I went a litle crazy this year and created a top 40. I also wanted to call out the Horror genre specifically with a seperate list, being a very strong year for the genre. As always, don't pay too much attention to order, as this is more a list of all the films I saw this year that truly stood out.
Top 40 Films of 2014
Leave It For Tomorrow, For Night Has Fallen - Jet Lyco
One of the few cinematic experiences this year that left me speechless. Leave It For Tomorrow is a one-of-kind experience that blends memories and past experiences to create an evocative portrait of a dark time in Filipino history. This is a transfixing examination of an oppressive regime, dissecting how imagination and creativity can be a byproduct of censorship.
Stockholm - Rodrigo Sorogoven
There have been a few films this year that play with gender dynamics but nothing quite like Stockholm. This is a film that deconstructs the differences in emotion centered around the notion of love, providing a fascinating psychological study of a man and a female who each share an attraction. Best enjoyed knowing very little, Stockholm showcases the destructive power of love with a focus on gender dynamics.
Under The Skin - Jonathan Glazer
The closest thing to an avant garde film in the body of a narrative, delivering a truly exceptional dissection of humanity, capturing the emotion, fragility, ugliness, and kindness that defines us
Luton - Michalis Konstantatos
I'm a sucker for much of contemporary Greek Cinema with Luton being the latest, a thought-provoking, unflinching, and unquestionably obtuse film that leaves the viewer cold and searching for answers.
The Immigrant - James Gray
James Gray's The Immigrant is a beautifully crafted narrative that captures a dark time-period in American history with a great sense of naturalism. Not an easy film to experience, The Immigrant unfolds its beautiful narrative slowly revealing the power of forgiveness and hope.
Atlas - Antoine d'Agata
Atlas is without question one of the most visually stunning films I've seen in years, with every shot being beautifully realized, evoking a sense of despair, loneliness and addiction that plagues the subjects of d'Agata's documentary. This is not a film for everyone given how hard it can be to watch, but it's a complex depiction of the darker side of humanity that will provoke and repel.
Tokyo Tribe - Sion Sono
In a time where too many films are called unique, Sono's Tokyo Tribe is truly one of the most unique and unforgettable films of the year, a hip hop fueled musical that draws inpiration from a wide array of films including West Side Story, Clockwork, Orange, and Escape from LA, among others
Winter Sleep - Nuri Bilge Ceylan
An impressive character study of a man whose own ego and intellectualism has led him down a destructive path. While the running time is sure to alienate some viewers from seeking out the film, Winter Sleep is a stellar piece of filmmaking that is both grand and intimate in its examinations of humanity.
It Felt Like Love - Eliza Hittman
These days I find most "coming of age" stories by-and-large uninteresting due to the abundance of them in indie filmmaking but what Hittman achieves with It Felt Like Love is a highly compelling coming of age story that speaks to the inherent problems of societies' objectification of woman.
Night Moves - Kelly Reichardt
Impressively crafted film that manages to create unbelievable tension from start to finish, Night Moves is a meditation on the consequences of our actions, examining whether our convictions are good enough to demand illegal or harmful actions
Two Days, One Night - Jean-Pierre & Luce Dardenne
Yet another minimalist gem from the Dardenne Brothers, Two Days One Night delivers a pensive character study full of fascinating themes about humanity and the human struggle in contemporary society.
The Tribe - Miro Slaboshpitsky
I was concerned The Tribe was going to live off of its gimmick, being shot completely without subtitles and any dialogue. Fortunately this was not the case, with The Tribe personifying why film is a visual medium, using staging and composition to tell an unflinching portrait of a dark world where no one escapes clean. .
Abuse of Weakness (2014) - Catherine Breillat
Inspired by Catherine Breillat's own personal experiences, Abuse of Weakness is a harrowing examination of control, power, and fragility, exploring the power struggle of any relationship, capturing how one's inner-weakness can leave them helpless.
Nothing Bad Can Happen - Katrin Gebbe
A film that was unfairly classified as nothing more than a "Horror Film', Nothing Bad Can Happen delivers an unconventional story about the power of faith and through Tore's decisions, self-sacrifice. For a first time director, this film is impressive and self-assured, stylishly and effectively transporting the viewer into the psyche of Tore.
Miss Violence - Alexandros Avranas
Another film to come out of the remarkable wave of contemporary Greek Cinema dealing with iconoclasm, Miss Violence could easily be written off as a horror film. Underneath the film's vile surface is what makes Miss Violence impressive, being a rally cry in the crusade of violence against woman and female oppression.
The Duke of Burgundy - Peter Strickland
With elements reminiscent of Bergman's Persona and Early DePalma, Peter Strickland's The Duke of Burgundy is an intoxicating journey into the power struggle of relationships, capturing the ebb & flow of love and partnerships, showing how in flux these roles can truly be in a constantly changing landscape of emotion and companionship
Felt - Jason Banker
Felt is a seething portrait of an individual who has lost all faith in humanity, living a life of cynicism and doubt that affords her very few moments of happiness. This is a woman attempting to live in a male-dominated world, with Felt delivering one of the most impressive and devastating conclusions of the year, putting a definitive stamp on this emotional tale of a woman trying to seize back control of her life.
Tangerines - Zaza Urushadze
An extremely powerful evocation of war, Tangerines captures the stupidity and collateral damage that violence brings with such a simple, poignant story. Tangerines argues that men on both sides of most conflicts are no different than any other, both simply good men doing what they believe is the right thing. A very simple story that profoundly captures the short-sighted nature of most military conflict.
Inherent Vice - Paul Thomas Anderson
Part noir, Part psychedelic frolic, Inherent Vice deconstructs the noir/detective story in a highly entertaining way. The comparisons to The Big Lebowski certainly have merit but Inherent Vice is a much deeper film, capturing a time and place where the psychedelic 70s began to conflict with the stern, conservative arm of the law.
Listen Up Philip - Alex Perry Ross
Incredibly funny, narcissistic, and profound, Alex Ross Perry's Listen Up Philip is a fascinating look into the selfishness that exists in every creative individual, capturing the impact it has on any and everyone around them.
Foxcatcher - Bennett Miller
Foxcatcher is a film many would call depressing but it's an extremely well-crafted psychological drama about two men obsessed with greatness, attempting desperately to step out of the shadow of their more acclaimed family members and live up to America's decree of being the best.
Force Majeure - Ruben Ostlund
Very funny and emotionally affecting, Force Majeure is an observant psychodrama that captures the delicate nature of relationships in a society where preconceived roles are already defined
Nightcrawler - Dan Gilroy
Nightcrawler is a film made from the point-of-view of an antagonist, delivering a seething commentary on not only mass media but the darker side of 'the american dream"
Leviathan - Andrei Zvyagintsev
A somber experience, Leviathan manages to unravel in a way that is both intimate and grandoise, capturing the disintegration of a family unit while commenting on how power can corrupt all men, no matter their class, religion, etc
Concrete Night - Pirjo Honkasalo
Using crisp, digital black and white cinematography, Concrete Night delivers a dream-like journey into the psyche of a fragile mind, using beautiful imagery to evoke an emotionally response from the viewer. It slowly and methodically consumes the viewer, encapsulating them in this bleak journey of its young protagonist.
Blind - Eskil Vogt
Blind is a brilliantly creative narrative that encapsulates its protagonist's psyche, exploring the mental trauma associated with the feeling of helplessness, in this case being the main protagonists recent loss of vision.
The Overnighters - Jesse Moss
Ever so often a documentary comes along that blows me away, shattering my expectations while delivering an impressively layered narrative that says profound things about humanity. The Overnighters is a film capturing humanity in a beauituflly poetic way, showing we are all human beings with flaws
Maidan - Sergei Loznitsa
With an impressive observational eye, Sergie Loznitsa's Maidian is a powerful and infuriating portrait capturing a countries people awakening, rediscovering their identity as a nation.
Point and Shoot - Marshall Curry
Extremely well-layered, Point and Shoot raises a lot of distinct questions about humanity in its examination of Matthew's epic journey, displaying how the desire to be perceived masculine and tough is not a society problem but a primal desire, questioning the very fabric of what it means to "be a man"
Citizenfour - Laura Poitras
Citizenfour plays more like a thriller than a documentary, capturing the paranoia, anxiety, and tension revolving around a man in Snowden who has essentially given up his way of life for the perceived betterment of others. Citizenfour paints an intoxicating portrait of the current state of privacy, beautifully capturing a behind the scenes look of Ed Snowden, showing us the man behind the facade.
Boyhood - Richard Linklater
The film hasn't stayed with me as much as I expected but Boyhood is still a deeply poignant, inspiring film about the human condition that is most likely the pinnacle of Linklater's career.
Jauja - Lisandro Alonso
Existential and incredibly challenging, Jauja uses the story of a fathers journey to find his daughter as a way to ponder complex questions about life, time, and existence. Simply calling this film a Revisionist western is selling it short, with reality and fantasy, fact and fiction, all blurring together in a film that puzzles but enriches. For me, Jauja is a film that attempts to comment on just how small our existence is in the scope of time and space, but there are many interpretations to be made, which is what makes Jauja a challenging but rewarding experience.
A Most Violent Year - J.C. Chandor
Without question one of the best character films of the year. Oscars Issacs delivers another great perfromance in a film that is about a lot more than American greed. J.C. Chandor's best film to-date, A Most Violent Year is a slow burning, tension-filled gangster film set in the business world.
The Wonders - Alice Rohrwacher
The Wonders is a film that purposely leaves the viewer in the dark, unwilling to explain the character's backstories, which in the end makes it an endlessly more fascinating and complex study of family and the outside factors that influence it.
Selma - Ava DuVernay
Selma is certainly one of the best biopics in years. Impeccably made, Selma is a important reminder how powerful non-violent protests can truly be, reminding all of us that the people run this country, not the politicians. Well that's the hope at least, but what makes Selma great is the honesty it shows in delivering a powerful portrait of Martin Luther King Jr.
The Absent - Nicholas Pereda
Sure to turn off a lot of viewers for its minimalist style and tepid approach, The Absent is powerful examination of loss, memory and the importance of the place we call home.
To Kill A Man - Alejandro Fernandez Almendras
To Kill A Man is in essence a Chiliean version of Charles Bronson's Death Wish, though it's meticulously photographed, understated, and much slower-paced. Illustrating the slow-moving hand of bureacracy, To Kill A Man is an angry film about the legal systems inability to be timely when it comes to protecting innocent people. Beautifully composed and understated, To Kill A Man is not likely to be enjoyed by those looking for an action-packed revenge flick, with the film far more interested in capturing the psyche of a tranquil man who's pushed to make a decision so outside of himself.
Ida - Pawel Pawlikowski
An intimate drama that functions both as a beautifully realized coming of age story as well as a testament to haunting legacy of the Holocaust and the realities of post-war communism, never losing focus of the importance of both attributes while delivering an incredibly affecting and powerful piece of filmmaking.
The Distance - Sergio Caballero
Endlessly creative and intentionally obtuse, The Distance is a film that is sure to infuriate as many viewers as it entertains, but for those willing to give in to its oddball charms, The Distance is the absurdist treat of the year.
The Retrieval - Chris Eska
The Retrieval is a powerful character study that captures a time and place while delivering a touching coming-of-age tale. The film constantly reminds the viewer of the war and violence all around these characters but it never consumes the narrative, being used more as a thematic device to drive the story. Suspenseful, tense, and poignant, Chris Eska's The Retrieval is low-budget film that is a great reminder of the power of impressive storytelling.
Manos Sucias - Joseph Kubota Wladyka
Buzzard - Joel Potrykus
The Rover - David Michod
Cold in July - Jim Mickle
Bird People - Pascale Ferran
Tales of the Grim Sleeper - Nick Bloomfield
Cannibal - Manuel Martin Cuenca
Only Lovers Left Alive - Jim Jarmusch
71 - Yann Demange
The Dance of Reality - Alejandro Jodorowsky
Space Station 76 - Jack Plotnick
Catherine Keener - War Story
Tom Hardy - Locke & The Drop
Julianne Moore - A Map To The Stars & Still Alice
Michelle Monaghan - Fort Bliss
Mark Pellegrino - Bad Turn Worse
David Olelowo - Selma
Steve Carrell - Foxcatcher
Jake Gyllenhaal - Nightcrawler & Enemy
J.K. Simmons - Whiplash
Rosemund Pike - Gone Girl
Jack O'Connell - Starred Up & '71
Elisabeth Moss - Listen Up Phillip
Essie Davis - The Babadook
Brendan Gleeson - Calvary
Isabelle Huppert - Abuse of Weakness
2013 Titles I Missed Last Year That Deserve Recognition
An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker - Danis Tanovic
Heli - Amat Escalante
The Golden Dream (2013) - Diego Quemada-Diez
Why Don't You Play in Hell (2013) - Shion Sono
In Bloom - Nana Ekvtimishvili & Simon Grob
Bethlehem (2013) - Yuval Adler
A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (2013) - Ben Rivers & Ben Russell
Tim's Vermeer - Teller
The Selfish Giant (2013) - Clio Barnard
Like Father, Like Son - Hirokazu Koreeda
Top Horror Films
While I admit it's cheap to create a separate list for Horror Films, 2014 was an impressive year for Horror. I truly wanted to highlight how many strong films there were in the genre, making space for them on the list. Many of these films would be deserving on an end of the year list, with many of them transcending the genre in different and interesting ways.
The Babadook - Jennifer Kent
Witching & Bitching - Alex de la Iglesia
The Guest - Adam Wingard
Honeymoon - Leigh Janiak
Housebound - Gerard Johnstone
The Sacrament - Ti West
Oculus - Mike Flanagan
Starry Eyes - Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer
The Canal - Ivan Kavanagh
It Follows - David Robert Mitchell