Since it always takes me a bit longer to catch up with all (or most) of the movies that come out every year, I give myself a couple of extra months to come up with my own top ten list from the previous year. This year I pushed it down to the wire once again, so here's my list of personal favorites from 2014. Don't forget- top ten lists are about your own preferences, not what you think are necessarily the "best" movies of the year, because everyone has their own taste, and movies are always, ultimately subjective.
1. THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA
This Japanese masterpiece from Isao Takahata was a gorgeous, emotional and transcendent experience that I wouldn't change a frame of. The hand-drawn animation is stunning to look at, the old-fashioned story based on a folk tale involves princesses, adventure, magic and a strong and independent minded female character. It was the most complete and moving film of the year, animated or otherwise- you just can't compete with perfection.
This action sci-fi thriller from South Korea's Bong-Joon Ho was the most fun I had with any movie, as it took you to what feels like another world, set far in the future where the earth has been destroyed by the effects of global warming. The last remaining survivors are trapped in an eternally moving train separated by class, with the elite 1% indulging themselves in the front cars with riches and luxuries made off the backs of the working classes, who are relegated to the tail section. Chris Evans leads the workers to rebel against their oppressors as they move upward, to each different car. It's an awesome, bloody, wild ride infused with that South Korean tendency to mix and match different genres together. Here there's humor, action, melodrama, and pure wacky science fiction, and the ultimate result is a thought-provoking mindblower.
3. BEGIN AGAIN
John Carney's follow-up to Once stars Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley in a ridiculously charming musical love letter to New York City, and the healing power of music and friendship. It's a purely feel good experience, lifted by some enormously appealing and natural actors who turn out to have great chemistry together in a formula that kinda-sorta follows that of a romantic comedy, but without pushing the predictable happy ending. By being just as much a story about the discovered independence of Knightley's songwriter Greta as well as the recovery of Ruffalo's down on his luck record executive Dan, it bucks a trend this past year of female characters too often being used in supportive roles to prop up the male lead. It's easily enjoyable with a lovely original soundtrack composed by New Radicals frontman Gregg Alexander, and I could watch it over and over again.
4. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Wes Anderson's best movie by far (and the only Oscar nominee on my top ten list), this was a delightful farce that seemed an homage to the made up worlds often created by 1930's director Ernst Lubitsch. A comedy like all of Anderson's work, but elevated by a fantastically funny and charismatic lead performance from Ralph Fiennes, who operates as the hotel manager of The Grand Budapest Hotel, which existed long ago in a pre-WWII era when the world is just starting to change. The film is a feast of nostalgia for that bygone age, and unlike Anderson's other work, benefits from a hint of melancholy about the dangers soon to inhabit this world. It's a lovely, perfect little movie.
5. ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE
Another film that languishes in a feeling of nostalgia, this Jim Jarmusch vampire movie pairs Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) as the most laid back, proto hipster vamps that ever existed, as they stroll around the dying city of Detroit and their apartment within it, waxing nostalgic for the days past of art, literature, and culture no longer appreciated by the humans who seem set to slowly destroy the world they live in. Surprisingly, despite their woes, there's not a lot of pretentious philosophizing, as Adam and Eve are more content just to hang with each other, and casually lament society's ills while nonchalantly cruising for their latest fix of the life blood that sustains them. You'd want to hang out with these two if ever you could, because honestly, they're just so cool.
6. TOP FIVE
Chris Rock's triumphant romantic comedy works as that, but becomes so much more and with such an effortless charm that you're delighted by how easily it rolls on. A satire of a flailing Hollywood comedian who must go back to his roots to find the truth in his art, the movie takes a page from the razor sharp rapport of Old Hollywood pairings, as Rock and Rosario Dawson trade barbs and anecdotes about life in today's media obsessed world while ever so subtly falling for each other over one long day in New York. The movie pulls off the feat of being purely entertaining while also sneaking in hilarious set pieces and the authentic and vibrant feeling of having something to say about the world right now, as it exists in this very moment of 2014- it's going to be a classic someday, I know it.
This was a stunning black and white film from Poland about a young nun who leaves the convent in the mid-1960's in order to find out the truth of what happened to her family during the Holocaust. It featured two stark and uncompromising performances from Agata Trzebuchowska as the nun Ida, and Agata Kulesza as her aunt who helps her to discover her roots. A very simplistic story that nonetheless managed to make Ida's personal triumph feel complicated and emotional, despite the cold and distant (yet artistic) style of filmmaking, which at times felt like a tribute to the films of Ingmar Bergman.
8. THE BABADOOK
A great horror movie that focuses more on the personal relationship between a mother and her son, which makes the scary stuff even more effective. A monster from a bedtime story comes into the life of Essie Davis and her 6-year-old child, shaking up the house that was already troubled to begin with. A film that mixes psychological chills with an old-fashioned yet original "movie monster" and nails you to your seat in a rush of adrenaline that lasts the entire running time. From Australian director Jennifer Kent, who would seem to have a good future ahead of her, based on this astonishing feature debut.
Ava DuVernay's paeon to the civil rights movement was a very emotional and moving experience that featured a wonderful, fully realized performance from David Oyelowo as the reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Oyelowo captured the spirit of MLK through his speeches, which weren't even pulled from the records, as the estate denied the rights to King's words in the making of the film. That actually worked to the movie's benefit, because the audience can essentially hear and see him through Oyelowo as though for the first time. A sincere, passionate call for civil rights, both today and yesterday, and a heartfelt tribute to everyone, not just King, who fought to move history forward.
10. WILD TALES
The highest grossing Argentinian film in history was this wildly entertaining series of vignettes, whose only common theme was the frustration caused in ordinary people by society's rules, and imagines what would happen if you could only act out your rage however you wanted, because of some slight you feel has been committed against you. Each episode escalates into chaos, usually involving murder and lots of bloodshed, but the climactic wedding tale was a turnaround, and saved for last as the vindictive insanity revealed by a jilted bride makes Gone Girl's Rosamund Pike look like a godsend. This is a film you can sit anyone in front of, and they'll be engrossed fro beginning to end- it's hilarious, outrageous, entirely accessible and very crowdpleasing.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (in alphabetical order): Birdman; Citizenfour; Force Majeure; Gone Girl; How to Train Your Dragon 2; The Imitation Game; Love is Strange; Mr. Turner; Nightcrawler; Under the Skin