The best films of 2014

I found this to be a diffuse year in movies, one where old-style mainline releases lost their grip on a lot of multiplexes and opened up the market for more quality and diversity than we have seen for a long time.  My cinematic self came away from the year quite happy, yet without a clear favorite or a definite sense of which movies will last the ages.  Here are the ones I very much enjoyed or otherwise found stimulating:

The Invisible Woman, the secret love life of Charles Dickens.

Particle Fever, reviewed by me here.

Le Weekend, brutal tale of a vacation and a marriage collapsing.

Under the Skin, Scarlet Johansson in Scotland, to say more would be spoilers.

The Lunchbox, resembles an old-style Hollywood movie about a correspondence romance, yet set among the Indian middle to lower middle class.

Viola, an Argentinean take on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, condensed into 65 minutes.

A Touch of Sin, Chinese, brutal, it did not see mainstream release in most cities, I saw it in London.

Godzilla, Straussian review by me here.

Transformers 4, reviewed by me here.

Obvious Child (under the Straussian reading only)

Ilo, Ilo, a movie from Singapore about a Filipina immigrant.  And I had the best dark chocolate gelato I’ve had in America, right after watching it at the Angelika pop-up.

The One I Love, an excellent movie about mind games, love, and commitment.  This was perhaps the most clever movie of the year and also the most underrated.

Skeleton Twins

Lucy, the energy and style overcame the absurdity.  That gives Scarlett Johansson two for the year.

Fury, an old-style WWII movie with Brad Pitt, there is a good David Denby review here.

Interstellar, my review is here, here is one Straussian reading.

Of that whole list, for favorites I would pick Fury as #1, along with Touch of Sin.  Both of them need to be seen on a large screen.

For TV, the Modern Orthodox Jewish dating show Srugim was a clear first, this year I didn’t watch many movies on video but thought Terence Malick’s 2012 To the Wonder had been underrated.


"Fury": great tank battles scenes, not so great characterization.

Sounds ideal.

Who wants to sit around and watch yet more characters being developed? It's been done.

So, because it's been done, it shouldn't be done again?

Characterization is important.

Don't get me wrong: "Fury" has characters. It's just that the Don Collier character (played by Brad Pitt) is ridiculous.

Almost as ridiculous having a group of 200-300 SS taking ~8 hours destroying a disabled, surrounded Sherman containing a few soldiers.

Great action though.

Spoiler alert??!!

Also, I was joking.

Without giving away any spoilers, I thought Fury was great for the first half. They "broke the rules" of WWII movies by making it feel like a Vietnam movie.

But then the second half was just....what? It was very cool, don't get me wrong, but totally contrary to the point of the first half. Almost like the director got amnesia halfway through and forgot that he had made that first half.

Also I kept getting the sense that Brad Pitt wasn't sure if he was supposed to do a southern twang for his role. So he almost sounds like he has a fake Standard American accent, even though as far as I know that's his real accent.

I think he is from Oklahoma so you were probably hearing his real accent slip through what was supposed to be a standard accent.

Good movie though.


Maybe, but I've never gotten that vibe from any of his other movies where he has an otherwise "normal" accent.

No love for Birdman? None for The Imitation Game either? Hm...

I want to know your Straussian take on "Obvious Child", or at least somebody else's. I have a very hard time making out any esoteric content, unless you find conventional NYT coverage of episodes of "Girls"Straussian readings...

Also I am curious whether you saw "Locke" this year or last.

Hi, could someone possibly explain what a "straussian reading" is to me in 2 sentences or less? I am a somewhat educated person, though not in philosophy, and google is not really helping. From context and other posts of Tyler, I infer that it means something like "the darker, understood but not stated interpretation." Am I close?

^I did not scroll down far enough this time.

I second the request for a Straussian interpretation of "Obvious Child".

"Terence Malick’s 2012 To the Wonder had been underrated." Weren't you yourself bashing Malick in an interview a year or two ago???

Under the Skin far and away best of the pack. Up there with Alien in the niche but high-potential sci-fi/horror genre.

I'd like more elaboration on what people liked about Under the Skin. I'm not a big movie fan, and my artistic tastes tend to be pretty middle-brow, but I didn't particularly like it. My wife disliked it a lot.

Disappointed that "Straussian" isn't used in more of these reviews.

The absence of "Straussian" is, in itself, Straussian.

What is the metric for "most underrated"?

(Actual quality - rated quality) * C

Where C is a totally arbitrary number that you pull out of thin air.

(Actual Quality*congruence of mood on viewing-rated quality)(Congruence of life experiences)

I wanted to watch The One I Love at the cinema a few months ago after positive reviews. I found that I had to travel more than 60 km to the closest cinema. The movie distributor should have made a pre-screening followed by a consumer survey and then decided "show only in a few cinemas in big metropolitan areas". That's underrated.

Godzilla? Transformers 4? and Lucy?

But no Big Hero 6 or Captain America 2 or The Lego Movie?

You're missing out on some great movies...

A film about a Filipino called Ilo Ilo?...hmm. A Straussian reading would indicate the title of this film is perhaps named after a southern Philippine town where there's lots of poverty and people who emigrate to become domestic helpers.

I see Guardians of the Universe by Marvel, an entertaining film, is not on TC's list but should be, and not just because of a great-for-geezers-70s-80s soundtrack.

Grand Budapest Hotel, The Immigrant, Noah, Only Lovers Left Alive, Jimmy P

Agree on Under the Skin and Malick. Seems like an average year so far.

Only Lovers Left Alive is the best film no one saw.

I tried to make up for this by seeing it four times. Best JJ film since at least Ghost Dog.

Boyhood? Flawed for sure but to my mind comes very close to reaching its incredible ambition

Under the Skin was great.

Would add:

A Most Wanted Man
Blue Ruin
Hateship Loveship
Lone Survivor
Only Lovers Left Alive
The Two Faces of January

That sounds like a confusing film.

Yes, Blue Ruin was very good. Nothing surprising, just very well done. [Was that really released this year? I don't get to go to cinema much and watched that on Netflix. In fact I think we should eschew lists like Tyler's and instead nominate 'best movies that appeared on streaming this year'.]

Agree that a list of best on streaming would be best. I find myself simply making a mental list of movies on year-end "best" lists for viewing next year.

I do get sad that I don't get to see Fury on the big screen, though. Instead it's The Lego Movie and Big Hero 6.

Forgive my ignorance but what does Tyler mean by a 'Straussian' reading?

You must be new around here. There are only two kinds of MR readers: those who know what it means and those who pretend they do.

It's worth explicating Straussian for a new reader, though. A 20th century philosopher named Leo Strauss believed that all authors have a secret intent that, because of public belief, they had to leave hidden in their writing.

To take as an example, Steve Sailer has a review of Interstellar above. On the face of it, he's a conservative imputing a conservative message to the movie. As it turns out, though, Steve is secretly a hardcore proponent of Obama and his agenda, but if he were to come out and say outright what he means, he'd lose his job among various right-wing media outlets. So he writes stuff that, on the face of it, appears conservative.

A discerning reader, however--which is to say, one as smart as you and me, not one who's naive and stupid enough to think that Steve is a conservative--can pick through his writing and find hidden meanings. For instance, he claims that Interstellar is a parody of liberals and a critique of the media power structure, but simultaneously undermines his own point by referring to people who use state power to suppress scientific viewpoints they find inconvenient, and who use highly-perched media positions to shovel the propaganda. He goes so far as to explicitly point this out by referring to the movie as erratic.

Anyone with half a clue can tell he's actually critiquing and parodying conservative thought. But, to protect himself from reprisal, he has to hide his true intentions with contrary public statements.

Ah! Thank you Zephrus.

Is that a Straussian analysis of Sailor?

Sailer. Sorry Steve.

It's a Straussian analysis of Straussian analysis.

As is this comment.

It's a mood affiliation thing.

Tyler has a friend named Jimmy Strauss. This guy is wrong about literally everything. So a "Straussian reading" is just really wrong, and using that phrase is a constant jab at this dude. Seems like a pretty mean thing to keep hammering the poor guy, but Tyler is really committed to it.

How can anyone be wrong about "literally" everything? Even if I express one opinion every second for my entire life, I will only have time to be wrong about a tiny fraction of everything. And that's assuming I am wrong all the time, which this comment obviously disproves, since it so clearly schools you in the logic department.

You're just jealous that I make movies awesome. No one cares about the Turkeyvulturian reading of anything.

Hey Tyler, sorry, I get it now.

"Forgive my ignorance but what does Tyler mean by a ‘Straussian’ reading?"

Probably only Tyler really knows what he means when he uses the phrases. Generally speaking, Straussianism is a school of conservative philosophy that believes pre-modern philosophers were smart and their ideas are still useful in modern times.

I'm not positive if most Straussian's lump the writers of the US constitution into the pre-modern group, but I assume so.

However, I still don't know what a Straussian reading, means in this context.

What Tyler means by "Straussian reading" is simply a kind of allegorical reading, or rather the interpretation of a kind of allegorical writing. The fiction is to some degree a facade for the representation of and commentary on real-world events. Leo Strauss didn't invent this; the roots of it in the West lie in Hellenistic, Jewish, and Christian exegesis. The Roman a clef is another version of it.

You find a work say Plato, Donald Duck cartoons, or Twilight. You like this work but realize you object to its ideological content. Because you still like the work and are unpersuaded by its ideology you declare the author had a secret esoteric meaning which he/she/it (ie. The media conglomerate who created it) couldn't show openly because of the political environment the work was created in, then you "discover" this secret message and the truth is revealed. To a large degree this is used to make past geniuses lime up with modern ideology. After all how could Maimonides, or Montaigne, or etc... actually believe in God? He is clearly so intelligent...

This way you get to claim that Plato is a democratic liberal who is hiding behind the totalitarian Republic, Leo Strauss's favorite!, or that "Gome with the Wind" is an indictment of slavery that Mitchell couldn't express because of fear of the KKK.

Of course it isn't always bullshit, works are created with esoteric messages.

Stalin et al were not crazy in their censorship and persecution, Shostakovich was hiding stuff in musical scores and plenty of Straussian literature was created in the later days of the Soviet Union, the Strugatsky brothers did have hidden anti Soviet messages, but honestly most contemporaries figured it out, it wasn't that hidden.

It's mostly something we say to feel smarter than other people.

No Birdman?

It seems that this list comes far too early, as most of the good stuff hasn't come out yet: Inherent Vice, Winter Sleep, Mr. Turner, Force Majeure, etc.

Would love to see TC's take on Whiplash.

As for the list itself: where's Only Lovers Left Alive, where's Birdman? A Touch of Sin was too stupidly xenophobic/anti-west/anti-capitalist for my taste.

Agree with others that Birdman is a striking omission. (Also Grand Budapest Hotel, depending on whether one is an Andersonian.)

But I strongly agree with Tyler about The One I Love -- this needs to be more widely appreciated!

Grand Budapest Hotel was really good. As was St. Vincent.

I've been hearing alot of good things about Nightcrawler, but no mention? Birdman too, as others have pointed out.

The Immigrant was great! Huge win for cinematography and set design there. Also that gorgeous and powerful video game documentary narrated by Sean Astin (kidding).

Lucy was the worst movie I have seen in years. I agree with the review entitled "Lucy, Painfully Stupid no matter what percent of your brain you use."

With the misplaced confidence of one who has not even seen the film: I find perplexing the popularity of Scarlett Johansson amongst various otherwise-sensible film critics.

"Boyhood" is a notable oversight. It is a bold and imperfect culmination of a grand vision.

Way too early for this kind of list.

I wonder if Tyler has seen Birdman, Citizen Four, Leviathan, Gone Girl, Boyhood, A Most Violent Year, Wild Tales, A Most Wanted Man, The Babadook, Locke, Nightcrawler, The Drop, Whiplash, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Selma, Last Days in Vietnam, Life Itself, Red Army, Foxcatcher, Edge of Tomorrow...

Lunchbox is a poor imitation of "old style Hollywood drama". Shop around the Corner - the James Stewart starrer - is so much better

"Under the Skin, Scarlet Johansson in Scotland, to say more would be spoilers. "

I just saw that last night. Ugh. Not even close to a "best movie of the year" I'd rate it as a pretentious highly visual film directly aimed at film critics. It had little plot, was plodding (in a let's leave the camera sitting on the lower half of her face for 4 seconds kind of way) with practically no significant dialogue.

In not surprising news:
Critics - Roger Ebert rating: 4/4 NYT's rating: 5/5
Public - IMDB rating: 3/5 Box office gross: $2 million

The movie was a pretentious artistic bomb.

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