THE BEST OF 2014: For a long time there it looked like a so-so year for the movies. But, by the end, I found it hard to cull my favorites down to 10. The movies for Christmas weren’t a strong lot this year but there was a steady sprinkling of good titles before them.
Even the blockbusters improved this year (some of them anyway) and I almost got one into this list. It’s in a list of extras and almost-made-its at the bottom.
Notice I’ve only included films that have opened here. So no Selma, American Sniper, Inherent Vice, Leviathan or A Most Violent Year. They’re coming later this month.
These did make it:
BOYHOOD: It’s the best movie of the year because it brilliantly shows how a family and one son in particular grow, age and change. Richard Linklater filmed it over 12 years with the same actors and went the extra step every time they reassembled of working in incidents that had actually happened to them.
The minutia of daily life coalesce into a profound look at our modern world.
BIRD MAN or THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE: Michael Keaton plays an actor like himself, trying to leave a background of comic-book-movies for Broadway. There’s gusto, imagination, great acting and an oddball spirit in this black comedy, plus a technical gimmick (one continuous take) that speeds it along.
CITIZENFOUR: This documentary by Laura Poitras not only tells us about the most infamous case of whistle-blowing of our time but also has us there watching as Edward Snowden first revealed the dirt on NSA surveillance to a couple of reporters and the camera. It’s chilling and satisfying to hear history being made.
MOMMY: I can’t think of another film this year that was as intensely emotional as this one from Quebec. Xavier Dolan gets under your skin directing this story of a single mother’s struggles with her ADHD-afflicted son who simply has no brakes on his impulses.
Deep down he’s sweet, but get out of the way when he blows, mom says. We see both sides but be warned: the language is very rough. It’s our submission to the Oscars and will be back at the Cinematheque next Thurs and Fri as part of Canada’s Top 10.
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL: Whimsical, zany, funny, intelligent. They all fit Wes Anderson’s mittel-European fantasy that speeds along from one amusing incident to the next with sparkling wit and only occasional foreboding of the war that would wipe out that world of courtesy and propriety forever. Ralph Fiennes and a great cast are stellar.
THE LEGO MOVIE: This was the year’s nicest surprise. It could have been a commercial masquerading as a movie. Instead it’s a very funny examination of the idea and purpose of toys chocked full of innovation and wit and clever digs at popular culture. No wonder kids and adults both enjoyed it mightily.
FOXCATCHER: It’s always rewarding to come across a true story that’s new to you and laced with so much to think about. A sense of entitlement among the super rich. One man’s striving for respect. His need to achieve as a leader of men. The eerie feeling that he’s not quite stable. And ultimately, tragedy. They’re all there in a revelatory performance by Steve Carell.
MR. TURNER: With grunts, groping hands and argumentative ways Timothy Spall brings to life the 19th century English painter J.M.W. Turner in Mike Leigh’s gorgeous film. Scenes are often composed like one of his paintings and the expositions about art that Turner heard from critics and other painters are modern even though spoken in that delicately quaint style of language.
IDA: A very poignant film about rooting around in your history and learning to live with what you find. It’s from Poland, made by an émigré returned from Britain and powerfully acted by a newcomer and a veteran.
A nun-in-training takes her first steps out of the convent and learns from her aunt that she’s not Catholic; she’s Jewish. Issues around joining the real world, adjusting, forgiving and retribution arise without strain in a tight script sharply directed and acted.
WHIPLASH: A powerful film about the teaching profession. It doesn’t follow the usual weepy path with an inspirational teacher; it hits you over the head with a drum stick and slaps you around demanding “Are you rushing or dragging?” J. K. Simmons plays the tyrannical instructor to Miles Teller’s trying-hard percussion student. The noisy and often insulting battle of wills is electrifying.
These titles could just as easily be in that top 10. They’re also worthy but as it is they’re just bubbling under.Locke, The Immigrant, Guardians of the Galaxy, Nightcrawler, Force Majeur, The Theory of Everything, Under the Skin, The Overnighters and Chef.