Thursday, January 1, 2015

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Top 25 of 2014!

2014 has gone! So what better time to look back on it?

Last year, I labored long and hard over my Top 24, culled from the 91 movies I saw. This year, I did one better: a total of 92. So why not? Let's tick it back up to a full 25. It just feels right.

As usual, everything is ranked from 25 to eleven; my Top Ten is alphabetized, since I like doing my Hollmann Award Nominations all traditional-like. And if you want a complete list of the other 67 films that didn't make it -- check the bottom.

And now that's all done...the Top 25 of 2014!

25. Fury

dir/scr: David Ayer
cin: Roman Vasyanov
A stirring depiction of the horrors of war, exposing not just the brutality done to men in combat -- though that, certainly, is gruesomely on display -- but what is done psychologically. Having the tone and style of the film slowly shift to match the lead's own arc from unwilling participant to "kill 'em all" grunt was effectively executed.

That's just the beginning -- activist, artists, actors, and a whole lot of gays, after the jump!

24. Lucy

dir/scr: Luc Besson
cin: Thierry Arbogast
A movie that took an insane idea and ran with it, refusing to wink but all the while having a great time. I applaud everyone for getting on board with the same, straight-faced tone. This is probably the best use anyone's made of Scarlett Johansson's presence and abilities since The Girl with the Pearl Earring. Visually striking.

23. Whiplash

dir/scr: Damien Chazelle, from his short film
cin: Sharone Meir
A movie that left me breathless! My leg shook throughout, both in time to the music, and out of nervous excitement. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons are perfectly in sync, their toxic chemistry a bizarre, irresistible thing to watch. Many a movie talks about the thin line between genius and madness; this one actually shows it, no punches pulled.

22. The Boxtrolls

dir: Graham Annable/Anthony Stacchi
scr: Irina Brignull/Adam Pava, from Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow
Good Lord, does Laika know how to put on a show or what? ParaNorman may still be my favorite, but this one is unquestionably their best, fully embracing the quirk of the story in every aspect, be it the Caligari-esque designs of some sets, the portrayal of a township obsessed by cheese, or the unseemly design of the characters, all blotchy, warty, veiny and gross. A lovely film!

21. Mr. Turner

dir/scr: Mike Leigh
cin: Dick Pope
The look of the film gets you from frame one: a windmill at sunset, near a creek, two Dutch women walking by. Leigh's approach to filmmaking, which includes months of prep, rehearsal and improv with his cast and crew, brings authenticity: you can almost smell the oils, the must, the fish, the sweat. Episodic and yet clearly charting an arc, the film captures not just a life, but an era.

20. G.B.F.

dir: Darren Stein
scr: George Northy
cin: Jonathan Hall
Line for line, one of the funniest movies I've seen all year, and one that touched me significantly.
Its young cast of up-and-comers, led by the magnetic Michael J. Willett of MTV's Faking It, gives me up for the next generation of actors, and they hold their own with the gay icon vets (Megan Mullally, Natasha Lyonne). It's not always a perfect script, but it's sweet, funny, and sometimes surprising.

19. Birdman

dir: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
scr: Armando Bo/Alexander Dinelaris/Nicholas Giacobone/Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
cin: Emmanuel Lubezki
It's the greatest surprise of the century: an Inarritu film on my best-of list? Yet here it is, and deservedly so -- turns out, he should have been making comedies all along! The handful of single takes allows for a pulse, for us to be brought completely into Riggan Thompson's headspace (though Michael Keaton's already doing a bang-up job on his own), for actual ensemble work. Vibrant and beautiful.

18. Noah

dir: Darren Aronofsky
scr: Darren Aronofsky/Ari Handel, adapted from a tale from the Book of Genesis
cin: Matthew Libatique
The Bible has many translations; many bizarre and crazy things happen in it. Aronofsky sees the crazy and decides to meet it head-on, filling his story with mythical beasts (doomed), rock monster angels (why not!), magical pregnancy tests, and, I'm pretty sure, a Biblical Thunderdome. And yet whatever Scripture says happened, it goes along with! Cheers forgiving us a crazed Noah in Russell Crowe, and for fully realizing the horror of divine punishment.

17. The Hundred-Foot Journey

dir: Lasse Halstrom
scr: Steven Knight, from the novel by Richard C. Morais
cin: Linus Sandgren
Delicious to watch in many respects! Yes, yes, it's a pure foodie film, with both French and Indian cuisine presented to the camera in all their sauce-y, sizzling glory. But I also delighted in the little love stories that played out, and the genuine complication that comes from navigating dogged pursuit of your career and relationships with others, be they family or French girls with piercing blue eyes. And hey, when a cast is as easy on the eyes as this one, every moment's a dish to be savored.

16. Dear White People

dir/scr: Justin Simien
cin: Topher Osborn
A promising debut feature from Simien, confident and questioning. There were moments that made me laugh at the absurdity (I still can't believe the whole hair-touching nonsense -- why would that be OK?); there were moments that made me laugh nervously in embarrassment and recognition (blackface parties? yes, I remember those). Tessa Thompson announces herself fiercely as a star, not one "to be watched", as though from the sidelines, but to be SEEN, to inundate with offers, to anchor film after film!

15. Gone Girl

dir: David Fincher
scr: Gillian Flynn, from her novel
cin: Jeff Cronenweth
The Golden Globes can call it a Drama all they want -- this is a pitch-black comedy about people held captive by a prison of their own creation: marriage vows. It's all there: the bitchy dialogue, the almost-impossible attention to detail in the main plot, the sudden burst of grand guignol, the entire being of Missi Pyle's performance. I'm just happy someone other than that Joe Wright appreciates the gift that is Rosamund Pike.

14. The Immigrant

dir: James Gray
scr: James Gray/Richard Menello
cin: Darius Khondji
Like Mr. Turner, The Immigrant marvelously captures a time and place -- in this case, early 20th-century New York City, seen through the eyes of a Polish immigrant beautifully played by Marion Cotillard. The story of a poor woman forced into prostitution oh the woe the woe, has been told many a time; not like this. Ewa is no victim, but a calculating survivor, weighing her decisions, watching, preparing as much as she can. Much has been made of Khondji's sepia-tinted work, and I ain't about to go against the grain -- it's stunning.

13. Inherent Vice

dir/scr: Paul Thomas Anderson, from the novel by Thomas Pynchon
cin: Robert Elswit
Complicated stuff here, from Katherine Waterston's neat balance of heroine, victim, and fatale, to the subtle breaking of Josh Brolin's no-shades-of-grey cop, to its observations on the transition from the '60s to the '70s, with all the vices and benefits of The Movement being monetized and corporatized. There's an intangible expressed here, something that got lost, or maybe it never was, but now even the illusion is...poof. Which is some sobering stuff for a stoner noir. Oh, it's funny, too.

12. Stranger by the Lake

dir/scr: Alain Guiraudie
cin: Claire Mathon
A genuinely sexy erotic thriller -- De Palma with cock -- and a fascinating look at cruising culture! It's not all spontaneous excitement, but almost an obligation, a habit, like checking the mail -- so when you get someone who really, I mean really blows you away, you can overlook a few flaws. Neatly links the willing dangers we put ourselves into, be it unprotected, anonymous sex ("I trust you"), or pursuing an affair with a murderer. As you do.

11. Nightcrawler

dir/scr: Dan Gilroy
cin: Robert Elswit
Chilling drama, pitch-black humor, all in service of one man's fucked-up American Dream. As much a cynical portrayal of those with a "can-do" spirit as it is a takedown of modern media, where "newsworthy" is decided by the phrase, "If it bleeds, it leads." Score, cinematography put us right in the lead's psyche...a terribly uncomfortable place to be!

And, in alphabetical order, my Top Ten of 2014 are:

Beyond the Lights
dir/scr: Gina Prince-Bythewood
cin: Tami Reiker
Refreshingly complete portrait of a woman; an ending that neatly caps the movie, but feels like there's a life after. Critical eye, but no wagging finger.

dir/scr: Richard Linklater
cin: Lee Daniel/Shane F. Kelly
Moving portrait of how times change, people evolve, old habits die hard, and kids are going to have to figure some of it out on their own.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
dir: Wes Anderson
scr: Wes Anderson, story by Anderson/Hugo Guinness, inspired by the works of Stefan Zweig
cin: Robert D. Yeoman
Anderson gets better and better at nailing melancholy nostalgia, when our greatest sense of self, family, and purpose was not necessarily during peacetime.

The Homesman
dir: Tommy Lee Jones
scr: Kieran Fitzgerald/Tommy Lee Jones/Wesley A. Oliver, from the novel by Glendon Swarthout
cin: Rodrigo Prieto
Jaw-dropping elegy for the women of the West, taking surprising turns that alter perspective without compromising story, characters.

dir: Pawel Pawlikowski
scr: Rebecca Lenkiewicz/Pawel Pawlikowski
cin: Ryszard Lenczewski/Lukasz Zal
Surprisingly fun and funny, but it does illuminate crimes against the Jewish people outside the Nazi party. Identity, religion, grief explored empathetically. All hail the Agatas! 

A Most Violent Year
dir/scr: J.C. Chandor
cin: Bradford Young
A crime drama without the criminals? No, friends, this is about the compromises we make in pursuit of the American Dream, and the few good people who try to achieve it without getting their hands dirty.

dir: Matthew Warchus
scr: Stephen Beresford
cin: Tat Radcliffe
Extraordinarily generous, feel-good movie, without falling into the cloying traps that phrase would usually imply. Just aces.

dir: Ava DuVernay
scr: Paul Webb
cin: Bradford Young
Incisive look at the Civil Rights Moment as a series of battles, this being just one of many. Not afraid to look at flaws, humanizing the myth of King. Stirring, timely.

A Walk Among the Tombstones
dir/scr: Scott Frank, from the novel by Lawrence Block
cin: Mahai Malaimare, Jr.
Just an overall solid thriller, with a sturdy Liam Neeson anchoring a fine ensemble of character actors. Genuinely horrifying sequences. And sublime use of Donovan's "Atlantis".

We Are the Best!
dir/scr: Lukas Moodysson, from the comic by Coco Moodysson
cin: Ulf Brantas
Sharp, funny, touching, raucous.

Still to come this week -- my nominees for the 2014 Hollmann Awards, plus! Once again, an Oscar Retrospective of the year 1971! Stay tuned!

And if you're still interested, here are the films that didn't make it:

22 Jump Street
The Admiral: Roaring Currents
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
As Above, So Below
Before I Go to Sleep
Begin Again
Big Eyes
Big Hero 6
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Devil's Knot
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them
Earth to Echo
Edge of Tomorrow
Exodus: Gods and Kings
The Fault in Our Stars
Force Majeure
Get On Up
The Giver
Guardians of the Galaxy
If I Stay
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Jersey Boys
The Last of Robin Hood
The LEGO Movie
Love is Strange
Magic in the Moonlight
The Maze Runner
Million Dollar Arm
A Million Ways to Die in the West
The Monuments Men
Mr. Peabody and Sherman
My Old Lady
No Good Deed
Obvious Child
The Other Woman
The Raid 2
The Railway Man
The Sacrament
The Skeleton Twins
St. Vincent
Stage Fright
Still Alice
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Theory of Everything
This Is Where I Leave You
Under the Skin
Vampire Academy
Winter's Tale
X-Men: Days of Future Past


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