- Boyhood (Director: Richard Linklater)
Richard Linklater, who through an impressively long and diverse career has shown his talent for making everyday experiences for believable regular folks feel universal particularly because they’re grounded in specificity (Dazed and Confused, the Before 1trilogy), proved that Boyhood became so much more than just its fascinating premise and production history. What could been have simply yet another coming-of-age narrative about the trials and tribulations of a somewhat directionless straight, white male, is instead told as much through what we don’t get to see, what happens in-between. Adding further nuance, much of the movie is about parenthood – and motherhood in particular – even as it chronicles Mason’s tentative steps into a life of his own.
2. Mommy (Xavier Dolan)
Speaking of mothers who struggle mightily to make a good life for their sons, let’s talk about Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan’s fourth feature, a well-deserved prize winner at 2014’s Cannes Film Festival. . His first two films, I Killed My Mother and Heartbreaker were both impressive, but they ultimately felt a little hollow to me. Laurence Anyways signaled that Dolan was aiming higher, and 2014 was the year when he came fully into his own as a filmmaker, with two great, wildly different films. A frenetic melodrama, Mommy is a great vehicle for Dolan’s visual ambiotions, but it also betrays his growth both as cinematic realisateur and as a storyteller. Together with leads Olivier-Andre Pilon and Anne Dorval, he’s not afraid to introduce us to two immediately sympathetic and relatable protagonists, but we spend more time with them, we understand their special, strained co-dependency on a deeper level. The result is an untraditional, gorgeous piece of humanist cinema.
- Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel & Ethan Coen)
In another unintentionally segueway, we turn to Llewyn Davis, a folk singer just below the star level, and a proud representative of the not immediately likable protagonist.
- The Better Angels (A.J. Edwards)
- Short Term 12 (Destin Creton)
- The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
- The Wind Rises (Hayao Miyazaki)
- The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)
- Two Days, One Night (Luc & Jean-Pierre Dardenne)
- Tom at the Farm (Xavier Dolan)
- The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Isao Takahata)
- Love Is Strange (Ira Sachs)
- Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
- Her (Spike Jonze)
- One Night in Oslo (Eirik Svensson)
My pick for #1 is utterly unoriginal, but no less sincere. Thankfully, Richard Linklater relieved itself to be so much more than a fascinating production history. Boyhood earns its claim for universality from steering completely clear of the going-through-the-motions nature of many other coming-of-stories, up to and including Patricia Arquette’s hauntingly poignant emotional reaction as Ellar Coltrane’s prepares for Adulthood.
The biggest story on my list may be Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan. Mommy and Tom at the Farm are impressively differently in style and tone, but they’re both excellent. Mommy is an intensely emotional, visually epileptic tale of a tight-knit mother-son relationship that’s better seen than haltingly described, whereas Tom at the Farm is the result of Dolan finally sitting down to Hitchcock. With Dolan’s trademark confidence it’s not derivative for a second, a slow-burning thriller.
Elsewhere on the list, a group of veterans delivered some of their most compelling work in a long time, maybe ever. After a couple of richly detailed but ultimately kind of lifeless period dramas around the turn of the millenium (Gangs of New York, The Aviator), Martin Scorsese has found a lighter footing of late, and rarely more so than with the depraved Wolf of Wall Street. A heroically scenery-chewing Leonardo DiCaprio delivers the performance of his career,