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Bill Graham’s Top 10 Films of 2014

Written by on December 31, 2014 


Top 10 lists from critics groups usually have a tendency to eliminate oddities and mellow out the field. But when you have personal selections, like many of my colleagues at The Film Stage are constructing, anything can sneak in. While you’ll likely see some familiar selections here, I think I have one or two of those oddities that will hopefully lead to people seeking them out and finding something worthwhile. I have yet to catch a few of the big-name releases simply because they haven’t screened in my area, but I feel that, with over 250 new films screened in theaters or through screeners, I have witnessed enough of the cinematic offerings this year to give a solid viewpoint. Enjoy my list and realize that, despite none making my list this year, I do love animated films.

Honorable Mentions


10. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)


Wes Anderson has a unique voice that, by this point, viewers are either going to enjoy or outright reject. He’s a divisive filmmaker because his quirky charms rely on a sense of humor that will define the hyper reality he creates. While The Grand Budapest Hotel has nearly all of his key attributes, it also deftly adds a sense of real menace through Willem Dafoe’s character. There’s also a beautiful current of nostalgia running throughout, while the use of different aspect ratios and painted backgrounds make this one of the most visually intriguing films in his pantheon. I was endlessly charmed and moved by the film, and rarely do I get both from Anderson’s work.

9. The One I Love (Charlie McDowell)


Blending the romantic comedy and a fantasy element with effortless aplomb, The One I Love is a striking feat for feature-debut director Charlie McDowell and screenwriter Justin Lader. The duo seem to feed off of each other, and they’ve come up with a premise that is as slick and efficient as it is surprisingly deep. Sure, the film plays in ambiguities, but the performances from Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss elevate this charming film that should turn into quite the debate if watched amongst friends or family.

8. Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund)


By now the hype for Force Majeure is akin to the controlled avalanches that pepper the backdrop of this insightful relationship dramedy. While a couple and their two children are vacationing in the French alps, an unfortunate event reveals a character trait in the husband that drives a wedge between the couple. There is a feverish haze hanging over the characters in this idyllic setting that helps to increase the all-too-familiar unease of when a relationship is on the brink. The film smartly builds its drama to the point that when things finally boil over you want to search for an escape that never comes. While it might have gone down the route of the expected, it’s instead twists and turns that make this a welcome exploration of masculinity and what it takes to make a relationship work.

7. Mommy (Xavier Dolan)


Writer-director Xavier Dolan’s characters in Mommy rarely feel like people you’d want to spend any length of time with, which is precisely why the film is so affecting. Each have their own unique quirks that make them entirely human and draw you in. You root for them to succeed, and Dolan takes a twisted joy in breaking them in various ways. This is a richly affecting film about the notion of controlling your own life when your child, your responsibility, seems hell-bent on derailing it. Easy answers aren’t given, and there’s a key moment in the film that rings incredibly hollow — a feeling taken away just when you actually bite into the lure. Dolan’s work is moving and painfully beautiful, with astounding performances throughout.

6. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)


What does it take to be truly great at something? Whether it is the idea of 10,000 hours popularized by Malcom Gladwell or something simply God-given, the idea is rich and fertile territory for fiction and non-fiction alike because there is no precise answer. In Whiplash, director Damien Chazelle explores the idea of perfection in the world of jazz drumming, an odd setting to most people’s minds. Yet here he makes it plain that, with the right mentor, anything unassuming can become intensely confrontational. J.K. Simmons plays the maniacal teacher and band leader Terence Fletcher at a prestigious music school where Miles Teller’s Andrew hopes to become first drum. Blood, sweat, tears, and relationships are all things Andrew is willing to part with in his steadfast determination to become one of the greatest jazz drummers under Fletcher’s watch. With precise camerawork, we become familiar enough with drumming that we can recognize the high bar and the way Andrew sets out to achieve it. Intensely shot, with a focused and rapturous finale, Whiplash is a film that will have your heart racing and make you wonder how far you might push if you thought greatness was on the horizon.

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