And here are my (Chris) top film picks of 2014. Enjoy my friends!
Honorable Mentions: Only Lovers Left Alive, Ida, Blue Ruin, Frank, Neighbors, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, Dear White People, The Lego Movie, Life Itself and The Trip to Italy.
10. Under The Skin
The best homage this year to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey wasn’t an actual space film (sorry Interstellar) but instead it was a picture centered on gaining and learning about humanity back here on earth. Jonathan Glazer’s eerie (occasionally beautiful) film on what it means to be human is uniquely displayed in the point of view of a foreigner, played by Scarlett Johansson. Sexuality is a major part of this film, in questioning how we see each other as sometimes nothing more than an object of desire.
We aren’t naïve to the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles anymore, yet Dan Gilroy (director of Nightcrawler) manages to show something new here. Mostly through his sociopath character, Lou Bloom (played wonderfully by Jake Gyllenhaal), an opportunist who’s willingness to be the best crime journalism videographer goes past observer to willing participant. Bloom is a great salesman (Can you imagine the hell Bloom and Jordan Belfort would raise?), who truly doesn’t take no for an answer. The great cinematography by Robert Elswit (who also shot another very L.A. film the same year, Inherent Vice) gives the feel of constant dread around every corner as most of the film takes place at night.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy
Let’s just enjoy this. Let us remember the collective pleasure in knowing that for a of couple weeks in early August we had fun watching Chris Pratt do his best Han Solo impression. The chance to see a female lead in a comic book movie not run from the battle but instead get right in the thick of it. The joy brought to us by the dynamic duo of a foul mouth Brooklyn accented raccoon and the lovable childlike somewhat talking tree. The surprise comedy timing (or perfect lack of) by Drax the “muscle” of the movie. Revel in the fact that the galaxy was saved not by a fight scene but instead by Pratt’s dance moves. Just enjoy this moment, because we’ll grow tired and cynical of this band of misfits after 10 sequels.
7. The Babadook
In the simplest of terms, what The Shining was for alcoholic fathers is what The Babadook is for widowed single mothers. That is not to say this film isn’t unique, but fair warning this horror film is doing much more in its storytelling than most of the recent that share its genre. The real horror of the film isn’t the creature/ghost/demon but that of the difficulties of raising a young boy alone. At times the mother (played by Essie Davis) seems sleep deprived, stressed and downright terrified by her son’s constant need for attention, as most young imaginative boys are required. Jennifer Kent camera picks up those shadows and sounds that terrified us when we were young children in our bed alone using are own imagination to insight our fears.
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel
I feel like I’m on an island alone on this one but this is Wes Anderson best live action film since The Royal Tenenbaums. This is mostly due to Ralph Fiennes performance but also do to the madcap energy of the film that we rarely see from Anderson pictures. Anderson films have often been criticized for the inhibited nostalgia displayed by him, but in Budapest Hotel, he shows the beauty in what has been forgotten or thrown away by the changing times.
5. Inherent Vice
Having just walked out of theater no more than 12 hours ago, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this detective story that’s…not…really…a detective story? Yes, in this familiar rendition of a counter-culture The Big Sleep, the “whodunit” aspect isn’t so much important to the film but what as become of the world around the many cases. Our hero, the pot smoking “hippie” Doc Spotello (played by Joaquin Phoenix) doesn’t know what to make of his jigsaw puzzle of a case nor the post Manson Family murders (Vice takes place six months after the Sharon Tate murder) world he now lives in, where paranoia and conspiracies run rapid. After making arguably two masterpieces, There Will Be Blood and The Master, back-to-back P.T. Anderson can appear to be treading lightly here, yet don’t mistake the comedic fair for a recess time. Anderson’s direction is fully equipped as the director who is still at the top of his game and not at a decline at all. Give me six months and this could be in my top 3 films of 2014.
Director Bong Jong-Ho apocalyptic look at the future was easily the most imaginative high concept film of the year. Jong-Ho continues to bring his originality and humor in familiar genre pictures such as Mother (the Hitchokian who dun it), The Host (monster movie) and now Snowpiercer (post-apocalyptic). It could’ve been easy for this foreign filmmaker to scum to the clichés of action films in his first English speaking film but Jong-Ho takes what is expected and flips it on its head (as explain in my Best Film Scene)
3. Gone Girl
We’ve been told the “adult centered film” is dead and perhaps it is but as with most things David Fincher directs (The Social Network and Fight Club), the material is risen beyond what would be in lesser hands. The strength of the film is hinged on our buying into the tonal shift the film takes half way through. Fincher manages to gracefully take a right turn where we thought we were going left and never slows down for us to catch up with him. He goes and if we can’t keep up with what he is doing, to bad for us. Despite the dark subject matter few films have been as fun to watch as this throwback to late 80’s/early 90’s sexual suspense thrillers.
Richard Linklater’s wonderful film is not a love letter to childhood (as much as people would hope) but a series of captured forgotten moments. With spanning over 12 years of a life, Linklater doesn’t have time to go down vast plot rabbit holes but instead give snippets of a life that we don’t realize matter to us until after the fact. What makes Boyhood great is the little details, those details that we hadn’t even realized had an effect but unknowingly or unspokely matter to us until years later. It would’ve been easy for Linklater to sum up the growth of human being to one speech or highly substantial moment yet he was smart enough to realize that life is way more complicated than that. Boyhood may not look like much but it’s subtly saying a hell of a lot more about life than most pictures that try to be more obvious with there statements.
In the last fifteen minutes of Whiplash, something amazing happens while we our in a daze watching the last sequence unfold. Director Damien Chazelle is in sink with his actors Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons for maybe the most sexual non-sex scene captured on film. The battle between the two principals comes to a head in amazing drum solo that ends the film. Simmons and Teller “unite” as teacher/student to give each other what they always wanted in life. But unlike other movies where are “hero” seems to have a triumphant moment, we don’t feel as if everything is happier ever after for Andrew (Miles Teller). No instead we feel something dark, something sad is on the horizon for Andrew. Pain gets him to this great point and perhaps pain is the only thing that will sustain the art. Pain is part of the game here, maybe the same pain that Charlie “Bird” Parker was touched by.