The Films of 2014: The year in review

On 2014.  Like any year, it had its pleasant surprises and its disappointments.  Three of my favorite working filmmakers—Paul Thomas Anderson, Mike Leigh, and Lars von Trier—turned out work that struck me as second-rate.  Television continues to rival cinema for sheer watchability.  I enjoyed the first season of True Detective and the “So Did the Fat Lady” episode of Louie more than almost anything I saw at the movies.  
But I saw six films that were very good to great, or that had some very good things in them, and a handful of solidly-made others, and for that I should count myself lucky.  There is every reason to believe that movies won’t be going away anytime soon, even as what they look like and how we watch them continues to change.  They’re being made on, and made available through, an ever-widening variety of formats and media, and while it’s tempting to grumble and grouse about that we might instead note that twenty-first century technology allows more people to make, distribute, and see films than at any other point in our history.  Which is something to be celebrated. 

On Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin.  Probably the only film I saw this year that I thought was truly visionary.  I haven’t re-watched it since I first saw it back in March, but its images (and that score!) remain seared into my brain.  I love it for its boldness, its sexiness, its stylishness, and its sheer unpredictability.  Watching it, I was as surprised by what it was making me think as I was dazzled by what it was showing me.  It’s a brilliant film, narratively, aesthetically, and otherwise.       

On Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice.  Well, this one’s grown on me a bit.  You’ll see that I’ve ranked it pretty high on my top ten in spite of the fact that my initial response (reflected in my review) was decidedly mixed.  What can I say?  When it’s good, it’s great.  And a flawed PTA film is still better than 95% of anything else that’s out there.  It’s one that I plan to continue to watch, and wrestle with, and be frustrated by, and love, for years to come.    

On Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language.  I haven’t seen this simply because it hasn’t yet opened in Boston.  I’m told it will be coming in late March.  Stay tuned.  [UPDATE: Seen.]

The top ten films.

1. Under the Skin, dir. Jonathan Glazer

2. Boyhood, dir. Richard Linklater

3. Two Days, One Night, dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

4. Inherent Vice, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

 5. Olive Kitteridge, dir. Lisa Cholodenko

6. Goodbye to Language, dir. Jean-Luc Godard [added 3/15]

 7. The Babadook, dir. Jennifer Kent

 8. A Most Violent Year, dir. J. C. Chandor

 9. Mr. Turner, dir. Mike Leigh

 10. Love Is Strange, dir. Ira Sachs

Honorable mentions. Nymphomaniac, dir. Lars von Trier (part I; part II); National Gallery (dir. Frederick Wiseman); Whiplash (dir. Damien Chazelle); Foxcatcher (dir. Bennett Miller); Night Moves (dir. Kelly Reichardt; pictured, top). 

The films I didn’t see.  American Sniper; The Imitation Game; The Theory of Everything; Goodbye to Language; Beyond the Lights; Leviathan; Norte, the End of History; many others.

The performances.  Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night; Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year; J. K. Simmons in Whiplash; Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice; Essie Davis in The Babadook; Rene Russo in Nightcrawler; Alfred Molina in Love Is Strange; Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins and Bill Murray in Olive Kitteridge. 

For your listening pleasure

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