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Jared Mobarak’s Top 10 Films of 2014

Written by on December 31, 2014 

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I don’t want to label 2014 as a good, bad, or average year. I want to call it inventive, original, and delightfully dark. Whether it’s doppelgänger paradoxes leading to murderous rage, the bleak carnage of war, prison violence, or psychologically debilitating struggles to be great, my favorite films had an edge that cut to the bone by credits’ end.

I’ve yet to catch a bunch of the acting biggies like Mr. Turner, Still Alice, Foxcatcher, or Cake, but I’m not sure any would replace what I’ve listed below, no matter how good the central performances. No, the ones I regret seeing before the end of the year are A Most Violent Year, The Better Angels, Blue Ruin, and Nymphomaniac — work with the potential to get the heart pumping, both aesthetically and emotionally.

The best thing I can say about 2014 is that my top ten (heck, maybe my top twenty-five) could be re-organized and re-listed without making me too angry about what is mentioned before my #1 pick (that one stays right where it is). So maybe it was a good year after all.

Honorable Mentions

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10. Starred Up (David Mackenzie)

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This film is fierce and unapologetic — two things I can’t help but find myself investing in, no matter what the subject matter might be in the end. Jack O’Connell is a a wreaking ball; Ben Mendelsohn a conflicted father learning far too late what such a title means once reunited with his son behind the bars of a maximum security prison. The evolution screenwriter Jonathan Asser gives his characters in so short a time is an impossible feat that only someone who experienced such a world in real life could even dream to complete. When the system is rigged, you do what you can to survive it. Often times, however, it’s never enough.

9. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)

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Richard Linklater‘s twelve-year-long passion project earns a spot on this list for its sheer scope alone. The confidence to set a movie in motion with a shooting schedule spanning longer than a decade and two unproven child actors at its center is unimaginable. Sure, it doesn’t necessarily say much beyond those universal truths about adolescence that we’ve all experienced (because that’s not important), but it does so with a level of honesty you cannot manufacture during a two-month production. Add an unforgettable turn from Patricia Arquette as the mother doing what she can to give her children a good life, and we’re for all intents and purposes shown our America in its full, tragically optimistic glory.

8. Fury (David Ayer)

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For all who label it too brutal or too redundant compared to an ever-increasing catalog of authentic war dramas: shut up. With quite possibly the best ensemble cast of 2014 anchored by a supporting actor Oscar nomination-caliber performance from Logan Lerman, I was on the edge of my seat throughout. Fury, like 2009’s Lebanon, is less about the war or the vehicle wearing the film’s title proudly as it is the men packed within a ticking bomb. It’s a character-driven work expertly written to allow each actor room to deliver as much substance by expression as words. A devastating two-plus hours at the movies.

7. Coherence (James Ward Byrkit)

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A massively overlooked gem from 2014, Coherence is the cream of the science fiction crop whether my next two selections accompany them within the genre or not. It’s a bona fide head-scratcher bringing the Schrodinger’s Cat conundrum (popularized in The Big Bang Theory) to life before our eyes. A working knowledge of the physics definition of the title definitely helps get a foothold closer to solving its mysteries, but this puzzle of doppelgängers, coded boxes, and quasi-time travel delights in its impenetrability, too. It also proves how a great film isn’t just about A-list stars or big budgets. All you need to manufacture a suspense thriller spanning infinite dimensions is a single set.

6. Enemy (Denis Villeneuve)

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A24 had a memorable year with a massive slate topped by this and my following entry. The afterthought at TIFF 2013 with director Villeneuve also bringing Prisoners to light, Enemy is the one that stuck in my mind long after it ended. Darkly sinister, with a central mystery you’ll have to decipher for yourself, Jake Gyllenhaal provides a physical manifestation of the good and bad angel on everyone’s shoulder. He might not be as crazed as he is in Nightcrawler, but the ferocity bubbling underneath his nice-guy façade is definitely present. Oh, and how about that spider?

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