2014 was a good year for cinema with many films that were moving and challenging and solidly made. To keep track of films that stood out I started a private list on Letterboxd about halfway through the year to add films to it. By the end of the year it had around 20 films on it and that’s a good number, so as the end of the year approached I tweaked and arranged it to come up with a list of 20 films in a loose ranking with a top 10 and another 10 that are good as well. My 10 earlier blog posts are reviews of those films. The full list of 20 for 2014 is on Letterboxd and my top ten in order are:

  1. Frank
  2. Two Days, One Night
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  4. Ida
  5. Winter Sleep
  6. Under the Skin
  7. Obvious Child
  8. Only Lovers Left Alive
  9. Mood Indigo
  10. Locke

The full posts give a lot more detail, so here I can give a bit more context for them. Six of the films were first viewed in a theatre and the other four were rentals or purchases via iTunes. I’ve seen six of the films more than once (with The Grand Budapest Hotel twice in the theatre and 3 times on video). Seven of the ten are films are in English, two are in French, one is Polish, and one is Turkish. Half of the films have female leads, and only one has a female director.

In picking out the films for a list one of the things that is important is the emotional impact and resonance of a film. The blockbuster films of the past year didn’t have much resonance or memorability for me, but these films did. I thought about them for days or weeks afterwards and will probably watch all those films again. They all show different aspects of humanity and generally positive in tone. They all look distinctive and have great performances.

For acting the standout is Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night with her intimate and moving performance layered with complexity and subtlety. Her role is perfectly matched by the structure of the Dardenne Brothers give the film. Michael Fassbender transcends the mask he is within in Frank, and Tom Hardy sits in a car and carries the entire film of Locke as well. Newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska is mesmerizing in Ida with a vulnerability conveyed brilliantly by the black and white cinematography. The ensemble of Winter Sleep manages to create complex situations and tension out of their interactions all within visually stunning settings. The smaller casts of Only Lovers Left Alive and Obvious Child bring an easy comfortability to their characters and stories. The controlled visual constructions of The Grand Budapest Hotel and Under the Skin fit with ranges of the actors well, with the former having a huge cast, and the latter mainly focussed on Scarlett Johansson.

The ten runner up films are solid and interesting in different ways with seven in English, two in Swedish, and one in French. One is a musical and one is a blockbuster and the rest are indies.

Listen Up Philip originated on 16mm film and feels like it’s from 70s. With an unsympathetic main character played by Jason Swartzman, balanced off by Elisabeth Moss it’s a complex and challenging film that played against my expectations. Moss is also great with Mark Duplass in the strange indie The One I Love which has a different take on a romantic comedy with a Twilight Zone twist that exemplifies what is great about independent filmmaking.

Three of the films are coming of age stories with the Quebecois film Tu Dors Nicole, the Swedish We Are the Best!, and the Scottish musical God Help the Girl. Tu Dors Nicole follows the end of summer as a young woman tries to figure out what she wants to do with her life. We Are the Best! happens in suburban Sweden in the 80s as three young women form a punk band to make a statement and combat boredom. God Help the Girl is a Glaswegian musical about young woman during a summer with love and music with an unexpected darkness and drama balanced off by the songs.

Two of the films examine family relationships and how they change when they are under stress. Love is Strange is a beautiful look at a couple played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina and how their marriage destabilizes their lives and the lives of their families. Force Majure is a darkly humorous look at how an incident causes everyone in a family on vacation in the Alps changes based on their reactions to an avalanche. The indie revenge drama Blue Ruin has a murky incident in the past that sets things in motion in a quiet, but inevitably bleak series of events that also has a dark and recessed humour to it.

The outlier and oddly ignored blockbuster Edge of Tomorrow was a lot of fun and the type of film that should be a success. Thoughtful science fiction with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt perfectly paired together it has great action, interesting ideas, and was just long enough to be interesting and strangely didn’t do that well at the box office.

It was a good film year and a year where I easily watched the most films in a year. The routine of a film a day is good and it is comforting to have a steady stream of images and sound from around the world in my life.

How I Watched

As technologies and viewing methods change it’s good to track how things are seen. The preferred way to see films is on a big screen with an audience, but most of the films that we watch are on smaller screens. This is how my viewing looked on the screens that I chose.

The most popular device was my Apple TV with 143 films watched on it followed by the TV with 119 films (that includes cable and DVDs). I saw 64 films in theatres, watched 96 films on my iPad, and 18 films on my MacBook Pro.

I only watched 48 DVDs and most of my rental and purchased films were from iTunes with 70 films and for streaming Netflix gave me 131 films and MUBI 45. The other major source of films was Turner Classic Movies with 65 films from that TV channel. Comparing the numbers with last year I’m watching almost three times as many films on Netflix as the year before and half the number of films on MUBI.

Up next Frank Text and Context
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