Every week, the Criticwire Survey asks film and TV critics two questions. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?” can be found at the end of this post.) Send suggestions for future questions to sam at indiewire dot com.
Ben Travers, Indiewire
There were a few films that, while praised at the time of their release, fizzled with audiences or were inexplicably overlooked in 2014. At the top of the list are Ira Sachs’ “Love is Strange” and David Gordon Green’s “Joe.” One is a poetically constructed ode to true love when faced with unjust tribulation, and the other, is, well almost the same. While I was primarily describing the New York-set dramedy with John Lithgow and Albert Molina, “Joe” lines up rather nicely with those descriptors, as well, even if it’s more about finding love when it was thought to be lost (and in a much darker world).
As for the small screen, one missed-must-see-TV show was missed for a reason: “Kingdom” is only available on DirecTV, a frustrating misfortunate for the companion series to “Warrior.” The other is widely available to everyone, but received mixed reviews at the outset (including from yours truly) because the episodes made available to critics didn’t include a massive turning point in the first season. So if you haven’t already, give “BoJack Horseman” a shot, and then do your best to find “Kingdom,” as well.
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Steve Dollar, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post
Feature: “Under the Skin” was cinematic rapture, inspiring cherished twin elemental responses that have made movies movies since the Lumières’ “L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat”: dread and wonder. “Blue Ruin” — five words: Jan Brady with a TEC-9; also, for the breathless, wordless, mysterious opening 20 minutes. Documentary: The boisterous sweet-sad shamble with a pair of middle-aged Belgian drunks, “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” and the sublime story of teenage girl’s coming-of-age as a Christian fundamentalist goat farmer in Texas, “Stop the Pounding Heart.” Short: Scott Cummings’ “Buffalo Juggalos,” Dustin Guy Defa’s “Person to Person.”
Farran Nehme, New York Post, Self-Styled Siren
In terms of 2014 releases, I hope everybody sees Paweł Pawlikowski’s “Ida”; “The Missing Picture,” Rithy Panh’s superb, unique documentary of the destruction of his family and his country by the Khmer Rouge; and “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors,” directed by Sam Fleischner, a tender and lovely film that gives you workaday New York and the subway system through the eyes of a lost, autistic boy.
And there is a new 2014 video release that I hope people will support: “Why Be Good?”, Colleen Moore’s last silent film, back with us after years of being thought irretrievably lost. It’s taken almost two decades to reunite the Vitaphone disks held by Ron Hutchinson of the Vitaphone Project with the sole surviving print of the film that was found in an Italian archive. “Why Be Good?” just played to packed houses at Film Forum. But in order for such major, expensive restorations to continue, there needs to be a market for them on DVD, too. That’s why I hope that cinephiles will put the Warner Archive disc on their holiday lists, and buy it for others as well. Let those in charge know that there is, as Dave Kehr put it, “an appreciative audience.”
Jordan Hoffman, New York Daily News, Guardian
Best Documentary: “Particle Fever” did its festival run last year and got released from a small distributor this March. It is absolutely fantastic, but nobody remembers it. There could be no more important of a subject then the investigation currently underway about the very fabric of the Universe.
Best Performance: “Calvary” has its flaws but Brendon Gleeson gives a performance for the ages. That bogus shite like “The Imitation Game” might net an award for Frumious Bandersnatch is an outrage! I liked him in “Tinker, Tailor” but kudos for this is embarrassing. He should pull a Sacheen Littlefeather if he knows what’s good for him.
Best Film: I’m happy to say that Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Ida” will likely get mentioned on top ten lists from critics with taste. So it’s not like it’s being ignored. But it was the only true masterpiece that came out in cinemas this year. We should be rioting in the streets that “Ida” hasn’t broken box office records. Something in the world is truly broken.
Calum Marsh, the Village Voice / National Post
A host of American indies had one-week qualifying runs at places like the Quad, though they may not be on many critical radars: Nathan Silver’s “Soft in the Head,” Eliza Hittman’s “It Felt Like Love”, Drew Tobia’s “See You Next Tuesday,” Jessica Oreck’s “The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga.” James Ward Byrkit’s “Coherence” is the best science-fiction film of the year next to “Under the Skin,” though only a fraction of that film’s audience saw it. And, as a general annual rule, anything distributed by Cinema Guild ought to be seen and cherished — they’re usually responsible for two thirds of my top ten.
Danny Bowes, Salt Lake City Weekly
I’m recommending four movies and one TV show that are all over the place stylistically and thematically and really only have being “really good” in common: “Under the Skin,” “Listen Up Philip,” “We Are The Best!,” “Why Don’t You Play In Hell?”, and “The Knick.” None of these have been particularly overlooked by critics, but all should be seen more widely than they have been as yet.
Peter Labuza, “Approaching The End,” The Cinephiliacs
Since it barely played any festival in the United States beyond Seattle, yet it is on Blu-Ray in Russia, I have to go to bat for Aleksei German’s “Hard to Be a God,” one of the most enthrallingly ugly films I’ve seen, and I mean that in the best way possible. I’m somewhat shocked that the film couldn’t secure more buzz here, mainly because whenever I describe it to be people they get excited: It’s a science fiction medieval epic shot with some of the most intense 35mm black-and-white long takes I’ve ever seen, set in a world full of drunkards, idiots, extreme violence, and even more bizarre physical comedy. It’s a film full of dirt, mud, rain, shit, and truly feels like a physically realized world than one on sets. While mostly unknown in the States, German was one of the greats of Russian cinema before passing away last year, and “Hard to Be a God” (finished by his son and wife) is one of the most unique pictures truly made. Folks, see this by any means necessary, especially since it looks like you’ll never be able to see it in a theater.
Richard Brody, New Yorker
Betting on who hasn’t seen what, I’m likely to wind up with an ear full of cider, so I’d rather point to some movies that have been, er, misunderdistributed, and they’re not all independent films. High on the list is James Gray’s “The Immigrant,” a tour de force of realism breaking under the force of passion, with two lead performances to match — Marion Cotillard’s, who plays the marble-Machiavellian title role without false angelism or false bravado, and Joaquin Phoenix’s, as the predator with a self-punishing streak; that part, with its blend of pride and moralism malgré lui, is among Gray’s greatest creations, and Phoenix suffers mightily under its self-punishing burden. I suspect that Phoenix is already a lock for a nomination — for another movie yet to be released — but I’d rate his performance in “The Immigrant” even higher. Nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Actor (for that matter, Best Cinematography) would be quite appropriate. Youth is no obstacle to nominations, and Gina Piersanti’s performance in Eliza Hittman’s “It Felt Like Love” is one of the most straightforwardly complex of the year. In the realm of documentaries, Darius Clark Monroe’s “Evolution of a Criminal” deserves serious attention; its confessional refraction of a self-portrait through images of a family, a neighborhood, and new acquaintances modestly poses big questions about identity and character, crime and punishment, art and life. I still wonder why Arnaud Desplechin’s “Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian” came and went so quietly; Benicio Del Toro’s haunted performance, with its searching gaze and halting speech rhythms, have stayed with me since the screening at last year’s New York Film Festival. Along with Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” with its music by Alexandre Desplat, Tim Sutton’s “Memphis” has the best score, by its star, Willis Earl Beal, along with Scott Bomar and Bianca Brimshaw. And when the barriers of categories are broken down by the best of movies, why observe them in ballotting? Another Best Actress nominee ought to be Brandy Burre, for her role as herself in Robert Greene’s “Actress” (one movie that, happily, has been given an aptly prominent on-screen showcase, at least in New York).
Ethan Alter, Film Journal International, NYCFilmCritic
I’d like to call attention to two documentaries that complement some of the year’s best narrative features. Whether you’ve already seen or have yet to see Mike Leigh’s terrific “Mr. Turner,” make sure to set aside three hours for its “sequel,” Frederick Wiseman’s equally great “National Gallery.” The connection between the two isn’t just due to the fact that Turner’s work is prominently featured on the walls of the London art-world mecca that Wiseman documents; both movies are also process-minded portraits that touch on ideas of artistic intent and how art outlasts its creators. Similarly, if you were impressed by Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making “Boyhood,” Lotfy Nathan’s doc “12 O’Clock Boys” also allows you to watch a kid grow up on camera, albeit on a smaller scale. Filmed over a three-year period in Baltimore, the film introduces us to its central subject, Pug, when he’s an impressionable 13-year-old nursing a dream of joining the titular crew of urban dirt-bike enthusiasts and leaves him at age 16, at which point his personality has undergone a pronounced shift. It’s a slender coming-of-age story, far less expansive than “Boyhood” (or “National Gallery” for that matter), but it’s just as effective an illustration of how individuals grow and change over time.
Gary Kramer, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News
At midyear, I wrote about how much I loved the four of “wayward youth” films this year: “It Felt Like Love,” written and directed by Eliza Hittman; “Hide Your Smiling Faces,” written and directed by Daniel Patrick Carbone; “The Cold Lands,” written and directed by Tom Gilroy; and “Teenage” co-written and directed by Matt Wolf. I still consider these films to be remarkable achievements that should not get overlooked. I would add to that list “Somewhere Slow” written and directed by Jeremy O’Keefe, an imperfect film, perhaps, but I have not stopped thinking about it since I’ve seen it. “Bad Turn Worse” is a nifty neo-noir with flinty performances.
Four additional films released since midyear that should be on — not under — folks’ radar include: Tim Sutton’s “Memphis,” which was so mesmerizing, I watched it twice in a row. “Point and Shoot” by Marshall Curry does what I want every great doc to do: take a subject that I never though much about and make it both irresistible and fascinating. “Wetlands” is a film that I admired because of, not in spite of, its raunchiness. I hope folks can’t get past its reputation and see this for the highly enjoyable experience it is. Since those are all challenging films, I’d add a completely sweet title, “The Way He Looks,” the charming romance between two gay teenagers in Brazil, one of whom is blind.
Greg Cwik, Indiewire, the Believer
It makes me a little sad that I’m still calling NBC’s “Hannibal” under-appreciated. I don’t know for how long people will have to sing its praises before casual television watchers stop watching “Modern Family” or “Big Bang Theory” or whatever trite claptrap casual televisions watchers watch and instead tune in to Brian Fuller’s brilliant, brazen, uber-stylish show, as darkly comic as it is grim and gory. Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, Laurence Fishburne, and especially Raul Esparza all give fantastic performances-can we please get Esparza in more quality roles? The term Grand Guignol gets tossed around a lot, often erroneously, but this is one show that earns the comparison. Similarly depraved is Zack Parker’s “Proxy,” one of the few horror films of recent memory that genuinely upset me. Go into it blind and come away from it wishing you were literally blind — it’s capital-F Fucked up. Polanski’s “Venus in Fur” is a calculated, immaculately-shot and gracefully rhythmic flick that went woefully under-seen, and now that it’s on Netflix you have no excuse — Polanski’s real-life wife Emmanuelle Seigner turns in her best performance to date, and Mathieu Amalric is pitch-perfect as the Polanski-esque artist. Amalric also helmed his own minor masterpiece, “The Blue Room,” a fleeting, enigmatic film imbued with noirish melancholy and sexual fervor. Lastly, a professor from my alma matter penned a stunning coffee table book called “The Best Film Noir Posters from the 1940s-1950s.” Mark Fertig, a graphic design professor and one of the first notable film bloggers, has a spectacular eye and these lush posters are a noir fan’s wet dream.
Anne-Katrin Titze, Eye For Film
DOC NYC this week provides many a chance to catch-up on documentaries that may be heading towards Oscar nominations and by lesser known filmmakers whose films have yet to be discovered. Ben Cotner and Ryan White’s “The Case Against 8,” Gracie Otto’s “The Last Impresario” on Michael White, Mami Sunada’s “The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness” on Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, Robert Kenner’s “Merchants of Doubt” and Wim Wenders’ collaboration with Juliano Ribeiro Salgado on Sebastião Salgado in “The Salt of The Earth” are worth adding to your list to see before the end of the year.
Jason Shawhan, Nashville Scene, Interface 2037
There are several films floating out there in the ether which are well-deserving of some critical love. First and foremost is Catherine Breillat’s “Abuse of Weakness.” I have a lot of love for Jorge Gutierez’ “The Book of Life,” Cattet/Forzani’s “The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears,” Yann Gonzalez’ “You and The Night,” Jodorowsky’s “The Dance of Reality” (though the first twenty or so minutes, being almost all child abuse, are difficult), and Mike Flanagan’s “Oculus,” which is one of the most temporally audacious films I’ve ever seen. Also, the one performance that I can’t help but recommend to anyone looking to have their blood chilled: Gene Jones in “The Sacrament.”
Josh Spiegel, Movie Mezzanine
Among TV shows, I’ll go to bat for the CW show “Jane the Virgin,” which remains the most improbably delightful thing I’ve seen in a while. The premise is absurd — a virgin is accidentally impregnated via artificial insemination, and complications ensue — but is handled so confidently and intelligently that the show’s become one of my most anticipated parts of the week. Among films, I’ll once again voice my praise for “Blue Ruin,” “Muppets Most Wanted,” “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,” and “Coherence.” “Blue Ruin” remains one of the year’s best films, a fine meditation on revenge; “Muppets Most Wanted” may be sillier and less nostalgic than its predecessor, but is better for it; “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” is an already entertaining and honest documentary that’s gained a bittersweet quality now that Ms. Stritch has passed away; and “Coherence” is a surprising and sneaky little sci-fi film whose plot is better left hidden. All are worthy (and at least one is already on Netflix Instant). Check them out.
Dan Schindel, Los Angeles Magazine, Movie Mezzanine
People overlook documentaries in general, but I’ve got a few that seem in danger of slipping through the memory cracks. “Rich Hill” is a beautiful look at tiny town life through the eyes of three troubled teenagers. “Concerning Violence” is an essay about the end of colonialism in Africa that has Lauryn Hill reading excerpts from “The Wretched of the Earth,” so look for that when it drops in late November. “Rocks in My Pockets” is a bleakly funny animated memoir about depression, like an adaptation of an autobiographical graphic novel that never was. And “The Final Member” is the best movie about men competing to get their penises put on display in a museum that you’ll ever see.
Oh, and on the television front, you should really really really really really really really really really check out “Rick & Morty.”
Also gonna do the lame listing thing for movies that I guess technically came out last year but didn’t get an American release until this year, so they’re in sort of a grey area, I guess? I dunno. Anyway: “Like Father Like Son,” “Gloria,” “Stranger By the Lake,” “Ernest & Celestine,” “Nothing Bad Can Happen,” “Moebius,” “We Are the Best!”
Luke Y. Thompson, Topless Robot
I can’t answer about TV, as I follow very few shows. I just hope that when it comes to movies, “The LEGO Movie” will get its due, not just among fans of toys, but also among those who dismiss superhero movies and may not be aware that the film has a lot to say about hero myths, arrested adolescence and the different ways kids and adults “play.”
Piers Marchant, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Philadelphia Magazine
It seems as if no matter how many flicks I do trudge out to see, there are five more I wish I had gotten a chance to take in. As such, I’m very interested to see the results of this here poll. For my money, some of the films I think deserve at least a brief moment in the sun include Alain Guiraudie’s brilliant analogy-opus “Stranger by the Lake”; Ritesh Batra’s simmering dramatic fable “The Lunchbox”; Frank Pavich’s enthralling doc “Jodorowsky’s Dune”; and Gareth Evans’ breathtaking action punch-up “The Raid 2”. And thus I’ve spent both my allotment of picks and my use of adjectives for this particular question.
Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit, First Showing
Considering I seem to be about the only person who’s a fan, I’d urge those who ignored Jason Reitman’s “Men, Women & Children” to give it a fair shake. The same goes for Josh Boone’s “The Fault in Our Stars,” even though that one was actually fairly well received (it’s another one I apparently love more than anyone else). The other unjustly overlooked films I’m big on that I wish people had actually given a chance to are Kevin Smith’s “Tusk,” ridiculous as the premise might be, and the maligned Zach Braff picture “Wish I Was Here.” Those are four very different movies, but they all offer something very unique, so I’d urge audiences to give them a real shot. At least two of them are locked for my year end Top Ten list.
Edwin Arnaudin, Asheville Citizen-Times
For Best Overlooked Picture, “Dom Hemingway” is an easy choice. Sure, some of the daddy issues are a bit contrived, but the other 95 percent is near flawless filmmaking and Jude Law is wonderful as a slightly cuddlier version of the mouthy masochists played by Ben Kingsley in “Sexy Beast” and Tom Hardy in “Bronson.” For Best Overlooked Documentary, I suggest “The Hip-Hop Fellow,” Kenneth Price’s engrossing look at the brilliant producer 9th Wonder, specifically his time as a professor and scholar at Harvard University. The art of sampling has rarely felt this academic, alive, and important. And for Best Overlooked Show, catch up with “About a Boy,” quite possibly the best Americanization of British source material since Greg Daniels imported “The Office” and further evidence that when Jason Katims runs a show, it’s well worth watching.
Later this week, two very fine new additions to the horror genre, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” and “The Babadook.” hit theaters. Both are strong contenders for my own best-of-year list. There was, however, a third horror movie that, as far as I know, has been less widely heralded yet which I think merits consideration: Leigh Janiak’s debut feature “Honeymoon,” which mounts a surprisingly resonant allegory of marital anxieties through alien-body-snatcher tropes. It also has a few setpieces, especially down the stretch, that rival “The Babadook” in sustained, screw-tightening tension.
Miriam Bale, freelance
I’m afraid “It Felt Like Love” may get forgotten because of its spring release. But it a) has an unflinching emotional honesty, b) shows a part Brooklyn not often seen in film, especially in indies, & c) Eliza Hittman’s use of texture is at a Claire Denis level. “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” is a masterpiece, with a very interesting use of close-ups (if you can call them that in animation) & length of shots.
And “Welcome to New York” & “Maps to the Stars” are not even getting a proper theatrical release?? And may not next year either? How did this happen.
Tony Dayoub, Cinema Viewfinder, Slant Magazine
With little publicity, The Weinstein Company dumped a pair of easily marketable movies at the top of my list this year, James Gray’s “The Immigrant” and Bong Joon-ho’s “Snowpiercer.” I highly recommend both and hope these are two critics don’t forget in the year-end rush.
As for TV, I’ve come to forgive “Fargo” for stealing what could have been a satisfying finale away from the amazing Alison Tolman and her beautifully rendered Deputy Sheriff Molly Solverson. Instead I’ve decided to focus on its sublime moments like the tense whiteout shootout in the episode “Buridan’s Ass” or the villainous Lorne Malvo’s retribution in the subsequent episode, “Who Shaves the Barber?”
Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, Film Racket
I’d definitely recommend everyone catch up with the documentary “Kids for Cash,” about a scandal here in Pennsylvania where a judge sentenced teenagers with minor criminal offenses to a juvenile detention facility in exchange for kickbacks. (The S.O.B. recently got sentenced to 28 years in prison, so hooray for that.) It’s a powerful film that will make you question our juvenile justice system. On the non-fiction side of things, I really hope critics — and everyone else — will seek out “Kelly & Cal,” a terrific indie in which Juliette Lewis plays a former punk rocker-turned-suburban mom. Suffering from postpartum depression, she ends up befriending a teenage boy in wheelchair, to the betterment of them both. I realize that may sound like something of a downer, but the movie is actually very funny and non-traditionally uplifting. It also makes great use of Cyndi Lauper’s “All Through the Night” in one key scene. (Trust me.) Juliette Lewis gives one of the best performances of the year, so she really deserves to be considered by any critic who is part of a voting organization.
Adam Batty, Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second
I really hope that Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” isn’t overlooked, given its early release date, particularly Ralph Fiennes performance. It’s pretty unfortunate that a boundary-busting film like this (in the sense that it is both a commercial and critical success) may wound up being forgotten in the end of year parade solely because it had the misfortune to be released early on in the year. The cinematography of Alex Ross Perry’s “Listen Up Philip” deserves recognition too. After the Anderson it’s the best looking film of 2014. On a similar note, those two would face stiff competition from Bruno Dumont’s “P’tit Quinquin” for the title of funniest film of the year and while it’s structurally an unwieldy film to see in the right environment (in spite of being a television mini-series it played the festival circuit as a complete whole) it deserves an audience.
Drew Hunt, Chicago Reader
I’d say most critics with their heads sufficiently in the game already have a good idea of what they need to watch or re-watch by the time lists are due, but speaking personally, I’m eager to revisit “Under the Skin” and “Stranger by the Lake,” only because they’ve been buried in my memory by the glut of summer and fall releases. Similarly, there are always films released between January and, say, late March that are well worth considering for a best-of list. This year, “Oculus” (a Rivette-esque horror chiller that doesn’t deal in twists and turns as much as starts and stops), “The Case Against 8” (an exhaustive, richly humanist documentary about the legal battle to overturn California’s anti-gay marriage legislation), and “Non-Stop” (relentlessly entertaining and highly sophisticated action escapism) really struck a chord with me, and while I’m not certain any of them would make my final list, I’d urge anyone to give each a second or third look.
John Keefer, 51 Deep
The Internet has eliminated the ability for a thing to be overlooked if that thing is even tangentially connected to anything or anyone else who is known. This year I have lost the ability to recall anything that I have seen as well as things I have learned. I am adrift in a sea of things I must see that I have not seen. Add to this the unquenchable thirst we all share for New and I am left unable to think of anything that anyone should see that was produced in the year 2014 that you don’t know about. So here are 5 things you should see that are not new but that I love for reasons I will hint at:
The Spirit of Christmas: this 1950 marionette play appeals to me because I am afflicted with Golden Age thinking. Also I love things that were made for children before the onslaught of 80’s/90’s “Where a kid can be a kid” children’s television/glorified toy advertisements. Kids were forced to use their imagination.
Ugetsu: Kenji Mizoguchi’s masterpiece. One of his masterpieces. He had several masterpieces. Whenever I hear someone say, “You must see this new TV Show/movie/video game/viral video!” I always think, “You must see Ugetsu because I know it’s better than whatever you’re talking about.” But ‘better’ is so subjective and I don’t want to seem judgmental.
The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On: This is a documentary. You have to watch it. That is all.
Make Way for Tomorrow: This film should replace the Psychopath Test to determine if a person has the capacity for empathy.
The Christmas Toy: If you’re a millennial and don’t want to watch a black and white movie that will make your soul ache then you can watch this for a similar effect. The combination of a one-off Christmas special on ABC and the beautifully delicate balance of fancy and mortality should override your nostalgia meter, breaking it once and for all so you and I both can finally grow up.
Cousin Jules: I said five because I haven’t seen this film yet. But some friends described it to me after attending a screening and I’m convinced it’s my future favorite film. It is almost Christmas time you know…
Neil Young, Hollywood Reporter
The short answer is “Stray Dogs”, Tsai Ming-Liang’s digital
masterpiece (yes, masterpiece; yes, masterpiece) which
stands — with less than six weeks to go before the mid-point of the
decade — as the crowning cinematic achievement of the 2010s so far.
For your consideration in all categories, etc etc. I also spot
that a trio of pre-2014 pictures popped up on limited US release
this year, each of which are eminently deserving across-the-board
consideration. From 2013: Denis Côté’s
Quebecois genre-straddler “Vic + Flo Saw a Bear”. From 2011:
Ignacio Ferreras’ Spanish animation “Wrinkles”. From 2010 (file
under “better late than never, what?”): Joanna Hogg’s
“Archipelago” with Christopher Baker and Kate Fahy’s performances
standing out even in such a near-flawless five-hander