As I’ve pointed out in previous lists, it is important to note that this is my list of favourite films of 2014, and not a listing of the best films of 2014. I have many gaps in my 2014 cinema-going experience, having missed out on films like Birdman and Whiplash, and most frustrating of all, not having Inherent Vice released in Ottawa until January.
Having said all that — while I might update the list in the future — this is where it stands at the end of 2014.
10. The Lego Movie
Phil Lord and Chris Miller were responsible for two of this year’s funniest films, 22 Jump Street and The Lego Movie. By all standards, neither of those films should have worked, and yet they did. This is largely due to the brilliant direction of this comedic directing team. While both of these films could have made it on the list, it is the wit, look and direction of The Lego Movie that nudged it past Lord and Miller’s other hilarious 2014 film.
9. The Trip To Italy
Michael Winterbottom’s 2010 film, The Trip, had a supremely simple concept that was elevated by Winterbottom’s direction and the strength of its two leads. While Winterbottom is usually not a man to repeat himself, the return of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon works even better than the last time we saw this bickering pair on screen. The Trip to Italy‘s simple concept is perfected in just about every way this time around, with the beautifully shot Italian coast working as an even better backdrop for endless arguments and celebrity impressions.
8. Gone Girl
David Fincher has always been a frustrating filmmaker. While his filmmaking is topnotch, the writing of his films often let them down. Gone Girl‘s script, written by Gillian Flynn, on the other hand keeps up with Fincher’s filmmaking. The film is trashy, but in the best way possible. Like Soderbergh’s Side Effects, Gone Girl knows exactly what kind of film it is, and embraces that. While possibly overlong, Gone Girl makes up for that with one of the most memorable murder scenes ever put to screen.
Having paid little attention to the film prior to its release, Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler caught me entirely by surprise. While not as accomplished as Taxi Driver, Nightcrawler is becomes the closest thing we have to a modern version of Martin Scorsese’s classic. Gilroy’s film, while disturbing, is also very funny. The score by James Newton Howard may seem confused at times, yet the rest of Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is shockingly pitch-perfect.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy
From the moment it was announced, the idea of James Gunn directing Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was an easy sell for me. An unlikely, but brilliant choice to bring the humour and skill needed to properly adapt the seemingly ridiculous and almost completely unknown comic book heroes to the big screen. Gunn not only delivered on bringing us one of the best Marvel movies so far, but more importantly delivered a legitimately great blockbuster.
5. 20,000 Days on Earth
Nick Cave is one of the most interesting artists working today. He is as prolific as his art is diverse. This docudrama, directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, perfectly encapsulates what makes Cave’s music and writing so captivating while being just as interesting, beautiful and complex as the artist and the work that it explores.
With last year’s Prince Avalanche, David Gordon Green reintroduced himself as the thoughtful, quiet indie filmmaker that people grew to love. And with the criminally under-seen Joe, Green shows he has not simply returned to his comfort zone but has matured as a filmmaker and even taken notes from his time as a comedic filmmaker. The ingenuous casting of Nicolas Cage as the tormented titular hero reminds us of how great Cage can be under the proper direction.
3. Only Lovers Left Alive
Jim Jarmusch’s take on the vampire genre is as much a vampire tale as it is the story of a marriage and what it means to grow old. It is also just about as cool as cinema gets. If there was one film this year that I would recommend seeking out, it is this one.
2. Grand Budapest Hotel
For a few years, I fell out of love with the work of Wes Anderson. However, with Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise Kingdom it was impossible not to remember once again the joy of the originality of Anderson’s voice. Grand Budapest Hotel is not only in line with those last two films, but is an example of a master filmmaker who has perfected his craft.
Every summer it seems we get more and more blockbusters, and yet so few of those even attempt to be anything more than simple summer fare. Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar might stumble in one or two places, yet it was the film this year that reminded me that big cinema does not need to be unoriginal but can strive for greatness. Interstellar might be Nolan’s biggest film, and yet his newfound sentimentality grounds the film and makes it the kind of beautifully made epic we so rarely see.
While I did not see it appropriate to place it on my list of favourite movies, some of the best filmmaking this year came in the form of Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick. Every frame of this television series felt like Soderbergh at his best, not toning down his style in the slightest. It shows what television could be, if more auteurs are given free reign of their craft.