Forget the Oscars: Here are 2014’s Best Films and Performances

Damien Chazelle's WhiplashShow of hands, how many of you have seen Cavalo Dinheiiro? Maybe you know it is as Horse Money. The Portuguese documentary from director Pedro Costa tied for third in the 2014 Sight & Sound critics poll, making it the highest-ranking documentary on this respected list.

Didn’t catch it? How about Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language, the number two movie on the list? Winter Sleep? The Tribe? Jauja? All top ten movies for 2014. How many have you seen?

In the wake of the righteous contempt that follows every Oscar nomination Thursday, it is always amusing to recognize just how silly trying to rank the diverse universe of movies from any given year truly is. The first truth to accept about any list – top ten or otherwise – is that precious few of us have seen everything out there. But that doesn’t stop us when our artistic passions rev high. As Jane Fonda famously proclaimed back in 1979, her Viet Nam movie Coming Home was better than the Oscar winner The Deer Hunter, even though she hadn’t yet seen The Deer Hunter.

Or take it from another source. Bill Murray, predicting the Oscars on SNL’s Weekend Update in 1978, offered the following analysis: “Julia … didn’t see it. Sorry. Turning Point? I didn’t see it. Star Wars? I saw it on the small screen in Canada, so I really don’t know what it was like. Annie Hall? I did not see it. The Goodbye Girl? I saw it. So, on the basis of what I’ve seen, I would have to say The Goodbye Girl is gonna be this year’s winner.”

Murray was, and remains, a smart guy.

So, right up front, I admit to you that I have seen a lot, but by no means all, of the worthy movies released in 2014. Here is my list of the bests in standard award-speak:

BEST MOVIE (non documentary)

Worthy contenders: Gone Girl, The Rover, Nightcrawler, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Birdman, We Are the Best!, Two Days One Night, Selma, The Imitation Game, Snowpiercer, Blue Ruin, Calvary, and the best movie of the year…


Notes: No Boyhood for me. Good movie. Wonderful experiment. Started to get a little dull toward the end. No Grand Budapest either, though I certainly liked it.

BEST MOVIE (documentary)

Worthy contenders: With the exception of Citizen Koch, which I don’t think ever quite figured out what story it was actually trying to tell, I think all of the shortlisted Oscar contenders were worthy, as was Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me. Google the list if you must. But the best I saw this year was…



Worthy contenders: Elisabeth Moss (The One I Love), Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Shailene Woodley (The Fault in Our Stars), Gina Piersanti (It Felt Like Love), Essie Davis (The Babadook), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin), Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night) and the best performance I saw this year by an actress…

Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)


Notes: This is a dead heat between Pike and Cotillard, but I give the nod to Pike because I think she had a tougher role to play. I would have Patricia Arquette in here for Boyhood since I consider hers to be a lead role, but I’ll bow to the Academy on such decisions. Finally, seven of my nine selections are from films that I did not rank on my Best Movies list, which says something about the way interesting roles for women are often relegated to lesser movies.


Worthy contenders: Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Tom Hardy (Locke and The Drop), Earl Lynn Nelson (Land Ho!), Philip Seymour Hoffman (A Most Wanted Man), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Macon Blair (Blue Ruin), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), David Oyelowo (Selma), Brendan Gleeson (Calvary), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), and my choice for the best…

Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)

Notes: Another virtual dead heat between Gyllenhaal and Cumberbatch. Maybe I’m just being a jingoistic American. As if such a thing were possible.


Worthy contenders: Stacy Martin (Nymphomaniac: Vol. I), Marion Bailey (Mr. Turner), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Meryl Streep (Into the Woods), Mira Grosin (We Are the Best!), Lorraine Toussaint (Selma), Emily Blunt (Into the Woods), Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year), Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer and The Grand Budapest Hotel), and the winner is…

Agata Kulesza (Ida)

Notes: I know Meryl is getting some backlash for getting nominated so often. Screw that. She’s that good.


Worthy contenders: Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice), Astro (A Walk Among the Tombstones), Tom Felton (In Secret), Cedric the Entertainer (Top Five), Takamasa Ishihara (Unbroken), Roly Mintuma (Tracks), Chris O’Dowd (Calvary and St. Vincent), Mandy Patinkin (Wish I Was Here), Matthias Schoenaerts (The Drop), Robert Pattinson (The Rover), Edward Norton (Birdman), and the best I saw was …

K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Simmons really has a lead actor role, almost identical in terms of screen time and dramatic function as Denzel Washington’s Best Actor role in Training Day. But for some reason, this is deemed “supporting.” Had he been in the lead actor category, I still would have given him the nod.


A Girl Walks Home Alone at NightFOREIGN LANGUAGE: a tie between A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (which is technically an American movie, but filmed in Persian), and We Are the Best! from Sweden.

MICRO BUDGET: We Are the Best!

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: John Michael McDonagh (Calvary)

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) (Whiplash should be considered an original screenplay, but I don’t make the rules.)

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Ted Pope (Mr. Turner) (please – no more Ted Poop jokes – this is the best cinematography this decade.)

DIRECTOR: Joon-ho Bong (Snowpiercer) (I wasn’t going to choose one, since I think directors get too much credit as it is. But that’s a pretty petulant POV, and I’m the least petulant person in the room right now.)

Since The Lego Movie and The Boxtrolls were the only two animated features I saw this year, I will refrain from pulling a Bill Murray and picking one. And since I know nothing about sound effects editing or hair design, I’ll leave those alone. Besides, I have to go track down a print of The Duke of Burgundy (number 15 in the Sight & Sound rankings) and potentially reconstruct my entire list.

Jonathan Eig has taught Screenwriting and Film History at Montgomery College (MD) for the past ten years. In that capacity, he has hosted the popular Montgomery College Film Series at the American Film Institute in Silver Spring, MD. He has been a regular contributor on Huffington Post and his writing about film can be found at

18 thoughts on “Forget the Oscars: Here are 2014’s Best Films and Performances

  1. Great recommendations for movies. I’ve been wanting to see Gone Girl, and Whiplash is intriguing me after reaching your comments.

    Thanks for visiting my blog and for sharing yours with me!

  2. Pingback: Forget the Oscars: Here are 2014’s Best Films and Performances – CURNBLOG | Eclectic Pursuits

  3. Oscar season truly is exhausting and exhilirating in equal measure. And this year’s overtly masculine list of nominees in the big categories is disheartening. But great movies have been made by these men and this can’t be overlooked either. Oh, well. This was an awesome list and I know I have some catching up to do! Thanks for a great read!

    • Thanks Annelie. I crunched some numbers once about how likely it was for a Best Picture to also have the Best Actor versus Best Pictures that had Best Actresses. It wasn’t a very nuanced analysis, but basically, a Best Picture is twice as likely to have a Best Actor winner than a Best Actress winner, at least dating back 25 years or so. There are cycles, but American movies remain predominantly male-oriented. My favorites movies this year tended to be about men, but it would be nice to have some variety. My favorite movies of 2014 that focused on women were almost all non-American, starting with Two Days, One Night and We Are the Best!

  4. I think there should be a special award every year, just for Meryl Streep alone. No competition. She really is that good. No matter what role she plays.
    Whiplash was tremendous! There were moments in the movie where I couldn’t breathe.
    I am so going to follow your blog. 🙂

    • Thanks. I think Whiplash has a somewhat small, but very loyal, following. For me, it was far and away the best thing I saw in 2014.

    • It’s very exciting when career character actors get that one perfect role. Robert Forster in Jackie Brown or Chris Cooper in Adaptation come to mind. I don’t know if Simmons will go back to playing likeable goofy guys after this, but he really tore up the screen.

  5. My oldest, 23, got us to watch Snowpiercer over Christmas break. It was one weird movie! It started out fine, but imho, when it got to the classroom, the prego teacher, and that ending(which reminded me of a coca cola commercial and left so many questions…) I could just shake my head. But the 23 year old loved it. I’m going to let him know today that it made your top 10. 🙂

    • Thanks Jenni. I haven’t been 23 for a long time, but maybe my tastes do run a little younger than my age. I didn’t mind the classroom sequence. The only thing that went too far for me was the cyborg-like bad guy, which felt like it came from a derivative Terminator type of movie. But I thought pretty much everything else was so fresh and original that I overlook that one hiccup.

  6. That’s the trouble with lists Jon…You know how I feel about them, don’t you?
    Your selections were all worthy ones though. It will be interesting to see how they match up on the night.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • I did have you in mind as I went about list-making, Pete. Simmons is the only one of my choices likely to win an Oscar. Maybe Damien Chazelle for adapted screenplay, but Whiplash doesn’t have a prayer for picture. Pike & Pope (a good name for a firm of any type) have a shot. I don’t think any of my other choices were nominated so barring a strong write-in vote, there’s not much chance there. I do love all the prognosticators (myself included) who are picking favorites. It will all change in a \bout three weeks, after votes are actually cast. At this time a few years ago, Lincoln was a shoo-in Best Picture. By the time the Awards rolled around, it was mostly an afterthought. Everyone knew Day Lewis would win, and that the movie would not.

    • Good topic for a blog — clapping at movies, yea or nay? I didn’t clap but I did have a very similar reaction at the end of Whiplash.

      • I felt like I was at a concert and a spontaneous clap seemed so appropriate. A few other audience members took my lead too. (I also clapped at the end of Chicago all those years go, but then I’m a musical theatre tragic …)

    • I thought Ida was a great premise and a beautiful movie. Obviously I was very moved by Kulesza. Overall, I think the pace was a little bit too slow for me, which is why it wasn’t one of my favorites. But I certainly consider it to be far more worthwhile than most of what came out in 2014.

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