The 14 Best Movies of 2014

By Greg Tozian,
Chief Storyteller, Big Brand Stories

As the year draws to a close, it’s a pleasure to announce that because we can see films from all over the world in most major U.S. cities, movie going can still be a broadly diverse, rewarding experience.

Here are Big Brand Stories’ choices of the best movies of 2014, from more than 50 we selectively saw in first-release (in the order of preference):

UnderTheSkin

  1. Under the Skin (British-U.S.) — This little jewel transcends its “science fiction” trappings to achieve multi-layered depth (blending the literal, surreal, psychological and spiritual). Jonathan Glazer does a artful job with pacing and visuals. Scarlett Johansson is haunting as a lost woman, adrift on the mean streets of Glasgow, who proves that regardless of attraction, it’s a miracle whenever two people can connect without one losing everything.
  2. Winter Sleep (Turkey) — At three-plus hours, this intense drama recalls the interior introspection of Tarkovsky or Bertolucci. Director Nuri Bilge Eylan is masterful, as is Haluk Bilginer as a egomaniacal, maladroit remote-boutique-hotel proprietor who makes everyone from his wife to the guests and surrounding community’s inhabitants memorably miserable.
  3. Citizen Four (U.S. Documentary) — Laura Poitras’ documentary about the travails of Edward Snowden has astounding fly-on-the-wall, real-time power. When it’s over, you pinch yourself to realize that the director and journalists who interview the hero-traitor are doing so in a foreign hotel room where American newspaper reporters call routinely, yet the whole U.S. intelligence community can’t find him.
  4. Omar (Palestinian) — Possessing the elements of a tough noir and star-crossed-lovers drama, this disturbing work manages to be a scorching commentary on the conflict between Palestine and Israel. Adam Bakri is perfect as a freedom fighter caught between violence and a “normal” life.

MrTurner

  1. Mr. Turner (U.S.) — Longtime master Mike Leigh surprises here with a solemnly paced bio-pic about the great early 19the century painter J.M.W. Turner. Timothy Spall is sadly spectacular in the title role. Few films so touchingly present the lonely task of the genius artist who must spend years creating work destined to be misunderstood, even while it is celebrated.
  2. Blue Ruin (U.S.) — In these days of overblown, effects-laden action, it’s nice to see a story focus on character psyches. “Blue Ruin” modulates interior menace and explosive violence without tripping up in the transitions. Macon Blair is a slowly simmering drifter on a revenge trail you know will have a rocky end.

Ida

  1. Ida (Polish) — This gorgeous black-and-white film could have been made in Eastern Europe during the 1960s, along side such masterpieces as “Closely Watched Trains.” Agata Kulesza is marvelous as a troubled post-World War II nun with a surprising family history and a burning desire to discover the truth outside the convent walls.
  2. Locke (British) — Nothing could sound more boring than a 90-minute film taking place entirely in a automobile (even a sleek BMW) with the guy behind the wheel talking on his car phone and to himself. Yet, the terrific Tom Hardy makes it all riveting, with an able assist from director Steven Knight.
  3. Jodorowsky’s Dune (U.S.-French) — Eccentric cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky famously spent years planning to make a film from Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel, “Dune,” only to have it come to naught. This is an examination of what the director, and a huge cast of talented collaborators such as Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, artist H.R. Giger, writer Dan O’Bannon, Mick Jagger and others went through and actually achieved. Makes you want to make art yourself. Fascinating.
  4. Obvious Child (U.S.) — I cringed when a cinema-friend suggested this romantic comedy, and was very pleasantly surprised. Comedienne Jenny Slate stars as not-yet-up-and-coming New York comic who struggles with the dilemma of not wanting to have a child with a guy who really is right for her.
  5. Birdman (U.S.) — Spanish director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s take on a Hollywood-schlock star having his hour strutting and fretting upon the New York stage. With masterful Steadycam stream of consciousness amid the colliding worlds of Hollywood and Broadway. The Hollywood cast exceeds all expectations, from lead Michael Keaton, to surprisingly commanding Edward Norton.
  6. The Imitation Game (American) — The unfortunate story of World War II British computer genius Alan Turing is given a good solid-but-sad-biopic send-up, with the talented Benedict Cumberbatch and the always watchable Keira Knightley in the leads. Turing’s woeful life is summarily documented, from his beginnings as a misunderstood scientific genius to his downfall at the hands of a coldly uncaring British government.

Snowpiercer

  1. Snowpiercer (South Korean) — This future-climate-change sci-fi could have been just another summer bummer with too much CG and not enough humanity. But director Bong Joon Ho, backed up by Chris Evans’ grim-hero performance and excellent set design and action makes it a popcorn movie with clever punch and grace-note ecological commentary.
  2. Maps to the Stars (U.S.) — Canadian director David Cronenberg never makes anything to which one can remain indifferent. This scathing attack on modern-day Hollywood (as you might perceive it in a perverse dream) does not rank among his beset, but it stings like hornet. Hollyweird has never seemed weirder.