Rarely does a work of art immediately announce itself as a future classic, but from the moment Moonlight premiered, it was clear that it would become one of the defining cinematic moments of the era. The film was completely unprecedented in the way it explores identity, showing how factors of race and sexuality shape someone’s memories, and how certain moments ripple into the future.
Part of the reason Moonlight works so well is its unique structure, which follows the character Chiron throughout childhood, adolescence, and as a young man. At each stage of his life, Chiron is plagued by hardship and struggles to define who he is, and the film leaves many aspects of his future ambiguous. Few films have ever captured raw vulnerability in the way Moonlight does, and Barry Jenkins’s gorgeous direction make it an unforgettable experience.
4. Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig has emerged as one of the most unique comedic voices of her generation, and although she did phenomenal work as the star and co-writer of many Noah Baumbach films, Lady Bird is an interesting story shaped by her own experiences. Christine (Saoirse Ronan), also known as “Lady Bird,” is a teenage girl who seeks to mold the world in her own image, and she’s left with disappointment when the world fails to live up to her expectations. The film is a hilarious and heartfelt journey about how irony and wisdom aren’t the same thing, and how sincerity can be a virtue.
This is a very different role for Ronan, as she’s asked to be combative and even obnoxious at points, and it’s due to her phenomenal work that the character never loses the audience’s favor, even when she makes mistakes. The relationship Ronan has with her mother (Laurie Metcalf) is also hilarious, as these two strong personalities often come into conflict with one another. Gerwig will undoubtedly be a director who makes many great films, but Lady Bird in of itself will be remembered as her brilliant debut.
3. Call Me By Your Name
Many coming of age stories feel the need to overload the audience with emotions and events, but Call Me By Your Name is the exact opposite. It’s a very patient film that show the gradual attraction that young Elio (Timothee Chalamet) feels for his father’s student Oliver (Armie Hammer), and what begins as an elevated hangout movie turns into a transformative emotional experience. It’s a film that considers nothing but the characters, and allows them to drift in and out of each other’s lives over the course of one summer.
Chalamet has emerged as one of the best young actors of his generation, and it will be hard to see him topping this performance anytime soon, as he’s able to carry Elio’s insecurities and lusts with him as he becomes infatuated with this mysterious man. The gorgeous recreation of 1980s Italy and the terrific original songs also add to the sensual nature of the story. The film ends with an amazing monologue from Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg), who tells Elio that his experiences have value and that he should be thankful for having these experiences; it’s one of the most powerful scenes of the decade.
2. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Few films have been able to capture the love of cinema in the way Me and Earl and the Dying Girl does, as it shows the creative and cathartic ways that movies can help people through difficult times in their lives. Greg (Thomas Mann) and Earl (RJ Cycler) are two cynical, disillusioned outsiders who are utterly disenfranchised from their peers, but their love of filmmaking bonds them as they create parodies of many of their favorite films. While initially just a pastime, the two begin to take their artistry more seriously when they decide to make a film for their friend Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who is dying of cancer.
The film has a great sense of humor, as it makes light of the ways in which Greg and Earl put together their elaborate productions. Although Greg initially has no connection to Rachel, he begins to find his place as a filmmaker as he becomes obsessed with giving her something to be excited about. All three leads give emotional performances, and the high number of visual gags and movie references don’t stop the ending from being emotionally overwhelming and life affirming.
There has never been a film like Boyhood before; sure, the 7 Up series tracked a group of people over many years, but those were documentaries and not narratives, and even Linklater’s own Before trilogy took gaps between the releases of each film. Boyhood, however, encapsulates the entirety of growing up into one film, spanning twelve years as Mason (Ellar Coltrane) grows up in a small town in Texas. The film doesn’t have one story in mind, but Mason’s life naturally grows more complex and challenging as he grows older.
It’s not only an amazing achievement; Boyhood captures all the experiences that occur in a coming of age story, particularly as Mason begins to decide who he wants to be and learns to appreciate all that his parents have done for him. Even if it celebrates a seemingly “ordinary” life, Boyhood argues that the moments that make up a simple existence are worth cataloging and celebrating. An immersive and powerful film that will stand the test of time, Boyhood is an unparalleled exercise.