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BW/DR Staff Picks: The Best Films of 2014

illustration by Brianna Ashby

Chad Perman, Editor-in-Chief

1. Boyhood
I find myself mostly recommending this film to anybody who has ever been a child, a parent, or a human being. The best of everything that film is and can be.

2. Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
Dazzling in its daring, virtuosity, and artistry. Everyone involved is working at the top of their game, and the result—a backstage drama that deftly mixes comedy, satire, existentialism, and magic realism—is an extended jazz riff, a high-wire act of improvisation and endurance that earns every second of its greatness.

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
There’s never been a Wes Anderson film that hasn’t made my year-end “best” list, and that’s not about to start with The Grand Budapest Hotel. While not top-tier Anderson for me, it was still better—and imminently more watchable—than most of the films I saw this year.

4. The Lego Movie
I have young kids and, not surprisingly, those kids love movies. (They’re literally watching one as I’m typing this.) So, I saw a lot of animated films in the theater this year, and most of them weren’t much to write home about. They were engaging at best (Big Hero 6) and sleep-inducing at worst (Planes 2), but then there was The Lego Movie. That one we saw twice, in a single week, a basically unheard of occurrence in our household. Brilliant, funny, clever, subversive—I had zero expectations going in, and I was blown away by how much I loved this film.

5. Life Itself
The year’s best documentary, an up-close look at the life and death of Roger Ebert, told through various lenses, including his own. Every frame reminds us how much we lost when he passed away last year—but the film isn’t a sad one, or at least not mostly. Instead, it illuminates and celebrates the life of one of our greatest critics, warts and all.

Also: Obvious Child, The One I Love, Under the Skin, Snowpiercer, Neighbors, Edge of Tomorrow

Elizabeth Cantwell, Managing Editor

1. Whiplash
Make me choose between Infinite Jest and The Great Gatsby and I will probably stop speaking to you. But I will also probably choose The Great Gatsby. That’s not to say I don’t love big, epic, ambitiously-flawed things.. It’s just to say that, sometimes, the lean, well-made thing is going to shine ferociously out of the corner of your eye. It’s just to say that, watching Whiplash, you feel that you are in the presence of something small and tense and tightly-wound that needs every single one of its sharp, hard parts to function—to lash out—to sting. I watched this film with my hands in fists and felt myself parceling out my breaths.

2. Interstellar
There is space and a tired Earth and a tangle of science and philosophical dread and red hair, all knotted up. There is a son who’s forgotten and a man who is going to try to do something bigger than he, bigger than you, bigger than CGI or Topher Grace. There is a whipping-through-time that catches you in your throat. There is a ton of dust. There are lies and waves and the lie of waves and you are thinking about the future as you are watching this, and you are thinking about your son’s future, and you are thinking about a long stretch of numbers twisting themselves around inside your husband’s watch.

3. Boyhood
You can make a film go forward like this but you can never reverse it or ask for another take a year later. You know how hard it is to make something and have to keep it, even when you’ve moved on from it. You know how hard it is in general. I dare you to watch Boyhood and not think about your own mother holding a picture you took when you were a child, putting it carefully in a box, crying maybe just a little.

4. Edge of Tomorrow
Do you like Tom Cruise? Shut up. You like Tom Cruise. We all like Tom Cruise when he is doing what he’s supposed to be doing, which is this, which is dying and coming back to life over and over again, defying mortality, circling around some unearthly drain fighting off things we hate imagining, loving someone else unreal, making you feel things despite yourself.

5. Locke
Another Tom, this one Hardy, this one alone in a car with himself and a phone and the highway and some ghosts. Your own ghosts will sing along sometimes here. Your own car will feel lonely when you drive home in it later.

Kara Vanderbijl, Senior Editor

I didn’t see very many films this year, at least not in the theater. But of the ones I saw, these were my favorites:

1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
2. Wild
3. Boyhood

Michelle Said, Media Director

Best Movie Experience Overall: Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Movie To Capture Female Adolescence: We Are The Best

Best Move To Capture Female Adulthood: Obvious Child

Best Absurdist Humor: They Came Together

Best Portrait of a Marriage: Neighbors

Best Crazy, But, Like, Good Crazy?: Cold in July

Best Movie For Arguing About Afterwards: Gone Girl

Best Movie to Feature a Jewish Nun: Ida

Best 6-Hour Movie to Feature a Piece of Shit Wrapped in Gold Foil, and Maggie Gyllenhaal Singing Whilst Naked Acrobats Perform Sex Acts On One Another: The River of Fundament

Brianna Ashby, Art Director

As a huge, huge, enormous Wes Anderson fan, it comes as little surprise thatGrand Budapest Hotel swept my personal “best of” list. Funny and charming, the film’s flirtation with the madcap is tempered by Anderson’s signature blend of poignancy and celebration. Gorgeously designed down to every last Courtesan au Chocolat (no surprises there), GBH‘s most impeccable component is M. Gustave himself, flawlessly portrayed by Ralph Fiennes.

“There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity…He was one of them. What more is there to say?”

Arielle Greenberg, Resident Poet

It’s been a piss-poor year, am I right? To be fair, there are a number of 2014 films I haven’t seen yet: I live in rural Maine, with small children, so my cinema-going is somewhat limited by those factors. It’s also limited by the fact that I’m too much of a scaredy-cat to see Under the Skin, which sounds really good. (C.f. the October issue, in which I talk about my aversion to horror.) But I’ve consulted a bunch of other people’s Best of lists, and I doubt that I’ve really missed anything fantastic, though I’m interested, for example, to giveInterstellar andNymphomaniac a shot.

I did see Boyhood. I was excited to see Boyhood. I adore Linklater; I love slow, rambling movies in which very little happens. But I was not that excited by it. I did not find it as vibrant and delicious as, say, Dazed and Confused, or as revealing or honest as, say, Before Midnight.

I’ve already forgotten Obvious Child, though I found it charming and unusual when I watched it.

The Grand Budapest Hotel was visually delightful but lacked the heart I found inMoonrise Kingdom and the earlier Anderson work I’ve loved.

I even saw many of the comic book reboots: the only thing good was the few minutes of Quicksilver’s Clockwork Orange-like slowed-down ballet in X Men: Days of Future Past.

No, for my money, the only movie to make it on my list so far is Birdman. Because here’s what I think: I think movies ought to a) do something beautiful and inventive with cinematic language, b) say something interesting and complicated about human nature or the world we live in, and c) have an idea, a vision, for how to structure a story. I’d be glad, often, if movies met just one of these criteria, but to my mind, a good film does all three. Birdman does all three.

Bob Schofield

Top 5 Films of 2014 Accompanied by First Thought Upon Exiting Theater:

1. Snowpiercer
“Wait did I just watch Captain America tell me he ate a baby?”

2. Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
“That new nose made him look like a flying Micheal Chiklis.”

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
“Pretty sure this film was shot on location inside a birthday cake.”

4. Boyhood
“God is never having to be a teenager again.”

5. Under the Skin
“Wait did I just watch Black Widow ditch a baby in the sea?”

Letitia Trent

The Four Movies I’ve Seen in 2014 Since My Baby Was Born

Maleficent
I saw this movie at 2:00 PM in an almost-empty theater while my sister watched my two-month old, who I was too afraid to leave with anybody after dark. I texted during a film for the first time in my life during this movie, and I was deeply ashamed to be doing so, despite the fact that almost everybody else in the theater was also texting. Why to people do this? They didn’t all have tiny babies. The text said “Is Roscoe OK?” and the response was “Yes!” I needed more information, so I typed “Is he sleeping? Is he awake? Did he eat?” My sister texted back “He’s fine, really,” so I tried to focus on the movie. This movie is about Angelina Jolie’s cheekbones and motherly love trumping princely love and includes some truly terrifying fairy CGI. I fully approved of it then and wonder if I would still like it if I were to watch it with a full seven hours of sleep and fewer raging post-pregnancy hormones.

Guardians of the Galaxy
I saw this film at The Alamo theater (seriously, if you live near one, go there and experience movies as they should be experienced), where I drank far too much wine and therefore really loved Guardians of the Galaxy—though I cannot seem to remember any major plot points. I remember Chris Pratt had worked out a lot and that I kind of missed chubby Chris Pratt and was sad that he had to work out so much in order to be in mainstream movies. The baby was three months old when I saw this movie and I manged not to text, which The Alamo strongly discourages with sternly-worded advertisements pre-film. We picked him up from the hotel where our family was staying (they agreed to watch him for a night) and he slept all through the night until 8 AM the next morning, soGuardians of the Galaxy is probably my favorite film of the year.

The Drop
I saw this film as a late anniversary date. It features Tom Hardy, who has great lips and is totally Brando in On the Waterfront-esque here, and the late James Gandolfini, who is, as usual, quietly brilliant as a man secretly burning with anger over his lost status. I enjoyed the quiet atmospherics of this film and the performances. I did send a text during this movie. I asked “Is the baby asleep?” and he was. I drank copiously during this movie, too, and came home babbling about Tom Hardy’s lips, which probably made my husband very uncomfortable, but seriously, those lips, damn.

Gone Girl
Last, I saw Gone Girl as a mutual birthday present (my husband and I have birthdays in the same week). I read the novel shortly after it came out and loved it for its clever, acid, and absolutely spot-on take on marriage, gender, and power. I also love David Fincher, whose cold, careful films appeal to me aesthetically. I thought this movie was absolutely brilliant and I was riveted from the first moments. I almost want to do a mini-review here, but suffice it to say, I think the film captures almost everything important about the book but adds on top of that nuanced performances by Ben Affleck—who kind of plays a nice-guy-secret-asshole version of himself—and Rosamund Pike, who is brilliant and terrifying as Amy. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross provide their best soundtrack to date. I did not text during this because I was at The Alamo and was afraid of being kicked out, but I did eat an incredible pizza and talked the whole way home about the film with my husband. When we got home, the baby was angelically asleep. He slept through the night until 6 AM. This puts Gone Girl at number two on my list, but only because I had to get up too damned early the next day. It gets my secret best movie of the four movies I’ve seen this year post-baby vote.

Honorable Mention:

The Raid 2
I saw this film when I was eight months pregnant and kept covering my stomach to shield the fetus from the extreme violence onscreen. But I was riveted, because well-done violence is kind of my wheelhouse. I have never seen so many broken bones and so much blood onscreen before, and I watch a lot of violent movies. But if you like incredibly well-orchestrated marital arts and don’t mind some extremely realistic carnage, I would recommend it. Just don’t watch it at eight months pregnant, because you might feel really guilty and have nightmares.

Fran Hoepfner

While this year might have been a disappointing year for big, Apatow-esque, blockbuster comedies, it was a real winner for smaller, independent ones. These three films in particular were immensely funny and also addressed larger issues than interpersonal dramas:

1. Obvious Child
2. Force Majeure
3. Dear White People

Tarra Martin

1. Only Lovers Left Alive
This year my cinema-going game has been as weak as my Netflix game has been strong, andOnly Lovers Left Alive is actually the only one of my top five that I managed to see in a theater. But that is not why it’s No. 1—it fully got there on merit. I had been waiting for this movie since January of 2013, ever since they released that picture of Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston draped around each other wearing sunglasses in a club and I’d thought, “Yes.” I loved it. I loved how droll it was, how dreamy, and (ironic, given that they’re vampires) how humanist. My most aspirational couple is now a devoted pair of undead hipster sensualists with yak hair, and I’m okay with that. If nothing else, John Hurt playing Kit Marlowe, who is a vampire and wrote the complete works of Shakespeare, is worth everything.

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
In the great panoply of things I care about, Wes Anderson and the interwar period both rank pretty damn high. I’ve always found something so comforting in Anderson’s beautiful, perfectly symmetrical imaginary worlds, but this time, there was more to it. That attention to aesthetics was actually the keystone of the narrative arc—detail and style maintained in the face of fascism and war, whimsy as an act of will, of resistance. And although the confectionery prettiness doesn’t make it through the violence of the ’40s, there is still value in telling the story of what was, and remembering that pleasure, too, has worth. Wes Anderson has leveled up, and yes, it looks lovely on him.

3. Under the Skin
This one is complicated because I can never watch this movie again, and I can’t even recommend it without suddenly looking stricken and doubting what I’m doing. It distressed me that bad. But, how deeply it distressed me is a marker of what incredible film-making it is.Under the Skin is a great movie, truly great—Mica Levi’s soundscape is a masterpiece, Scarlett Johansson is a marvel, that scene in the fog outside of Glasgow…utterly mesmerizing. But never again.

4. The Double
I made the mistake of blinking and then The Double was gone from the sole art house cinema in the city that had been showing it this spring. Which makes sense, because just look at it: a strange, theatrical, dark dark adaptation of a Fyodor Dostoevsky novella, all stylized and storybook and spooky. There’s something of Samuel Beckett in this level of bleak absurdity, which matches the jewel-toned stage lighting and contained little spaces. That’s actually a good litmus test: if you like Beckett, then you might like this.

5. Snowpiercer
I showed up about five months late for Snowpiercer, and then rattled around the internet hollering “WHAAAT.” In the long-abandoned conversations I found, I was surprised to see people saying “ham-fisted” like it was a bad thing, instead of the natural style of a gloriously unflinching capitalism nightmare fable for the ages. #OccupyTheEngine

Honorary Mention: Captain America: The Winter Solider. This was the saddest superhero movie I have ever seen. Sorry Nolan, Batman never tossed his shield away and welcomed death at the metal hand of his brainwashed best friend. Oh Rogers, darling.

Total Tilda Count: 3/5
Ideal Tilda Count: 5/5 — 2015, can it be done?

Bebe Ballroom

1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
2. The One I Love
3. The Boxtrolls

Christopher Fraser

Calvary wasn’t the most impressive film I watched this year, nor is it my favorite, but it’s the only one that I’m still thinking about a few months after I watched it. For the last year I’ve been living in a different country to the one I grew up in, with no intention of going back home, and there’s the sense that I need to somehow reinforce my British identity in the (probably) vain hope that I won’t eventually become some featureless, hybrid, mid-Atlantic blob of a person. Calvary takes this impulse and presents it in a much bleaker, more religious light; Brendan Gleeson’s embattled priest just wants to act according to his Catholic faith, but he lives in a community that is at best bemused and at worst outright hostile towards it. I’m still not sure what the film wants to say – the ending divided audiences, and rightly so – but it’s wormed its way into my head and still refuses to budge.

Erika Schmidt

(in order of when I saw them. I haven’t seen all that I want to.)

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Boyhood
The One I Love
Whiplash

Also, I’d like to state that, while I long ago grew weary of superhero movies and largely refuse to see them, Guardians of the Galaxy was delightful.

Neil Fox

I really enjoy Bret Easton Ellis’s podcast. I find him a really fascinating character and his interviews are superb, really getting to some interesting places with his guests. However, his constant tirade that this is a poor period for American cinema seems way off the mark. To me—and my end of year list is made up films released theatrically in the UK between January and December as that is where I am—it’s been a vintage year with some truly remarkable films. My favourite film this year is one of the following: Her, Inside Llewyn Davisor Under The Skin. All remarkable works and all compete for my top spot on different days. Just underneath and equally majestic if slightly personally less resonant—though not by much—are Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The rest of my mine so far include the Palme D’or winning Winter Sleep, which is utterly magnificent, and a handful of British and European gems with strong music connections: Gruff Rhys’s odyssey film American Interior, Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank Sidebottom/Leftfield Art tribute Frank and Lukas Moodysson’s energetic and cheering return to form We Are The Best!

There’s a space left on my top ten and some great American movies—includingMaps To The Stars, Life Itself and Edge Of Tomorrow are all vying for it. There’s no guarantee the final spot on my 2014 list will be American though, as there’sSnowpiercer (no idea how to categorise that film’s planet of origin let alone its country of origin), the Dardenne’s mercurial Two Days, One Night and British gems Starred Up and ’71 both of which feature incredible performances from Jack O’Connell. Oh and there’s one of my favourite filmmaker’s latest, The Immigrant directed by James Gray, which I am watching this week.

Where I live, a lot of films don’t reach theatrically, so I’ve a lot to catch up on. Even so, this list suggests to me that BEE is wide of the mark concerning film—and American film specifically. Yes, it’s a bleak time for theatrical distribution of alternative cinema but the medium itself is still capable of true greatness. And that’s reason to celebrate at year’s end.

Taylor Long

Top five films from 2014*

Gone Girl
X-Men: Days of Future Past
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 1
Guardians of the Galaxy
Snowpiercer

*That aren’t Boyhood, because I haven’t seen it yet**
**I know, I know.