Top 30 Films of 2014

I’ve always enjoyed reading top film lists of the year, but I’ve never had a chance to share my own, mainly because not many films I want to see get released in the United Arab Emirates. 

But this year was different, I attended quite a few film festivals this year, Berlinale, CPH PIX, Abu Dhabi Film Festival, IDFA and Dubai International Film Festival, plus I got to see lots of films during my travels this year.

So here's my list. It includes feature films, documentaries, one short film and a few old films that I got to see on the big screen. 

30. The Aftermath of the Inauguration of the Public Toilet at Kilometer 375 - Director: Omar El Zohairy


One of my favourite film titles this year, and despite its length, this is a short film (only one on this list) that is 18 minutes long.

Set in Egypt, it is an adaptation of the short story "Death of a Government Clerk" by Anton Chekhov.

The film is about fear, seeking forgiveness and approval set in a corporate and bureaucratic world. 

I loved the minimal look of the film. 




29. Theeb - Director: Naji Abu Nowar


An impressive first feature film for its director Naji Abu Nowar and for the non-actors featured in it.

About Bedouin pride, hospitality, brotherhood and growing up too quickly. 

A poignant film and strong visual story telling set in the Jordanian desrt in the early 1900s.

I saw this at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival in October and I hope more people will get to see it in 2015.

A film that will be featured in the the list of top Arab films in the years to come. 

28. La Rabbia - Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini (1963)

This was screened at IDFA (International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam) in November.

Told through a series of archival news footage, it's a scathing commentary (La Rabbia is Rage in English) narrated by Pier Paolo Pasolinion capitalism, class struggle, colonialism, decolonisation, war and discontent. 

It's quite an intense film, and very relevant to what is going on today. One worth watching if you ever get a chance. 

27. 20,000 Days on Earth - Directors: Directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard

Parts of this fictionalised documentary was a bit self indulgent, but overall I really enjoyed watching it.

There were some heartfelt moments in it, especially when Nick Cave was talking about his childhood and family.

It's also an insight into his thoughts and creative process.

26. Salt of the Earth - Directors: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and Wim Wenders

A profound documentary about Sebastião Salgado. This wasn't just about the photographer, but about humanity and life.

I've seen Salgado's work in museums and galleries, and some in very large prints, but I never imagined I'd see larger versions on a cinema screen.

Some soul crushing images and words in this documentary.

25. From Caligari to Hitler - Director: Rüdiger Suchsland

A film essay about German cinema during the Weimar Republic (1918 to 1933) by film critic Rüdiger Suchsland.

A period when cinema depicted German society after World War One and right before the era of fascism and terror that followed.

A question that was posed several times in the film, "What does cinema know that we don’t?".

24. Only Lovers Left Alive - Director: Jim Jarmusch

Ultra cool and flamboyant vampire couple Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton), centuries old and hung out with the best of them.

Lamenting on the past and looking down at present day culture. How to carry on coping in this world with humans, referred to in this film as "zombies".  

If I was a vampire, I'd want to hang out with them. 

23. In Order of Disappearance - Director: Hans Petter Moland

This film from Norway was the blackest black comedy I've ever seen.

A twisted film on so many weird levels.

There's revenge, murder and blood, lots of blood - and yet, I was laughing out loud in the cinema. 

22. Frank - Director: Lenny Abrahamson 

A surreal and absurd film about a band with an unpronouncebale name "Soronprfbs" and a lead singer (Michael Fassbender) in a papier-mâché mask. Creativity struggling with depression and mental illness.

Great acting in this, especially Michael Fassbender who just relied on his body and voice.

A film that started funny, then turned dark and sad.

21. Bande de Filles (Girlhood) - Director: Céline Sciamma

About underprivileged teenage girls with attitude.

Karidja Touré is terrific portraying her character's (Marieme/Vic) determination not to be victimized.

Dealing with racism, sexism, lack of a proper education, what choices do these girls have?

The scene with the four girls miming and dancing to Rihanna's Diamonds is one of the most memorable scenes in films I watched this year. It illustrated their dreams, ambitions and wanting something better. Also the music score by Para One is one of my favourite film scores this year. 

20. Two Days, One Night - Directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

A film about empathy, one that makes you ask yourself what would you do if you were in the same situation.

In a year of watching films that were full of despair, this one left me feeling hopeful and that there's still good in this world.

And it goes without saying, Marion Cotillard is outstanding in this.

19. Love is Strange - Director: Ira Sachs

A gentle and affectionate film about love, dealing with hardships in life as an old couple, and becoming a burden on family and friends.

It's also a commentary about the reality of dealing with real estate in New York and the struggles for the financially disadvantaged. 

John Lithgow and Alfred Molina are outstanding as the couple facing these hardships and decisions in Love is Strange. 

18. Paris is Burning - Director: Jennie Livingston (1990) 

Another favourite from IDFA, Paris is Burning is a portrait of New York's drag ball culture in 1980s.

A showcase of resilience against homophobia, poverty and racism.

I love this line from the film,

"Pay your dues and just enjoy it. If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high, hooray for you."

17. Phoenix Tapes - Directors: Matthias Müller and Christoph Girardet (1999)

I saw this at EYE in Amsterdam. Matthias Müller and Christoph Girardet were commissioned in 1999 by the Modern Art Oxford to make this 45 minute film for an exhibition that celebrated the centenary of Hitchcock titled “Notorious: Alfred Hitchcock and Contemporary Art”.

Müller described Phoenix Tapes as: “a surreal, crude patchwork that suggests a narrative, then breaks it”.  

Phoenix Tapes show re-edited excerpts from 40 films by Alfred Hitchcock in six chapters: Rutland, Burden of Proof, Derailed, Why Don't You Love Me?, Bedroom, Necrologue

Watching the repeated patterns found in the Hitchcock's films featured in Phoenix Tapes was mind-blowing.

16. F for Fake - Director: Orson Welles  (1974)

A film described as a “free form documentary” about trickery, fraud and lies.

It questions authenticity in art and in film. This line was said several times by Welles in the film, “It is pretty, but is it art?”.

Great editing, highly entertaining and still relevant after 40 years.

15. Snowpiercer - Director: Bong Joon-ho

Post apocolyptic sci-fi action set in a train that is in constant movement, travelling around the globe after Earth has frozen over.

Even in this train there is a class system where only the rich are in the front section of the plane and the rest are in the tail end. A film about the 99% trying to overtake the 1%.

Based on a 1980s French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, it's a very relevant story. 

An intellignt action film with a great (and international) cast. 

14. Nightcrawler - Director: Dan Gilroy

A commentary of news and journalism, on who decides on what is 'news' and what what viewers are being fed on a daily basis - for ratings versus ethics in journalism.

Jake Gyllenhal's Lou Bloom (or Louis Bloom depending on who was addressing him) is wonderfully creepy in Nightcrawler. It was all in his eyes. 

13. Timbuktu - Director: Abderrahmane Sissako

A pertinent film considering the terrible things happening in the name of religion in Africa and the Middle East.

Beautifully filmed, but it also leaves you feeling heavy sadness.

One scene that took my breath away, the boys playing football without the football. Left me speechless.  

12. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night - Director: Ana Lily Amirpour

The most rock n roll film I saw this year. 

An Iranian vampire noir set in "Bad City",  a stylish looking film with a great soundtrack that includes Iranian and western indie and electro music.

I suspect "The Girl" will be a popular Halloween costume in years to come. 

11. Birdman - Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

What does it mean to be relevant today in the world of entertainment, especially in film and theatre.

What does it take to be a celebrity? Making work for an an audience with mainstream tastes or working hard and earning the right to be liked, admired and respected for your work and craft.

I felt this line summed up the whole film for me, and also my favourte line from the film, "Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige."

10. Nymphomaniac - Director: Lars von Trier

A woman's erotic journey from birth to the age of 50 told in eight chapters split into two parts, Volume 1 (145 minutes) and Volume 2 (180 minutes). A provocative film that delves deep into human nature and desire. Nymphomaniac is filled with philosophical, historical, cultural, psycological observations, and suprisingly, a lot of humour. 

I preferred Volume 1 which I saw in February at the Berlinale. The last few minutes of Volume 2 was frustrating and I wonder if it was just a big F.U. from Lars von Trier to everyone. Volume 1 is funny whereas Volume 2 takes a dark turn. But overall, it's a brave piece of filmmaking, and Volume 1 was one of the funniest films I've seen this year. Uma Thurman's character, Mrs H in chapter three was the best. (I have yet to see the Director's Cut of Nymphomaniac, and can't wait to see it.)

9. The Grand Budapest Hotel - Director: Wes Anderson


One of Wes Anderson’s best and darkest films. 

Ralph Fiennes’ character M Gustave was deliciously cultured, snobby and mean. But deep down there was also kindness. 

This was an absolute joy to watch.

8. Interstellar - Director: Christopher Nolan

Interstellar on IMAX was one screening I didn't intend on missing and I was so glad it came to Dubai.

It was quite an experience to watch, I was in awe most of the time. Yes, it had its schmaltzy bits, but I loved the theme of exploration and the possibilities. Plus the Hans Zimmer score, which was magnificent. 

I know many compared Interstellar to 2001: A Space Odyssey, but oh what lazy comparisons of two very different films. 

Whether you liked the film or not, I strongly recommend you read this great piece of writing about the film by  Aaron Stewart-Ahn, On Interstellar, love, time and the limitless prison of our Cosmos

7. Ida - Director: Pawel Pawlikowski

I was so glad I managed to squeeze this in right before the end of 2014 as it was on my film wishlist for most of the year. What a beautiful and sombre film.

Set in Poland in 1962, Anna was raised as a Catholic by nuns and training to be one herself, she finds out through her aunt and only living relative that she's Jewish. 

Ida has some of the most wonderful framing and cinematography. I thought every frame in the film could easily be turned into a photo and put in a beautifully printed photo book.

After watchng a Q&A with Pawel Pawlikowski, I was amazed to learn that it was first time acting for Agata Trzebuchowska and first 1st time for Lukasz Zal as director of photography.

6. Force Majeure - Director: Ruben Östlund


A favourite from Dubai International Film Festival, a black comedy from Sweden with lots of laughs and awkwardness.

About one selfish act by a man and its consequences on his family, and having to deal with this exposed selfishness. 

This particular scene cracked me up. Don't worry, it's not a spoiler, so I strongly suggest you watch it, even if you’ve not seen the film, watch it.

The man on right is the ‘selfish’ character. It's just brilliant.

5. Wild Tales - Director: Damián Szifrón


Another favourite from the Dubai International Film Festival.

An angry film told with the deep dark humour.

Wild Tales is an anthology featuring characters that have been pushed to their limits. People getting screwed over (by bureaucracy, loved ones and life) and saying a big F.U. to all of it.

My favourite was the 3rd story,” The Strongest”. The use of the love theme music from the Flashdance soundtrack cracked me up. 

4. Leviathan - Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev

An anti-totalitarian film, it addresses political and religious corruption told through the life of one family that’s affected by it with tragic consequences.

A favourite from the Abu Dhabi Film Festival in October.

Quite a powerful film that leaves you feeling angry. Very angry.

There are lots of details and layers in this film, one that needs revisiting and I can’t wait to watch it again.   

3. Boyhood - Director: Richard Linklater

A film that is 166 minutes, shot over 12 years - and for every single actor in the film to deliver consistently over those years is a feat in itself.

It was wonderful watching Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) growing up (in the literal sense) on screen, but also watching the development of the characters growth throughout the film.

I particularly loved the scenes between Mason and his father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke). One of the finest American films I've seen for a while. 

2. Under the Skin - Director: Jonathan Glazer

This was pure cinema delight for me. The opening sequence reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey and I was hooked for the rest of the film.

Mica Levi's music score for the film was so eerie and haunting, the slow revelations in the story line made me gasp. 

There are non-actors in  Under the Skin, who didn’t know when they were being filmed, so some elements of the film felt like a documentary, but make no mistake, this film belongs to the list of best sci fi films.  

1.  Winter Sleep - Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan


The only film where I needed to be myself after watching it (at the Abu Dhabi International Film Festival in October).

Running at 196 minutes long, with a lot of dialogue, I found it thought provoking, poking at the viewer's consciousness, especially where it hurts.

Despite the long and intense dialogue, the pace of the movie worked for me. 

Winter Sleep isn't everybody’s up of tea and I know many who disliked it.

Nevertheless, the film spoke to me, the cinematography was beautiful, and made me feel I was locked in with the characters observing them in their cold and lonely surroundings. 


Honourable mentions: Citizenfour, A Few Cubic Meters of LoveThe Great Museum, The Look of Silence, Love Is All: 100 Years of Love & Courtship,  Magical Girl, MaidanA Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, The Possibilities are EndlessWhiplash

Films I really wanted to see in 2014 but didn't get a chance to: Goodbye to Language, Inherent Vice, Mr Turner, Strangers by the Lake and The Tribe.