This was a pretty awesome year for film, both in terms of big noisy blockbusters and little quiet indies. Bonus points to Tilda Swinton and Chris Pratt, who were in two of these movies each.
1. Only Lovers Left Alive
I knew going in that Jim Jarmusch + vampires was an excellent formula, but I didn’t expect just how weird and lovely this tone poem of a movie would be. Not much happens in the story, and that’s kind of what’s amazing about it: As eternal aesthetes, Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston use their immortality to appreciate the world around them, especially its great art and forgotten geniuses. (And I think we can all agree that Tilda does Being a Vampire better than anyone else across all of time and space.)
2. Guardians of the Galaxy
I love a good superhero movie, but most of them suffer from an overabundance of ponderous seriousness. (The world is ending! Broodbroodbrood.) But James Gunn’s take on the genre is the opposite—funny, warm-hearted, and really fucking fun. And for all the crazy space pyrotechnics, the scale feels real and human; chalk it up to the can-do-no-wrong Chris Pratt and his scuffed little walkman, and Vin Diesel (as Groot) doing his most adorable voice work since The Iron Giant.
Richard Linklater almost singlehandedly invented slow cinema (think slow food, but with celluloid) with the Before Sunset trilogy, but he takes it to new heights here. With its staggering timespan, Boyhood is like nothing else ever made. It’s incredibly moving in its portrayal of all the profoundly mundane and mundanely profound moments that make up a human life.
Talk about virtuoso. Long cuts and endless tracking shots hypnotize me, and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s stunner of a character study is one seemingly endless shot. I’ve been watching Mark Cousins’s documentary series The Story of Film lately, and he talks a lot about how one of film’s most magic abilities is to expand or contract time. Birdman turns time into subjective putty, and it’s incredible. Also incredible: the ensemble cast, acting the ever-loving shit out of this sucker. I will say I hated the stupid subplot about the eeeevvvvillll theater critic on a deeply personal level, but pretty much everything else was gold.
5. Song of the Sea
Earlier this year, my friends Lissa and Julia introduced me to Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey’s The Secret of Kells, a gorgeously rendered piece of Irish animation about Celtic folklore and pleasures of the printed word. Moore’s followup is this even prettier, even more haunting film. Like a Miyazaki movie, every shot of Song of the Sea looks like a painting, and its characters are very human, quirky kids operating in a giant world of myth. And did I mention it’s about selkies?
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel
I’m a total sucker for Wes Anderson’s oeuvre, even its weakest links. Sometimes, even the shallow pleasures of his movies are enough—the object fetishization, the precision of his camera angles, the excellent soundtracks. But there’s nothing shallow about The Grand Budapest Hotel, which, beyond being absolutely gorgeous, is a minutely realized character study of a man in love with his job.
7. Obvious Child
May all the lady gods of ladies bless Jenny Slate for making this movie, which is maybe the first work of fiction I’ve ever seen that doesn’t treat abortion like a dreadful and traumatic taboo. And even feminist implications aside, Obvious Child is a really funny, smartly observed romantic comedy, operating on a small scale. Also, it reminded me how much I love the titular Paul Simon song. Just try not to jump around to those drums.
8. The Lego Movie
As a kid who grew up making my spaceman Legos and underwater-diver Legos fight, make up, fall in love, and suffer bouts of amnesia, this movie spoke to me on a molecular level. Beyond the nostalgia (and the fact that the jokes are a mile a minute and hilarious), I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more perfect or more fun dramatization of the creative process. Emmet’s “The prophecy is made up, but it’s also true” speech to President Business encapsulates my personal belief system in a way that kind of amazes me.
9. The One I Love
This is one of those movies where the less you know going into it, the more fun you’ll have. But I will just say—I’m a big fan of stories that deal with identity, doppelgängers, and confronting yourself in a way that surprises yourself. This movie is the first feature for both its director and its writer (Charlie McDowell and Justin Lader), and they come out swinging. Of course, it helps a ton when you’ve got Elizabeth Moss in your corner. (Is Mad Men back yet…?)
10. Veronica Mars
Yes, I donated to the Kickstarter. Yes, I have a Mars Investigations sticker on my laptop. Yes, I love everything Rob Thomas does ever. This movie met my expectations pretty much exactly, scratching that persistent itch left behind by the open-ended 2007 series finale. It’s a testament to how much everyone who worked on the TV show loved it that they returned in force for the movie, which blends all the stuff I loved about the series: whip-clever dialogue, satisfying mystery, class-war undertones. Would I recommend it to someone who hasn’t seen the show? No, dummy. Why haven’t you watched the show yet? Geez.