Top 10 Films of 2014

10. Stations of the Cross, dir. Dietrich Bruggemann

A structurally rigorous film split into fourteen nearly-static chapters, German religious drama Stations of the Cross is really worth seeking out. Dietrich Bruggemann directs an excellent Lea Van Acken as the devout daughter in a family of maniacally cultish Catholic persuasion. The young girl takes it upon herself to follow a dangerous path of religious extremism, even beyond her family's fanatical understanding. Both chock full of dread and knowingly humorous, the film takes a long, hard look at religious hypocrisy and the tragedy it breeds. You can read my review of the film here.

9. The Wind Rises, dir. Hayao Miyazaki

Beloved Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki has always shown an interest in Japan's historical past. Here, the gorgeous array of his animation spans from the lush green of Japan's unsullied pre-war countryside to the industrialist, snow-capped Germany of the 1930's. The film is based loosely on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, who designed Japan's Mitsubishi fighter planes but strongly opposed the nation's involvement in the Second World War. His unbending kindness and peculiar vision give him the rewards of his talent -- but also put him under enormous personal strain.

In The Wind Rises, we are not exposed to the full horror of the war to come, with talk of Japan's increasing militarism the only direct acknowledgement of the troubled times. Miyazaki renders this mood of oncoming loss as backdrop - and sometime companion - to Jiro's life. The Wind Rises is melancholy without ever feeling maudlin; an ode to the precarious beauty of flight and to Jiro's feverish optimism.

8. Calvary, dir. John Michael McDonagh

I wrote a little something for Grolsch Film Works on this year's preoccupation with religious films; somehow another Catholic has managed to get into my top 10 list. Irish director John Michael McDonagh gives us a depiction of a 'good priest' in this bleakly witty character study of a man out of time. Brendan Gleeson gives a devastating performance as the story unfolds into a moving exploration of dignity and duty. In a modern world of constant sarcasm and cruelty, Gleeson's priest shows a strength of character both rare and admirable.

7. Welcome to New York, dir. Abel Ferrara

Abel Ferrara - an enfant terrible of the New York independent film scene, if ever there was one - has never made films for the faint of heart. Welcome to New York, a loosely fictionalised version of the Dominque Strauss-Kahn scandal, is as lurid and disturbing as they come. Ferrara casts the morbidly obese acting veteran Gerard Depardieu in the role of a prominent French politician and banker, tipped as a frontrunner in the upcoming presidential election. His fall from grace is imminent when he is charged with the sexual assault of a hotel maid in a luxury New York hotel. The film is a nocturnal horror-show of robotic sex, gluttonous lechery, and a shocking abuse of power - hardly a casual watch. But it's a crown jewel in Ferrara's long fascination with misogynistic male characters - and a chilling, relevant look into the far reaches of male entitlement.

6. Leviathan, dir. Sergei Zygavintsev

I wrote at length about Russian family drama Leviathan, which won Best Film at this year's BFI London Film Festival, over at Verité Film Mag.

5. Under the Skin, dir. Jonathan Glazer

Jonathan Glazer's chillingly ambiguous sci-fi sees Scarlett Johansson, as a predatory alien being, prowling Glaswegian roads in a transit van. A subversive look at the thinly-veiled vulnerability of the female body, Under the Skin is mysterious and multi-faceted, allowing for any number of projections and readings. You can read what I made of the movie here.

4. Boyhood, dir. Richard Linklater

Filmed by Richard Linklater over the course of 12 years, as his stars grew older onscreen, Boyhood is essentially everything it's cracked up to be.  As I said in my original review, it feels like a long dream, reveling in the smell of cut grass and childhood summers spent rolling around on the backyard trampoline. Punctuated by the distant tremors of adulthood, buoyed up by our loved ones, unafraid of the growing pains, it allows us to get the dirt under our fingernails. The passage of time is something all at once bright, terrifying, and unyielding. Linklater - and Mason, his young protagonist - face it with optimism. With all its boundless warmth and sensitivity, Boyhood captures life in a way that is quietly revolutionary. It feels like something that will endure.

3. Goodbye to Language 3D, dir. Jean-Luc Godard

If you're into revolutionary, mind-expanding, convention-exploding cinema - there's nothing better than Jean-Luc Godard in 3D. Here's what I said in my review

To see late period work from Jean-Luc Godard is to prepare to surrender to impenetrability. And at eighty-two years old, he is as radical and confounding as he’s ever been. The 121st project from the chieftain of the French New Wave is as charmingly incorrigible and intellectually obtuse as Godard himself. Goodbye to Language is a freewheeling 3D exercise in vacillating montage and mutating images, continually defying any application of logic or structure.

In a rare recent interview, Godard stated that the ‘idea’ of Goodbye to Language is, in fact, to "escape from ideas". If it could be said to resemble anything at all, Godard’s film mostly emerges as some kind of exploration of the primordial, pre-linguistic muddle; the Lacanian mirror stage collapsing in on itself. If the premise is that language organises and structures our world by compartmentalising objects, ideas, and individuals in an ultimately limiting way, Godard repeatedly strikes out at the comprehensible features of that edifice.

2. The Wolf of Wall Street, dir. Martin Scorsese

A queasily mordant, hilarious, and undeniably questionable tale of late '80s avarice, Martin Scorsese's latest features Leonardo DiCaprio as Quaalude-addicted Wall Street dirtbag Jordan Belfort. Touches of Fellini and Billy Wilder combine in a swirlingly repetitive haze of sex, drugs, and white-collar crime. The rumble of suspicion and sniffiness around the film reached full peak last year around Oscars season, and ultimately it proved too unruly for that sort of rank and file success. 

Earlier this year, I spoke to Kubrick on the Guillotine editor Simran Hans about Scorsese's degree of complicity in the film's depiction of rampant misogyny. We disagreed fundamentally about where the film was coming from, but I did mention that I'd be unlikely to return to it very often. I think it's worth pointing out that I was wrong - I've seen it several times since, and each viewing has proven it to be compellingly chewy and complex. Simultaneously damning and self-congratulatory, nauseating and thrilling, The Wolf of Wall Street proves fascinating on repeat viewing.

1. Inside Llewyn Davis, dir. Joel + Ethan Coen

I saw the Coen Brothers' newest and gentlest film, Inside Llewyn Davis, all the way back in January - but no viewing experience this year has managed to eclipse it. The setting is Greenwich Village circa 1961, and Oscar Isaac is a moody, struggling folk singer trying to make his way through a miserable New York winter. By turns cutting and melancholy, the circular, meandering structure almost seems incidental - but the digressions make for a beautifully unravelling, pitiful story of creative failure. Paired with its downbeat folk soundtrack, Inside Llewyn Davis is worthy of being called the Coen Brothers' masterpiece - and a self-effacing one, at that. My full review is here.

Honourable mentions go to: Grand Budapest Hotel, Jodorowsky's Dune, Mr. Turner, Gone Girl, + Nightcrawler.


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