Saturday, January 31, 2015

My Top Films of 2014.

Spending the end of 2014 packing up my life and moving across the country and then unpacking for the last month was not conducive to being timely about my annual Top Films post! But here we are, and hopefully I can press publish before we hit February. While I lagged a bit in written updates, I definitely saw a lot of movies in 2014. Jesse remarked a few weeks ago that he actually saw more movies in 2014 than any other year because he finally gave in to my every film-going whim and said yes when I invited him. It was a grand time to see a lot of movies with my husband; in years past I certainly saw more movies alone. I am smiling big right now -- I feel like something has been conquered! And it's a good thing that lot of the movies I dragged Jesse to were pretty good.

And so, I unveil, my favorite movies of 2014... as it exists today, subject to different order or whims of mood on other days -- but the beginning of this list is pretty solid.


Linklater strikes again for the second year in a row! I wasn't sure what to expect with Boyhood; when the film began I was like why is this is starting out with Coldplay's "Yellow"? And then I was taken back to when I first heard that song... twelve years ago. And then: I understood. As the movie unfolded, following a family and their world through the eyes of their son Mason, I was mesmerized by the way in which the director/writer Linklater and the actors were able to create--more than anything--an immersive feeling. It's definitely part nostalgia because there was a lot I recognized (the big sister/little brother dynamic to name one). The story is simple, but the way in which Linklater filmed the movie (aside from the once-a-year-for-12-years thing) evoked such a quietly thrilling perspective on a childhood journey. I saw it twice in theaters, and the first time I was lucky enough to meet Richard Linklater and the main actor, Ellar Coltrane. I might have known then, back in July, that it would be the best film I saw this year.


This movie surprised me. As I was putting together this list I was surprised that it came in at #2. But, the best films I saw this year provoked emotional reactions from me. Whiplash not only hit me emotionally, but physically as well. Seeing this film on the big screen, with the music almost another character between the two main characters (played superbly by J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller -- an actor whose hype I never understood until this film), the tension on screen froze up my body as well. When the lights went on in the theater, I let out a breath I must have been holding without realizing. An excellent script, fascinating directing, and good acting. A solid, great movie... if you must watch it at home, watch it with the volume loud.


A beautiful, eerie, dark film that captivated me from the start. A somewhat silent film that still told a story, at once otherworldly and yet recognizable. It was uncomfortable, mostly, but enthralling. I like having to pick up the clues in a film to understand what's happening; my brain was churning through this whole viewing. The end culminates into a tableau of alien horror--based in a true, familiar, sad reality. The incredible visuals elevate the story to an even higher plane.


I'm not one for biopics; I've always been more of a fan of fiction and creative storytelling as opposed to depicting fact -- mostly, I'd like to leave it to documentaries. Trust me, no Hollywood film based on a true story is going to get every fact correct. Fellow true story Academy Award nominees American Sniper, The Imitation Game, Theory of Everything, Foxcatcher -- all have "fact" issues. Let's also talk about facts -- how a different perspective sees facts differently (it took a show like The Affair to really demonstrate that outrightly) -- and how Selma is from a perspective most films don't show, it's a familiar story told from someone else's valid perspective. Hurrah for that perspective! The predictability and remake barrage has bored me in the theaters; Selma told a great story freshly, and well. And the LBJ historical critics? The film is more than fair to his legacy, I didn't understand it's criticisms as I watched. As written in the New Yorker in defense of this film: "Indeed, there is no moment in “Selma” where King really thanks Johnson or, Hollywood-style, puts his hand on his shoulder and tells him, “You’re a good man.” If that’s what the “Selma” critics crave, there are plenty of movies that offer it." It's just stunning to me that this is the film being attacked; it's a great film. The acting, the script, the directing are superb. As a woman, it's truly amazing and stupefying to make realizations mid-film like "wow, I'm watching more than one scene of two women speaking to each other." That's because the film was directed by a woman. And that's why it's important: representation and balance on many, many levels. Ava DuVernay is a gifted director, and I look forward to more of her work. As the film ends with a speech by the extremely talented David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr., there's a point that the crowd in the film begins to clap, and I was jolted as many people in the theater erupted into applause as well. I couldn't help but agree.


Wes Anderson, usually an acquired taste, seemed to have hit something this year with audiences -- was it the ending? Either way, I'm glad more people are on board. I mean, a Wes Anderson film is nominated for an Academy Award?! What! But it's a great film, a movie that retains Anderson's style and whimsy and humor with punctuations of disturbing darkness -- so colorful, and yet -- that ending. The directorial effort on display, the camerawork, set design, and images are all wonderful. I've never liked Ralph Fiennes as much, it was just a perfectly played role. I was excited by this film (saw it twice in theaters) and I've never been more excited for what Anderson has planned next.


Under the guise of treating my husband to a special event by one of his favorite directors, I bought tickets to a screening of Only Lovers Left Alive that included a post-film concert of the soundtrack live. Jesse loves Jim Jarmusch--Dead Man is his favorite film of all time--and I thought, hey, maybe Tom Hiddleston will show up? Two birds, one stone, you know what I mean? Sadly, Hiddleston did not, but we watched with Jarmusch a few rows behind us. I'm smiling as I type this because it really was a fantastic night: the entire Sunshine Theater in New York was booked for Only Lovers, decorated and dimmed, eerie music playing as we waited for the film to begin. And what a film! Gothic and beautiful and TILDA and funny and me thinking, huh, this is really Jarmusch? It's, in my opinion, his most accessible film. I played the soundtrack on loop for months afterwards--those guitars!--and perhaps that was because we saw that soundtrack played live amongst sets reconstructed from the film??

Me in Adam's studio
I don't know what PR firm handled that event, but that's how you promote a film--centering every detail to recall the film, and make it memorable. The film itself was perfect for the treatment given the acting, the directing, but also the essential music.


Here's a film I was excited for because I read the book -- and I was happy that Cheryl Strayed's flawed, beautiful, persevering spirit was captured so well by Reese Witherspoon and the movie. Most of the moments in the book are depicted similarly, there are many passages in the book I read and felt so visceral and gut-punching, and the film accomplished that as well. Though there were parts that made me nearly look away from the page (something that's not happened very often while reading anything), the film managed to sliver them in, and I liked the way the film's script and directing handled Strayed's small but engrossing story.


Yeah, this movie has its flaws and some weird special effects, but damn if it isn't a great ride of a film. It's a spectacle in the best way -- with twists and turns that kept me guessing, and I love not knowing what's about to happen in a movie these days. Chris Evans impressed me most here than any other work he's done, and the cast of characters, dystopian story, and jumble of metaphors provided a lot of fun for the viewer. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this movie from beginning to end.


Here's a true story that's never been told on the screen! And despite earlier protests in this post, I really just loved this movie because of it's heartache and uplift, for its superb acting in Gugu Mbatha-Raw (she will win an Academy Award one day -- she should have been nominated for this), and for its sweeping period directing (I really, truly, love sweeping period films. LOVE THEM). Another film that depicts a time in the past, that still attests to the issues we face in the present. (And like Selma, it also co-stars Tom Wilkinson? And was directed by a woman!)


Woah woah woah left field, right?! I mean, I wanted to put 22 Jump Street here (that's not really a joke) but this one came in late and under the radar at the tail end of 2014. And wow! I remember loving Once, and when I started this movie I had no idea it was by the same filmmaker. I had heard mere blips about this movie. Nobody was like: Hey, Jessica, you might like this, it's got good music and heartfelt storylines and wonderfully rendered characters that don't fall into gender tropes -- so, this is me telling you: watch this movie. (You know who did recommend it to me? Jesse's dad! My father-in-law suggested this film!) Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo are grand. Adam Levine is also in this movie, but he's not as grating as I expected. And the soundtrack is on repeat -- did you hear the featured song in the film "Lost Stars" is nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars? -- little did I know Keira Knightley could sing in that singer-songwriter style I love. The emo girl in my heart, she was satisfied.


HONORABLE MENTIONS (that probably, given my mood, could have made my Top Ten -- 2014 was a *#$&!& great year in movies in my opinion)

WE ARE THE BEST! - currently streaming on Netflix, this Swedish film about a trio of pre-teen girls who start a punk band made me smile with glee. Punctuation point! Similar to Boyhood, there's something recognizable about watching these girls' journey in adolescence.

IDA - a black and white Polish film that searched down corridors I was not expecting. Awe-some.

22 JUMP STREET - if you know me, you know why. Best comedy of the year. Channing Tatum 4 Lyfe. Something Cool.

THE EDGE OF TOMORROW - on the insistence of one of my best friends, I relented and watched this Tom Cruise flick, and then watched it again the next night (he may or may not have gifted me the movie on iTunes for my birthday). This is a GREAT movie. Tom Cruise, yet again, proves why he's a great star and actor. Emily Blunt, you rule. I had one minor quibble, but other than that: spectacular.

GONE GIRL - one of my favorite theater-going experiences on opening night. You could almost hear the difference between the people who had read the book against the shocked waves of those who hadn't. There's some mishandling of the material, but I love watching that dark, brooding Fincher directing, unapologetically.

BIRDMAN - spectacle, spectacle, not GREAT, but damn good. A little too clever, perhaps? The cinematography shines above all else.

BLUE RUIN - WHAT IS THIS AMAZING MOVIE? It's streaming on Netflix right now and I urge you to watch it immediately. Jesse and I were -- I'm about to use this word -- gobsmacked as we watched. I won't even mention anything about it, just watch it.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY - because it was the most entertaining film I saw all year.

THE ONE I LOVE - SCRIPT. Low budget science fiction might be my favorite screen spectacle; I loved that this is essentially sci-fi but more grandly about human romantic relationships. A more cynical Eternal Sunshine, but worth the ride all the same. Plus, Moss + Duplass! And though I love low-budget sci-fi there's still something about...

INTERSTELLAR - I didn't even know if I liked this movie upon first viewing. But after several conversations (SEVERAL!) and me watching myself slowly to fervently start defending it, I really love that there's a director like Nolan out there who gets the big bucks to tell unpredictable stories in IMAX.
















And now, your thoughts! What were your favorites?? What did I miss? I have a list of films still to see -- Nightcrawler, The Babadook, Two Days One Night among them.

Some of my past top film posts: 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013

1 comment:

  1. Chris Evans really surprised me in Snowpiercer. It's like it wasn't even him. I'm so used to seeing him clean cut and I just loved him in it. The ending was a bit of a let down but overall it was an entertaining movie.

    Guardians of the Galaxy was so much fun. I've decided Gronk is basically Groot.