2014 was a remarkable year for movies big and small, and in spirit, here are top 10 lists from Thompson on Hollywood staffers and contributors.
Alejandro González Iñárritu took on the most audacious cinematic feat of the year —and corralled a posse of actors with balls, lead by Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone, to nail his dissection of Hollywood and the fragile balance between ego and id—shot in exhilarating long takes.
Richard Linklater dreamed up the story of a boy growing over 12 years, from six to 18, and cast Ellar Coltrane as the kid and Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as his parents. No one else could have conceived, written and directed this daredevil feat.
3. "Mr. Turner"
Mike Leigh took his genius method and applied it to his passion project about the great English painter JMW Turner, channeled to perfection by Cannes Best Actor winner Timothy Spall. This movie is about balancing art and commerce, loneliness and love, inspiration and achievement.
4. "Nymphomaniac" Volumes 1 & 2
Lars von Trier, no matter what controlled substances he’s on, is never predictable and always provocative, daring and visually compelling. Over two parts, title character Charlotte Gainsbourg and her virginal interlocutor Stellan Skarsgard dig into the sad and damaged soul of a woman who can’t get enough sex.
5. "Only Lovers Left Alive"
Jim Jarmusch delivers his best movie in decades, a vampire love story sent in the noirish ruins of Detroit and the narrow alleys of Tangier. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston define cool and sexy, and we’ve never seen Mia Wasikowska as delightfully devilish.
This stunning black and white examination of post-holocaust Poland is impeccably wrought by Pawel Pawlikowski, with wit and wisdom.
No one but Ava DuVernay could have wrangled this slice of the history of Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama, balancing his behind the scenes struggles with the high stakes for the Freedom Fighters and his strategic negotiations with President Lyndon Baines Johnson (Tom Wilkinson). David Oyelowo’s performance is towering —and Oscar worthy.
8. "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Writer-director Wes Anderson advances his controlled precision to a new level as he reinvents a lost European world of ornate hotels, fawning concierges, rich patrons and madcap merriment. Ralph Fiennes carries the delicious concoction with aplomb.
9. "Wild Tales"
Writer-director Damián Szifrón collects a set of six stories with one through-line: humans over-reacting to bad things with vengeful acting out on a grand scale that everyone can relate to, laugh at and enjoy.
10. "Beyond the Lights"
Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love and Basketball”) insisted on casting Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a pop singer in search of her real identity in “Beyond the Lights.” She resists her stage mother (Minnie Driver) and listens to the cop who falls in love with her (Nate Parker). Prince-Bythewood did the right thing.
Best Actor: Tom Hardy “Locke”
Best Actress: Felicity Jones “The Theory of Everything”
Best Adapted Screenplay: “The Imitation Game”
Best Animated Movie: “How to Train Your Dragon 2”
Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki “Birdman”
Best Director: AG Iñárritu “Birdman”
Best Documentary: Wim Wenders and Juliano R. Salgado “The Salt of the Earth”
Best Original Screenplay: “Boyhood”
Best Supporting Actor: JK Simmons “Whiplash”
Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette “Boyhood”
Best Unreleased Film: “Stray Dog”
Worst Film of Year: “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”
Actresses who had a strong 2014:
Emily Blunt (“Edge of Tomorrow” and “Into the Woods”)
Jessica Chastain (“Interstellar,” “A Most Violent Year,” “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” “Miss Julie”)
Lindsay Duncan (“Le Weekend,” “Birdman”)
Angelina Jolie (she followed her starring role in “Maleficent” --$751 million worldwide-- by directing $65-million Louis Zamperini biopic “Unbroken”)
Scarlett Johansson (“Lucy,” “Under the Skin,” “Chef,” “Captain America: Winter Soldier”)
Keira Knightley (“The Imitation Game,” “Begin Again,” “Laggies”—“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” was not her fault)
Julianne Moore (Best Actress at Cannes for “Maps to the Stars,” “Still Alice”)
Tilda Swinton (“Only Lovers Left Alive,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Snowpiercer”)
Mia Wasikowska (“Tracks,” “Maps to the Stars,” “Only Lovers Left Alive”)
Reese Witherspoon (“Wild,” producing “Gone Girl”)
Actors who had a strong 2014:
Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game,” “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” “Penguins of Madagascar,” TV’s “Sherlock”)
Logan Lerman (“Noah,” “Fury”)
John Lithgow (“Interstellar,” “The Homesman,” “Love is Strange”)
Jack O’Connell (“Starred Up,” ’71,” “Unbroken”)
Robert Pattinson (“The Rover” and “Maps to the Stars”)
Brad Pitt (“Fury,” executive producer of “The Normal Heart,” “Fury” and “Selma”)
Mark Ruffalo (TV’s “The Normal Heart,” “Begin Again,” “Foxcatcher,” “Infinitely Polar Bear”)
Channing Tatum (“Foxcatcher,” “22 Jump Street,” “The Book of Life,” “The Lego Movie”)
Breakout filmmakers of 2014:
Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”), Dan Gilroy (“Nightcrawler”), Christopher Miller and Phil Lord (“22 Jump Street,” “The LEGO Movie”), Gillian Robespierre (“Obvious Child”), Justin Simien (“Dear White People”).
1. "Gone Girl" (dir. David Fincher)
The kinkiest, cruelest, most subversive studio movie to emerge from Hollywood since "No Country For Old Men," "Gone Girl" is a match made in misanthropy hell for cold, calculating director David Fincher and the wicked imagination of Gillian Flynn. It took me three viewings to finally understand that this is a comedy, but each time, that hopeless, deflating ending brings everything into sickeningly sharp focus. I find it strangely romantic.
2. "Force Majeure" (dir. Ruben Ostlund)
An archly comic, discomfiting vivisection of the male ego that, given the film's chilly, alpine terrain as a setting for the combustion of the nuclear family, feels something like "The Shining" by way of Jacques Tati's detached amusement.
3. "The Congress" (dir. Ari Folman)
Surely the most ambitious movie of the year, this gorgeous, all-too-real live-action/animated chimera is as pro-cinema as it is anti-Hollywood, offering a gloomy but faintly hopeful prophecy bursting with visual brio and a knockout performance by Robin Wright as many versions of herself.
4. "The Blue Room" (dir. Mathieu Amalric)
Director/star/co-writer Amalric achieves pure cinema, conjuring William Carlos Williams' axiom of poem-writing, "No ideas but in things" by showing, not telling, the jagged fragments of a steamy affair gone horribly and perhaps criminally awry.
5. "The Immigrant" (dir. James Gray)
Marion Cotillard's heavenly performance as a Polish immigrant who comes to America with her arms full of dreams, only to understand quickly that those dreams sour, affirms that she is the greatest living actress working today—and that James Gray's passion project was a sorely missed opportunity for The Weinstein Company, who dropped the ball on this majestic movie.
6. "Inherent Vice" (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
Words like "loose," "freewheeling" and "groovy" barely scratch the surface of PTA's twisty stoner noir, an unruly, sprawling panorama of doped-up lowlives that features the single best scene of 2014, a sexy-creepy long take in which the director makes the elusive Pynchon novel fully his own strange wildebeest.
7. "Ida" (dir. Pawel Pawlikowski)
What's left to say about "Ida," that rare breed of sophisticated arthouse drama that has enchanted us all? While harking back to yesteryear's art films, it still feels thoroughly modern, featuring two of the best screen performances, well, ever. Female or otherwise.
8. "Boyhood" (dir. Richard Linklater)
We're lucky to have a movie like "Boyhood," an overflowingly generous masterpiece that avoids all cliche or sentimental excess, and lives and breathes the rhythms of everyday life. "I just thought there'd be more."
9. "Under the Skin" (dir. Jonathan Glazer)
While this succubus-from-space odyssey contains stretches of longueur I can't quite forgive, there are images here that you've simply never seen before, and probably never will again, and for that we have to commend this ambitious and haunting cinematic achievement.
10. "Maps to the Stars" (dir. David Cronenberg)
I love every stupid moment of this sick, twisted, nasty little movie (which had a tiny qualifying run in LA this month) that has been misinterpreted as satire—it's not. It's a dead-serious, pitch-black ghost story and, sure, it's tonally a mess, but I loved writhing in the filth of writer Bruce Wagner's Hollywood rock-bottom, a demimonde of deluded pill-swilling actresses, schizophrenic burn victims, incest families and drug-addicted child stars. In other words, home sweet home for director David Cronenberg.
Also great: "Coherence" (James Ward Byrkit), "Interstellar" (Christopher Nolan), "Test" (Chris Mason Johnson), "Mommy" (Xavier Dolan), "Stranger By The Lake" (Alain Guiraudie), "Actress" (Robert Greene), "Norte, The End of History" (Lav Diaz), "Borgman" (Alex van Warmerdam), "Night Moves" (Kelly Reichardt), "A Field in England" (Ben Wheatley), "The Homesman" (Tommy Lee Jones)
Best Actress: Elisabeth Moss, "Listen Up Philip" and Marion Cotillard, "The Immigrant" and Anne Dorval, "Mommy" Best Actor: Jake Gyllenhaal, "Nightcrawler" and Haluk Bilginer, "Winter Sleep" Best Director: Jonathan Glazer, "Under the Skin" Best Cinematography: "Love Is Strange," Christos Voudouris Best Screenplay: "Gone Girl," Gillian Flynn Best Score: "The Congress," Max Richter