« All Features

Nathan Bartlebaugh’s Top 10 Films of 2014

Written by on January 1, 2015 


Perhaps one of the best pleasures to be had in doing any “best of the year” list — regardless of the medium — is getting the opportunity to pore over just how good we had it. The film year of 2014, with its wealth of creative and ambitious output, benefits greatly from a glance backward, in the process digging up treasures large and small. For the first time in quite a few years, I found myself sorting through a list of some fifty films, and marveling all over again at the richness there.

If there’s anything particularly worth singling out and noting about the year itself, it’s that both audiences and filmmakers seemed more willing to indulge in bolder, experimental material. Even on the end of the blockbusters, we had more than a few full-bodied adventures — Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Snowpiercer, Noah and Interstellar — willing to gently push the envelope. Films like Selma and Mr. Turner appeared as prestige Oscar mongering from the outside, but delivered deep and resonant portraits of their respective subjects.

It was an exciting and invigorating twelve months that did not shy away from darkness or artistry, and it’s something of a miracle to find that of the films in the top ten, two are black-and-white, and three would be considered “horror.” If there’s a takeaway, though, it’s that each and every one of these movies challenged audiences on their own terms and delivered the kind of transporting experience only the best cinema can. Here’s to 2015; you’ve got a lot to live up to.

Honorable Mentions


10. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent) / Spring (Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead)


On the surface, both The Babadook and Spring look like traditional gothic horror set-ups; a desperate mother and son fighting against a boogeyman who might exist only in their minds, and a grieving young man finding that the love of his life and an ancient, unstoppable force are intertwined. It would be dismissively reductive, though, to call either Jennifer Kent or Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead good horror filmmakers; they are, first and foremost, great storytellers who just happen to be tapping into a very old and beloved genre. Understanding that terror is most strongly felt when in close proximity to love, Kent visually creates the fevered tension that comes with raising difficult children, while Benson and Moorehead use the kinetic and messy ambience of indie filmmaking to tell a transcendent, romantic fable that also doubles as a delightful monster movie. Putting character first, both emerge as the two creepiest film experiences I had this year.

9. Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu)


An energetic and invigorating exploration of the traps of art and commerce, Birdman connects in a way that Iñárritu’s previous films did not. There’s a playfulness and a passion in the one-take gimmick that draws the fraying edges of Michael Keaton’s Riggan Thompson together, and a previously absent wisdom in the way the marvelous supporting cast is used to populate the vibrating world that surrounds Birdman‘s harried actor. Much has been said about Keaton, and while it’s exciting to watch him stir to life, the film is nothing if not the sum of its parts, one of which is Emma Stone’s best performance to date. A beguiling treat that only grows with additional viewings, Birdman soars.

8. Ida (Paweł Pawlikowski)


The road ahead of Anna winds from the shielding walls of a convent to the wilderness of her previously unknown homestead, but Ida’s real journey is both spiritual and emotional, as much for the audience as the young protagonist . Pawlikowski, who established himself as a filmmaker to watch with My Summer of Love, takes his craft to another level altogether. The use of the black-and-white format is never a simple stylistic device, but an exploration of emotional history. Shadows and fog, movement and stillness, captured in starkly lovely compositions that delve into the national tragedy at the heart of Ida, making it one deeply personal to the central characters. There’s an austere patience and visual medievalism that recalls Ingmar Bergman, but Pawlikowski, the luminescent Agata Trzebuchowska as Anna / Ida and Agata Kulesza as her steely aunt, make Ida a ravishing original. Haunting and simultaneously redemptive, the film’s final shots are bitter-sweet, as they release us from such a captivating dream.

7. Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)


Speaking of Bergman, the spirit of the great director, and those of Chekhov and Tarkovsky, hovers watchfully over Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest Turkish epic. Following the long, winding, but endlessly rewarding Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Ceylan has returned with another massive yet patient exploration of human virtue and frailty, tied inextricably to the rugged Anatolian countryside. Within this swirling snow-globe, he’s honed his craft to a much more accessible — and ultimately emotionally revealing — experience, revolving around some of the most illuminating visual portraiture we’ve seen onscreen. Some movies happen to feature conversations; Winter Sleep is chained to them. But that’s a gift, not a prison sentence. Even the craggy silence has something to say in a Ceylan film.

6. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)


Silence, and the malice or empathy it might imply, sit at the uneasy center of Under the Skin, this year’s finest science fiction film. There’s a lingering dread hanging over the gloomy Scottish countryside where Skin takes place, but the implied internal landscape of the imagery — Scarlet Johansson’s reluctant alien tooling around Glasgow, ensnaring men for who knows what — is even more fascinating than Glazer’s hypnotic and breathtaking images. Kubrick is bound to come up, but the comparisons are apt; Under the Skin may have sprung from a novel, but it’s really a fever-dream of all of the ideas that typically populate pulp science fiction, drained of their sensationalism and presented to us as truly and uniquely alien. Proving that her idiosyncratic performance as the OS in last year’s Her was no fluke, Johansson once again makes casual humanity look legitimately shocking when seen through the eyes of an outsider.

Continue >>

« 1 2»

See More: ,

blog comments powered by Disqus

News More

Trailers More

Features More
Twitter icon_twitter Follow