Sometimes the efficiency of a top 10 films list just feels too confining, particularly given the variety of ways we experience movies these days.
With that in mind, here’s a list of 10 notable (for better or worse) films and DVDs from 2014.
- Most amazing performance in a film | Chadwick Boseman as James Brown in Get on Up. The film is a pretty typical biopic, like 42 (also starring Boseman), but Boseman’s performance lifts it out of the ordinary and into the sublime.
- Best DVD release | Portrait of Jason by Milestone films. Shirley Clarke’s 1967 film is made up entirely of direct-to-camera testimony and performance by Jason Holliday, a creation of the gay, African-American hustler and would-be cabaret performer Aaron Payne. If that’s not enough for you, Clarke’s film is so nontraditional in form that it was mistakenly classified for years as a rough cut rather than a completed film, but it contains more revelations than a dozen traditional, “well-made” documentaries.
- Film demonstrating the greatest understanding of female teenagers | Lukas Moodysson’s We Are the Best!, which really gets inside the head of three rebellious girls in 1980s Stockholm who decide to form a punk band. No, they don’t go on to play Shea Stadium, but that’s not really the point.
- Most insane Biblical epic | Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, which takes an absolutely mad approach to portraying Biblical history. The closest analogy I can think of is Danny Boyle’s potted British history as portrayed in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, but Aronofsky’s version is more over-the-top in just about every way possible.
- Best new-to-me festival | Fantasia, an international genre film festival held in Montreal each July. The lineup is amazing (featuring many films that will never play theaters in the U.S.), the weather is great, and cheap housing and ethnic food is readily available.
- Most self-centered documentary | Point and Shoot, which allows audiences to watch privileged American Matthew Vandyke treating the world as if it exists entirely for his benefit.
- Most overrated film | Whiplash. Glossy, fast-paced, and crammed full of attractive people behaving improbably, this Sundance winner takes place in an alternative universe where the only road to becoming a jazz drummer lies in attending a specific music conservatory (!) and enduring physical and mental abuse (rather than boring stuff like practicing your instrument) are presented as the road to true musicianship.
- Best concept for a documentary | Matthew Cooke’s How to Make Money Selling Drugs, which assumes the form of a TV infomercial to present real information about the true costs and consequences of the drug war. The film has its ups and downs and goes on a bit long, but the concept is killer.
- Best demonstration that less is often more | The Blu-ray release of Werner Herzog’s 1979 film Nosferatu prompted me to rewatch F.W. Murnau’s 1922 film of the same name. Here’s the short version: Murnau achieved more with shadows and a silently creepy Max Schreck than Herzog could with thousands of rats and a scenery-chewing performance by Klaus Kinski.
- Most inexplicably praised documentary | Andrew Rossi’s Ivory Tower, which flatters the upscale desires of the 1% while ignoring the reality in which most people live. Case in point: Most college students attend large public colleges and universities near their homes, and the arms race for prestige among a few highly selective institutions could not be less relevant to their lives. | Sarah Boslaugh