TOP 25 BEST FOREIGN FILMS OF 2014


Because I always post my foreign film year end countdown one year late (hopefully for 2015, it will be released by July 2016), so here it goes. I had to consider a number of films and tried to watch as many of the 2014 releases. There are so many notable films in 2014, hence I extended the list to 25. 

* In the event that a film was released overseas in 2013, but was screened here in the Philippines in 2014 in cinemas (including during festivals), then the Philippine release year shall be followed. 

* All films listed below have been rated 5/5 by the author.

And so, the countdown begins.

25. THE EQUALIZER 
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chloe Grace Moretz
USA
132 mins.


"The Equalizer" ranks among Denzel's greatest films, in the veins of "The Siege," "Training Day" and "Crimson Tide." Under the careful and gritty direction of his "Training Day" director Antoine Fuqua, Denzel delivers old-school action, as his character Robert McCall comes face to face with an international syndicate involved in human trafficking.

24.   BOYHOOD
Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater
USA
165 mins.


Created within a span of 12 years, Richard Linklater's moving coming-of-age epic is simply a one-of-a-kind cinematic landmark, a story of one boy's journey to adulthood. Patricia Arquette's breakdown scene alone during the latter part of the film is reason to go see "Boyhood."

23. NOAH
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins
USA
138 mins.


Epic in scope and thrilling both in its visuals and storytelling, "Noah" takes us back to an ancient world, where questions of faith, duty and morality are no different from today. Russell Crowe in one of his best performances.

22. A MOST VIOLENT YEAR
Directed by J.C. Chandor
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain
USA
125 mins.


Oscar Isaac channels Al Pacino in "The Godfather" in this gritty and stylish period drama from "Margin Call" director J.C. Chandor. Isaac plays Abel Morales, owner of a heating oil company whose delivery trucks have fallen prey to looters. Jessica Chastain plays his ruthless wife Anna, whose insistence of violent means to end the looting clashes with Abel's pacifism and diplomacy.   

21. BIG HERO 6
Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams
Featuring the voices of: Scott Adsit and Ryan Potter
USA
102 mins. 


Two words: hairy baby!

20. FORCE MAJEURE
Directed by Ruben Östlund
Starring: Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli
Sweden
119 mins.


Equal parts question hour and satire, "Force Majeure" places a seemingly good marriage under the microscope after an avalanche threatened everyone's safety. The avalanche mirrors the sudden downfall of the lead characters' marriage as truth and lies are revealed. 

19. BLUE RUIN
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray
USA
90 mins.


The release of a convicted killer from jail sets a man on the path of vengeance. "Blue Ruin" is pure adrenaline drama, compelling in its storytelling and gritty with its portrayal of a blood feud gone a step too far.

18. HER
Directed by Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and the voice of Scarlett Johansson
USA
126 mins.


Perhaps this is Spike Jonze's answer to Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation," but it doesn't matter because they are both terrific films about alienation. "Her" concerns Theodore Twombley (Joaquin Phoenix), who develops an emotional attachment with an Operating System named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). Shit hits the fan when Samantha begins to take on the emotional characteristics of a human being, beginning to make demands in their relationship. Sweet, funny and utterly heartbreaking, "Her" is another cinematic monument to the power of human connection.

17. MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT
Directed by Woody Allen
Starring: Colin Firth, Emma Stone
USA
97 mins.


In "Magic in the Moonlight," Colin Firth plays British illusionist Stanley, tasked to expose a clairvoyant named Sophie (Emma Stone) as a fraud. Stone had never looked lovelier on camera, and the film works best when she and Firth are engaged in verbal jousts. Firth's jokes always hit the bulls eye, and Woody Allen's story proves to be a very entertaining yarn filled with delightful humor and uncanny suspense.   

16. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
USA
180 mins.


It's a shame that Leo didn't bag the Oscar for this one, because his portrayal of Jordan Belfort, the real-life stockbroker convicted of securities fraud and money laundering is so over-the-top, that "Wolf of Wall Street" became a three-hour extended party. One of Leo and Scorsese's best.

15. THE SALVATION
Directed by Kristian Levring
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Eva Green, Mikael Persbrandt
Denmark
92 mins.


Danish western? Hell yes! Mads Mikkelsen grabs a gun and fights for survival in 1870s America, from the director of the Dogme 95 film "The King is Alive." Compellingly-written, paced, shot, edited and acted, including another stellar turn from Eva Green in a revelatory role (just watch her eyes act!!!!!), "The Salvation" is everything you wanted from a western, but instead got a lot more.

14. ROSEWATER
Directed by Jon Stewart
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Kim Bodnia, Shohreh Agdashloo
USA
103 mins.


Jon Stewart makes his directorial debut with the real life story of imprisoned Canadian-Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari in "Rosewater," an often funny but mostly infuriating chronicle of political paranoia. Gael Garcia Bernal plays Bahari with conviction, and Stewart effectively examines the human condition through mental torture, that "Zero Dark Thirty" seemed like a feel-good movie. 

13. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, Bill Murray
USA
100 mins.


How can you not love a film as colorful and as absurd as Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel?" Equal parts a love story, a whodunit, a caper, a farce and visual escapade, Wes Anderson has again painted another world, and has invited all of us to wander in his playhouse. Or is it a madhouse? Just ask Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe.

12.  INTERSTELLAR
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine
UK/ USA
169 mins.


What makes "Interstellar" ultimately grand is not the sweeping visuals, but the big heart at the center of the film. Christopher Nolan is at his most emotional here, and it makes the journey to saving mankind all the more worthwhile. In case you were wondering, yes, the magnanimity of "Interstellar" deserves to be seen on IMAX.

11. TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT
Directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione
Belgium/ France/ Italy
95 mins.


Marion Cotillard plays a woman who in a span of a single weekend, has to fight to keep her job in a solar-panel factory. That's it. That's the whole film. But boy, if this film doesn't hurt you as a human being.

10. JOHN WICK
Directed by Chad Stahelski, David Leitch
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane
USA
101 mins.


Keanu Reeves unleashes hell, and a whole lot of bullets on the men who beat him up, and murdered his dog. Featuring a shady world of assassins, impressive display of Jiu-Jitsu onscreen, hypnotic soundtrack and a tipped hat to master French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville (Red Circle, anyone?), "John Wick" is the action film that action fans, such as myself have been dying to see for ages. Hope the upcoming sequel does justice to the original.

9. GONE GIRL
Directed by David Fincher
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike
USA
149 mins.


No other filmmaker could have directed "Gone Girl" as sinister as David Fincher. While watching the film, based on the best-selling Gillian Flynn novel, one can't help but feel traces of "Seven" and "Zodiac" and even "Fight Club." Rosamund Pike just owns the whole film, in a turn that is both (okay I cannot say anything more without spoiling the plot so I'll just...

8. FRANK
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gylenhaal
Ireland/ UK
95 mins.


Fresh, funny and a mad, mad celebration of artistry and eccentricity, Lenny Abrahamson's "Frank" is one of 2014's biggest surprises, featuring a one-of-a-kind performance from Michael Fassbender in the titular character.

7. NIGHTCRAWLER
Directed by Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jake Gylenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton
USA
117 mins.


"I want something they can't turn away from," says Rene Russo in "Nightcrawler." The film dissects the fine line between journalism and exploitation, as Jake Gyllenhaal churns out his best performance ever. 

P.S. to media students: never, ever tamper anything at a crime scene.

P.P.S.: no story is worth your life.

6. WHITE GOD
Directed by Kornél Mundruczó
Starring: Zsófia Psotta, Sándor Zsótér
Hungary
121 mins.


From the opening scene, I knew "White God" would be a remarkable film. Winner of the 2014 prix un certain regard at the Cannes Film festival, this masterfully shot Hungarian film centers on 13-year old Lili (Psotta) and her journey to reunite with her dog, Hagen. This film is guaranteed to break your heart, dog lover or not. And that final shot- perfection. 

5. THE LUNCHBOX
Directed by Ritesh Batra
Starring: Irffan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui
India
105 mins.


You can never go wrong with food as a cultural backdrop, and in this Indian charmer, a lunchbox mistakenly delivered to the wrong person sends a widower and a frustrated housewife into an unwitting friendship. Or is it something else, entirely? Packed lunches will never be the same again.

4. COMING HOME
Directed by Zhang Yimou
Starring: Chen Daoming, Gong Li
China
111 mins.


"Coming Home" also goes by its alternate title "the film that drained me of a lifetime's worth of tears." No human being can walk away from this movie and not cry like crazy. 

3. WHIPLASH
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons
USA
106 mins.


J.K. Simmons verbally harasses Miles Teller to be a better drummer in Damien Chazelle's intense drama "Whiplash," a tale of ambition, and perfection, and what it takes to achieve them. Simmons is effectively menacing as Fletcher, a hard-as-nails music instructor that you'd want to crawl up and die if you're not quite on his tempo. So are a you a rusher or are you a dragger?

2. UNDER THE SKIN
Directed by Jonathan Glazer
Starring: Scarlett Johansson
UK/ USA
108 mins.


"Under the Skin" will tell you that the best way to frighten people is not always to bombard them with jump scares. Using a haunting, recurring musical score (I can still play the score in my head as of this writing), the vast, alienating (no pun intended) Scottish locations, and a relaxed storytelling pace, "Under the Skin" is more concerned with creating a feeling of dread that slowly builds up, and lets your imagination figure out the rest. But the real terror is when the alien, played by Scarlett Johansson becomes vulnerable. Based on the Sci-Fi novel of the same name by Michel Faber (but Glazer changes a lot in the story), "Under the Skin" will surely get under your skin. Scarlett Johansson's best performance of her career.

1. MOMMY
Directed by Xavier Dolan
Starring: Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon
Canada
139 mins.     


Someone once told me that it seemed Xavier Dolan works best when he's not acting in his movies, and perhaps he's right. "Mommy" is so gut-wrenchingly real and human, about a mother struggling to take care of her troubled son. A lovingly tribute to all mothers, whose sacrifices we often take for granted. 















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