Forget the award-season bunker mentality, forget the odds, forget handicapping and definitely forget the passions of Joe Popcorn. For herewith is my almost final list of 2014’s finest films, totalling 23 and compiled with a focus on world-class coolness, aesthetic exceptionalism and serious envelope-pushing originality. Obviously I’ll update after seeing Unbroken, Into The Woods, Winter Sleep and Big Eyes. These are the personal bests that I’ll be happy to own in some high-def form (Bluray, Vudu HDX, whatever) and will be watching from time to time in years to come. It’s funny how the movies you’re supposed to like or are obliged to publicly support kind of fall away when you take yourself into a purist frame of mind. I’m not 100% locked into this order but it’s close to this:
Top Twelve: 1. Birdman (d: Alejandro G. Inarritu); 2. Citizen Four (d: Laura Poitras); 3. Leviathan (d: Andrey Zvyagintsev); 4. Gone Girl (d: David Fincher, who took a film with an airport-lounge plot and made it into something much more resonant); 5. Boyhood (d: Richard Linklater); 6. A Most Violent Year (d: J.C. Chandor); 7. Wild Tales (d: Damian Szifron); 8. A Most Wanted Man (d: Anton Corbijn); 9. The Babadook (d: Jennifer Kent); 10. Locke (d: Steven Knight); 11. Nightcrawler (d: Dan Gilroy); 12. The Drop (d: Michael R. Roskam).
Second-Tier Top Twelve: 13. Whiplash (d: Damian Chazelle), 14. The Theory of Everything (d: James Marsh); 15. The Imitation Game (d: Morten Tyldum); 16. The Grand Budapest Hotel (d: Wes Anderson); 17. Selma (d: Ava DuVernay); 18. Omar (d: Hany Abu-Assad); 19. Last Days in Vietnam (d: Rory Kennedy); 20. Life Itself (d: Steve James); 21. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (d: Matt Reeves); 22. Red Army, (d: Gabe Polsky); 22. Foxcatcher (d: Bennett Miller); 23. Edge of Tomorrow (d: Doug Liman); 24. The One I Love (d: Charlie McDowell).
Great 2013 Film That Some Are Calling a 2014 Film (which, yes, is technically is): Ida (d: Pawel Pawlikowski).
Commendable, pat-on-the-back, distinctive-but-no cigar attaboys (in this order): Mr. Turner, American Sniper, Two Days, One Night, Interstellar, Top Five, The Gambler, Inherent Vice, Snowpiercer, Starred Up, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, Fury, Jodorowsky’s Dune, The LEGO Movie (the last two of which I finally saw on a screener!).
Best of 2010 (in this order per year): The Social Network, The Fighter, Black Swan, Inside Job, Let Me In, A Prophet, Animal Kingdom, Rabbit Hole, The Tillman Story, Winter’s Bone (10). Best of 2011 (ditto): A Separation, Moneyball, Drive, Contagion, X-Men: First Class, Attack the Block (6). Best of 2012: Zero Dark Thirty, Silver Linings Playbook, Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Barbara, The Grey, Moonrise Kingdom (7). Best of 2013: The Wolf of Wall Street, 12 Years A Slave, Inside Llewyn Davis, Her, Dallas Buyers Club, Before Midnight, The Past, Frances Ha (8). Best of 2014: Birdman, Citizen Four, Leviathan, Gone Girl, Boyhood, Locke, Wild Tales (7).
42 Best of the First Decade (’00 to ’09): Zodiac, Memento, Traffic, Amores perros, United 93, Children of Men, Adaptation, City of God, The Pianist, The Lives of Others, Sexy Beast, Avatar, There Will Be Blood, Michael Clayton, Almost Famous (the “Untitled” DVD director’s cut), 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Collateral, Dancer in the Dark, A Serious Man, Girlfight, The Departed, Babel, Ghost World, In the Bedroom, Talk to Her, Bloody Sunday, No Country For Old Men, The Quiet American, Whale Rider, Road to Perdition, Open Range, Touching the Void, Maria Full of Grace, Up In The Air, The Hurt Locker, Million Dollar Baby, The Motorcycle Diaries, An Education, Man on Wire, Revolutionary Road, Che and Volver.