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Best of the Year Pt. 1: Double the Swedes & Triple the Tilda

With love for last year's cinema.

2015 has a lot to live up to. This past year delivered amazing films from fresh-voiced directors, a good number of them female for a change, and it also came through, unexpectedly, with a surprising spread of high quality empathetic and diverse LGBT cinema. But even if you're stuck in multiplex-only towns, the mainstream also delivered with sneaky overachieving surprises in genres as oft-lazy as superheroes, horror, animation, giant monsters, and crime thrillers. When it came time to draw up my lists I had 30 pictures I really wanted to celebrate. Thirty! 

So let's briefly sum up (alphabetically) the films that just missed the top 20

The Boxtrolls - Laika's boldly grotesque superbly-voiced Victorian fable. 
Godzilla - Smartly reimagined not as reboot but myth returned. The paratroopers. Gah!
Edge of Tomorrow - Emily Blunt's 'full metal bitch' isn't easy to forget. Neither is the film's gleeful rapid fire anarchy in treating Tom Cruise as South Park might. "You killed Tom Cruise!" Repeat ∞
Happy Christmas - No budget? No problem. Just write a warm funny script, film it in your home and hire famous actor friends. Joe Swanberg is living the Cassavettes dream only seems much happier about it.
The LEGO Movie - Excessively clever and fun. But in truth I'd rather it win a Clio than an Oscar.
A Most Violent Year - a slow simmer but Jessica Chastain is at full boil
Nightcrawler - Jake & Rene's bring out each other's best but their character's worst in this amoral nightmare. Great dialogue but man do those laughs curdle.
Two Days One Night - Belgium's Oscar submission is simple in narrative if not in complexity of feeling but Marion Cotillard is impossibly good / real / Oscar worthy
The Way He Looks - In a simply fantastic year for queer cinema (thank god - it's been a while) this was the sweetest offering, a coming of age pic about a blind teenager and his two best friends
Wild Tales - A raucously entertaining Argentinian anthology produced by Pedro Almodóvar and directed with skill and wicked invention by Damian Szifron. If you can, see it with a group of friends (comedies are always best that way). I'm already sad I didn't include it in the top 20!

So here we are. Twenty may feel like an indulgent number to settle on for this 2014 countdown party but it comes down to this. No matter how many times I adjusted my "tippity top" movies list I couldn't live without these twenty. They were the ones that refused to budge, that defined the year for me, that demanded top ten placement, refuting the laws of math. To sum up: This cinephile had a great year in the dark. If you were positive I loved it and you don't see it in the top 20, it's tied for 21st! 

The film year is not drawing to a close just yet -- we keep celebrating through Oscar night. But the calendar year is a wrap so here is part one of my favorites roundup starting with a Tilda Swinton double feature...

(Bong Joon-ho)
The Weinstein Co. July 11th
126 minutes

(Jim Jarmusch)
Sony Pictures Classics. April 11th
123 minutes

One barrels forward continually with violent energy and choreographed invention only pausing for allegorical sermons and strategizing because it has to. The other lies languidly still with calming sensuality and gestural grace only exerting itself for short punctuations of energy when it's cajoled into doing so. What unites them? inimitable directors, absorbing and weirdly beautiful visualizations of rotting worlds. And yes, I didn't forget her: They both feature the ever fascinating Tilda Swinton who delivered three wildly different performances in three excellent stylized films (all of which are on this list) adding three more indelible women to her increasingly miraculous gallery of characters. What did we ever do to deserve her? 


(Lukas Moodyson)
Magnolia Pictures. May 30th
102 minutes

Despite the occassional nihilistic despair of a Lilja 4ever or Hole in My Heart Lukas Moodyson is one of  the world's most empathetic directors - remember his great commune comedy Together? --  especially when he looks at the lives of adolescents as in his debut Show Me Love about two teenage girls falling for each other. This wholly unrelated new film is about three similarly-aged punk-rock loving girls in the 1980s on the brink of boy-craziness, who decide to form a band on a whim. It's effortlessly funny, generous to all its characters, and surprisingly dense with ideas about politics, music, friendship, and teenage rebellion from the safety of the nest. 


(David Fincher)
20th Century Fox. October 3rd
149 minutes

If you're looking for the definitive movie of 2014 it might well be this zeitgeisty adult hit based on the Gillian Flynn page-turning bestseller. This overstuffed adaptation-contraption moves in three concentric circles of crime thriller, media satire, and marital comedy. It's so entertaining that even seemingly tossed off bits like the orange tabby cameos and the workday banter between two cops "my wife says he did it" / "well, if Tiffany says" or, hell, even the occasional off-notes in execution end up feeling like little pop satellites spinning madly in its orbit.


(Mariana Rondón)
Cinema Tropical. November 19th
93 minutes

One of the best movies I've ever seen on the young LGBT experience, Venezuela's runner up for Oscar submission centers on a nine-year old bi-racial boy in the projects who hates his curly hair and wants it straightened for his school photo. His exhausted struggling mother is continually unnerved by his mannerisms and obsessions. This is a rich multi-faceted experience for anyone interested in identity politics (racial, sexual orientation, gender) and a must see for LGBT types who chafe at the simplicity of the "it gets better" slogan, even while tearing up at the videos (hypothetically *ahem*). Bad Hair is never didactic or heavy-handed, just brilliantly observational. Time to seek out Rondón's previous films.


(Alain Guiraudie) 
Strand Releasing. January 24th
97 minutes

One gets so accustomed to cameras and editing editorializing that it's a little jarring to be asked that you do that for yourself. Guiraudie's camera is an objective character, observing sex, violence, and mundane routines with the same calm detachment. It's amoral certainly, and maybe curious (though it won't even move in for a close-up when it sees a murder in progress) but the recurring sight that haunts is the most mundane: a clearing where each car returns day in day out to its same phantom reserved spot. Stranger by the Lake is like a less verbal "No Exit" only gay, outdoors and clothing optional. One of the strangest, sexiest, creepiest, and most challenging films of the year.


(John Carney)
Weinstein Co. July 11th
104 minutes

Every time I think I have a favorite moment in Begin Again another scene starts up and it's 'no, no. This one. This is the best!' Currently I'm fixated on Keira's luminous presence (her most relaxed performance ever) and that impromptu deceptively beautiful "Like a Fool" song wherein self pity recalibrates itself until its a blame-shaming grenade for your voice mail. No wait, my favorite is that joyous scene when James Corden challenges everyone not to dance but delightfully urges them to fail. Or -- SEE WHAT I MEAN? In some ways Begin Again is more favorite LP than film and as such there are scenes I'll surely skip in the future. But rewatchability factor is high so what of it? This endearing movie harnesses the pop power of being embarassingly sincere and/or authentically fake. Like many of the best movies and songs come to think of it. 


(Wes Anderson)
Fox Searchlight. March 28th
108 minutes

"Boy With Apple," the priceless painting at the eventual center of this madcap curiousity's super elaborate plot, is the second best film prop of the year (this tops the props list). I like to think that the well-off perpetually youthful aesthete Wes Anderson is its secret subject, like rumors of the Mona Lisa as Leonardo da Vinci in drag. Or maybe Wes is Mendl, and the movie are his intricate pastries? The point is: He's in every frame. Grand Budapest Hotel's self-aware out-of-time preciousness can best be summed up in its own words:

You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed, that's ... Oh, fuck it." 


(Ruben Ostlund) 
Magnolia Pictures. October 24th
118 minutes

I've heard Sweden's Oscar submission described as "crystalline" and the word fits in all its complimentary implications. Ostlund's very smart deconstruction or, rather, dismantling of male ego is a must-see. Sometimes as talky riveting as a great play (it'd work just as well on stage) but with beautifully precise and chilly visuals. On repeat viewings its perhaps a little too pleased with itself given its concerns about ego and I'm not sure that long risky mini-chapter at the end works at all. But, all the same, it's deliciously funny and provocative with mini personal implosions going off as regularly as the resort's distant controlled avalanches. Boom. Boom. Boom.

(Jean-Marc Vallée)
Fox Searchlight. December 5th
115 minutes

Jean Marc-Vallée and his team make their best film yet, an inchoate journey of the soul, one step planted on earth at a time. It's filled with tender feeling for lost souls, gratitude for warm guides (maternal and otherwise), welcome humor, beautiful cinematography, and two very fine actresses mingling in memory. By its own meditative peaceful finale I was ineffably moved by it.
     - Nathaniel R... and Cheryl Strayed.



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Reader Comments (26)

I'm really excited to see this list shape up. Your 20, 19, and 17 are my 7, 2, and 6, respectively. Tilda Swinton remains my supporting actress winner, though she loses out for leading actress to Jenny Slate in Obvious Child (my #1 film).

January 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

I always do a Top 25 list at the end of the year because it just feels like the right number, but I ended up having to cheat this year to squeeze it all in! I stuck Stranger by the Lake and Bad Hair under 2013 because there was just so much great material. (Stranger by the Lake probably benefited anyway since it easily makes my Top 10 of 2013.)

January 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAR

Loving the list so far, and really glad to read about Bad Hair, which sounds very interesting (but I don't remember hearing about it anywhere online, surprisingly).

January 3, 2015 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

I think if you've watched over 100 movies in a year as you did, Nathaniel, then you HAVE TO do a top 20, otherwise you go mad. Btw, lovely write-ups.

I only saw 63 releases this year, mostly because I tried to only watch things that really interested me, but there was still some yucky stuff here and there that was inevitable (e.g. Malificent). My #11-20 would be:

20. Blue Ruin
19. Happy Christmas
18. Beyond the Lights
17. The Grand Budapest Hotel
16. Le Weekend
15. The Tale of Princess Kaguya
14. Big Hero 6
13. Begin Again
12. The Homesman
11. Under the Skin

January 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

I'm so glad you finally got around to seeing Only Lovers! I thought you would love it as soon as I sat down to watch it!

Brilliant list, love the Tilda love. If only Nicole could choose so well... Sigh :D

January 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMorganisaqt

Ugh that means I have to watch Wild now.

January 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

Great list. Glad to see wild up here. I remain convinced that if The story was about a man grieving for his father, the nominations would include pic, director, actor, supp actor, and even supp actress for the suffering wife character. And cinematography and editing.

January 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMikey67

My 11-20:

11. Child’s Pose
12. CitizenFour
13. Finding Vivien Meir
14. Wild
15. Edge of Tomorrow
16. Snowpiercer
17. Boyhood
18. Love is Strange
19. Starred Up
20. 12 O'clock Boys

January 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMr. Goodbar

It would be nice to have a "share" feature to this list so I could let my friends know about your great suggestions. P.S. I loved #18 most this year.

January 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Pleased to see Stranger by the Lake here, as well as We Are the Best! I don't recall reading about it here, so I wasn't sure you'd seen it, but it's such a perfect little movie, and deserves any more eyeballs you can motivate.
I'll be on the lookout for Bad Hair - sounds great, don't think it opened where I live.

And I gotta say, only going to say it once, but I don't see what people see in Begin Again. Everywhere I turn I see love for this movie that I thought, apart from Keira, didn't work at all. But I'm glad others are enjoying it. John Carney deserves more opportunities.

January 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Jack - there is a share feature at the bottom of the post but i don't know that it works all that well (we will be doing some site upgrades in 2015) but for now, use this link if you wanna share it anywhere.

January 4, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

2014 was a GREAT year in terms of movies. And thanks for mentioning multiplex-only. While most (and many critics' top 10 I haven't seen yet) were or will be VOD for me, even the multiplex offerings were very entertaining this year.

Favorite Mulitplex movies: Captain America: Winter Solider, Fury, Edge of Tomorrow, Interstellar, Birdman, Lego Movie, HG: Mockingjay Part 1, Gone Girl

Favorite Multiplex movies on VOD: Guardians of the Galaxy, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Worst Multiplex movie on VOD: The Giver (also my award for the worst movie I watched all year.)

January 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Both 'Only Lovers Left Alive' and 'We are the Best!' slipped in under the wire, eh?

I was surprised that 'Stranger,' 'Force,' and 'Wild' didn't crack the top ten. Looking forward to reading it tonight!

January 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Amazing list!

The only ones i hadn't the opportunity to watch yet are Bad Hair and Wild, wich i am really looking forward to.

I am brazilian and my top 20 are a mix of 2013 oscar runners and indies from 2014.

Here they are in no particular order:

12 Years a Slave
Inside Llewyn Davis
The Golden Dream
We are the Best
The Boy and The World
The Wolf of Wall Street
A Touch of Sin
Under the Skin
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Two Days, One Night
Obvious Child
Wild Tales
The Babadook
The Boxtrolls
The Grand Budapest Hotel

January 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPedroPet

Runner-ups: Boyhood, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Enemy, The Guest, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.

Top 20-11:

11. The Grand Budapest Hotel
12. A Most Violent Year
13. Big Hero 6
14. Mr. Turner
15. Two Days, One Night
16. The Imitation Game
17. Nymphomaniac
18. Force Majeure
19. Frank
20. St. Vincent

January 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

I always look forward to your "Best of the Year" write-ups. They're so taut and incisive. Love the Stranger and No Exit connection. Great work!

January 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCameron

FORCE MAJEURE will be in my top ten, BAD HAIR, WE ARE THE BEST and GONE GIRL may nudge my own top 20, STRANGER BY THE LAKE was in my 2013 top 20, and WILD and BUDAPEST are solid flicks. Not a fan of BEGIN AGAIN or SNOWPIERCER all that much and never got around to ONLY LOVERS, sadly (I just can't seem to find a moment where I want to watch it and with DVD that's important otherwise it's too distracting).

Looking forward to the rest!

January 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

Great list so far. I'd probably have Wild in my top 10 and Snowpiercer at #1 (of what I've seen so far).

January 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBruno

Great list so far. Some real treasures missed the top ten.

January 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNate T

Please nat, give us the top30 one day!

January 4, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterhenrietta

Nat- where's our top 10.... I'm dyin' over here!

January 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJake

11. The LEGO Movie
12. Locke
13. The Immigrant (even a lower-level James Gray is better than almost anything else)
14. Belle
15. Edge of Tomorrow
16. Into the Woods
17. Whiplash
18. Lucy
19. The Grand Budapest Hotel (wonderful to look at, and Fiennes/Revolori are a treat)
20. Enemy

January 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

Jake it is posted :)

January 6, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

We Are The Best! didn't enchant me like it did to everyone else, unfortunately. I loved the ending and some moments throughout but that main character seemed to bring the whole film down for me. She was such an unpleasant wet blanket!

But besides Bad Hair, which I didn't see, and Grand Budapest, which I actively disliked, everything else here is pretty great. Only Lovers, Stranger By The Lake and Begin Again would probably crack my top ten.

And add me to the growing pile of people who didn't love The Lego Movie as well. Found it a bit soulless and dull.

January 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

It is really interesting. But not as my services for top essay companies, though

I recheck this post today, and still my top 3 is rock-solid but constantly changing in order, so it's a three-way tie, with The Grand Budapest Hotel becoming the rock-solid runner up to this triunvirate of masterpieces.

Oddly enough, neither of the films made your top 10... the triumvirate of 2014 being for me, Snowpiercer, Stranger by the Lake and The Lego Movie. My mood right now, is that The Lego Movie should have won Best Picture at the Oscars, and I don't mean just "animated". It's one of the most multilayered, challenging studio films ever made. And virtually perfect on every single aspect. Repeated viewings and still I find new things in it. And I've seen it more than 10 times, deconstructing it and analyzing it.

So no, it isn't just a "fun" film. It is way, way more than that.

April 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso

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