This year we compiled an aggregated Playlist Best Films Of The Year which you can find here. However, regular contributors were also given the chance to submit personal lists. Here’s the rest of our substantial year-end coverage, among which you’ll find other personal top ten lists from our staff.
Versatile is a word that comes to mind when thinking about 2014 releases, as we got almost an equivalent amount of vastly entertaining blockbusters, daring and original indies and captivating art house fare. It’s a great feeling to look back on a year and realize that all kinds of filmmakers —from the top of the blockbuster pole to the bottom of the micro-budget indies— have all created some astounding and invigorating pieces of work. Just like Peter Quill’s Awesome Mix Tape, one can easily create a mix of awesome films from 2014 that can cater to every mood. Here’s my top ten films of the year….
10. “Manuscripts Don’t Burn”
“Manuscripts Don’t Burn” is the more realistic and therefore more pessimistic thematic cousin to Jon Stewart‘s “Rosewater.” Both films depict the Iranian government torturing their intellectuals in order to block any dissemination of anti-establishment thought. It’s too bad that “Manuscripts Don’t Burn” will never reach anywhere near the audience of “Rosewater,” since aside from being an astoundingly daring and delightfully incendiary middle finger to the Iranian establishment, it’s a meticulously constructed and expertly paced political thriller reminiscent of Costa-Gavras‘ 1960s heyday.
9. “Happy Valley”
With “Happy Valley,” director Amir Bar-Lev (“The Tillman Story,” “My Kid Could Paint That“) examines the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the Americans tendency to worship heroes to the point where a blind eye is turned to atrocities as long as those idols provide their fans with whatever escapist pleasures they crave. As it did with the actual case, “Happy Valley” is dividing audiences and creating heated discussions (just check out the hostile comments that followed my original review) over the many contradicting reactions given by its subjects. However, there’s one point that probably won’t be as controversial: it’s the best documentary of the year.
8. “The Homesman”
Tommy Lee Jones’ second directorial effort (fourth, if you count two TV movies) is a dry and grimy western, if I can even call it that, about a headstrong woman (Hilary Swank) transporting three insane women through the treacherous paths of the old west. Jones is not afraid to get down and dirty as he tells a grim tale told from an honest female perspective. Not an easy one to swallow, with no interest in pleasing you with fairy tales, which is what makes it so special.
7. “The Lego Movie”
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the year, “The Lego Movie” delivers an infectiously energetic and creative world ruled by Legos (or is it?), when all we expected was a “Transformers”-level cash grab greenlit in order to capitalize on nostalgia for a toy brand. Aside from being constantly inventive and a visual delight, Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s film also offers an emotional and insightful ending coming out of left field.
Joon-ho Bong’s “Snowpiercer” is the perfect example of a smart genre film. Yes, it brings the blood-soaked, hyper-violent action goodies in spades, but it’s also a deft study on our current sociopolitical climate, a brutal and sometimes downright funny satire, and a counter-cultural science-fiction behemoth that almost borders on full-on anarchy. Bong perfectly balances the wildly shifting tones the story requires in order to bring together an impeccably paced piece of subversive entertainment.
Dan Gilroy’s excellent directorial debut is a brutally honest and spot-on examination of the legitimately mucky and sleazy state of media’s shameless fear-mongering and exploitation of pain and misery. There were many ways this project could have derailed into either schlock or didactic moral grandstanding, yet it never falters from its intense focus. It can be off-putting and even uncomfortable sometimes, but it’s also as gripping and as real as it can get. Not to mention it features Jake Gyllenhaal’s best performance to date.
Many reviews of “Boyhood” focus on the fact that it set a precedent in film history as a narrative feature shot over a dozen years, which makes it sound like it should be seen only as film buff novelty. But apart from the technical selling point, the real reason to seek “Boyhood” out is in the way director Richard Linklater explores his characters with equal parts empathy and voyeurism. Just like the way our own memories work, we simply enter the experiences of a young boy whose instantly relatable confusions, joys and frustrations are presented like a bunch of old-fashioned slides spread across an empty room. To describe individual scenes or performances would be to betray the way “Boyhood” should be experienced.
3. “Guardians of the Galaxy”
New and familiar at the same time, James Gunn’s take on “Avengers in Space” not only produced the best Marvel film to date, but the most entertaining blockbuster effort of the year. This was the kind of fun, breezy space opera we deserved from the disappointing “Star Wars” prequels. Even while it’s gleefully exploiting the most tired clichés of the genre, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is always fresh and fun.
An endlessly creative and refreshingly honest study about the acceptance of failure through the power of ambition, Alejandro Gonzales Inarittu’s delightfully insane “Birdman” is an absurdist masterpiece for the ages. Michael Keaton’s emotionally exhausting performance is Oscar-worthy and represents a true comeback for the actor, ironically in a film that successfully mocks the very notion of a “comeback.”
James Rocchi’s controversial The Playlist review and his worst movie of the year is my best movie of the year. In 1968, it was commonplace to read scathing reviews of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and hear about audiences leaving theatres cursing at Stanley Kubrick. Yet about a decade after its release, ‘2001’ was already hailed as one of the greatest films ever made. Now it’s Christopher Nolan’s turn, as his mind-bending, gorgeous, ballsy, intensely emotional and intellectually challenging space epic “Interstellar” sparked heated discussions upon its release, was misunderstood and ridiculed by many critics and audiences, and in my opinion will be hailed as an envelope-pushing masterpiece of true hard science-fiction ten years down the line.