An Unusual Best Films in 2014 List

I’ve been looking at a lot of best of lists for 2014.  I do this every year.  I’m a culture geek.  I love film, music, and television best of lists, worst of lists, and lists that let me know what I shouldn’t have seen or listened to.  I’m a culture archeologist.  Digging through these lists for new and interesting bands, films, television shows I might have missed.

In doing this I realized that because I do reviews on this site I should maybe come up with a list or two of my own. In that vein I started thinking about the films I’ve seen this year.  The ones that stuck with me.  What I realized is that I see most of the films I do via DVD at home.  I don’t go out to the movies very often.  When I do it’s usually for some film (mostly sci-fi if I’m honest) that begs to be seen on a very big screen.  And even some of those I miss.  Like, I didn’t see Gravity on the big screen.  This made me sad, but life happens and sometimes it doesn’t leave much room for movie going.  We watched it on our smaller screen, though viewing it in our media room on a 55 inch TV wasn’t bad either.  All the snacks we wanted, snuggles with our dogs, and nice blankets to keep us warm.  It’s a trade off.

The reason I mention the whole not going to theaters much thing is because what this means for my viewing habits is that I see stuff later than it comes out.  Sometimes much later.  I’m usually a year behind.  And in fact we get most of the films we watch from the library.  Our library rocks, and gets films when they first come out on DVD, but we usually have to wait for them anyway.  I put them on hold, we wait our turn.  I sort of like this as well because they become available when they do, not necessarily when we might choose them.  I get a notice that such and such a movie is in and I pick it up.  We watch what we get, in the mood for it or not.  It’s actually like getting little surprises all the time.  I love that.

So, we watch what we get when we happen to get it.  I review what we watch.  If we happen to go to the theater to see something I’ll review that too, but as I said it doesn’t happen often, and then they aren’t always “the best thing I’ve seen all year”, if you know what I mean.  Sometimes we luck out and they are, but mostly they are just good action films on a big screen.  Not eligible in any way to qualify as the best film I’ve seen all year.

The reason I bring all this up is that I’m going to do a list of 10 or 11 films that I saw in 2014, but they might not have actually been released in 2014.  They could be a year or more older, but they are the best films I saw in 2014.  Or at least many of the best films I saw.  There were others I enjoyed, but the films I include here stuck with me, and what’s more I’d recommend that everyone see them for one reason or another.

For this little exercise I’m going to stray from my usual 10 word review (though I will include what my 10 Word Review was for the films in question) and try and explain what it was about each film I enjoyed so much and why I think they are worthy of the list and of your attention.

If you’ve seen these, good on you.  If you haven’t, I would suggest checking them out.

Without further ado… my list of the best films I watched in 2014.  They are listed in no particular order.

MV5BMTY5NTYzNTA1M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODIwODU1MTE@._V1_SY317_CR1,0,214,317_AL_Chef – 2014 – (Sweet. Feel. Flavor. Journey. Family. Quiet. Independent. Warm. Cast. Yes.)  That’s what I said about it when I reviewed it.  I’m not sure what it is about this movie.  It’s sweet and quiet and understated, which are all great, but it also manages to capture and condense what I imagine it feels like to work in kitchens and to love that work.  It speaks to wanting to have your own voice and what compromise and a yearning for success and fame can do that that voice, how they can adulterate it until it’s no longer pure and simple and good.  It speaks to family and how we all, if we aren’t careful, can take people for granted.  This is a feel good film.  Warm and bubbly and heartfelt and simply done.  Which, ultimately, is what I liked most about it.

MV5BMTc5OTk4MTM3M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODcxNjg3MDE@._V1_SX214_AL_Edge of Tomorrow – 2014 – (Live. Die. Repeat. Battles. Alpha. Omega. Sci-fi. Aliens. Again. Yes.)  I love me some science fiction.  I always have.  Books to film, it’s a genre that’s always spoken to me.  Predicting futures, warning against them, engendering hope, reminding us what’s important along the way.  When I know a sic-fi film is coming out I wait for and anticipate it’s arrival.  This was no different, and it didn’t disappoint.  The concept, the action, the performances, the mystery of it all.  It’s a stylized and action filled top of the line sci-fi film.

MV5BMjI4MzMyNzM2Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDQ5MDgwMDE@._V1_SX214_AL_Wadjda – (Beautiful. Uplifting. Optimistic. Joyous. Place. Bicycle. Change. Insight. Smart. YES.)  This film is pure joy.  Warm and optimistic it makes you feel good about life and the world we live in.  The messages we get from the media are often so bleak and terrifying.  I always assume this is because there seem to be bigger and bigger ratings the scarier the stories are.  This doesn’t always relate to truth, or a whole truth, it’s often just means fear mongering.  It’s tiresome.  So to find a film about a girl in a land where girls are not valued as highly as men, made by a woman, about a girl who seems to defy the odds.  It’s a lovely, uplifting, warm and endearing story.  We need more of these in the world.

MV5BMjA5ODgyNzcxMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzkzOTYzMDE@._V1_SX214_AL_Philomena – (Story. Dench. Coogan. Nuns. Relationship. True. Repartee. Adoption. Sweet. YES.)  A powerhouse performance, once again, by Judi Dench.  I have to admit I pretty much like anything she’s in.  She’s pretty spectacular.  This film, about life and relationships and history, is subtle and sweet and warm.   It’s also heartbreaking, and wonderful.

20140424-153059.jpgShort Term 12 – (Connection. Community. Youth. Hurt. Release. Emotional. Struggle. Bat. Rap. YES.)  This sweet little film hit close to home for me, as I worked for years and years with at-risk kids.  The world of the film was very familiar to me and so well done.  It’s subtle, and quiet, and serious, and edgy, and sad, and filled with small triumphs.  This is a character driven film, as many are on this list it would seem, and the performance of Brie Larson is outstanding.

MV5BNjAxMTI4MTgzMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTAwODEwMjE@._V1_SX214_AL_-2Begin Again – (Music. Cast. Quiet. Independent. Feel. NY. Sweet. Captivating. Transformation. Yes.)  Music, relationships, and a fantastic scene of an imagined performance in a bar make up this really good sweet little film.  Much of the beauty of the film is found in the scenery, and the music of the film.  The story, somewhat familiar, wasn’t earth shatteringly original, but the cast and the director pulled off the feat of keeping me interested throughout.  The cast was great, the music really good, and the locations shot made me want to visit NY.  Very sweet little film that makes you feel good and glad that you watched it.

MV5BMTQxNDY2NjMwNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzExMDg0OQ@@._V1_SX214_AL_20 Feet From Stardom – (Interesting. Documentary. Talented. Overlooked. Fascinating. Singers. Interviews. Footage. Entertaining. Yes.)  A really great documentary about backup singers who really want to be headliners themselves.  Great interviews, great music, interesting and compelling, it had me sucked in from the first moments.  If you are a person who loves music, and the workings of how good music is made, this will interest you.  It certainly kept me interested.

MV5BODk3NzIzMDg1NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTk0OTgxOQ@@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_Bayou Maharajah – (Genius. Music. Transcendent. Piano. Virtuoso. Bent. Eccentric. Troubled. Magical. Yes.)  This documentary was so good on so many levels.  I’d never heard of him, and after I saw it I wondered why.  He was genius and tragic and wonderful and strange.  This film is a window into his world.  A big of a journey into the fantastic.  You won’t be disappointed you decided to take that trip.  I certainly wasn’t.

MV5BMTQ2OTQzMjcxNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzc2Njk3MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_Life Itself – (Thorough. Heartfelt. Reverent. Honest. Real. Story. Writing. Life. Beauty. Yes.)  We’ve been going to Roger Ebert’s Film Festival going on four years now.  Whenwefirst started Roger was alive and made a couple of appearances during the festival.  As a movie person I’d always known who he was and when I was younger I watched At The Movies religiously, most of the time agreeing with what he had to say about film.  Since we started attending his festival I’ve learned so much more about him that I respect, like how generous he was with new film makers, how encouraging he could be.  I also learned more about his relationshipwithChaz, his wife of many years, and how that relationship enriched his life, and his later struggles.  This film is insightful, honest, and real.  It’s also very well done.

MV5BMjE1OTY2MTM5MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzQ5Mjc5MQ@@._V1_SX214_AL_Let the Right One In – (Moody. Stylized. Still. Creepy. Cold. Engaging. Desolate. Story. Aesthetic. Yes.)  I don’t generally like horror films.  In fact, I would say I avoid them at all costs most of the time.  Every so often though one comes along and it hits me for some reason.  This was one of those.  It’s also an older film (2008), so I came to it pretty lateafterit’s release.  I’d heard of it, but never really wanted to see it becauseofthe whole horror avoidance thing.  I can’t even remember why I ended up watching it this last year, but I’m glad I did.  It’s weird and creepy and cold and strangely monochromatic without being shot in black and white.  It’s desolation and aesthetic drew me in instantly. Yes, there’s blood and dying, but it’s all done in such a fantastically stylized way that I was compelled to continue watching.

MV5BMTc2MDg5MzUzNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTE4NTg3MDE@._V1_SX214_AL_Maidentrip – (Brave. Fascinating. Determined. Adventure. Voyage. Young. Independent. Sailing. Grit. Yes.)  Another documentary, this one is one big adventure from beginning to end.  What an amazing and riveting story.  I was able to catch this one on Netflix and was so glad I checked it out.  This is what determination and bravery look like.  Shot by the subject herself, it’s a wonderful story.

10 Word Review – Ebertfest – Wadjda

MV5BMjI4MzMyNzM2Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDQ5MDgwMDE@._V1_SX214_AL_Beautiful. Uplifting. Optimistic. Joyous. Place. Bicycle. Change. Insight. Smart. YES.