Did I see everything? Sure, for the sake of argument, let’s say I saw everything. I saw 300 or so new movies this year. There were a lot of good ones. I don’t know how many great ones. Last year my top 4 (Her, Wolf of Wall Street, 12 Years A Slave and Inside Llewyn Davis) were all truly great. This year, maybe only the top 2 are great.
But let’s stop pussyfooting around and get to it. First, some special awards.
Special Jury Prize for Outstanding Performance in an Otherwise So-So Movie
Brendan Gleeson as the “Good Irish Priest” in Calvary
Special Jury Prize for Sticking the Landing (aka ‘The Reverse Damon Lindelof’)
Frank, a terrific movie that is tied for 12th place on my list. Part of what makes this film so great is that its ending really knocks it out of the park. I strongly endorse seeing the whole movie, but if nothing else watch the ending, which has been illegally uploaded to YouTube.
The Marion Cotillard Award for ‘Nostalgie de la Boue’
And this year there’s a tie!!!
The Cotllard Award, which is given to the actress who best makes economic despair look glamorous is shared between Marion Cotillard, for her work in The Immigrant, and Marion Cotillard, for her work in Two Days, One Night. Both Ms. Cotillard and Ms. Cotillard will wear the Marion Cotillard crown well!
The Wood-Wiseau-Breen Award for “So Bad It’s Good”
The Identical,”a Jews-for-Jesus Elvis Ghost Musical that truly must be seen to be believe.
Read my review on The Guardian for more, but fair warning – you will see a picture of Seth Green when you click.
Special Jury Prize For “I Can’t Believe The Is An Actual Movie”
A Most Violent Year, which, while not bad, per se, is a tense two-hour look at a rich guy trying to get a loan.
Only slightly less strange absurd is River of Fundament a five-hour-and-fifty-minute film that features, among other things, Maggie Gyllenhaal getting sprayed with urine, Paul Giamatti shouting (in basso profondo) “My Stool!” and Dick Cavett making small talk at a party where there is an enormous decaying pig. You can read more about it in my review on The Playlist.
The Top 11
11) Whiplash, Damien Chazelle
To quote Ed Norton (the REAL Ed Norton) “Why oh why was I blessed with this musical talent!”
This is a great, dark look at the curse of being driven. Something I wish I knew more about firsthand. While I don’t like breaking ranks with my two fellow jazz-loving critics Glenn Kenny and Richard Brody, both of whom disliked the film (and both of whom I hold in higher regard than they may realize) I just gotta be me. I was with this movie for every beat. It’s simple and straightforward but just snaps together right. And while I know full well the Jo Jones story is bullshit, it’s still cool to see a movie where they talk about Jo Jones.
10) The Great Flood, Bill Morrison
A collaboration between Bill Morrison, the avant-garde archaeologist of lost and often fortuitously decayed film, and Bill Frisell, one of the galaxy’s most exciting instrumentalists and composers. Together they do what mankind has always done – they tell a story they heard from their elders about something terrible that happened, in this case the 1927 Louisiana flood. I don’t know if this is documentary or non-narrative experiment or a prolonged music video for people of peculiar taste. All I know is that it is gorgeous and haunting and altogether human and important. The biggest question is why there aren’t more movies like it? I’ve seen the film three times – twice on DVD and once “live” with Frisell and his band performing the score as the picture was projected behind them at the Museum of Modern Art. In my Film.com review from January 9th I was so bowled over by the music that I hardly wrote about the film. The images Morrison selected are so harrowing (and, occasionally, funny) that it seems almost inappropriate that they play against such a gorgeous score. The Great Flood is a benediction back through history and you owe it to past generations – and yourself – to pay attention.
9) Under The Skin, Jonathan Glazer
There’s far-out and then there’s far-out. Maybe I’m just an idiot, but I didn’t know that she was an alien until the director’s Q&A. And I certainly didn’t know about the unorthodox shooting method until after-the-fact, either. That it didn’t matter is proof that there’s something happening here, even if I am Mr. Jones. When I first saw this movie in September of 2013 and reviewed it I gave it a mere 7 out of 10. This says two things. One, that “grading” films is retarded, and I only do it because my editors make me. Two, that sometimes we can be wrong. My then-roommate at Toronto Film Festival, David Ehrlich, was able to convince me that I liked the movie far more than I realized. Believe me, it’s bad enough to admit to yourself that you may have botched something, but to admit it to David is a hundred times worse. Luckily, I am a great and mature individual.
8) We Are The Best!, Lukas Moodysson
This works as a nice diptych with Moodysson’s Together, an unpretentious and true celebration of non-conformity. It’s so sharp, so funny and so wise. Hate the sport. Hate the sport, forever.
7) Boyhood, Richard Linklater
I don’t know that Boyhood is any “better” than We Are The Best!, which similarly beats the pants off of 99% of all other movies about “the kids.” But credit where it is due – the sheer chutzpah of Boyhood is remarkable. It is simply a rich experience. My oddly favorite (or is it heartbreaking?) aspects of the movie is something I haven’t shut up about since I saw it at Sundance in January – so I apologize if you are hearing this again. In the very early scenes, young Lorelei Linklater, the older sister, is just a comedy whip. As she gets older, she kinda loses it. Not to diss the kid, but her silly streak is gone. Now, had this been a “traditional” movie, a casting agent would have been at that first screening, grabbed her cell phone and shouted “this kid’s a star! Get her in the next Miracle on 34th St. remake stat!” But that can’t happen now. BEACUSE TIME BULLDOZES US ALL AND THAT GIRL NO LONGER EXISTS.
My other not-too-impressive insight: some have suggested that Boyhood kinda-sorta leads right into Mason becoming Jesse from the Before films. I don’t see it that way. Mason is the ultimate observer, a great stand-in for the audience. The last few scenes are basically “heavy, man” walk-and-talks. Not outrageous ones, but not too dissimilar from what populates Slacker. Linklater’s career has basically gone full circle. He can stop now, if he wants, but please don’t.
6) Omar, Hany Abu-Assad / Bethlehem,Yuval Adler / The Green Prince, Nadav Schirman
What good is a top ten list without one pain-in-the-ass cheating entry? I lump these three movies together because they are, strikingly, the same basic story. One is told a smidge more from the Palestinian side, another from the Israeli side and the third is a documentary with recreation. (I won’t be so bold or naive as to call it the truth, though.) I guess that’s how intractable the current conflict – we need three different version of the same story, which, in this case, is about the relationship between an Israeli security agent and his Palestinian informer. The truth of the matter is, I remember loving all three of these movies, but they have gotten completely crossed in my mind. Scenes from one intermix with the other, and if that isn’t symbolic of something I don’t know what is.
You can read my further review of Omar on The Dissolve, of The Green Prince on the Times of Israel and a very short review of Bethlehem in the New York Daily News.
5) Particle Fever, Mark Levinson
What could be more fundamental than an inquiry into what we are. I don’t mean as a society, I mean, like, as stuff. WHAT ARE WE? What is the fucking floor? What is the air we breathe, what is between galaxies or in interdimensional phase-space, if you believe in such a thing. In a very real sense Cosmology is, kinda, the most important vocation in the world(s). Or, maybe we should just say fuck it and jam out to Zeppelin, I dunno. No! No, I do know! We must take long walks along finely tailored rock gardens in Princeton and try to figure this stuff out. This movie shows how that’s done, mostly by those lunatics at CERN with that big underground tube no one understands. I had the great fortune to speak to one of the big theoretical physicists of our day and you should probably read that.
4) Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch
For more, read my review at Film.com, may she rest in peace.
3) Mr. Turner, Mike Leigh
Beauty can come from anywhere. This is the summation of Mike Leigh’s career. He’s made a lot of great movies, but this is far and away his best. “Not since Deadwood have we seen so many unwashed people use such dainty language.” More in my review on VanityFair.com.
2) Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson
I watched this on a standard def screener and said “interesting.” Two weeks later I watched this projected with a hip crowd at the Alamo Drafthouse and now it was, like, discovering which end of the zig-zag had the glue.
1) Ida, Pawel Pawlikowski
Not too much of a surprise if you know me IRL. I’ve been screaming and yelling about this movie since I saw and reviewed it at TIFF 2013 and once again when it played in New York this spring. I spoke at length with the director but what I didn’t include in that interview was me just prostrating myself and thanking him. The cinematography, the riffs on Jewish identity, the sad failure of Communism, the costumes, the John Coltrane’s Naima and Equinox.
“This Jesus of yours loves people like me,” is, perhaps, the greatest line of dialogue we’ll get in this or next year.