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The Film Stage’s Top 50 Films of 2014

Written by on January 1, 2015 

40. John Wick (David Leitch and Chad Stahelski)

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John Wick is a refreshingly streamlined action movie. There’s not an ounce of fat in David Leitch and Chad Stahelski‘s film, and Derek Kolstad‘s script gets right everything so many revenge pictures get wrong. The familial scenes in the Taken movies, for example, are an afterthought — crap you have to trudge through to get to the shootouts. Actual time and care was put into the set-up of John Wick. When Wick’s dog dies, it’s an earned moment for the character and the film. It’s a strangely heartfelt movie, and far more sincere than most pieces of Oscar bait. What follows that effective set-up is a wildly entertaining action movie, filled with a variety of set pieces, fun kills, style, and a world that begs for a sequel. – Jack G.

39. Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman)

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We need more summer blockbusters like Edge of Tomorrow. Doug Liman‘s film doesn’t take itself terribly seriously, nor is it as light as a piece of gum wrapper — while also delivering on almost every level. It’s a fun blockbuster with the right amount of dramatic stakes. Just as exciting as the set pieces are the performances from Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. Blunt is vulnerable, funny, and badass as Rita, playing the real hero of the movie — she arguably drives the narrative forward more than Cage (Tom Cruise). Cruise’s blockbuster image is initially subverted and milked for a great comedic effect. Once he’s in full action-hero mode, though, there’s still plenty of sharp humor in this ideal action movie. – Jack G.

38. The Tribe (Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy)

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Devoid of any spoken words, music, voice-over or even subtitles, Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy‘s debut feature film The Tribe is communicated through sign language, for all the characters are deaf. This provides a unique challenge for any audience member not versed with how to sign, as the filmmaker provides no direct explanation of what characters are actually saying. While this may initially seem daunting, a viewer’s patience and keen observation is rewarded by a haunting cinematic experience that truly is unlike anything else this year. – Raffi A.

37. Hellion (Kat Candler)

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The knocks on Candler‘s latest feature seem to stem from a place of stark drama overkill on behalf of the critics watching. Had they seen it before all those that already saturated the market, I wonder what the consensus would have been. For me it’s simply the type of film I love to watch. Emotionally powerful, I never felt manipulated once as each character progression occurs naturally until its inevitable climactic moment of nail-biting violence, stemming straight from the heart. Aaron Paul stands out as a broken father unable to let go of the love he thought would be forever and Josh Wiggins is a revelation as the wild yet sensitive son traveling a dangerous road to maturity. – Jared M.

36. Journey to the West (Tsai Ming-liang)

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Remarkable for many reasons, chief among them that the shortest of any on this list — or just about any other, on any site, that’s counting down the year — is the one most open to interpretation, to say nothing of the most visually rigid and tightly controlled most encouraging a wandering, curious eye. A tortoise and the tortoise race between Lee Kang-sheng and Denis Lavant, slow cinema’s own weird game of Where’s Waldo?, a city symphony that uses screen space as well as anything in recent years, and a stealth addition to the slate of documentary-narrative hybrids. Journey was technically undistributed, but placed here because it a) was at least made available during a one-week online engagement this past spring, and b) is simply too accomplished a work to be overlooked on account of that small technicality. Here’s some good news: this wonder will be included on the Blu-ray release of Tsai’s prior feature (and TFS favorite), Stray Dogs. – Nick N.

35. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent)

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Filmmaker Jennifer Kent‘s scary surprise hit packs a hell of a punch with imaginative visuals and visceral sound design. It also features two powerhouse performers in Essie Davis and child actor Noah Wiseman, who bring a jarring intensity to their roles. (When Davis’s cornered single mother unleashes a primal scream, every hair on my body stood on end.) More importantly, it’s one of the most terrifying depictions of quiet desperation ever committed to film, and therefore a welcome addition to the realm of quality horror. – Amanda W.

34. Locke (Steven Knight)

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There is something thrilling about watching a person struggle against incredible odds. Lots of movies take this tact, though usually the odds and the struggle are world-shattering, like an alien invasion or a terrorist threat. In the case of Locke, Tom Hardy plays a man raging against his own poor decisions and their unexpected outcomes, and the movie is all the more thrilling because he does something rare in modern storytelling – he takes responsibility, assumes the risks and consequences, and does not shrug off the weight of what he has done or will do. In addition to being a beautiful formal exercise and a well-written character drama, this film is a flawless modern morality tale. – Brian R.

33. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Isao Takahata)

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As one of the latest (and possibly last) Studio Ghibli releases, Isao Takahata‘s vision of an ancient Japanese folktale adds to a long list of distinguished anime triumphs. While computer-generated animation strives to look real, the hand-drawn Kaguya feels alive with its minimalist sound design and painterly style, which makes it all the more affecting and beautiful. – Amanda W.

32. Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh)

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A biopic doesn’t quite describe Mike Leigh’s brilliant Mr. Turner , fronted by a career-best performance from Timothy Spall as legendary British painter J.M.W. Turner. Leigh’s first digitally shot film (from longtime collaborator Dick Pope), the haunting opening scene perfectly captures a landscape painting of a mid-career Turner. Leigh, known for his improvisational style, allows the viewer to enter this space as a fly on the wall, witnessing the quirks of Turner as embodied by Spall; the performance is fascinating recalling his work in Leigh’s Life Is Sweet. Establishing and breaking rhythms, like J.M.W. Turner, the film refuses to compromise. Engrossing and immersive, it’s both beautiful and occasionally challenging. – John F.

31. Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller)

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There is a distinctly Americana fascination and connection between director Bennett Miller’s Capote, Moneyball, and Foxcatcher. Centered on a struggling former Olympic wrestler and his unlikely relationship with a bizarre billionaire, the film is less about the actual details of what happened in this real-life tragedy and more about the insidious nature that is derived from excessive wealth and power. The film features a truly powerhouse trio of performances from Steve CarrellMark Ruffalo, and Channing Tatum. Eerily paced and unnerving at every turn, the fastidious study of these characters is both enveloping and thought-provoking. – Raffi A.

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