While 2014 may have passed, that does not mean you can’t still enjoy these top films of last year.
By W.A. Clarke
2014 was a year that brought us an untold number of great films, so making this list of my favorites was anything but easy. Undoubtedly, there are some amazing films that I did not spend time analyzing or have not seen yet, but you can find those at the end of this article in the honorable mentions.
Gone Girl – Anyone who bumped into me post-Gone Girl October got an earful of what I had to say about Fincher’s latest and the brilliance of his direction. I don’t really need to delve into the twisty plot to talk about how David Fincher essentially sabotaged the look, the score, the performances, and the dubbed-over dialogue of the first hour of Gone Girl just to pummel your predictions into smithereens. That aside, it’s probably the most romantic movie about marriage in an economic recession you’ve ever seen.
Birdman – Side-splitting, philosophical, and technically-dizzying, Birdman is doubly an ode to the theatre and to cinema that sees the fourth-wall-lessness, audience-centric realm of theatre imbue the characteristics of Birdman. The movie (quite literally) follows several members of a stage play as well as its wonderfully delirious writer/director/star, during the most critical days before its opening night. Career-best performances from several of its all-star cast, supplemented by virtuosic cinematography, editing, and direction. It’s the most fun cinematic “experience” you’ll have this side of Enter the Void.
The Rover – Look, I understand the institutional purpose of things like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB, but now and again you’ll see critics throwing their shit at a wall, none of which sticks, but reinforces the idea of seeing something for yourself. And very rarely does something as pure and feral as The Rover enter our theatres, so it’s now that I must take a stand for this movie. Not the tiniest fraction of an ounce of fat exists in the 1 hour, 43 minutes we watch Guy Pierce and Robert Pattinson navigate post-society Australian landscapes; every snarl from Pierce, every tic from Pattinson, every single boulder and arid roadside desert photographed in The Rover is put to use towards a powerful, sentimental end. It’s not so cerebral as to put you into a coma—the whole simmers with the promise (and more than occasional fulfillment) of violence—and the two performances by its stars are enough for at least one essential viewing. If this doesn’t prove Pattinson to be infinitely more competent than his past Twilight endeavors, nothing ever will, period.
Interstellar – … Okay. So you stand there, running out of fingers on your hands to keep up with why you so ferociously disliked Christopher Nolan’s space epic, including but not limited to: Anne Hathaway, Casey Affleck, and Matt Damon’s characters; McConnaughey’s dialogue; the movie’s length; the “inexplicable” call for McConnaughey’s character to space; the perceived messiness of the structure. It’s almost too powerful an urge for me to not tell you, “Haters gonna hate, ain’ters gonna ain’t,” but I’ll bite my lip. For what it’s worth, Interstellar—which is not a perfect movie—soars in so many elements that make it vastly superior to most other blockbusters. In an age of “convoluted blockbusters” and franchise filmmaking, Interstellar proves its straightforward plot is all it needs to fashion an impeccably acted, impeccably designed movie. Although the film tends to undulate between earth and space quite a bit, though I wouldn’t call it messy (what’s a time-travel movie without some alternating storylines), the film is refreshingly simple in terms of story and theme. So I allow the Chosen One conceit of McConnaughey’s astronaut character because I want him to save his kids. The dialogue is sometimes goofy, but then again, I don’t look to science fiction to be the most articulate genre anyway. And I for one awed at the inventive use of the IMAX format with the film’s intimate, crisp close-ups. Interstellar presents an incredible ride, and all it requires you to want to go on the journey with it.
Nightcrawler – Devilishly entertaining and terrifying at once, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a nerve-ending of a man in a hyper-tense action/drama about the morally corrupt American dream. Feeling akin to Drive in terms of action sequences, seductive night mood, and LA scenery, Nightcrawler grabs you and never lets go. Punishingly long sequences of unbridled stress are punctuated by a sarcastic sense of humor in one of the most fun, feel bad movies of 2014.
Under the Skin – An incredible achievement in thorough subversion of performance, camera work, and most importantly casting, Under the Skin removes us from humanity, and later shows us how to be human. It’s a strange request, but I whole-heartedly recommend reading about the production of the movie, especially regarding the use of non-actors and hidden cameras in the film. It only makes the events and the scenes leading up to them more horrifying. Hypnotic images and a memorable score weave together a sci-fi masterwork that is as unique and hype-worthy as all the movie publications make it out to be. It’s truly and profoundly an artistic, cinematic treasure.
There’s a striking number of foreign features of 2014 missing from this list, but that’s because there’s a striking number of movies not getting wide releases or releases at all in 2014. Stay tuned for part two. Until then, below is a list of honorable mentions & films I have yet to see – Boyhood, Blue Ruin, Snowpiercer, White God, Force Majeure, Whiplash, Nymphomaniac, Selma.
W.A. Clarke is a filmmaker based out of Central Florida. He has worked on several notable feature films and enjoys discussing the nuances of the filmmaking process.