Top Ten 2014

1. Leviathan
2. Mr. Turner
3. Winter Sleep
4. Nightcrawler
5. A Most Violent Year
6. Boyhood
7. Force Majeure
8. Wild Tales
9. The Look Of Silence
10. Whiplash


Timothy Spall‘s appearance in the Oscar-nominated Secrets And Lies led to a career as a character actor who popped up in films like Vanilla Sky and the Harry Potter films, padding out his resume and pockets amply (I hope) between sojourns back to England.  Neither stateside or across the pond has he ever become a star, but he did have an all-time career high when Mike Leigh sent him to two years of painting classes ahead of his performance in the sumptuously beautiful Mr. Turner.  Most of the time he doesn’t speak, communicating in grunts and spreading colours on the canvas with his filthy fingernails, but there’s a command of the screen in the tiniest of actions and bullish stare he burns into those around him, perfectly in harmony with the mellow movements of Leigh’s masterful film.

Honour Roll:  Steve Carell, Foxcatcher; Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game;Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year; Aleksey Serebryakov, Leviathan


In taking on the role of Edith Piaf, Marion Cotillard hid herself under tons of makeup and yet let her immense talent shine from within; in the Dardennes brothers’ Two Days, One Night, she is stripped of all protection, wandering from house to house in a bland Belgian town in little makeup and regular clothes and begging her work colleagues to help her get her job back.  The magic of the film is just how riveting it is to watch someone who is so painfully vulnerable from beginning to end, a thing usually too tiring to watch, but with Cotillard’s big eyes and small voice it’s a wonder to behold.  It’s held together by the Dardennes’ uncanny ability to always know the strongest nucleus of even the most naturalistic scene but benefits exponentially from her ability to be so sympathetic without ever pandering to make it happen.

Honour Roll:  Jennifer Aniston, Cake; Nina Hoss, Phoenix; Julianne Moore, Maps To The Stars/Still Alice; Kristen Wiig, The Skeleton Twins


It seems inevitable from the very first second of J.K. Simmons‘ performance in Whiplash that the man is going to rack up awards attention for the performance, and there ain’t a single thing wrong with that.  A sterling supporting player who has been adding his own brand of intelligence and warmth to films like The Cider House Rules and Juno, Simmons finally gets his due in a role that shows off both his unfailing wit and unbridled energy, as the leader of a college orchestra whose brand of intimidation and downright abusive leadership nearly pushes drummer Miles Teller into madness.  At times he resembles the demon from the Walpurgis Night segment of Fantasia and then at others is bewitchingly sweet, duping the audience as much as he does the youngster in the film and giving what is already a bloody good time of a movie a dark centre around which to revolve.

Honour Roll:  Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice; Edward Norton, Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance); Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher; Michael Shannon, 99 Homes


When she first burst onto the screen in what felt like every single movie of 2011, it seemed like Jessica Chastain was the result of a hard-working publicist, the kind of newcomer who you are instructed to love before you have even seen them in anything.  In just a few years and more than a few good projects since then, however, she has not fallen short of proving her value:  she’s an actress who is not the least bit afraid to let someone else have the showy moments in the scene, waiting calmly for them to get it all out before she drops her tense, even-keeled energy in response.  In the superbly efficient dramatic thriller A Most Violent Year, she embodies the wife of a would-be business tycoon with all the style of a gangster moll but with none of the ironic flash.  Oscar Isaac’s woes over his money troubles keep him up at night but she never slept to begin with, calmly waiting with her perpetually burning cigarettes until she can take over and do what needs to be done.

Honour Roll:  Patricia Arquette, Boyhood; Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game; Melissa McCarthy, St. Vincent;  Meryl Streep, Into The Woods


A film that has it all: laughter, drama, chills and thrills, political corruption and domestic conflicts, and even an afternoon shooting rifles that turns Vladimir Putin’s butch PR stunts into an Elmer Fudd cartoon. Andrey Zvyagintsev didn’t need to prove he was a terrific director before Leviathan, but the masterful way that he guides the epic movie, in which all of Russia’s woes are touched upon by the real estate battle between one man and the evil system, is truly a wonder to behold.  It’s the finest film of the year, its brittle humour poised perfectly between satire and horror, and one of the finest works from the nation’s industry since Burnt By The Sun.

Honour Roll:  J.C. Chandor, A Most Violent Year; Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler; Mike Leigh, Mr. Turner; Robin Ostlund, Force Majeure