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The Film Stage’s Top 50 Films of 2014

Written by on January 1, 2015 

10. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)

INHERENT VICE

Often, my favorite film of the year creates a fully realized world in which each supporting character feels like they could lead their own film and every line of dialogue is one that can be endlessly pored over. Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Inherent Vice, like last year’s Inside Llewyn Davis, wildly succeeds on those fronts and many others. It’s a dense, keenly faithful adaptation of Thomas Pynchon‘s novel, at once sprawling in its far-reaching, paranoia-drenched plotting, and intimate, with the majority of scenes featuring prolonged, drug-laced conversations that superbly wrangle every word from the source material. With sublime casting across-the-board and unmatched direction relative to 2014’s other offerings, I look forward to endlessly revisiting this in the years to come. – Jordan R.

9. Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)

ida

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. – Nathan B.

8. Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)

two_days_one_night

This is not quite as physical as some of the Dardenne brothers’ earlier, more visceral work. Think, for one thing, of the blindsiding opening of Rosetta, in which the camera darts and races to follow Émilie Dequenne as she tries elude the grasp of her peeved boss (Olivier Gourmet). Even the plot, which is inherently formulaic and intensely organized, is less natural-seeming than the previous stuff. But their gifts — shrewd framing (notice how Marion Cotillard is constantly separated from her co-workers by some kind of barrier) and genuine human empathy — are still evident throughout. After witnessing the character’s agonizing, compressed cycle of naps, wake-ups, phone calls, arguments, rants, and pill-popping episodes, Cotillard’s short phone call that ends Two Days, One Night carries the weight of the world. – Danny K.

7. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)

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Enduring a climate of daily takedowns, contrarian posturing, cries of yearning for decades past, and rumination on what it all really means would usually ensure that any film operating on a similar wavelength while acting in service of one of the most worn-down genre staples this popular culture can offer sounds, in so many words, like an absolute fucking nightmare. But this particular marriage of auteur and being is as logical as they come, and questions of how easy it might have been to achieve the resulting effect are easily dispelled when wallowing in something of such deep, resonant beauty. – Nick N.

6. Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard)

goodbye to language roxy

A vision without meaning and toward being. Two binary romances collapse, and yet there remains one frolicking individual who is more than willing to leap into nature and see things anew. Truly a new vision of translating the moving image: Bazin’s Total Realism becomes Arnheim’s Total Cinema, and, with that, a new freedom away from the totalitarianism of the 20th century. Mary Shelley’s monster, after all, was the most pure being she created. – Peter L.

5. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)

Whiplash-7567.cr2

I didn’t give many films four stars this year (the top four entries here are it) and, until catching Whiplash, none hit me with the force that demanded I do so. The fact that it would be a breakout to finally give me that visceral punch to the gut makes it all the more astounding. Damien Chazelle‘s look into the dangerously volatile world of genius ran away with the 2014 crown before the last note of its mesmerizing, edge-of-your-seat climax cut to black. J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller‘s powerhouse performances highlight the whole, but this thing is so much more than its stellar parts. – Jared M.

4. The Immigrant (James Gray)

the_immigrant

This is the one, the other Marion Cotillard-led film that will make you cry. James Gray deconstructs America’s foundational myth by linking it to cinema, setting his film in the era of popular melodrama (both on stage and on screen) and beginning with a shot of Lady Liberty’s back turned on her admirers. What proceeds from there is nothing short of stunning, anchored by two brilliant performances (Cotillard as Ewa, the immigrant forced into prostitution, and Joaquin Phoenix as Bruno, the one who forces her) and realized by a director who has now earned the same superlative. The arbitrary social forces that victimize heroines in melodrama are here seen as deeply systemic and rooted in the offending society, and Gray can only tease this and other tropes briefly before deconstructing and perverting them. The only generic truth that he finds truth in is the face, à la Griffith before him. Never is this clearer than in one of the year’s best scenes, when Ewa goes to confess. Gray is not content merely to undercut the “American Dream”; he’s taking the entire cinematic representation of it with him. – Forrest C.

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)

the_grand_budapest_hotel

It’s easy to deliver criticism towards Wes Anderson for playing in the same self-contained sandbox time and time again, but that’s a misreading of what this continually inventive director is really up to. Anderson’s stylized, quixotic universe keeps expanding with each film, and in new ways, that then later become a part of his acknowledged bag of tricks. Very rarely is the director actually resting on his laurels, and if Moonrise Kingdom felt like it was creeping into the realm of the personal, Grand Budapest takes that sensibility and grafts it onto a vantage point that’s more literate and historical, arriving at a brand-new place. Forget all of that, though, and you have the year’s best sensory pleasure; it’s an astonishing treat to look upon this specific place, and to live in the skin of these characters. It isn’t every great film that beckons us immediately to return to it, that we feel lost the moment we leave it, but Anderson’s Budapest is such a film. You feel forlorn checking out of it, clinging to such wonderful memories. – Nathan B.

2. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)

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I saw Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin in April and never stopped swooning over. But what is it, exactly, that makes this film come in so far ahead of any other in 2014? Perhaps it is the way Skin makes the Scottish landscape look positively, well, alien. Maybe it is the incredible performance from Scarlett Johansson, an absurdly fascinating score, and the brain-searing imagery. Or perhaps it is how those elements come together for one entrancing experience. This is the most haunting, complex film of the year, and a sad, disturbing work of art. There are scenes that continue to linger in my memory months after that first viewing — chiefly the sight of a crying baby, alone on the beach. That sequence, and others, still resonate, and they will for some time to come. Quite simply, any year in which there is an Under the Skin is a great year for cinema. – Chris S.

1. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)

boyhood

A revolutionary, ambitious masterpiece that frequently resists an episodic structure. A single film that, despite the 12-year duration of production, unfolds simply as life does: there are no transitions, the only clues as to what year we have being Linklater’s subtle soundtrack choices. Haunting in its details, Boyhood is very simply the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) living moment to moment, often moving through Texas with his mother (Patrica Arquette) who hasn’t quite figured things out and his occasionally bratty sister (Lorelei Linklater). Ethan Hawke beautifully plays the wayward father, himself in flux as he matures from musician to actuary. Often Mason does not understand the context of each moment, which is partly why I believe the film’s impact grows more profound upon subsequent viewings. A masterpiece in any year, Boyhood represents, above all, the very best in American independent filmmaking: strong storytelling often presenting conflict or danger as Mason experiments with drugs, drinking, sex, and, ultimately, heartbreak. Leaving him on the same ambiguous note it found him some 12 years and 165 minutes prior, Boyhood is a sublime, exhilarating, and emotional cinematic experience, and a new classic. – John F.


The Film Stage’s Top 50 Films of 2014 is made up from our staff lists. See each below, next to their respective favorite film of the year.

Boyhood (Bill Graham, John Fink, Zade Constantine)

Closed Curtain (Forrest Cardamenis)

Enemy (Brian Roan)

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Nathan Bartlebaugh)

The Guest (Amanda Waltz)

Horse Money (Ethan Vestby)

The Immigrant (Nick Newman, Danny King)

Inherent Vice (Jordan Raup, Jack Giroux)

Jealousy (Peter Labuza)

Whiplash (Jared Mobarak)

Under the Skin (Dan Mecca, Raffi Asdourian, Christopher Schobert)

What is your favorite film of the year?

See our year-end features and more of the best of 2014.

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