1. Under the Skin- Music video veteran Jonathan Glazer proved to be 2014’s most indelible image-maker. The director’s follow-up to 2004’s underrated Birth proved to be even more audacious a statement, a cult classic in the making. Teaming with wiz-kid multi-instrumentalist Mica Levi and DP Daniel Lantin, Glazer’s masterpiece is about being outside one’s own environment, prowling through a nocturnal cityscape trying to feign connection. Seen through the eyes of Scarlett Johansson’s stalking, seductive alien, the everyday feels extraordinary. Familiar environments (the beach, a shopping mall, a nightclub) appear ominous; sounds, such as a baby’s distressed cries, or a group of excited women on their way to party, seem strange and terrifying. The first half, especially, is an ambitious depiction of a de-realization experience; the world is three-steps ahead, everything is out of touch, the body and mind forever trapped in an inexplicable waking dream.
It’s easy to get caught up in the score and visuals of Under the Skin, but there is a story that emerges here with any number of ostensible interpretations. Glazer’s film forgoes the didacticism often associated with science fiction, though, preferring to keep his images impressionistic and the story shrouded in ambiguity. In turn, his movie is one of the most moving and deeply empathetic works to come from the genre. Although unquestionably feminist, it has numerous pervasive ideas: systemic dehumanization, the effects of loneliness, the futility of attempting to understand the external world and the self. And for a guy who has only made three features, all of this is handled with remarkable assurance—taking pages from the handbooks of Kubrick, Grandrieux, and Roeg, Under the Skin somehow remains entirely its own beast. One can only imagine where a talent as formidable and evolving as Glazer will go next. But if his latest ends up being a career-best, his one major contribution to cinema, it’s surely enough to label him one of the greats.