Last week I was busy writing my extensive “year in review”-special for fictionBOX, which you can read here (if you understand german, that is). Thus, I had to disrupt my Viennale-reviews once again. Before I continue them, however, I want to take a look back on 2014 before we’re too far into the new year. Unfortunately, it would take up far too much of my valuable spare time to translate my whole fictionBOX-special, but I at least wanted to give you a short overview of my 25 favorite movies from 2014. Please note that only movies that had an official theatratical release in Austria/Germany are eligible; thus many of the films that I saw at festivals didn’t factor in. You can find a list of the 100 movies that were taken into consideration here. I’ll go through the ranks #25-11 real quick, and for my 10 favorite movies of the year I’ll give you a short review that hopefully explains why I chose these particular films. (Note: All movies appear with their english title).
#25: Begin Again
#23: 3 Days to Kill
#22: I Used to be Darker
#21: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
#20: Two Days, One Night
#18: The Raid 2: Berandal
#17: Clouds of Sils Maria
#15: A Most Wanted Man
#14: American Hustle
#13: What We Do in the Shadows
#11: Guardians of the Galaxy
As mentioned in my review, I loved how this movie made me reassess my – mainly negative – opinion about religion, church and faith. It also was a very entertaining movie, with some big laughs, but also some very tense moments. Add the great cast and the killer finale that stayed with me for a while after seeing it, and you’ve got one of the best movies that I’ve seen last year.
#9: The Dark Valley
A western set in the alps? Can that work? It can, and it does. Andreas Prochaska continues his streak of great movies that defy the rather tight corset that Austrian movies typically are expected to fit in, and again proves to be one of the best (and most underrated) Austrian directors working today. Adapting the novel by Thomas Willmann, “The Dark Valley” tells a dark and gripping revenge tale, enriched by a great cast and the beautiful landscape of the Alps.
The second-best thriller and the best movie by a first-time director of the year, “Nightcrawler” admittedly profits greatly from Jake Gyllenhaals stunning performance (his best since he first hit our radar with “Donnie Darko”), but that isn’t meant to undermine Dan Gilroys accomplishments as script writer and director. “Nightcrawler” is a dark and twisted movie that centers around a sociopath, featuring a stellar cast and some stunning night scenes. Not since “Collateral” did L.A. look so beautiful and haunting at the same time.
“Her” tells one of the most original, fresh and extraordinary love stories of the last couple of years. It also deals with various issues, like our relationship with technology. It offers a great extrapolation of what technology – and our lives – may look like in the not-too-distant future. Enhanced by great performances – especially Scarlett Johansson, who does great work with just her voice – “Her” is one of the best and most exciting and thoughtful Science Fiction-movies of the last couple of years (although it by far wasn’t the only such movie in 2014).
#6: Gone Girl
A perfect match of material and director, “Gone Girl” isn’t “just” David Fincher’s return to form (after a short slump with the not-catering-to-his-strenghts “The Social Network” and the unnecessary “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”-remake), but in my opinion actually the best movie of his career (so far). A tense, gripping thriller with some shocking, unforseeable twists (at least for me) and an extremely dark ending, what surprised me most about “Gone Girl” was how amusing and flat-out funny it was at times (although often in a rather dark manner). Entertaining from start to finish, “Gone Girl” is a movie that, despite relying heavily on its twists and turns, I’m sure I’ll come back to often in the coming years.
#5: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
This movie simply destroyed me and reduced me to a complete emotional wreck. Beautifully animated in an oldfashioned way that befits the timeless story that it tells, “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” is the best and most beautiful animated movie that I’ve seen in quite a while. The story really spoke to me, and I loved that there was no typical bad guy. I also really liked the characters, especially Princess Kaguya, and the ending is extremely emotional (or at least it was for me). For more, see my review.
#4: The Fault In Our Stars
This was the biggest surprise for me in 2014, since it was way better than I anticipated. I expected a typical, melodramatic weeper of a movie, but instead got a film that while definitely very emotional and tear-inducing, still managed to avoid the typical traps that come with the (cancer) territory. Yes, given the title (the german one is even more telling), you pretty much assume from the get-go that things might not end well for Hazel and Gus, but that didn’t stop me from falling in love with them individually as well as them as a couple. Also, despite some sad moments, I ultimately found it to be very cathartic and in a weird way even uplifting. With some great acting, writing and directing, I actually couldn’t find much fault in “The Fault In Our Stars”.
Granted, the unique way this movie was shot – over a period of 12 years for a couple of days every year, keeping the cast together for the whole time – kinda overshadows the rest of the film. Which is fine, since praise for Linklaters approach – which definitely took a lot of guts (and also some luck) – definitely is highly deserved. However, I do think that what sometimes get’s overlooked in the discussion of the making of-process of the movie is the movie itself. I love that “Boyhood” tells a coming-of-age story that is distinct and universal at the same time. It tells the story of a very specific, unique boy/family, but still manages to make you think of your own childhood. It never gets overtly melodramatic and feels very authentic and real. While not quite pulling the same emotional punch as “Before Midnight”, it’s yet another testament why Richard Linklater is rightfully considered as one of the most talented, interesting and unique filmmakers working today.
#2: Under the Skin
I get it that this is a movie that’s not for everyone. You’ll find a lot of very critical user reviews on the IMDB, some even with a 1-star-rating who claim that this is the worst movie they ever saw (which always makes me want to congratulate them on their choice of movies in their life so far). I, however, absolutely loved it, and if it weren’t for the fact that even in my opinion, “Under the Skin” needs a little time to really get going (after the first couple of minutes, who were stunning), it even would have come out on top of that list. It’s just such a unique movie, offering something that I’ve never seen before. I loved the development of the story, and of Scarlet Johanssons character. Visually, the movie is absolutely stunning, offering a lot of beautiful shots and haunting images that will stay with me forever. Add to that Mica Levi’s score that perfectly captures – and enhances – the unsettling tone of the movie, and you’ve got a film that I’ll revisit numerous times in the near future.
This is not the result of me being one of those Nolan-fanboys, but of me being a complete Science Fiction-nut. I just adore the genre, be it in movies/tv or literature, and as much as I love myself an SF-adventure movie and/or a Space Opera, if there’s one kind of Science Fiction that we don’t get quite enough from on the big or small screen, it’s Hard-SF. Enter “Interstellar”. I love how it tries to be as scientifically accurate as possible (as least for the first 3 quarters of the movie), and how it’s not dumbed down to ensure that even the biggest dork will be able to understand it. “Interstellar” is a movie that demands your attention and that rewards at least some basic knowledge of physics. It offers some stunning visuals, a great, grand and powerful score by Hans Zimmer, stellar performances by everyone involved, as well as a gripping story about humanity’s fate, our role in the universe, and the struggle to survive. I understand everyone who hated the wormhole-sequence, but – maybe because pretty much from the beginning, I suspected that the movie would ultimately lead to this, thus I was able to prepare myself for it – it worked for me, mostly because of the emotions it evoked, and also the fact that the main love that the movie was about was not the romantic kind between man and woman (or man and man/woman and woman, for that matter), but between father and daughter – which we don’t get to see that often in movies. Overall, while in a way totally different from “2001 – A Space Odyssey” (which was all about questions, while “Interstellar” is all about answers), “Interstellar”, in my very humble opinion, will one day similarly considered a classic of Science Fiction-cinema.