Best movies of 2014 – Part One

I saw no great movies in 2014 but lots of good ones, including several gay and lesbian movies that reduce The Imitation Game to the equivalent of the guy at the college party who brings his mom. Thanks to a renaissance in Miami art house options, I saw more movies than ever. Most of the blurbs below I’ve bowdlerized or self-plagiarized from longer reviews; click on links for the full reviews.

20. Noah, dir. Darren Aronofsky.

Ridiculous and, when the rock monsters appear, absurd, but it takes its baloney seriously and marries it to a gonzoid visual sensibility, worthy of the gonzoid, ridiculous, absurd Old Testament story. After a couple of drinks I’ll say it’s Darren Aronofsky’s most realized movie.

19. Manakamana, dir. Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez.

The most wrenching sequence of the year takes place past the halfway point of Manakaman.: a pair of goats whinny in a closed cable car gliding over the green semi-mountainous terrain of Nepal. Directors Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez lavish ten minutes on their uneventful journey from station to station, no more or less than the ten other sequences as long with people in them. When the car reaches its destination and is swathed in darkness the goats cry again.” Not unlike the patient long takes of Tsai Ming-liang and Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul, Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez have created an austere picture that in the short term is hell on the ass but as it approaches its last scene breaks down notions of space and character.

18. Inherent Vice, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson.

Paranoia, fear of Manson-like cults, and suspicion of long hairs and hard hats alike fail to dim the honeyed light with which Inherent Vice is suffused. Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s loopy 2009 novel is the mellowest item in his catalog, taking its cue from the pie-eyed mooncalf at its center, named Doc Sportello and played by Joaquin Phoenix in his wooziest yet most alert performance to date. To quote Keith Harris, “As in all the best animation, most of the supporting characters are drawn boldly enough that two dimensions are all you need.”

17. Boyhood, dir. Richard Linklater.

Are we past the backlash’s backlash? Seven months later, a couple things stick: Richard Linklater’s egalitarian spirit, alert and sympathetic to Patricia Arquette’s struggle to realize herself with children and bad marriages; and the most accurate sketch of a red state family in recent American movies. Boyhood is everything the strained Before Midnight was supposed to be. This time Linklater puts his dollar book Sartre into the hands of high schoolers instead of eternal high schooler Ethan Hawke, whose grating, insistent picking away at roles in the search for faux naturalist truth work this time.

16. Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, dir. Denis Côté.

This mordant little Québécois film moves through tonal shifts with assurance to arrive at a place far different from its pokey Sundance-worthy opening scenes. When the violence comes, it’s painful – for us. One of 2014’s best observed gay relationships too.

15. Pride, dir. Matthew Warchus.

This movie epitomized the 2014 dilemma: how could a movie with so much corn still work? Credit the film’s politics, despite hiding Mark Ashton’s membership in the Young Communist League, and the script’s understanding and sympathy for the politics of grassroots action – in this case, the alliance between striking minors and gay-lesbian youth in Thatcher’s England. For once the cast of Brit legends doesn’t distract.

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