For our final year-end feature, we’re providing a cumulative look at our favorite films of 2014 here at The Film Stage. Over the last few days a variety of contributors have published their personal top 10 lists, resulting in 103 films being mentioned, and we’ve pared it down to an even 50. To calculate the list we gave 10 points to everyone’s #1 pick, 9 points to their #2 pick, and so forth, with half a point going to honorable mentions — in the case of a tie, the film that placed higher on a respective list was given the nod. So, without further ado, check out our last rundown of 2014 below, our complete year-end coverage here, and return in the coming weeks as we look towards 2015.
50. The Rover (David Michôd)
A cold-blooded, powerful and moral thriller staring Guy Pearce and (a virtually unrecognizable) Robert Pattinson as men traversing an apocalyptic landscape in rural Australia. A bleak and compelling nightmare lensed by Natasha Braier, The Rover is a chillingly sparse picture, cementing David Michôd as a new master. – John F.
49. 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. – Bill G.
48. Jauja (Lisandro Alonso)
After seeing Jauja, I believe I remarked to my cinephile compatriots that it was the first Lisandro Alonso to work thematically as well as formally — that, finally, his considerable talents went towards more than a prankster-ish slow-cinema exercise. A couple of months of later, I honestly forget what the “meaning” I derived from the film might have been, though I think it was some nonsense about lineage and the passage of time and what not. But I don’t believe that really matters, for what’s made Jauja stay with me is its pure beauty — the synchronicity of light, movement, landscape, and even the physical presence of its star. – Ethan V.
47. They Came Together (David Wain)
Five films in and with a bevy of other projects, one will certainly by now know if they click with the humor of David Wain. His latest feature, an affectionate dismantling of the romantic comedy genre, marks his most consistent and, for my money, the funniest comedy of the decade thus far. In an era where much of the spoof genre lazily repeats scenarios for cheap laughs, They Came Together is a remarkably brilliant dissection of tropes, led by two of the most likable actors in Hollywood, not to mention a gathering of exceptional (and unexpected) supporting players. – Jordan R.
46. Coherence (James Ward Byrkit)
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. – Jared M.
45. A Most Violent Year (J.C. Chandor)
The Sidney Lumet talk is apt, as J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year certainly captures the scope and pulse of the late master’s dramas. But this is a dark-side-of-the-American-dream epic with a reach all its own. Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain create the most compelling couple of the year, and by the time the credits role, the viewer feels as if they have just witnessed the most significant moments in the birth of a giant. – Chris S.
44. Wild Tales (Damián Szifron)
Damián Szifron launches a satirical and visceral dissection of the social and political currents running underneath his native Argentina, but Wild Tales is the opposite of a stuffy, calculated screed. Playing with a touch of the pulp ghoulishness of Tales of the Crypt, Tales features plenty of darkly comic surrealism that’s been subtly grafted onto modern social anxieties. Whether it’s a plane full of strangers learning of the demented connection that bonds them, a waitress at a road-side diner forced to serve the author of her family’s misery, or a demolitionist waging a war against an impound lot, Wild Tales finds a deeply entertaining catharsis in isolated fragments that begin as revenge, only to crossover to examine ideas about justice and human morality. Taken as separate stories, these vignettes are entrancing, but, most impressive for an anthology, when assembled they create a fearsome portrait of Argentina itself, one unlikely to fade from memory. – Nathan B.
43. Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiraudie)
A hyper-erotic thriller presented as a waking dream, in which acts of love and violence — both acts of passion alike, if little else — alternate between escape-defying proximity and distances so great they can hardly be said to have been seen at all. Also the “pulpiest” title on this list, sure, but pulp that’s dictated by incredibly consistent formal dressing from first step to last is always going to be high art in my eyes, and nothing in 2014 hit that (ahem) sweet spot to such a degree. – Nick N.
42. Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn)
What’s so great about the big-screen adaptation of one of Marvel’s more obscure properties is that director James Gunn turned it into the kind of movie he wants to see. The often-hilarious space opera about a band of misfit heroes recalls the adventurous spirit of Lucas and Spielberg’s golden age, when Star Wars and Indiana Jones reigned supreme. Defined by thrilling battle sequences and pitch-perfect casting (see pro wrestler Dave Bautista‘s amusing turn as Drax), the work is definitely one of the most satisfying viewing experiences I’ve had in years. – Amanda W.
41. Selma (Ava DuVernay)
If 2014 is considered the “year of outrage,” the 2015 wide-release date for Selma arrives far too late. A visceral frontline examination of Martin Luther King Jr’s civil rights marches in Selma, met with extreme violence (including murder) as Alabama’s good ol’ boys fight to maintain status quo prior to President Johnson’s intervention and the passage of the Voter Rights Act. Undoubtedly this film will provoke conversations within a current context (one early moment seems eerily similar to Eric Garner’s final moments), and Ava DuVernay’s direction ads a sense of raw immediacy to Paul Webb’s script. It also presents King (David Oyelowo), George Wallace (Tim Roth), and Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) as complex, flawed men, each with their own motivations and ideals of justice. – John F.
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