No, your eyes are not deceiving you, and the sky is not falling. You're reading it right. The Movie Zombie is actually posting his annual year in review within actual spitting distance of the year's end. To what do we owe this dramatic turn of events? Partly, it's my desire to more consistently post to this blog in 2015. My entry total for 2014 far outstripped that of the previous year, when I only managed four posts. I hope to strongly surpass that in the coming year. And it's also due to the fact that I'm genuinely enthusiastic about my selections for the top ten films of the year, moreso than in a few recent years. I feel very secure in my choices and their placement on the countdown, and though the critic must be willing to fly in the face of the establishment opinion in order to be worth anything, I don't think I've made many choices (with maybe one or two exceptions) that you will have trouble finding on other lists, which is a testament to the easily recognizable quality of these ten motion pictures.
But before we get to the cream of the crop, let's scrape the muck of 2014 off of our feet with the five worst films of the year….
In an early scene in Casablanca, Peter Lorre asks Humphrey Bogart, "You despise me, don't you?" Bogart's reply: "I suppose if I gave you any thought, I probably would." That's more or less my entire review of Jose Padilha's pointless remake of one of the greatest sci-fi / action films ever made: I'd probably hate it if it was even worth thinking about at all.
4. VERONICA MARS
You see? Already I'm cheating. This is supposed to be a list of the worst films of 2014, and Veronica Mars, the feature-length extension of the much-loved Kristen Bell cult series, is not a movie. It's just a long episode of a TV show. That's not its only problem. For more details, read my full review here.
3. MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT
I never thought it would come to this. Regular readers of this blog know of my affection for Woody Allen. Two of his films have already featured on my 101 Favorite Screenplays countdown, and two recent pictures made it into past top 10 lists, one in the top spot of the year. But I have to give discredit where it's due and present Allen with my annual Human Centipede Award for the film I got the least out of watching in 2014. Everything in this stupefyingly lugubrious "romantic" "comedy" has been done by Allen before, and done much better. Colin Firth strains mightily to entertain and fails; Emma Stone, who would seem to be a slam-dunk fit for the Allen universe, clangs badly out of tune (she did redeem herself later in the year with Birdman, in which I think she's maybe never been better); Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden and nominee Jacki Weaver are criminally wasted. Only suitably matrician Eileen Atkins makes a strong impression…but her performance is sabotaged by a late conversation she shares with Firth that is arguably the single worst-written scene of Allen's career. At the risk of coming off ageist, Magic in the Moonlight is Allen's first film to feel like it was made by a tired old man with no new things to say and no new ways to say them. He's been one on, one off for a few years now. My hopes are high for the next film. It would almost have to be better than this, which I think is close to the worst he's ever made.
The marketing strategy for this misbegotten sci-fi thriller seemed to be "Squint and maybe you won't notice Nolan didn't direct this." Oh, I noticed. Wally Pfister's directorial debut, about a murdered scientist driven mad with power when his consciousness is uploaded into a supercomputer, has an intriguing premise, a Frankenstein tale with the doctor and creature embodied in the same being. Then why are the results so crushingly dull? It could be the presence of Rebecca Hall, an actress I almost never enjoy in anything. It could be that award-winning cinematographer Pfister somehow manages to make a film almost utterly lacking in visual distinction. I know it's not Paul Bettany or Kate Mara, who do what they can with very problematically written characters. But part of the blame must fall to Johnny Depp. If you think greasepainted, mugging-to-the-rafters Depp is hard to take, wait until you get a load of bored, phoning-it-in Depp. And he was getting paid several million dollars to be there. If that was the case, and he couldn't manage to hide his boredom, why should I be interested?
1. THE ROVER
Interestingly, this suffocatingly pretentious post-apocalyptic thriller from Australian director David Michod (whose award-nominated 2010 crime drama Animal Kingdom was also no favorite of mine) shares a basic plot with one of the films in my top ten: Both are films about men driven to extremes of violence and carnage by terrible things befalling their car and their dog. But everything that the other film gets right, this one gets stunningly wrong, drowning any potential narrative or character interest in a lot of portentously ponderous imagery and "deep" moments of characters staring at one another while we struggle to figure out what they're thinking, if anything at all. The film is admittedly beautifully photographed (by Natasha Braier), and Guy Pearce is not entirely ineffective as the strong, silent, and fairly filthy-looking avenger. But Robert Pattinson, as the dim-witted brother of a scrungy "master" thief (Scoot McNairy), gives a twitchy, tic-riddled performance that actively annoyed me more than anything I saw in a film all year. By the time a largely mute old man showed up near the end of the film, I literally said out loud during the viewing, "Now who the fuck is this guy?" And the fact that the character that provoked this reaction shares a moment with Pearce that is meant, somehow, to be the film's emotional high point is virtually unforgivable. I'm starting to think that Michod is one of those "major" filmmakers whose sensibility just does not click with mine. One of the cardinal rules of cinema I abide by: "You can't fake depth." This utterly empty film is a textbook example of what it looks like when that practice goes very, very awry.
Well…now that that unpleasantness is over with…here are my choices for the best films of 2014…
Bong Joon-ho's explosive and trenchant sci-fi thriller is far from the year's subtlest motion picture (see, we live in the back of the train, but they live in the FRONT of the train!), and it's the only film on this top ten that had a major element that I really disliked (Tilda Swinton, cartoonishly broad, seems to be playing down to the film's origins as a graphic novel; I guess she doesn't know that comics are a legitimate literary medium and have been for decades now). But those facts do little to diminish the elemental power of this gritty, fast-moving, surprisingly affecting film. Chris Evans, in a complete emotional 180 from his earnest and enthusiastic portrayal of Captain America, is a grim, determined survivor of the new Ice Age, leading a band of refugees battling their way through a perpetually globe-circling train to unlock the secrets of the privileged elites who dwell in the plum positions in the front of their "rattling ark". Joon-ho's action set pieces are bloody, fierce and swiftly choreographed, the production design by Ondrej Nekvasil is the year's best, and Evans is ably abetted by strong supporting work from Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, and the magnetic Song Kang-ho as the train's disgraced designer. Joon-ho and his co-writer Kelly Masterson manage to keep springing visual and narrative surprises on you all the way through the film; I never expected to see these characters enjoying some sushi, and I damn sure didn't expect Allison Pill as a manically joyful, hugely pregnant, submachine-gun-toting teacher of the children of the elite. The film is perfectly thrilling and entertaining on its own terms, but it also has truly dark things to say about the 99% versus the 1%, and the ways in which one can turn the other in on itself to suit its own needs. Evans has a tearful speech near film's end, about an interrupted meal, that it one of the year's most chilling cinematic moments, and there are some climactic images involving a few missing children from the train's rear cars that are genuinely disturbing. The tensions between Joon-ho and The Weinstein Company kept this film from getting a truly proper release. Hopefully you'll catch up with it on VOD or home disc (I saw it on a Redboxed Blu-ray) and see all the same fine qualities in it that I did.
9. OBVIOUS CHILD
Those who know me best will probably accuse me of just ranking this film so high because of my undisguised and destined-to-be-unrequited affection for lead actress Jenny Slate (if a film were to be made of my life, I have always said she would be ideal casting for a particular ex-Zombette of mine). Some of you will also dismiss it outright because, yes, this is the film whose plot pivots around an abortion sought by the film's main character after a drunken one-night stand with a man with whom she then awkwardly stumbles into a real relationship. But Gillian Robespierre's debut feature, an expansion of a 2009 short film that also starred Slate, is a film featuring abortion, not a film about it. It's actually a film about coming to terms with who you are vs. how you define yourself; about reconciling your dreams with your reality; and what to do when life-changing, possibly miraculous events are really just not on your to-do list at the moment. Robespierre's screenplay (from a story by her, Karen Maine and Elisabeth Holm) is sharp, smart and full of laugh moments big and small (Slate gets to perform one of the great drunk dialing montages in cinema), and her direction is clean, uncluttered and likable without succumbing too heavily to indie preciousness. (I also like the atmosphere created by the fact that the film takes place in winter and climaxes, in a way that feels organic and not too overly programmatic, on Valentine's Day.) Slate's performance, nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, is a marvelously impressive balancing act; she manages to make her confused but achingly sincere heroine funny, spunky and attractive while always making sure that she is also needy, self-annihilating, and yes, considerably childish. Slate could very easily have been the whole show here, but Jake Lacy is a sturdy and sympathetic romantic foil, and there are nicely observed turns by Gabe Liedman, Gaby Hoffmann, and Polly Draper, who, as Slate's mother, shares a late-film conversation with her that is one of the best-written scenes of the year. It was a fantastic year for women directors, and Robespierre's work was the best iteration of a genre that is traditionally considered to be a female domain. It's not exactly a "romcom for people who hate romcoms," but for someone like myself who's relatively indifferent to the contemporary iteration of the genre, Obvious Child is a breath of fresh air.
8. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
My choice for the year's best big-budget blockbuster delivered so much more than the explosions and gun battles that are often the best one can expect from a film of this type (though when it has to deliver those, man alive, does it ever throw down. Three words for you: Apes and tanks). Matt Reeves directs a surprisingly thoughtful and intelligent film that picks up ten years after the ape-and-virus-driven cataclysm that rocked the earth in the previous Apes reboot film. Apes and humans have built their own cautiously separated societies, but when the humans need something that only the apes have access to in order to survive, old wounds are opened, deadly lines are crossed, and the fallout of violating the heavy pronouncement of ape-lord Caesar ("Ape…home! Human…home!") comes crashing down with titanic narrative and dramatic force. It's a film with interesting things on its mind, commenting on the potentially lethal consequences of utilizing torture tactics (a theme starkly resonant in light of the recently released CIA torture memos and brilliantly embodied in the motion-capture performance of actor Toby Kebbell as Koba, a former lab ape whose pain and fury at his treatment by humans makes him one of the year's most complex and multi-faceted "villains") and the ecologically minded dangers of overstepping the paradigm of "live and let live." The film features the year's best visual effects, the mo-cap apes that fill the screen transcending any thoughts of pixels or digitization to become fully realized beings with heft and emotional power; the action sequences are slick but brutal in the best possible fashion; the cinematography by Michael Seresin is beautifully moody in its gray-green dourness. The film also features a moment, scored with the Band's exultantly bittersweet "The Weight," that may be the year's best cinematic use of a classic rock song. Astride it all is yet another benchmark effects-abetted performance by the great Andy Serkis, who is carving for himself one of the most singular niches in modern screen acting and who invests Caesar with dignity, authority, anger and final, tragic clarity of thought. (The humans, led by Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, and a sympathetic Jason Clarke, serve the material well, but it's clear whose story this really is, and not just because there are no humans onscreen for virtually the first ten minutes of the film.) This new Apes franchise feels ballsy and risk-taking in ways that big-budget Hollywood films rarely do. As long as we can keep getting pictures this probing and interesting amidst all the usual sound and fury of the blockbuster season, I won't have to spend the entire summer movie cycle just waiting for the leaves to start falling again.
7. INTO THE WOODS
Into the Woods is an extremely pleasant surprise, a screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's fanciful but complex fairy-tale mash-up musical that fully surpasses director Rob Marshall's Oscar-winning work on 2002's Chicago. The production is sumptuous, with impressive production design by Dennis Gassner and fantastical and amusing costumes by the great Colleen Atwood, and Sondheim's music, lush and intelligent with twisting, surprising melodic invention, is given a fine treatment by orchestrator Jonathan Tunick. The cast Marshall has assembled is a strong one indeed; I could easily imagine this same crew of performers taking this show to Broadway and doing it well. Standouts include Emily Blunt and the effortlessly likable James Corden as a sadly childless woman and her baker husband; gutsy little Daniel Huttlestone as the naughty-but-resourceful Jack (of beanstalk fame); Chris Pine, hilariously curling his eyebrows and puffing out his chest as a dashing but surprisingly shit-headed Prince Charming; and Meryl Streep, who of course knocks it out of the park as the snarling but surprisingly sympathetic witch whose curses (both from her and on her) set much of the sprawling story in motion. Johnny Depp amounts to little more than a cameo, but he's having lots of fun as the Big Bad Wolf, and he fully socks home the creepy sexual undertones of his showcase song, "Hello, Little Girl" (its nastiness amplified by having Red Riding Hood, unlike in the stage show, played by an actually age-appropriate actress, the suitably spunky Lilla Crawford). The show has been trimmed by necessity for time concerns, and yes, a number of the darker plot turns and unpleasant narrative implications have been sanded off; plus, we don't actually get to see feet hacked up during the comic number "Careful, My Toe," as Cinderella's stepsisters mutilate their feet to fit into the proffered slipper (and yes, this does happen in the original fairy tale). But this Disney production, scripted by James Lapine, who also wrote the stage production's Tony-winning book, is still a story about how flawless heroes, unambiguously evil villains, and fairy-tale endings really only exist, well, in fairy tales, and that no one always lives up to their roles the way you expect them to. This can be horrifying, but delightful as well, and the show has some interesting notions about love, parenthood and family that are fully respected by this production. I don't know if this will be embraced by a family audience; they might be better sticking with Kenneth Branagh's live-action, likely-less-ambiguous Cinderella, which comes out in March. But for Sondheim fans, lovers of film musicals, and devotees of strong cinematic fantasy, I think there's a lot here to savor and embrace.
6. JOHN WICK
Given the recently checkered status of R-rated, mid-budget action films in theatrical release, it's hard for me to think of a film that I was rooting for this year more than John Wick, the directorial debut of long-time stuntman Chad Stahelski, about a hard-bitten former hit man (Keanu Reeves), grieving over the loss of the woman who saved him from a life of death-dealing, who's called back into action when the scum-of-the-earth son of a Russian ganglord (Michael Nyqvist) rips off his car and kills the dog his wife bought him as a farewell companion. So it pleases me greatly to announce that no film this year was more purely satisfying than this stylish, energetic, and utterly thrilling reminder of the pleasures of practical-effects-driven, beautifully choreographed, no-holds-barred action cinema. Reeves delivers what I honestly feel is the best performance of his career, as a terse, coiled, no-nonsense dealer of mayhem who nevertheless is driven by the most soulful and emotionally charged of motives; Reeves's seemingly total disinterest in looking cool is one of the reasons John Wick is the coolest m-fer you'll see in a film all year. It's a role Reeves couldn't have played twenty years ago. Believe it or not, the man is now 50 years old, and the part serves the added gravitas granted to him by age. Also to be endlessly commended is Stahelski's direction; working with gifted action scribe Derek Kolstad (who also gave us the much-better-than-it-needed-to-be Steve Austin / Dolph Lundgren DTV blast The Package), he proves himself a master of genre-film world-building, giving us a secret subterranean society of professional assassins and a city with just enough comic book flair in the decor and lighting (the slick cinematography is by Jonathan Sela) to keep the action from getting too heavy. And what action it is. The gun battles and fistfights are lean, clean and explosive, with Stahelski carefully staging and editing the scenes so we can clearly see that Reeves is performing much of his own stuntwork. The gem of the set pieces is an exhilarating shootout in a crowded criminal-run nightclub, featuring a moment of Reeves shooting, reloading, and shooting again that got the only spontaneous audience applause I heard in a theater all year. Disney is currently discussing one-off Star Wars films spotlighting supporting characters in the universe. My suggestion: Give Stahelski the proposed Boba Fett film. Pull a James Gunn, give this clearly talented filmmaker a grand budget, and let's see what he can come up with. If it's half as exciting as John Wick, my favorite action film of the year, it'll be something to sing about.
A lot of readers who are familiar with my other writing endeavors might assume that I'm only a fan of Damien Chazelle's incredibly intense music-school indie drama because of the jazz milieu in which it traffics, and indeed, it is thrilling to see a musical genre to which I have dedicated much of my attention and literary time given such a prominent cinematic showcase. But if all the film had going for it was saxophones and trumpets (and of course drums) on the soundtrack, I wouldn't be writing about it right now. Fortunately, Chazelle, a music-school vet and drummer himself, has clearly poured both personal passion and exceptional filmmaking talent into this tale of a near-pathologically driven student drummer (Miles Teller, in an implosively charismatic performance) locked in a battle of wills with the legendary and dreaded Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons, in a top-of-the-pride roar of a performance that I predict will win him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), a music teacher as celebrated for the great musicians that have passed through his band as he is excoriated for the depression, fury and wrecked lives his brutal drill-sergeant teaching style has left in its wake. Working from his own screenplay, based on his short film, Chazelle doesn't shy away from the ugliness, the hostility, the bloody hands and sweat and strain that often go into making art that feels and sounds effortless, and he's smart and honest enough to portray the creative drive in ways that the non-artistic, and most studio executives, would find unacceptable. (I was stunned by Chazelle's willingness to have a character turn his back on a romance that, while delightful and deep, is threatening his full concentration on his artistic endeavors.) Teller and Simmons are arguably the year's greatest on-screen duo act; the parry-and-thrust of their scenes together, with Simmons screaming and hurling the vilest insults Chazelle can conjure and Teller answering him with scowls, sneers and sheer drumming brilliance, is mesmerizing. The drill and performance scenes are like small wars, with Sharone Meir's whipsawing cinematography, the machine-gun editing of Tom Cross, and a fine score of very legit-sounding jazz building these scenes to a stunning frenzy. The climactic performance of "Caravan," in which Teller and Simmons outdo one another in sheer naked dick-slinging, has been hailed by many critics as one of the year's best single scenes. More than just a film about jazz, Whiplash is a movie about any consuming passion, what it can bring to your life, how it can save you…if it doesn't tear you apart in the process.
4. JODOROWSKY'S DUNE
Speaking of films with which I have a personal connection…I very seriously considering recusing myself from even commenting on Frank Pavich's documentary about the "making" of French-Chilean avant-gardist Alejandro Jodorowsky's Dune, regarded by many as one of the greatest films never made and a picture whose creative team, including conceptual artists Chris Foss, Jean "Moebius" Giraud, and H.R. Giger and visual effects artist Dan O'Bannon (later to make his name as the writer of Alien and Total Recall and the writer / director of The Return of the Living Dead), would go on to revolutionize the next forty years of genre filmmaking. As regular readers know, O'Bannon and I co-authored a book on screenplay structure together, and the fact that the film features audio interviews with the late O'Bannon, as well as talking head segments featuring Dan's wife Diane, a great friend and publishing / promotional collaborator of mine, made me think that my including it on this list might be seen as extremely biased at best, disgusting second-hand self-aggrandizement at worst. But the facts are impossible to deny: Few films this year were as damned entertaining as Pavich's chronicle of a masterpiece that wasn't. The filmmaking is fleet-footed and sprightly, with delightful animated sequences bringing Foss's conceptual art and Moebius's legendary storyboards to life; the narrative is chock-full of memorable anecdotes (notably one in which Pink Floyd almost hamburger themselves out of working on the film's soundtrack); the film makes painfully clear both the reasons the film ultimately didn't happen and the myriad sci-fi and fantasy pictures that have borrowed from or flat-out ripped off the work of Jodorowsky and his team. And without a doubt, there was no more pleasurable presence to spend 90 minutes in the company of this cinematic year than Alejandro Jodorowsky. He's a madman, he's a visionary, he's a magnificent raconteur, he is so much fun to listen to that I wouldn't have cared if this film had turned out as long as his version of Dune probably would have been. It's exhilarating to see how Jodorowsky, now in his 80s, can still get so furious over the money that he knows was the real reason his dream project never happened, and equally joyous to listen to his laughter and see his dancing eyes as he describes the experience of seeing the 1984 Dune ultimately directed by David Lynch for the first time. I truly believe that if Jodorowsky's film had been produced, it would be a film that, folly or benchmark, would still be discussed alongside 2001 and Star Wars among the genre's signal achievements. That will never be, but Pavich's loving tribute to the creative spirit is just as good.
Ava DuVernay's chronicle of the 1965 voting rights march on the titular city led by Martin Luther King, Jr. is not a revolutionary iteration of the historical drama, but in its power, detail and sweep, it is everything you could hope for from a mainstream Hollywood film on this subject. I have read a number of articles and reviews comparing this film to Steven Spielberg's Lincoln in its portrayal of the back-room politicizing and sheer logistical spadework of inciting authentic change in American lives. But while Lincoln, for all its strengths of writing and acting, was still able to regard slavery and the Civil War from something of an arm's length remove, this film grabs you and shoves you into the trenches alongside King, numerous notable civil rights leaders, and ordinary Americans who see an injustice, know it's unjust, and will do everything in their (non-violent) power to set the wrong right. It's visceral, thoughtful and intelligently written (by Paul Webb, with an uncredited rewrite by DuVernay), and the director proves her ability with larger-scaled material after several small-scale independent relationship-drama successes. Bradford Young's handsome, burnished cinematography brings history to life without ever resorting to nostaligizing, and John Legend and Common (who also portrays activist James Bevel) give us "Glory", an appropriately stirring closing anthem. The performances are solid throughout, from Oprah Winfrey, affecting in a supporting role that could easily have been overwhelmed by her sheer cult-of-personality presence, to Henry G. Sanders, crushing his one big showcase scene as the grandfather of a slain activist, to Tim Roth as George Wallace, whose bigotry and institutional tolerance of same seems to have seeped into his very pores. But the standout, as it must be for the film to work at all, is David Oyelowo as King, in a fiery, well thought-out and intensely intelligent performance; he socks home the big moments of speechifying, sure (and all the more impressively when you realize that the film did not have permission to use King's actual speeches), but he's also electrifying in the quiet scenes, as when he gobsmacks Lyndon Johnson (a spottily accented but still effective Tom Wilkinson) with the sheer quiet force of his insistence, or being confronted by his steadfast-but-pained wife Coretta (a slow-burning Carmen Ejogo) about FBI tapes of his apparent infidelities. This is one of the great grand-but-human epics, and it's all the more vital in that the footage of the beatings on the Edmund Pettus Bridge could very easily have been ripped from CNN just weeks ago. Selma is a necessary reminder that, for better or worse, sometimes the more things stay the same, the more they change.
I seem to be somewhat out on a limb with Bennett Miller's somber, multi-layered and thematically rich rendering of the real-life murder of Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz by delusional multi-millionaire John du Pont. This film entered the fall with a lot of seeming awards-and-acclaim momentum behind it, but mixed reviews and relatively indifferent critical reception will, I think, relegate it to awards also-ran status, an Oscar juggernaut that wasn't. Hell, I think I liked this one more than one of its own characters. But I stand by the thrust of my thoughts in my original review, with two fairly significant amendments: Thanks to Oyelowo, Channing Tatum is no longer my pick for the year's best actor. And the film has likewise been supplanted at the top by…
1. THE BABADOOK
…which was the only film I paid to watch theatrically in 2014…twice. (If you think that's not momentous, note that when I told a friend I've known for fifteen years that I had just seen this film again, he said, with utterly no prompting, "But you never do that!") A few interesting notes about The Babadook: Its inclusion makes three films in my top ten of the year directed by women, and three based on short films by the same director as their feature versions. Also, by funny coincidence, both my year's best and year's worst film were made by Australian filmmakers.
But all that is trivia. What of the film? Horror films are frequently and justly celebrated for their almost peerless cinematic ability to harness metaphor to powerful narrative ends. But that doesn't always mean that those metaphors resonate with one personally. For that reason, I found Jennifer Kent's deeply emotional and cinematically miraculous shaggy-dog horror film, her feature directing debut, to be an almost overwhelming experience, one that sent me out of the theater seriously shaken and nearly in tears from the power and truth of the vision she has conjured here. This story, chronicling the terrors that beset a superhumanly stressed-out widow and her troubled child when they read a mysterious pop-up book that inexplicably materializes on their bookshelf, has been duly lauded for its utilization of the frequently fractious and often overwhelmingly difficult nature of contemporary parenthood. This is not something with which I am intimate, though I know that the film possesses considerable strength for those who are. But I am frighteningly familiar with another emotional area with which this film also traffics, with prescience, clarity and immense skill: The emotional effects of depression. While the film's protagonist is likely dealing with a situational depression rather than a clinical situation (she has never gotten over the death of her husband, killed in a car accident on the way to deliver her to the hospital to give birth to the boy), the signs are unmistakable. The constant state of tension she moves within, the unexpected bursts of rage and irritation that erupt like a volcano (many people don't know that depression just as frequently manifests itself as anger and irritability), the numerous shots of the heroine simply slumping, defeated, into bed. Kent complements the tension of Essie Davis's raw-wound, brutally empathetic, Oscar-caliber performance by maintaining an antsy, edgy editing pace; many of the shots, particularly in the early scenes, seem to cut off too quickly, mirroring the way that for the depressive, everything just comes at you all at once, too fast for it to be processed. And Kent has embodied the encroaching darkness of the depressive spirit with transcendent brilliance in the figure of the Babadook, a being whose ostensibly human shape frames nothing but foul, fetid, bottomless darkness. The film's finale, which I will not reveal here (save to cite a brilliant near-the-ending line: "It was quiet today"), perfectly captures what the depressive can do at his most powerful: Simply maintain. Davis's marvelous work is more than matched by young Noah Wiseman, who gives a vastly complex performance, one of the best we've seen from a child actor in quite some time. Kudos as well to Kent's team, particularly editor Simon Njoo, cinematographer Radoslaw Ladczuk, and illustrator Alex Juhasz, who gives us the scariest pop-up book of all time. And make no mistake: On top of everything else, The Babadook is scary as hell, with a marvelously building sense of unbearable tension and a titular monster whose iconography stands alongside Caligari and Count Orlok as an old-school ghoul for the ages. (In one magnificent scene, the fiend insinuates himself into a Melies film the harried mother scans by on late-night TV.) I wish everyone I know could see The Babadook. If they saw it, absorbed its feelings and mood, never again would they have to wonder how I'm feeling when I'm feeling the way I sometimes do. It is a horror tale for the ages, and my favorite film of 2014.