Journal: 2014 in Film Jan 2, 2015 13:00:32 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Jan 2, 2015 13:00:32 GMT -5
Ben Affleck in David Fincher's Gone Girl.
Once again, we arrive at the beginning of a new year, which means it's time for my picks for favorite films of the previous year. Rather than provide a long-winded paragraph summarizing the year, I'll just say that it was a fine year for cinema, particularly towards the end, when weekends were crowded with numerous different options, video-on-demand provided, once again, a wide variety of documentaries and quirky independent offerings, and we're left scratching our heads for what films will merit nominations in what areas for the Academy Awards, meaning there were a great deal of very strong films. Here are my picks for my top ten favorite films of 2014, followed by my picks for the worst of the year, before concluding with my top five average, yet overlooked films of the year.
My Top Ten Favorite Films of 2014
1. Boyhood: In the middle of the year, it seemed everybody, critics and audiences alike, were praising the magnificent qualities of Richard Linklater's Boyhood, leading some to question whether or not the film was being overpraised or it really was a treasure to behold. Despite some scattered naysayers bashing features and instances that don't even concern the meaning or ideas behind the film, Boyhood is a masterwork, and I reiterate the statement I made in my review that before its creation, nobody had made the defining piece of art for my generation, yet Linklater went ahead and fixed that right away. Boyhood, on top of replicating what it was like to grow up in the late nineties and early two-thousands amid great technological and social changes, shows the rollercoaster ride of growing up and coming of age in the purest, rawest form, biting off years at a time but never getting lost in translation. The most shocking thing about the film is how narratively unremarkable it is; there's nothing in Boyhood very subversive or, what some would say even "eventful," but it's the film's inherent commonality in the situations of its characters that make it so remarkable. It's a slice of life in the most beautiful way, and I'll be damned if I'm not going to try and rewatch it once a year; next to Ron Fricke's Samsara, it's one of the frontrunners for my favorite films of this decade.
My review of Boyhood, influxmagazine.com/boyhood-review/
2. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is, before anything else, a film for artists; it's a film about staying relevant, proving oneself to his or her harshest critics, and living up to personal standards to assure longevity and happiness in one's life. Michael Keaton gives the best performance I have seen from him, playing a man who is desperately trying to put together a functioning stageplay, which he hopes will put his name back on the map as an actor and director of quality following a three movie stint playing the titular superhero character. Haunted by his superhero counterpart, and crippled by an actor who takes many creative liberties with his material and his daughter, who got off drugs fairly recently, Keaton's character does everything in his power to stay sane and put on a show that will finally prove to his longtime critic that he is indeed worthy of acclaim. On top of a story nearly every artist can relate to in some way, Birdman is a technically sublime film, with editing that gives it the look of being shot in one continuous, uninterrupted take, providing a new perspective on the breakneck environment of constructing a stageplay. It's an absolute must see all around.
My review of Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), influxmagazine.com/birdman-review/
3. Life Itself: It's a tad strange to say that the most emotional movie experience of the year for me came from a documentary, but saying it came from anything else would be a complete lie. Steve James' Life Itself, concerning the life, rise, legacy, and death of Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert is a stunningly emotional film, painting a warm picture of the larger-than-life journalist, who also happens to serve as my greatest writing influence. The film was made during the final year of Ebert's life, and while it features numerous journalists and colleagues talking about how Ebert individually impacted them, James devotes plenty of time to showing Ebert's personal life, a lot of which involved doctor visits and around-the-clock treatment after a battle with thyroid cancer left him without the ability to speak. But Life Itself isn't a dour, mopey film; it's a celebration of life in the grandest sense, and even Ebert doesn't allow himself to be fazed by what has happened over the years. He's too busy cherishing the moments he has left, with his loving, devoted wife Chaz and his numerous grandchildren. The film is a triumph in every sense of the word, slaughtering the ridiculous notion that "nobody likes a critic" as well as being one of the finest documentaries in years.
My review of Life Itself, influxmagazine.com/life-review/
4. At Berkeley: Frederick Wiseman is one of the most intriguing documentarians working today, and the interesting part is you never hear or see him in any of his films. Working in film for over four decades and churning out over two dozen films in that time period, Wiseman seems to believe in simply turning the camera on in a specific location and watching what unfolds. At Berkeley is a four hour documentary that shows the University of California, Berkeley in various lights, from the student organizations all the way to the board meetings about the school's finances. Wiseman goes everywhere he can on campus, and effectively creates a film that shows the contemporary American education system at work. The film works best when we're sitting amidst a large group of kids, engaged in roundtable conversation about sociology and contemporary world issues, which makes us feel as if we're one of the students. Thought-provoking, contemplative, maddening, and treading on information overload, At Berkeley is another one of 2014's masterful documentaries and also manages to pack in the feelings of a real school day.
My blog post concerning At Berkeley, stevepulaski.blogspot.com/2014/02/you-have-this-knowledge-what-will-you.html
5. Whiplash: It's rare to say that perhaps the year's most vulgar and uncommonly brutal films isn't a comedy, but a high-strung drama about persistency and motivation in the least predictable sense. Whiplash stars Miles Teller as a young and determined drummer, who doesn't just want to know his own music inside and out but wants to be "one of the greatest drummers who ever lived." He finds himself faced with the legwork to become such when he meets his teacher, played by J.K. Simmons, a ruthless, mean-spirited, and unabashedly vulgar instructor who doesn't mind physical and mental abuse to get his students to deliver. Whiplash is a fiery film, bursting with energy and life, especially during the scenes where Teller is either practicing or performing. Other key scenes that strike emotional chords involve the grueling torture Teller's character put himself through, playing drums until his hands are callused and bloody, or even speeding through traffic trying to get to a performance on time. We've all seen films about trying to be the best of the best and be number one, but here's a film that shows the real ugliness that precedes untold success.
My review of Whiplash, thebaconation.com/review/whiplash-2014/
6. Before I Disappear: Shawn Christensen's 2013 short film Curfew lingered in my head long after I viewed it, for I love its intimate portrayal of a lost, suicidal character and an innocent little girl against a backdrop of seediness. Before I Disappear, Christensen's feature-length directorial debut, is a continuation of the story, and while some inevitably feel that the short kept things simple and basic, I personally wanted to spent a bit more time with these characters. Before I Disappear, just like Curfew, keeps the element of toying with realism by infusing moments of the film with surrealism, a technique I don't believe I have ever seen done. On top of that, the film is deeply-rooted in its characters, as we focus on Christensen's lost and wayward lead, who's girlfriend has just disappeared and who's debts are crippling him at every turn. The film is a bleak, miserable picture, but it's also quietly beautiful in its portrayal of the seedy environment its characters are stuck in, and Christensen does a fantastic job at being the film's everyman, from writer, to actor, to director, and more.
My review of Before I Disappear, influxmagazine.com/before-i-disappear-review/
7. Tusk: You can call Kevin Smith's Tusk "weird," "strange," "nasty," "wacky," "stupid," and more but one thing you can't call it is "unoriginal." After recently rewatching the film with a close friend of mine, I realize the film is much more thoughtful than I originally thought: quiet, artful, not wrapped up in shock or grotesqueness, and overall, nicely-infused with exposition and intimacy with its characters. The film concerns Justin Long's character, a podcaster who travels to Canada to score an interview with the subject of a recently viral video. The interview is unexpectedly cancelled, however, when Long arrives to Canada and sees the person from the video has committed suicide. Desperate for an interview, Long's character responds to a flyer on the wall of a bathroom concerning an elderly man with intriguing stories to tell. He arrives at the man's lavish home, located in the backwoods of Manitoba, to find a eccentric man who has lived a great life at sea, who boasting a strange obsession for walruses. The film is not only one of the scariest, most unsettling films I have seen of 2014, but it's also one of the saddest, with the final scene hitting harder the second time around than it did the first, when I saw the film in largely empty theater. Smith is known for his buddy-comedies like the fantastic, indescribably great Clerks and Chasing Amy, but with Tusk, he makes his strangest, most haunting picture that also ranks amongst the top films he has made mainly for its ambition to carry out an idea to the fullest extent and creating a film that exists in a multitude of different genres all at once.
My review of Tusk, influxmagazine.com/tusk-review/
8. Gone Girl: Much has been made about David Fincher's Gone Girl, and because of that, I'll keep my praise for the film fairly short and sweet. This is a terrifically-made adult drama, the kind of film that becomes less and less common every year in terms of being so thoughtful and so well-done. Ben Affleck gives yet another terrific performance, working off a string of directorial efforts, and alongside Rosamund Pike, who is doing work good enough to earn her the Best Actress nomination at the Oscars, both create a seriously unsettling couple. The film's numerous angles, in addition, from the media frenzy surrounding missing persons, the brokenness of a marriage, and the hunt for some resemblance of proof or consistency for a story is all gripping material that is beautifully stretched out for two and a half hours, allowing for development to take place. Nothing is rushed and no stone is unturned, and Gone Girl is a well-crafted thriller/drama all around.
My review of Gone Girl, thebaconation.com/review/gone-girl/
9. Giuseppe Makes a Movie: Time and time again, I have stated that avant-garde musician, actor, and director Giuseppe Andrews is one of the most original souls working today. His constant drive to churn out the strangest yet most unique films is one that is incorruptible, not fazed by public opinion or the tininess of the niche he attracts; he's too busy working on the next project. Adam Rifkin's documentary Giuseppe Makes a Movie follows Andrews as he writes, directs, and organizes one of his films, a film by the name of Garbanzo Gas, which you can buy on his website. Rifkin shows Andrews' casting style, paying local homeless men he has became friends with over the years about the average pay for a day's work at a minimum wage job, and how many of his scenes are spontaneous and brewed from his mind as soon as he walks on to a set. Giuseppe Makes a Movie is a wonderful introduction for people who still think films come from big studio houses, or are unfamiliar with the concept of do-it-yourself filmmaking; if fate is kind to it, it will go down as one of the best documentaries about making a movie.
My review of Giuseppe Makes a Movie, stevethemovieman.proboards.com/thread/4253/giuseppe-movie
10. Magic in the Moonlight: Woody Allen, at least when I have followed in the last few years, has gone through an unpredictable cycle, where some of his films will garner critical acclaim and even merit some Oscar nominations (Blue Jasmine, Midnight in Paris) and others will flounder, making a barely-noticeable blip on the radar (Magic in the Moonlight, To Rome With Love). Magic in the Moonlight, however, is a film that definitely needed to be more than a blip. This is an uproariously funny comedy about questioning faith, or one's lack thereof, and conceptualizing self-delusion as a viable method of dealing with the future and life's unpredictability by pairing Colin Firth and Emma Stone together, the former a hardened atheist, the latter a young, spacey woman who claims to get "mental vibrations" from people that reveal their families and their motivations. Magic in the Moonlight seems to catch Allen in a religious state of mind, questioning religion and its benefits while simultaneously poking fun at it. However, even if the film didn't merit much acclaim or recognition,one thing is for sure: as long as Allen's alive, he'll be active, churning out one film a year since in the mid-1980's and not showing any signs of slowing down.
My review of Magic in the Moonlight, influxmagazine.com/magic-moonlight-review/
Honorable mentions (in no order): Big Eyes, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Jersey Boys, Nightcrawler, and Wolf Creek 2.