Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Best Movies of 2014

The Rosendale Theatre, where I saw the movies on my list

This is the first year I’ve created a best-movie-of-the-year list, and I’m likely to change my mind even before I’ve finished. It’s even possible that in years to come I’ll remember some film as my favorite of the year and discover I forgot to put it on the list. In the jumble of my memories, there are movies that stand out over time, movies I can see over and over, all-time favorites that I might not have recognized as such on the first viewing.

That said, these movies strike me today as the best I’ve seen in 2014. Bear in mind there are several outstanding ones made this year that I’ve yet to see.

1.     Birdman—a tour de force for both Michael Keaton and Ed Norton. This was worth seeing for its dark and yet funny look at a mid-life crisis, the magical realism of fantasy, interwoven with madness and overlaid with humor. That sounds complicated, and, yes, the movie was pretty complicated. A simple retelling of the plot doesn’t reach the places in the heart that this film does. Setting it backstage in a Broadway theater was a genius stroke—an actor trying to surpass his greatest success with a truly new creation of his own, as he battles poor actors, great actors, offstage dramas, and his own fragile grip on sanity. Keaton will probably win an Oscar, and in this case I agree. I expect the same for Ed Norton in the Best Supporting Actor category.

2.     The Immigrant was on so long ago I didn’t know if I’d seen it this year or last year, but it turns out it was this year. A beautiful film of the heartbreak of coming to the United States in the early 20th century with all the high hopes and unrealistic dreams of its time and place, riding the great wave of the poor who had every reason to expect better things. Marion Cotilliard shimmers with her unique blend of physical and spiritual beauty, seeking a successful life and exploited by the very men who would rescue her.

3.     Boyhood—This one is on everybody’s list, for its sheer chutzpah of concept. Twelve years in the making, focusing on one family and watching them evolve. I was less moved than I was intrigued by the device of time itself, which in this case was almost enough to put this film in the category of greatness. Certainly it was one of the best of the year.

4.     Anita Hill/ Speaking Truth To Power is a powerful documentary of a situation   within my memory, but about which the truth was not spoken at the time. Miss Hill was portrayed by the media as something totally different from her reality. The movie is factual, enlightening, and Hill comes over in all three dimensions as we watch the truth unfold. If only there had been fair and balanced coverage of events as they happened we might be living in a different country today. A most compelling use of news footage and interviews, this is a must-see documentary.

5.     Life Itself—my second favorite documentary tells the story of Roger Ebert, newspaperman and movie fan. It traces Ebert’s path as a suburban Chicago bright kid reporter through alcoholic, self-indulgent sybarite, all the while excelling in prowess as a movie lover-critic. It ends with his final days in bed with a cancer that will finally take his life. The early part of this movie is free-wheeling and fun, right up through Ebert’s feuds and make-ups with his partner in movie criticism-on-television, Gene Siskel, who reveals how the pair really felt about each other. As it ends we see the bedridden Ebert, unable to talk or eat, still writing reviews, and communicating with the extraordinary woman who loved and married him.

6.     Love Is Strange is a tender, touching story of an aging homosexual couple who are forced to sell their beloved apartment and live apart until they can manage to support each other again. The performances by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina are nothing short of superb. I left the theater knowing two men as if they were beloved old friends of mine whose bittersweet story had been revealed for the first time.

7.     Bicycling With Molière—I loved this pretty French film, with its disagreeable characters, its bicycling sequences and references to Molière. Two older actors decide to work together on a production of Le Misanthrope, but it is indeed a bumpy trip as they vie for the leading role, meet up with a difficult but appealing lady, cross swords and double cross one another--and ultimately end the association all around. It is a movie full of happiness that ends rather sadly, but, along the way introduces some well-wrought characters and situations. I’m surprised it didn’t make more Best Picture lists.

8.     Land Ho! An old-buddy movie, two old guys who take a tour of Iceland together. Well made and picturesque, the film shows two very complicated men getting to know each other on an unlikely road trip and revealing more than meets the eye even when the eyes are dazzled with unknown landscapes. A very likable movie—perhaps not one of the all-time greats, but unforgettable in its mood and pictorial elegance.

I have a few honorable mention movies, but try as I might I couldn’t come up with a list of ten for the best-of-the-year. My runners-up were The Skeleton Twins, Magic in the Moonlight, Words and Pictures, Rosewater, and Elaine Stritch/Shoot Me. The only one on the whole list that I rented rather than seeing at The Rosendale was Words and Pictures, a happy romance that worked for me.

My list is brief, but then I didn’t see all the pictures the real critics did. Still on my list to see of 2014 movies are: Mr. Turner, Whiplash, The Imitation Game, Selma, Foxcatcher, Wild, and The Theory of Everything. I gave The Grand Budapest Hotel a miss but I’m beginning to regret that. For now my list will have to serve.


  1. Enjoyed your list. I have hardly seen any movies this year, but did like "The Hundred Foot Journey," starring Helen Mirren. I had rented Land Ho, but never got around to watching it. Maybe I'll give it a try again.

  2. I wasn't crazy about The Hundred Foot Journey although it had excellent performances, especially the old Indian guy. I couldn't quite buy the premise. A pleasant enough film but not high on my list. Land Ho is better and one you might really like is The Lunch Box--I just thought of that one. It should have at least made the top ten!