It has been a really busy year and I have rarely been able to post anything on the blog, but if there is one thing I like to keep up with it is my personal take on what were the best films of each year. With the Oscars on tonight it is the perfect time to go through what were the very best films from a solid year at the movies. So before the Academy gives out their awards, enjoy my take on 2014.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier/Guardians of the Galaxy
After a down year in 2013, Marvel knocked it out of the park with their two fantastic 2014 releases. The Cap came first with a satisfying, exhilarating, and game changing second installment. Chris Evans shines as Marvels most effective leader and is Marvels best equivalent to Nolan’s Batman with sharp storytelling and a somewhat finer sense of realism. Guardians is exactly the film it should have been with over the top visuals/action and a heart as big as the universe it occupies. Marvel took a gamble introducing a B Team property to the silver screen but it pays off as Guardians has the perfect cast of misfits to carry this sci fi epic. It’s been a great year for Marvel as the MCU added two of its best features in 2014.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Along with Marvel’s two strong films, Dawn is a fine example of a big budget affair offering quality along with entertainment value. The movie itself isn’t very interested in the human characters, who are mostly there just to move the plot along, as the apes take center stage. With various heroes, villains, and a rich story of betrayal and vengeance, the Apes franchise is chugging along with the best prequel/sequel of the year.
Another satisfying thriller from Fincher and two outstanding performances from Pike and Affleck, Gone Girl is a faithful adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s addictive novel. One of the better mystery films to come out in years where the plot twists feel fresh instead of the usual cheap gimmick and some of the best ensemble work around. I do wonder though after The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and now Gone Girl, when will Fincher find his way back to making films not limited by a popular source material.
Chris Nolan isn’t perfect and neither is Interstellar, which is actually far from it. Containing some confusing dialogue and questionable character motivations, Interstellar is about the bigger picture. That bigger picture is one of the most ambitious films to ever grace the silver screen. At its finest, it is a fantastic journey into the farthest reaches of space that thrives on intense action, visuals, and the emotional weight of a dad trying to make it back home to his family.
The Top Ten
10. Force Majeure
There is one really exciting shot in the very beginning of this Swedish film where a family deals with a sudden perceived catastrophe event. That shot is the best shot of the year and truly the only time Force gets the blood pumping. The rest of the film is all about the shockwaves of that moment and if you love something that will keep you on the edge of your seat, skip this one. Force Majeure is a thinking mans game with a story and plot built on that one moment, that one shot, and if the main family can ever come back from it. An excellent ensemble and a witty yet heartbreaking script make Force Majeure a thought provoking look into what it is to be human when the world is (seemly) falling apart.
Ida is many things (coming of age drama, road trip movie, historical drama, etc…) but the central mystery carries the emotional punch of the film. Set in 1960s Poland, Ida sees two very different women searching the polish countryside for a shared family history. If you are a patient viewer, who is able to endure a very slowly paced film, most likely you will be moved by this simple little tale. Anchored by two wonderful performances (Agata Kulesza and Agata Tzebuchowska), this is a wonderful example of the Polish cinema as it explores a Poland still dealing with fresh wounds.
One of the weirdest action films in years with so many tonal shifts all throughout its running time; Snowpiercer is 2hrs of sheer madness. Snowpiercer focuses on a train that is carrying the last of mankind as the world has found itself in another ice age. This train separates the rich from the poor (rich in the front, poor in the back) and the real fun is when the poor decide to take their fight to the front. This leads to our characters going from train car to train car which seem to get more and more ridiculous as they go along. To pigeon hole Snowpiercer into one genre would be a disservice as it shifts all over the place with outlandish characters and set pieces. That’s the fun of Snowpiercer with its unpredictability matched with its high-octane action. This as exhilarating as they come and the type of film that you’d one-day hope the modern blockbuster would turn into.
7. The Babadook
Every once in awhile a horror film will make my year-end list, which isn’t surprising because every once in awhile the genre comes out with something truly special. The Babadook is that film this year and frankly one of the best horror films to come out this decade. Essie Davis plays Amelia, a single mother dealing with a behavioral child who is convinced that a boogieman creature named the Babadook exists. Davis is haunting in the role and her madness takes the film down some very dark and twisted paths. The Babadook doesn’t rely on jump scares (although I wish the film had more of these) as much as it does on an overall sense of dread which is actually quite refreshing. Even if it is a horror film the heart and soul of The Babadook is a story of a mother and son. Moving on is at the center of this haunted house affair and even if The Babadook maybe one of the best movie monsters in recent memory, the film succeeds with its touching story of running from the past with all the scars that come with it.
Bennett Miller’s third feature is very different from his last sports film, Moneyball. Where as Moneyball was a lot lighter in tone and focused a lot on the sport on screen, Foxcatcher is drenched in tragedy. Wrestling is well represented but the dysfunctional relationship between three very different men is the real meat of the plot. Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo give top-notch performances as the movie hinges on the chemistry between the three of them. Foxcatcher is a very dark film, but I found the performances of Ruffalo and Tatum, as well as their characters relationships, provide the most moving moments of the picture. The big brother/little brother moments give a little bit of light in a film made up of mostly darkness.
The biggest Oscar snub this year is Jake Gyllenhaul not being nominated for Best Actor. The dude should be bringing home the statue, let alone being nominated, for his role as Louis, a very ambitious low life looking for any way to exploit his way to the top. Louis isn’t a very ethical guy to begin with but as his ambitions grow, he slowly loses hold of the morals he had (if he had any to begin with). Louis ambitions are understandable for anyone trying to make something of themselves but it his type of unchecked, unethical ambition that creates chaos for all those around him. What is even more disturbing is that it is rewarded throughout the film as Louis continues to rise in the nightly news industry. The American dream has been analyzed and analyzed by numerous films but Nightcrawler is another fresh look at how destructive it can become in the wrong hands.
Michael Keaton will hopefully bring home the Oscar for Best Actor, in the absence of Gyllenhaul, as his portrayal of an actor haunted by his superhero past is among the best performances of the year. Birdman is a wild two hours as it is presented as one continuous shot (tricky editing is able to accomplish this). Inarritu is a strong filmmaker but many of his films have been about plots with various characters spread across different locales. Birdman is focused on a theater in New York and a more centralized location is a nice change of pace for the director. Keaton anchors the strong cast as his character deals with finally making a type of art he can be proud of. Recognition for your efforts and the very nature of what constitutes art is compared with the short-term mainstream entertainment our culture is obsessed with in Keatons and Inarritus best films to date.
This is a true gem and one of the best-kept secrets, until very recently, of this strong cinematic year. JK Simmons finally gets a role to showcase his amazing talents and Miles Teller is a true rising star. Whiplash is a very relevant film as it addresses a very aggressive and borderline (borderline being used as a forgiving term) abusive type of leadership. Simmons is a man looking for the next great Jazz musician and in his mind the means justify the end but at what cost? This isn’t a black and white film, there is no right or wrong answer presented which has made it hard for some to embrace the picture. For me it is a thrilling trip into the madness of pursuing greatness and that ending brings the picture to a thrilling and poignant end.
2. Under the Skin
Until recently, this was my favorite film of the year. It is a mysterious movie because it doesn’t spoon fed the audience information even if the plot is surprisingly quite simple. Jonathon Glazer isn’t into the conventional and his science fiction film follows its own formula. The real power is in the visuals as it brings out the emotions missing from our main character. Scarlet Johansson plays an alien looking for humans for a mysterious purpose. Her progression from becoming detached from humanity to seeing the full spectrum of our existence is the only thing you really need to understand about Under the Skin. It’s the moments of doubt, the moments of compassion that makes Under the Skin more than just an art house affair. Under all the mystery and concealed plot points is one of the more emotionally gratifying films of the year.
Obviously the films main gimmick, being filmed over 12 years while using the same actors, has been discussed ad nauseam. You can get wrapped up in that fact but take that away and you still have one of the best coming of age stories….. ever. I’ve never been a huge fan of Linklater’s style of filmmaking but Boyhood works because of it. It doesn’t indulge in the milestones of life with our main characters shown during the quieter moments. Boyhood doesn’t entirely shy away from some hard hitting drama either but it is at its best when we see the relationship of the characters change and grow over the years. The cast is brilliant and the story is captivating, with relatable moments for almost anyone who sees it. Boyhood lingers with you, its nostalgic look into the past hit home for me as I’m sure it did for many other viewers. Boyhood doesnt just examine life, it is life in all its ugliness and sentiment. I talked to someone recently who discussed a scene late in the film where Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette’s characters discuss the raising of their son. She told me that that scene had happened in her life, that exact moment. Relating to something on the silver screen maybe the greatest gift the cinema has given to the world. Boyhood is the best film of 2014.