Throughout 2014, movie culture, as we used to know it, collapsed. Old Masters Godard, Bertolucci, Resnais and Troell kept the faith yet went ignored. Navel-gazing, cliché-ridden new jacks turned contemporary cinema to lint, the sorriest bunch of sub-mediocre releases of any year this millennium.
For the first time in the ten years since I began making this better-than list, the ratio of good-to-lousy films became depressingly unbalanced. And much of the lousiness was generated by self-styled prestige pictures that were applauded by critics. Even fanboy ignorance of cinema history, replacing enthusiasm for technological gimmicks and sci-fi trash, showed superior taste to garrulous critical culture. Media elites further deranged the culture by praising patriarchal sanctimony over political rigor, American guilt over humane virtues, cliché over innovation.
And for the first time, the masterpiece that tops the list is in contrast to bungled mediocrity with a warning about the grim prospects of cinematic communication.
Goodbye to Language > Boyhood
Jean-Luc Godard’s 3D experiment traces the disarray of Millennial culture to our own technological betrayal, typified in Richard Linklater’s inept indie that pampered racial privilege, hipster solipsism, and culture-wide aesthetic gullibility.
Dormant Beauty > Unbroken
Marco Bellocchio’s small ‘d’ democratic masterpiece used Italy’s Catholic-political responses to euthanasia to probe personal ethics, while Angelina Jolie turned war-on-terror guilt into sadistic, quasi-religious, ahistorical sentimentality.
Four Moons > Birdman
Sergio Tovar Velarde’s heartfelt and ingenious gay epic interweaved four stages of human experience in the style of D, W. Griffith’s 1916 classic Intolerance, while Mexico’s A. G. Inarritu mixed puerile magical realism and showbiz for moral distraction.
Me and You > Ida
Bernardo Bertolucci’s splendid comeback examined a youth’s identity crisis, against Pawel Pawlikowski’s atheistic, pseudo-feminist dismissal of spirituality.
300: Rise of an Empire > Interstellar
Noam Murro and Zach Snyder raised 3D pulp to a level of sensual, visceral astonishment but Christopher Nolan couldn’t get past nerdy, boring imitation-Kubrick space oddity.
Mr. Turner > Big Eyes
Mike Leigh’s emotional realism examines J. M. W. Turner’s historic legend and high art, but Tim Burton equates the idiosyncrasy of 60s Keane paintings with America’s permanent cultural decline. Rich sensitivity vs. weak satire.
Journey to the West > Maleficent
Stephen Chow stays truer to China’s national pop myths than Disney’s craven distortion of the West’s own mythic legacy. Chow can do everything; Angelina Jolie will do anything.
Young & Beautiful > Under the Skin
Francois Ozon’s sexual awakening tale presented Marine Vacth in the female characterization of the year. Jonathan Glazer exploited sexpot Scarlett Johansson for juvenile vagina dentata fantasia.
Rob the Mob > A Most Violent Year
Ray DeFelitta, America’s most socially conscious filmmaker finds humor and heart in real-life New York tragedy. J. C. Chandor turns big city corruption — and ambition — fatuous.
Life of Riley > The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alain Resnais’s exquisite vision of mortality shames Wes Anderson’s overblown, facetious, morally ugly defense of European decadence.
Pride > The Imitation Game
Matthew Warchus looks at British political solidarity through music and sex; preferable to Harvey Weinstein’s sanctimonious sexual politics. A national biography vs. exploitation of Alan Turing.
The Way He Looks > Whiplash
Daniel Ribeiros explores a blind Brazilian teen’s self-realization more credibly than the race-sex-art hysteria of Damien Chazelle’s bratty, pseudo-jazzy psychodrama.
Get On Up, The Last Sentence > Selma
Tate Taylor’s James Brown bio-pic and Jan Troell’s bio-pic about Scandanavian journalist Torgny Karl Segerstedt both avoid the drabness in Ava DuVernay’s racially condescending MLK hagiography.
Korengal > Citizenfour
Sebastian Junger honors the risks of Afghanistan soldiers while Laura Poitras celebrates Edward Snowden’s anti-American paranoia.
American Sniper > Foxcatcher
Clint Eastwood honors the sacrifice of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle while Bennett Miller revels in anti-American pathology and decadence.
The Lego Movie > Snowpiercer
Duo Philip Lord-Chris Miller’s “Everything is Awesome” satire mocks the dystopia that Bong-Joon Ho turns into a humorless, absurdity. A cartoon for adults vs. a political allegory for children.
— Armond White, a film critic, writes about movies for National Review Online and received the American Book Award’s Anti-Censorship prize. He is the author of The Resistance: Ten Years of Pop Culture That Shook the World and the forthcoming What We Don’t Talk about When We Talk about the Movies.