The Best of 2014 – and the Most Overrated
By Film International.
Another film year has come to an end and it’s time to sum up. Here are the films that some of the current and former members of the Film International editorial team particularly liked this year. And those that we found particularly – annoyingly – overrated. As some of us are based in the US and others in Sweden, contributors were allowed to include films that were first released in their respective country during 2014. Films that went straight to DVD or VoD qualified as well as theatrical releases.
ANNA ARNMAN (Former editor-in-chief of Film International. Based in Sweden.)
- Locke (Steven Knight): Tom Hardy is brilliant in this claustrophobic, well-constructed film on universal themes such as love, life and everything in between – communicated through the Bluetooth of a car.
- Pride (Matthew Warchus): London gay activists supporting striking Welsh miners in the summer of 1984. The difference between the two groups is not as big as what they have in common in this feel good film of the century.
- The Babadook (Jennifer Kent): A single mother struggles with her son’s fear of monsters lurking in the house, but finds out they might be real. Polanski meets Don’t Look Now in a well-made, old-school psychological horror movie.
- I Am Divine (Jeffrey Schwarz): A documentary on the uncompromising and fabulous life of the drag queen of all drag queens. A compassionate portrait of a compassionate person and his many times not so compassionate surroundings.
- Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy): Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent as Lou Bloom in this cynical movie about media’s (and its audience’s) urge to see people’s suffering and death, in close-up – as they say, “On TV it looks so real.”
- Bamse and the Thief City (Bamse och tjuvstaden, Christian Ryltenius): A warm, exiting movie for the smallest children, starring the world’s strongest Swedish bear and his criminals-turned-good friends, teaching us the importance of kindness.
- X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer): Unpredictable and complex, with deepened and varied characters, this entry in the X-Men saga says more about what it is like to be human, than a mutant.
- A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron, Roy Andersson): This subtle, tragic, humorous film follows the declining careers of a pair of traveling salesmen. The long takes and tight mise-en-scène make it possible to see all the details and nuances in life.
- American Hustle (David O. Russell): Christian Bale, usually a rather stiff actor, turns in a brilliant performance, exposing his weaker and humbler sides, in this movie on Jersey powerbrokers and the mafia.
- The Selfish Giant (Clio Barnard): A beautiful film about two working-class boys in the UK, who get involved in crime when working for a scrap dealer. A sad, angry picture of the conditions of a growing number of children in the world.
- Frozen (Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee): Another Disney film on the usual topics – princesses, the dream of true love and female characters looking like all other old-fashioned Disney female characters. The music is unbearable.
- Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson): The idea of a Wes A. film with Ralph Fiennes about a luxury hotel in the Alps made me run to the cinema. But visuals, story and acting were so exaggerated and shallow that the film felt cartoonish.
- The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza, Paolo Sorrentino): In a crisis-ridden Europe, where ever more people are impoverished, this is an arrogant film about an aristocratic man trying in vain to enjoy the splendour around him, but, like this film, failing.
DANIEL LINDVALL (Current editor-in-chief of Film International. Based in Sweden.)
- Omar (Hany Abu-Assad): A stomach-wrenching anti-colonial thriller on the theme of intersectionality; on how the inner, ideological wall of patriarchy undermines the struggle to bring down the outer, physical apartheid wall.
- Concerning Violence (Om våld, Göran Hugo Olsson): The lessons of Africa’s liberation struggles, distilled by Frantz Fanon and illustrated with unique images from Swedish television archives, sadly resonate as much today. We still cannot breathe.
- Pride (Matthew Warchus): A true fairy-tale, with a utopic post-revolutionary touch, demonstrating the power of “an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”
- Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy): The American Psycho of the 2010s. But where Patrick Bateman was only the imperfect prototype of Neoliberal Man, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom is the finished product.
- Capital (Le capital, Costa-Gavras): With the sharp wit of the French comic tradition Costa-Gavras captures the incestuous affair between capital and the state – a sadomasochistic union leaving no room for doubt as to who is on top.
- Miss Violence (Alexandros Avranas): Skin-crawling thriller, family drama, national allegory – Miss Violence works on all levels. A furious monument for the children whose lives are sacrificed to feed the neoliberal vampire economy.
- Metro Manila (Sean Ellis): Ellis perfectly combines action movie with social drama and adds a touch of magic realism in this story from the ongoing primitive accumulation process.
- Still Life (Uberto Pasolini): With superbly understated minimalism Eddie Marsan embodies a very quiet rebel fighting to defend human dignity against the onslaught of austerity economics. Pasolini mixes Kafka with Ken Loach.
- Two Days, One Night (Deux jours, une nuit, Luc Dardenne and Jean-Pierre Dardenne): Marion Cotillard’s Sandra shines along with the sun in the Dardenne brothers’ latest film, illuminating a road for the optimism of the will to find its way through the pessimism of the intellect.
- Grigris (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun): If the great European directors of the 1920s and 30s have a contemporary heir, he is from Chad and his name is Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. Grigris is The Crime of Monsieur Lange for the 21st century.
- Boyhood (Richard Linklater): Complacent like a mediocre Texan Woody Allen movie, this film treats major life crises like minor hiccups and unceremoniously dismisses characters whose problems resist such treatment.
- Force Majeure (Turist, Ruben Östlund): An interesting idea fails to deliver due to a complete lack of social depth, much as in Östlund’s previous film, Play. At least this time it doesn’t turn into a poster film for xenophobia.
- Interstellar (Christopher Nolan): Tedious, sentimental and often cheap-looking despite its huge budget. 3D can be a mess, but 5D just looks silly.
SAM LITTMAN (Film International ‘In the Field’ writer. Based in the US.)
- Birdman (Alejandro González Iñarritu): A cinematic magic trick par excellence and less of a gimmick than any of the towering works released this year that it is most frequently put up against.
- Boyhood (Richard Linklater): This film achieves a sense of time passing rarely seen in American movies. I actually prefer the original title, The 12-Year Project, as Boyhood sells it short in terms of all that it focuses on.
- Norte, the End of History (Norte, hangganan ng kasaysayan, Lav Diaz): I feel compelled to quote Pulitzer-winner Wesley Morris on the effect of this film: “On neither occasion [of watching it] did I feel like I had simply gone to a movie. I had answered the call of God.”
- Force Majeure (Turist, Ruben Östlund): Simply immaculate, from the cottony blue attire and fresh white snow to the generally contemplative Ozu-inflected compositions. Worthy of canonization alongside Scenes from a Marriage.
- Child’s Pose (Pozitia copilului, Calin Peter Netzer): Luminița Gheorghiu gets to flaunt her talent center stage in the most riveting drama released theatrically in the US in 2014. This Romanian masterwork boasts a closing scene you will not soon shake.
- Goodbye to Language 3D (Adieu au langage, Jean-Luc Godard): Perhaps the best 3D movie ever made. It does not feel fully a feature, but that’s my only gripe.
- The Raid 2 (Gareth Evans): If a movie has at least 8 of the 10 best action sequences ever filmed, it’s one of the 10 best movies of that year. Moving on…
- Whiplash (Damien Chazelle): Michael Mann-like maximalist filmmaking with a sense of knowing just the point at which to reel the drama back into the sphere of believability. Ravishing performance sequences and brilliant dialogue.
- Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt): A rare American thriller that cultivates suspense principally through contemplation, silence and dread. Reichardt is the best filmmaker working today in the realm of realism (a loaded term, I know).
- We Are the Best! (Vi är bäst! Lukas Moodysson): Like Boyhood, Moodysson’s light-hearted take on early adolescence is so affecting precisely because the little moments are shown to matter as much as the more pronounced “drama.”
- Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller): A desert dry rendering of the juiciest source material imaginable.
- Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski): Efficiently told, immaculately photographed and with terrific performances. However, I’m very suspicious as to whether there is really as much going on beneath the surface as almost everyone claims.
- Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson): Here is a prototypical example of using voiceover as a crutch and long takes to save money; this is not the Paul Thomas Anderson we know and love.
JACOB MERTENS (Review editor of Film International. Based in the US.)
- Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch): The haunted skeleton of Detroit and the ethereal soundtrack sink this film into oblivion, creating an impression of loneliness and enduring love – a counter-balance that holds the characters together as they watch the world unravel.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson): Grand Budapest’s end of an era narrative has less to do with encroaching modernity and the horrors of war, and more to do with the hole that is left when a grand soul leaves our world.
- The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Isao Takahata): Takahata, best known for Grave of the Fireflies, achieves something equally remarkable with Princess Kaguya, a film that thrives as feminist text and uses animation to impart a sense of wonder.
- Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer): A hypnotic film that fosters meaning in its prolonged silences. In these in-between spaces, Johansson’s character discards the artifice of seduction and observes a world that clearly captivates her.
- Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski): Pawlikowski shapes a film that somehow manages to question God’s existence while also affirming it in isolated moments of grace.
- Goodbye to Language 3D (Adieu au langage, Jean-Luc Godard): The film privileges moments of banality and beauty in equal turn and allows the depth of 3D to create a truly cinematic space – one that belongs to the film’s characters and to the audience alone.
- We Are the Best! (Vi är bäst! Lukas Moodysson): Moodysson’s punk rock coming-of-age story portrays the nuances of childhood – the freedom, the joy, the doubt, the insecurity – in a way that feels both authentic and thoroughly vibrant.
- The Raid 2 (Gareth Evans): Say what you want about the artistic merits of the script – a mob opera that amounts to a poor-man’s Infernal Affairs – The Raid 2 still represents the pinnacle of the action film right now.
- Boyhood (Richard Linklater): Boyhood may have its flaws but it remains a tender film at its heart, one capable of capturing unmatched poetic gestures when the mood strikes.
- Obvious Child (Gillian Robespierre): Robespierre’s feature debut confronts pathos with wit, does not shy away from challenging subject material, and leaves the viewer feeling utterly disarmed.
- Interstellar (Christopher Nolan): At its very best, the film is an interminably dull adventure buoyed by a few pretty CGI space shots, a killer score, and a decent lead performance by Matthew McConaughey.
- Gone Girl (David Fincher): If one really wanted to watch a film solely comprised of unredeemable sociopaths, Gone Girl would be the right fit. Personally, I see little point to that film being made in the first place.
- Boyhood (Richard Linklater): The cloying praise has made Boyhood insufferable to discuss. I admire the film, but it does not merit the attention (note: if most everyone loves your movie, you have failed in some modest way).
LIZA PALMER (Contributing editor, and former review editor, of Film International. Based in the US.)
- The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson): A masterful, elegiac turn from Wes Anderson. Cinema as sacred object. If Ralph Fiennes doesn’t win the Oscar for best acting, there’s no justice in the world.
- The LEGO Movie (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, 2014): Everything is awesome. Clearly.
- Obvious Child (Gillian Robespierre): In a year when being a woman felt embattled, it was nice to see a film (written and directed by a woman) that championed a woman’s right to choose by envisioning it as de facto and wholly personal.
- Two Days, One Night (Deux jours, une nuit, Luc Dardenne and Jean-Pierre Dardenne): An odyssey of abasement and appeasement, through which we learn that to be visible is vulnerable, but invisibility yields sorrow. Marion Cotillard is exquisite as she negotiates her Pyrrhic victory.
- Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer): A flawed film, certainly – the last third did not live up to the promise of the first two-thirds – but compelling in its ambivalence. Disquieting mise-en-scène.
- Lucy (Luc Besson): I wasn’t expecting much so was pleasantly surprised – a strong year for Scarlett Johansson. I only wish the film hadn’t lost interest in the striking nondiegetic asides that populate the first part.
- Belle (Amma Asante): A very earnest film but no less fascinating for its resuscitation of the historical figure, Dido Elizabeth Belle. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is enchanting as Belle, with stunning support from Emily Watson.
- The Monuments Men (George Clooney): Wonderful to see a film that heralds the importance of art to a culture – a fitting tribute to the brave, crack team that worked to save significant art pieces during WWII.
- Beauty and the Beast (La belle et la bête, Christophe Gans): Any excuse to see Vincent Cassel chewing the scenery (sometimes literally, in this one) – time well spent.
- The Trip to Italy (Michael Winterbottom): Slightly more depressing fare than the first trip. But you can’t beat a little Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan.
- Boyhood (Richard Linklater): As the mother of a son, I don’t think this film captured the fierce complexity of boys at all (rather depicting the children through the prisms of adults). A missed opportunity.
- Gone Girl (David Fincher): A disappointing (and vaguely misogynistic) adaptation of a – frankly – disappointing book.
- The Immigrant (James Gray): I am a sucker for a Marion Cotillard film (see above), so was prepared to love this; however, I found it predictable, overblown, and reductive.
MATTHEW SORRENTO (Interview editor of Film International. Based in the US.)
- A Most Violent Year (J.C. Chandor): When people gripe about the current lack of good American films, I mention one name: J.C. Chandor. The revisionist gangster game is not new, but Chandor shows the tradition to be as powerful as ever.
- Borgman (Alex van Warmerdam): This should be a lesson to the remake-obsessive studios: instead of redoing works like Renoir’s Boudu, why not rethink an inspiration into something like Borgman’s subdued, lurking nightmare?
- Birdman (Alejandro González Iñarritu): A parody of the superhero flick craze, a confident work of experimentation and a model ensemble piece, Birdman should be a hit in the States once it goes wide in the New Year.
- Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy): Lou Bloom is our collective shadow, our agent of catharsis, in a tale that portrays how the mind grows pleasurably numb when gathering misfortune, and how such acts fuel commerce.
- Boyhood (Richard Linklater): By filming a cast for 12 years, the film delivers the experiment of capturing life itself in a way only Michael Apted’s Up series has accomplished before.
- The Babadook (Jennifer Kent): A film without one scene out of place, this triumph of minimal resources is really a tragedy of parenthood and misunderstood children, two groups who’ve lacked their voice in social justice.
- Happy Valley (Amir Bar-Lev): As with docs on LeRoy and City Gardens (see below), the reactions of those involved – critics and supporters – are what make Amir Bar-Lev’s Happy Valley a necessary completion to the public narrative.
- The Cult of JT LeRoy (Marjorie Sturm): Essential to American culture, it’s a film that dissects bourgeois passions, revealing capitalism to be the manipulator’s playground that it is.
- Riot on the Dance Floor (Steve Tozzi): This is undoubtedly an insider’s piece. But for anyone who spent time in the Northeastern US and recognizes the name City Gardens, it is an essential piece of Americana.
- Life Itself (Steve James): Roger Ebert’s 2012 memoir Life Itself was a treat, the voice completely his, revealing his preference for short form writing. But his story has a voice even more intimate as told in Steve James’ film.
MICHAEL TAPPER (Founding editor-in-chief of Film International. Swedish readers – and brave Google Translate users – can access Tapper’s collected reviews and articles here. Based in Sweden.)
- Omar (Hany Abu-Assad): A psychologically and politically complex thriller about a Palestinian baker whose love for Nadia is threatened when the Israeli intelligence pressure him to betray her brother.
- Two Days, One Night (Deux jours, une nuit, Luc Dardenne and Jean-Pierre Dardenne): The Dardenne brothers’ drama of a woman struggling to persuade her co-workers to give up a bonus so she can keep her job is a simple and effective illustration of the perverse conditions for the working class.
- The Unknown Known (Errol Morris): A terrifying meeting with the architect of George W. Bush’s “War on Terror,” Donald Rumsfeld, a Machiavellian brute who invented Newspeak catchphrases such as “enhanced interrogation.”
- Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy): Lou Bloom, an American Psycho hungry for success as a freelance TV photographer, stops at nothing to satisfy his employer’s need for pictures of bloody crimes, preferably with a racist slant.
- Boyhood (Richard Linklater): A remarkable project that turned into a remarkable film captures the poetry of daily life in a boy’s development from six to eighteen years with a mix of actors and amateurs, realism and imagination.
- The Purge: Anarchy (James DeMonaco): DeMonaco goes even more political in this John Carpenter-inspired action-thriller about a group of people trying to survive a genocide of the precariat disguised as carnival of equal-opportunity killing.
- A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhang-ke): Jia Zhang-ke connects stylistically with King Hu’s action classic A Touch of Zen in this study of the sordid truth behind China’s rise to economic world power.
- Pride (Matthew Warchus): A British feel-good comedy about the seemingly strange alliance between Welsh miners and London homosexuals during the strike of 1984–85 that is absolutely true – see documentary All Out! Dancing in Dulais.
- Concerning Violence (Om våld, Göran Hugo Olsson): A poetic mix of words from Frantz Fanon’s anti-colonialist classic The Wretched of the Earth and archive films of the liberation struggles in 1960s Africa.
- Citizenfour (Laura Poitras): Finally Edward Snowden gets to tell his inspiring and thrilling story of moral courage, all while the filmmakers are in constant fear of US agents coming to take him away. No fiction can match this.
- A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron, Roy Andersson): Not only is Roy Andersson’s lauded and awarded film a boring exercise in gloom mistaken for political criticism, but a misanthropic freak show of the human race as condemned to a life in misery.
- Interstellar (Christopher Nolan): Rip-off-mix of 2001 and Ayn Rand-influenced romps like 2012 tells yet another story of glorious elite leaving stupid masses to die on environmentally collapsed Earth while they thrive in Space Eden.
- American Hustle (David O. Russell): We are to be distracted from a poor plot and hateful, ridiculous characters by laughing at hairstyles, abyss-like cleavages, bell-bottom trousers and kitsch props from the supposedly ugly, dumb 1970s.
JUDE WARNE (Film International ‘In the Field’ writer. Based in the US.)
- Birdman (Alejandro González Iñarritu): Michael Keaton blows us away in this exquisite portrait of a man at the end of his rope, artistically speaking. The surrealistic bent further highlights the film’s genius.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson): The Grand Budapest Hotel reminds us that unique films can still be made, films in which gorgeous worlds of many colors and sounds exist independently of us.
- Boyhood (Richard Linklater): A conceptually groundbreaking film, at once of its times (filmed over twelve years, etc.) and eternally timeless, as it authentically captures the obscure process of growing up.
- Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch): Jarmusch is a master of creating hip worlds in which his characters are cooler than cool yet still warmer than warm with their insight into the human condition.
- The Immigrant (James Gray): Dark, romantic, tragic, and seemingly realistic in its story’s harshened conditions. This film is an understated gem, which will conceivably go down in cinematic history as one of the best ever made.
- Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer): Intricately woven, mysterious, unnerving, and suggestive, this film really gets under one’s skin, speaking a great deal to the female experience in general, and its dressed-up quality.
- Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson): Many strains of comedy run through the film, but an overarching strain of tragedy also permeates it, the same strain that permeated the USA of the 70s after the beautiful glow of the 60s had darkened.
- National Gallery (Frederick Wiseman): Life abounds here, in the daily traffic of visitors, the behind-the-scenes managing of a major institution, and in the works of art that seem to breathe in and out as the camera captures them.
- A Most Wanted Man (Anton Corbijn): Philip Seymour Hoffman is agent Günther Bachmann in this cinematic adaptation that maintains the spy-cinematic normalcy, presenting the film’s story in a beautiful yet realistic fashion.
- Whiplash (Damien Chazelle): This incredible discussion of how to produce great art asks us to consider what is more important – being a mensch? Or becoming what we think we ought to become, no matter how “out-there” it may be?
- Gone Girl (David Fincher): Pike’s performance as the multi-layered Amy Dunne is incredible. The rest is not as exhilarating. Neil Patrick Harris’ is laughably goofy, and many other moments take on this same quality.
- The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum): Cumberbatch’s performance is heartbreakingly compelling, but the film’s story is too narrow in scope, never venturing beyond the typical biopic fare to make the film a work of broader scale.
- Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski): Initially promising but ultimately unfulfilling. The story of a nun-in-training who momentarily explores the secular way of life ought to have been depicted in a more dramatic fashion.