Sunday, February 22, 2015

Twenty Five Films for 2014

First things first...
Hi friends! It's been a while, yes? After going back and forth for a while about where to tack up my favorite films list from last year, I wandered into the overgrowth that was this old blog and decided this was as good a place as any. And yeah, this place could use a fresh coat of paint, but that's for another day. Right now, I'm all about looking back on the best films of 2014, which is definitely more important right now than figuring out a banner that will fit on this site.

It was a strong year. Not a year overrun with masterpieces, perhaps, but one where a handful of great directors turned in some of their strongest work, where genre pictures made a welcome return to center stage, and where Tilda Swinton had unquestionably her most Swinton-y year to date. It was also a year of a great many biopics, of which, only one will you find here. It is really best not to encourage these things.

The obvious disclaimer, although I have seen a good number of 2014 releases (63 to be exact) I have plenty of blindspots, and they are: Timbuktu, Beyond the Lights, Citizenfour, Life Itself, Why Don't You Play in Hell, Winter Sleep and every single animated movie that isn't made of Legos.

Finally, twenty five seems even more like an arbitrary number considering that there were way more than 25 films I really liked from last year, including Goodbye to Language 3D, Lucy, Ida, Le Weekend, White Bird in a Blizzard, Edge of Tomorrow and hell, even Into the Woods, but a line must be drawn somewhere, and besides, I kind of want to kick this off with 2014's most fascinating and flawed piece of pop entertainment...

25. Gone Girl
I'm not sure Fincher strikes quite the right tone for this, but there's plenty to marvel at here, specifically, the acting prowess of Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, and even Tyler Perry.

24. A Most Violent Year
Stunningly shot in a way that veers between athletic and majestic. An engrossing anti-gangster movie.

23. Two Days One Night
One of the strongest Oscar nominated performances of the last few years still is only Cotillard's second best work of 2014. She dominates every frame here. An emotionally exhausting performance.

22. Under the Skin
I'm supposed to have this higher, I think. A year ago, I had pegged this as my likely favorite film of the year, sight unseen. Oh well, it's a perfect case of a movie that fascinated me without ever actually resonating, and that's enough to keep it out of my upper rankings. Scarlett is mesmerizing though.

21. The Double
Richard Ayoade is going to make a masterpiece one of these days. We're not there yet, but this is a nice improvement over the already solid Submarine

20. Birdman (or, no, fuck it, I'm not typing the rest of that stupid title)
It's a nifty little magic trick of a movie and I do not begrudge it any of the awards attention it has had whatsoever. Now bring on the Keaton comeback.

19. Inherent Vice
Paul Thomas Anderson tackles Pynchon. It goes as well as it possibly could have. Joaquin is in fine form, but Josh Brolin and Katherine Waterston run away with the show.

18. Force Majeure
In the aftermath of an avalanche on a family vacation, hilarity ensues.

17. We Are The Best!
"Hate The Sport" should definitely be vying with "Everything is Awesome" for that Best Original Song Oscar.

16. The Guest
A run-of-the-mill home invasion thriller midway through its run says "Fuck it" and decides to become a bloody insane send-up of John Carpenter movies.

15. Dear White People
Its got style and panache to spare, and makes for one hell of a calling card for Justin Simien. 

14. Leviathan
A tale of oppression, God and vodka.

13. Starry Eyes
A highly visceral horror film of undying ambition.

12. Listen Up Philip
If Woody Allen had the capacity to be more self-deprecating, it might look like this. Jason Schwartzman is the perfect intellectual blowhard, but his companions in misery Elizabeth Moss and Jonathan Pryce really steal the show.

11. Guardians of the Galaxy
Odd how so few blockbusters - the pop-confections of the movie world - understand how to truly tap into the power of pop music. This one gets it though, and to glorious effect.

Make your final predictions accordingly. Without further adieu, the top ten...

10. Nightcrawler
This one's had staying power, no doubt about it. Striking turns from Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed and especially Jake Gyllenhaal in what is easily his finest work to-date. A darkly funny and deeply unsettling portrait of the American dream run amok.

9. Mr. Turner
Timothy Spall huffs and puffs and grunts his way through the only biopic of the year that truly adopted a warts and all approach to its subject. It is mitigated by the fact Turner's own repulsiveness is ensconced with a film that frame by frame ought to be displayed in a museum. It's the most miraculously shot film of the year.

8. Boyhood
Blinding ambition can make up for a whole host of shortcomings, and here, it's enough to carry it all the way to classic status. A tremendous achievement.

7. Mommy
Xavier Dolan once again assaults the world with pop-melodramatic intensity. Mommy is a firecracker with a three hour fuse, and it sports not one, not two, but three of the years strongest performances.

6. Snowpiercer
No other great movie features a line as ridiculous as "The babies tasted the best."

5. God Help The Girl
Scottish indie pop is good for the soul. Here's a film that is terribly earnest and wholeheartedly charming, and I would gladly revisit these characters and their music over and over and over again.

4. Only Lovers Left Alive
You all should have seen this one coming, because clearly Jim Jarmusch + Tilda Swinton + Vampires equates to everything I could have possibly wanted in a movie.

3. The Immigrant
James Gray takes his cues from Coppola here, and the result is nothing less than one of the greatest takes on the American Dream ever put to celluloid. Even Marion Cotillard has never been better. Joaquin Phoenix just keeps building that resume.

2. The Babadook
We made it through the lean years, everybody. After nearly three decades, the horror genre may just be in strong form once more. And if you need a masterpiece to hang your black top hat on, look no further than The Babadook, which mines terror from far more everyday concerns than pop-up-book monsters.

1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson, hopped up on balalaika and nostalgia, delivers a finely-tuned cuckoo clock of a film that turns out to be his most complex and melancholic effort to date. I haven't seen it in nearly a year now, and yet it remains fresher in my mind than every other 2014 release since, a sure sign that this is the right pick for my favorite move of last year.

And there you have it. I'll spare any other superlatives, but suffice it to say, yes, there are some obvious omissions here, and yes, most of them were still pretty swell in their own right. But twenty five is enough, right? So let's put 2014 to rest already so I can finally go watch Jupiter Ascending

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