I know. I’m late to the party. Top lists are supposed to go out at the end of each year. It’s April. This list however is not a top 20 of the year. This list is a compilation of films that I feel are incredible, each in their own way. Most of the films on this list are by relative newcomers to film making. Also many of the films on this list were not available on DVD/streaming until the beginning of 2015 and since I don’t live in a super hip metropolitan area, I had to wait to rub my eyeballs on them. So here I bring you, 20 films that you need to see that probably went under your radar in 2014. There’s a little bit of everything here so you’re sure to find something that you’ll love. Extra bonus, many of them are streaming through Hulu, Netflix, and/or Amazon Prime so you won’t even have to get off your duff to watch em. In no particular order, GO!
Dark Valley – Western (Germany)
A Grim story of cold vengeance in the mountains. High production values and great bloody squibs make this one a great slow burn treat.
The Overnighters – Documentary
A documentary about the oil boom in North Dakota and a lone preacher who gives a place to stay to the sudden influx of homeless men looking for work. In doing so he has to take on the church elders, neighbors, and the city council. Tough and honest.
Starry Eyes – Horror
Great horror flick about an actress who is willing to do anything to be a star. Good performances, a great soundtrack, and a creepy vibe are almost spoiled by the cliché conclusion, but it still manages to be one of the best horror films of the year.
The Drop – Thriller/Crime
Written by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island) and from the director of Bullhead, starring Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini. A gripping suspense film that lives up to the pedigree of all parties involved. Knocked my socks off.
Predestination – Sci-Fi (Australia)
Twisty time travel flick from the directors of Undead and Daybreakers starring Ethan Hawke. Saying anymore would be criminal.
The Canal – Horror (U.K.)
Great paranoid U.K. horror film that manages to squeeze a lot out of a seemingly tired trope and a limited budget. I can’t wait to see what the director does next. This could be my favorite horror film of the year.
The Green Prince – Documentary
Documentary about an Israeli intelligence officer who recruits the son of the leader of a Palestinian resistance group. Totally engrossing and very suspenseful. A perfect example of how to make a documentary that can out-suspense the best narrative thrillers.
The One I Love – Sci-Fi/Drama
Fantastic low budget sci-fi flick that takes place in one house with two actors. This is how to write a great sci-fi script that doesn’t need big special effects to work beautifully. This one should be studied by aspiring screenwriters.
Mystery Road – Mystery/Thriller (Australia)
Great slow burn detective story from down under. Agent Smith makes an appearance as a sleazy detective. I loved the sense of place and time in this film.
The Final Member – Documentary
Bonkers documentary about a man that operates a museum dedicated to mammal penises and his search for a human specimen. This one is understandably jaw dropping and squirmy. It’s quirky documentaries like this that keep me searching for more.
Metro Manila – Crime/Thriller (Philippines)
A story of being poor and taken advantage of, as a underprivileged family moves to the big city to avoid starvation. The patriarch gets a job working for an armored car company and gets caught up in a plot to rob the company. Powerful, sobering, and masterfully directed.
As Above So Below – Horror
A flawed found footage film that despite the ridiculous character, delivers on the chills. I left the theater completely spooked and that hasn’t happened since I saw The Descent.
Ernest and Celestine – Animation (France)
This simple and beautiful film about friendship and being an outcast has more heart than any other film I saw this year. It’s straightforward and effective. I absolutely loved it.
Blue Ruin – Crime/Revenge
This could be my favorite film of 2014. It stayed with me far longer than any other film of the year. It’s a fantastic revenge film with a soul and it’s from the director of Murderparty. They slashed the budget to get the most bang for their buck and did so with expert precision. Unique performances abound in this masterful film. I can’t wait to see what they do next.
100 Bloody Acres – Horror (Australia)
Raucous fun and nasty Aussie horror flick that isn’t afraid to heap on the gore. Fast paced and confidently directed/acted. If you’re looking for a rompy horror flick this is it.
Let the Fire Burn – Documentary
Made up entirely of stock footage with no new interviews nor narration, the film documents a building that was allowed to burn because the residents were living as a anarchistic commune and were a blight to the neighborhood. The film doesn’t make saints out of the clearly unstable residents but it does not vilify them either. A master class in editing and what can be accomplished without shooting a single frame. A chilling film that should be seen by doc lovers everywhere.
Narco Cultura – Documentary
Covering the culture around narco gangs in Mexico while also covering the bands that promote the culture by being paid to write songs about the gangsters by the gangsters themselves in the United States, this graphic and frightening doc will make you question the next guy that pulls up next to you at a light listening to banda. It could be about love and loss, it could also be about cutting off snitches heads with a machete. I couldn’t stop thinking about this one for days afterwards.
The Wind Rises – Animation (Japan)
The final feature length film by Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Monoke, Spirited Away, Ponyo, etc.), it certainly feels like a swan song of a film. It manages to tell the story of the engineer that turned the tide for Japan during WWII by designing the nimble Zero fighter plane in a soulful way that allows the audience to ignore the whole axis of evil/Rape of Nanking/Pearl Harbor thing. It won’t be my favorite film from him (that honor goes to Spirited Away) but it is his most moving film. I’ll admit it, I got choked up at the end. It’s a crime it wasn’t nominated for an Oscar.
Afflicted – Horror
Yet another found footage film but one that has a bucketful of neat tricks and a new twist on an old horror favorite. I almost didn’t check this one out, but once it started it gripped me tight and had my full attention throughout. Don’t let the found footage style deter you, it’s a worthwhile horror flick that works.
Rewind This! & Adjust Your Tracking – Documentaries
Rewind This is a fun documentary delves into the history and influence of the VHS tape on our movie watching habits and proclivities, part social doc, part historical, it’s all interesting and has a special place in my VHS loving heart.
A great companion to this, Adjust Your Tracking digs into the world of VHS collecting. The two manage to have very similar subjects but without much overlap.