Monday, December 15, 2014
Favorite Movies of 2014
Boyhood-Profoundly moving and incredibly real. My favorite thing about it is that characters like this so rarely get featured in films—working class people doing their best to make it, parents who try their best and fail anyway, kids who are better than they might appear to be. And the “trick” of it—following the same boy for twelve years of his life—is much more than a trick, managing to instead articulate what it means to grow and change and become one’s self.
Birdman, Or, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance-I was mesmerized by this movie from the first moment until the last, wondrous shot. While giving us the illusion of one long continuous shot for almost two hours, it is more an experience than a film. Deep and thought-provoking without ever being pretentious. It is very funny, very moving, incredibly performed, beautifully-written, and I thought it was flawless filmmaking. Phenomenal.
Calvary-Besides Birdman, this is the movie I have continued to think the most about. Rooted by a beautiful performance by Brendan Gleeson, this film is also a harrowing look at contemporary Ireland, a country ravaged by banking and church scandals. It is one of the most symbolic movies I’ve ever seen—so symbolic, in fact, that it took me awhile to figure out that each character was representative of a specific sin or facet of contemporary Ireland and not just a one-dimensional stereotype. Not a perfect film but certainly a thought-provoking one, and those are my favorite kinds.
Chef-One of the most entertaining films I’ve ever seen. I actually found myself smiling while watching it. Characters we care about, great music, and—best of all—a plot that goes places we are not expecting. This was the most unexpected treat of the year for me.
The Grand Budapest Hotel-My favorite Wes Anderson film is still Moonrise Kingdom but I really did love this one, too. Pure fun, and surprisingly moving.
Nightcrawler-I went into this film expecting it to be pretty run-of-the-mill but I found it exhilarating. Gyllenhaal has said that he played this entire role thinking like “a hungry coyote” and it shows in a brilliant performance. The scenes between him and Renee Russo (also great) are electric. A thrilling car chase, real questions of ethics in a time when the media is becoming less and less moral. This is not only a pulse-pounding film, but also an important one for our times.
Ida-This was my favorite foreign film of the year, and it’s also the most visually stunning. Shot in stark black and white, it’s the simple story of a Catholic nun in early 1960s Germany who is told a shocking family secret that sends her on a sad journey. If quiet beauty is your thing, then check this out. Every single frame is like an amazing photograph.
The Theory of Everything-I didn’t think this was a great film but the performances certainly are, and while the movie doesn’t do anything groundbreaking it also does everything pretty perfectly. Eddie Redmayne is getting all the Oscar hype (and he should) but I thought Felicity Jones stole the movie from him in a much harder role. His performance is completely physical but hers is all heart and soul.
The Immigrant was the most underrated film of the year, showing up only on a handful of Best Of lists, but I thought it was lush and lovely filmmaking like we rarely see these days, a throwback to female-centered films of the 1930s. Marion Cotillard is wonderful, as always, as an immigrant who finds herself in an impossible situation once she gets to America. It’s the movie you may not have heard of on this list, and I encourage you to find it. It’s already available on Netflix.
The Babadook-I knew I wanted to see this movie as soon as the director of The Exorcist announced that it was the most frightening film he’d ever seen. Pretty high praise from a horror master. And while I don’t think it approaches the terror of my favorite horror movies like The Exorcist, The Descent, and The Conjuring, it is very, very scary. But also very, very sad. The mark of a true horror film is its sound design and this one has that in spades, with grinding teeth, creaking floorboards, whispers, and screams being equally frightening. The ending becomes a little too heavy-handed in its symbolism, though.
Blockbusters I loved:
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes-A somewhat conventional action movie, but with some real heart and audacious visual-storytelling. This is one of my all-time favorite franchises.
Mockingjay (Part One)-That scene where Katniss sings “The Hanging Tree” and the orchestra builds and then the masses begin to sing with her and storm the capitol—that’s one of the most powerful moments on film this year, and it gave me chills. Mockingjay is a beautiful entertainment but it’s also about social justice, about the power of the people, and it seems especially relevant right now.
Interstellar was uneven (that whole sequence where he's behind the bookshelf is ridiculous...if the people of the future are so smart why do they have to leave a weird code that is impossible to figure out in the dust of a little girl's room? Why is he still in his space suit in this sequence?) but full of some beautiful and surprising moments (and some overwrought ones, too).
The Big Hit Film I Hated This Year: Gone Girl. I thought it glorified (and eroticized) violence, made rural people look stupid (the dialect coach on this was way out of line), celebrated selfishness, and was a sad commentary on longterm relationships (they're not all that way, and I would say that very few of them are). I felt it was incredibly manipulative and insulting and it troubled me that it was so embraced by mass audiences. And come on, those twists were totally unbelievable.
Big critical favorite that I liked but didn't love: Belle
Letdowns: Rosewater (first half was thrilling, second half was every hostage TV movie I've ever seen), Locke (if you're going to put us in a car with one character for the entire movie you better make it really visually stimulating; it wasn't, even if his performance was).
2014 movies I want to see but haven't yet: Selma, Snowpiercer, Unbroken, Wild, Love is Strange, Pride, Under the Skin, Foxcatcher, The Skeleton Twins, Fury