TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2014: THE MAINSTREAM EDITION

As I wrote in my rundown on the Online Film Critics Society Awards, I found 2014 to be a year of many very good movies, but no clear masterpieces. Although I saw nothing in 2014 I would qualify as a general must-see, the positive side of that lots-of-good-no-great equation means that there were so many worthy top ten contenders that I had to leave many worthwhile films off my final list. It was a very good year, as it turns out, for science fiction, and for British films, and so I’ll kick off my list of honorable mentions with ‘s quiet Scottish movie about undercover space aliens, Under the Skin. I also wish I could have found room for the year’s best thriller, Gone Girl; ‘s typically great Grand Budapest Hotel; Coherence, the best microbudget film of the year; and the crazy train that was ‘s Snowpiercer. With those out of the way, let’s get down to the ten films that did make the cut (three of which we also added to the 366 Best Weird Movies of All Time):

10. The DoubleCertified Weird! A timid clerk (Jesse Eisenberg) named Simon James finds his vocational and romantic opportunities are being seized by a confident co-worker named James Simon, who looks exactly like him. Based on Dostovevsky, but the mood of this unsettling existential black comedy is much closer to Kafka (with plenty of nods to Brazil). The dystopia feels familiar, but hauntingly so. I’m not ashamed to make the obvious joke: this would make a great “double feature” with Enemy.

9. The Dance of Reality: Certified Weird! begins his imaginary autobiography with a bare-knuckle boxing match against an effeminate circus clown dressed as a carrot, a father who’s the spitting image of Joseph Stalin, and a mother who only communicates through operatic singing, and it only gets stranger from there. Jodorowsky’s unexpected late-season movie has all of the weirdness and occult spirituality of his cult hits El TopoThe Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre, but there’s something different, too. He’s lightened up in his old age, and now brings a consistent sense of humor and playfulness to ciname. If this is the 85-year old director’s last film, it’s a beautiful swan song that sits comfortably alongside his best work.

8. Guardians of the Galaxy: “Star Lord” (a buffed-up Chris Pratt) recruits a crew of galactic riff-raff, including a wisecracking racoon and a tree with a limited vocabulary, to stop an evil villain or two from acquiring a futuristic MacGuffin. A crowd-pleasing mix of action, spectacle, and comedy. Although they are always high quality, this is my favorite Marvel movie, probably because it takes place in a “galaxy far away” rather than the Marvel Universe per se (yes, I am aware an Avengers crossover is being discussed). Great fun; it’s no surprise it comes from (co-writer of the Certified Weird Shakespearean classic Tromeo and Juliet).

7. Boyhood: Watch Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) survive a bratty sister, first love, and a succession of stepfathers as he grows from a boy to a man in this narrative experiment shot over 12 years with the same actors. Even though nothing out of the ordinary happens, it’s strangely absorbing to watch the cast age in front of your eyes. I can’t think of any other fiction film that so carefully imitates the intimacy of a good documentary.

6. The Lego Movie: In a world made of Legos, one incredibly average Lego-man is chosen by a prophecy to stop the evil President Business from freezing everything in Legoland in perfect order with a giant glue gun. Despite the generic, brand-forward title, this is an extremely clever and entertaining comic adventure, probably the greatest toy commercial ever animated. Our own said it “pulls off the impossible:  it restores some faith in the imaginative and creative potential of the medium, at least for 101 minutes.

5. Enemy: Certified Weird! A history professor becomes obsessed with finding a man who appears to be his exact double.  is excellent in both roles, and two-time Certified Weird director  creates a sense of existential dread that rivals  (or fellow Canadian ). The mysterious ending has already fueled a minor interpretation industry.

4. Locke: A construction foreman is called away on personal business on the eve of a huge building project; we watch in real time as he drives to London juggling phone calls from work, home, and his destination.  should rightfully be praised for his performance as a profoundly decent working man facing the devastating consequences of a single bad decision; it’s almost a one-man show. But the real unacknowledged star is Steven Tyler’s minimalist script, which manages to wring a hell of a lot of tension out of a “you have a call waiting” notification.

3. Birdman, or: (The Unexpected Virtues of Ignorance): Aging star Riggan Thomas, who became a superstar anchoring a blockbuster superhero franchise in the 1990s, writes, directs and stars in a Broadway show in an attempt to be taken seriously as an artist. Unfortunately, he’s simultaneously battling against the voices in his head, as his old alter-ego presses him to sign up to do Birdman 4. It’s Hollywood navel-gazing and soul-searching, sure, but the result is the best Hollywood has to offer: it’s unpredictable, bold, and unapologetic, manned by a completely committed cast and crew acting at their collective peaks. Plus, it starts with levitating in tightie-whities. Read more from G. Smalley.

2. Whiplash: A talented young jazz drummer comes under the tutelage of an abusive, slave-driving music professor. For once, you’ll be looking forward to the drum solo. J.K. Simmons makes R. Lee Ermey look like a pussy. Hand him the Best Supporting Actor statuette now.

1. Calvary: A priest ministers to an Irish town full of drunks, adulterers, lost souls, and one man with a personal vendetta against the church. Brendan Gleeson is great as the principled and passionate priest asked to pay the price for the sins of the Catholic Church. Starts with the best opening line of the year (maybe the decade).

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