My Favorite Films of 2014

My Top 10
(more in-depth commentary, and other writer’s choices over at

1. Beyond the Lights, directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood.
2. Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater. Review here.
3. Closed Curtain, directed by Jafar Panahi. Review here.
4. Force Majeure, directed by Ruben Östlund. Review here.
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel, directed by Wes Anderson.
6. Ida, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. Review here.
7. Inherent Vice, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Review here.
8. Love Is Strange, directed by Ira Sachs. Review here.
9. Only Lovers Left Alive, directed by Jim Jarmusch. Review here.
10. Under the Skin, directed by Jonathan Glazer. Review here.

And because there are so many other movies to see, 2014 being a really good year, here are other films. So let’s call it a Top Whatever. In no particular order.

11. The Babadook: The other night, I stood in front of the IFC Center, waiting for the screening of King Vidor’s The Crowd. Three youngish guys had just emerged onto the sidewalk after seeing The Babadook. They stood smack-dab in the middle of the sidewalk, so that passersby had to circle around them, and talked, feverishly about how great the movie was. They were clearly horror fans (from what I gathered in my blatant eavesdropping) and many of them expressed dismay and disappointment about how so many horror films treat serious subjects in a really cursory manner, whereas in The Babadook those serious subjects are the whole point. One of the guys said, “I mean, it’s about grief, right? The whole thing is about grief!” The other one said, “Yeah! Exactly!” They were so excited about it that they decided to go out and have a drink to discuss it more. Now that’s a good movie. My review of The Babadook is here.

12. Neighbors. One of the best comedies of the year. Refreshing. Hilarious. Unexpected. Not what you think it will be at all. Go, Rose Byrne. She and Seth Rogen make a great comedic team. The movie is about a lot of things, letting go of youth, while you still insist to yourself that you can hang with the kids, and be cool, remember when we were cool, honey, remember? A really confident and effective film. Wrote about it – and Zac Efron, who is incredible in it, here.

13. Selma. This is a major film. By focusing on the struggles of Martin Luther King with the locals in Selma (not just George Wallace and the whites, but the rival civil rights groups who considered Selma their territory), director Ava DuVernay pours that huge story into a narrow and totally charged container, keeping things specific when they could go really broad. It goes broad anyway, in the harrowing sequences of the walk over the bridge (masterful) and in the “coming around” of Lyndon B. Johnson, as he finally stepped up to do the right thing. All of those behind-the-scenes are important. They provide context and a window into King’s very specific non-violent movement. The performances are tremendous. The script had been knocking around Hollywood for a while. DuVernay rewrote it, bringing the focus back to King and his colleagues, where before it was a lot about white reaction to the events. (Here’s a fantastic interview with DuVernay about how Selma came to be.) An extraordinary film. A major moment in so many ways.

14. Last Days in Vietnam. Rory Kennedy directed this phenomenal documentary about the final weeks of the Vietnam War, and the backstage stories about Vietnamese trying to get out on the last helicopters leaving the city, as well as the concerted and desperate efforts from American soldiers and American aid workers and embassy workers trying to get their Vietnamese friends and co-workers out. Made up almost entirely of newsreel footage (many of which are famous images: the helicopters being pushed off the deck of the aircraft carrier, the line of people climbing up the chimney to get onto the helicopter hovering over the roof), there are many many stories here I had never heard. An extraordinary document of first-hand witnessing.

15. Goodbye to Language. What can I say, it’s Jean-Luc Godard. A political and sexual and visual mishmash, angry and strange, funny and bizarre, Godard is still experimenting, still pushing the boundaries of what film can do, what a story can take. It’s in 3-D, and he futzes with the image, so that faces are superimposed over backgrounds, or there is almost a halo effect over certain scenes, so you feel like you are looking at something that has been exposed too many times. Or that if only you squinted hard enough all of the images would align and click into place. Godard fans will recognize his style, his interests. You either love it or hate it. But the best part of it is: he forces you to deal with what HE wants to show you. It’s his way or the highway. I love that forcefulness, and I love thinking about what he puts onscreen. His stuff has enormous reverb. Deafeningly loud.

16. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Blown away by this first-time director’s debut. My review is here.

17. Gone Girl. There was a lot of agonized commentary over David Fincher’s Gone Girl, the kind of commentary I find tiresome. Did the movie endorse misogyny? worried the worry-warts. In my opinion, these are the wrong questions. I don’t care what a movie endorses. (Showing something is not endorsement, by the way, but that’s a side issue.) All I care about is whether or not a film knows what it is, and then goes ahead and IS that thing with 100% commitment. (I may not care for the end result, but that, again, is another issue.) Gone Girl does that: it is what it is, ferociously. I didn’t find it worrisome or troubling, I didn’t feel like “all women are evil witches” was the message. All I felt was: Jeez Louise, this broad is out of her MIND, and … even better … she is totally entertaining in her vicious world-class manipulation. Jen and I were guffawing at the image of her lolling around, her mouth full of Kit-Kats. Like, she’s the honey badger, man, she doesn’t give a shit anymore. This is kicking it old-school, this is Barbara Stanwyck, this is femme fatale, this is grown-up time. Give me darkness, give me sick and twisted, give me some anger. I have my own opinions about Gillian Flynn’s book, and the whole “cool girl” thing, which I thought was pretty brilliant. What I loved about the movie is that it was relentless in devoting itself to that sick disgusting relationship, and those two gross people. I wasn’t disturbed by it. I thought it was hilarious.

18. Blue Ruin. Adore this beautifully made and terrifying and hilarious twist on the revenge film. And Eve Plumb is in it. Honestly, what more could you want from life? Jan Brady as backwoods vicious matriarch? Hell, yes. My review here.

19. Snowpiercer. It’s been months and I still love talking about that movie. I am still not over it. Grandiose and dark, thrillingly designed and executed, it was one of my favorite movie-going experiences of the year. My review here.

20. Life Itself. Steve James’ documentary about Roger Ebert is one of the most touching films I’ve seen all year. It gives a great portrait of Roger as a newspaperman, one of the last of his kind, and is also the story of Roger’s final illness, and his marriage to Chaz. The film must go on. I watched it in tears. It’s an amazing accomplishment, and the success it has received thus far is richly deserved. Here’s my post on seeing it at EbertFest.

21. Nymphomaniac Vol. 1. I am not sure the protocol here. Am I supposed to not separate the two films out? Judge them as one film? I saw both, and reviewed both for Ebert. Volume II didn’t grab me as hard as Volume 1 (My review of Vol. II here.) It took me a while to come around on Lars von Trier, and I still can’t stand Breaking the Waves, but Melancholia was my breaking point. I am still in LOVE/LUST with that film (my review here) I went into Melancholia expecting to hate it, and I love it so much I saw it 4 times in the movie theatre and now own it. It’s fun being wrong. Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 is a dizzying and sometimes ridiculous polemic, even slapstick at times, delving into the hundreds of sexual exploits of one particular woman. It’s intellectual, it’s agonized, but it’s also hilarious. Uma Thurman’s scene is one of my favorite scenes of the year. “Come on, children, let’s go look at the whoring bed!” My review of Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 is here.

22. Clouds of Sils Maria. One of the best films about an actor’s process that I have ever seen. It’s up there with Opening Night (and I rarely put anything up with Opening Night). The two films have a lot in common, and Clouds of Sils Maria earns the right to stand in the company of Opening Night. I adored it. My review is here.

23. The Double. I’ve read that some people despised this film, and it’s on a couple of Worst Of lists. I thought it was awesome. Taking Dostoevsky’s harrowing story about a man who is haunted by his own double running around town, and putting it into a completely specific world – it’s not our world, it’s some OTHER world – was a beautiful choice. Removing the story from a recognizable context and placing it in some other dark industrialized Orwellian world highlighted the intensity of the tale, the destabilizing of one man’s identity. I was riveted by it.

24. We Are the Best! What a delight. What a fun and touching movie about three 12-year-old girls in 1982 Stockholm, forming a punk band. Fantastic. My review is here.

25. Thou Wast Mild and Lovely. This is a cheat, since it has not gotten a release yet and is still making the festival circuit rounds, and getting occasional screenings in random places. Josephine Decker is the director. She also did Butter on the Latch, another extraordinary film showing her unique vision and style. Thou Wast Mild and Lovely takes place on a farm, and Butter on the Latch (which mixes documentary footage as well as surreal horror-film elements) takes place at an actual Serbian folk-music camp that occurs every year in the woods in the Pacific Northwest. I want to go to that folk-music camp. Sign me up! Seeking both films out in a double feature (I think BAM just did that recently) would be well worth it. Thou Wast Mild and Lovely knocked me flat, I’m telling you. It is not like anything else. If I told you the plot, I would be doing the film a disservice. In a way, the film is more about Decker’s distinctive style than anything else, but there are images in the film that have never left me. The moment with the frog. The kitchen utensils in the air, against the blue sky. The final scene. Please keep Decker on your radar. Keep your eyes peeled for her. This feels like a pretty major voice. And now I will point you to The New Yorker, and Richard Brody’s excellent piece: Pay attention to Josephine Decker. Yes. What he said.

26. Nightcrawler. A disturbing and uncompromising character-study. It’s also a really interesting look at the world of “night crawlers,” guys who race around town with cameras, filming crime scenes, and then selling the footage to news stations. It’s a world I know nothing about. But at the center of it is Jake Gyllenhall’s creepy Rupert Pupkin-ish performance. Definitely his best work yet, and I’m a fan. My review is here.

27. The LEGO Movie. While on vacation with my family in New Hampshire, I ended up watching the movie four times, with my various nieces and nephews. I had not seen it in the theatre. I had read the good reviews. I adore Chris Pratt. I loved him from the second I saw him in Zero Dark Thirty (“I’m listening to Tony Robbins and planning out my future. I really want to talk to all of you guys about this.”), and his small role in Moneyball was terrific. If you read the book, you know how it makes you fall in love with Scott Hatteberg. Chris Pratt gets that. Perfect casting. Anyway, it’s been so fun seeing him get these huge roles now. The LEGO Movie has a great script, wonderful voice performances, and is inventive and fun. I mean, come on. I watched it four times in four days. At one point, I said to my nephew, “Can we watch The LEGO Movie again?”

28. The Strange Little Cat. Almost difficult to describe. Hypnotic. Very funny. I reviewed it for The revolt of the objects.

29. A Coffee in Berlin. Staying with the German theme: A Coffee in Berlin is a monster-hit in Germany, racking up tons of awards, and it hasn’t gotten a ton of play over here. I am not sure why. Maybe people think it’s going to be serious and then are disappointed when it’s not? Maybe the fact that it’s black-and-white makes it seem like it will be serious? I have said before that I wish more movies felt free to be silly, and also that directors knew how to be silly like they used to. They used to know how to do it. A Coffee in Berlin has its deep side, but in some respects there is nothing deeper than truly absurd silliness. I loved this movie. I reviewed it for

30. The Skeleton Twins. My kind of movie. So much so it feels custom-fit. I want all movies to be like this. I am just happy The Skeleton Twins exists. Reviewed it here.

Other movies I saw this year and loved: Child’s Pose, The Boxtrolls , Watchers of the Sky, The Homesman, The Guest, Dear White People, Kelly & Cal, Omar, Joe, Le Week-end. I’m probably forgetting some stuff.

I’ve missed some of the movies on many Top lists, and still have some catching up to do. Some of the movies everyone is raving about I didn’t care for at all. That happens sometimes. These are the movies this year I really loved.

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35 Responses to My Favorite Films of 2014

  1. Craig says:

    Enjoyed reading this. I go to so few movies in their initial releases, playing catch-up the following year, it’s surprising this year to find how many Top-10 regulars I’ve already managed to see. I’ve seen 5 of your 10 (and 9 of your 20) and three of them would most likely remain on my list even if I had a larger sample from which to choose. I’m glad to see you liked BLUE RUIN, one of those rare films I watched with barely an inkling of what it’s about. What I thought was the main plot – and would be for most revenge-dramas – is shockingly over after 20 minutes; then things get more complicated. A bloody gem.

    • sheila says:

      Would be interested to hear your picks, Craig – out of the movies you’ve seen.

      I went into Blue Ruin, too, knowing nothing – except the buzz that emanated from Cannes. Well-deserved. I also love the whole story behind it – two best friends, sticking together, to make this movie. Macon Blair – wow. Great performance.

  2. Just want to say I truly appreciate your reviews….Without you I’d never hear of half these movies (I live in a town with 150,000 people and exactly 10 of your top 30 played here, most of them for a single week)…especially looking forward to getting hold of We Are the Best and the Vietnam doc (and I suppose Selma might get here eventually!) Anyway, I’m glad you write about them. I don’t trust those other people!

  3. Todd Restler says:

    Wow, I tend to worry about the state of cinema….this list is so reassuring. F’N awesome year.

  4. sheila says:

    NJ – it is totally my pleasure, and your comment is part of the reason why I have such enthusiasm for writing about movies!

    I love it when people put stuff “on my radar” that just would never have been there before.

    We are the Best and the Vietnam doc are amazing – I imagine both will be available via Streaming (I saw We are the Best streaming on Netflix.)

    “Beyond the Lights,” too – I can’t say enough good stuff about it. Really smart, really grown-up, really intelligent about the music industry, romantic, quiet, really emotional … I’ve been a fan of Prince-Blythewood ever since “Love & Basketball”, a movie I love – and have written about it here on occasion.

  5. sheila says:

    And have to admit that this Tweet made my morning.

  6. Todd Restler says:

    Ugh, I have seen so few of these top movies that I am hardly qualified to put a list together. I will get to most of them eventually through Netflix or cable. I treasure your blog and all of your hard work, you really do turn me on to many movies that I would otherwise not see.

    I would include Snowpiercer in that, and yes it’s one of my favorite movies in a very very long time!

    I will circle back and comment on all of these great films as I see them. I’m actually planning to watch We are the Best tonight on Netflix. And FYI I bought the Criterion DVD of Love Streams…can’t wait to watch it but I’m more interested in your track on the DVD!

    • sheila says:

      Yay for Love Streams, Todd! Excited to hear your thoughts – the film is a masterpiece, too, and I am really proud to be a part of the release.

      And hooray for We Are the Best! It’s the kind of film I love best – character-driven, honest, unexpected – nothing “big” happening, an understanding of the small moments that take up life. Also, it really GETS 12 year old girls. It doesn’t sexualize them, or leer at them. It knows what that time of life is all about. I loved it!

  7. Todd Restler says:

    ..and I will see Inherent Vice in the theater over the holidays, even if I have to go to a midnight showing myself. As with Boyhood, which I still have not seen either, I already know it will be an all time favorite of mine.

    • sheila says:

      Oh my gosh, Boyhood.

      Had a great conversation last night about Inherent Vice – with a friend who didn’t like it. She had very strong feelings. These are good discussions to have. She’s super smart so we had fun talking about it. I loved it.

      But I don’t need everyone to agree with me. It’s a breath of fresh air to be able to TALK about these things.

      For me – Inherent Vice, Ida, and Boyhood are the Top 3 films of the year.

  8. Todd Restler says:

    I am almost intimidated to watch Boyhood, I think I will like it too much. It feels like the movie I have been waiting my whole life to see. I will comment as I see these, look forward to discussing as always!

    • sheila says:

      After my brother and his son (my nephew Cashel) went to go see Boyhood together, they snapped a picture of the two of them pretend-sobbing (although I knew it was real, on some level) and sent it to me. “Just saw Boyhood.” said my brother’s text message.

      Cashel is 17 years old now. Can’t believe it.

      Treasure that photo!

      So yeah. It has a huge impact. Like a stealth-bomber though – nothing overblown or underlined.

  9. Todd Restler says:

    My boys are a mature 13 and 10, I really want to watch this with them but think it might be too intense in spots from what I have read. I will probably watch it on my own first and then decide whether to show it to them. But I just know it’s a movie I will love, the structure is so in my wheelhouse.

    I love movies that span years or decades, showing the passage of time. Usually we see the actors “age” through makeup, or by having a different actor playing a character at different stages in their life. This can work of course, my favorite film is Goodfellas, where the young actor playing the young Henry Hill did a great job, and is completely forgotten about when people discuss that film. But it requires a “suspension of disbelief” that is not nessessary in the Linklater. I can’t wait.

    Post that photo! (If you want to of course).

    • sheila says:

      I wonder if kids who actually are the age of the boy in the film might not get it – or it might strike too close to home? I’m curious about that.

      Cashel loved it.

  10. Todd Restler says:

    Yeah, my instinct says they will like it but I guess I should watch it first on my own. I really want to show it to them, I feel like it could be one of those “defining movies”. I’ll keep you posted….

    • sheila says:

      and could not be more thrilled that Patricia Arquette is being called out, specifically, for her work. It’s one of the performances of the year for me.

  11. Dan says:

    So many good movies to catch up on! I watched We are the Best! with my wife last Friday and we were both blown away – a rare 5 starts from both of us. Looking forward to Ida and Under the Skin – both are on Netflix streaming now (as is Blue Ruin and Snowpiercer – so much goodness).

    I think my #1 of the year is Grand Budapest Hotel, edging out Instellar. Loved loved loved it.

    • sheila says:

      Dan – Love that you both loved We Are the Best so much! I totally agree.

      You are in for a treat with Blue Ruin!! Under the Skin … nothing can really prepare you for the bizarre intense experience of the movie – look forward to hearing your take (the comments section on my post about it is pretty great).

  12. Dan says:

    Sorry I was unclear – I’ve already seen Blue Ruin (and Snowpiercer) , and they were great!

  13. Sean G says:

    Sheila, have you seen Birdman?

    • sheila says:

      Yes, I have. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for it at all. Really disliked it.

      Every year, there’s a movie the majority of people love – that I can’t stand. Last year it was Her. This year Birdman. Always kind of a weird experience.

  14. Jessie says:

    I’ve only seen five of these — woe! I’m dying to see Nightcrawler and Skeleton Twins. And you sure do make a good case for the rest. Grand Budapest would be my favourite of the 2014 movies I think; and 12 Years A Slave and All is Lost only came out over here this year so those three would be my favourites of what I’ve seen in a cinema.

  15. Jessie says:

    Doh! I keep thinking I saw All Is Lost in a theatre but actually I watched it on my laptop with headphones on curled up on a bed; that’s how overwhelming it was!

  16. Sean G says:

    That’s funny! Birdman totally ruined me. I didn’t know what to do with myself after I left the theatre. I totally understand where you’re coming from though. I really enjoyed reading your blog this year. Happy Holidays. Elvis 4evah!

    • sheila says:

      Sean – I have heard that from others, that the movie ruined them. I feel like a spoilsport – I felt like that with Her, too – people were having such an emotional response to it!

      Happy holidays to you too – thanks for reading and commenting – and yes, Elvis! It’s his 80th birthday in 2015. Getting ready for some more juicy commentary to commemorate.


  17. Jessie says:

    Neighbours — Rose Byrne awkwardly gangles her way into my heart!
    Snowpiercer — I thought I would like this more. Worth it for the visuals (and loved Swinton) but I found the story kind of dull.
    Gone Girl — Fincher at peak chill, funny and interesting at times but I wish it committed more to one of the several movies it flit between.
    LEGO Movie — fun while I was watching it — the only joke I can remember now is Batman’s song which was hysterical
    Grand Budapest was just an absolute delight — zippy and frantic but not desperate, you know? Fiennes blew me away with his command of tone. Interesting to have an Anderson lead that wasn’t so shot through with melancholy.

    • sheila says:

      I love your comments! Wasn’t Rose Byrne just great? (I’ve always been a fan – I loved that she wasn’t painted in a Judd Apatow way – like the woman is the un-fun one, the nag – she, too, was hoping she could still party it up like she used to – I loved that the husband and wife were TOTALLY in cahoots. Thought that was refreshing.)

      “peak chill” – I like the way you put words together, Jessie.

  18. Jessie says:

    Thanks, Sheila. Yeah, Rose Byrne is great! I totally agree about how great it was that she and Rogan were in it together. Such a great vibe – see how much more fun and easy the escalation is when there’s no wet blanket! Like Nick and Nora or Mickey and Mallory ha ha

    • sheila says:

      // see how much more fun and easy the escalation is when there’s no wet blanket! //


      Whole worlds open up when you let the wife be a person.

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