Unoriginal opening sentence wherein I express the belief that 2014 was a fantastic year for cinema. Standard-issue follow-up statement relaying how this overwhelming number of great films made it difficult to narrow down my favorite titles into a manageable list of 10. Vaguely patronizing mention of the self-imposed "rule" that was applied during the creation of said list ("Must be titles that most people would have had a chance to see in a theater, not just at a film festival"). Paragraph closes with a bit of whinging about how I've not yet seen Inherent Vice or Selma, and am thus unable to factor them into the list below*.
10. 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH
If you're a Nick Cave superfan, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard's 20,000 Days On Earth is a must-see. If you're a casual Nick Cave fan, 20,000 Days On Earth is pretty much a must-see. And if you have no idea who the hell Nick Cave is, well, see 20,000 Days On Earth. Even if you aren't a big fan of the dude's music, I'd be surprised if you walked away bored or unenlightened. This was one of my absolute favorite documentaries of 2014, unique and powerful and mesmerizing throughout. I demand that Forsyth and Pollard immediately get to work on a similar companion film revolving around Tom Waits.
9. STARRY EYES
Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch's Starry Eyes is a gut-churning, deeply disturbing descent into casting-couch hell, and I loved every minute of it. Threaded with shades of Repulsion and Kill List (two of my favorite movies) and featuring what deserves to be a star-making (no pun intended) turn from newcomer Alex Essoe, Starry Eyes was my personal favorite horror movie of the year, besting even Jennifer Kent's deservedly-lauded The Babadook. I cannot wait to see what these guys do next. If it's half as good as Starry Eyes, they'll be doing well. See this movie.
8. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Here's the nice way of putting it: Wes Anderson's last few movies haven't done much for me (you have to go back a decade, to 2004's The Life Aquatic, to find a title that I'll unreservedly cheer for). So when the time came, I dragged my feet on seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel. What a mistake. The movie's hilarious, unexpectedly dark and packed to the rafters with outstanding performances from some of my favorite actors. It maintains the intricacy (and, yes, many of the twee flourishes) that Anderson's become known for over the years, but it also finds him branching out into exciting new territory. The Grand Budapest Hotel put me firmly back on the Wes Anderson train.
7. EDGE OF TOMORROW
What a pleasant surprise this was. Doug Liman's Edge Of Tomorrow-- an adaptation of the Japanese manga All You Need Is Kill-- was ten times better than its trailers indicated it would be, with a surprising amount of humor balanced out with some genuinely thrilling set pieces. It gave everyone a reason to root for Tom Cruise again, it proved Emily Blunt to be the badass we always suspected her to be, and it even stuck the landing in its final moments. Edge Of Tomorrow was one of the year's best films...it's just a shame more people didn't make an effort to see it.
I could write a Hulk-sized dissertation on Denis Villeneuve's Enemy, and I'd probably still want to yammer on and on about it. The film wasn't even on my radar until I read Devin's review back in March, but I was intrigued by what he had to say about it. Once it hit Blu-ray I sought it out, and holy shit did I fall in love. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Adam, a teacher who discovers that his doppleganger-- an actor by the name of Anthony-- is living across town. Who is this guy? Should he approach him? Is he even real? The film is straight-up Lynchian: surreal, disturbing (the final scene literally made me yelp out loud in fear) and occasionally erotic, sometimes all at the same time. Beyond the incredibly limited release it received, I think this one got overlooked primarily because most audiences just didn't know what to do with it. BAD readers, on the other hand, are strongly advised to seek it out. Chances are, you're the kinda person Villeneuve made Enemy for.
5. GONE GIRL
David Fincher's meditation on marriage, the media, and madness more than lived up to the hype: this was the film we were all hoping for, a jet-black corkscrew of a thriller that landed like a punch to the gut for everyone-- myself included-- who hadn't read the novel beforehand (the audience I saw the film with on opening night looked like they'd just been slapped when the credits rolled). Featuring another brilliantly haunting soundtrack from Trent Reznor and career-best performances from Rosamund Pike, Ben Affleck, and Tyler Perry, Gone Girl is a solid addition to Fincher's already-impressive filmography. I recommend watching this one as a double-feature with Nightcrawler.
4. OBVIOUS CHILD
Obvious Child was my favorite comedy of the year, hands down. Written and directed by Gillian Robespierre (who I can't wait to see more from), it cemented two of my longstanding suspicions: one, that Jenny Slate is a force to be reckoned with; and two, that one really could build a romantic-comedy around the subject of abortion if one knew what one was doing. Robespierre does, and she has the balls to see this one through to its logical conclusion. It's hilarious, heartfelt, painfully honest, and never once makes a misstep. I loved everything about Obvious Child.
3. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Fact: Guardians of The Galaxy is better than four out of six Star Wars movies. Take a bow, James Gunn.
Oh, boy, Nightcrawler. Like Guardians Of The Galaxy, I saw this film three times in theaters (dragging new people with me every time I went), and each time I left feeling drunk on the power of film. What a mesmerizing gem this movie was. Jake Gyllenhaal has never been better than he is here, as Lou Bloom, the personification of modern American ambition: immoral, crazy-eyed, unblinking as he steps over your corpse on the way to the top. Gyllenhaal's performance in Nightcrawler is no-shit masterful, and I sincerely hope both he and Dan Gilroy (who wrote and directed) get their due when this year's Oscars roll around. Were it not for the final film on this list, Nightcrawler would have easily taken my top spot. But...
1. UNDER THE SKIN
Of the hundreds of movies I watched this year, Jonathan Glazer's Under The Skin stuck with me more than any other. Everything about the film-- from Scarlett Johansson's performance to its intoxicating soundtrack to Glazer's outright refusal to spell things out for us-- worked for me. Indeed, it was as though Glazer made Under The Skin with me in mind, crossing items off a list ("Things Scott Would Most Like To See In A Science-Fiction Movie") as he went along. By turns sexy, terrifying, surreal, bleak, and unknowable, Under The Skin is a one-of-a-kind watch. I walked out of the film raving back in April, and I've been going on about it ever since. I knew even then that it would end up being my film to beat this year, and I'm not the least bit surprised that nothing else came close. If you've somehow managed to avoid seeing the film until now, rectify that immediately.
* = Opening paragraph will remain unremarked upon because no one actually reads the opening paragraph of a top 10 list; everyone just wants to see how their favorites compare to the writer's. Basically: an annual confirmation bias ritual. Nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone does it.