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Ryland’s Top 50 Films of 2014


2014 has been wrapped up for a few days now, but I’ll be damned if that will stop me from reflecting on my favorite films of the year. As in past years, many of these films have yet to find their ways to general release (I’ve done my best to mention if the film isn’t out yet). But maybe that makes the list all the more relevant. Consider it a preview for 2015 and a chance to go back and scoop up a few titles you might have missed in 2014. Check out the list below and let me know what you think? Which of your faves didn’t make the cut? Or maybe I missed an obvious choice. Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter at @RylandAldrich.

I have nothing but full on respect for this incredibly impressive Ukrainian film set in a twisted boarding school for the deaf and mute. There’s no dialog, yet the story unfolds with ease. But as impressive as it is, this is still a bleak Eastern European naturalistic drama, which is perhaps my least favorite kind of art film. Regardless, this is a must see movie… perhaps just not a must enjoy movie. Drafthouse will bring this out in 2015.
That THE TRIBE is dialog-free doesn’t make narrative that different from similar low-dialog/low shotcount E.European films.

Marko Zaror’s ass kicking always nabs a spot in my year-end roundup. The fact this revenge thriller by longtime collaborator Ernesto Diaz Espinoza isn’t higher just speaks to the number of great actioners on offer in 2014.
REDEEMER brings more of the awesome Chilean action we’ve come to expect with even more MMA-inspired fighting. Ridiculous fun.
My review on TwitchFilm

It’s somewhat rare for an outright horror film to crack my T50, but Aussie Jennifer Kent’s debut about a troubled little boy is scary in all the right ways and a very impressive film.
THE BABADOOK is a perfectly spine-tingling horror that’s enjoyable throughout but gets a little narratively mushy at the end.

I saw Jonathan Glazer’s ScarJo stylized alien drama a little late in the run so perhaps elevated expectations explain why it ended up in my high 40s as opposed to many others’ top 10s.
As much as I enjoyed the places that UNDER THE SKIN goes, the trip there is just a bit too languid for me to get fully behind.

While a bit slow through the central portion, Jon Stewart’s film still tells an important story in a very engaging way. Not bad for a first outing for Stewart.
Jon Stewart’s ROSEWATER is bound to be a big hit. Important subject, big star, a few laughs. Slow central section easily forgivable.

Sometimes narrative can just be an excuse for a rollicking fun adventure. Director John Jeffcoat’s romp across Tokyo with the band Tennis Pro is unadulterated fun. Keep an eye out for this one, hopefully some time in 2015.
BIG IN JAPAN is a fun-filled adventure through both the wacky & wonderful side of Tokyo w/ the incredibly charismatic band Tennis Pro.

The tragic story of Aaron Swartz in heart-wrenchingly explored in this Sundance docu by Brian Knappenberger that’s available on VOD now.

This impressive deep space indie comedy had my giggling from start to finish. It’s perhaps one that slipped through the cracks for many but is well worth seeking out on VOD.
Packed with laughs, SPACE STATION 76 is a 70s pastiche-filled future send up w/ great performances all around + wonderful prod design.

42. HITS
David Cross’s Sundance directorial debut has yet to be released, but it’s definitely worth taking for a spin with great performances by Matt Walsh, Meredith Hagner, Wyatt Cenac, and many others. Keep an eye out for this in 2015.
Lots of laughs in David Cross’s debut feature HITS. A few misses too but the wild & wacky finale is worth the price of admission.

41. EDEN
Mia Hansen-Love’s decades spanning story of a French DJ is one of those odd movies that had me totally turned off for the first 2/3s, yet somehow had me swooning by its final act. This is a rare and beautiful film that is sure to stand the test of time (after it hits screens from Broad Green in May of 2015).
EDEN eschews central conflict and storytelling norms to (over time) paint a complex and nuanced portrait of a young man. Very French

Eskil Vogt, writer of two of my favorites (Reprise and Oslo August 31), made his directorial debut with this story of a woman facing blindness. It’s a fascinating film that didn’t quite move me as much as his collaborator Joachim Trier’s films have, but still points to very good things from the Norwegian.
Directorial debut by writer of REPRISE and OSLO, BLIND is a fascinatingly told story with some great comedy. Not a common film.

Mike Cahill followed-up his breakout hit Another Earth with this even more audacious sci-fi-ish love story. Thankfully for us, this one worked.
I, ORIGINS lyrically explores some very complex themes with surprising success. Acting, score, cinematography all marvelous.
I, ORIGINS isn’t perfect but the story works better and is therfore more successful than ANOTHER EARTH or similar UPSTREAM COLOR.

While perhaps not quite as incredible as his first feature Bullhead, Michael Roskam’s English-language debut staring Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini (as well as Bullhead’s Matthias Schoenaerts) is a rock solid contained crime drama.
THE DROP is an apt follow-up for Roskam, a taut crimer, and a fitting goodbye to Gandolfini. I want more of Hardy’s incredible char.
My review on TwitchFilm

This startlingly good documentary about the men attracted to South Dakota for the booming gas business packs a wicked emotional punch.

The success of this small-town crime drama comes in the sharp writing and wonderful performances from John Malkovich, Oliver Platt, and Bruce Dern.
CUT BANK is a fantastic crime thriller w/ a surprisingly sharp sense of humor. Great performances all around but Bruce Dern steals it.
My review on TwitchFilm

An engaging and extremely impressive first feature from Cutter Hodierne, we can only hope this Sudance short film-winner-turned-feature doesn’t suffer from Somali Pirate overload when Drafthouse brings it out in 2015.
FISHING WITHOUT NETS will have trouble escaping comparisons, but it’s an incredible film, deliberate and absolutely beautiful.
So here they are: FISHING WITHOUT NETS is more visceral than A HIJACKING and a more interesting perspective than CAPTAIN PHILLIPS.

My review on TwitchFilm

This mostly overlooked Brazilian movie by director Rene Sampolo is a tightly wound crime drama that is well worth seeking out on VOD now.

Bennett Miller’s high profile big-star awards bait didn’t work for me on every level but the performances by Carrell and Tatum are more than enough to get some serious recognition at year’s end.
Wasn’t blown away by FOXCATCHER but I was totally blown away 30 mins in when I realized that was Steve Carell. Tatum also great.

This Maori action drama had everything I wanted and delivered it in a tight, visceral package. Look for release details soon.
Maori warrior epic THE DEAD LANDS is awesome action storytelling with little fluff and zero Hollywood. Loved it.

31. FED UP
I’m still reeling from the information packed into Stephanie Soechtig’s documentary about American’s addiction to sugar. On top of important subject matter, the docu is a beautifully produced film.

This little Aussie time traveler from SXSW didn’t make a lot of noise but totally worked for me in a way that few of these sorts of films do. Here’s one to remember when it hopefully finds its way to VOD in 2015.
Call it the funny Primer, THE INFINITE MAN is a brilliantly entertaining time traveller that’s remarkably contained & fun multiplied.
My review on TwitchFilm

Benson & Moorhead’s follow-up to Resolution is this awesome love story with a twist. It’s extremely well executed and stays with you long after watching. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. Drafthouse is bringing this out in April.
SPRING is a totally engaging modern day European backpacker love story with an “elevated” twist. Moorhead & Benson exciting dirs to watch.

Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s vampire mockumentary is just plain hilarious. What more could you expect from the New Zealand duo (and Rhys “Murray” Darby has a great role as well). Look for this on VOD and in theaters Feb 15.
Waititi/Clement vampire mockumentary WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS is 90 hilarious minutes of NZ ridiculousness. Not disappointed.
My review on TwitchFilm

John Boyega’s turn in Malik Vitthal’s inner-city drama seriously should have gotten more attention at Sundance. The score by Flying Lotus is spectacular as well. Release details are still forthcoming.
Standing ovation for IMPERIAL DREAMS director Malik Vitthal an incredible, raw, beautiful look at trying to do right in this life.

At number 26, Steve James’s Roger Ebert documentary is surprisingly the highest ranked docu on my 2014 list. It hasn’t been the best year for docs it would seem, but this touching biography of the film critic and pioneer gets two thum– Nope, not gonna do it.
LIFE ITSELF is a beautiful remembrance of Roger Ebert that wonderfully captures the importance and character of the great man.

Dave Boyle’s tightly wound crimer is incredibly impressive for its scope and feel on such a small budget. But more important than that, it’s just an extremely well told story.
Impeccably written, perfectly acted & very impressive on a budget, Dave Boyle’s MAN FROM RENO is indie noir par excellence. #LAFF stand out.

Leigh Janiak marks her arrival with this impressive debut horror. The films soars on the strong directorial decision making that keeps the audience guessing throughout. Look for big things to come from Janiak.
Leigh Janiak’s impressive debut feature Honeymoon is a taut thriller that blazes full speed into the realm of terror.
My review on TwitchFilm

Tokyo Tribe, never ever die. Tokyo Tribe, never ever die. Without out a doubt, Sono Sion’s Japanese high contrast hip hop actioner is the all-time favorite film of 23-year old Ryland. We’re still eagerly awaiting release details.
Sono Sion’s TOKYO TRIBE is a completely awesome R-rated adaptation of JET SET RADIO FUTURE with much less rollerblading.

David Mitchell’s follow-up to The Myth of the American Sleepover is this moody and confident genre-bender. While the premise takes a bit of disbelief suspension, once on board it’s definitely a wild ride. Plus, Maika Monroe is totally a star in the making (see #16).
IT FOLLOWS is a super stylish and very well executed horror that overflows with confident filmmaking. Not your typical genre flick.

Winterbottom’s follow-up to The Trip lands Coogan and Brydon back on the road, this time with more impressive scenery and even more laughs.
THE TRIP TO ITALY is a worthy follow-up to the original and perhaps packed with even more laughs. Love these guys.

The number one movie of the year’s domestic box office is my number 20 movie of the year. Not bad, really. The film is a whole lot of fun and a nice step above the normal popcorn fare.

Uhh, cuz it’s funny.
22 JUMP STREET is even wackier than the first and had me howling w/ laughter from start to finish. Sure to be the comedy hit of the summer.

The Mo Bros. Indonesian/Japanese dark psychological actioner lands from Well Go USA on Jan 22 of 2015. Check it out for a brilliantly twisted good time.
Don’t call it a midnighter, this confident and mature 2nd feature from the Mo Bros. offers up incredible performances and a very dark, but completely fascinating storyline.

Inarritu’s tour de force is such a fascinating piece of filmmaking that even though I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as many others, I was still impressed enough for it to find this high spot on the list.
BIRDMAN is certainly a fascinating film. Technical marvels aside, the portrayals of characters as archetypes will be what sticks w/ me most.

Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett follow up the awesome You’re Next with this strong and stylized nostalgia-soaked thriller. These guys are some of the most exciting filmmakers working in the genre space. If you missed The Guest, watch it on VOD now.
Emphasizing the Madness part of the midnight section, THE GUEST holds zero back. Wingard/Barrett again excel at making genre fun.
My review on TwitchFilm

Hans Petter Moland’s Norwegian-set Stellan Skarsgaard starrer is still on the festival circuit. Make sure you see this smart crime thriller when you get a chance in 2015.
Super impressed by Scandinavian black comic thriller IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE. Like FORCE MAJEURE with a lot more killing.

Another excellent entry in the Fincher oeuvre, Gone Girl gets a few plausibility passes, but is masterful filmmaking without any doubt.
Yep, GONE GIRL is a definite winner. Taut, clever, and enthralling, Fincher has crafted one of the best Ben Affleck movies in years.

Is it awards bait? Of course! But Ava DuVernay’s MLK historical drama is beautifully produced and a rewarding film to experience.

If you told me early in 2014 that a Keanu Reeves actioner would be my 12th favorite film of the year, I’d have said “Bogus!” But John Wick succeeds in a wild way because of the awesome world that directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch explore one gun-slinging scene at a time.
JOHN WICK is all balls. The closest thing we’ve had to cinematic adaptation of a 1st person shooter. Keanu rules.
Real success of JOHN WICK is the “peek behind the curtain” element of this imagined criminal underworld. Might be looking at big franchise.

I don’t think PTA’s latest would have made such a high spot on my list had I not taken a second trip to the theater to work through what the hell this movie is about. Once I was able to make heads from tails, I was just as impressed as I was entertained. Look for this one to be debated for years to come.

Argentine Damian Szifron’s collection of vignettes about people on the edge is just so damn wonderfully wicked. Sony Classics is bringing it to theaters Feb 20 after a stopover in Park City, making Wild Tales one of the rare films to play Cannes, Toronto, and Sundance (in that order).

9. 71
Hitting theaters from Roadside on Feb 27, this Irish “Troubles” actioner by Yann Demange is a visceral trip inside a fascinating world. With an incredible lead performance by Jack O’Connell (Starred Up), if anyone needed any further proof that this kid is the real deal, look no further.
71 just rocketed onto my best of ’14 list. A visceral Irish Troubles actioner w/ contained human story. More films should do this.

With perhaps the best performance of Jake Gyllenhaal’s career, it’s pretty hard to believe this is the first feature from Dan Gilroy (who got his start in Hollywood by writing the Mick Jagger and Emilio Estevez-starring Freejack).
NIGHTCRAWLER is totally wild & extremely enjoyable. Gyllenhaal has managed to redefine his career yet again. One of the year’s best.

Grand Budapest was an early frontrunner for Top 10 that stood the test until the year’s end. The film succeeds so well because it’s a great story on top of just the typical (and awesome) Wes Anderson style.
Tons to love about THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. All the W.A. style you could want with a tight thrilling plot and truly lovely characters.

J.C. Chandor’s third feature is remarkably assured and really sticks with you, even (and thankfully) after the stress of watching it has subsided. Oscar Isaac is really emerging as one of the best actors around.

The raucous Sundance premiere of Gareth Evans’s high-powered action-epic follow-up to the #7 movie on my 2011 list feels like well over a year ago. But without a doubt this is the number one action movie in a year jam packed with strong action. Bring on The Raid 3!
THE RAID 2 is even more epic than we ever could have imagined. A complex story sets the stage for truly uninhibited violence
The Raid 2 is quite frankly, the most epic martial arts action film ever made. And no, it’s not just damned hyperbole.

My review on TwitchFilm
My First Impression on TwitchFilm

I tried my hardest to stay in the dark on every aspect of Christopher Nolan’s space epic. Even so, some mixed buzz broke through the fog. The result was I sat down to my first viewing with a bit of apprehension about what I’d heard was a rather overwrought drama. So it was a huge relief when I left the theater thinking this might challenge for numero uno. While the second viewing left me a tiny bit colder than watch number one, it was still positive enough to slot in a respectable fourth place overall — and top spot for big budget films of 2015.
Consider me an unabashed fan of INTERSTELLAR. Big, BIG ideas executed boldly. That’s precisely what I want from a sci-fi blockbuster.

One of the most innovative films of all time, this 12-year project by Richard Linklater looks primed to challenge for the Best Picture Oscar. Can it win? I doubt it. But regardless, this is an emotional, enjoyable, and beautiful film.
BOYHOOD is truly something extra special; a brilliant exploration of life; a film-going experience I’ll remember for a long time

My first favorite film of 2014 impressed me to no end when I saw it at Sundance’s opening night screening. The fact Damien Chazelle is such a great dude just makes it easier to root for his budding career to take off in the way it surely will. Many people have said they’ve heard about Whiplash but haven’t yet checked it out. If that applies to you, go watch it now.
1st film of #Sundance a super crowd-pleaser. WHIPLASH will have people air drumming all fest. Teller & Simmons in a fantastic acting battle.
My review on TwitchFilm

A surprise number one film of the year? Only if you haven’t seen this black comedy by Swede Ruben Ostlund. Watching this movie was the most uncomfortably enjoyable film-viewing experience I had in 2014. It’s that simple. Force Majeure is available to watch on VOD now.
FORCE MAJEURE is just plain brilliant. Somehow, both deeply introspective and fall down hilarious. A new meaning to nuance.
My review on TwitchFilm

Posted by enderzero at 9:10am on Jan. 10, 2015  

1 comment

  1. The Senator says:

    How could you snub St Vincent? By far my favorite movie of the year. How come it’s not getting any love from the critics?

    Feb. 15, 2015 at 1:07pm