Norman Wilner’s top 10 movies

It's been a good year for movies. A really good year, in fact, to the point where even a garbage.


It’s been a good year for movies. A really good year, in fact, to the point where even a garbage blockbuster like Trans4merz: The One With Marky Mark could be instantly knocked off its global box-office throne by a comic-book picture as sweet and weird as Guardians Of The Galaxy, or where an experiment by a gifted American filmmaker could spawn not just a good movie but a profoundly great one. Of the hundreds of movies I watched in 2014, these are the 10 that topped my list.

All movie listings here.

1. Boyhood

Richard Linklater

The best American movie I’ve seen in years – and one of the best movies about America ever made – Linklater’s 12-year project follows fictional Texas kid Mason (unknown Ellar Coltrane) from first grade to his arrival at college. It’s about the creation of a personality: Mason learns about the world through his parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, both excellent), his sister (Lorelai Linklater, the filmmaker’s daughter) and friends and acquaintances. Boyhood also captures what it was like to come of age in that particular sliver of time, as Mason moves from clunky PCs to an iPhone and America shifts from Bush to Obama. But it’s the emotional journey that’s paramount. What a remarkable accomplishment.

2. Leviathan

Andrey Zvyagintsev

The best film I saw at TIFF, Zvyagintsev’s tale of a Russian family torn apart by a civic leader’s sense of entitlement can be seen as a searing domestic drama and an elaborate allegory about the internalized corruption of the post-Soviet nation. However you approach it, it’s a formidable achievement that holds you rapt for its full two and a half hours.

3. Under The Skin

Jonathan Glazer

Glazer’s chilly, aesthetically exacting SF experiment stars Scarlett Johansson as an alien who drives a van around Scotland collecting men for some unknown purpose. Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s a story about beings whose thoughts and actions are incomprehensible to us, but Johansson’s remarkable performance lets us see her character become corrupted – or at least distracted – by her human guise.

4. The Selfish Giant

Clio Barnard

Released back in January and virtually forgotten now, Barnard’s remarkable dramatic debut – set in the same miserable northern England environs as her searing 2010 documentary, The Arbor – is both a stunning reinterpretation of Oscar Wilde’s religious parable and a powerhouse character study. It’s on disc and Netflix. Find it.

5. Godzilla

Gareth Edwards

A blockbuster with undercurrents of real dread and terror, paralleling the monster action with the efforts of a few puny humans to scurry to safety. I know some people were annoyed at the scarcity of kaiju smackdowns, but we have Pacific Rim for that. Godzilla offers something else: it’s primal and terrible and awesome, in the classical sense of the word.

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson

A production that feels more exactingly handmade than the director’s literally handmade Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a love letter to earlier, purer modes of cinema, set in an insanely complex alternate European history. And it’s all pulled together by Ralph Fiennes‘s wonderful turn as master concierge Monsieur Gustave, whose poise and charm are not nearly as unflappable as he would like you to believe.

7. Life Itself

Steve James

I knew Roger Ebert a little, so I’m obviously biased. But James’s terrific documentary about the great Chicago film critic showed me sides of the man of which I was entirely unaware, and did so without glossing over the darker aspects of his remarkable life and awful death. Like the man himself, it’s unflinchingly honest and profoundly insightful.

8. Enemy

Denis Villeneuve

“All that we may see or seem / Is really just some spider’s dream.” Villeneuve’s hallucinatory thriller turns Toronto and its exurbs into a gauzy hellscape, Jake Gyllenhaal‘s dual performance is arguably a more compelling accomplishment than his work in Nightcrawler, and Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon and Isabella Rossellini are quietly excellent as the women in his lives.

9. Snowpiercer

Bong Joon-ho

Genre stylist Bong – who gave us The Host and Mother, among others – makes his English-language debut with this ingenious sci-fi thriller about a class revolt on a globe-crossing train holding the last remnants of humanity. The cast includes Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Octavia Spencer, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, John Hurt and Ed Harris. They’re all kinda great.

10. Listen Up Philip

Alex Ross Perry

Philip Lewis Friedman belongs in the canon of magnificent cinematic jerks alongside The Mother And The Whore’s snooty Alexandre, I Killed My Mother’s surly Hubert and Rushmore’s imperious Max Fischer – that last one not coincidentally played by Jason Schwartzman, whom Perry cast to embody the repellent author at the centre of his withering literary satire. It’s a fantastic performance in a movie that understands exactly how unbearable its protagonist would be to know.


Honourable mentions

I’d have been perfectly happy to make room for Blue Ruin, Citizenfour, Coherence, Force Majeure, Frank, The F Word, Gone Girl, Guardians Of The Galaxy, Harmontown, Ida, The Immigrant, Inherent Vice, The Invisible Woman, Jodorowsky’s Dune, The Lego Movie, A Most Wanted Man, Noah, Obvious Child, Only Lovers Left Alive, Mr. Turner, The Overnighters, We Are The Best! or Wild. Like I said, it’s been a pretty good year.

Worst

Winter's Tale

Colin Farrell provoked Winter blahs.

WINTER’S TALE

A demented romantic fable with Colin Farrell moping across a century in a terrible haircut.

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION

Michael Bay‘s 165-minute orgy of CGI and magic hour lighting.

I, FRANKENSTEIN

A misconceived Aaron Eckhart supernatural actioner that somehow turned out even dumber than your average Underworld instalment.

JASON REITMAN DOUBLE BILL

Labor Day, in which Josh Brolin snaps Kate Winslet out of her chronic depression by taking her and her teen son hostage, and Men, Women & Children, in which the internet is depicted as, like, totally dehumanizing, man.

VAMPIRE ACADEMY

What the hell was that?

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