Best of 2014
Honorable mentions go to Chef, Into The Woods, Pride, Selma, The Skeleton Twins and Unbroken. My top ten of 2014 includes:
10. The Babadook... A legitimately scary movie with a superb performance by lead actress Essie Davis. And what about that book? Please someone make this children's book for real so that I can have one! The best horror movie I have seen in years.
9. Fury... It's odd that WWII movies seem to have fallen out of favor with Oscar voters in favor of prestige biopics in recent years. There were two great WWII movies this year in Fury and Unbroken, and neither one made much progress on the awards scene. Fury is the superior and more creatively constructed of the two.
8. Nymphomaniac... Lars von Trier has done it again, constructing a darkly funny 4+ hour epic of one woman's love affair with her own vagina. There is no way this movie should have worked. It juxtaposes sex addiction with fly fishing for God's sake. But it ends up as an insightful, engaging and deeply watchable (if oftentimes uncomfortable) study of sex.
7. Inherent Vice... Did I understand everything that happened in this movie? Absolutely not. The penultimate scene with Josh Brolin's straight-laced cop eating a joint just about did my brain in. But this screenplay was without a doubt one of the most clever of the year, making me ruminate on what I had scene for days afterwards. .
6. American Sniper... Eastwood's Iraq War opus is without a doubt the best movie made to date on the ongoing Middle East quagmire. The way in which the director carefully unwraps this conflict over the course of two hours reveals not only the futility of the war itself, but how the players involved should have realized their error from the beginning.
5. Nightcrawler... If you want to name the movie that is the best representation of the modern age in which it was made, however, American Sniper just misses out to Nightcrawler. A could-be-depressing study of news-meets-entertainment-media, this movie delves into our consumer fascination with all things sensational in a deeply amusing way. (And bonus points for the best car chase sequence in recent film memory).
4. The Homesman... Perhaps the biggest surprise of this year's awards season for me was Tommy Lee Jones' The Homesman. Maybe just a little two subtle and pensive (i.e. indie) for mainstream awards voters, this movie delves into the plight of womanhood in the Old West, illuminating a situation I had never seen depicted on screen before. And it reminded me why I love Hilary Swank. It's impossible to imagine anyone else playing this lead role.
3. Snowpiercer... This movie could have been an absolute disaster. Look at the casting alone? Who would put together action stars with indie performers with television personalities with Korean actors with old Hollywood royalty? It doesn't seem to make sense. But what this cast accomplished was something that is so rare today (at least outside the James Bond landscape): a deeply intelligent and superbly made action film.
2. Wild... Jean-Marc Vallée has truly redeemed himself after what I felt was a deeply flawed (from a directorial standpoint) Dallas Buyers Club. Wild is just simply a terrific film. I can't really name a single thing in it that could have been improved upon. Pitch perfect in every way. I was honestly inspired by what I saw. Can't wait to own it on DVD, so I can watch it again and again.
1. Boyhood... For the second year in a row, this year's best film was made by Richard Linklater. Last year, he wowed me with Beyond Midnight, the third installment in his groundbreaking relationship trilogy. This year, out of the blue, he has stunned everyone with a 12-year study of growing up. Nobody constructs a scene like Linklater. You never for a second in this movie believe you are watching actors. You are simply watching a kid grow up. There is no artifice. This is why it is so sensational that Ellar Coltrane and Lorelai Linklater (hell- even Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) are in fact growing up on screen, right alongside their characters. It makes it so much more real. A great accomplishment and a truly special film that nobody will ever be able to imitate.