All throughout 2014, I kept having big ideas of how my Top Ten Films of 2014 list would look. At first I thought it was going to be about half documentaries, and then more recently I started to worry that it was going to contain mostly films that never actually showed in St. Louis movie theaters.
As it happens, my final, official list of the ten best releases of 2014 has only one documentary on it, but it’s in the #1 spot. There are three movies that opened in other cities (to include places as nearby as Columbia, Mo.) but never showed even once theatrically in St. Louis, which films coincidentally make up numbers 2-4 on the list.
Everyone hates looking at a Top 10 full of stuff they don’t recognize. The fun of reading other people’s lists is in agreeing or disagreeing with them, but it’s usually just boring to read a list of stuff you haven’t heard of. At the same time, I don’t want to be dishonest about what I think is the best. So, to counteract the relative obscurity of much of my list this year, I wrote three separate lists: one official top 10 films list (this one); one list of the 10 best films that opened theatrically in St. Louis (or will soon, in the case of Inherent Vice, which is open in other parts of the country as we speak); and one of the top 10 films that never showed once theatrically in St. Louis, which is a frustratingly strong list. I’ve been writing all year about what we are and aren’t getting in St. Louis theaters and why; hopefully we’ll get more deserving releases in St. Louis theaters in 2015.
Speaking of which, as I’m a film critic whose home base is St. Louis, there are always some official releases of any given year that I’m anxious to see but haven’t figured out a way to by press time. This year, those titles are Leviathan, Wetlands, Mommy, and Cake; I’m pretty caught up on the rest of 2014’s slate.
The best films of 2014, in order of preference:
1. Jodorowsky’s Dune (Sony Pictures Classics)
2014 is the long-overdue year of Alejandro Jodorowsky. Numbers one and two on the list are a documentary about him and a new fiction film by him. It may seem silly to place the documentary higher than his own work, especially when his own work is as good as The Dance of Reality is, but Jodorowsky’s Dune is far and away the most enjoyable movie of the year as far as I’m concerned; I’ve watched it more often and more compulsively than any other title this year, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Jodorowsky takes us through the story of his attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel Dune circa the mid-1970s, which, had it happened, would have predated the release of not only David Lynch’s Dune, but also Star Wars and just about every other sci-fi tentpole we’ve ever seen. And Jodo’s Dune probably would have been about the best film ever, based on his track record and the talent he had attached to this film (Orson Welles! Salvador Dalí! Pink Floyd!). The documentary about it makes one think of how A.I. might have fit into Stanley Kubrick’s oeuvre had Steven Spielberg done a better job; in this regard, my inclination is to count Jodorowsky’s Dune as more a Jodorowsky film and not attribute it to the documentary’s actual director, Frank Pavitch.
2. The Dance of Reality (Caméra One)
And here’s the actual Alejandro Jodorowsky film on the list. His first since 1990’s The Rainbow Thief (which isn’t very good), The Dance of Reality ranks among Jodorowsky’s best work—about as good as Santa Sangre or Fando & Lis, just shy of the world-class quality of El Topo and The Holy Mountain. The Dance of Reality can sometimes be a challenging film, but when that’s the case for a film I liked as much from the outset as I did Dance, that tends to only be a signifier that I’ll never tire of returning to it, trying to unravel all its mysteries and technique.
3. Goodbye to Language (Wild Bunch)
The second film on the list that was directed by someone over the age of 80 (Jodorowsky is 85), 84-year old Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language is my favorite film of his since at least 1985’s Hail Mary, and maybe even since 1968’s Weekend. Not that the films he’s made in the interim were bad—they generally showed that, if nothing else, Godard still had (/has) it—but Goodbye to Language made me excited for cinema in a way I haven’t been in a long time, and in which way only Godard himself seems able to provide (not to mention being only the third movie to really make me appreciate the recent 3-D boom).
4. We Are the Best! (Svensk Filmindustri)
In his early career, Sweden’s great Lukas Moodysson was the best in the world at making coming-of-age movies, as exemplified by films like 1998’s Show Me Love and 2000’s Together. From there he went darker, again with excellent films: 2002’s Lilya 4-Ever (another coming-of-age movie, of a sort, though an exceptionally unpleasant one), and 2004’s A Hole in My Heart (which is somehow even more unpleasant than Lilya). After that he lost his way for a little while, but this year he made a triumphant return to form with We Are the Best!, a film about three virtually talentless girls in their early teens who decide to form a punk band in the early ’80s. The music’s great, the three girls are all among my favorite fictional characters this year, and I have no reservation in once again listing Moodysson among the best filmmakers in the world right now.
5. Dear White People (Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions)
Another movie I’m sure to return to again and again is Dear White People, the year’s funniest movie. Although I’d hesitate to call it a comedy—it’s an alarmingly timely satire of modern race relations, full of great performances and scenes, but most especially of great writing and tightrope-careful directing—writer/director Justin Simien wins the prize for the best new voice in cinema in 2014. It’s hard to imagine anyone else getting the tone of this movie as spot-on as it is; I hesitated to call it a comedy because it’s too smart and angry to fit nicely alongside, say, Neighbors (which was my favorite Hollywood comedy of the year).
6. Boyhood (IFC Films)
I’m enough of a contrarian that whatever film everyone else most seems to love does not usually wind up on my year-end list. This year that film is Boyhood—and look, here it is. Boyhood is the type of film where seeing it for the first time is a mere formality: You just need to accept it as a part of your life, and have it socked away and handy for whenever you need it. Which will likely be pretty often; don’t you always need a film as good as this one?
7. Under the Skin (A24)
The most formally risky film on the list that did get a St. Louis release is Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, which is all mood and thin (though compelling) story. This is a film you return to revisit its singular vision, all strange colors and lighting and production design, weird directorial choices, and Mica Levi’s excellent, dissonant score. Scarlett Johansson’s presence in the lead role makes it marketable, and she’s great in it, but I’m just glad that she and Glazer still have the daring to attempt something like this, and the talent to pull it off.
8. Only Lovers Left Alive (Sony Pictures Classics)
Yet another film from a recognized master on this list, Only Lovers Left Alive is Jim Jarmusch’s entry into the vampire movie genre, though it’s really more a Jarmusch film than it is a vampire film. Regardless, it offers more to vampire literature than anything since Let the Right One In, and it has the best soundtrack of the year, to boot.
9. Snowpiercer (Radius-TWC)
The way Dear White People is an exceptionally timely satire about race relations, Snowpiercer is an exceptionally timely action movie (and comic book movie! starring Captain America himself, Chris Evans!) about income inequality. South Korea’s Bong Joon-ho once again proves that he’s quite possibly the best genre director working today, with output like Memories of Murder, The Host, and now this. I’ll take him over Chris Nolan any day—and I like Nolan, so I don’t mean that comment lightly.
10. Inherent Vice (Warner Bros. Pictures)
So far, every one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s feature films has wound up on my year-end Top 10 list. Though it’s always hard to tell just how much you’re going to like a PTA film in the long run, after the first time you see it, my initial impression from Inherent Vice is probably that it’s his worst film so far—but that hardly means anything, since his worst is better than the best of almost every other director in the world. It’s as full of the great performances and writing as we have come to expect from Anderson, and for added complexity, it’s adapted from a Thomas Pynchon novel (one of my favorite writers, no less; it’s like they made this movie just for me). This is another movie that I am certain I’ll watch regularly for a long time to come. | Pete Timmermann