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Black Sheep’s Top 10 Films of 2014! (feature)

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(Click any highlighted film title to read the original Black Sheep review.)

Where does the time go? 2015 will mark Black Sheep Reviews’ 10th anniversary. With every year, there are both lessons learned and new heights reached. There are also dozens and dozens of new movies to sift through, which sounds like a lot of fun, but can actually be quite daunting at times. Of the 100+ films I’ve seen this year, only 10 can make this list though (well, eleven if you know how to be creative, but I digress.)

Like every year, I try to put together a list that I feel best defines my personal year at the movies by choosing titles that have either stayed with me since I saw them or that changed the way I think about both film and the world around me. This year is no different. All of these films spoke to me in ways that inspired me and made me think about who I am in relation to them.

Before I get to them though, I need to thank a few people for another incredible year at Black Sheep Reviews. First and foremost, my gratitude goes out to Matt Hoffman and Nick Watson for their tireless commitment to film and for being brave enough to share a part of themselves in every review they’ve written for BSR. Secondly, BSR could not keep up with the Jones’s if it weren’t for the continued support of all the public relations people and film companies we work with on a regular basis. And finally, my thanks, as always, goes out to all of BSR’s readers, both loyal and new. If it weren’t for you, we would be nothing but a tree falling in a forest somewhere for no one to hear.

One more thing; don’t forget to tell us your favourite movies by voting for the Black Sheep Readers Choice Award! You can do that by clicking here.

With that, I wish you all the happiest of new years and bring you, in alphabetical order, Black Sheep Reviews’s Top 10 Films of 2014!

BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE), directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.


I readily admit that I had very little faith in this project when I first read about it. Iñárritu had made a reputation for himself for making incredibly bleak films about the human condition, so how could he possibly imagine he could make a witty, satirical backstager, with Michael Keaton in the lead no less? He did it though, and then some. BIRDMAN is sheer brilliance from start to finish, mesmerizing in everyday, from the meticulousness of the camera work to the brazenness of the score to the ideas of celebrity and fame and art that are explored throughout. And that cast! Led by Keaton, in a role he was literally born to play, everyone brings their best, which was a bare minimum requirement for this film to succeed. I will never doubt Iñárritu ever again.

BOYHOOD, directed by Richard Linklater.


You may have seen this film on a few “best of” lists already this year. Maybe you’re even sick of hearing about it. The reason so many people are calling it one of the best pictures of the year though is because it truly is. It is unlike anything else you will see this year and the mere fact that this film exists is a minor miracle unto itself. Shot intermittently over a period of 12 years, BOYHOOD is Richard Linklater’s best film. I wonder how he will ever top it actually. To watch the lead actor, Ellar Coltrane, literally mature before your eyes, and to see it happen so naturally, is bewildering to say the least. I had the privilege of meeting Coltrane this year. It was so surreal; I could not stop staring at him the whole time. I felt like I knew him and for most of his life; I felt like I watched him mature and now there he was, all grown up and sitting in front of me. There will never be another movie like BOYHOOD and for that alone, it deserves every bit of praise it has gotten. (Check out my interview with Linklater here. And my interview with Coltrane here.)

ENEMYdirected by Denis Villeneuve.


Canadian director, Denis Villeneuve, finished shooting ENEMY just days before he began work on PRISONERS. He handed over everything to his editor (Matthew Hannam) and they corresponded back and forth trying to find the film’s form for months. The end result is certainly a head scratcher but scratching this particular itch only gets more satisfying every time you do so. Jake Gyllenhaal plays, well, I’m not exactly sure what he’s playing, but there are two of him, which, in my book, is never a bad thing. Is he a tired professor or a failed actor? Is he with Melanie Laurent or Sarah Gadon? Is he sane or, well, not? ENEMY constantly forces its audience to ask questions about what they’re witnessing and it does so in such a fascinating and utterly beautiful fashion. If all headfucks were like this one, people probably wouldn’t mind having them so much, minus the giant spiders, of course. (Check out my interview with Villeneuve here.)

THE FAULT IN OUR STARSdirected by Josh Boone.


I have to say that I am so thrilled that the legions of teenage girls who were desperate for this film to come out were sure to see it opening day. I caught it on the second day, so the theatre was reasonably empty, which allowed me to cry both profusely and peacefully throughout this fantastic little film. On the surface, I can understand why some people might want to stay away; it comes off as too sad, too weepy, too adolescent. It is so much more than that though. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is a beautiful reminder that love can happen when you least expect it and in the cynical world we live in now, this is incredibly refreshing. That this was able to be conveyed through a work aimed at teenagers, notorious non-believers, in a fashion that I found to be incredibly genuine and mature, makes its success even more commendable. Its true beauty, outside of the always winning, Shailene Woodley, and the absolutely adorable, Ansel Elgort, is that for all its sadness, it steers clear of the saccharine. Yes, you will cry, but it will be worth every tear.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTELdirected by Wes Anderson.


Admittedly, Wes Anderson, does not really stretch himself in his latest, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. That said, this film takes all of his signature moves to new levels of perfection, so why fix it if it ain’t broke? Anchored by a vibrant and hilarious Ralph Fiennes, this romp is just infectious. I’ve heard many people say that it is a rather slight work, but every time I watch it, I am introduced to new layers of this absurdist story.  I am also constantly wowed by the cinematography, which is expectedly colourful but it is also deeply sumptuous and finely composed. Ultimately, Anderson is telling us a story about story telling, the art of which is inherently exaggerated, exciting and evocative. In that sense, Anderson is the perfect person to celebrate all of these qualities, and in doing so, he sheds all pretension and tells his story with a boisterous delight that always makes me smile.

MOMMY / TOM AT THE FARMdirected by Xavier Dolan.


It is no secret that I am a huge Xavier Dolan fan, but when he makes films as fantastic as these two, how could I not be? Both TOM AT THE FARM and the more widely known, MOMMY, found their way to Canadian screens this year and they are drastically different films, which only further highlights Dolan’s talents and dexterity. TOM AT THE FARM is a brilliant psychological thriller that evokes Hitchcock at every turn while quietly commenting on the complexities of the gay experience. Meanwhile, MOMMY, finds Dolan going back to his roots to explore another incredibly difficult mother/son relationship (as he did in his debut feature, I KILLED MY MOTHER). Dolan is always growing as a filmmaker and it is an absolute pleasure to watch his progression. I await his next project with as much patience as I can muster. (Click here to read my interview with Dolan regarding TOM AT THE FARM. Click here to read my colleague, Matt’s Dolan interview regarding MOMMY.)

NIGHTCRAWLERdirected by Dan Gilroy.


Jake Gyllenhaal sure knows how to pick them. This debut feature from Dan Gilroy is both disturbing and fascinating. Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a petty thief with zero prospects but a lot of gusto. He is willing to do anything really but unfortunately can’t do much of anything at all. That is, until he finds his true calling, which is as a freelance photo journalist working the L.A. crime scene at night. To be truly amazing at this job, a person should have no scruples and know no boundaries, and Lou Bloom is the best at it. Gyllenhaal, looking gaunt and desperate, is devilishly deviant here. A nearly imperceptible crinkle of his lip can tell you so much about how much the violence he is capturing excites him. The violence is just the first step though. What really gets Lou going is the recognition and attention he knows he’s going to get for getting the most gruesome footage he can. NIGHTCRAWLER is both slick and sick; it will crawl right under your skin and stay there.

UNDER THE SKINdirected by Jonathan Glazer.


Speaking of getting under your skin, no film transfixed me to the screen this year like Jonathan Glazer’s UNDER THE SKIN. Scarlett Johansson, who is better here than she has been since LOST IN TRANSLATION, if not ever, plays an alien scouring Earth for unsuspecting men whose bodies she can harvest for some other worldly purpose. So little is explained when watching this film but it is so fascinating that you just want to follow her to better understand what her mission truly is. Glazer creates a wholly unexpected intimacy between the audience and Johansson’s character. She is far from what we can know and understand but yet, as we find ourselves constantly placed in her personal perspective, it is easy to feel as if we too are on this mission alongside her. He makes us implicit in her actions, which range from compassionate to devastatingly cold. At times you may even find yourself asking if you too would fall for Johansson’s wily wares.

WHIPLASHdirected by Damien Chazelle.


I have a bit of soft spot for novice filmmaker, Damien Chazelle’s second feature, WHIPLASH. I met Chazelle in New York City in a tiny, sweaty apartment to interview him about his first feature, GUY AND MADELINE ON A PARK BENCH, a few years back. To see how far he has come with his latest is inspiring. To see that his success is based solely on the merit of this picture, and not because he was absorbed by the Hollywood machine, is even more exciting. Miles Teller faces off against J.K. Simmons in this electrifying film. Teller is an aspiring musician who feels he is destined for greatness. He falls under the tutelage of Simmons, whose philosophy is that “good job” are the two worst words in the English language, and it isn’t too long before he starts believing that he will never truly achieve greatness unless he gives his entire life to his art. WHIPLASH not only explores the nuances of their abusive relationship but also ponders whether you genuinely need to suffer in order for art to actually be great.

WILD, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée.


Canadian director, Jean-Marc Vallée, is on quite a roll. After giving us last year’s DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, which led to an Oscar win for both stars, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, he could basically do anything he wanted. He chose to make WILD, and once again, his stars, Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, both find themselves at the centre of awards season chatter. I personally found DALLAS BUYERS CLUB to be a strong film but reasonably traditional. WILD is nothing like that. Based on the Cheryl Strayed biography of the same name, WILD chronicles Strayed’s journey along the Pacific Coast Trail, as she walks away from her past in hopes of finding a future. Witherspoon hasn’t been this good since WALK THE LINE (or ELECTION, even) and Vallée keeps her trek consistently engaging. At no point do we tire of her journey. Instead, we find ourselves alongside her in solidarity … and in spirit, as I would never actually walk that trail myself. (Click here to read my interview with Vallée.)

Honourable mentions …






Once again, Happy New Year, folks! Thanks for reading and here’s to seeing you again in 2015!

(Click here to read all of Joseph’s Black Sheep reviews.)

And don’t miss our other critics’ Top 10 lists!

Matt Hoffman

Nick Watson

Which of BSR's 2014 Top 10 Films Is Your Favourite?

  • Birdman (22%, 5 Votes)
  • Boyhood (17%, 4 Votes)
  • Wild (17%, 4 Votes)
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel (13%, 3 Votes)
  • Mommy (9%, 2 Votes)
  • Nightcrawler (9%, 2 Votes)
  • Under the Skin (9%, 2 Votes)
  • The Fault in our Stars (4%, 1 Votes)
  • Enemy (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Whiplash (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 16

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  1. I still have a few of those to catch up with (damn UK release dates). But we have 2 films both in our top 10 lists!

    • Thanks for reading! Which two films overlap?

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