Sam Woolf’s 10 Best Films Of 2014


Like its housebound younger sibling, 2014 was a standout year for film specifically because it lacked a nucleus. Plaudits are settling on a handful of films to pin the year’s highest honors to, but no one movie was THE movie of 2014. Instead, the last twelve months offered a stunning selection of terrific all-arounders, works not defined by one exceptional element, but that were capable of providing the full, satisfying viewing experiences needed to achieve timelessness, and not just an Oscar.

With new films from the likes of Mike Leigh and the Dardennes, 2014 had as much to offer from the old guard as it did the new, with folks like David Fincher, and Andersons Wes and Paul Thomas confidently navigating career midpoints. There was plenty new worth celebrating as well. Gareth Edwards and James Gunn delivered on the small budget promise of their early work by turning around two of the year’s most memorable big screen spectacles. Long-missing voices like Gina Prince-Bythewood returned to the scene with something to prove, and did just that. And there were even a few truly out-of-the-blue announcements of talent to watch, like Jennifer Kent, and her nightmarish Mr. Babadook.

When winnowing my list of 2014’s best down to just 10, initial impressions of a nominee were considered, along with its long-term viability. If a movie bowled me over in theatres, great; if I couldn’t shake its impact weeks or months later, even better. This meant that many films I liked a lot, or outright loved, couldn’t quite make the cut. (As well as those I just couldn’t get to in time: apologies to Selma, Goodbye to Language 3D, Winter Sleep, etc.).

So, before getting into the numbers, allow me to give a moment of thanks to those left on the chopping block: thanks, The Raid 2 and 22 Jump Street, for showing how to do a sequel right. Thanks, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, for reaffirming my belief in emotional blockbuster storytelling. Thanks, Locke, for being so much more than just a gimmick. Thanks, John Wick, for being as smart as you were sensationally badass. Thanks, A Most Wanted Man, for having the year’s most tense and pedestrian climax. Thanks, Gone Girl, for “octopus and scrabble.” Thanks, Nightcrawler, for giving the world Lou Bloom. Thanks, Snowpiercer, for just being Snowpiercer. And thanks to Citizenfour, Life Itself, and Jodorowsky’s Dune, for being just a taste of 2014’s exceptional range of notable documentaries that I still haven’t gotten to.

Anyway, enough preamble: here are my picks for the 10 Best Films of 2014.