Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top 10 Films of 2014

1.  BOYHOOD



Simple, elegant, genius.  A feat of filmmaking and an affecting chronicle that celebrates both the mutability and resilience of relationships and of personhood. See my full post here.


2.  INHERENT VICE






This is the only film I absolutely had to see two weekends in a row.  When I was leaving the theater on second viewing, a man behind me said to his friends, "I really liked that a lot.  I just wish I could have followed the plot."  Plot be damned; it's simply the vehicle (was Boogie Nights a film about the porn industry?).  Just go along for the ride and let it wash over you as if you were high like lead character Larry "Doc" Sportello, played by the as usual peerless Joaquin Phoenix.  (Warning--spoilers ahead!)  Like any other Paul Thomas Anderson film, it's all about the relationships:  Doc and his former flame, Shasta (an excellent Katharine Waterston); Doc and his LAPD alter ego, "Bigfoot" Bjornsen (Josh Brolin deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination for this performance), the seemingly tough flat topper with an air of "possessed melancholy."  When Doc calls him "brother," Bigfoot counters, "You're not my brother."  Doc notes, tears of awe and concern streaming, that Bigfoot could, however, use a keeper.  (Shades of The Master?)  The last scenes with Shasta illustrate the concept of "inherent vice," which is explained as something that can't be avoided, like "chocolate melting."  This film is about the unavoidable mutability (Pynchon's word would be "entropy") of relationships.  And yet, ties that bind will bind again, to loosely paraphrase Patti Smith.  Doc and Shasta fuck (that is the most apt description) towards the end, but that doesn't mean they're together again, she says.   Doc repeats this to her finally in the car, the two of them close in a tight shot (used liberally in this film), in, as Shelley put it, "the time which is [their] own."  Doc is driving, although they don't seem to be moving (clearly deliberate, given that nothing is visible through the car's fogged windows), on the road to somewhere and nowhere.  Que sera.  A hilarious and deeply affecting film, if you will allow it; an inspired adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's novel; and a stunningly directed piece of cinema, as we've come to expect from PTA, America's greatest contemporary auteur.


3.  WHIPLASH



29-year-old Damien Chazelle's pitch perfect film that keeps topping itself until, by its climax, it leaves you completely wrung out.  For my full post, click here.


4.  LOCKE




Steven Knight's ingenious, perfect movie that all takes place inside Ivan Locke's (played by a terrific Tom Hardy) SUV, in real time, with the action consisting of his taking call after call on his blue tooth car phone.  The film was shot over and over from start to finish each night during production.  It's hard to imagine how tense and moving the film is, given that all of the other actors are off screen.  Read more about a screening I attended at which Knight talked about it here.


5.  UNDER THE SKIN



This film was directed by Jonathan Glazer, who also directed Steven Knight's (see Locke, above) screenplay Sexy Beast.  This is one I want to see again.  It's not completely baked, but it's compelling and audacious as hell.  And it has an outstanding score by Mica Levi. My original post is here.


6.  20,00 DAYS ON EARTH



A fictional documentary on a day in the life of Nick Cave, this is really a film about the creative process.  Although Cave lives to perform, he considers himself first and foremost a writer.  And he co-wrote this with directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard.  It's engrossing, whether we see Cave performing, having sessions with his therapist, driving around Brighton with friends Ray Winstone and Kylie Minogue, or perusing his archives.  The title refers to Cave's 57th birthday.


7.  BIRDMAN



While not as soulful as Iñárritu's films written by/with Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel), this film is a directorial feat, with kudos to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.  There seems to be a parallel process at work here, with Iñárritu re-inventing himself post split with Arriaga just as Michael Keaton's character Riggan is attempting to do with his career by staging a Broadway play from a Raymond Carver story.  Excellent performances from Keaton, Edward Norton (in particular), and Emma Stone.


8.  THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL



I was much more impressed with the latest from Wes Anderson the second time I saw it, when it recently aired on HBO.  Initially, I had found it a tad precious (my original post is here).  But now it seems more of a true gem, from its imaginative script to its impressive ensemble cast and stunning production design/art direction.  (Incidentally, I came across this interesting post on watching good films twice.)  Anderson uses several Kubrickrian one-point perspective shots as well as his own unique directorial flourishes.  An impeccably realized film from a truly iconoclastic auteur.

9.  GONE GIRL



I suspect I would have liked this movie even more had I not loved the book (and its structure, with its alternating his-and-her chapters) so much.  Gillian Flynn nevertheless did a great job adapting her own seemingly impossible-to-film novel.  And of course  David Fincher brought his distinctive directorial sensibility.  Ben Affleck turned out to be perfect casting.  The only things that bugged me were Rosamund Pike's wigs.


10.  A MOST VIOLENT YEAR



Writer-director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call, All Is Lost) brings us another story of almost pathological pride and determination:  Oscar Isaac plays immigrant Abel Morales (yes, I believe the name is meant to evoke "morals"), who pursues the American Dream, a kind of a Gatsby of the heating oil industry who may or may not be corrupt and who will not waver in his pursuit of a property that will open a new world for him.  Set in 1981, one of the most violent and crime-ridden in New York City's history, this is a slow-building thriller whose first two acts almost bored me.  In retrospect, though, the film resonates with its rigorous tension, both with regard to character and plot.  In short, the filmmaker is as stoic and relentless as his main character, and Chandor pays it off thrillingly in the third act (redeeming himself from the non-ending of All Is Lost).  Jessica Chastain plays Morales' wife, the daughter of a gangster who--well, let's just say that she and her husband are equals in their determination.


RUNNERS UP:  Nymphomaniac Volumes I and II, Nightcrawler (for Jake Gyllenhaal's performance), Wild, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, The Rover, Only Lovers Left Alive (if only for its langorous mood, art direction, and the cool beauty of its yak-haired leads, Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston), Selma, St. Vincent, The Skeleton Twins (for Wiig and Hader).


BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT:  Interstellar. (Whatever happened to show, don't tell?  As Michael Mann said in a recent interview in the New York Times about his upcoming film Blackhat, "The way in is usually through the amygdala.  Not the cerebral cortex." ) 



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