This is the absolute latest I've ever released an end of the year recap, and there were times when I thought maybe I'd wind up skipping the final list. Of all the outside projects I failed to tackle over the course of this hellish semester, though, this list has been one of the biggest, stupidest bits of lingering stress. So, as we approach the halfway mark for 2015, I bring you my list of 2014's best (not necessarily favorite) films. Though 2014 on the whole felt less inspired than 2013, there were some stellar examples of genre films and a few interesting twists on the prestige picture. Why say too much, though? We're already this late, let's just jump into it...
24. Listen Up Phillip (dir. Alex Ross Perry)
One Sentence Reason: Because it's a study in how to tackle an unlikable character and how to keep him that way without sacrificing our enjoyment of the narrative.
23. The Tale of Princess Kaguya (dir. Isao Takahata)
One Sentence Reason: Because it's a beautiful, hand-drawn gem that proves stripped-down animation can still feel modern.
22. The Babadook (dir. Jennifer Kent)
One Sentence Reason: Because it takes all the heavy psychological turmoil of We Need to Talk About Kevin and filters it into an old school horror flick.
21. Birdman (dir.Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)
One Sentence Reason: Because though some of its big ideas may be tepid and pretentious, it succeeds as a black comedy loaded with memorable performances and beautifully shot moments.
20. The Imitation Game (dir. Morten Tyldum)
One Sentence Reason: Because sometimes when you dramatize reality and cast the right actors you wind up with a compelling character study capable of distilling a certain kind of truth out of its adjusted fictions.
19. Mr. Turner (dir. Mike Leigh)
One Sentence Reason: Because sometimes the study of a visual artist should be as beautifully rendered and carefully considered as the artist's works were.
18. What If (dir. Michael Dowse)
One Sentence Reason: Because a good romantic comedy can be as hard to find as a lasting relationship, and this one has charm, smarts, and a rewatchability factor that gives it staying power.
17. Big Hero 6 (dir. Don Hall and Chris Williams)
One Sentence Reason: Because sometimes it takes an inflatable robot to make audiences feel human.
16. The Trip to Italy (dir. Michael Winterbottom)
One Sentence Reason: Because Brydon and Coogan have a conversational chemistry second to none, and the mid-life crisis has rarely been this delightful.
15. Ida (dir. Pawel Pawilowski)
One Sentence Reason: Because it's still possible to make a film that looks and feels like this, and because its moral complexity is shown instead of told.
14. Nightcrawler (dir. Dan Gilroy)
One Sentence Reason: Because its exploitation is as creepy-sick as it is unexpectedly funny, and that only makes it worse.
13. Selma (dir. Ava DuVernay)
One Sentence Reason: Because DuVernay tears into a historical moment and makes all the right executive decisions.
12. Snowpiercer (dir. Bong Joon Ho)
One Sentence Reason: Because it's like a Terry Gilliam dystopian parable packed with gunpowder and loaded into a canon: weird, cartoonish, explosive.
11. Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer)
One Sentence Reason: Because it feels like the first time watching 2001, and explores appearances and humanity in a way that creeps, irritates, and perplexes.
10. Gone Girl (dir. David Fincher)
One Sentence Reason: Because every inch of it is as cold and immaculate as its protagonist, and the undercurrent of rage and fear is palpable.
9. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (dir. Ana Lily Amirpour)
One Sentence Reason: Because it's a too cool for school take on the vampire like nothing we've seen before, and because it haunts as much as it rocks.
8. Only Lovers Left Alive (dir. Jim Jarmusch)
One Sentence Reason: Because sometimes big philosophical reflections can be unpacked via an exploration of silly, rock and roll vampires.
7. Song of the Sea (dir. Tomm Moore)
One Sentence Reason: Because it's an Irish fairy tale that actually looks and feels like magic.
6. Nyphomaniac, Pt. I & II (dir. Lars Von Trier)
One Sentence Reason: Because sometimes it becomes difficult to tell the difference between provocation and brilliance, or between self-awareness and insanity, and sometimes the argument is half the value.
5. A Most Violent Year (dir. J.C. Chandor)
One Sentence Reason: Because it's a cerebral crime drama with looks to kill.
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel (dir. Wes Anderson)
One Sentence Reason: Because Wes Anderson is one of the only directors who can take a story this epic and fit it into an intricate dollhouse.
3. Whiplash (dir. Damien Chazelle)
One Sentence Reason: Because it builds to a fever pitch from minute one and holds you in its thrall until the credits start rolling, and even then you can't breathe.
2. Inherent Vice (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
One Sentence Reason: Because if you can pick up what it's putting down and get on its level, man, you're in for a rare treat.
1. Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater)
One Sentence Reason: Because it puts everything on the line, takes risks, focuses on the small stuff, and finds something that feels like a powerful, feel-good truth even as its a formidable piece of experimental art.
Runners Up: Enemy, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1, Obvious Child, Wild