The BP Top Ten of 2014
This list was compiled from the individual top ten lists of Scott, Josh, Aaron, Rita, Matt, Craig, Sarah, Jim, Tyler and David. Each film was weighted according to its placement on each individual list. As such, a film that appeared on only two writers’ lists could still wind up on the finalized list if it placed particularly high. Conversely, a film could conceivably be on everybody’s list, but not make the final list, due to low point value.
Honorable Mentions: The Guest, Life Itself, Gone Girl, Force Majeure, Birdman
10. Obvious Child
I’ve been a Jenny Slate fan for a long time now and Obvious Child just served to cement my admiration for her. Contrary to what its title would suggest, this film is far from obvious. It takes the sensitive subject of abortion and wraps it in this romantic, funny, serious movie. Slate’s character is a New York stand up comedienne who doesn’t pull punches in her act about the funny realities of being a woman and about sex. After a drunken one night stand she finds herself pregnant and unprepared to be a mother. Obvious Child is funny, and awkward, and touching in a way that many films about similar subject matter wish they could be. I have to applaud the writer/director Gillian Robespierre for writing dialogue that authentically captures the way people talk about sex, relationships, and abortion. -SB
9. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Unquestionably, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is the coolest movie I saw this year. To reiterate, in case you haven’t heard this already – it’s a black and white Iranian vampire western. That should be enough. But filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour goes further, using a highly stylized genre film to raise questions about Iran and its relationship to the West. The kind of vibrant cinema that’s come out of Iran in the last ten years is beginning to show the West what a deep artistic culture can be found there, and Amirpour’s film holds that quest for beauty in contrast with the oppressive leadership in control there. But if you’re not into all that socio-political stuff, it’s still super cool. -JL
8. Inherent Vice
It’s about loss. I think. Personal loss, in Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) yearning for the girl who left him (Katherine Waterston), certainly. But also cultural and spiritual loss, in the way that, in the early 1970s, when this film takes place, certain freedoms would gradually become curtailed by economic, political, and social interests. That this is explored by so insane a plot that you’d need a surface considerably more elaborate than the half-wall Doc scrawls on in trying to make sense of it himself is at once besides the point and the ENTIRE point, man. These cultural movements intersect, sometimes, but more often they’re happening concurrently, unaware of even one another, let alone able to be perceived by those they were destroying. Oh, and the movie’s also really, really funny, completely bonkers, with a joke in every scene, as far as I recall. Paul Thomas Anderson keeps pushing himself further and further out on a limb with each film he makes to the point that he’s basically building his own tree. -SN
7. The Babadook
After 2013 proved to be a revitalization of the horror genre, 2014 took a step back. Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook is the exception. Touted by master filmmaker William Friedkin as the scariest movie he’s ever seen, (I wouldn’t go that far, but…) The Babadook delivers on scares. But it is even more compelling as a human drama, anchored by great performances from Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman. I always think that horror films can benefit from a little sadness, though the genre today has been moving further away from this set of emotions. The Babadook is most successful because it is easy to genuinely feel for Amelia and Samuel. Amelia being ignored by society, turned away from her family, becoming emotionally distant from her son, Samuel’s emotional instability, possible developmental disabilities – everything in the film is first grounded emotionally. Once the duo begins to be terrorized by a supernatural force, it is impossible not to feel closer to them than most horror movie victims. You can also choose to read The Babadook without any supernatural events, that all of the film’s events are hallucinations of the characters, metaphors of their own abuses. This reading is completely satisfying only because of the film’s emotional base and commitment to its characters. This also makes it the most resonant horror films in a long time. -AP
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel
In a year where so many films are given to cynicism and dread, here’s Wes Anderson, unable to be anything other than his quirky, wistful self. Besides his immediately recognizable world creation, Anderson has always had a knack for creating wonderfully engaging characters, and Ralph Fiennes’ M. Gustave is one of the best. Perhaps it’s because this time there’s a hint of the autobiographical in this character – astute fans of Anderson’s work will notice the similarities between Gustave’s walk-and-talk through the hotel lobby and Anderson’s own walk-and-talk through his self-directed American Express commercial. He’s the one who has to take care of everything, who has so many people relying on his talents. Also interestingly, Gustave becomes a champion for art by fighting to keep Boy with Apple away from those who want it solely for profit. While Anderson’s films will always look like they belong within the same world, it is exciting to see him work in new territory, creating an indistinct period piece in a fictional country. It works beautifully as an enchanting fable, as perhaps all of his films do. This feels like his best work in some time. -JL
First of all: Jake Gyllenhaal. Nightcrawler isn’t the first time he’s shown this, but it’s probably the best argument that he’s a character actor at heart. He’s always felt a little uncomfortable as a traditional leading man, but as an inherently uncomfortable character like Louis Bloom, he shines. There is a glorious progression to the character. When we first meet Bloom, he has the tools and willingness to make it, but it isn’t until he dives into the morally ambiguous world of freelance news videography that he finds real success. I wouldn’t quite consider it his calling, more the vehicle of his choosing – if Bloom found work on Wall Street or the drug industry, it wouldn’t necessarily be all that different of a rise. Then again, we’ve seen those films. Nightcrawler is able to be both ridiculous and gripping, often at the same time, mostly because of Gyllenhaal’s committed performance. I could never predict what lengths Bloom would go to, could never agree with his decisions, but could never doubt those choices were true to the character. In a year with many great pulp films (a few have made my list this year), Nightcrawlerstands as the craziest, most WTF, best of them. -AP
Selma is the most audacious film of 2014. Which, by itself, doesn’t mean much; American Sniper is an equally audacious film, that happens to be dumber than a sack of nickels and as racially sensitive as a YouTube comment thread. But Selma’s audacity is nuanced. As history marches on and Martin Luther King Jr. becomes more of an idea than a man, it is easy to forget that he had a favorite food, probably stubbed his toe on the kitchen table and did all of the other things that make even remarkable people surprisingly relatable. Selma is an intimate portrait of a flawed man on his way towards immortality.
At first I was as angry as anyone at the Academy’s snubbing of Selma. When the film walks away with its single Oscar for Best Original Song (calling it now, willing to take counter bets), the snubbing narrative will only grow more contentious. But, you know what? Good. The Academy doesn’t deserve Selma. Director Ava DuVarney made a film that defies you to forget the struggle it portrays. It’s a film that deserves to be remembered as a portrait of how far we’ve come and a reminder of how far we’ve yet to go. What Selma doesn’t deserve is to become The Academy’s mascot of a post-racial Hollywood that doesn’t exist. I’d like to thank the Academy for ensuring that Selma’s greatest legacy won’t be a trophy. -CS
3. Blue Ruin
I saw Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin twice this year, but this is the first time I’ve put fingers-to-keys and tried to write about it. And it’s really,really hard. What do you say, in two-hundred words, about a film this good? It’s a simple film that packs so much heart, energy and excitement into its ninety minute run time, that if it were a duffel bag you’d need a second person just to zip it shut. In just his second feature film, Saulnier turns in as mature a meditation on violence and revenge as I’ve ever seen. Macon Blair plays Dwight, a solemn drifter who decides to, and then does, kill the man recently released from prison for murdering his parents. But Blue Ruin is a revenge flick that defies every expectation. The revenge? The catharsis? The moment of reprieve? It comes ten minutes into the film and is as graceful and satisfying as drinking a glass of warm beer through a pasta strainer.
Blue Ruin isn’t about revenge at all. It’s a study on the very nature of violence. The only thing Dwight and his adversaries–a family of racist hillbillies–agree on is that an eye for an eye is the only meaningful form of justice. But Blue Ruin, a filmchoked with nightmarish, inelegant violence, doesn’t operate under the same ethos. Instead, it lets the natural cycle of violence and revenge play out until the bitter end, each moment heightening the one before it. And what’s left is an unsettling, simple film. One that should be easy to digest, but isn’t. The best films are hard to shake, and there are moments, images and sequences of Blue Ruin that will rattle around in my brain forever. -CS
2. Under the Skin
In my remarkable, mind-expanding introduction to this countdown I talked a lot of shit about how 2014 lacked an overriding theme or aesthetic. That’s why my top spot goes to the one film this year that so successfully held together so many disparate moods and textures. Jonathan Glazer’s Kubrick-influenced tale of tawdry extraterrestrial conspicuous consumption was at once hot and cool, political and personal, sexy and clinical, and intimate and epic—while maintaining a consistent tone throughout. It’s a visionary movie in the original OED-sanctioned, non-Zack Snydery sense of the word. Which I guess is a pretentious way of saying: I’ve never seen anything like it. There are some truly first-ballot Hall of Fame sequences and images here, from an abruptly orphaned infant sobbing and crawling along the clammy cobblestones of an unforgiving Scottish beach, to a naked man with neurofibromatosis making a doomed escape through the mundane landscapes of suburban Glagsgow, to a de-meatified caul of ex-humanoid skin being violently sucked through a pinhole-sized exhaust flume into an inky black void and churned into glowing, lavalike ecotoplasm on a cosmic blood-sluice to nowhere. And yes, Scarlett Johansson’s photo-napalm eyes, mouth, breasts, and butt—but why not those things, too? It’s not sexy, exactly, but it’s also not not sexy, y’know? This movie, like its protagonist, is otherwordly. And just like its protagonist’s prey, I was powerless to its seduction. -MW
Boyhood is a low concept story that could almost be dismissed as pedestrian, told with a high concept twist that could almost be dismissed as gimmick. The way these two qualities bounce off of each other results in a truly arresting filmgoing experience that’s unlike anything else I’ve experienced in a theater. It’s simultaneously a detailed depiction of a particular time and place (being a child of divorce in Texas in the aughts), and a sweeping evocation of what can only be called the human condition. The fact that I saw Boyhood shortly after the birth of my first nephew – the first person whose life I will have consciously born witness to from the very beginning – definitely made it hit me harder emotionally. But having a kid in your life is not a prerequisite to loving Linklater’s film. For as much as it’s about the pains and joys of growing from a child to an adult, in a larger sense it’s about the way that time changes and plays tricks on all of us, which is just about the most universal experience I can think of. -RC