It has become trite to open these year-end roundups with gripes of the state of affairs in the film industry, still I think it needs to be said. Between an almost complete lack of anything substantial released in the first three quarters of the year and a surprisingly deficient awards season, 2014 made me question my commitment to film. Still, the cream rose, and without having seen everything gracing Top 10 lists and awards conversations, here are my favorite movies I saw this year:
Joe represented an escape from the Hollywood clutches that has sucked the life and talent out of both its director, David Gordon Green, and star, Nicolas Cage. Green, revisiting his roots, weaves an engaging backwoods crime story and Cage offers a performance that stands amongst the best of his career.
Though not without the usual whimsical trappings of any Wes Anderson movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel cannot be overlooked due to its painstakingly gorgeous set design and cinematography and a bravura turn from Ralph Fiennes.
If anything, Damien Chazelle's second feature deserves an Oscar for Tom Cross' editing which unrelentingly drums up the tension and results in one of the most watchable films of the year. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons shine in this battle of the wills.
Although not as enamored by most reviewers placing this atop their year-end lists, I don't know if I've ever been so taken by the sheer magnitude of a film before that its caused me to forgive its flaws (I would argue overlength, pacing, and even redundancy). Filmed over 12 years and chronicling a young boy's journey into adulthood, Richard Linklater's labor of love is sure to impress both by its scope and insightful coming of age screenplay.
Following the ambiguities of The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson returns again with Joaquin Phoenix with the hazy, drug-fuelled, incoherent, and very funny adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon 1970s detective story.
Dark, funny, well-scripted, and frankly unexpected, Dan Gilroy's directorial debut was a welcomed oasis following the mindless cinematic wasteland of summer. Jake Gyllenhaal continues his reliable resume with an originally crafted sociopath and receives strong support from Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, and Riz Ahmed.
Exciting and intimate look into the little known story of the cracking of the supposedly insurmountable German coding machine Enigma by the formidable British squad led by the irascible, ingenious Alan Turing. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers another finely honed performance and Keira Knightley brings warmth to a supporting role.
Leaving the streets of L.A. for the mud-caked, blood drenched battlefields of the Western Front, David Ayers turns what could have been a tired, forgettable brothers-in-arms tank story into a brutally intense and moving saga which boasts astounding performances from Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf which will sadly be overlooked this awards season.
Another incredible, little known true life story, Bennett Miller's tragic tale of Olympian grappling siblings and their unfortunate relationship with an unbalanced tycoon moves at a measured pace with striking photography and powerful performances from Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and Steve Carell.
1. The Homesman
In what may seem an odd choice for picture of the year, no other film in 2014 moved me more than Tommy Lee Jones' bleak, offbeat western. Hilary Swank brings vulnerable toughness to her role and Jones offers another great turn as a rascally ne'er do well assisting spinster Swank in escorting three mentally ill women from the Nebraskan Plains to Iowa where they can receive proper treatment.