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Danny King’s Top 10 Films of 2014

Written by on December 31, 2014 

5. Jealousy (Philippe Garrel)

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This small, intimate, black-and-white, 77-minute film contains tracking shots that are as dynamic and kinetic as anything in Interstellar or Birdman or whatever your choice is for Most Epic Film of the Year. Watching Louis Garrel (the director’s son) and the deep-voiced Anna Mouglalis walking next to one another — their bodies colliding, their arms caressing — is a revelatory pleasure. My evaluation of Jealousy is hampered by the fact that it is my first Garrel film; had I seen more of his prior work going in, this could either be my #1 or my #10. Either way, it’s clearly the work of a mature voice.

4. Stray Dogs (Tsai Ming-liang)

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From my Village Voice capsule: “Stray Dogs is Tsai’s first digital feature, which allows him to stretch his technique — static long takes depicting static characters in frequently static environments — to agonizing lengths that wouldn’t be possible with film reels. The result is an extreme, compassionate magnification of the minutiae of second-to-second existence (brushing teeth, counting money). The duration of the takes reveals depths in [Lee Kang-sheng‘s] visage: A gesture as minor as leaning his head while taking a smoke exposes the crushing weight of his labor.”

3. Listen Up Philip (Alex Ross Perry)

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Wrote at length about this one for Reverse Shot. An excerpt: “What Philip doesn’t understand — and what he probably still doesn’t understand 108 minutes later, when Listen Up Philip ends — is that, after he triumphantly storms out of situations like these, the objects of his derision (whether it be Mona, Parker, or anyone else) will lick their wounds and go on with their lives. This leaves Philip on the outside, thinking he’s above it all, when he’s really the most pathetic character in his own life story. But this realization only slowly dawns on the viewer; for a while, Perry and [Jason] Schwartzman do a convincing job of dramatizing the nasty appeal of this kind of take-no-prisoners lifestyle.”

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)

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I saw this over nine months ago and loved it, but I couldn’t possibly say anything useful about it without watching it again. Allow me to cheat by offering this observation from Carson Lund: “What gives the film such poignancy is that its utopia is acknowledged as something elusive and illusory. Anderson erects four layers of temporal and psychological remove — girl in the park (modern times?), novelist (80s?), his younger self (60s?), and the older incarnation of lobby boy Zero Moustafa — to separate himself from the story proper…Grim historical realities (real or imagined) have hovered just beyond the contained, bittersweet surfaces of Anderson’s cinema before; here they are shown protruding into the plot.”

1. The Immigrant (James Gray)

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Four moments from The Immigrant: (1) Ewa Cybulska (Marion Cotillard) reaching for a shiv before falling asleep for the first time in the Lower East Side apartment of Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix); (2) Ewa chewing on an unpeeled banana in a steamy bathhouse, eliciting giggles from the naked women in the room; (3) Ewa swiping a bit of cash from a hat while out to dinner with Bruno and the other girls in his employ; (4) Ewa, while standing in front of a scuzzy mirror at Ellis Island, pricking her finger with a pin and using the blood for lipstick. In these moments, Gray’s classical style transcends the artifice of the situation — a fake character in a fake costume in a fake story — and achieves something close to the sublime. All we have is this woman and her split-second decisions, and they’re so real that I tear up just thinking about them.

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

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