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The Film Stage’s Top 50 Films of 2014

Written by on January 1, 2015 

20. Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund)

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Beautifully simple yet breathtakingly bleak, the family turmoil at the heart of Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure hits a deeply resonant emotional chord. The plot revolves around an unexpected force of nature in the Alps that plunges a Swedish family into a frigid turmoil on a holiday retreat. There is an undercurrent of darkly comedic vibes that are accentuated with minimalist cinematography that carefully uses the wintery elements, like the encompassing blindness of snow, to great effect. But it’s the deadpan stares and demeaning looks between husband Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) that make it hard to turn away from the awkwardness of this powerful family drama. – Raffi A.

19. Manakamana (Stephanie Spray, Pacho Velez)

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The year’s best documentary is also the most relatable on a global scale. While any average stranger would rightfully be alarmed if one stared at them for more than a few seconds, the latest documentary from the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab (responsible for the masterpieces Leviathan and Sweetgrass) provides an unprecedented yet simple viewpoint. Over the course of 11 single shots to or from a Nepalese temple, we travel with different passengers (including a trio of goats) and learn more about our fellow man, notably what it would be like to perhaps strike up a conversation with them. – Jordan R.

18. Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

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Nuri Burge Celyan has cemented himself as one of the most intellectually stimulating filmmakers of recent years with his austere style that has drawn comparisons to legendary auteurs of cinema — Tarkovsky, Bergman and Rohmer, to name a few. This year he earned the coveted Palme d’Or prize with Winter Sleep, a solemn drama about an existentialist hotel owner in the Turkish countryside. While some may be turned off by the slow pace, long running time, and prosaic nature of the conversations, the performances and direction are all of the highest caliber and merit attentive viewing in order to absorb all the exquisite details this remarkable film has to offer. – John F.

17. Jealousy (Philippe Garrel)

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A search for unknowable romantic truths, causing a paranoia that runs deep in the heart of needing to love and be loved. Romantic follies not as great revelations, but simply the flows of life, edited without announcement. An autobiographical tale across three generations, compressed like a visit in the desert, only lasting so long before one must leave. Devastating in its subtle lightness, images and sounds like a vision of the remembered past, flashing through memory before turning off the light. – Peter L.

16. Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy)

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A stunning performance can elevate an ordinary script, yet Jake Gyllenhaal shows that first-time director Dan Gilroy has been absorbing what became of his various writing projects over the years. Here, Gilroy attacks the norm with his screenplay. We aren’t so much introduced to Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom as he announces his presence in the world of LA at night. Bloom is the anti-hero of the film, and yet you root for him throughout. Part of that is simply because he is the character we follow, but part of it is that he also exposes the deep-rooted reality of the news media. Bloom is a nightcrawler, who arrives on the scenes of accidents to record them with his camera and sell them to the morning news. But more than a skewering of the news, I found this to be a keenly precise character study of a man who succeeds precisely because he has a lack of empathy, a trait that might win you praise in other places. Gyllenhaal rarely blinks on camera, is visibly gaunt, and gives off an intensity that makes you uncomfortable. But the film is also brilliantly filled with touches of humor, evidenced by his long-winded rants that sound like they were stripped from a self-help book or the relationship he has with Nina (Rene Russo). Nightcrawler is intense, riveting, and darkly hilarious in all of the best ways. – Bill G.

15. Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu)

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If there’s one movie I didn’t imagine would make my top 10 this year, it’s Birdman. For one, director Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s gorgeous misery porn generally isn’t for me. Second his ambitious dramedy was an all around enjoyable movie, but little more, on a first viewing. However, the film gets better and better over time. It’s about as subtle as the superhero movies it takes aim at, but also so funny, sad and imaginative. What makes Birdman a memorable experience isn’t the long take, but the relationship between Riggan (Michael Keaton) and his daughter, Sam (Emma Stone) — that’s what makes Birdman, both the character and movie, fly. – Jack G.

14. Closed Curtain (Jafar Panahi and Kambuzia Partovi)

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Perhaps it shouldn’t be such a shock that Panahi and Partovi were able to make such a remarkable work under such harsh restrictions (Panahi is currently banned from filmmaking), as Iranian artists have always found ways to innovate cinematic language in order to combat censorship, but the way Panahi and Partovi innovate here is downright revelatory. Closed Curtain is a consistently surprising and always-enjoyable film that can offer up mystery, tenderness, and intellectual provocation all at once, or at least smoothly transition among them. It is a genuinely surreal film (admittedly a critical bias) in which the dream and the imagination is equated with cinema, and it invokes digital technology to complicate the relationship between the image and the real / imaginary, seeking not just to adhere to but also converse with and update André Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto. It is a desperate, political film, a cry for help that rarely ever needs to directly address Panahi’s predicament. It is, in other words, everything cinema should be, as well as a statement about everything cinema can be. – Forrest C.

13. Listen Up Philip (Alex Ross Perry)

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The slow-motion, bronze-burnished descent into personal desolation, itself suggested as some men’s only way of ascending to artistic greatness. Already-mild concerns that we’d never receive a proper adaptation of Roth are forever gone, for Listen Up Philip’s commitment to this idea — aided in no small part by Perry’s growing formal acuity — brings us as close as we’ll ever need to get. Zuckerman, Lonoff, and, at some turns, Sabbath do indeed haunt the film’s periphery, but less as a result of direct influence — more, I think, because we’ve only now confronted the wreckage they leave behind. – Nick N.

12. Gone Girl (David Fincher)

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I’m not sure if Fincher taps into anything profound here regarding relationships or gender. He does, however, craft a visceral experience that pummels the viewer with its phantasmagoric narrative and images. As the noose tightens around Nick Dunne (an excellent Ben Affleck) shot by shot in the film’s first third, you realize you’re in the hands of a gifted filmmaker. Once the Gillian Flynn adaptation reveals what happened to the one and only Amazing Amy, played by Rosamund Pike, it releases some of the most unsettling and macabre sequences of 2014. – Zade C.

11. Enemy (Denis Villeneuve)

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Upwards of five or six views in the past year and I still cannot speak with any real authority as to what this film is actually saying, specifically, but I know what it is saying to me. The defiance of a clear, precise, true read on the material is just one reason to love this twisty, poisonous tale. Jake Gyllenhaal (appearing for the second time on this list in a lead role) flawlessly and effortlessly fills two parts, not so much sides of the same coin as two possibilities of a single man. The images — derived from the alien aspect of the Toronto skyline — both complement the themes and distance the viewer, as though these characters inhabit a distant planet. The piss-and-smoke color of the world only adds to the strangeness, and, mixed with the engrossing story and labyrinthine thematic implications of the action, it all creates the perfect storm of a film. Not to be missed, and never to be forgotten. – Brian R.

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