed and edited with so much beautiful clarity, it's practically ballet. First-time directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch are both stuntmen by trade, and it shows.
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel [directed by Wes Anderson]
"There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity," says M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge of the grandest hotel in its own fictional Europe. Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel, his finest film in a decade, applies the director's trademark whimsy to a longing for the decadence of Europe's past before the rise of fascism. But Grand Budapest Hotel asserts that Naziism is merely a natural progression of Pater Europae, built on the back of colonialism, which makes its nostalgia that much more stinging.
7. Listen Up Philip [directed by Alex Ross Perry]
A brutal, necessary, and hilarious takedown of the male ego in the age of #Gamergate. But Listen Up Philip shines most when it turns its attention to the woman emerging from the shadows of that Great Man, freeing herself of the shackles of another's toxic narcissism and getting a really cute cat in the process. "Bye Philip, I don't like you."
8. Inherent Vice [directed by Paul Thomas Anderson]
A madcap and zany caper of conspiracies and paranoia undercut with the sadness of California Dreamin' fading away as the smoke clears from the last remnants of that bowl smoked in the back seat of a 1968 Dodge Dart. Groovy.
9. The Immigrant [directed by James Gray]
They don't make 'em like they used to, but James Gray does. The most unheralded of the contemporary American masters, Gray's cinema is a throwback to a mode of classicism that is anamalous in the era of the blockbuster. Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jeremy Renner all give tremendous performances in this 1920s-set melodrama, a golden-hued (courtesy of cinematographer Darius Khondji) examination of the myth of the American Dream that, itself, feels quite mythic to watch.
10. Goodbye To Language 3D [directed by Jean-Luc Godard]
For most viewers, making heads or tails of whatever Jean-Luc Godard is talking about in his films anymore is impossible. But even those that are tired of the 84-year old director's cranky whims will admit that Goodbye To Language 3D shows that he still has a few cards up his sleeve. His innovative use of 3-D will amaze even naysayers of the gimmicky technology, as it'll be truly unlike anything one has ever seen in a movie theater. Plus his dog, Roxy Miéville, is pretty cute. (In Los Angeles, Goodbye To Language 3D will play at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica from January 23-29)
11. We Are The Best! [directed by Lukas Moodysson]
Punk has long been the dissonant outpost for young antagonistic men, in the highly pleasurable We Are The Best! it serves as the bond between three girls in 1980's Sweden navigating the worlds of adolescence, puppy love, and friendship.
12. Gone Girl [directed by David Fincher]
David Fincher made gold out of trash, turning a poorly-written bestseller into another one of his dark tomes of misanthropy. A love story of two sociopaths clearly meant for each other, soundtracked by yet another fantastic Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross score that turns perfectly sweet in moments that would only be considered tender in the worldview of Gone Girl. See it with someone you love.
13. Dear White People [directed by Justin Simien]
A sharp, audacious debut feature of racial identity and perception that juggles more it can handle, yet still emerges as a triumph. Director Justin Simien is a talent to watch.
14. The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya [directed by Isao Takahata]
Last year's The Wind Rises was the farewell from Hayao Miyazaki, but 2014 also saw the goodbye of a fellow master animator from Studio Ghibli. A femmed-up twist on Japan's oldest folk tale, Isao Takahata's The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya, much like The Immigrant above, feels like a stately throwback in the modern era of movies. Its hand-drawn animation looks like watercolors come to life; the act of sprinting has never looked more expressive.
15. Under The Skin [directed by Jonathan Glazer]
Under The Skin is a better 2001: A Space Odyssey tribute than Interstellar, though it never leaves the confines of Earth's atmosphere. Scarlett Johnasson bares all in her strangest and best role to date, channeling her disconnected disposition and otherworldly beauty into the role of an alien experiencing our own world for the first time. It's a daring film that doesn't succeed with every chance it takes, but damn if it isn't simply awesome (in the Merrian-Webster sense of the word) to watch it try.
16. Boyhood [directed by Richard Linklater]
The passage of time as defined by what makes up the bulk of that experience, its smallest moments and finding the beauty within.
17. Closed Curtain [directed by Jafar Panahi & Kambuzia Partovi]
If Jafar Panahi, under house arrest in Iran and technically banned from filmmaking for 20 years, let out a rebel yell with the incredible This Is Not A Film, then Closed Curtain is the reckoning with the darkness and despair from being forced away from what you love most. Heartbreaking.
18. It Felt Like Love [directed by Eliza Hittman]
Like In Bloom above, another promising debut from a female voice also telling the story of a woman coming of age. It Felt Like Love broaches a subject too taboo for most, the burgeoning sexuality of a 13-year-old girl, with a brutal honesty and an artful approach.
19. Fifi Howls From Happiness [directed by Mitra Farahani]
Bahman Mohassess, an Iranian artist that spent most of his life and career in willful obscurity, would have gone quietly into the night had it not been for director Mitra Farahani seeking the mercurial artist out and making him the reluctant subject of this brilliant documentary, part last testament and part video essay.
20. Beyond The Lights [directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood]
Another rarity in today's Hollywood, a sincerely romantic drama about two black individuals (not archetypes) that also examines the external perceptions from the society they inhabit. An understated gem that never got the audience it deserved.Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order): American Sniper (Clint Eastwood), The Dance Of Reality (Alejandro Jodorowsky), Love Is Strange (Ira Sachs), Manakamana (Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez), National Gallery (Frederick Wiseman), Non-Stop (Jaume Collet-Serra), Palo Alto (Gia Coppola), The Strange Little Cat (Ramon Zürcher), Stranger By The Lake (Alain Guiraudie)