The following is a list of movies I saw for the first time in 2014 that I rated 4.5 or 5.0 stars out of 5. The list includes movies that were made in 2014 and before, and also includes a couple of 2014 movies that I saw in January 2015 (hence the asterisk above). The idea of reducing one’s opinion about a movie to a single 1-5 rating has always seemed a bit ridiculous to me – there are so many facets to filmmaking that I sometimes wish we could rate each facet separately: the writing, cinematography, editing, sound, soundtrack, acting, etc. (Or just discuss them without ratings – there’s an idea.) But I do find it useful to rate the movies, if only for occasions like this list.
Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
Transcendent – Linklater and his actors have the power to create moments of true life that are evocative without being melodramatic; it is as much a story about parenting as growing up.
Sherlock, Jr. (Buster Keaton, 1924)
An unevenness almost brought it down to a 4.5, but the chase sequence is the best I’ve ever seen, and the surreal section in which Buster steps into the movie screen is a timeless work of genius.
Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)
Joanna Newsom reading Thomas Pynchon as a manic pixie voice over; Omar in a cameo; Josh Brolin gruff but lovable; Owen Wilson, wacky but lovable; Katherine Waterston deceptive but lovable; and over them all is Joaquin’s Doc in a haze of pot smoke continuing to prove that he is the best of his generation (not just Her and The Master, go back to Gladiator, and Inventing the Abbotts and especially To Die For)
Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh, 2014)
Remember Topsy-Turvy? This is that history-buff Mike Leigh, not the contemporary working class dramedy director of Secrets & Lies (OK, they’re the same person). Timothy Spall gives the performance of a lifetime, but just as important are the women in his life – each of whom is etched in acid. Thankfully, Leigh never tells you who to vote for.
The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013)
Like Fellini before him, Sorrentino is not afraid to let you know there is a real person behind the camera as well as in front of it; he has a photographer’s eye for great shots; the aging central character has many loves, not the least Rome and himself.
Ida (Pawel Pawlikowksi, 2013)
In early 1960s Poland, a young novitiate has a chance to explore the secular world before taking her vows – she goes on the road with an aunt and a journey of self-discovery, through the gray snowy towns and forests. The tone is never sentimental or cliche – but there are secrets and surprises.
Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée, 2013)
Alright alright alright! This has been an amazing run for Matthew McConaughey – I’ve seen this, Mud, The Paperboy, and Bernie in the past couple of years and he is stellar in every one. Once again, the writing, direction and acting manage to take a potentially maudlin, sticky-sentimental tale and keep it real.
Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2013)
Almost every Coen brothers movie is a bit of a disappointment to me, because they are usually very close to perfect, but just miss the mark somewhere. Still, they are so good that a near miss still rates a 4.5 from me. Is Goodman right on the money or way over the top? What does the cat symbolize? (It symbolizes his pet.) Are the songs his voiceover?
Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)
Spike Jonze likes to start with an out-there concept (his own or Charlie Kaufman’s), but it doesn’t work without real human emotion. The conceit here is that the ‘real’ relationship is with a machine, a kinder, gentler HAL 9000 who sounds just like Scarlet Johansson.
Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2013)
The third part of the trilogy that might be called Boyhood: The Prologue. Every 10 years or so, we check in with a couple we met on a train so long ago. This one is about marriage and so there is of course, a big fight. And a reconciliation?
The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 2011)
A heartbreaking unpredictable tale of an abandoned boy and the woman who tries to make a home for him.
Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog, 2011)
Werner Herzog doesn’t get the death penalty. And he is not afraid to voice his criticisms in his Werner Herzogian way while interviewing two boys who committed a random murder, one of whom is on death row.
Crazy Love (Dan Klores & Fisher Stevens, 2007)
A typical American love story, except for the part about hiring someone to throw acid in your girlfriend’s face.
Caché (Hidden) (Michael Haneke, 2005)
Hitchcockian suspense tale about a family that is being watched, but they don’t know why. Keeps you thinking right until the very last frame.
Naked (Mike Leigh, 1993)
Just young people doing what they do, except for the raping maybe. The Thing that Wouldn’t Leave.
The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman, 1973)
Casting Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe was like casting Woody Allen as Superman – and Robert Altman knew exactly what he was doing. Altman’s 70’s rethinking of the detective flick involves self-indulgence, ennui and worshipping lots of false idols. Oh – and Marlowe’s cat is missing (what does that symbolize?).
A Woman Is a Woman (Jean-Luc Godard, 1961)
Take Belmondo and Seberg’s conversations from Breathless and convert them into a parody of sit-com dialogue and you’ll get an idea of this light-hearted experiment from Godard.
Earth (Aleksandr Dovzhenko, 1930)
Wheat, wheat, fields of wheat. And a tractor. Change comes to the Ukraine.
Pandora’s Box (G.W. Pabst, 1929)
American actress Louise Brooks made her best movie in Germany. It’s a morality tale about a good-time girl who gets her comeuppance, but it’s the fun times we remember.
Safety Last (Fred C. Newmeyer & Sam Taylor, 1923)
The famous climb up the side of the building is the highlight, but there are lots of gags before and after, and even a fair amount of character development.