In light of the Oscars on Sunday, it felt about time to post my top ten films of 2014. I’ll be adopting a new format this year and throughout this week and next. I’ll be posting the lists of the various editors of The Metaplex.
Every year, patterns emerge, but in 2014 there was one that was unusually specific. Film after film satirized the media, from a subtle jab in The Edge of Tomorrow to major elements of the plot in Gone Girl, Birdman, and Nightcrawler — three of the year’s most prolific films — to be wholly concerned with the news. In particular, how the news affects the public consciousness, and the delineations present between the newscaster, the public, propaganda, and truth. Additionally, in a pattern I can’t account for, David Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson, and even Babel filmmaker Alejandro González Iñarritu, famous for being a sour-faced downer, all went the way of the comedy. Even The Grand Budapest Hotel seems to be Anderson’s funniest film. Nightcrawler, too, is a black comedy of a sort, and each screening of Gilroy’s debut had plenty of laughs. Two films, Boyhood and Interstellar, obsessed over time, and found different stylistic ways to represent it.
Before we get to the list, more random thoughts:
I must give a shoutout to the terrific work Gareth Edwards did on Godzilla, which is top 10 best-directed material, but it’s crippled by a dim-witted screenplay. His work on Star Wars is muchly anticipated. John Wick is wicked fun for fans of action fare, and I’ll smile when a sequel is officially announced. The Winter Soldier may become a favorite with time, as it’s become an easy go-to for something to “pop on.” It’s Three Days of the Condor-style fun with an easy excuse to gaze at Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson. Brilliant. I’ll defend Aronofsky’s Noah to the end of my days. If you didn’t like the rock giants, I did, and this is my list. Brendan Gleeson getting overlooked for his work in Calvary is a crime, and I petition a tribunal to find those responsible. A second viewing of Inherent Vice might make it pop up a few places while more than likely making me crave pizza. I look forward to it. I don’t get the Under the Skin hype, and you can’t make me. And I've allowed myself one tie, as with previous years.
10.) The Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman) -
If Groundhog Day meets Aliens doesn’t sell you on this movie, nothing will. The Edge of Tomorrow is a movie’s movie, a blockbuster that’s damn proud of being a blockbuster and sets out early to justify that pride. It does. Tom Cruise is the only man on the planet that can lead movies like this one, and every second of Tomorrow proves he’s the last of the movie stars. Amongst the most viscerally powerful movies of last year, what easily could have been a convoluted CGI fest became an often exhilarating time travel actioner that — vitally — never lost its humanity. The action is riptide, but it’s the characters, played with movie-star charisma by Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, are what make the movie. It didn’t find a home in theaters. Let’s hope the move to blu-ray gives it a warm, and lasting, welcome.
9.) The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Isao Takahata) -
Takahata may be lesser known to the West than his Studio Ghibli counterpart Hayao Miyazaki (one of my favorite filmmakers of all time), but he’s no less an artist. Kaguya is a beautiful anime, directed as though a Japanese watercolor painting came to life. In the same way Steven Spielberg shot Schindler’s List in black and white to create an historical tone, the minimalist visual style gives Kaguya an unusual mythic spirit that compliments the folk-story origins of the narrative. A bamboo cutter witnesses a dizzying display of color and light in the forest, and soon finds himself with an otherworldly baby girl who he slowly raises into royalty with his wife. The rare anime aimed squarely at adults, Takahata imbues Kaguya with overwhelming sorrow to match its otherworldly whimsy.
8.) A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour) -
The most aggressively stylish film of the year, Amirpour’s directorial debut is nothing short of an Iranian black and white spaghetti western John Hughes vampire love story. Filmed in gorgeous compositions with Los Angeles made to look like an ominous Iranian frontier town called Bad City, virtue of originality takes Alone at Night far, but that its many genres and ideas compliment instead of contrast are what sells it as something special. Really, it’s a style-over-substance exercise in loneliness and love, told with utter stylishness where form and content become entirely the same. Expect a glowing review from The Metaplex to compliment its rerelease at the Gene Siskel Film Center later this month.
7.) Whiplash (Damien Chazelle) -
One of several debut features from their respective director, none impress more than Chazelle. This semi-autobiographical jazz school film about a student and an emotionally abusive teacher walks with more swagger than Marlon Brando and can be read as a love story with more sadomasochism than 50 Shades of Grey. His crackerjack style of crazy panning and quickfire editing makes it the best edited and tightest film of the year, with a finale that wholly justifies the warning of its title. Big screen brilliance.
6.) The Raid 2: Barendal (Gareth Evans) -
So the story is bloated and doesn’t inspire favorable comparison to the many films that the narrative homages (everything from Police Story to Infernal Affairs, which fans may recognize as the basis for Scorsese’s remake The Depahted), but when you’ve made one of the greatest action movies ever made you’re allowed indulgence. At least three of its elaborate, mind-blowing action sequences, most of which feature little to no CGI and instead rely on ultra-exact choreography, are “best ever” material, including a car chase that’s so electric it could shock a ghost back to life. Not many movies made my heart beat faster than this one, and I left the theater physically exhausted. The stunt team behind The Raid and The Raid 2 caught the eye of J.J. Abrams and reportedly helped with a major fight scene in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Holy. Shit.
5.) Gone Girl (David Fincher) -
The breakout R-rated film of the year is based on Gillian Flynn’s best selling novel of the same name (she also wrote the screenplay, HUGE Oscar snub). Few take as much unapologetic joy in shocking audiences than Se7en and Fight Club director David Fincher. Following a conventional but brilliantly staged first half, Gone Girl goes the way of the absurd, becoming something of a David Lynch black comedy, smirking at its own subversive ridiculousness with a Joker-esque grin. It’s a mad, mad world in Gone Girl, which measures masculine and feminine with a provocative wink to get people talking, and with a worldwide box office of 368 million, clearly, they have.
3.) Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson) -
There’s a film trope based on dubious psychological validity that people who suffer from amnesia sometimes feel a sense of loss or yearning for people they don’t remember, that they retain the emotions from their old memories but without the memories themselves. That’s something like watching The Grand Budapest Hotel, which memorializes an altogether grander time, where manners, principles, and morals reigned above any and all other consideration. That time, as Hotel mournfully notes, may not have existed in the first place, but memorialize it must. There’s something really wonderful about this film beyond that it may be Wes’ best; perhaps that it basks in melancholy like a warm summer glow, or the delight it takes in itself. And, for once, Wes makes sure you’re in on his jokes.
3.) Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy) -
Entering the pantheon of great “L.A. films,” we follow a gaunt sociopath as he shocks his way up the news story ladder. Nightcrawler is a harrowing, lurid look at the seedy underbelly of broadcast news. Jake Gyllenhaal lost loads of weight and mastered Gilroy’s brilliantly wordy, sardonic, satirical screenplay, and as a result gave the best performance of 2014. His character Lou Bloom is a nightcrawler, someone who scours the night for prey (the character was modeled after a coyote), to film the bloodiest footage he can of disasters, car wrecks, and shootings. Nightcrawler doesn’t indict the media so much as society as a corrupt whole, and Gilroy has an uncomfortable pulse on what makes people really tick: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Entertaining, surprisingly funny, taut, tense, and devilishly perceptive, it’s a minor masterpiece from 2014.
2.) Interstellar (Christopher Nolan) -
Yes, it’s an over-confident and sometimes sloppy imitation of a Kubrick-Malick marriage that doesn’t always work. And, yes, there are passages that can be a slog to sit through. But few films celebrate cinema the way Interstellar celebrates cinema, organs blaring, spaceships zooming, and IMAX projectors rolling. It’s the ultimate B-movie, a gorgeous synthesis of high art and pure pulp, taking control of sights and sounds that scream from the rooftops to be seen and heard on the biggest screen possible.
Nolan’s magnum opus is reckless and oh-so-flawed, but it also touches a greatness few films can think of, with more than one scene seared into eternal movie memory. The docking sequence is the sort of bravado genius that strikes as downright inspired, and, in turn, inspires you. But underneath the extraordinary fireworks is a heart and a mind, and when Nolan uses love to explain science, time, and other dimensions, and uses science, time, and other dimensions to explain love, Interstellar discovers something transcendent.
1.) Boyhood (Richard Linklater) -
For me, 2014 was a year of extraordinary change and transition. The touchstones of life, such as friends, careers, significant others, and family members, all found themselves in extreme and what sometimes felt like an unrelenting metamorphosis. So much so, I sometimes found myself breathless, struggling to keep up with it all. No film more than Richard Linklater’s Boyhood felt like a friend, not only comforting through persistence of presence — it is the rare film that lingers for months rather than days — but by capturing truths of life both obvious and abstract. Few films are as poorly reviewed as this one, since, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, vocalizing an experience this immense and this true, no matter how soulful, honest, or witty you can be, is a reductive exercise. Boyhood is cinema as magic, and by contemplating the expanse of life and time, we feel answers that we cannot explain.
Expect a "runner ups and underdogs" list next week!
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