The best and worst movies of 2014

Three of our film critics weigh in on the best, worst and most underrated films, as well as the guiltiest cinematic pleasures of 2014.

Though some of the movies that are being nominated for awards based on limited 2014 releases will only open in Montreal in January, the year is quickly coming to a close. We asked three of our film writers (Malcolm Fraser, Radina Papukchieva and Alex Rose) to weigh in on the best, worst and most underrated films they saw in 2014:

Best film


Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin
Under the Skin

MF: As a critic and as a viewer, I prize originality, boldness and creative vision above all. As such, Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin takes my top spot for the year, maybe even for the past few years. It’s almost audacious in its unique style, but also has a strong emotional current. It’s now on Netflix, and everyone I recommend it to seems to take their sweet time getting around to it, but they always come back with rave reviews. If it takes mentioning that Scarlett Johansson repeatedly gets totally naked in order to seal the deal, I’m willing to go that far. Just see it, people.

RP: Too often audiences are taught to look for a lesson in movies instead of a heartbeat, and Boyhood was the movie with the biggest heart this year. Relying on character rather than plot, the film was a coming-of-age story closer to a novel than any other work in the same genre. A stand-out any way you look at it.

AR: It’s a tie between Alex Ross Perry’s caustic, richly detailed portrait of an asshole, Listen Up, Philip, and the Dardennes’ realist masterpiece Deux jours, une nuit (the latter officially opens in town on Jan. 9 but since it’s so close to the cut-off point I’ve decided to include it anyway). Both are vastly different but share well-drawn characters and a depth that transcends the simplicity of their premises. My two actual favourites of 2014 are films I saw at festivals that didn’t make it to release this year: Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland’s pitch-black crime comedy In Order of Disappearance, starring Stellan Skarsgard as a snowplow driver on a violent quest to avenge his son, and Peter Strickland’s indescribable erotic S&M comedy thriller (?!) The Duke of Burgundy. Keep an eye out for both at some point in 2015.


Honourable mentions


The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Grand Budapest Hotel

MF: As Hollywood blockbusters become more formulaic, this year’s indie films showed greater and greater creativity. From Richard Linklater’s epic yet beautifully simple Boyhood to Denis Villeneuve’s smart, nightmarish Enemy to Ari Folman’s The Congress (see below), there was much to be optimistic about cinema staying relevant and innovative. If it’s for a more and more specialized niche audience, so be it.

If you’re perusing Netflix for some gems that might have flown under your radar, I’d recommend French gay thriller Stranger By the Lake, Joe Swanberg’s amiable low-key drama Happy Christmas or indie action thriller Blue Ruin.

On the local festival tip, Fantasia and FNC were as strong as ever, but my favourite fest picks this year were at RIDM, including Willis Earl Beal semi-doc Memphis and The Overnighters, a bleak and troubling portrait of America’s economic, environmental and ethical decline.

RP: 2014 was rich in films, and it’s probably my favourite year in a long while. Instead of relying on period dramas and biopics, directors tackled a variety of stories. I loved Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash. I had never thought I could be so taken by a movie about musicians, but the film’s Raging Bull-like intensity and the great performances contributed to its uniqueness. Wes Anderson’s decadent The Grand Budapest Hotel is a runner-up, as well as Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler.

AR: I still haven’t seen Mommy, but the best Québécois film of the year in my book is Tu dors, Nicole, Stéphane Lafleur’s dream-like, Jarmuschian comedy. Speaking of Jarmusch, I also loved his latest, the vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive. It was a good year for pitch-black media satires, too, with both Nightcrawler and Gone Girl taking cynical potshots at the ethics of the media landscape in memorable fashion.


Guiltiest pleasures



MF: I can’t say that Knights of Badassdom is actually a good movie, but let’s just say that if a stoner comedy set at a LARPer convention starring Steve Zahn, Peter Dinklage and Danny Pudi appeals to you, you probably won’t be disappointed.

RP: It pains me to call a Nolan film a “guilty” pleasure, but since the movie got so much negative feedback, let it be that way. I thought Interstellar was visually stunning, scientifically fascinating, and while it was more emotional than cerebral, I don’t see that as a bad thing. I believe viewers were unfair to it, thinking they were going to see Inception part 2, and getting a love story between a father and daughter instead.

AR: I love Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop to death – the remake (directed by José Padhila) is pretty poor in comparison, but on its own terms, it’s quite enjoyable. A good cast bolsters a sometimes imaginative, sometimes hacky update that unfortunately loses a lot of the satiric tone of the original, but isn’t as tone-deaf and useless as so many other remakes tend to be.

Most underrated


The Congress
The Congress

MF: I guess it would be expecting too much for a mind-melting epic as trippy as it is existentially deep to be a big box-office hit in 2014, but I still think The Congress deserved more love than it got. Comparable only to Charlie Kaufman’s similarly complex Synecdoche, New York, it’s nothing less than a profound meditation on art, family and life as well as a wildly innovative mash of genres.

RP: One of my personal favourites of 2014 was Charlie McDowell’s The One I Love. Full of poignant dialogue, with Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss commanding the screen throughout, it was the most thought-provoking film about relationships this year. Think Her meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

AR: Nearly everyone who saw Snowpiercer loved it, but too few saw Boon Jong-Ho’s dystopic sci-fi actioner due to an elaborate distribution kerfuffle that essentially pushed the film direct to DVD and streaming. It’s an intense and imaginative film, filled with cracking action scenes and great ideas that push it far beyond the conventions of a simple sci-fi thriller. It’s also an infinitely better vehicle for Chris Evans than the Captain America series.

Worst film



MF: As the Cult MTL Screen Team’s resident grumpy old film snob, I’m privileged not to have to see a lot of movies I don’t want to, thus missing out on a lot of the crap I consumed as a young reviewer. (Besides, Alex actually likes watching bad movies.) If there was a category for “most disappointing,” I’d have to give it to Edward Snowden doc Citizenfour — it’s great journalism, but falls way short as a film. However, for pure crapitude I’d say Tim Burton’s lazy and pointless Big Eyes takes the bottom spot for 2014.

RP: As usual, the stinkers are too many to name, but the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remake must be the most unnecessary, ugliest blockbuster to come out this year. The turtles were not loveable at all, and they looked like giant turds with bandanas on.

AR: I used to be Cult MTL’s resident garbage hustler until I became the Screen Editor halfway through the year, which means that I saw fewer terrible films this year than I usually do. I still managed to sit through I, Frankenstein, though, and while there are probably worse films that were released this year, it’s real hard to imagine something more dispiriting and joyless than this gritted-up sci-fi reboot of the classic monster tale. If you can’t make an undead monster dropkicking a gargoyle at least a little fun (it’s the only moment that actually stands out from the film, nearly a year later), time to turn it in. ■