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Zach Hollwedel’s Top 10 Films Of 2014

Zach Hollwedel's Top 10 Films Of 2014

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. 

I feel I should preface my list with a big caveat, though one I offer with no embarrassment whatsoever. There are a ton of movies I didn’t see this year, including myriad ones routinely popping up on Best of the Year lists. “Whiplash,” “Foxcatcher,” “Under the Skin,” “Gone Girl,” the list goes on. But there are countless movies released each year, and I often find myself in the position of watching those, which fall off the radar. And let me tell you, there are many gems hidden in the rough. Here’s my top 10 films of 2014….

10. “The Congress
If there’s one word used to describe “The Congress,” it should be bizarre. In Ari Folman’s film, Robin Wright plays herself, an actress whose time in the film biz is rapidly nearing its end. She can preserve her career by selling her likeness, enabling filmmakers to digitally insert her into films for years to come. She won’t age, won’t disappear from the screen. Wright’s decision leads her into an animated, hyper-sexualized world, where washed up movie personas struggle to maintain their sanity and their relevance amid the chaos of a dystopian future. It’s hard to explain, hard, really, to even comprehend. It is like no other film to come out this year, and is easily one of the strangest movies about Hollywood ever.

9. “Rudderless
It’s hard to put a Top Ten list together, when certain movies strive to achieve different things. The strength of the other films on this list lies in their plots (with perhaps the exception of “Boyhood,” which had slightly different goals). That’s not to say William H. Macy’s directorial debut, “Rudderless,” is weak of plot. Rather, the film—about an indie band named Rudderless—is really about music, and the original songs written for the film have stuck with me since I saw it months ago. The film is okay, good but perhaps not great, but I keep circling back to the music. For a movie in which music is a character, the inciting incident, the lifeblood of the film, that has to say something.

8. “Fury
David Ayer’s “End of Watch” was one of the best films of 2012, and the writer-director came back this year with “Fury.” Completely different in subject matter, look, and feel, “Fury” is another investigation into brotherhood on the front lines. Rather than cops, Ayer examines soldiers in WWII this time; instead of a squad car, he places them in a tank. The battle sequences are gritty, gory, real. The film suffers from a couple deus ex machina moments where Ayer’s hand as a writer descends from the sky, but they don’t detract enough from the overall achievement to warrant any major flack.

7. “Locke” 
Tom Hardy remains one of the most hard-working, versatile actors in the industry today. He spent nearly a week in a car, acting out “Locke” in 90-minute stretches from start to finish, chugging cold medicine the whole time because he was legitimately sick. He’s the only person ever to appear on screen, and while single location films can often wear thin of their premise rather quickly, “Locke” only becomes more engaging as the minutes pass.

6. “Boyhood
Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” is impressive on so many levels. Filmed over a dozen years, it follows an average American family through their day-to-day experiences. And it shines most brightly in the quieter, more subdued moments this family shares. It doesn’t bother with many of the major incidents—deaths, emergencies—or focus on exposition. Linklater trusts his script and his actors to convey what they need to keep the audience abreast of developments in the family’s life, and he and his cinematic experiment both succeed wonderfully.

5. “The Lego Movie
At first, the thought of a movie about Lego seemed like a joke. Like, seriously, the toys? Worse ideas have come out of La La Land, but something about a “Lego Movie” just seemed unnecessary. Then, the film came out and completely unraveled that whole notion. Not only was “The Lego Movie” a complete blast, but it was also funny, smart, and while family friendly, totally entertaining to adults. Animated films have only gotten better since Pixar raised the bar, and “The Lego Movie” has to be one of the best in recent years. Who didn’t walk out of the theater with “Everything Is Awesome” stuck in their head? And Lego Batman—can he have his own film next, please?

4. “A Most Wanted Man
Philip Seymour Hoffman’s early death was one of the sadder pieces of news to come out of Hollywood this year, but Anton Corbijn’s film offers proof the thespian was on the top of his game when he passed. Hoffman delivers an astounding performance as Günther Bachmann, infusing the character with simultaneous gruff, mercilessness, and humor. “A Most Wanted Man” is a great modern espionage thriller—smart, fast-paced, and unpredictable to the end.

3. “Only Lovers Left Alive
Hollywood, enough with the vampires already. We’re sick of it. With one notable exception from 2014. The latest film from Jim Jarmusch, “Only Lovers Left Alive” explores love between immortal vampires. It is both an engrossing watch, as well as a successful new take on vampires in what is an otherwise oversaturated market of films about the undead. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are Adam and Eve, lovers on opposite sides of the earth who, despite the distance and the centuries they’ve been together, remain drawn together. Jarmusch takes his time telling their story, and why shouldn’t he? They have all the time in the world.

2. “Gloria
Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio’s “Gloria” is an honest, endearing, tender look at dating later in life. Paulina García beautifully plays the titular character who simply wants to find love as she nears her golden years. What the film captures best are those giddy, butterfly in the tummy moments of early courtship. Gloria and her new beaux can’t keep their hands off one another. They giggle, flirt, and have sex (lots of sex) like teenagers. Few films depict budding romance as well as “Gloria,” and it’s a shame the film didn’t make a bigger mark in the U.S.

1. “Birdman
Michael Keaton’s Batman is still one of the best, and his performance in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Birdman” as a flailing celebrity best known for playing a superhero was amazing. The film boasts an incredible supporting cast made up in part with Emma Stone, Naomia Watts, and Edward Norton, all of whom deliver manic, nuanced, needy performances that perfectly fit the frantic, tense pace of the film. The camera hardly ever slows, preferring long tracking shots that brilliantly transition from one scene or one day to the next, enhancing the mania that is producing a Broadway show. “Birdman” is an excellent look into the psyche of celebrity, at times either hilarious, quite disturbing, or both, and it’s a perfect reminder of how malleable and underused an actor Keaton is.

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