Top 10 Films of 2014

Once again, this is my Top 10 2014 Films I Saw in 2014. This year my movie-watching declined even further, so I don’t have quite the sampling of this year’s films as I usually would. I blame a full-time job and being social. (Which is a terrible thing. Stay home and watch movies instead, people) Somehow, I still saw ten films from this year I’d strongly recommend.

Films that I haven’t been able to see and think might have a chance at making this list are Inherent Vice, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Two Days, One Night and Adieu to Language. As usual, I’m going off of films available to me for the first time this year, which means either within a two hour driving distance or out on video for limited release films.

1. The Immigrant

No other film I saw this year was as immaculately crafted or deeply moving as James Gray’s latest film. A throwback to a style of filmmaking we’ve rarely seen since the ‘70s, this feels like a lost Coppola film rediscovered. There’s still Gray’s signature style for melodrama storytelling as he’s far more concerned with the emotions and drama of the characters than the glitz of cinematic storytelling.

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel

One again, Wes Anderson wins me over with his rich, vibrant characters. Ralph Fiennes gives one of his finest performances as the dualistic posh and profane concierge of the titular hotel. It’s also perhaps Anderson’s most visually rich films with gorgeous art direction and some impressive camera work. The scenic mountain setting certainly helps. It’s an absolute delight from beginning to end. Joy in cinematic form.

3. Ida

The film exists along the line of the religious and irreligious without ever demeaning or simplifying one or the other. There’s a rich texture to both worlds, but only an understanding of each allows Ida to craft a holistic picture and fully reach the truth. The 4:3 aspect ratio and black and white photography end up creating for a small, intimate picture.

4. Calvary

A film that knocks out a lot of the stuffiness one might expect from a film about a priest. Father James rough edges and wry humor makes his trips around town a delight to watch. It’s a film where the entire lynchpin of the story seems almost incidental as so much of the film is watching and enjoying a priest attempt to live with a town full of wretched people, and also attempt to live with himself.

5. The One I Love

I don’t want to say much about this movie because the real joy of this film is seeing how everything gradually unfolds. I went in knowing nothing and came out breathless. Definitely the biggest surprise I had with a film this year. If you haven’t heard of this one don’t read anything and just watch it. Trust me.

6. The Lego Movie

Debates still rage over whether or not this is simply a feature-length commercial or one of the most creative family films in years. I think it falls heavily in the latter category as a fascinating look at the experience of play and the joys of creativity. It’s easily the most fun I had in a theater this year, leaving me in tears of laughter during one scene.

7. Noah

Yes, this film certainly has some missteps, particularly the battle scenes. However, Aronofsky’s interpretation of the Bible story does a great job of situating it in the larger text of Biblical themes as well as highlighting the horrific aspects of the story that most interpretations ignore or heavily sanitize. The result is a film that struggles with ideas of human depravity and God’s relationship with man while also weaving a visually compelling and fresh interpretation of age old material.

8. The Wind Rises

It’s hard to not watch this film tinged with the sadness that this will be Miyazaki’s final feature film. His departure from the fantasy-heavy nature of his body of work for a historical setting works quite well, especially with the fantastic dream sequences. It feels a bit thematically shorthanded by the end, but the journey there is so rich and gorgeous that the film is still an astounding work.

9. Under the Skin

Enthralling from moment to moment, the nightmarish imagery of Under the Skin is fascinating to simply observe. Add in the hints of sci-fi storytelling spaced throughout the film and it’s a film that gradually sucks you in. It also achieves the greatest feat of cinema this year by making a naked brunette Scarlett Johansson the most terrifying thing I saw this year.

10. Only Lovers Left Alive

Sometimes I love a film for vacuous reasons. I find little substance in this film, but it’s so rich, vibrant and gorgeous from moment to moment that I love it. A depressed vampire hangs around with his century old lover while he occasionally listens and plays rock music. There’s a bit more to it, but that’s about it and I don’t mind because there’s lots of dark, warmly lit scenes shot with deep care.

© 2015 James Blake Ewing