A roundup of some of 2014’s best cinematic features.

Some critics have condemned 2014 as a bad year for movies. But because so many films are being released nowadays, the good, the bad and the ugly of the movies exist in every calendar year – you just need to know how to find them. In order of approximate preference, these were the five best movies of 2014:

The Wind Rises Hayao Miyazaki’s swan song concludes his half-century career with a fictionalized biopic of Japanese aerospace engineer Jiro Horikoshi. Miyazaki’s visual flair comes alive through dream sequences, flying sequences, and glorious combinations of the two. The opening scene is an example where the shadowed landscape is quickly bathed in sunlight as the protagonist flies overhead, understanding as we do that his dreams are revealing themselves to him.

Birdman Michael Keaton’s comeback vehicle is refreshing, hilarious and often brilliant. The best ensemble cast of the year includes Edward Norton as a dazzling but volatile method actor, and Amy Ryan hitting all the right notes. Birdman brims with backstage shenanigans that induce knowing grins for anyone who has worked as cast or crew member of any sort. Alejandro G. Iñárritu plays with unfamiliar character archetypes, special effects which carry importance and heft into the narrative they serve, and pulls off the “one unbroken shot” illusion with comedic flair.

Like Father, Like Son The plot is simple enough, but its execution and the movie’s performances are masterful. Two couples are told their six-year-old boys were swapped at birth. Writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda’s camera implies a lot with restrained movements: it prompts viewers to consider the parents’ plights and how they might relate to the viewer’s own life.

The Babadook There hasn’t been a horror movie this good in decades. This one also just happens to be a first feature from an Australian woman. While the numbers for female directors are still appalling – only 17 of the top 250 highest-grossing movies (a paltry 7 per cent) were helmed by women – it does in fact represent a small increase and is part of an upward trend in female-directed films. The Babadook works because it relies on two terrific performances and a compelling story without resorting to a single jump scare. I can’t wait to see what Jennifer Kent turns her camera to next.

Whiplash What a challenge it must have been for Damien Chazelle to have pulled this movie off with such precision. An accomplished musician himself, it is his “music is hard” answer to any great sports drama with a sadistic coach. Some say the best editing is also the least visible, but Whiplash shatters that rule to bits. Despite its running time of under 100 minutes, it easily featured more cuts than any other movie I watched last year. And a lot of those even called attention to themselves, falling right on drumbeats, but every single edit was justified. And boy, was that music – both aural and visual – just sublime.

 

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