So let’s begin with the honourable mentions: The Theory of Everything, Magic in the Moonlight, The Good Lie, and The Giver. This list will also have to include Boyhood, and this, I think, requires an explanation. I am not a hater – I think it was a good film and some very important and creative moments were achieved in this film. However, the beginning was just plain, bad entertainment. The acting was sketchy (mostly the mom – who gets better over the years - and the first step-dad). Nothing happens to help you engage and point you in the direction of a narrative because – well... – there really was no narrative. After a while, I did finally find my way into a connection with the movie, but not enough to give it more than an honourable mention. But I do understand what those who love the film see in it.
I should also point out that I haven’t yet seen Selma, Wild, The Imitation Game, Leviathan, Birdman, or Force Majeure, which all could have been contenders. Onward...
9. Two Days, One Night. This French film is somewhat like Boyhood in that the pace is not for the impatient. Long takes of walking through ordinary French residential streets help convey the protagonist’s persistence in overcoming her depressive resistance and trying to change the outcome of events by facing all of her co-workers one-on-one. But beneath the leisurely pace is a solid and important narrative.
8. The Hundred Foot Journey. This enjoyable comedy drama about the meeting of cultures doesn’t run as deep as it might have, but is a fine evening’s entertainment, with a few real highlights.
7. Begin Again. This film, by the writer/director of Once, did not make it up to that surprising and unique creation. But it’s still a fine music-filled movie that proved that I could stand watching another Keira Knightley film after A Dangerous Method made me question whether I ever could.
6. The Lunchbox. A unique Indian romantic comedy about notes passed through a lunchbox. Several elements make it very thoughtful and creative, and its glimpse into Indian culture was rich. Definitely not Hollywood.
4. Calvary. Brendan Gleeson. That’s probably enough reason to make the list. This film is not for everyone, but it’s a very thought-provoking drama that mixes in a little mystery to keep you guessing. Important questions are raised about perceptions of the church and its ministers as well as what real Christian integrity might look like in the face of a hostile community.
3. Interstellar. I’ve written a lot about this one already. So I’ll just say that it was creative and powerful movie-making that leaves you thinking – hopefully thinking critically about the movie’s message as well as other things.
1. Ida. This choice is a bit of a departure for me. I usually don’t choose highly visual criteria nor are European art-house films among my favourite genres. But this just seemed to be so perfectly done – so that I could fully appreciate the visual beauty and elegance of nearly every scene and the slow pace.
I think this underlies that for me the key element in film is the power of a narrative. Ida has a strong story that makes the visual beauty and the slow pace come alive. When films (like those of Malick) largely ignore narrative, I can’t connect with the visuals – it’s like my brain can’t figure out which gear to be in and so it spins in neutral. Boyhood stands somewhere in between in that it does manage to create a series of mini-narratives, many of which were quite effective.
Late Additions - I’d like to add some films that took me a while to get to. Still Mine (2012) was a beautiful and quiet film about a local true story. Even the Rain (2010) would definitely have made the top ten list for that year if I’d seen it close to its release, and Le Prenom (2012) was a great dialogue-rich French film about a group of friends who break through to talk on a more honest level.
Spilled Coffee List – Finally, the losers. I would suggest that Transcendence, Goodbye World, The Counselor, and I Give It a Year all should be avoided if you still have the chance – big disappointments that caused wasted time. But the biggest loser of all was Lucy – a film entirely based on absolutely incorrect science, with nothing good to redeem it (and a lot of silly ideas and gratuitous violence to make it worse). As you watch the film, you will be the only human using only 10% of your brain.