The year’s 10 best movies

Our film critic selects her favorites that played in Israel.

‘Zero motivation’ Film (photo credit: PR)
‘Zero motivation’ Film
(photo credit: PR)
2014 was a good year for movies both here and abroad. While the Hollywood blockbusters grew more mechanical – so many of them don’t even deliver as fun popcorn flicks – independent filmmakers became even more passionate and inventive.
These smaller-scale movies ended up making big profits. “Indies are providing a serious silver lining for the industry,” Paul Dergarabedian of Rentrak, a company that monitors the film industry, told the New York Post.
They are also likely to garner the lion’s share of Oscar nods.
This year, half the movies on my list are from Israel. That isn’t my way of trying to boost the local film industry – they are just good movies. As always, this list includes only movies that played in Israel at some point during the year. Almost all of them are playing now or are available on DVD.
1. Zero Motivation: Talya Lavie’s feature film debut was the movie of the year, a black comedy about women soldiers in the IDF that won the top feature prize at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and drew favorable comparisons to Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H. Funny and subversive, the movie looks at the real experience of female soldiers. Lavie created a brilliant, intricately plotted mock epic, where the battles are fought with shredders and staplers, not guns and tanks. Anyone who has ever worked in an office will appreciate it. And audiences did – it was the top-grossing movie in Israel this year, with more than 600,000 tickets sold, more than for any foreign film.
2. Boyhood: Richard Linklater’s movie is a drama that follows a boy’s life from age six to 18. What makes it extraordinary is that the boy is played by one actor (Ellar Coltrane), and the film was shot over the course of 12 years. It was a gamble that could have been just a gimmick but turned out to be magic. The movie has topped 10 best lists around the world, and many are predicting it will win the Best Picture Oscar. It’s a triumph for Linklater, who was previously best known for his “Before” series – Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight – all of which starred Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke (who plays the father in Boyhood).
3. Ida: Pawel Pawlikowski’s spare, graceful film is the front runner for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year. The story of a novitiate nun in 1960s Poland who learns she is Jewish, Ida is moving and heartfelt, much more than just another Holocaust story.
4. The Green Prince: This documentary by Nadav Schirman, which tells the story of Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of a West Bank Hamas leader (and the author of the bestselling autobiography, Son of Hamas) turned Shin Bet informant, and his handler, Gonen Ben Yitzhak, proves that truth can be stranger (and more compelling) than fiction.
5. The Wind Rises: A gorgeous, offbeat anime film about a designer of Japanese fighter planes, this was one of the year’s gems. Director Hayao Miyazaki said it would be his last film. Let’s hope he didn’t mean it.
6. Manpower: If you want to understand what life is really like in Israel today and why, this film by Noam Kaplan is the movie to see. A complex drama about Israelis and foreign workers from all over the world, the movie mixes humor and insightful social commentary.
7. Two Days, One Night: Arguably the Dardennes brothers’ most audience-friendly movie, it stars Marion Cotillard as a worker who will be laid off from her factory job unless she can convince the majority of her co-workers to give up their bonus. A riveting and original film.
8. Yona: Nir Bergman’s portrait of poet Yona Wallach is a look at Israeli literary history and a compelling examination of a tormented soul.
9. Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amselem: Siblings Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz set the third installment of their trilogy about a frustrated Mizrahi wife entirely in the divorce courts and made their most affecting film yet. It’s also a welcome indictment of Israel’s antiquated divorce laws.
10. Leviathan: Andrey Zvyagintsev’s retelling of the Job story in contemporary Russia is a beautifully observed, heartbreaking morality tale.