Carlos Aguilar's Top 60 Films of 2014

Yes, that’s a six and a zero. It’s not a typo. While excessive might be the first adjective that comes to mind when looking at a year-end list with 60 films, it was the only way that I was able to highlight all the great works that I was able to watch this year. Even with such an extensive best-of countdown I was forced to leave at least another dozen great films. In 2014 I watched around 300 theatrically released films, and about 130 more between unreleased films from the festival circuit, the Oscar Foreign Language Submissions, and new films I watched as a screener for a couple festivals. Taking all these into consideration, a Top 60 list did not seem like an outrageous feat.

There were many other films that I did in fact watch but didn’t make the list, such as “Wild,” “Interstellar,” “The Imitation Game,” “Unbroken,” “The Theory of Everything,” “Big Hero 6,” “Big Eyes,” "A Most Violent Year" and “Into the Woods.” Although none of these ended up among my favorites, many of them served as vehicles for the cast to deliver outstanding performances or showcased great cinematography and VFX. I mention this to clarify that their omission was a conscious decision.

Evidently, there were several acclaimed films I did not manage to watch, which could have made a difference. These include films like "Love is Strange," “Maps to the Stars,” “Stray Dogs,” “Top Five,” and “Rosewater.”

The films on this list include films that had a regular release in 2014, films that some consider to be 2013 films but which got a full release in 2014, and films that had a one-week qualifying run in 2014 but which will officially open in 2015. Other amazing films that I saw at festivals, but which did not have a theatrical release of any form this year will be included in next year’s list. Examples of these include “The Tribe,” “Timbuktu,” “The Voices” “Gueros,” “Viktoria,” and “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.”

Like with all lists, this is a very personal selection of films that connected with me on different levels. Some choices might be strange, others expected, but all of them speak to what I find interesting or great about cinema. I hope that with this list you can find titles you haven’t hear of or others you might have forgotten about. It has been such a terrific year for films. Here is hoping for 2015 to be even more inspiring.

Feel free to share with us what your favorite films of 2014 were in the comments section.

Honorary Mention for Favorite TV Series: "Over the Garden Wall"

In Patrick McHale’s enchanting Cartoon Network miniseries, “Over the Garden Wall,” brothers Wirt (Elijah Wood) and adorable Greg (Collin Dean) travel through the Unknown, a magical forest filled with peculiar characters. Blending a classic fable look with witty humor and catchy songs for a fantastically refreshing 2D cartoon, the show is rapidly - and deservingly - becoming a fan favorite. Once you see little Greg performing the sweet tune Potatoes and Molasses, it will all make sense.

Top 60 Films Of 2014

60. "Happy Christmas"

Anna Kendrick is an irresponsible, yet charming, young woman in Joe Swanberg’s holiday-infused family dramedy. “Happy Christmas” is small in scope but big in subtle amusement. Baby Jude Swanberg steals every scene.

59."Mood Indigo"

Whimsical, ingenious, and uniquely confected, Michel Gondry’s adaption of Boris Vian’s novel stars Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris. His latest romantic fantasy is heartwarming visual candy.

Review "Mood Indigo"

Carlos Aguilar's interview with Tautou

58. "Lilting"

A cross-cultural connection in the aftermath of tragedy is at the center of Hong Khaou’s touching debut. Through great performances and ethereal cinematography the filmmaker reassures us love is the only language that matters.

Carlos Aguilar's interview with Hong Khaou

57. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"

With an intelligent and fun screenplay, this new entry in the Marvel universe showed us that - despite all the badassery he is capable of - all that Steve Rogers wants is his best friend back.

Review "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"

56. "Oculus"

Mike Flanagan doesn’t resort to excessive gore or a monumental story to instill fear. Instead, he uses the effective mechanics of his story to turn a room with an old mirror, a camera, and a pair of youngsters into a terrifying space.

55. "Rich Hill"

Looking at a segment of the American population from a uniquely compassionate and insightful perspective, “Rich Hill” cherishes the humanity of its subject rather than patronizing them.

54. "The Notebook"

The brutality of war is observed through the eyes of a pair of twin brothers who decide to detach themselves from any emotional connection in order to survive. Unflinching and powerful, “The Notebook” is part dark fairytale and part historical drama.

Review "The Notebook"

Carlos Aguilar's interview with János Szász

53. "Blue Ruin"

This gritty and unpredictable thriller follows a man whose thirst for revenge becomes his death sentence. Macon Blair’s character goes from passively hiding in the shadows to becoming a ruthless rookie assassin. Tension is the name of the game here.

52. "The Book of Life"

The ancient Mexican celebration of Day of the Death comes to life in this vibrant and surprisingly authentic animated feature from Jorge Gutierrez and producer Guillermo del Toro. It’s a colorful and intricately designed vision of beloved tradition.

51. "The German Doctor" (Wakolda)

Lucia Puenzo’s captivating mystery focuses on infamous Nazi physician Josef Mengele, as he tries to test his disturbing practices on family while hiding in the Argentine countryside. Elegantly executed and definitely unsettling

Review "The German Doctor"

Carlos Aguilar's interview with Lucia Puenzo

Sydney Levine's Case Study on "The German Doctor"

50. "Still Alice"

Lost, confused, but still fighting to preserve her individuality while facing the imminent effects of Alzheimer’s disease, Alice refuses to give up. Julianne Moor is absolutely stunning and heartbreaking.

49. "American Sniper"

Eastwood’s best film in a long time packs thrilling combat sequences as it looks at post-9/11 American patriotism via a simple man turned murder weapon. Bradley Cooper delivers the best performance of his career.

48. "The Lego Movie "

Pop culture has never been as hilarious and witty as in this uniquely animated story about individuality, the nature of heroism, and the power of a child’s imagination. With cameos galore and jokes aplenty, everything is indeed awesome.

47. "Manuscripts Don't Burn "

Mohammad Rasoulof’s fearless cinematic statement denouncing the Iranian regime is an incredible testament to the power of film as a cultural weapon against injustice. Not only is the film politically relevant, but also an all-around gripping thriller.

Review "Manuscripts Don't Burn"

46. "Guardians of the Galaxy "

This summer Marvel outdid itself with the truly enjoyable first installment of its newest franchise. Charismatic Chris Pratt as Star Lord, a more than memorable soundtrack, and an eclectic group of sidekicks made this the smartest summer hit.

45. "In Bloom"

Set in Tbilisi, Georgia, this unique coming-of-age tale is a riveting hidden gem that sports mesmerizing performances from its young cast. The filmmakers find evocative, everyday beauty in the hardships of life in a war-torn country.

Review "In Bloom"

44. "Goodbye to Language"

Godard’s use of 3D in this highly experimental work produces a physical reaction on the viewer that proves how alive the auteur’s vision still is. He is as cryptic, curious, innovative, unapologetic, and brilliant as he was over 50 years ago.

43. "Mistaken for Strangers"

Tom Berninger’s personal documentary is not a film about The National, but about a man trying to find his own path while reconnecting with his older brother – who happens to be a rock star. Fun, heartfelt, and honest.

Carlos Aguilar's interview with Tom and Matt Berninger

42. "Manakamana"

Simple on the surface but hauntingly poetic, this documentary focuses on a series of people as they travel up to a sacred shrine in Nepal. Their faces speak in silences, laughter, and visible sadness, which form a language far more stirring than ephemeral words.

41. "Whiplash"

J.K. Simmons is a nightmarish instructor in Damien Chazelle’s fascinating debut about a young drummer by obsessive passion. The final sequence is an astonishing showstopper that sports marvelous, flawless editing

40. "The Overnighters"

What starts as the story about a Good Samaritan helping those in need despite criticisms, turns into an examination of a conflicted man. Faith, lies, regret and the judgmental eyes of an entire community will become his agonizing cross to bear.

39. "Rocks in My Pockets"

Latvian artist Signe Baumane uses 2D animation to work through her insecurities, her relationships with her estrange family, and depression. Craft and substance merge to construct an absorbing personal statement that is unexpectedly relatable.

Sydney Levine's Feature Piece on "Rocks in My Pockets"

38. "The Missing Picture"

To reconstruct his family’s past, and by extension that of his homeland under the Khmer Rouge, director Rithy Panh uses clay figurines and evocative narration in the absence of images from the time. One of the most original documentaries ever made.

Review "The Missing Picture"

37. "Snowpiercer"

Art house sensibilities imbedded into a powerful post-apocalyptic tale from South Korean director Bong Joon-ho gave us a superbly sophisticated actioner. Chris Evans delivers a different, but equally great heroic performance. However, Tilda Swinton takes the prize here.

36. "Life Itself"

Roger Ebert’s love for life and movies was endless. Despite major health issues near the end, his spirits and voice were never weakened. Steve James intimate documentary captures both the man and the critic in a lovely manner.

35. "Gone Girl"

Fincher’s latest focuses on a media circus fueled by a couple’s despicable lies and the public’s voyeuristic desire to find a villain and a victim. While Ben Affleck is good here, the film thrives on Rosamund Pike’s wickedly clever role.

34. "Two Days, One Night"

Only the Dardenne brothers can transform seemingly banal situations into compelling narratives that question the morality of their characters. In their latest masterful effort Marion Cotillard’s talent shines as she balances desperation, pride, and hope.

33. "Foxcatcher"

Driven by a trifecta of great performances, Bennett Miller’s drama shows a disturbed man in search of recognition and validation by any means necessary. Channing Tatum deserves more praise for his nuanced work here.

32. "Omar"

At once timeless and decisively current, Hany Abu-Asad’s Shakespearean crime drama deals with Israeli-Palestinian relations from a humanistic point of view. The political issues that serve as context become more urgent when seen through the characters’ struggles.

Review "Omar"

Carlos Aguilar's interview with Hany Abu-Assad

31. "Mr. Turner"

The awe-inspiring cinematography and Timothy Spall’s grumpy, yet endearing portrayal of one of Britain’s most revered painters make of “Mr. Turner” another successful addition to Mike Leigh’s near-perfect track record.

30. "Nymphomaniac"

Blasphemous, explicit, and cerebral as most of Lars von Trier’s works, this two-part recollection of the anecdotes takes us into the tortured mind of a sex addict. There is no sugarcoating or redemption to be found here, only a skillful provocateur who loves to revel in the playful bleakness of it all.

Review "Nymphomaniac Vol. 1"

Review "Nymphomaniac Vol. 2"

29. "Gloria"

A middle-aged woman takes control of her life in this excellent Chilean dramedy. The title character, played by the lovely Paulina Garcia, wants to find love once again and to live without restrains. As she dances the night away we are certain that, despite the hardships, she will.

Review "Gloria"

Sydney Levine's interview with Sebastian Lelio and Paulina Garcia

28. "The Babadook"

A vicious boogieman terrorizes a mother and her son in this Australian horror masterpiece. Like with the best films in the genre, is what you don’t see that’s the most disturbing. Dir. Jennifer Kent uses creepy guttural sounds, shadows, and a malevolent children’s book to psychologically inflict fear.

27. "Ernest & Celestine"

Delightfully crafted to look like a collection of gorgeous moving watercolors, this French animated feature based on Gabrielle Vincent’s books is a visual treat and reminds us of the innocent fables from yesteryear.

Carlos Aguilar's interview with Benjamin Renner

26. "Hide Your Smiling Faces"

Two brothers growing up in a small town are confronted with the notion of death and the complexities of the adult world in this remarkably done debut by Daniel Patrick Carbone. An absolute must-see that deserves a wider audience.

Review "Hide Your Smiling Faces"

25. "Stranger by the Lake"

In Alain Guiraudie’s beachside mystery, a murderous romance hides underneath warm weather and desire. This provocative, darkly comedic and splendidly acted slow-burner shows that danger is sometimes the most lethal aphrodisiac.

Carlos Aguilar's interview with Alain Guiraudie

24. "Heli"

Amat Escalante’s brave and brutally honest depiction of Mexico’s violent present is unquestionably a difficult cinematic experience. However, the filmmaker is capable of finding resilient hope in the midst of overwhelming despair.

Review "Heli"

Carlos Aguilar's interview with Amat Escalante

23. "CitizenFour"

Few embellishments are needed when you have such a shocking and important story told not from an outsider’s perspective, but from its source. Fiction falls short in comparison to the truths and secrets encompassed in Laura Poitras account of the Edward Snowden case.

22. "Force Majeure"

Gender roles are questioned with humorous but poignant observations on marriage and societal expectations in this Swedish hit from Ruben Östlund. Laugh-out-loud moments galore and an unforgettable “man cry” sequence are the result of a catastrophic controlled avalanche.

Carlos Aguilar's interview with Ruben Östlund and Johannes Kuhnke

21. "The Guest"

Adam Wingard’s perversely comedic stunner about a devilishly deceiving visitor was by far one of the most outrageously fun films I saw this year. It’s a masterwork of madness. I can’t wait to see what Wingard, writer Simon Barrett, and star Dan Stevens do next.

20. "Obvious Child"

Jenny Slate’s Donna Stern is navigating adulthood through laughter. Her standup performances are unfiltered, moving, and often hilariously distasteful, but always sincere. Slate and director Gillian Robespierre are a match made in comedy heaven.

Review "Obvious Child"

Carlos Aguilar's interview with Gillian Robespierre and Jenny Slate

19. "Inherent Vice"

There are numerous wacky characters and subplots in Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaption of Thomas Pynchon novel, but the real magic happens when Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin are together on screen. “Motto panukeiku!” is all I have to say.

18. "Starred Up"

Jack O’Connell’s award-deserving performance packs raw energy, ferocious anger, and tragic vulnerability. Violence and respect are the only useful currencies in this potent prison drama that’s as thrilling as it’s emotionally devastating.

Carlos Aguilar's interview with David Mackenzie

17. "Listen Up Philip"

Brimming with originality and uncompromising humor, Alex Ross Perry’s look at the writing craft is pure brilliance. Jason Schwartzman stars as an obnoxious, self-centered young author. He is as utterly amusing and revels in his character’s hilarious arrogance.

16. "Boyhood"

Thanks to Richard Linklater’s perseverance we were able to experience an incredible and incomparable cinematic journey. Filled with small, but affecting moments of sorrow and joy, a child’s life - and that of those around him - literally unfolds on screen somewhere between reality and fiction.

15. "Selma"

Avoiding all the dreaded biopic clichés, director Ava DuVernay created a powerful historical drama that couldn’t be more opportune. Among a star-studded cast, David Oyelowo delivers a knockout performance as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

14. "Under the Skin"

Life on earth as seen by a seductive alien is simultaneously frightening and revelatory in Jonathan Glazer’s dazzling sci-fi character study. Scarlett Johansson is superb as a creature intrigued by the virtues and shortcomings of human nature.

Review "Under the Skin"

13. "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Everything we love about Wes Anderson and much more is included in this stylized beauty of a film. Ralph Fiennes is an irreverent, classy, womanizer that gets into trouble with an array of quirky villains played by a topnotch cast. From its score to the production design, this is Anderson at his best.

12. "The Boxtrolls"

Laika’s craftsmanship reached a new level of delightful greatness with this darkly comedic period piece. Their brand of stop-motion animation is impeccable. Each character is meticulously created with a wonderful physicality that no other medium can provide.

Review "The Boxtrolls"

11. "Leviathan"

Andrey Zvyagintsev’s masterpiece dissects the complexity of Russian society through a family drama that is as intimate as it is monumental in the themes it explores. Religion, government, and betrayal are all monsters haunting a righteous man at the mercy or their powers.

Carlos Aguilar's interview with Andrey Zvyagintsev

10. "Only Lovers Left Alive"

Between desolated Detroit and a moody Marrakesh, Jim Jarmusch's darkly comedic film delivers an incredibly original tale about familiar bloodsuckers. Permeated in groovy rock and roll music, vintage wardrobe, blissful production design, and an otherworldly atmosphere, “Only Lovers Left Alive” reclaims vampires as graceful, complex, and cultured beings, rather than the vehicle for teenage fantasies

Review "Only Lovers Left Alive"

9. "Nightcrawler"

Brutally unapologetic about the bloodthirsty practices of today’s media, Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut is a fantastic vehicle for Jake Gyllenhaal to deliver a performance unlike anything he’s done before. Outrageously insightful, Gilroy’s writing is a perverse delight that is at once analytical and utterly entertaining.

8. "Birdman"

While definitely hilarious, Inarritu’s latest work offers sharp observations on the nature of art and artists. This is a giant leap into new territory for the acclaimed Mexican filmmaker. His undeniable talent directing actors is what elevates his work from just a brilliant idea to a work that thrives on touching human vulnerability. Added to this, Emanuel Lubeski’s work in the cinematography department is a visual treat.

7. "Wild Tales"

This insanely inventive collection of deranged stories questions violence and revenge from a comedic angle. Besides being a complete riot that packs in uproarious humor, Damian Szifron’s film demonstrates his ability to create a cohesive film out of diverse vignettes united by the dark side of human nature. From start to finish, “Wild Tales” is truly a savagely fun trip.

Sydney Levine's Feature Piece on "Wild Tales"

6. "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya"

Studio Ghibli’s co-founder Isao Takahata demonstrates once more that his work is as spectacular as anything else the studio has created. His brand of handcrafted animation is of a uniquely exquisite kind that flows on the screen like streams of vibrant beauty. ‘The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” is perhaps his most striking work

5. "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night"

This black and white, Persian-language vampire film is a revelation. Style and story elegantly arranged to be poetic and ethereal throughout. Undoubtedly the most dazzling feature debut of the year. Ana Lily Amirpour has a unique vision forged out of her fascination with genre films, music, and other peculiar interests, all of which blend into a delightful cocktail of beauty, danger, and pure originality.

4. "Winter Sleep"

Nuri Bilge Ceylan defines what being an auteur means every times he is behind the camera. Palme d’Or or not, “Winter Sleep” is the only film over 3 hours that has kept me fully engaged for every second of it. Every line of dialogue is as thought provoking as the next without being pretentious. He finds the fibers of human behavior and stretches them to their limit in every single scene. Absolutely mesmerizing

Review "Winter Sleep"

Sydney Levine's Feature Piece on "Winter Sleep" from Cannes

3. "Mommy"

The tenderly violent love between a mother and a son make for an intoxicating tour de force. Xavier Dolan plays with aspect ratios, music, evocative cinematography and raw, maddening emotions to produce one of the most heartbreaking and intense experiences I’ve ever had watching a film. I was in a complete state of exhilaration until the very last, perfect, frame.

2. "Ida"

There is not a single miscalculation in Pawel Pawlikowski’s immaculate post-Holocaust drama. Each frame is a stunning work of sheer perfection. Flawless cinematography, riveting performances by both leading actresses, and a story that is subtle on the surface but carries intense undertones about spirituality and the consequences of guilt, make of “Ida” a masterwork to be cherished for years to come

Review "Ida"

Sydney Levine's interview with Pawel Pawlikowski

1. "Song of the Sea"

I'm certain some people will think me crazy for choosing this film as my favorite of the year, but witnessing Tomm Moore’s gorgeous and ethereal craftsmanship was an unforgettable experience. What he was able to achieve here, both in technique and emotional poignancy, is absolutely outstanding. "Song of the Sea" is one of the most blissfully beautiful animated films ever made. It is a gem beaming with awe-inspiring, heartwarming magic. It will be a long time before animation reaches this level of mesmerizing artistry again.

Review "Song of the Sea"

Carlos Aguilar's interview with Tomm Moore

See full article on SydneysBuzz