From the ridiculous to the sublime, as part of our ongoing year-end coverage, we recently looked at the worst films of the year, but we wouldn't want to rest on a negative note for too long, so there was only one way to go from there: to The Playlist's Official 20 Best Motion Pictures of 2014.
Traditionally, we've run separate lists by separate staffers, but this year, we also wanted to try something a little different. So for the first time ever, editors, staffers, contributors and contributing writers were polled on their top 10 lists, with ten points awarded for first place, nine for second etc, resulting in The Playlist's top twenty.
It's always worth noting that with Playlisters based everywhere from L.A. to Berlin, not everyone sees everything at the same time, and as we closed polling this past weekend, it's possible that we'd have seen certain movies yet to hit wide release climb higher (given the passion from the few who saw films like "Mommy," "Selma" and "A Most Violent Year," those in particular could have ended up further up the list). But nevertheless, it's been a fascinating process to watch the poll take shape (especially with the runaway number one film, which took almost twice as many points as its closest competitor), and we think we've ended up with a list that represents the site as a whole.
There's still plenty more year-end coverage to come, and there have been quite a few Best of the Year features already (which you can check out here). But for now, take a look at the top 20 below, and let us know your own lists in the comments section.
20. “The Rover”
If one takes “The Rover” on its own methodical, minimalist terms — an existentialist fable that burrows deep into the moralism of its corrupted, barren landscape — it’s hard to deny that writer/director David Michod’s sophomore effort wholly accomplishes what it sets out to do. Stripping away all narrative complexity to the point of abstraction, the character study really breathes, but in such a completely different way to Michod's triumphant last feature "Animal Kingdom," that after just two features and a few shorts, Michod has us convinced he's the real deal. Featuring a stunningly grizzled, grimy lead performance by Guy Pearce, easily one of our favorite working actors, and an impressive turn from Robert Pattinson who is growing as a performer with every film, it's a movie that pulsates beneath the surface and in the long silences between dialogue and outbursts of violence. And it’s starkly beautiful to look at and to listen to, eschewing revelations and plot twists to deliver its deceptively simple story through mood, tone and atmosphere. [Read our review].
It’s amazing what filmmaker Ava Du Vernay has accomplished over such a short filmography — you’d never guess that “Selma” is only her third feature-length drama. The story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s pivotal civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama — a pilgrimage that led to the landmark passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act — “Selma” is deeply moving. And yes, it’s an “important” film, but one of such intelligence, craft, dignity and empathy, that any cynicism you may have about its motivations will quickly disappear. Alive and vital, “Selma” eschews traditional stuffy biopic notes, with David Oyelowo’s elegant performance proving effortlessly genuine. And the picture provides a warm, lived-in look into MLK’s life that is full of human dimension, while also being vividly shot by Bradford Young (the year’s MVP director of photography for “Selma” and “A Most Violent Year”), who imbues every frame with a textured authenticity and intimacy. “Selma” may check off all the Oscar boxes — it’s emotionally stirring, inspirational, crowd-pleasing, powerful and socially relevant — but if Best Picture has to hit these criteria, let “Selma” take it for all the right and honest reasons. Either way, this soulful, humanist triumph might be more worthwhile than anything you pay to see in theaters this year. [Read our review].
In any other hands, “Mommy” wouldn’t work. The sci-fi-ish prologue is unnecessary, the movie runs too long, and the opening twenty minutes may well be a deal-breaker for some. But they’d be giving up on one of the most excitingly fresh, unapologetic directorial voices of the moment in Xavier Dolan and missing out on what ultimately becomes one of the most beautiful, goddamn heart-bursting movies of the year. Breakout Antoine Olivier Pilon is the wild, unpredictable, ADD heart of the movie, in which a teenager, fresh out of juvie, returns home to live with his mother Diane (Anne Dorval). But he’s too much to handle, and so an unlikely alliance is formed with Kyra (Suzanne Clement) the neighbor who gives Steve care and guidance, while Diane earns their keep. This is almost beyond soap opera, an all-levels-to-ten tribute to the heart-breaking ferocity of the mother-son bond marked by three stunning performances. Dolan’s use of music has never been better, with two sequences in particular providing swooningly gorgeous, unexpected audio/visual pairings, and lest you think the Academy ratio is a gimmick from the young filmmaker, it’s a choice that ramps up the intensity in a film where the emotions threaten to leap off the screen and eat you whole. “Mommy,” much like Steve, is wild, reckless and flawed, but like Diane, that’s why we love it to death. [Read our review].
Given that it went rather overlooked on the festival circuit at the end of 2013, it’s been hugely gratifying to see the cult of “Ida” grow over 2014, as the film became a legitimate indie sleeper hit, and probably the front-runner for the Foreign Language Oscar. Pawel Pawlikowski’s return to his native Poland, it’s a small, personal and beautifully formed little gem, focusing on novice nun Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska, who’s astonishing for a first-time actor), who discovers that she’s actually Jewish, and sets out with her aunt (the equally-astonishing Agata Kulesza) to look for her parents' grave. It sounds bleak, and with its stark Bressonian black-and-white Academy ratio framing, seems like it could look that way too, but it’s a film of great warmth and power. For such a brief film (just 80 minutes), it’s also hugely substantial, packing in issues of identity, faith, history, guilt, sexuality and nationhood, while also being one of the most beautifully composed films in recent memory. It’s a staggering achievement, and we’re delighted to see so many take it to their hearts. [Read our review].
16. “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
We hope the Academy doesn’t forget this delightful Wes Anderson film come Oscar time, because for our money, it’s easily one of his best films to date, and one of 2014’s signature titles. With a spring release that was rewarded with deserved critical and financial success, it felt for the better part of 2014 that everyone was talking about ‘Grand Budapest.’ And for good reason: it’s funny as hell, with an against-type turn by Ralph Fiennes as a dandy, possibly bisexual and ultimately heroic hotel manager that’s award-worthy without being obvious. The gorgeous music by Alexandre Desplat is a large part of the film’s success, with the score (like the film) constantly on the move, always one step ahead of the audience, jumping from genre to genre (screwball sex comedy/prison break/quasi-World War II/stories within stories). Art directed with trademark Anderson perfection and nostalgia, it's simply one of the most flat-out entertaining films of this year, even with an ending that’s so beautifully sad. [Read our review].