Films of 2014

I almost stopped doing these annual film reviews, as I don’t have time to see as many films as before, and I missed the films I most wanted to see (Winter Sleep, Boyhood, etc.)  In addition, each year I see more and more old films and fewer new ones, so I’m not sure why anyone would be interested in the list.  But for what it’s worth (on a scale from zero to 4.0, all are rated above 2.0 because I don’t choose to go to bad films.):

Die Nibelungen I and II (German””is there a more German film?) 3.9 A great 5 hour silent film by Fritz Lang from 1924. Deserves as much fame as Metropolis. Saw it at the Harvard film archive in 35 mm with 5 hours of superb live piano music””the only sound you need. It clearly influenced Leni Riefenstahl and Eisenstein (esp. Ivan the Terrible). Film event of the year. 

The Mirror (Russian) 3.9 A 1975 masterpiece by Tarkovsky. Some amazing dream sequences.

The Puppetmaster (Taiwan, 1993) 3.9 Somehow I missed this Hou Hsiao-Hsien film the first time around. One of his best. More than almost any other director, he gives you a real sense of the passing of time.

Springtime in a Small Town. (China, 2002) 3.8 How did I miss this perfect little film back in 2002? The cinematographer for Hou Hsiao-Hsien, combined with the director Tian Zhuangzhuang. Perhaps my all-time favorite Chinese film.

The Life of Oharu. (Japan, 1952) 3.8 Considered one of Mizoguchi’s three masterpieces (along with Ugetsu and Sansho the Bailiff) and the director’s personal favorite. There are few male directors who are as adept at portraying women. I also saw a number of other films in the Harvard series (Sisters of Gion (1936), Oyuki the Virgin (1935), A Geisha (1953), Poppy (1935) and Utamaro and His Five Women (1946).) The Utamaro film was a bit disappointing. Oyuki the Virgin was a hidden gem. Not even subtitled, Harvard had to add their own subtitles to Oyuki, and project them on the bottom of the film as it ran. Dozens of Mizoguchi’s films are lost forever.

Sorcerer (US, 1977) 3.8 A beautifully restored print at the HFA, for one of the underrated masterpieces of the 1970s. The director William Friedkin spoke for an hour afterwards, with lots of great stories. He said this was the one film he wanted to be remembered for, not the French Connection, To Live and Die in LA, the Exorcist, etc. Apocalypse Now was probably influenced by this film, as were some of the Tarantino films.

Dust in the Wind (Taiwan, 1986) 3.8 Another Hou Hsaio Hsien classic. The change in his style between 1982 and 1986 is mindboggling. One of his first mature films.

Only Lovers Left Alive 3.6 (US) Artists are portrayed as vampires in Jim Jarmusch’s new film. Interestingly, Jarmusch seems to think their behavior is justified. Or maybe the surprise is that he’s willing to admit what everyone in the arts community secretly believes””conventional morality doesn’t apply to them. (Maybe it doesn’t.)  Quite stylish.

Under the Skin (British) 3.6 Another variation of the theme in “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” Very visual, mysterious, and pretty engrossing. My only reservation is that it seemed derivative in several places. Too many reminders of other directors (and even painters like Francis Bacon.) Even so, highly recommended as a big screen film. A few very memorable scenes that did seem quite original. By the director of “Sexy Beast,” and only his second film since that classic.

Last Year at Marienbad (French) 3.5 One of the gradually diminishing number of classic films that I had never seen. Classics aren’t so much about quality, as getting there first. When they are executed brilliantly then we are in luck (Citizen Kane, Psycho, 2001, etc.) More often they are more like this film, full of flaws but still sort of unforgettable.

Lunchbox (India) 3.5 Very nicely made film. The main actor was almost perfect in the role. Indeed everything was very tasteful, not over spiced like most (American) Indian food.

Tim’s Vermeer (US) 3.5 I was worried that this might be an attempt to “debunk” Vermeer, by showing he used a camera obscura. But in the end the narrator argued (persuasively) exactly the opposite, that it made his achievements even more amazing. Interestingly, they mentioned that art experts were often resistant to the “camera” explanation, out of fear that it would make Vermeer seem less impressive—an odd perspective from a community that seems to regard Andy Warhol the greatest artist of the 1960s. Even with the mechanical aid, it took Tim more than 6 months to paint a single small Vermeer. And does this explain Vermeer’s outdoor scenes (View of Delft, The Little House?) Can it really explain the magic of The Girl with the Pearl Earring or The Artist’s Studio? I’m skeptical. It’s also odd that he chose a Vermeer not available to the public, as it would be great to see a museum mount Tim’s version right next to the original.

The Five Obstructions (Denmark) 3.5 A very amusing and interesting examination of the role that obstructions play in the creation of art. Lars Van Trier is smarter than I’d thought.

Expedition to the Ends of the Earth (Danish) 3.4 A beautiful and humorous documentary about a group of Danish scientists, artists and philosophers that traveled to northeast Greenland. Strictly for those with an interest in Greenland, and/or Denmark.

Snowpiercer (Korea/Western) 3.4 Since Kubrick isn’t alive, we’ll have to settle for second rate versions of his films. Still much better than most action films out there. Some very fine supporting performances, which completely dominated the lead actor.

Jodoworsky’s Dune (US) 3.4 The people interviewed are much more enthusiastic about the project (an unfilmed “Dune”) than I am, but their enthusiasm is infectious.

The Wind Rises (Japan) 3.4 The final film by Japan’s master of animation. A bit disappointing, but still full of wonderful scenes. The scene of the Westerner eating a plate of (cold lettuce leaves) salad would have been hilarious in Japan, but the crowded Cambridge theatre didn’t even react.

The Blue Gardenia (US) 3.3 Enjoyable Fritz Lang film from 1953.

Like Father, Like Son (Japan) 3.3 Another insightful family drama from Koreeda, but well short of “Nobody Knows.” I prefer the subtlety of Japanese films to Hollywood films.

While the City Sleeps (US) 3.3 Enjoyable Fritz Lang film from 1956.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (US) 3.3 Enjoyable Fritz Lang film from 1956.

Nymphomaniac (Danish) 3.3 A lesser film by Lars van Trier, but still fairly engrossing. I never saw part two. It probably should not have been cut in two””I believe he was forced to do this.

Los Angeles Plays Itself (U.S.) 3.2 A three hour documentary on the way Hollywood portrays Hollywood (actually all of LA.) Very watchable, but the narrator isn’t as smart as he thinks he is.

The Tiger from Eschnapur (German) 3.2 An enjoyable late Fritz Lang attempt to make India look “exotic.” I only saw the first film of what was a two part story.

White Meadows (Iran) 3.1 Lots of political symbolism. Disappointing to see more and more “films” turned into digital. Like going to a movie theatre to watch TV.

Hiroshima, Mon Amour (French) 3.0 Another classic I had never seen. I found it a bit disappointing, although perhaps in 1959 it seemed innovative. I got a feeling of nostalgia watching the film, as it had the look of my earliest memories (even though it was in Japan.) Antique modern.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (US) 3.0 Fritz Lang film from 1956 with an interesting plot.

Update:  I mentioned that twice, with a different score?  I really am getting senile.

Gone Girl (US) 3.0 David Fincher is certainly talented, but this seems more bland and conventional than his other films.

The Golden Era (China) 3.0 Like many Chinese films this is rather uneven. Some stunning film work, wonderful acting and dialogue, mixed in with some pedestrian direction and dialogue. Half art film, half Chinese equivalent of Hollywood “Oscar bait” film.

The 100 Foot Journey (French/Danish) 3.0 Almost a parody of a tasteful art film. Not sure how they could have gone so overboard in the sugar, when the film is about fine cuisine. A couple too many scenes with fireworks in the background, but it’s also a film that’s easy to enjoy if you ignore the clichés.

Intersteller (US) 3.0 Chris Nolan’s a good enough director that his movies are quite watchable, even when a bloated monstrosity like this effort. While watching the film I wondered what Kubrick (or Tarkovsky) would have done with these special effects–I couldn’t help thinking what Kubrick did do with a much more limited budget. Large parts of the film are ripped off from 2001.

Gravity (US) 3.0 People praised the special effects, and I see why, but the film actually felt rather unrealistic.  Space is really big and there just isn’t that much debris floating around. (There is a lot in total, but not in any given cubic kilometer.)   At times it seemed like there was wind or gravity pulling on bodies that should have been weightless, including the key moment where Clooney “let go.” Very distracting. Given the director, I was disappointed that it was such a standard Hollywood production. I also strongly dislike 3-D.

Lovable You (1980, Taiwan) 3.0 A slight but charming romcom. Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s first film. Taiwan looked really American in 1980″”totally different from China.

Green, Green Grass of Home. (1982, Taiwan) 3.0 Another very early Hou Hsiao-Hsien film.

Manakamana. (Nepal) 2.8 A highly regarded documentary, but only for people who (unlike me) are really interested in other people. The people visiting the temple kept talking about the beautiful scenery, but the cinematography was drab. The main point of interest is that it gives you time to think about all sorts of things, such as the way that every corner of the world has changed radically in the past few decades.

Inherent Vice  (US)  2.8  Brought back memories of 1970, which was nice.  Otherwise kind of boring.

I got a box set of Twin Peaks for Christmas, and I’m about halfway through the series. It’s even better than I remember, with the opening episode easily the best TV show I’ve ever seen, and one of the 20 best films I’ve ever seen.  Even better than Blue Velvet. Of course the shorter episodes are not as strong, but overall I’m blown away by this series, which is just stunningly good.  Too bad Hitchcock didn’t live to see this, he would have anointed David Lynch as his heir.

As far as books, here are a few that I recall reading:

1.  Boyhood Island:  Easily my favorite, although not as “impressive” as the first two in the series.  But I was blown away by Knausgaard’s memory.  Sometimes I wonder if he is making this stuff up, but again and again he reminded me of things that happened when I was young that I haven’t thought about for decades.  So regardless of its literary quality, or whether it’s true or not, I’m thankful for the nostalgia.

2.  A Deepness in the Sky:  I definitely would not have read this if it hadn’t been recommended by the GMU book club.  I liked it quite a bit, even though it’s not the type of book I generally like.  Which means most of the readers of this blog might like it much more than I did.  I usually don’t care for sci-fi, and I don’t generally care for novels with lots of characters (as this had.)  I’m somewhat of a misanthrope, who likes books about loners and dreamers, or books with lots of philosophy, or books with lots of description of nature. Ditto for films–I struggle with films with large casts, even great films like Nashville. Everyone had blind spots, and those are mine.

And yet I’m a social scientist.  Vernor Vinge has a much better understanding of social science than most authors, which is one reason I think lots of you might like this book. I would put this up with Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and the Golden Compass Trilogy in the “creates a fairly convincing alternative reality” branch of literature.

3.  I enjoyed Murakami’s new novel, but only because I love his way of looking at the world.  It’s not in the class of 1Q84, or some of his earlier novels.

4.  The Book of Strange New Things, Another sci-fi book recommended by Tyler Cowen.  A very fine novel, but I probably won’t read any more by this author.

5.  Titan Unveiled, a good book discussing our solar system’s most interesting moon, and the creativity of the people that put together space probes.

6.  1177 BC, The Year Civilization Collapsed.  Except it didn’t–don’t waste your money.



28 Responses to “Films of 2014”

  1. Gravatar of LLDOB LLDOB
    25. January 2015 at 11:05

    Just dropping this here. A lot of very good recommendations on this list.

  2. Gravatar of Peter K. Peter K.
    25. January 2015 at 11:21

    Dean Baker responds to “The Keynesian Shell Game”:

    The offending quote is “At the end of the year, we face a congressionally-created “fiscal cliff,” with automatic “sequestration” spending cuts everyone agrees should be stopped to prevent a double-dip recession.”

    But there was no fiscal cliff. Instead of going after Krugman, Baker, etc. you could have gone after the more authoritative Congressional Budget Office:

    “The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had estimated that the fiscal cliff would have likely led to a mild recession with higher unemployment in 2013, followed by strengthening in the labor market with increased economic growth.[1]”


    Staff (November 8, 2012). “Economic Effects of Policies Contributing to Fiscal Tightening in 2013”. Congressional Budget Office. Retrieved February 25, 2013.

  3. Gravatar of Lars Christensen Lars Christensen
    25. January 2015 at 12:04


    Of course you have a Lars von Trier movie on the list…

    Take a look at this one:

    You might recognize one of Dr. Bondo’s young medical students…he later became an economist and market monetarist blogger…

  4. Gravatar of Jorge Larangeira Jorge Larangeira
    25. January 2015 at 12:26

    “Even better than Blue Velvet.”

    I’m sure you’ve seen Mulholland Drive which, in my opinion, is also better than Blue Velvet. And Kubrick, well, has any other director — before or since — ever matched his sheer aesthetic virtuosity?

  5. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    25. January 2015 at 13:01

    LLDOB, So many great films that I haven’t even seen!

    Peter, I don’t get that. Are they saying there wasn’t a lot of austerity in 2013? The budget deficit plunged by $500 billion in calendar 2013! Higher payroll taxes, higher income taxes, the sequester, . . .

    Lars, You are the coolest MM. The Kingdom is one of my two all time favorite black comedies. I can’t believe you were once in the same room as Lars Von Trier.

    Jorge, I’ve seen BV twice and Mulholland Drive only once. Both great. Which is better? Usually the one I saw more recently.

    I love Kubrick. Not sure who my favorite director is, probably someone from this list:

    Keaton, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Tarkovsky, Lynch, Wong Kar Wai . . . actually the list is endless.

  6. Gravatar of Richard A. Richard A.
    25. January 2015 at 15:52

    Early last year, a 2CD set of Godzilla was released that includes both the English version with Raymond Burr and the Japanese version that includes English subtitles. The Japanese version contains scenes that were edited out in the English version. This first version of Godzilla is a serious movie with something to say, not to be confused with the sequels that followed. The music was written by Japanese composer Akira Ifukube. You can listen to some of his music on YouTube.

  7. Gravatar of Josh Josh
    25. January 2015 at 18:37

    Beyond a reasonable doubt is mentioned twice. Different scores are assigned. Hmm…

  8. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    25. January 2015 at 18:37

    OK, philistine here, and I don’t understand how you failed to think that Gravity was much better than Interstellar, especially considering such details as Plot and Cinematography. And I shudder to think what it would take to earn a 4.0 from you, when Zerkalo only got 3.9

  9. Gravatar of Don Geddis Don Geddis
    25. January 2015 at 19:41

    Vernor Vinge is an amazing sci-fi author. You wrote a good review of A Deepness in the Sky, given that it’s not a genre you particularly care for. Vinge’s earlier book (A Fire Upon the Deep), I liked even better. Possibly my favorite novel of all time. (Those two, along with some of his other novels/stories [e.g., The Peace War], take place in what is “loosely” the same universe, at different points in time and different parts of the same galaxy.)

  10. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    25. January 2015 at 20:13

    Wow, Sumner has some high-brow tastes! I only recognized one film here, Godzilla, and that was from the comments section!

    Me and my 20-something Filipino girl –half my age–saw all the popular films last year, some in 3D, and our favorites were “Maleficent” (3D), “Guardians of the Universe” (nice soundtrack for a geezer like me!), and (for me) “Godzilla”(3D). I think she liked Hunger Games since it’s trendy but I did not (no plot, flat acting). We also liked The Maze Runner but I did not like the stupid ending, designed for a sequel.

  11. Gravatar of John S John S
    25. January 2015 at 22:09

    Re: Twin Peaks, best ever TV shows (I loved Twin Peaks as well)–have you seen The Wire? I consider Season 1 to be one long 12-hour movie. So far, it’s the greatest thing on TV I’ve seen. (The other seasons, not so much).

    Also, thanks for the tips on Chinese cinema, which I know nothing about.

  12. Gravatar of ChargerCarl ChargerCarl
    25. January 2015 at 23:01

    John S I’m surprised you don’t like the other seasons of The Wire. Generally 4 is considered the best (it’s my favorite) followed by 3.

  13. Gravatar of Derivs Derivs
    26. January 2015 at 03:12


    Skeleton Twins- Very well done but I could never watch a second time. Too depressing.

    Begin Again


    #1 – Whiplash – so simple – so complex

    Best TV show of all time – Twilight Zone.

    Birdman – I wanted an ice pick to poke my eyes out, continued to watch it holding out for some big payoff at the end. Wished I had used the ice pick. A movie for critics and actors, about critics and actors. Will win many Academy Awards and sell many ice picks.

  14. Gravatar of John S John S
    26. January 2015 at 06:20


    Yes, seasons 4 and 3 are the best of the rest. But I thought the show was strongest when it focused on the core police/Barksdale drama and overreached somewhat when it tackled other themes, like politics and youth culture. I also found the later storylines to be somewhat soap opera-ish (e.g. Brother Mouzone vs. Omar) without adding anything essential to the story, and the “kids” theme of Season 4 was already covered quite well in Season 1.

    Season 4 would have made a great spin-off with a much stronger focus on Prez. Instead, it juggled a bit too much. I realize this is total nitpicking, 🙂 but the lesser brilliance of Seasons 2-4 somehow detracts from my enjoyment of Season 1, so I haven’t since re-watched them.

  15. Gravatar of John S John S
    26. January 2015 at 06:24

    Also, on a less serious note: what was up with the Rawls gay bar tease–the most unforgivable case of TV blue balls ever?

  16. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. January 2015 at 06:32

    Thanks Richard.

    Josh, I’m getting senile.

    Saturos, How can you be a philistine if you are a fan of The Mirror?

    Plot doesn’t interest me very much.

    Don, Thanks for the tip.

    Ray, Sounds about right for a “120”

    John, I have not watched TV in decades (except sports), so I probably missed lots of great series. My other favs are Seinfeld and Fawlty Towers.

  17. Gravatar of TallDave TallDave
    26. January 2015 at 09:02

    I thought this was interesting:

    It’s always fun watching a next generation of voters find out that the governments needs the capitalists more than the capitalists need the government. You can try things the other way around, but you won’t like the results.

    Also interesting that they think anti-immigration and pro-socialism are “unlikely bedfellows.” That combination was quite popular in Europe in the 1930s, but fell out of favor in the 1940s (ahem).

  18. Gravatar of TallDave TallDave
    26. January 2015 at 09:08

    Make sure you don’t miss A Fire Upon The Deep.

    You might also like Vinge’s Rainbow’s End (2007 Hugo winner) and Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age (1996 Hugo winner), both good near future pieces.

  19. Gravatar of Assorted links Assorted links
    26. January 2015 at 09:59

    […] 2. Scott Sumner movie and book reviews. […]

  20. Gravatar of Assorted links – Freedom's Floodgates Assorted links - Freedom's Floodgates
    26. January 2015 at 10:05

    […] 2. Scott Sumner movie and book reviews. […]

  21. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    26. January 2015 at 11:58

    @Sumner: “a 120 eh”? Ah, not ‘The 300’ a fictionalized movie about the Spartan 300, but a reference to my movie tastes and IQ of 120? lol. I only see movies when there’s a girl in my arm. I prefer to read books instead. Where is your book BTW? Oh, right, this blog is your opus. But I do recall liking this movie, Z (1969) – which has a slow build up, something like the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away, or like the novel The Dogs of War (1974) by Frederick Forsyth, then an explosive finish.

    The movie Z I’m afraid will be replicated this summer in Greece when they go off the euro. We get to see how Dr. Sumner’s hyperinflation -er, cough- Target NGDP monetary framework works (or doesn’t) in practice. Printing money historically means ‘as worthless as the drachma’. I’ve talked to people who have seen drachma notes thrown in the air like confetti as worthless that only a week before was ‘good money’, due to a massive devaluation (that the village idiot was seen furiously scooping up, as he did not realize the money was worthless–shades of Jim Carrey in the first, and still best, movie “Dumb and Dumber” when he sees the framed Man On The Moon newspaper in the trendy bar and did not realize they landed on the moon decades ago).

  22. Gravatar of jseliger jseliger
    26. January 2015 at 12:46

    Nymphomaniac [. . .] but still fairly engrossing

    Really? I found it tedious and yet have a lascivious streak that should’ve predisposed me to loving it. As noted at the link my fiancée and I left, from boredom.

    I’m somewhat of a misanthrope, who likes books about loners ands dreamers, or books with lots of philosophy, or books with lots of description of nature.

    Try Peter Watts. Especially Blindsight. He is not made for most people but may be made for you.

  23. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    27. January 2015 at 06:17

    Thanks Talldave, I started Diamond Age but gave up about half way through. After that I stopped reading Sci-fi for a long time.

    I like your “strange bedfellows” comment.

    Ray. If you want my views on Greece then google my 2008 paper “The Great Danes.” (Hint, my view was that Greece did not have a bright future.)

    jseligor, You said:

    “I found it tedious and yet have a lascivious streak that should’ve predisposed me to loving it.”

    Actually, it should have predisposed you to not like it, as it was not intended to be lascivious. (AFAIK)

    But I certainly regard it as one of Von Trier’s weaker films.

    Thanks for the tip on Blindsight.

  24. Gravatar of J Mann J Mann
    27. January 2015 at 07:38

    Scott, did you reach the discussion in the Diamond Age on hypocrisy? – it’s one of my favorite bits from science fiction

  25. Gravatar of Thiago Thiago
    27. January 2015 at 10:46

    May be of interest:

  26. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    28. January 2015 at 10:11

    JMann, I don’t recall. I am sure it’s a good book; I started it due to its reputation. It’s just not my cup of tea.

    Thanks Thiago.

  27. Gravatar of Doug Doug
    28. January 2015 at 11:26

    Hiroshima mon amour is much better the second time around. Trust me on this.

  28. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. January 2015 at 07:17

    Doug, I trust you. It’s viewed as a classic.

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