The Best of 2014
What appeared at the beginning to be a down year for blockbusters and good films in 2014 ended up an absolute boon for film lovers like me. From smaller, less recognized gems to the year’s typical blockbuster fare, I can’t help but be rather thankful for all we had last year.
It is time for me to reveal my top 10 list for 2014, as all good and pretend film critics must do. Feel free to comment with a list of your own, or share this story with anyone that wants to catch up.
10. Inherent Vice– The easy comparison to Paul Thomas Anderson’s California stylish stoner comedy/epic farce would be The Big Lebowski, but there are subtle differences that make Vice stand on its’ own. For one, Joaquin Phoenix’s Doc character’s love for Shasta (played by the stunning Katherine Waterston) grounds the story. Also, the character names alone would make me love this movie- the aforementioned Shasta, Sortilege, Ensenada Slim, Petunia Leeway, and Sauncho Smilax. Those names belong to characters in a stoner dream, which, I suppose, is exactly what this is. Of the ten films on this list, it’s possible that Inherent Vice will be the one I watch more than any of them. It really is that much fun.
9. American Sniper- Clint Eastwood’s docudrama on the life and times of Chris Kyle is an intense film, executed to near perfection. Aside from the skewed opinions of many, the film itself is masterful, crafting a linear story of a complicated man. Allowing your politics to influence how you feel about this film is the wrong choice. Instead, allow Eastwood’s deft direction to guide you through the experience of not just Kyle, but perhaps our whole military for the past 12 years.
8. Under The Skin- Jonathan Glazer’s adaptation of Michel Faber’s novel is one of those films- you know, the ones that are more atmosphere than content, that suggest rather than elaborate, that rely on the simplest facial movements rather than unnecessary dialogue. The shrill strings that accompany the brilliant score by Mica Levi assist in bringing this film to the ultimate tension level. I also admit to being thoroughly frightened by a particular scene, and even 9 months after seeing the film, it still bugs me. Some may say this drags on, but I’d say watch it again- it got even better the second time around.
7. Whiplash- Director Damien Chazelle’s semi-autobiographical tale of master and apprentice is an extraordinary battle of wills. Miles Teller shows what an excellent actor he is when he’s not involved in Divergent nonsense, and J.K. Simmons’ alpha male gives the year’s best supporting performance as, well, a villain. What truly makes this a great film is Chazelle ‘s ability to place doubt in our mind. Is greatness truly derivative of madness? You might say no, but this film brings a great argument to the table.
6: Chef- Of all the 2014 films I saw, Jon Favreau’s Chef may be the one I revisit the most. The love of food is an important theme, sure, but the life of a brilliant chef, and the relationships he acquires and maintains through the visage of brilliantly prepared food is the focus with this film. It helps that a man I know and care about is the spitting image of Favreau’s character, and his words and actions certainly call him to mind as well. Aside from the focus on Cuban cuisine, the film handles family relationships with a real sensibility, especially between father and son. It’s one of the more enjoyable films in recent memory.
5. Selma- Whether or not Martin Luther King Jr’s family endorsed this or not, this snippet of the great man’s life is a truly powerful and important film. Director Ava DuVernay transports us inside that moment in our country’s history so deftly that the film never becomes a fluff biopic, nor does it shy away from being critical of King, our nation’s leaders, or the ugly, hateful place America has occasionally been. It’s also the best looking film of the year, and David Oyelowo, matching Dr. King step for step, gives one of the year’s best lead performances, Oscar snubs be damned.
4. Nightcrawler- Director Dan Gilroy’s moody, satirical melody of American journalism and capitalism is hard to watch, sure. The film’s “throwback-to-the-80s” score, the focus on “dirty L.A.”, the take on today’s sexual politics, and the brilliant Jake Gyllenhaal’s manic performance steal the show. Even Rene Russo deserved awards talk for her portrayal of a news director having to push the limits to stay viable. This is another one of ‘those’ films- the atmospheric, dark type of comedy that boosts my confidence, knowing that I’m smart enough to understand what it has to say, and mature enough to enjoy the ‘adult’ of it all.
3. Wish I Was Here– Zach Braff’s funny and deeply emotional ‘thirtysomething’ version of Garden State hit home for this ‘thirtysomething’. It’s a crisp study of a character at a crossroad in his life, and the emotion necessary to get someone to transition from one point to another. The real relationships on display in this film carry it, but on a personal level, I feel Braff is the cinematic voice of my generation. I simply wish he didn’t need a decade to get what he has to say to his followers.
2. Enemy- Jake Gyllenhaal gives two, yes TWO, Oscar-worthy performances in this “paranoia-du-force” thriller. Every camera angle, every color wash, every piece of music in this film seems right in place to present a very Hitchcock-style film. It’s a real shame that critics everywhere forgot about this, but not me. Denis Villeneuve’s film is nearly perfect- he misleads his audience, or so we think, only to pounce on us in the end. Few films in the past number of years have kept me thinking “what just happened” as this one does- and that ENDING. Seriously, just see it, and tell me that it isn’t incredibly thought-provoking.
1. Gone Girl– This is a flawless film. How does a pulpy, Lifetime-esque subject become a masterpiece? David Fincher, that’s how. He crafts Gillian Flynn’s script into glorious intrigue, laced with multiple narrations, twists, gore, gender role commentary, and even murder mystery. It has that Fincher-sheen, that all-too-familiar camera focus, and such a wit that you can’t help but grin, even as awful people are doing awful things. It’s the best film of the year, and to be honest, it isn’t all that close.
*Honorable mention to: Boyhood, Begin Again, Birdman, The Babadook, Blue Ruin, Interstellar, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and Life Itself