Top Ten Films of 2014

by Matthew Cabe

While some felt entirely aimless and others led to specific destinations, the best films of 2014 all shared one thing in common: they wandered. It’s an unlikely theme given the current state of the film industry, which is dominated by countless hordes of hopeful heroes all piling on top of one another while trying to save the world from utter collapse (or at least trying to jockey themselves into a position that will allow them to save the world in the sequel). But it’s a welcome theme, too.

This is probably just me—given the box office many of these movies did—but I say let the mother fucker burn. Because as far as the big budget movies are concerned, 2014 was a year of prolonged excitement that more often than not led to one let down after another.

But it wasn’t all bleak. There’s actually a lot to be thankful for and excited about when we look back on the year in film. Because the real triumphs came from independent and foreign voices that proved (with one exception) that you don’t need a superhero to tell a compelling story. These films also showed that experimentation within filmmaking is far from dead.

When all was said and done, I saw 63 new releases in 2014. There are still many I want to see. There’s even one we were nearly denied, but that’s just the way it goes in the era of cyber warfare. Of those 61 films, I’ve listed my choices for the year’s ten best below.

One last thing: Originally I had decided to write roughly 200-words on each film. After finishing the sixth, however, I scrapped the idea entirely because it was just too damn long. Also, my New Year’s resolution is to make a conscious effort to learn the ways of brevity (you’re welcome), so the ten films will be accompanied by one lone sentence to sum up why they stand out as the the best of the best. Enjoy!

THE LIST

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10. Joe Swanberg’s Happy Christmas

What’s refreshing about the quarter-life crises Swanberg’s characters face is that they’re less about the specifics of uncertainty and more about how people come together to deal with it.

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9. Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake

This French drama examines who and what a person is willing to lose (even if he doesn’t know they’re at stake) in order to fulfill selfish desires.

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8. Lukas Moodysson’s We Are the Best!

Moodysson weaves a mostly subtle story of friendship and growth that centers on three young Swedish girls determined to keep punk rock alive in the 1980s despite the insistence of everyone they know that punk is dead.

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7. Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel

Ralph Fiennes gives one of the best performances of the year as a hotel concierge in what is Anderson’s best and most emotional work since The Darjeeling Limited.

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6. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice

The hazy, druggy, lonesome vibe of Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel is what really matters in the end, which is convenient since most of the characters are too stoned to remember what they’re searching for, anyway.

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5. Chris Rock’s Top Five

Rock needs just one day in New York City to offer a bold and hilarious look at what a post-race America might look like at a time when racial tension is unavoidable.

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4. Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip to Italy

In the best sequel of the year, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon once again match wits and impersonations in an egotistical battle on the open road that often diverges down roads toward larger issues of mortality, family, and sex.

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3. Lars von Trier’s Nymph()maniac: Vol. I & 2

It’s impossible to learn anything about sex unless you incorporate underage blowjobs, religion, fishing metaphors, shame, bondage, lies, miscommunication, golden showers, and death into the story of a woman’s reawakening.

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2. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

The life-or-death struggle for artistic integrity on Broadway is exacerbated when the deranged ghost of former superhero glory lurks around every dimly-lit backstage corridor.

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1. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood

What elevates Boyhood above every other great film of the year is that Linklater’s ambitious approach not only showcases the natural evolution of his characters, but also the evolution of his talents and of filmmaking itself.

P.S.—Had I never been fortunate enough to see the movies on the above list, my top ten may or may not have included (in no particular order): Ida, Chef, Under the Skin, Tusk, Fading Gigolo, Obvious Child, Snowpiercer, The Hunger Games: MockingjayPart I, and A Field in England.

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