Best Films of 2014

This was the year of the cinematic marathon, as I plunged deep into every filmic nook and cranny I could crawl inside, coming out with a whopping total of 200 films viewed that were released in 2014. Lest you consider me utterly insane (which I probably am), somehow I was able to condense that number down to my 25; a task, ultimately, which feels at least partially irrelevant given how many strong films got left out. Still, I am very proud of the flicks that made the cut. So, without further ado, here are my favorite 25 films of 2014!

by Jericho Cerrona January 31, 2015

Films 25-11 Next

Writer-director Aaron Schimberg's bizarre oddity takes place somewhere in a skewered version of America, often playing like a low-budget folklore theater production shot in evocative 16mm. The eccentric stepchild of Guy Maddin and David Lynch, complete with a final 15-minutes that's the most delightfully baffling coda of the year.

Brilliantly transgressive and stylistically bold, Yann Gonzale's debut defies narrative convention while still packing an emotional punch, takeing place over one evening where a group of friends and strangers get together for a party with the possibility for sexual misadventures. The synth-laden 80's-influenced score by M83, meanwhile, absolutely rules.

Director Joanna Hogg grabbles with London upper-class malaise and how wealth affects one's ability to maintain a sense of artistic drive in this detached exercise that traps a married couple inside their artist loft. The audience, too, feels trapped, through a combination of precise framing and atmospheric sound design that slowly builds an indefinable feeling of dread.

The year's most mystical movie, Ben Rivers and Ben Russell's glacially-paced curio is impossible to categorize and even more impossible to explain. Combining documentary grittiness with a Terrance Malick-esque pondering of the natural world, The Spell To Ward Off The Darkness has it all; Estonian communes, hippie ramblings, hikes through Finland, and a nearly 30-min black metal concert.

21. 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH
Those who don't worship at the altar of Nick Cave may flee, but Ian Forsyth and Jane Pollard's portrait of the musician is a semi-fictional account of the artistic process that's both endearingly daft and wholly cinematic. Using a flurry of Cave's words, music, and personal ruminations, 20,000 Days on Earth flirts with the documentary format in clever ways. Plus, there are cameos from Ray Winstone and Kylie Minogue. Enough said.

Jesse Eisnenberg gives a comedic tour de force in a dual role in Richard Ayode's Kafka-esque tale of an office drone working for a dreary corporation. Comparisons to Terry Gilliam's Brazil will abound, but Ayode has his own voice; littering his film with bizarre visual gags, kooky cameos, and striking Soviet-style set design. A boldly satirical take on corporate mechanization and the need to break free from societal norms.

Interstellar has been criticized for being hokey, episodic, and given to long stretches of dialogue where characters literally explain the plot, but honestly, who cares? Christopher Nolan has fashioned a 165-minute colossus of invigorating science, awe-inspiring outer space visuals, and direct emotional humanizing that swings for the fences. For all it's grand philosophizing about theoretical physics, though, this is still an intimate story about a father and daughter separated by the cosmos.

One of the year's true originals, filmmaker Benedikt Erlingsson's debut feature traces six vignettes involving the relationship between various horses and their owners, all set against the frozen tundras of Iceland. A tonally audacious fusion of deadpan humor and shocking visuals, Of Horses and Men pits animal instinct against human error, and comes away with something wholly unique.

A haunting collection of home videos, photographs, and elegiac narration, Petra Costa's brilliant cinematic memoir seeks clarity in the face of unbearable sadness, reframing her sister's death through remnants of hazy memory and tangible evidence. Non-linear, fragmented, and infused with grief, passion, and undeniable ambition, Elena isn't really a documentary at all, but rather a sobering and defiantly personal affirmation of life.

Strikingly assured and politically cunning, Nadav Lapid's debut juxtaposes macho Israeli police officers with passionate young radicals in a way that sets up certain expectations regarding class warfare, only to upend them. There are no easy answers or sense of catharsis here; only a growing feeling that things won't well, culminating in a disturbing and strangely moving final reel. Forget American Sniper; this is the bracing must-see political film of the year.

This powerful character study about a 19-year-old criminal transferred to an adult prison is unflinching in it's depiction of lives society has given up on, complete with gritty direction from David MacKenzie and a superlative lead performance from Jack O'Connell. In between spurts of shocking violence, the film stops to consider whether or not it's characters are worth saving, but it's O'Connell's complex rendering of a violate young man that lingers most.

Wes Anderson's eighth feature is one of his best and most lively films, factoring in all of his stylistic preoccupations and deadpan dialogue with a larger canvas and snappier pace than his past work. Inspired sight gags, visual puns, slapstick-style action, and carefully calibrated camera movements are everywhere; but it's the clever screenplay and inspired comedic performance from Ralph Fiennes that truly impresses. A dazzling Rubik's Cube of whimsical invention.

Unconventional, aesthetically challenging, and emotionally astute, Nathan Silver's film centers on an alcoholic 20-year-old who spends most of her time careening from one disastrous social situation to the next. Adroitly capturing the contradictory impulses of being young and reckless; complete with jittery closeups and frantic editing swirling around Brooklyn life, Soft in the Head emerges as an extraordinary example of go-for-broke indie filming. Vital, alive, and uncompromising.

Warning: Never let a bearded homeless man into your home to take a bath. Borgman, the latest mind-fuck from Dutch writer/director Alex van Warmerdam, ponders that question and many others; including possible fallen angels, terrifying children's bedtime stories, shape-shifting canines, and manipulating dreams. An unnerving, darkly funny, and elusive film that demands multiple viewings. A verifiable bourgeoisie nightmare.

Visually arresting, narratively wonky, and completely fascinating, Ari Folman's The Congress nods towards the Orwellian dystopia of Brazil, the faux-reality landscapes of The Matrix, and the loopy animated surrealism of The Yellow Submarine, but always remains wholly original. With the aid of Robin Wright's phenomenal lead performance, the film represents a defiant fuck you to the Hollywood studio system; an imaginative, existential, and daring piece of work that opens up new realms of cinematic perception.

25-11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1