Favorite 15 Films of 2014 (So Far)
From murder to full frontal to bear traps

Murder, full frontal, children’s toys, bear traps — here are our 15 favorite films of 2014 so far, informally calculated from our writers’ lists, rankings, and good vibes. It’s a dark bunch of films overall, with even directors typecast for cheerful whimsy dealing in dismemberment and just-offscreen genocide. Still, the best of 2014 is also diverse enough that if you need a break from, say, sex with murderers (who doesn’t?) or the methodical destruction of the family unit, you can have it, whether in the form of an abortion/poop joke comedy or the smartest big-budget kids’ animation in years.

Honorable mentions: The Double, Enemy, We Are the Best!, Manakamana, Like Father Like Son, Snowpiercer, Only Lovers Left Alive, Summer of Blood, Breadcrumb Trail, Locke, Last of the Unjust, A Coffee in Berlin, Child’s Pose, Maidentrip, Wrong Cops


A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness
Dir. Ben Russell and Ben Rivers

[Rouge International]

We hear a choir of voices chanting over the dark waters, but only the camera is moving. And then stillness, the texture of solitude. We are beyond interaction at this point, inside a space created where we as viewers have disappeared, as if the lake has found its way into us and we no longer think. A place outside the tragicomedy of discourse, of selves. [...] Filmmakers Ben Russell and Ben Rivers make an interesting decision to bookend the film with this opening scene and the final twenty-something-minute-long black metal concert, as if to say these two types of surrendering — one to nature and its bellowing within us, and the other, an immersion in thrashing sound and screaming — experience a loss of self. At first we dissolve in scenery, and at last we dissolve in sound. Neither is hung up on anything other than tone, and this breathes a rare life into the film, making it seem alive. [full review]

A Field in England
Dir. Ben Wheatley

[Drafthouse Films]

Despite comparisons to Ken Russell and the period horror films churned out by the Hammer and Amicus studios, and the invocations of Bergman and Fellini in its opaque surrealism, A Field in England structurally resembles a Western: the basic plot is a paraphrase of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, with several savage characters in wide-brimmed hats and long coats seeking a buried treasure as a civil war rages around them. [...] Of course, no Western I know of ever placed its characters in painterly still tableaux or subjected them to stroboscopic freakouts. The film's free-floating weirdness feels deliberate rather than inevitable, as if Wheatley and screenwriter Amy Jump (his wife and frequent collaborator) have worked hard to make it strange. But perhaps that's evidence of the degree to which modern audiences expect movies to make sense, in a way they didn't in the late 60s and early 70s (a period from which this film draws inspiration), when psychedelia and surrealism crept into even mainstream fare, and films were weird not due to conscious effort but because they couldn't be any other way. [full review]

NYMPH()MANIAC
Dir. Lars von Trier

[Zentropa]

The film exhausts itself with a constant stream of sound, texture, motion, stink, and cruelty until it is left seeping like the open wounds on Joe's inner thighs. And yet, in the end, it still feels awake, open, like it is doing shit to you even when you leave the theater. I have seen Antichrist maybe four times now, and I can still think back on certain scenes and feel injected. It's incredible wanting that feeling again from when you first see a film, as it seems more and more rare. Nymphomaniac promises this kind of lurking, too, like it's going to stick to your insides and grow, taking space on and making you full. "Fill all my holes," Joe repeats throughout the film as a kind of mantra. A request to plug up an uncontainable body that is as large as a lake, a field, a black hole. Von Trier's idea of what it's like to be a woman. And I thank him for wondering. [full review]

Obvious Child
Dir. Gillian Robespierre

[A24 Films]

True to its title, Gillian Robespierre's Obvious Child features the Paul Simon song in the film. It's more than just a snappy — and for a low-budget indie, undoubtedly expensive — soundtrack choice: it underscores an early scene in the film around which the plot pivots. Aspiring comedian Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) is rudely dumped by her cheating boyfriend, and told by her boss that the bargain bookstore where she works is closing. Seeking consolation, she allows herself to be picked up by the relentlessly square Max (Jake Lacy), and their foreplay, a silly dance party in his living room, is edited to Simon's song. Donna brushes Max off as a one-night stand — until she finds out she is pregnant a few weeks later. This complication lingers in the background as Max tries to pursue Donna, and she tries to avoid him and the truth. The film has been labeled "an abortion romantic comedy," which tells us more about our politics than the film itself, but I can see why people have struggled to define it. I'm not quite sure how to situate Robespierre's film, and how or to whom to recommend it. Some people say a lie's a lie's a lie / But I say why / Why deny the obvious child? / Why deny the obvious child? Is it "the obvious child" or "the obvious, child"? It's both. [full review]

Borgman
Dir. Alex van Warmerdam

[Drafthouse Films]

The film has been compared to the work of Michael Haneke, and van Warmerdam does have a similar proclivity to show cold-blooded brutality in a shockingly direct way. But whereas Haneke characteristically works with narrative negative space, inviting the audience to speculate on the very core of what they've seen, van Warmerdam's film, though it includes fantastical/unexplained elements, is a tightly constructed mechanism that delights in the craft and precision of Borgman and his cohorts as they progress toward a clear and specific goal. Haneke plays conceptual games using naturalistic scenes as his building blocks; Van Warmerdam creates a heightened reality to tell a story that unfolds organically, cruel as nature. […] It's an ambitious, brilliantly conceived piece, full of striking images that hang around in your thoughts afterwards. The final sequence suggests no less than the fall of the capitalist system, and not for the better. [full review]