Lists for “Best ____ of ____” are stupid. They’re reductive and often lead to the worst kind of critical discussion (e.g., “You put that over this?!” and “How could you leave out this film?).
This marks the fifth time I’ve made such annual lists.
Looking back at each of the lists before writing this, I feel an equal sense of surprise at how prescient some of my choices seem (Certified Copy as the top film of 2010) and embarrassment at how some of them are ordered (I really put The Descendants over The Tree of Life?). And as stupid as they are, these lists remain the easiest way to share with the world that these are the films that have impressed, affected, and changed me.
Here are my ten favorite films of 2014:
- Only Lovers Left Alive, 2013, Jim Jarmusch
- Mommy, 2014, Xavier Dolan
- Listen Up Philip, 2014, Alex Ross Perry
- Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), 2014, Alejandro González Iñárritu
- Boyhood, 2014, Richard Linklater
- Under the Skin, 2013, Jonathan Glazer
- Kaguyahime no monogatari (The Tale of The Princess Kaguya), 2014, Isao Takahata
- The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014, Wes Anderson
- Deux jours, une nuit (Two Days, One Night), 2014, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
- Inherent Vice, 2014, Paul Thomas Anderson
Honorable Mention (alphabetically):
- A Walk Among the Tombstones, 2014, Scott Frank
- American Sniper, 2014, Clint Eastwood
- Edge of Tomorrow, 2014, Doug Liman
- Interstellar, 2014, Christopher Nolan
- Nightcrawler, 2014, Dan Gilroy
- Selma, 2014, Ava DuVernay
- Snowpiercer, 2013, Bong Joon-ho
- The Immigrant, 2013, James Gray
- Whiplash, 2014, Damien Chazelle
*Some 2013 films were included because of their U.S. release date in 2014.
A quick aside on the lack of racial diversity and women in film before I continue with the list. It’s important. I realize a Best of 2014 post isn’t the best place to flesh out the complexities of deeply-rooted systemic issues (so I won’t), but in light of recent outcry over #OscarsSoWhite and Selma-related news, I want to briefly mention it.
You’ve probably heard all the stats: Oscar voters are 93% white, 76% male, and an average age of 63. No women were nominated in major categories (not counting actresses, for obvious reasons) and, as the images above show, all 20 acting nomination were given to white actors and actresses—most of them well-deserved.
I don’t add that last part about them being well-deserved to soften the blow or to not offend my white friends, co-workers, and readers but because I really do mean it. The issue isn’t that the wrong people got nominated. The issue is that very few others got to even show up. Award shows are more stupid than lists. But I do think they’re worth discussing because they are a good representation of the film industry—and by extension how our society and culture is reflected through art. Let’s be better, 2015.
Now let’s talk about my favorite movie of 2014! If you haven’t heard of Only Lovers Left Alive until now and decide to Google it, these are probably the first three things you’ll find out about the film: It’s about vampires. It stars two people who look like vampires (an ethereal Tilda Swinton as Eve and a brooding Tom Hiddleston as Adam, both immortal). And it’s directed by a dude (Jim Jarmusch) who also looks like a vampire.
But of course it’s vampire-yness is mostly beside the point. In fact, that word is never even spoken by any of the characters. It instead uses the trope to ask the question at the spiritual center of the film: If you lived forever, what would you live for and what would that life’s sustenance—both literally and (mostly) metaphorically—be?
Art and Love, the movie answers. To the characters, they’re often the same. The world is just background noise compared to the clarity that literature, music, and sex bring to their existence.
Only Lovers Left Alive is not pretentious but it is self-indulgent and snobby AND IT KNOWS IT. Not in the wink wink, meta kind of way either. It completely embraces how much its characters’ lives revolve around art and how much more they know about the world than “zombies” (their word for humans because, comparatively, we zombies are so devoid of life—of art). But as much as Jarmusch celebrates this lifestyle, the film is also a mourning of a bygone time. It becomes a melancholy exploration of a world in which the classics are buried with the past and ageless vampires can use literary pseudonyms like Daisy Buchanan and Dr. Faust when interacting with people without anyone’s suspicion.
There’s a late scene in Tangier, where the two vampires watch a chanteuse from the outside of the cafe she is performing in. In the rare moment you’re not completely lost in this evocative dream-like sequence, you begin to wonder if they would drink her blood. They’ve been going days without their (literal) lifeblood, afterall, and their distance to the singer could be seen as vulture-like, hovering over their prey. But being the consummate aesthetes, they are satisfied admiring the artist and the beautiful melody she creates with her voice. They walk away as she finishes her song and Adam calls her fantastic. Eve says, “[…] I’m sure she’ll be very famous.” Adam replies, “God, I hope not. She’s way too good for that.”
Throughout the film, the camera seems to linger a beat longer than necessary. Closeup shots aren’t used to heighten the extremity of the scene or ramp up the tension, but to show—clearly, without distraction—the sheer joy of living. The moody lighting creates an atmosphere so thick and palpable that it is practically its own character. All of which highlight the sentiment that living is not in the doing but in the being.
They don’t necessarily carpe diem (you don’t really need to when you have countless diems), but they definitely live. Or as Oscar Wilde put it more eloquently, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
Eve and Adam get to live forever.
As usual, this entry took a while to write (it’s mid-February! 2015!). And it’s already too long to talk about movies #2-10. I always think I can somehow fit a year’s worth of cinema into a post of reasonable length that at least a few people would want to read. I should probably write more throughout the year. But for now, I guess all I can say about my other favorite movies of 2014 is that many of them are still in theaters. You should check them out!
In other 2014 movie-related news, I started posting micro-reviews on Twitter and started using Letterboxd regularly. Feel free to browse my profile and learn way too much about me and the movies I watch and how I rate them, etc.
Lastly, a disclaimer for the sake of transparency. I work for TPSC and TPSC Films and we came out with two movies in 2014: The Quiet Ones and A Walk Among the Tombstones—one of which is mentioned in the list above.