Nobody needs another "Best Films List" that includes the Interstellars, Birdmans, or even Boyhoods of 2014—all great films you should check out. Instead, I want to champion some must-see foreign and truly independent films of 2014.
The two must-see foreign films are Force Mejeure and Ida. I had the pleasure of seeing Force Majeure at a packed Tin Pan Theater, the perfect environment for this film. You could feel the whole theater squirm in disbelief as the camera peered unflinchingly at the relationship dynamics playing out (of a father abandoning his family as an avalanche plows through a ski resort). I highly recommend watching this film with your partner to see how they react and what behavior they abhor or approve. If you don't have a partner, this film will make you relieved to be single.
Ida is darker than Force Majuere, and incredibly powerful. There's no musical score in this black and white masterpiece; not one note of music to force reactions, just looks on the actors' faces and the deafening silence of dialog left unsaid. It is a small story of how even average citizens—"Christians"—used Hitler's ideas to justify murder and opportunism. Without stories like this, we forget how the war crimes of average citizens are sometimes the most appalling. This is the perfect World War II film.
The best performance of BendFilm 2014 was Blake Robbins' virtuoso portrayal of a cheating and grieving college professor in the Sublime and Beautiful. If you missed the film at the fest, you can now download it. His performance is akin to Billy Bob Thorton's groundbreaking performance in Slingblade.
The comparison to the groundbreaking John Cassavettes is overutilized when critics speak of improvising DIY filmmakers. But Nathan Silver deserves the comparison. His BendFilm entry, Uncertain Terms, was made for only a few thousand dollars and has all the New York attitude, bravado, humor and keen observance of Cassavettes' best early work. Look out for this film, and more broadly, for Silver's work in the years ahead.
Finally, though there were better documentaries made in 2014, Steve James' Life Itself is an absolute must-see for film-lovers everywhere; the insightful, fun, painful and, ultimately, exhilarating rollercoaster story about film critic Roger Ebert. The movie reasserts the artistic and cultural importance of film itself—and, more tellingly, how film can best be used to tell the story about people and humanity itself.