Best of 2014


There are only two movies this year that really blew me away and I think are absolute, essential masterpieces; The Congress and The Dance of Reality, but there were some other quite good ones, which we’ll talk about here.

Unfortunately, not all of them have fully written reviews! Moving to Chicago totally changed my writing routine—I used to have 45 minutes daily writing time on the subway, but now have to set writing time aside from my job—and thus a lot of movies fell through the cracks. I apologize for that, and the slowdown in site updates, but please know that I am still committed to the site—so much so that in a few weeks a newly-updated version is coming, less vulnerable to hackers [and thus downtime] and which will also fix the commenting [I miss hearing from you—badly] and will add a few nice new features.

That said, happy new year… thank you for sticking with me… and here are my favorites of the year.

The Congress
This extremely dense science fiction film is one of the few films of recent years to just bombard you with extremely intelligent, fascinating ideas. Robin Wright, playing a version of herself, is talked into being scanned, so that her studio can make any movie they want with her, without her actual participation. In the second half, we enter her [electronic] consciousness, where she hobnobs with other celebrities and cultural signifiers who have given up on real-world existence and now exist as digital files. It plays off of what is actually happening in technology and culture, and keeps throwing ideas at you right up until the end.

The Dance of Reality
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s new film is a magical realist version of his autobiography, which, through this highly expressionistic telling, becomes almost unbearably emotionally moving at times. The first half covers his life with his domineering, macho father and over-nurturing mother, and is an excellent queer film in that it deals with being a sensitive, creative and effeminate boy providing embarrassment to a tyrannical father. The second half tells a story of his father facing a challenge that essentially destroys him and brings him back, humbled, to his family.

Stranger by the Lake
This French film concerns a gay man who goes to a public cruising ground and sees a hunky guy murder his lover. This, perversely, makes him uncontrollably turned on by the killer, and they begin an affair. Not only does it nail the specifics and atmosphere of gay public cruising places, it contains some excellent—although very restrained and highbrow—suspense sequences, and is one of the few gay films that seeks not to affirm and tell us that everything is all right (if not downright wonderful), but digs deep into the darkest spaces of gay desire and doesn’t flinch.

The Guest
This horror film from the makers of You’re Next (also quite good) concerns a man who claims to be the friend of a man who was killed in Iraq. He ends up staying with the family of the deceased, who welcome him in, to their peril. The relationships are quite strong and well-written, the performances are excellent, and the psychological manipulation detailed in the first two-thirds is quite realistic. In the last third, everything goes HAYWIRE and approximately ten miles over the top, but still retains clever twists and intelligent writing, while also proving that a sense of evil humor can be a horror film’s friend.

Only Lovers Left Alive
Jim Jarmusch’s film about present-day vampires casts them as aesthetes, people who, owing to their long lives, have all sorts of time to study and devote all of their time to beauty and art. One of them is depressed, owing to the “zombies,” i.e. mortals who don’t care about art and beauty. The movie is a low-key exploration of depression and despair, and love, which also includes, as bonuses, an intimate look at present-day Detroit and hilarious turns by Anton Yelchin and Mia Wasikowska.

The rare blockbuster that essentially got everything right, this new update of Godzilla made the big guy terrifying again, replaced the awe and spectacle of seeing huge monsters towering over buildings, and consistently portrayed mass death and destruction as tragic, not awesomely cool. It had a [relatively] involving human story played by good actors [except maybe the lead] and, most importantly, restored the connection to nuclear radiation and real-world events, directly referencing the Japanese Fukushima nuclear plant disaster.

The Wind Rises
The final film by Japanese master of animation Hayao Miyazaki, this is a biography of Jiro Horikoshi, who was moved by the freedom of flight and the beauty of excellent aeronautical engineering. The movie charts his career and dream of bringing his lightweight planes into reality, as well as the love affair that transformed his later life. Providing a bit of interesting darkness, which the film addresses but doesn’t make apologies for, is the fact that the lightweight planes he designed became the most effective killing machines of World War II.

This is an excellent cinematic mystery, in that the actual solution isn’t all that profound, but the way it is coded by the film and the process of figuring it out are all of the fun. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a man who discovers that he has an identical double, who is much more confident and daring than he is, and has a wife who looks very much like his girlfriend. The experience of watching the film is intriguing and entertaining [it is impeccably put together], but the real fun is decoding it later and figuring out what’s really going on. Once you do, there isn’t too much there, but getting there is a lot of fun.


I'd forgotten that this was released this year and how much I liked it. (The french title "L'inconnu du lac" makes it even more mysterious: "The unknown by the lake.")

I don't really know French, but does it really translate to "The unknown" in this particular context? French title of "Strangers on a Train" is "L'Inconnu du Nord-Express" and I've thought "L'Inconnu du lac" is a riff on that. (Didn't watch the movie yet, though, I'm just curious.)