Maleficent, Memphis and The Lego Movie: the top ten films of 2014

Josh Larsen

10. Under the Skin

Scarlett Johansson as an alien seductress? Surely this is cheesecake sci-fi. Hardly. Instead, director Jonathan Glazer and the oft-ogled actress offer an eerie parable about body image. Johansson’s lair is the ultimate dead-end for those who judge others on their physical attributes alone, rather than see them in the image of God.

9. The Babadook

A cathartic confessional for beleaguered parents, this Australian horror movie focuses on a single mother (Essie Davis) struggling to raise a difficult young boy (Noah Wiseman) suffering from night terrors. Things take a turn for the worse after they read a terrifying pop-up book. Even as it allows parents to confess that we can’t do it all on our own, The Babadook also has a mommy-power spirit that’s wildly invigorating.

8. Maleficent

First off: yes, you can watch it with the kids. They’ll love it. For adults, though, this retelling of the Sleeping Beauty legend pointedly depicts Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) as the victim of rapacious men. Her evil actions, then, are a response to her own traumatic experience, making Maleficent an instructive portrait of the insidious circularity of sin.

7. Only Lovers Left Alive

A challenge is issued by this Jim Jarmusch drama, about a pair of vampires (Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston) who have spent centuries watching hopeless humanity from the shadows. Quit dithering away the limited time on earth that we have, the movie urges, and instead appreciate the wonder that surrounds us. It’s a call to heed what Abraham Kuyper once described as “the marred beauty of our sinful condition.”

6. Ida

There were a handful of excellent, religious-themed movies this year (and I’m not thinking of Exodus: Gods and Kings or Noah). At the top of the list for me was this beautifully composed, black-and-white story of a novitiate nun in 1960s Poland who must reconcile with her past before making the vow that will decide her future. Pastors preaching on Galatians 3:28, Ida is right here for you.

Pastors preaching on Galatians 3:28, Ida is right here for you.

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel

One of Wes Anderson’s most acclaimed films centers on M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the infamous concierge of the title establishment, a snow-globe perfect hotel nestled in the wintry, fictional, Eastern European nation of Zubrowka, circa 1932. Rich in detail and melancholy longing, The Grand Budapest Hotel revealed for me how nostalgia can be a resurrecting force.

4. The Rover

Bleak stuff. But I’m of the mind that we sometimes need to experience darkness in order to recognize light. Here Guy Pearce plays a mysterious drifter in post-apocalyptic Australia who is in maniacal pursuit of his stolen car. We don’t find out why until the end, when The Rover reveals itself to be a cruel primal scream over domesticity lost.

3. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

With its deceptively simple hand-drawn animation, The Tale of thePrincess Kaguya somewhat echoes the concerns of Only Lovers Left Alive. As it follows a tiny girl found inside a bamboo stalk who is pushed into princesshood by her adoptive parents, the movie encourages us to be attuned to the simple, natural pleasures in life, rather than our misguided (and often ornate) desires.

2. Memphis

A movie you soak up, rather than watch. As a blues musician (Willis Earl Beale) wanders through his home town in anguish over the source and demands of his talent, he picks up notes from bars, street-corner arguments and the local Baptist church. Where does our music come from? Our selves? Our environment? The ultimate Creator? Watching Memphis often feels like watching a man wrestle with God.

1. The Lego Movie

I’ve already made the case for The Lego Movie as a smart commentary on social engineering, one that has implications for our understanding of Christian community. So can I just say here that no other film in 2014 made me laugh as hard? Subversive swipes at contemporary conformity aside, when I think back on the movies of 2014, one of the most enduring images will be of a Lego Abraham Lincoln zooming around in a space chair.

Topics: Movies, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure