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The Film Stage’s Top 50 Films of 2014

Written by on January 1, 2015 

30. Citizenfour (Laura Poitras)

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Perhaps the most important film of the year, Laura Poitras’ documentary captures the immediate aftermath following Edward Snowden’s leak of top-secret NSA documents to the world. For the majority of its runtime, we are placed in a Hong Kong hotel room with Poitras, reporter Glenn Greenwald, and Snowden as they sift through as much information as they can while Snowden tells you that everything you feared about our government was (and is) very much true. – Dan M.

29. Venus in Fur (Roman Polanski)

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The director’s surrogate and doppelgänger, the director’s wife, a physical and mental game of one-upmanship, and the unabashedly blunt staging of a text that a toddler could point out as a direct corollary to the knotty onscreen dynamic. Shaped by a milking of every line, expression, tone of voice, gesture of body, shifting of light, angle, and cut, Polanski’s funniest film in decades, another close-quarter wonder, couldn’t be more “cinematic” if it relied on elaborate sets and high-wire formal trickery. – Nick N.

28. The Congress (Ari Folman)

"The Congress"

A rather brilliant and exciting commentary on celebrity, youth culture, and movie-making, The Congress is also an essay on identity and persona wrapped in a sci-fi adventure. Robin Wright plays herself, an aging actress who agrees to give up her craft to sell her brand to a big studio, who scans her into a database. Some years later, when she’s invited to a futuristic congress, the film shifts modes from live action to hand-drawn animation. One of the year’s most ambitious films, The Congress is a visual and intellectual feat: entertaining and engrossing throughout, while also densely packed, it delivers on the ambition it presents in the first act, and then some. – John F.

27. Moebius (Kim Ki-duk)

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This will easily rank as one of the oddest entries here, and that’s precisely why I fell in love with South Korean director Kim Ki-duk’s Moebius. The film showcases the ability that keen direction can have on even the most unusual of scripts — and oddball. disturbing, over-the-top, horrific, and frustrating are all apt adjectives for Moebius, a film that works because the acting and direction never let the viewer relax. Everyone is incredibly committed to this film, which revolves around several males being castrated, and the nature of what it means to be a man without the normal means of sexual interaction. Silence has a profound effect as none of the characters speak. It’s not a silent film, as grunts and groans are heard, but the lack of dialogue is worked around with knowing looks or onscreen text seen through a phone or computer screen. Themes revolve around dealing with trauma, mental disturbance, infidelity, and family, as well as the obvious way we interact sexually. People walked out of my screening at last year’s Fantastic Fest, but I think that, if you can stomach the wicked actions, you’ll be rewarded with one of the year’s most unique cinematic experiences. This is precisely why film is a unique art form, where both sound and image can orchestrate what would otherwise be flat-out unbearable. – Bill G.

26. Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)

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Precisely funny in the darkest way, considering a plot surrounding a priest awaiting his death by a parishioner searching for retribution against the Catholic church, this understated gem is all about its characters. Each is a little off-kilter; each a prospective suspect with the means and mindset to pull the trigger. Brendan Gleeson is at his best — conflicted, introspective, ever faithful — but so is John Michael McDonagh. I enjoyed The Guard enough, but the dialogue here is so sharp that I now see what everyone else did back then. – Jared M.

25. The Guest (Adam Wingard)

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I could say plenty about the latest collaboration from director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett. I could explain its fresh, contemporary spin on testosterone-fueled 80s-era action thrillers. I could elaborate on its sexy visuals, its pulsating soundtrack, and its unrelentingly cool style. I could most certainly drool over Dan Stevens‘ transformation into a hot and dangerous super solider. But mostly I just want to say, “Holy shit, this movie!” – Amanda W.

24. Horse Money (Pedro Costa)

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I attempted to write about Horse Money immediately after seeing it back in September. I think I did a fine job, considering the hectic strains of festival life, yet I don’t believe that I in any way did justice to just how different the world felt coming out of it — how surreal and inappropriate the gaudy, space-themed halls of the Toronto multiplex hosting the press screening seemed after spending 100 minutes in what seemed like a mix of hell, purgatory and probably some other dimension of the afterlife not even comprehensible to man. If only I could find the right Wire lyrics to quote… – Ethan V.

23. Stray Dogs (Tsai Ming-Liang)

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In Stray Dogs, three actresses play the same character, with the first of them departing after the film’s first shot and the third taking over after the film’s central ellipse. The Buñuelian tactic gives the film a narrative ambiguity that could easily feel cheap and pointless, but Tsai makes it work. Perhaps it’s because Stray Dogs qualifies unambiguously as “Slow Cinema,” with shots of eating or looking at murals taking up several minutes, making it easy for the impatient and skeptical to say that “nothing happens.” But Tsai’s style forces us to question conventions, and among those conventions is the way in which we make sense of narrative. The ambiguity is therefore not just earned, but crucial. Tsai is equally subtle and clever in a series of four non-consecutive shots in which the protagonist (Lee Kang-sheng) serves as a human billboard, where the personal and political are gradually privileged, his aesthetic decisions being central to everything the film has to say. Never is this more clear or well-done than in the stunning penultimate shot, the film’s longest, in which humans — or at least the better of us — are implicitly differentiated from stray dogs because of our ability to find solace and make sense of art. Or, at least, that’s one interpretation of it. Thanks to that narrative ambiguity, Stray Dogs is not just perfectly executed — it’s also a gift that keeps on giving. – Forrest C.

22. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour)

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It might feature a skate-boarding, hijab-wearing bloodsucker, but A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is much more than a hipster horror film. Set in a mythical landscape that feels like Quentin Tarantino and Tim Burton took a gig art-directing Iran, Girl establishes a raw and seductive edge that is also dreamy and wistful, enamored of Old Hollywood’s visual legacy, inspired by a rich independent heritage, and completely in love with its characters. Turning the tropes of Universal horror films on their head — one scene features a tawdry pimp discovering he’s the classic damsel in distress — Amirpour creates a wonderful character in Sheila Vand’s nosferatu. She’s not a monster, but a convergence of several cultural insecurities, wrapped in a feral, defiantly female shell. Crafted from the familiar, Girls’ best feature is just how fearsomely original and confident it feels. Eraserhead and Bride of Frankenstein have new, welcome company in the annals of filmdom. – Nathan B.

21. Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho)

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The best piece of entertainment this year, and with plenty of brains. A train races across the globe like a bullet, harboring the last of our species. Inside, the survivors are divided by socio-economic status: rich to the front, poor to the back. Chris Evans’ Curtis starts a revolution. We watch it unfold. Riveting. Unforgettable. – Dan M.

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