Just what the world needs — another end-of-year list! I decided to go with my favorite 20 instead of 10 because I think it was a pretty good year for the movies, but there should obviously be a huge asterisk at the end of that title that stands for “of the movies I’ve seen.” There were certainly plenty of great films that I missed and, other than Boyhood, which was the biggest standout of the year for me by far, I will probably want to shift and change the films on this list every time I look at it. But, for what it’s worth, here are 20 films that moved me in 2014.
20. Locke. Directed and written by Steven Knight; starring Tom Hardy. When I heard that this entire film consisted of Tom Hardy in his car on a real-time drive from one location to another, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to sit through it. But Hardy’s performance as a construction manager whose personal life is crumbling around him is a true tour de force, aided by the off-screen voices of Ruth Wilson, Olivia Colman, and a few others. Miraculously, this film never seemed claustrophobic — I was riveted throughout. I spoke with writer/director Steven Knight last April.
19. Venus in Fur. Directed and written by Roman Polanski (based on the play by David Ives); starring Emanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric. David Ives’ 2011 play was set in New York and featured a stellar performance by Nina Arianda as actress Vanda Jordan. When I heard that Roman Polanski was directing a French movie based on the play, I was skeptical, but I thought he nailed this provocative, emotionally gripping, and agonizing story. Polanski’s wife, Emanuelle Seigner, gives her best performance ever as Vanda while Mathieu Amalric, looking shockingly close to a young Roman Polanski, plays the obsessed playwright.
18. The One I Love. Directed by Charlie McDowell; written by Justin Lader; starring Elisabeth Moss, Mark Duplass, and Ted Danson. I was very intrigued by this odd and unique film about a couple (Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass) whose marriage is in serious trouble. Their questionable therapist (Ted Danson) sends them to a vacation house for the weekend, but what they find there creates a life-changing dilemma for the couple. I’m looking forward to more from post-Mad Men Elisabeth Moss.
17. Edge of Tomorrow. Directed by Doug Liman; written by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth; starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. Who am I? A big studio Tom Cruise film as one of my favorites of the year? That probably hasn’t happened since Born on the Fourth of July 25 years ago! But, unlike many, I was a big fan of this clever sci-fi flick about a military officer (Cruise) who suddenly has the ability to relive the same day over and over again. He pairs up with a Special Forces warrior (Blunt) to try to win the war against an extraterrestrial enemy. I’ve always admired Emily Blunt and it’s fun to see her KICK ASS in this film.
16. Maleficent. Directed by Robert Stromberg; written by Linda Woolverton; starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, and Sharlto Copley. Speaking of kicking ass, who can do that better than Angelina Jolie — despite the slander directed at her in those hacked Sony emails? This Disney film provides a much darker look at the tale of Sleeping Beauty and gives Jolie her most delicious acting role in years. The movie got mixed reviews but I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the chemistry between Jolie’s Maleficent and Elle Fanning’s Aurora. And yes, Jolie’s daughter, Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, was adorable as five-year-old Aurora.
15. We Are the Best! Directed and written by Lukas Moodysson; starring Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, and Liv LeMoyne. If you haven’t had a chance to see this Swedish film about three girls in 1980s Stockholm who decide to form a punk band despite the fact that only one of them knows how to play an instrument, you are in for a real treat. I had the chance to chat with writer/director Lukas Moodysson in May. He based the film on a graphic novel that his wife, Coco Moodysson, had written about her own childhood.
14. Two Days, One Night. Directed and written by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne; starring Marion Cotillard and Fabrizio Rongione. I’ve always admired the Dardenne brothers, but this is my favorite of their films. Note: this is not a “feel-good” movie! Sandra (Cotillard), a young Belgian mother, tries to convince her blue-collar colleagues to forego a significant bonus so that she can keep her job. Marion Cotillard continues to prove that she’s one of the greatest actresses of her generation — and, despite the extremely unglamorous nature of this film, one of the most beautiful.
13. Ida. Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski; written by Pawlikowski and Rebecca Lenkiewicz; starting Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, and Dawid Ogrodnik. Anna (Trzebuchowska), a young novitiate nun in 1960s Poland, encounters an aunt (Kulesza) she didn’t know was alive and discovers a deep family secret that dates back to the Nazi occupation of Poland. This gorgeously shot black and white film is devoid of sentimentality and yet I found it extremely moving. I was surprised to see that part of the film took place in my family’s old shtetl, Staszow, Poland. I sat down with writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski last May. Ida is currently on the short list for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.
12. Pride. Directed by Matthew Warchus; written by Stephen Beresford; starring Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, and Bill Nighy. This winning film tells the true story of a group of gay activists in 1980s London who supported the coal miners in a small mining town in Wales during the National Union of Mineworkers strike. I defy anyone to see this film and not be deeply moved. In September, I had the chance to talk to writer Stephen Beresford and Jonathan Blake, the real-life person who Dominic West plays in the film. They agreed with my assessment that Imelda Staunton needs to be in every movie coming out of the UK.
11. Birdman. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu; written by Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo; starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Ryan, and Andrea Riseborough. Michael Keaton gives a remarkable performance as a washed-up actor who was once a major star in a series of superhero films (art imitating life?) who attempts to reclaim past glories by mounting a Broadway play based on a Raymond Carver short story. Mexican director Iñárritu gives the story a supernatural edge and all of the actors deliver great performances. I’d be very surprised if Edward Norton doesn’t nab an Oscar nomination for playing a talented but crazy method actor.
10. Obvious Child. Directed and written by Gillian Robespierre; starring Jenny Slate, Gaby Hoffmann, and Paul Briganti. A wonderful, uncompromising film about a young comedian (Slate) who gets pregnant and is forced to take a hard look at her life and future. I hope this is the first of many films starring the insanely funny Jenny Slate. It’s always a pleasure to see Gaby Hoffmann in any film, as well as supporting actors such as David Cross, Richard Kind, and Polly Draper. I talked to Jenny Slate and Gillian Robespierre in June. At the time, both of them were wincing at the film’s label as an “abortion comedy.”
9. Guardians of the Galaxy. Directed by James Gunn; written by Gunn and Nicole Perlman; starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, and Lee Pace. A Marvel film in MY Top Ten list? Who knew? I loved everything about this crazy tale of a group of intergalactic criminals who are forced to work together to stop a crazed maniac from taking over the universe. The film has earned close to $800 million to date and, for once, I think that is well deserved. We have a long wait until the May 2017 sequel is released but I’m certainly looking forward to it. I am Groot.
8. The Imitation Game. Directed by Morten Tyldum; written by Graham Moore; starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, and Matthew Goode. I talked to Norwegian director Morten Tyldum a few years ago when his excellent Headhunters came out, and I’m glad he’s now being recognized by the international community. I thought this was a fascinating look at how troubled mathematician Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) tried to crack the all-important Nazi enigma code during World War II with the help of a small group of fellow mathematicians. This is the best version of this story to date and I think Cumberbatch and Knightley give great performances. Of course it’s not a documentary and some historians dispute several aspects of the story, but it’s still very much worth seeing.
7. The Skeleton Twins. Directed by Craig Johnson; written by Johnson and Mark Heyman; starring Kristin Wiig, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson, and Ty Burrell. I though this moving film should have gotten a lot more acclaim than it did. It tells the story of estranged twins (Wiig and Hader) who reunite after both have attempted suicide and try to help each other. I’ve always loved Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader but still found myself surprised at their dramatic acting chops in this film. They get a chance to be funny, too, but they really reign it and give two poignant and measured performances. Luke Wilson and Ty Burrell are also excellent, as is Joanna Gleason in a short but powerful appearance as their mother. I talked to director Craig Johnson and writer Mark Heyman in the fall.
6. Dear White People. Directed and written by Justin Simien; starring Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson, Kyle Gallner, and Teyonah Parris. This is another film that I thought deserved a lot more attention than it got this year. I found this story of a group of black students at a fictional university moving, provocative, and thought-provoking. I was especially impressed by Tessa Thompson (who is also in Selma) and Teyonah Parris and can’t wait to see what they and first-time director Justin Simien do next.
5. Selma. Directed by Ava DuVernay; written by Paul Webb; starring David Oyelowo; Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth, Tom Wilkinson, Lorraine Toussaint, Common, and Oprah Winfrey. DuVernay knocks it out of the ballpark with this intimate look at the historic 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. Though he looks nothing like Martin Luther King, Jr., Oyelowo inhabits the character and is utterly convincing as the civil rights leader. What I love most about the film is that it doesn’t canonize any of the participants, it shows them as the complex, flawed human beings that they were. I recently talked to Common about his role as James Bevel and will soon be posting interviews with Ava DuVernay, David Oyelowo, and Lorraine Toussaint.
4. The Theory of Everything. Directed by James Marsh; written by Anthony McCarten; starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. When I heard that British heartthrob Eddie Redmayne would be playing Stephen Hawking in a movie, I couldn’t believe it, but I have to say that Redmayne gives one of the best performances of the year as the theoretical physicist who suffers from ALS. The film focuses on the relationship between Hawking and his first wife, Jane (Felicity Jones), and chronicles Hawking’s work and his physical degeneration from the cruel motor neuron disease. As far as I’m concerned, Redmayne is the one to beat for the Best Actor Oscar.
3. Life Itself. Directed by Steve James; starring Roger and Chaz Ebert. Documentaries really belong on a different list but I was so moved by this wonderful look at the late movie critic and journalist Roger Ebert that I had to include it. The documentary was filmed during the last months of Ebert’s life (unbeknownst to all) and shows the challenges of Ebert’s disfiguring cancer that left him unable to speak. It also chronicles the entirety of Ebert’s career including his famous rivalry and decades-long work with Gene Siskel, his friendships with various filmmakers, and his mentorship of young people, including Ava DuVernay who met Ebert when she was a young girl. He encouraged her over the years and I only wish he were here now to give DuVernay’s Selma an enthusiast thumbs-up. Ebert’s wife, Chaz, is featured prominently in the film and their relationship is one of the doc’s most poignant elements.
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel. Directed and written by Wes Anderson; starring Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan, Jude Law, Adrien Brody, and Tony Revolori. I know there are some people who don’t like Wes Anderson’s films but I’m definitely not one of them. I absolutely love the unique worlds that Anderson creates in every film and The Grand Budapest Hotel is the best of the lot. The story revolves around Gustave H (Fiennes), a legendary concierge at a famous hotel in the fictional Republic of Zumbrowka between the first and second world wars, and Zero Moustafa (Revolori), the lobby boy who eventually becomes his most trusted friend. But you can’t really describe a Wes Anderson film in a few sentences, you have to experience it. I so enjoyed talking to the great Jeff Golblum, as well as Saoirse Ronan and Tony Revolori about this wonderful film.
1. Boyhood. Directed and written by Richard Linklater; starring Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltraine, and Lorelei Linklater. As I mentioned, while I might switch and move around every other film on this list depending on my feelings at any given moment, nothing could budge Boyhood from my top spot. Shot over 12 years with the same actors, I think this is one of the most powerful and moving films I’ve ever seen, even though, according to some insane critics, “nothing much happens.” If you haven’t seen this nearly three-hour film, you really need to let it wash over you. You’ll be thinking about it for a long time afterward. We were excited that my brother-in-law, Jeff Tweedy, has two songs in the film, including one that’s used in a pivotal scene between Hawke and his son, and my favorite interviews of the year where the ones I got to do with Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, and a slightly traumatized Lorelei Linklater (the director’s daughter).
If anyone needs me, I’ll be sitting here cringing in agony at the films I forgot to include on this list — and possibly at a few that I did include. Looking forward to another great year at the movies!