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Brian Roan’s Top 10 Films of 2014

Written by on December 31, 2014 

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)

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Wes Anderson has a certain picture-book aesthetic that people tend to either love or hate, but he rarely (if ever) really makes excuses or justifications for his continued work in that vein. This movie, however, serves as a kind of bold declaration of purpose while at the same time pushing his signature visual style to its limit. The immaculate compositions and impeccable symmetrical tableaux stylings contrast vividly and entertainingly with the violence, language, and mayhem on display. Ralph Fiennes balances his character like an expert conductor in front of a precision orchestra, deftly layering emotions and actions and motivations and bringing to the fore those that best serve the scene. A delight.

4. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)

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There are a lot of expectations related to film, especially certain genre titles, and Under the Skin defies all of them. Formal convention-busting aside, this is a movie with so many layers and possible subtexts that books could and probably will be written about it. Scarlett Johansson delivers a performance that is literally transformative, alien, and alienating. The way she delves into the dawning consciousness and conscience of an alien is transfixing. Add on to that the formal accomplishment of a car outfitted with hidden cameras to capture her spontaneous, improvised interactions with actual people on the streets of Scotland, and you can’t deny the accomplishment that is this film.

3. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)

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Speaking of formal accomplishments, any list of exemplary film experiments from 2014 would be remiss to overlook Boyhood, the 12-years-in-the-making project from Richard Linklater. In Ellar Coltrane he found the perfect conduit for the story of a boy growing into young adulthood. Filled with small details both universal and deeply personal, this film is a perfect and unerring examination of the slow decay of innocence into experience. Never showy, and always emotionally honest and true to a fault, Boyhood is a work that will stand for ages as a stunning exertion.

2. Ida (Paweł Pawlikowski)

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There’s something special about a film that can tackle religion and politics with a humanist perspective while seeming devoid of a specific outlook. The truth of these forces in our life is mystery enough without trying to decide what is right or wrong, and in Ida, Paweł Pawlikowski explores these topics with a deft hand. Using compositions that evoke the liminal stage of a spirit reaching a state of grace and a palette of ink and ash that muddies the usually stark images of black-and-white photography, this is a delicate, quiet, beautiful film that examines the mind and soul.

1. Enemy (Denis Villeneuve)

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Upwards of five or six views in the past year and I still cannot speak with any real authority as to what this film is actually saying, specifically, but I know what it is saying to me. The defiance of a clear, precise, true read on the material is just one reason to love this twisty, poisonous tale. Jake Gyllenhaal (appearing for the second time on this list in a lead role) flawlessly and effortlessly fills two parts, not so much sides of the same coin as two possibilities of a single man. The images — derived from the alien aspect of the Toronto skyline — both complement the themes and distance the viewer, as though these characters inhabit a distant planet. The piss-and-smoke color of the world only adds to the strangeness, and, mixed with the engrossing story and labyrinthine thematic implications of the action, it all creates the perfect storm of a film. Not to be missed, and never to be forgotten. Effortlessly the best of the year.

See our year-end features and more of the best of 2014.

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