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The Best Films and TV Shows of 2014 According to Indiewire’s Staff

The Best Films and TV Shows of 2014 According to Indiewire's Staff

For more top 10 lists from Indiewire’s blog network, check out Thompson on Hollywood and The Playlist.

Dana Harris, Editor in Chief

1. “Nymphomaniac Part 1.”
Fly fishing! Asking ‘W’ questions! Shia LaBouef’s murky accent! All of that from Lars Von Trier and a thoughtful meditation on the meaning of sex, and maybe a little about love.

2. “Grand Budapest Hotel.”
Wes Anderson can be too twee by half, but in this case it was put in service of a world that was unique, specific, charming, and a lot of fun.

3. “Listen Up Philip.”
Portrait of the artist as a young asshole. Jason Schwartzmann is dead on in his portrayal of a writer wunderkind whose solipsistic tendencies are given full license with the mentorship of a Philip Rothian Jonathan Pryce.

4. “Wild Tales.”
It’s tough to make a cohesive film out of episodic shorts, but Damien Sfrizon created a very funny, dark, and totally unexpected meditation on the nature of humanity and revenge.

5. “Boyhood.”
Richard Linklater’s masterpiece dominates top 10 lists, but I wish it would receive notice for best special effects. Watching Ellar Coltrane age 12 years in three hours was astonishing; Linklater revealed an ordinary and universal magic.

6. “Life Itself.”
Steve James’ love poem to Roger Ebert, and Chaz Ebert, isn’t a tearjerker; it earns every one. If this doesn’t get James his first Oscar nomination, I don’t know what could.

An amazing feat by Laura Poitras — not only for having the courage to make this film, but also for making the world of Edward Snowden comprehensible, and the reasons he upended his life to let the world know what he knew.

8. “Whiplash.”
The first description I heard remains the best; at Sundance, a Critics Workshop member said it was “‘Black Swan’ for drummers.'” I don’t usually like horror movies, but this would make a great ‘Listen Up Philip’ companion piece.

9. “Mr’ Turner.”
Mike Leigh’s compassionate and clear-eyed vision of the semi-articulate painter J.M.W. Turner is a work of art in itself. And no one can snurfle and mumble like Timothy Spall.

10. “Birdman.”
Another movie that could have gone off the rails so many times. Self aware and never cloying, this film has terrific performances all around — none more so than Michael Keaton, who confirms that life imitates art imitates life.

Eric Kohn , Deputy Editor and Chief Film Critic

My top 10 list is published here, but in order to avoid redundancy (and single out a few more excellent titles) I’m including an alternative one for this roundup instead:

10. “Wetlands”
The grossest coming of age movie of all time is also one of the most poignant in recent memory.

9. “Love is Strange”
Career-best turns by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina elevate Ira Sachs’ lovely paean to the hardships of New York living — and they’re matched by a brilliant, wordless finale that brings the movie’s entire thematic weight into focus.

8. “Little Feet”
Alexandre Rockwell’s charming “Peanuts”-like adventure tale is a black-and-white 16mm romp through the lens of adorable nostalgia.

7. “The Babadook”
The scariest movie of the year is also a first-rate psychological thriller that transcends its genre and says something remarkable about trauma through the process of conveying absolute dread.

6. “Le Week-end”
A charming tale of marital woes: How often can you say that?

5. “Listen Up Philip”
If you saw “The Color Wheel,” Alex Ross Perry’s acerbic tale of a self-involved New York City scribe comes as no surprise. But this one’s also remarkably sympathetic towards its angry protagonist in ways that make it alive with the realities of creative frustration.

4. “Exhibition”
Joanna Hogg’s extraordinary look at a British woman at odds with her palatial surroundings is a mixture of Michael Haneke and Miranda July.

3. “Nightcrawler”
Jake Gyllenhaal’s best role is at once old school in its ability to convey urban dread and topical for its satire of modern media.

2. “Closed Curtain”/”Manuscripts Don’t Burn”
Two first-rate Iranian dramas that are lucky to exist, considering the censorship that directors Jafar Panahi and Mohammed Rasoulof face on a regular basis. But of course it’s not just luck: It’s their commitment to telling this extraordinary tales of life under oppression that elevates their concerns.

1. “Two Days, One Night”
The Dardennes just don’t make bad movies; Marion Cotillard doesn’t give bad performances. It’s an ideal match.

Plus, a runner-up slot to “Dumb and Dumber To,” which is absolutely my favorite studio comedy of the year. (It is no easy creative feat to write utterly stupid dialogue.) Also, props to Adult Swim for the outrageously strange viral double-bill of “Too Many Cooks” and “Unedited Footage of a Bear,” both of which smuggle near-experimental media commentary to the masses under the auspices of just messing around — which they totally are, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun reading into it.

As for TV: My highlights were “Fargo,” “Brooklyn 99,” those last few episodes of “The Colbert Report” and, as always, “Adventure Time.” 

Nigel M. Smith , Managing Editor and Senior Writer

1. “Under the Skin”
A flat out masterpiece.

2. “Snowpiercer”
A blockbuster that plays by its own rules. If only Hollywood would make them like this.

3. “Birdman”
The most exhilarating time I had at the movies this year.

4. “Gone Girl”
The grand guignol scene is one for the books.

5. “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Deliriously enjoyable. If I could eat this movie, I would.

 6. “Boyhood”
A monumental achievement that plays like a simple slice of life.

7. “Top Five”
I haven’t laughed this hard watching a movie since “Bridesmaids.”

8. “The Boxtrolls”
The craft on display is extraordinary. It’s also twisted as hell.

9. “The Immigrant”
Marion Cotillard broke my heart.

10. “Godzilla”
I felt like a kid watching it. Director Gareth Edwards tapped into a true sense of wonder.

Other films I loved that didn’t crack my top 10 (in no order): “Nightcrawler,” “Selma,” “Borgman,” “Life Itself,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “Fault In Our Stars,” “Land Ho!,” “Ida,” “Edge of Tomorrow,” “Robocop,” “Tusk,” “The Skeleton Twins,” “The Lego Movie,” “Whiplash,” “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,” “300: Rise Of An Empire,” “Need for Speed,” “Joe,” “We Are the Best!,” “Obvious Child,” Venus in Fur,” “Begin Again,” “Abuse of Weakness,” “Nymphomaniac Pt. 1 and 2,” “Dear White People,” “Laggies,” “Still Alice,” “A Most Violent Year,” “The Babadook,” “Force Majeure,” “Mommy,” “22 Jump Street”

Best TV show I watched this year: The second season of “Hannibal.”

Liz Shannon Miller, TV Editor

1. CW network dramas (especially “The 100,” “Arrow”/”Flash” and “Reign”)
2. “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
3. “Boyhood”
4. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
5. “Dear White People”
6. “Gone Girl”
7. “The Lego Movie”
8. “Obvious Child”
9. “Snowpiercer”
10.”22 Jump Street”
 11.”Veronica Mars”

I didn’t see a ton of movies this year (certainly by comparison to my colleagues) but the above represents the media that’ll probably stick with me most from 2014. For most of my television favorites, just look at the many, many lists Ben Travers and I have made over the last week — with the exception of “True Detective,” they do a good job of representing what really stood out for me this year, objectively. The above? 100 percent subjective, especially when it comes to the CW — these crazy entertaining series aren’t art, but they got their hooks in me, and the power of that cannot be overlooked.

Ben Travers , TV Critic

1. “Interstellar”
Bold, beautiful, and brilliant, Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” is a blockbuster with brains, and, more importantly, a big ol’ heart. Tackling consequential issues of our time with deliberate but never overbearing ferocity, the film is as unarguably as relevant as it is grand. Matthew McConaughey carries the weight of a world with poise, while his co-stars make the lengthy journey all the more fun. A grand experiment told by a master storyteller.

2. “Inherent Vice”
A hysterically clever journey into a ’70s California never before captured quite like this, “Inherent Vice” is a delightfully frustrating trip that’s hard to come down from. While adding up the many connections surrounding real estate mogul Mickey Wolfman’s disappearance is certainly challenging, Paul Thomas Anderson’s script carefully keeps you on your feet without betraying the natural tendencies of his characters. Joaquin Phoenix astounds with his surprisingly elegant physical comedy, and Josh Brolin is perfectly cast as a man constantly toeing the line between frightening commander and laughable square. Sit back, relax and take the ride, man.

3. “22 Jump Street”
The sequel to end all sequels, “22 Jump Street” packs more punches than its predecessor, spitting out lewd witticisms and self-aware jabs left and right. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller wisely skewer the very thing they’re making, taking a theme from the original film and upping its potency. It’s very, very funny, with a brain to boot. Anyone claiming it’s disposable wasn’t paying close enough attention.

4. “Love is Strange”
Charming and simply plotted, “Love is Strange” is cinema at its most pleasurable. Alfred Molina and John Lithgow provide performances of utter magnetism both to one another and their audience. A lovely, meaningful film beyond compare.

5. “Joe”
A dark, deep, compellingly presented and paced drama, “Joe” works as the other side of the coin to director David Gordon Green’s last jaunt in the wilderness, “Prince Avalanche.” While both share some obvious DNA, “Joe” is the uglier of the two brothers, but with an equally warm heart. Cage’s subdued performance is welcome, while Sheridan continues to prove he’s one of Hollywood’s most convincing up-and-comers.

6. “Foxcatcher”
A cold, complex piece shot and told in the most straightforward fashion, “Foxcatcher” is a deceptively deep tale of American masculinity. Chronicling the lives of an Olympic athlete and his opposite, director Bennett Miller encapsulates more of the modern male identity than many feel comfortable admitting while drawing out the best performances of both Steve Carell and Channing Tatum’s careers.

7. “The Babadook”
An impossibly fun odyssey exploring the darkest human desires, “The Babadook” is an unrelenting horror experience asking more of its audience than to cower in fear (though you will). Jennifer Kent’s film deals primarily with parental repression through the unexpected narrative of a children’s book, and its brilliance lies in its courage to ask questions no one wants to consider. Still, if taken at face value, “The Babadook” remains a terrifying story bound to launch a franchise of inept imitators. See this one first.

8. “Whiplash”
A gripping and direct character study, “Whiplash” is a tightly wound instrument playing nothing but the high notes of one boy’s unnerving musical journey. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons bounce off each other with an incredible power, and the noticeably affecting editing creates a rhythm out of the music surrounding it. A potent, personal accomplishment.

9. “John Wick”
With a commanding sense of style, “John Wick” elevates a simple story to the height of “B-movie” action. What makes “John Wick” truly stand out among the plethora of its “Taken”-esque parallels is that we actually get to see the spectacle at the story’s core. Instead of using post-production editing tricks to make fist fights that didn’t really happen look like they did, directors David Leith and Chad Stahelski take the time to block out and choreograph each battle, thus allowing the viewer to appreciate the brawl in front of them. What the directors of “Captain America” and “Transformers” failed to do with massive budgets is achieved here with next to nothing, making “John Wick” the best blockbuster of 2014.

10. “Edge of Tomorrow”
Close on its heels is a studio action flick finally worthy of Tom Cruise’s earnest work ethic and impeccable physicality (the man may be batty in the brain, but give credit where credit is due). Twisty, fast, and fun, “Edge of Tomorrow” doesn’t stray far from its video game premise — and that’s no insult. A stalwart group of thespians deliver well-crafted dialogue worthy of repetition, mimicking my desire to watch Doug Liman’s genre-bending triumph again and again.

Casey Cipriani, Assistant Editor

Can I just tell you all how hard this is? Everyone loves to yammer on and on about how movies aren’t good anymore. There’s always the argument that good cinema is only being made in the indie world, and that’s why nothing in the mainstream is of any notable quality. But 2014 has proved to be a year with some great films in the mainstream realm of comic book movies, pulp and popular fiction adaptations as well as on the indie side. My favorite narratives, listed in alphabetical order below, met only one requirement to make the cut as my favorites of the year: Would I want to watch them over and over again?

For these 13 movies, I’d be happy being strapped to a chair, eyes pried open a la Malcolm McDowell in “A Clockwork Orange,” forced to watch them on repeat. There are plenty of films that I haven’t yet seen this year, but these were my favorites:

 “Gone Girl”
 “Guardians of the Galaxy”
 “The Lego Movie”
 “Night Moves”
 “The Theory of Everything”
 “Under the Skin”
 “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

Favorite Documentaries:
Some of these docs I caught at fests, so not all of them have distributors yet. But they all simultaneously taught me something I didn’t know while managing to be entertaining as well.

 “The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden”
 “Life Itself”
 “Mala Mala”
 “Meet the Patels”
 “To Be Takei”

Favorite Short Films:
I was lucky enough to get to see a wide variety of short films this year at various festivals. Shorts are often hard to find, but I promise if you seek these out (some of them available on Indiewire) you will not be disappointed.

 “The Apothecary”
 “The Last Time I Saw Richard”
 “The Life and Death of Tommy Chaos and Stacey Danger”
 “The Karman Line”
 “Lambing Season”
 “Mr. Invisible”
 “Pony Place”
 “The Phone Call”

TV is so damn good right now that it’s hard to keep up with how many great shows are out there. I’ve still yet to see “Fargo,” “Transparent” or “Jane the Virgin,” but this year my face has been glued to these top five.

 “The Americans”
 “Game of Thrones”
 “How to Get Away with Murder”
 “The Leftovers”
 “Orange is the New Black”

Peter Knegt, Contributing Editor

It really felt like 2014 was a kind of landmark year — at least for me personally — in terms of how I consumed media and what kind of media I consumed. So instead of offering a traditional top 10 films or top 10 television series list, I felt like it might be fun to consider audio-visual storytelling in general.  Which media experiences blew me away in 2014, and which ones are most likely to stay with me well beyond the end of this year?

In alphabetical order, these are the 25 I came up with:

“Boyhood” (narrative film)
“Broad City” (narrative series)
“Citizenfour” (documentary film)
“The Comeback” (narrative series)
“Fargo” (anthology series)
“Gone Girl” (narrative film)
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” (narrative film)
“Hannibal” (narrative series)
“Happy Valley” (narrative series)
“Inside Amy Schumer” (variety series)
“Looking” (narrative series)
“Love is Strange” (narrative film)
“Mommy” (narrative film)
“Mr. Turner” (narrative film)
“Neighbors” (narrative film)
“Olive Kitteridge” (miniseries)
“Only Lovers Left Alive” (narrative film)
“The Overnighters” (documentary film)
“The 71st Golden Globe Awards” (awards show)
“Selma” (narrative film)
“Serial” (podcast)
“Transparent” (narrative series)
“True Detective” (anthology series)
“Under The Skin” (narrative film)
“Whiplash” (narrative film)

Paula Bernstein, Filmmaker Toolkit Editor

My 10 Best of Everything (disclaimer: I still haven’t seen many of the best-reviewed films of the year, including “Selma,” “Whiplash,” “Dear White People,” “The Babadook” or “Citizenfour”).  In no particular order:

1. “Birdman”
 Original, hilarious, magical.

2. “Boyhood”
 Loved everything about it. A groundbreaking work that prompted me to look at movies — and my own life — in a new way.

3. “A Girl Walks Home Along at Night”
A new talent has emerged on the scene with filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour. Can’t wait to see what she does next.

4. “Under the Skin”
 A visceral and sensual experience which lasts way after the film ends.

5. “The Americans”
 Sex, spies and marriage in the 1980s. TV doesn’t get any better than this.

6. “Serial”
 The podcast that reminded me how much I love storytelling, true crime and thoughtful inquiries into truth and justice.

7. “Transparent”
 Jill Soloway’s Amazon series is ostensibly about what happens when a transgender woman comes out to her family later in life. But it’s much more than that. It’s an incisive and hilarious exploration of sex, siblings and the meaning of life.

8. “Point and Shoot, “Rich Hill,” “Life Itself,” “The Dog”
 It’s been an amazing year for the documentary form (including “Serial”). These are just a few of my favorites.

9. “Ida” Dark, unsettling and starkly beautiful.

10. “Love is Strange”
 Though it touches on the politics of gay marriage, it’s primarily an understated love story between a middle aged couple (played by the remarkable John Lithgow and Alfred Molina). It’s also a love letter to New York City.

10 1/2. “Nightcrawler” Jake Gyllenhaal goes all the way with his desperate Lou Bloom. A contemporary “Taxi Driver.”

Emily Buder, Community Manager
1. “Birdman”
“Birdman” is stark proof that wildly entertaining cinema can also be boundary-pushing and smart. You can’t help but feast on its delectable details with a level of anxiety-inducing engagement; its energy is relentless, mirroring Michael Keaton’s frenetic striving for grandeur. The performances don’t miss a beat as the film oscillates between absurdist comedy, existential angst, raw human encounters, and biting satire — sometimes all at once. It’ll leave you reeling.

2. “Boyhood”
An unprecedented cinematic achievement that succeeds in simply doing what movies strive to do: feel like life.

3. “Ida”
Told with exacting beauty and empathy, this stoic gem takes its time burrowing under your skin.

4. “Whiplash”
A thoroughly exhausting investigation into the pursuit of excellence, “Whiplash” anticipates a fruitful career for its star, Miles Teller.

5. “Under the Skin”
The most sensual experience in cinema this year. Jonathan Glazer must be commended for daring to take us on this experiential ride that’s unapologetically its bizarre, messy, voluptuous, inexplicable self.

6. “The Babadook”
When someone pumps new blood into the horror genre, it’s worth taking note. Jennifer Kent’s rousing “The Babadook” is a run-of-the-mill story told with an extraordinary breath of fresh air. 

7. “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”
Stylish and moody without being pretentious, Ana Lily Amirpour gives the vampire movie a Western-feminist-Iranian makeover rife with expressionist imagery and an awesome soundtrack.

8. “Obvious Child”
Entirely irreverent and laugh-out-loud hilarious, this is the dawn of an important kind of feminist comedy.

9. “We Are the Best!”
A thoroughly enjoyable coming-of-age story told with unbridled passion.

10. Force Majeure
Largely told through body language and majestic landscapes, “Force Majeure” is a relationship drama unafraid to stay on its subject until after the curtain has gone down on comfort.

Shipra Harbola Gupta, Editorial Assistant
1. “Boyhood”
Although the film is, at its core, about Mason Jr.’s growth from boy to man, the simultaneous evolution of Olivia, Mason Sr. and Sam as mother, father and sister, respectively, manages to capture the complex way in which we don’t just understand our family in terms of ourselves, but also in relation to others.

2. “Birdman”
This film is a glorious investigation of the many facets of narcissism — from that little voice (or in Riggan’s case, the deep voice) in our heads to the typeface chatter of millions on social media, “Birdman” reminds us that even when you’re making a remark about someone else, you are, in fact, also speaking to a certain part of yourself.

3. “Inherent Vice”
Kitsch is at its absolute finest in Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film. Sure, that’s an oxymoron, but when it comes to Los Angeles, very little ever makes sense — which is exactly why it’s so damn special.

4. Music Video for “Turn Down for What” Mixed by DJ Snake feat. Lil Jon

With more than 140 million YouTube views, this music video holds a special place in my heart — not only because of it’s wild, grotesque imagery, but also because the release of this track and accompanying music video comes exactly 10 years after one of the most influential Top 40 songs of the 21st century: “Yeah!” by Usher feat. Lil Jon and Ludacris. Crunk is not dead. You can try to argue with me, but you will not win.

Laura Poitras was brave to not only endeavor to make this film about Edward Snowden, but also exposing how her own anxieties unfolded throughout production. It’s a story about a story, which adds veracity to the call to action the film makes — reminding viewers that they cannot take the right to privacy for granted; they must act in order to protect it.

6. “Frank”
At its core, “Frank” is a beautiful film about the various ways in which we all have coped with varying degrees of mental illness.

7. “Whiplash”
I can’t remember the last time a drama had me literally cowering in my seat, shaking in fear. Bravo!

8. “Top Five”
I had a blast watching this film. The jokes and gags were fresh and even though the narrative didn’t always seem to know where it was going, that ended up contributing to the film’s overall charm and timeliness — particularly since, in the real world, American continues to grapple with difficult questions around prejudice.

9. “Gone Girl”
Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne is certainly a femme fatale for the ages and the narrative as a whole forces us to question the ways in which we construct the myth of the woman in American society.

10. “The Theory of Everything”
In spite of a less-than-stellar script, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones give remarkably nuanced performances as Stephen and Jane Hawking. The film isn’t as much the Hawking’s story as it is a universal portrait of the complexities of relationships — how you can love someone and still manage to grow apart.

Andrew Fiouzi, Technical Editorial Assistant
1. “Interstellar”
2. “Boyhood”
3. “Inherent Vice”
4. “Only Lovers Left Alive”
5. “Nymphomaniac Part 1”
6. “Enemy”
7. “Jeune & jolie”
8. “L’écume des jours”
9. “I Origins”
10. “A Most Wanted Man”

Zack Sharf, Intern
Serial killers and excessive violence plunged the modern Television Golden Age into dramatic darkness this year, but I propose a toast to the comedies that brought the funny without sacrificing the heart, the intellect or the pain of the real world. You’ll certainty find an intense drama or two on the list below, but let 2014 be a reminder of just how thematically and structurally smart television comedies can be:

10. “Penny Dreadful”
9. “Game of Thrones”
8. “You’re The Worst”
7. “The Comeback”
6. “BoJack Horseman”
5. “Veep”
4. “The Leftovers”
3. “Transparent”
2.  “Louie”
1. “Fargo”

Anyone complaining this year failed to match the cinematic highs of 2013 just wasn’t looking in the right places. If anything, 2014 was a reminder that classics-in-the-making no longer need the fall awards season to thrive. Starting with the razor-sharp wit of “The LEGO Movie” in February and extending through endearing summer romances such as “Love is Strange” and “Obvious Child” and character-centric fall dazzlers like “Nightcrawler” and “Birdman,” greatness was everywhere this year as long as you were willing to seek it out. 2014 was so good, in fact, that none of these aforementioned darlings could nudge out a spot on the following list of favorites. Stop comparing years and just start watching:

10. “Boyhood”
 9. “The Babadook”
 8. “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
 7. “A Most Violent Year”
 6. “The Immigrant”
 5. “Inherent Vice”
 4. “Foxcatcher”
 3. “Mommy”
 2. “Whiplash”
 1. “Under The Skin”

READ MORE: Indiewire’s 2014 Year-End Critics Poll

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