I recently posted the first fifteen films in my top 20 of 2014 – find them here. Below are the final five of that list, the films I both enjoyed above all and found the most critically compelling. I’ve mentioned I didn’t find it a banner year in releases, but I suppose that’s not entirely true; looking at these five films now, I can see in each a real accomplishment of storytelling – my consistent appreciation of each is the solid script they’re crafted from – reminding me yet again how much a fan I am of great filmmaking.
Without further ado, here they are – the best films of 2014, according to moi.
The Skeleton Twins – Like Obvious Child and Love Is Strange, both also on this list, The Skeleton Twins achieves a level of emotional resonance that set it apart from most character-driven indies out there. The ingenious decision to cast comics Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as siblings charting their own course who find themselves back in each other’s lives elevates the film in ways I imagine even the filmmakers didn’t expect. The two are able to channel sincerity without ever losing that affable charm audiences have come to love them for. With a script that hits all the right notes as the siblings navigate their renewed relationship as adults, The Skeleton Twins sits solidly in my list of top films this year. trailer
The Lunchbox – Have you even heard of this one? Did it make it onto anyone’s radar? It’s a shame it wasn’t more widely available in its theatrical release. Sitting at an incredible 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, the Indian film tells the story of a frustrated housewife who spends her mornings crafting exquisite lunches for her husband, handing them off for delivery by that country’s renowned messenger system. When the box is misdirected and delivered to a businessman living a bachelor’s lonely life, a relationship begins via handwritten notes and aromatic homemade meals. My affinity for the film comes first from my affinity for its locale – it’s like a trip back to the India I fell in love with. But that appreciation extends to a script that never dips into the schmaltz it so easily could settle into; like many of the films on my list this year, it’s the ending that seals the deal for me, sending us out of the theater completely satisfied by the story we’ve just been told. trailer
Whiplash – Like Force Majeure also on this list, Whiplash had me squirming for all of its impeccable 107 minutes, in the best way possible. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Miles Teller will be the best actor of his generation, if he isn’t already. Pair him with the riveting J.K. Simmons as an exacting and abusive music professor and things are sure to combust on screen. Never have a set of drums been so menacing and meaningful, and Teller as an aspiring jazz musician with an insatiable need to please proves to be a storyline – even when it goes to extremes – one can’t look away from. trailer
Birdman – This film could easily be my number one of the year; I’m keeping it at number two for purely sentimental reasons, I’ll be honest (see St. Vincent write-up below). That said, I found everything about Birdman exceptional. The premise – a one-time movie super-hero looks to revive and re-legitimize his career with a serious play on Broadway – is rife with comedic turns and spot-on satire (all the more appreciated given what I do for a living). Layer impeccable performances on top of that – Keaton, Norton, Stone, the whole cast is at the top of their game – and the film becomes even more impressive. But Inarritu (Biutiful, Babel, Amores Perros) doesn’t stop there. His choice to shoot the film in long takes (which can be seen as one continuous shot, though there are gaps to allow for edits), all confined within the narrow halls of a theater, see this film hit on all levels – it’s that rare marriage of an amazing script, astounding performances and masterful filmmaking. trailer
St. Vincent – Though not as universally acclaimed as some of the other films on this list, St. Vincent easily leads the pack for me this year. Like the others on this list, it does so many things well that it elevates to an unfailingly enjoyable experience. Bill Murray may be selective in his roles these days, but it’s for a good cause – when he chooses to, he can deploy every trick in the book to completely win you over. Melissa McCarthy, in another winning casting decision this year, placing a comic in a dramatic role, plays a single mother who moves in next door to Murray’s curmudgeonly bachelor Vincent with her young son. In a pinch, she asks Vincent to babysit the kid, and an unlikely friendship that forms the heart of the movie ensues. The film gets so many things right, I can easily overlook where it may fall short (Naomi Watts as a Russian prostitute? Um…). By the end of this feel-good, life-affirming flick, it’s impossible not to walk out feeling a bit like you’re floating. trailer
There you have it – my best films of 2014. What do you think – agree? Disagree? Leave a comment, send a tweet, let me know!