Saturday, February 7, 2015

Top Films of 2014

2014 was a year that brought me much joy in my personal life and provided a stark contrast to last year. 

One thing I noticed was just how many debut features or directors I was not even aware of, burst onto theater screens this year. Jennifer Kent's Babadook, Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler, Damien Chazelle's Whiplash, Justin Simien's Dear White People and Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin were movies I was not anticipating in January 2014. The more I think about it though, that was why they had such an advantage. I wasn't expecting the intensity of Chazelle's direction or Saulnier's suspenseful scenes or Simien's sharp edged commentary or Kent's unsettling atmosphere. These are all directors I look forward to seeing more from. 

Two of my favorite directors released their masterpieces this year. A director that made a major impression on me in 2013 with Prisoners continued his streak of excellence with Enemy. 

The top 3 movies for me are easily some of my favorite films of the decade so far. 

Also, Selma and A Most Violent Year were two films I saw late in the game. Selma being a A-/B+ and A Most Violent Year being around a B+. 

So without further ado, here are my top 15 films of 2014:

This movie was beyond creepy. Great performances from Carrell, Tatum and Ruffalo. I mean seriously, look at the comparisons to see what Carrell is doing here. It's also a movie that I feel demands me to see it again. I still am not entirely sure what grade to give it.

15. Force Majeure
A  story about a family unit in which the decisions of one person can help undermine them. Wickedly funny and darkly observant.

14. Selma
Raw, historical filmmaking. Ava DuVernay has crafted a period piece that is painfully relevant to our times with striking honesty.

13. Blue Ruin
Jeremy Saulnier's film subverts the conventions of the family revenge picture. This was made $500,000 via Kickstarter and is a testament to true independent filmmaking.

12.  Snowpiercer
Bong Jon Ho hasn't made a bad film yet and his transition into Hollywood proves fruitful with this effort. The label says American but this is a Korean film thru and thru. A striking commentary on classism without going a traditional route.

11a. The Guest
Adam Wingand's You're Next was one of my favorite horror films of last year. So it comes as sheer delight that he is able to top himself with this one. Plus, if that wasn't enough, there is an awesome nod to Halloween: Season of the Witch and the always badass Lance Reddick makes an appearance. This will become a staple of the Halloween season for me.

11b. Tusk
What can I actually say about this movie. Well, for one: it contains some of the funniest scenes of the year. Two: The always on his game Michael Parks. and three: the walrus suit, for better or worse, is forever burned into my brain. "It is one fuck of a bummer to look at I can tell you that." These are the types of movies that I can see no one else even attempting to make. It also became a new go to movie that I show to people just to see their reaction.

10. Under the Skin
Mica Levi's Penderecki meets synth score and Scarlett Johannson's performance are both seducing enough. This is former music video director Jonathan Glazer's foray into science fiction and he does it with tremendous restraint.

9. Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes' latest efforts have left a dire aftertaste. It just felt like he put on autopilot and let the style get ahead of the actual story. That was until Grand Budapest. Not only is this Wes Anderson's best looking film, it is also one of his most endearing. The best thing Wes has done since Eli Cash crashed a car into the Tenenbaum house.

8. Gone Girl
The best female performance of the year belongs to Rosamund Pike's eerie portrayal of Amy Elliot Dunne. This film also gets a special award for giving me a panic attack in the theater.

7. Inherent Vice
A psychedelic, chemical fueled drive through Pynchon's world of paranoia with PT at the wheel. Katherine Waterston is a great find. Benicio is sorely under used. But it's Josh Brolin's Bigfoot Bjornsen who steals every scene he is in. The 35mm cinematography is truly something to be in awe of.

7. Nightcrawler
Jake Gyllenhaal has proven himself here to be a major force in the realm of acting. His Lou Bloom is a prowler of the night that feeds off humanity. Sure, we've seen plenty of depictions of sociopaths before. But none were as realistically depicted. Dan Gilroy's script delivers a dark, seedy view of Los Angeles. Where the vulture comes to pick the carcass clean.

5. Birdman
Innaritu's stories prior to this were intensely bleak and were trademarked with the gritty cinematography of Rodrigo Prieto. By employing Emmanuelle Lubezki and showing just how good of an actor Michael Keaton can be, he turns a corner in a career. Antonio Sanchez's pulsing drums only score and stellar performances from Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts. I am convinced Emmanuelle Lubezki is an alien. No human being possesses that much talent.

4. Enemy
A film in which the mysteries of identity and infidelity expound even wider after the final frame. With last year's Prisoners, 2010's Incendies, and now this, Denis Villeneuve has become one of my favorite directors. Bring on Sicario.

3. Whiplash
The most intense ending of any movie this year goes to Damien Chazelle's expertly told tale of striving to achieve perfection and the desire to be remembered as one of the great jazz drummers. The editing in this film is top notch with no shoe leather. A ferocious beast of a film that makes you scared to shed a single tear after it's brilliant culmination.

2. Interstellar
Science fiction films, serious science fiction films, often tend to be sterile. The incredible thing about Interstellar was the profound emotional depth at the core of the story. Though it caused division among critics, this is going to be a film that people are going to look back on as one of the great pieces of cinema.

1. Boyhood

If you think about 2014, transformation and transition are the themes that continue to pop up. Riggan Thompson goes through a transition of his career. Amy ends up transforming Nick. Terence Fletcher transforms Andrew Neyman. The alien seductress in Under the Skin changes from apathy to empathy. Howard Howe literally transforms Wallace into a Walrus. So it is fitting that my favorite film of the year deals with the growth of a boy. As Linklater would say, the paint used to tell the story would be time itself.

Movies and just art in general that focus on the passage of time have always intrigued me. With Boyhood, Linklater managed to create an incredibly organic story that is free of all the contrivances of staged drama.

There are no character arcs to be concerned about. Storylines are not neatly wrapped up. We simply observe 12 years in a life. No major milestones. It is about transience. Linklater allows us to focus on the moments in one's life that may not be conventionally compelling to a viewer conditioned to believe that there must be some big revelation or big event in order for there to be drama.

A revalatory experience and the best film of the decade so far.

Special Recognition Award

Man Getting Hit In the Groin With Football

Self explanatory.

Honorable Mention: Guardians of the Galaxy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Lego Movie, 22 Jump Street

Favorite Scenes of 2014:

The ending of Whiplash
Interstellar bookcase scene
All of the spider scenes in Enemy
The dissolving man scene in Under the Skin
Amy Dunne + Desi + Box cutter in Gone Girl
The Babadook shows up in a silent film
Hotel shootout in Grand Budapest Hotel
"The man with the gun gets to tell the truth" in Blue Ruin
Night vision scene in Snowpiercer
Bigfoot and Doc's last scene together in Inherent Vice
Ending credits in 22 Jump Street

6. Howard Howe in Tusk
5. David in The Guest
4. John Du Pont in Foxcatcher
3. Terence Fletcher in Whiplash
2. Amy Elliot Dunne in Gone Girl
1. Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler

Favorite Score: Hans Zimmer, Interstellar (Runner up: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Gone Girl)
Favorite Soundtrack: Inherent Vice (Runner up: The Guest)

Films seen in theaters: 

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Godzilla, 22 Jump Street, Boyhood, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy, Tusk, Gone Girl, Birdman, Whiplash, Dear White People, Nightcrawler, Interstellar, Foxcatcher, Inherent Vice, Selma, A Most Violent Year

Films seen by other means (OnDemand, NetFlix): 

The Immigrant, Stranger By the Lake, The Sacrament, Enemy, Blue Ruin, Ida, Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 and 2, Whitey: The United States V. James Bulger, The Lego Movie, Frank, The Rover, Neighbors, Maps to the Stars, The Babadook, A Most Wanted Man, Altman, Force Majeure, The Guest, Wetlands, The Double, Fury, Why Don't You Play In Hell?, Last Days In Vietnam

Films I still need to see: 

The Disappearence of Eleanor Rigby: Him, The Disappearence of Eleanor Rigby: Her, Citizenfour, Life Itself, Two Days One Night, Mommy, The Drop

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