Without further ado, here are the results of Double Exposure’s 2014 Year End Contributor’s Poll. The Top 20 only represents a small percentage of the films our writers and editors named as their favorites of the year. We thought it most interesting to have them write about movies for which they were the lone booster. They wrote about the movies that appeared on their top 10’s and their top 10’s only. We look forward to another year of great films and criticism, both short and long.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Goodbye to Language
Stranger by the Lake
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Two Days, One Night
Under the Skin
Only Lovers Left Alive
Listen Up Phillip
The One I Love
In The Congress, Ari Folman looks towards the future with vivid imagination giving us a vision that is distressing in its relevance. The film follows Robin Wright, playing a fictionalized version of herself, as she sells, for a hefty sum, the rights to her likeness. Wright becomes an IP in a studio’s computer, an animated—though life-like—character, the serviceable star of countless hits. As a digital actress, she’s rejuvenated to her Princess Bride days, thus fulfilling the very promise of movie stardom: eternal youth. Twelve years later, Wright is the guest speaker at a media congress, in which every individual consumes nirvana-inducing drugs as well as derivative, personalized entertainments that bombard the viewer into an impressionistic, animated universe.
Folman hits and he hits hard. The Congress is a razor-sharp satire of our current culture. A mall culture built upon the connection between constant consumption and instant pleasure. The film decries our TMZ-induced obsession with 24/7 spectacle, our need to see younger, prettier, brighter stars every year. The closest work to The Congress is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (No surprise, since The Congress is inspired by a 1971 novel by Stanislaw Lem.) Both works succeed at showing that the road to a utopia-of-the-senses results, unequivocally, in a dystopia-of-the-soul. However preachy Folman may seem, his film is neither conservative (“it was so much better in the good ol’ days”) or reactionary (“fuck hollywood, it’s all sin”). Rather Folman aims at reminding us of the world we live in, and what we may be losing if we continue unquestioningly. As such, The Congress is more than a great film. It is an important one. -Theo Zenou
If I had really been honest with myself, I probably would have chosen Stray Dogs as the best movie of 2015. My top two choices–Goodbye to Language and Inherent Vice–may have gotten a boost from the fact that, despite their reservoirs of sadness, both are a good deal more pleasurable than Tsai Ming-Liang’s masterpiece, each of them high on their own strain of giddy artifice. If I were to adopt Kafka’s criteria for an essential work of art, though, there would be no question of Stray Dogs’ supremacy: “We need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.” I saw Tsai’s film in October 2013, and I’m still not sure I’ve recovered. Many acclaimed festival filmmakers make work these days that routinely gets described as an endurance test–and this movie has a few (astonishing) takes designed to assault its audience’s patience–but Tsai is interested in a different kind of test. He forces us to grab hold of his characters’ despair and regard it with a desperate, terrifying, sometimes hilarious love. -Will Noah
Enemy, Denis Villeneuve’s labyrinthine adaptation of José Saramago’s The Double, embraces its nightmarish body doubling and noirish misdirects with few signposts to ease fans of procedural thrillers. It is a story about fragile relationships, bookended by arachnid imagery. Watching a spider crawl out from under a woman’s heel is the preface to a hallucinatory narrative excited by glamor, prurience, and chaos. When Jake Gyllenhaal’s history teacher gives a lecture on fascism, standing in front of a blackboard marked with notes on Derrida and dialectics of history, Villeneuve is being obliquely obvious. A paradoxical attitude manages to be more coy than the existential violence exhibited in Villeneuve’s Incendies and Prisoners. The continental philosophy and Freudian dichotomies in Enemy stretch out with spiderweb acuteness, forming an ensemble of doppelgängers. As a massive spider lurks over a jaundice-hued Toronto, the asymmetry of Villeneuve’s film might drive some viewers toward solace in science fiction. Surely the claustrophobic intimacy of adopting a stranger’s life and caring for his lover are part of a conspiratorial joke? An invasion of…Of course not. Enemy’s esoteric plotting manages to resolve itself in farce. Enemy is self-analysis and repressed temptation. Mothers, sons, and wives are all lurking creepy-crawlies. A dizzying loss of identity. Not the end of the world. -Thuto Somo
Guardians of the Galaxy
It looked like a duck from the first moment Disney released the initial teaser. How could Marvel adapt an unpopular series about a ragtag bunch of space adventurers into a summer tentpole extravaganza? Is a bazooka-toting raccoon and a tree the best that the House of Mouse can produce? My skepticism was, however, swiftly disarmed when I watched Guardians of the Galaxy, an endearing and chaotically clever sci-fi comedy. This new franchise has realized Disney’s great potential for delivering smart adult-oriented blockbusters with mass appeal, and fanning fresh air into a stagnant superhero genre. This refreshing sensibility bodes well for the future with The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens due out later this year.
While Guardians is certainly not the technical and cultural equal of its predecessors, its success and popularity are evidence that audiences are willing to embrace the unlikely and unconventional. It captures the spirit of “the new,” and in an era of risk adverse feature development, it’s reassuring to see Hollywood bank on the underdog. -Justin Restivo
20,000 Days on Earth
At its core, 20,000 Days on Earth is a gripping watch. This is due to a number of factors—whether it’s Nick Cave’s bombastic music, the backdrop of a misty noir Brighton, or the privileged access to an artist’s meandering psyche. But the real cinematic achievement of this film, and what makes it so fundamentally compelling, is its genre-bending character. Though music is at the center of Cave’s biography—the film peers in on a day in the life of the enigmatic bandleader—this is no ordinary rock-doc. In the film, directed by Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth, you won’t find the typical rockstar lionization, nor any extraneous archival footage or talking heads. In its place is a fractured, gloomily poetic portrait of the artist, where fiction and reality blend in murky union. With Cave’s dreamy and elegiac voiceover in tow, Pollard and Forsyth craft a quasi-docufiction of sorts, one that is capable of probing at the mythology and self-invention so entwined with the rock star persona. In doing so, they question the very nature and purpose of documentary itself. The question of façade becomes unimportant, allowing us to appreciate the artful execution of a performer’s life, however surreal it may be. -Julia Selinger
Even though Timbuktu uses the real life occupation of northern Mali by Islamic rebels in 2012 as its foundation, it solely features fictional characters. Through what could be seen as a Mike Leigh-esque collaboration between its director and many non-actors, the film is less a traditional narrative and more a tableau of different characters and events in which the Islamic Rebels are granted just as much, if not more, screen time as the inhabitants of Timbuktu. The laughs Timbuktu got out of its audience struck me most. Albeit dramatic at heart, the film manages to find humor in places where people wouldn’t normally look, like a ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at a viral video in which a young Islamic rebel preaches his extremist views. This is a good example of how the film finds humanity or personification in unexpected places. The jihadists in Timbuktu seem to suffer from very familiar existential crises, as religious extremism is their way of finding a meaning, and they spend almost as much time convincing themselves of their own extreme views as they do convincing others. The film does a great job of showing the absurdity of its characters, yet simultaneously compelling you to take them seriously. Timbuktu is an interesting and emotional consideration of the nature and origin of violence, and brings this conflict closer to home for Western audiences. -Rem Berger
Blue Ruin stretches into the small moments of a classic revenge story—its distillation of the genre’s essentials makes it one of the best films of the year. With no false gravitas, drifter Dwight (Macon Blair) enacts a plot to kill Wade Cleland when he is released from prison, accused of murdering Dwight’s parents. The inevitable blowback from the Cleland family makes for a tense and grim final confrontation. Blue Ruin succeeds not for its plot, which is simple, nor for its script, which is spare to the point of underwritten, but rather, for its attention to the small details of Dwight’s inept vengeance, like his unplanned escape in a limousine left unlocked outside the bar where he kills Wade, or his short shooting lesson from an old high school friend. Blue Ruin discards the genre conventions of overwritten, convoluted plots and improbable gunfights, finding sensitivity and realism in violence through its character study of Dwight and director Jeremy Saulnier’s eye for backwater Americana aesthetics. -Jess Lempit
Fuku-chan of FukuFuku Flats
How far is man from truth?
If we take the question to its extreme, we end up with a story of humiliation, guilt, apotheosis, and survival through love, by way of large snakes and run-down apartment buildings (who said gentrification was hip?) and an event of sexual harassment revealing the alienation of humankind through the medium of photography. If this sounds self-contradictory, that’s because it is (not). But hey… such is love.
That’s “Fuku-chan of FukuFuku Flats”.
Oshima, the greatest filmmaker of all time, stars as Fuku-chan (it took me by surprise too!). Initially we are confronted with a big mystery, the kind featuring into Oshima classics like Sing a Song of Sex and Japanese Summer: Double Suicide, where gender dynamics are imposed by a gratuitous world of unforgiving violence.
Fuku-chan is described as “having no luck with women”, because he “sucks at dating.”
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The greatest one-two-punch in cinematic history reveals that Oshima is a woman! (Reader, don’t worry; this surprised me too).
Watch out, though. The most confusing thing about Fuku-chan of FukuFuku Flats is that this film becomes two films that become one film. But in the hands of Fujita Yosuke, this confusing headache becomes a pleasant experience, like driving in your dad’s car. This is something even our most esteemed philosophers such as Hegel or Max Nelson–as well as laypeople like you or me–can get behind.
Five bags of popcorn.
We Are the Best!
We Are the Best! – the irresistible seventh feature from Swedish director Lukas Moodysson – centers around three thirteen-year-old girls who form an amateur punk band. The intensely Swedishly named girls, Bobo, Klara, and Hedvig, position themselves as outsiders, with short haircuts and disdain for religion and authority to back up their attitudes. Despite the self-proclaimed rebellious nature of its protagonists, the film is in many ways a classic coming-of-age film. It contains many familiar tropes of such movies, including first encounters with alcohol, crushes, and intra-friend-group fights. However, Moodysson’s decision to shoot the film in a handheld, realist style guards the film from ever slipping into over-sentimentality. The result is a terrific depiction of adolescence, an age where every minor faux pas at a party and every fight with a friend can feel like an Earth-shaking catastrophe. Moodysson crucially manages to convey the humor inherent in how pre-teen self-consciousness magnifies minor events out of proportion, but never minimize or mock the importance of those events to his protagonists.
This balance is also what allows the film to wonderfully capture the youthful joy of defining one’s self in opposition to something, without really needing to know what it is that one is opposing. The girls’ signature song is a hilarious anti-establishment anthem called “Hate the Sport!” The chorus ostensibly protests prioritizing sports over more pressing matters, but really “Sport” stands in for whatever it is that strikes the friends as unfair or annoying. Those who push religion, neglectful parents, and mean girls in gym class all fall in that category. The vagueness of the object of the girls’ disdain is hilariously demonstrated when, after the audience at a gig in the city of Västerås boos them, the girls, giddy with spite, change the lyrics to “Hate Västerås!” The fact that Bobo and Klara’s critiques of society are comically unsophisticated is just as irrelevant as their inability to play or read music; what they want to do is bang on the drums and call out hypocrisy as they see it. They have such a good time doing so that when they gleefully chant the film’s title in the final scene, you want to join in. -David Quintas
The Last of the Unjust
At a key juncture in Claude Lanzmann’s monumental new film, a former, reluctant Nazi collaborator poses a question that has hovered over him for forty years. “For what did I abuse power? Not to get advantages for me, not to get advantages for my family, but just in order to help people.”
The speaker is Benjamin Murmelstein, the third Jewish Elder of Theresienstadt—a “model ghetto” in the former Czechoslovakia set up, partly, for foreign scrutiny. It was Murmelstein’s job to manage the ghetto’s daily operations, which he did, by some accounts, somewhat less than scrupulously. For seven years, he reported directly to Adolph Eichmann; after the liberation, he was widely despised.
Murmelstein is the central figure in The Last of the Unjust, much of which consists of interview footage Lanzmann shot with the man at his house in Rome during the making of Shoah. In that film, Lanzmann often approached his interviews with bullying, firm resolve, determined to squeeze out of his subjects what testimony he could. Here, he is looser, more casual, and, disarmingly, more affectionate. There’s a kind of camaraderie that develops between him and Murmelstein over the course of the film, in part, you sense, because of the latter’s gift for self-presentation. He is, among other things, a ham, and one of the many remarkable facts of The Last of the Unjust is that, despite all, he’s as seductive and convincing as he is suspicious. (He did, again despite all, help no small number of the ghetto’s residents emigrate before it was too late.)
The interview footage harmonizes elegantly with the movie’s other half: a digitally-shot travelogue Lanzmann compiled after passing—by train, in a pronounced nod to one of Shoah’s most harrowing image motifs—through the region where the ghetto once stood. The Last of the Unjust, taken as a whole, gives a new perspective on two of Lanzmann’s recurring obsessions: the ethics of witnessing (who is in a position to testify? why? what can they be made—led—to speak?), and the impassable gap between the present and the past. -Max Nelson
Frederick Wiseman has said that all of his movies could be seen as installments in one continuous film, and it’s apparent where National Gallery picks up from his last film, At Berkeley–its main subject is the frustrating, necessary, and occasionally sublime process of education. London’s National Gallery, in Wiseman’s vision, is a kind of university, whose professors and researchers are its tour guides and conservation experts. Galleries are turned into miniature classrooms for children, tourists, and donors; art historians and preservationists carefully illuminate each painting’s origin and expressive content. It’s to Wiseman’s credit that he doesn’t build a crisis or even much of a climax into the structure of National Gallery–the bulk of the drama comes from the paintings themselves, and throughout, Wiseman is concerned less with the process of making art than he is with the process of learning to appreciate it. He cuts quickly between fragments of Turners, Caravaggios, Rembrandts, and Da Vincis, and the paintings come urgently to life. But Wiseman isn’t a pure aesthete, and National Gallery, like his other films, is equally concerned with administration and management; he gives us access to the back-room set, the people whose job it is to think about the public obligations and external pressures of the institution in question. But the movie’s soul lies in the galleries, with the Old Masters and the ones looking at their work. By the film’s graceful ending, you get the sense that there is no better tour guide for the museum than Wiseman himself, silent and curious, prodding us to look closely while we still can. -David Beal
Detour de Force
The most perfect Thomas Pynchon film of 2014 wasn’t P.T. Anderson’s long, exhaustingly detailed adaptation of Inherent Vice, beautifully shot and acted though that work undoubtedly was. For all his thoroughness, Anderson is best at evoking the Pynchon of exquisite, hushed little moments (the greatest of which, at least for me, is the scene at the end of The Crying of Lot 49 where Oedipa Maas encounters an old man in the streets of California, and promises him she’ll deliver his letter). The scenes of comic exuberance in Inherent Vice, by contrast, can never measure up to Pynchon’s literary fireworks; as my Double Exposure colleague Will Noah pointed out in his review of the film, Anderson mimics Pynchon’s thematic tropes and character types, but can’t translate his words to the screen without tainting their chaotic, cartoonish essence.
Rebecca Baron’s Detour de Force, which played at the New York Film Festival this year, takes place in nearly the same era as Inherent Vice, one where magic and science, fiction and myth, drug use and sobriety seemed more like interchangeable terms than opposites. That it’s a short film, clocking in at less than half an hour, goes a long way toward explaining how it manages to create the same mood Anderson struggles to sustain for 158 minutes. To tell the story of Ted Serios, the Chicago bellhop who claimed to be able to produce Polaroids using only his psychic powers, Baron evokes the Pynchon of sinister banality, twisted science experiments, unreliable narrators, and farcical horrors. Every 16 MM black & white frame seems to contain some unacknowledged danger, and when the scientists who’ve discovered Serios threaten to take away his booze unless he cooperates, the overall effect is equal parts amusing and disturbing.
Oh, and it’s all true — there was a Chicago bellhop named Ted Serios who claimed he could make Polaroids with his mind (whether he could or couldn’t the film never argues). When one realizes that this is a documentary, assembled in Austria from forgotten archival footage, it becomes a little clearer where Pynchon, whose novels have always contained large amounts of real-life science, math, and history, found inspiration for the bizarre comedy for which he’s so praised. The real world is bizarre enough, Baron reminds us – all you have to do is look around. -Jackson Arn
It is easy to think a Christopher Nolan movie is more than incredible visual effects and a tense, Hans Zimmer-composed soundtrack, both of which leave little lasting impression. Nolan’s latest film, Interstellar, does not deviate from the typical “Nolan” form, but unlike his films of recent years like The Dark Knight or Inception, Interstellar shines with a subtle yet powerful command of the visual in service of theme. Ultimately, I think that the value of this movie is not in the practical effects used to depict humans turning outward to the stars, but is rather in its evocation of the inward, its interest in human bonds and the imperviousness of the human spirit in the face of extinction. -Antonia Georgieva
Young and Beautiful
When I first saw Francois Ozon’s Young & Beautiful I described it as “a film as mockingly arbitrary, as impenetrable and manipulatively destructive and false and inexplicable as [its] protagonist.” I still stand by that description, even as I place it on my list of top films of the year. The intensity of Ozon’s resolute, controlled unpleasantness was unmatched by anything else in 2014, leaving an imprint stronger than that left by Inherent Vice‘s loopy verve, or Leviathan‘s rumbling anguish. The only thing remotely like it was Fincher’s Gone Girl, which next to Young & Beautiful reveals its real comedic center: there’s a joke here, and you’re in on it. With Young & Beautiful, the joke is on you. -Alexander Tsebelis