Cinema Fanatic’s Favorite Fifteen Films of 2014

Last year there were films I enjoyed, but mostly I was just really underwhelmed. This year, however, it was really hard to narrow it down to fifteen films. I think part of this was living in Los Angeles and being able to see those little films that only play for a week in some small theater. I’m so grateful to be able to do that! If you are interested in all of the 2014 releases I saw this year, you can check out the full list here.


1. Obvious Child (dir. Gillian Robespierre)


This movie is everything I want in a movie and more. These women set out to make a movie they wanted to see in a genre they loved and on a topic they were passionate about. The result is a perfect romantic comedy with a conscience. Jenny Slate is a revelation in the lead, but her supporting cast (especially Gaby Hoffmann) are all at the top of their games. I have rewatched this movie several times since it was released on DVD and it is really the gift that keeps on giving.

2. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (dir. Ana Lily Amirpour)


I read a great review somewhere that said this movie is a movie that knows that movies don’t have to take place in reality. I love movies that just go for it, and this one does in spades. But, it’s not just style over substance; it’s a wonderfully subversive feminist vampire western (wrap your head around that!). Another film made by a young woman who wanted to make a movie she wanted to see and the result is an art film that is as entertaining as it is beautiful.

3. Vi är bäst! (dir. Lukas Moodysson)


Based on a graphic novel/memoir written by his wife, We Are The Best! tells the story of three pre-teens in early 1980s Sweden who have missed the punk boat, but refuse to believe it is truly dead. It’s such a great coming-of-age movie that really shows the ups and downs of female friendship and the early awkwardness of adolescence. I dare you not to grin through this whole film!

4. Selma (Ava DuVernay)


An important film that is as timely as it is timeless, Ava DuVernay’s MLK biopic doesn’t fall into any of the average biopic tropes, but rather breathes new life into a figure whose impact is still as great as ever, but whose mythos has made him into a one man army. This film shows those who worked with him to achieve what he knew needed to be done. The passion, the sacrifices, the courage, the battles. All of it. It also doesn’t sugarcoat the violence of the Civil Rights era. There’s a scene towards the beginning of the film that literally starts with a bang! and if you’re not uncomfortable for the rest of the film, you’re probably dead inside.

5. Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater)


Linklater has long been one of my favorite directors, and while story-wise I don’t think this is his best work, I think the artistic achievement and persistence of vision he demonstrated in completely this project is astounding. The performances (especially Patricia Arquette) are equally amazing and so wonderfully realized over a twelve-year period. I’m also a sucker for this film’s soundtrack (it’s in my car right now!)

6. Life Itself (dir. Steve James)


Roger Ebert is part of why I love films so much. He had such a huge impact on so many people in this industry, his loss was huge for so many reasons. This documentary shows us not only the impact he had on the industry (big and small), but also is moving portrait of a man who always did what he thought was best and grew in wisdom as the years past, and as his life began to slip away, he shared what he learned with the world and that is a gift we should all be grateful for.

7. Guardians of the Galaxy (dir. James Gunn)


I didn’t know anything about this movie going in, but goddamn did I have one fun ride watching this movie! Groot! Ah! We are all Groot! Another movie with a soundtrack that has not left my car since it came out. If only all big budget popcorn flicks were this much fun!

8. Birdman (dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)


I am a notorious hater of Iñárritu, yet somehow 2014 is the year I loved his movie and hated David Fincher’s (a favorite director). I guess that happens sometimes. I love the drum score. I love the performances. I love that it kind of does feel like a prolonged Raymond Carver story. For everyone who is unhappy with the ending: go read some Carver and then you’ll be begging for the somewhat straightforward closure we get from this film!

9. Only Lovers Left Alive (dir. Jim Jarmusch)


Jarmusch never disappoints. Tilda Swinton never disappoints. Despondent vampire lovers who are addicted to books and vinyl records? Is this a biopic of my future life?! Those who love Jarmusch, love this film. Those who don’t, are missing out.

10. Inherent Vice (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)


What a ride this one was! I wasn’t as lost as a lot of people (it’s no more confusing than your average Raymond Chandler novel!), but boy was I enthralled with this hazy portrait of 1970s Los Angeles. I love L.A. I love L.A. history. I love P.I. stories. I love comedies that just keep going and going and aren’t necessarily joke-oriented, but keep you laughing from start to finish. And Joaquin Phoenix? You keep making the artistic choices you’ve been making because you are killing it!

11. Ida (dir. Paweł Pawlikowski)


A moving tribute to the Polish New Wave, this film probably had my favorite cinematography of the year. Also both Agatas (the two lead actresses have the same first name), where both so heartbreaking and raw. A times bleak, the love for humanity in all its facets that pulses through this film is undeniable.

12. The Babadook (dir. Jennifer Kent)


This goddamned movie. This movie. Scared. The. Crap. Out. Of. Me. It’s also a great meditation on single motherhood, motherhood in general, depression and grief. There’s so much going on in this movie under the surface, but you also get one insanely creepy horror film at the top level. Dook, dook, dook!

13. Beyond The Lights (dir. Gina Prince-Bythewood)


What a year for Gugu Mbatha-Raw! She should be winning all the awards, she really should. But with a breakout year like this, here’s hoping she keeps making bold choices and working with great directors. Also, mmm Nate Parker. Like Denzel in his prime, so charming and so hot. And the chemistry between these two is so hot, hot, hot! Under-seen when it was in theaters, I hope more people see it upon its home video release.

14. Belle (dir. Amma Asante)


More Gugu! This time, she’s in a political period romance based on a true story. There were so many great feminist films out this year, proving that when women get a voice, they tell important stories that would not be told otherwise.

15. Teenage (dir. Matt Wolf)


I’m pretty sure I am the only person who ever saw this movie. It’s a documentary based on a non-fiction book by Jon Savage and it is fabulous. It’s more of a visual collage than a traditional documentary, using archival footage, photographs and reenactments to tell its story. Also one of the narrators is Ben Whishaw! It’s on Netflix, so you have no excuse for not seeing it in the new year!

In 2014, six of my top films were directed by women, but as you will recall this year I will only be watching films directed or written by women, so next year look forward to a list that will most likely all by films by women!

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on January 1, 2015, in Top List and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. How is only watching films directed or written by women going to be possible? I mean I love the idea but I feel like those films are few and far between.

    • 1) I have over a hundred films directed by women in my Netflix queue and 2) there are about 3 to 4 films a month released in LA/New York that are directed by women. In December there were almost twenty. Usually, they are smaller releases, but luckily, I live in L.A. where seeing these films is a real possibility.

  2. Ida is in my top two this year, and I always saw the movie in a sociopolitical light while other people I have talked to saw it as a movie of self-discovery. Your reading of the movie makes me want to see it again.

  3. So many I want to see that I haven’t yet (Obvious Child, A Girl Walks…, Birdman, Inherent Vice!)…and I so agree on Only Lovers (books, vinyl, vamires, Tilda, Jarmusch, Hiddleston!) and Babadook and WE ARE GROOT! Love this list!!!

    Also, I really am looking forward to your year in women!!!

  4. Nancy North-Gates

    Nice article. Thank you. I liked that you mentioned that in Selma we see so many of the people who were working on the civil rights movement; it was a team effort. A very important point of the movie. Your writing always makes me want to watch movies that normally I wouldn’t even want to see. 🙂 Good job!

    I salute your 2015 project and I look forward to your discoveries. We will all benefit.

  5. A lot of your picks are going to be on my list. I loved We Are the Best! so much and want everyone to see it. I also really liked Only Lovers Left Alive, Ida, Obvious Child (right on about Gaby Hoffmann), Guardians of the Galaxy, and Life Itself. A lot of the others are on my list of films to see.

  6. WOW, I LOVE that you have both Belle AND Beyond The Lights on here! I adore Gugu Mbatha-Raw, she’s absolutely tremendous in both films and I hope to see more of her in prominent roles in the future.

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