So the time has come! Most of the major film critics have released their top 10 lists already and most of the awards shows have announced their winners. I’ve waited a few weeks because I wanted to make sure I saw as many 2014 films as I could! And I’m proud to say that I’ve seen about 100 films from the 2014 year. With the Oscars on its way I hope my list can inspire people to watch films that did (and didn’t) get nominated.
I must admit that 2014 was a pretty great year for movies. There have been some great, visually, and artistically realized blockbusters like Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah and Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla. This year was an outstanding year for foreign films, like Pawel Pawlikowski’s gorgeously shot Ida and Lukas Moodysson’s funky, cool coming of age story, We are the Best! Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook and Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer are among the best horror/sci-fi movies I’ve seen in the last five years! There were also some brilliant indies to come around in 2014 like Gia Coppola’s eerie Palo Alto, Charlie McDowell’s wildly original The One I love, and Lenny Abrahamson’s quirky and heartfelt Frank.
Gillian Robespierre’s hilarious rom-com Obvious Child features a star is born performance from Jenny Slate (YouTube’s Marcel the Snail and NBC’s Parks and Recreation). And David Cronenberg’s venomous Hollywood satire, Maps to the Stars should have earned Julianne Moore a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Finally, Ava DuVernay’s brutally powerful film, Selma should be shown in every high school in America. These three movies, as well as the other films I’ve just mentioned are all fantastic films that just missed my top 10 of 2014.
So…Let’s get the list started!
10. Under the Skin
Directed by Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast), this film recalls the talents of the late Stanley Kubrick bringing forth themes of alienation, gender roles, and the power of female sexuality. This wildly beautiful film is a straight up art-house film, so anyone looking for a plot with a beginning, middle, and end should stop reading right now. But, for individuals that want to see cinematic art in the highest form…should see this film. Glazer doesn’t want the audience to know or care about why this alien has come to Earth, he wants us to look at something else. Scarlet Johansson is mesmerizing as an alien who seduces and picks up random hitchhikers in Scotland. She preys on these men but in the sense of curiosity and wonder not savagery. Johansson expertly blends a nuanced tone of sexuality, vulnerability and emptiness as she is immersed in the Scottish landscape. First time composer, Mica Levi, produces an extraordinary score for this film depicting a world of horror, fear, and anxiety just by following our protagonist as she drives through random streets. The scenes in which Johansson seduces her men to their death, are amazing. With Levi’s score the scenes become almost like a dance. See this film with patience and the ending will leave your jaw open for days. Under the Skin is a real wonder.
9. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Yes, another Wes Anderson film. Yes, it’s pretty much the same cast he uses in every film he makes. And yes, it’s just as fun and colorful as every Anderson film is. But, what struck me about this film was that by the end I not only cared deeply about all these characters, particularly the two main ones: the legendary concierge of the hotel, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and the loyal bell boy, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), I also cared deeply about all that suffered in this time between WWI and WWII in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka. This film has overwhelming humor, a lot of heart, and some seriously disturbing issues of this time in history. There was a scene in the train where Gustave risks his life to protect the illegal Moustafa from the police and a plot line which includes the manhunt murder of an innocent young baker girl. The other thing that I looove about Wes Anderson’s films are his use of symmetry within every frame, it presents the scenes as a portrait of that time. Budapest Hotel is a visual delight, with laughs, and serious sadness.
From Dazed and Confused to A Scanner Darkly to Bernie, writer/director Richard Linklater has distinguished himself as a filmmaker of true… presence. By that I mean his films represent a place of time with all the emotions that embody it. In his latest project, Boyhood, Linklater does what no filmmaker has ever done- illustrate the life of a family over the course of 12 years in real time. For about one week, every year, for 12 years starting in 2002, Linklater formed the same ensemble of creative talents in front and behind the camera for nearly over a decade. This movie follows the life of a young boy and dissects his life with such shear honesty that you’d think you were watching a documentary. This film could also be called motherhood or fatherhood, Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke deliver masterful portrayals of the conventional mother and father roles. It’s life essentially. Anyone who has lived as a son, brother, sister, daughter, mother or father will understand and know this family and Linklater’s vision.
7. A Most Violent Year
It’s 1981, we’re in NYC, and it’s the most violent year in its history. Writer/director J.C. Chandor has constructed a bleak, gangster, film noir that puts Chandor and stars Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain (Abel and Anna Morales) on the forefront of America’s most talented artists in film today. WIth a moral code that lingers throughout- forget the past and live for the future – I couldn’t help but not forget this movie weeks after seeing it. Chandor expertly builds tension by using violence not to replace its substance but enhance it. A Most Violent Year earns its violence and it happens at the most shocking moments. This violence also reveals depths in characters that leads this movie to its most dramatic peaks. Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, J.C. Chandor, film composer Alex Ebert, and especially cinematographer Bradford Young ALL deserved to get Oscar nominations but were all snubbed. I hope the members of the Academy read what I am writing because they all are fools for ignoring this piece of art.
6. Only Lovers Left Alive
The 7-million dollar budget of the weird, but cool, melancholy masterpiece made by the one and only writer/director Jim Jarmusch, is a love poem to music and yet so much more. Only Lovers Left Alive is essentially plotless as art movies usually are but is a portrait of two lovers Adam and Eve (connection to the first humans God ever made?) played excellently by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton. They have been married for many centuries and have managed to stay in love despite being at opposite ends of the world. Adam is a very talented musician who tries to live in seclusion in a hidden apartment in Detroit. His music is very well known and plays in night clubs…which kills him. Eve on the other hand is a free-spirited, book obsessed, hippie chilling in Tangier. They’re brought together in Detroit due to Adam’s depression and self loathing. The universal language of love and music is realized so beautifully in this film, and once Eve’s crazy, wreck loose of a sister, Ava, pays a visit things change for the worse. Ava is played by Mia Wasikowska in an award worthy performance, adding so much flair, humor, and coquettish charm that made me love to hate her. How are Adam and Eve able to be in love for this long? Well for one they’re vampires, a word that is never mentioned once in this film, who require blood to live. But more importantly they were turned because they are the only lovers that could stay in love forever. A theme that becomes clear in the last scene. Superb film.
I have never felt so much adrenaline while sitting through a film more so than in Damien Chazelle’s razor sharp story of a mentor-student relationship in Whiplash. This is the big indie film that marked its arrival at Sundance and has been riding high all the way through Oscar nominations. J.K. Simmons is exceptionally multi-dimensional as the monstrous music instructor. This guy is an awful person, so cruel to our hopeful, misunderstood, passionate protagonist Andrew (played by rising star Miles Teller) and yet both Chazelle and Simmons work masterfully together to paint Fletcher as this scary human being but also looks for ways to explain him. This is how characters should be written. The editing is out of this world amazing, cutting so perfectly to elude to so much more than playing music: the drums as a phallic representation? I could probably talk about this film for hours. Whiplash is the most artistic film I’ve seen about music, period.
4. Gone Girl
There is a time in Hollywood where the right writer, director, actors, composer, cinematographer, cat, etc. all come together to make the movie of the year. The perfect combination of art and entertainment; David Fincher’s Gone Girl is the biggest money maker on my top 10 and features the most memorable performance of the year. Rosamund Pike makes that type of breakthrough performance that critics and audiences will be talking about in five, ten, twenty years from now! Her “Amazing Amy” is that type of girl you trust, sympathize and want to know about…until…wait for that turning point…I don’t want to give it away because that would take away from the astonishing craft that is being put onto screen here by these amazing artists. Fincher calibrates Gone Girl like a puzzle that you never want to finish. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, as usual, composes the score with such haunting and thrilling effect especially any time Pike’s Amy is on screen. The rest of the cast is fantastic: Ben Affleck has never been better as Amy’s dud husband, Nick and Carrie Coon is a revelation as Nick’s witty and empathetic younger sister, Margo. But this is Pike’s movie, I can see why every actress in the world wanted this part. Her performance is the type of acting you read about but rarely see. Just wait until you see her transformation, she’ll “amaze” you…
I’ve been talking about this film since it was announced to be premiered at the 2014 Festival de Cannes. This movie was actually supposed to be released in 2013, but then got rescheduled…which only increased my anticipation! It’s safe to say that all my internal or external hype was more than proven. This is one of the best directed films of the year, Bennett Miller (Capote and Moneyball) visually illustrates this tragic story turning this film into a portrait of wealth, patriotism, and power. This is a very strange true story and I won’t give it away for people that don’t know the story ( I have several friends that didn’t know, which made the movie even more shocking). I was still strongly affected even knowing the true story, which should be credited to Miller, screenwriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman and the trio-acting virtuoso of Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo plays Olympic wrestler David Schultz with so much warmth and true brotherly love and pride. Carell plays the sad, wealthy John du Pont with a devastatingly disturbing desire to be exactly what David is. And then there’s Tatum’s Mark Schultz, the man that is torn apart from these two forces. All three are great, but Tatum steals the show for me…emotionally and physically, he is the heart and soul of this film. Miller is the perfect director for him and uses his nuanced reservedness to direct this film with quiet strength, literally. There would be scenes where Miller would take out sound completely, at the most dramatic moments – a risky move, but it certainly pays off. The sport of wrestling is taken to its most extreme here showing that the basic drive to be the best, in Mark Schultz’s case, can result in tragedy. Is that the American dream? Foxcatcher is a thought provoking, ambiguous film about a strange, ambiguous story.
2. Force Majeure
Totally snubbed in the Best Foreign Film category from the Academy Awards, Ruben Ostlund’s brilliantly perceptive Force Majeure is a subtle masterpiece. Translated into English as, “The Tourist,” it is a Swedish film about a family that goes to the French Alps on a ski holiday. While eating lunch one afternoon an avalanche begins to rumble down the mountains (see picture above) and this family begins to find out why they are here on this trip. Referred to as the “art house answer to Gone Girl” by critics, this black comedy dissects marriage to the point where I was so uncomfortable that I would find heads being chopped up more comforting…yeah I said that. But it’s that type of uneasiness that you don’t want to watch and yet you can’t look away. It’s also beautifully shot by Fredrik Wenzel, using the white backdrops of the landscape to frame characters as isolated humans lost in their own worlds. Please, please, do not let the fact that this film is in a different language stop you from seeing one of the most acutely observed black comedies I have ever seen. You won’t be disappointed.
1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The reason why I love movies is because I am able to step outside my own ego and experience a character’s life, the culture they inhabit, the struggles they encounter in their day-to-day lives, and most importantly witness the change that the character makes at the end of their journey. Cinema is my way of empathizing; it’s how I express myself emotionally. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu makes films that encompasses human condition so rawly and so truthfully that I crave his art more and more. Amores Perros is one of my favorite films of all time and marked Inarritu’s film debut in 2000. 21 Grams was his second film which got released in 2003 and featured some of the most explosive acting one will ever see in movies. Now in 2014 Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has crafted, with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeski, the best cinematic experience of the year. From the moment Birdman began I was emerged into this universe that felt unreal but at the same time so real; it was an almost wordless experience. It’s surreal but yet there’s realism to be found within this world. Essentially we’re in the mind or ego of Riggan, played by Michael Keaton in an extraordinary performance which should definitely earn him the Best Actor Oscar. He used to be famous and now he wants to make a comeback and prove he’s a legit artist. I make that statement towards Riggan, the character and Keaton, the actor. This is only a hint at the amount of meta-commentary that is in this film. I could go on for pages talking about that. The ensemble cast is stellar: Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts (star of Inarritu’s 21 Grams), Amy Ryan, and Andrea Riseborough all get their moments to shine. I feel as if Inarritu is exploring his own ego through Keaton who’s exploring his own through Riggan…all while a movie lover like me is exploring my own ego through Inarritu’s vision. Anyone who is still following along has clearly seen this film and understands this perspective. Birdman has everything- humor, drama, love, wit… you name it, this movie has it! This is by far the best movie I’ve seen all year and I can’t wait to get it on DVD so I can watch it whenever I want. I never wanted Birdman to end, it’s pure movie nirvana.