By Collin Ward, Guest Writer
This was not a good year for the movie industry.
Box office intake was down 5.2 percent from last year, Sony Pictures suffered a crippling cyber hack, and we lost some of our most beloved performers, including Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams. Reasons like these are why it is so important to remember the films that stood out in 2014.
Starting with some honorable mentions: David Fincher’s smart and sexy “Gone Girl” adaptation, the indie romantic comedy “Obvious Child,” sci-fi adventure “Snowpircer,” Australian director Jennifer Kent’s horror pop-up book film “The Babadook,” and the Marion Cotillard French film, “Two Days, One Night.” All very good movies, but could not crack a top 10 spot.
Here are the top 10 films of 2014.
10) “Nightcrawler”: This is a searing and satirical portrait of local TV news in Los Angles by first time director Dan Gilroy. “Think of our news as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut,” says a TV producer to Lou Bloom, an entrepreneurial sociopath, played with charm and a devilish smile by Jake Gyllenhaal in a career best performance. Bloom takes this advice literally and sets out with a camera to capture crime all over the city and sell it to TV stations (If it bleeds it leads). Shot by frequent L.A. photographer Robert Elswit and with a powerful supporting performance by Rene Russo as the ruthless producer, “Nightcrawer” is a film that brilliantly examines what sells in today’s all media culture and delves into the minds of today’s can do generation.
9) “The LEGO Movie”: The clunky, square-shaped, fingerless bodies of LEGOs are brought to hysterical life by co-writers and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. The movie looks like some genius homemade stop-motion by a kid and that gets its payoff in the movie’s third act. Featuring voice work by Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman, and 2014 break out star Chris Pratt, everything about this animated film is awesome.
8) “Interstellar”: Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi adventure through wormholes and the fifth dimension may be confusing, but it sure is beautiful. You have to admire Nolan for just going for it, the scale, the story, the score by Hans Zimmer are all so massive in scope, which lead to a viewing experience on 70mm IMAX that was so overwhelmingly beautiful, yet intimate. Nolan’s work on this film is surprisingly experimental and without a doubt will influence and inspire filmmakers in the future.
7) “Boyhood”: Director Richard Linklater’s 12-year spanning family drama sure is a sight to see. The story is simple, the life of a young man named Mason, played so naturally by Ellar Coltrane, from age five to age 18, pulling the story off is another feat. For two weeks a year for 12 years straight Linklater got the same cast and crew together to film. Every year we see the actors age, the choices they make affect them, and the memories and bonds of family are all played out. It is a true testament to the commitment of all the artists in front and behind the camera.
6) “Birdman”: Riggin Thomson is a washed-up, has-been actor who once played an iconic superhero named Birdman. Michael Keaton, who most famously played Batman in the late 80s and early 90s, plays Thomson. Now, I am not saying Keaton is washed up, but you have to laugh at the similarities. Once you get over that on the surface observation the movie blossoms into a story about a man fighting his inner critic and demons. Shot in what looks like one long continuous take by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, this fast-paced dark comedy never lets up. Director Alejandro G. Inarritu has assembled a powerhouse cast with Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, and Amy Ryan, but the true star is Keaton who leaves everything on screen and surrenders himself to Birdman in what is one of the best performances of the year.
5) “Foxcatcher”: There is an overall dread and uneasy feeling throughout “Foxcatcher,” that feeling is masterfully and meticulously crafted by director Bennett Miller who delivers us one of the most powerfully engrossing films of the year. Tacking themes of the American dream, power, and family while telling the true and story of Olympic wrestling team Mark and David Schultz and their multimillionaire sponsor John du Pont, played by the transformed Steve Carell. The brilliance of this film is in how amazingly real and average the story is, and I mean that in the best possible way. There is no “movie moment” where a character breaks down and we, as an audience, get all the motivations handed to us on a platter. There is none of that. Which makes the movie’s violent end all the more shocking and ruthless because it is, like life, so random.
4) “The Grand Budapest Hotel”: Director Wes Anderson has delivered us his fantastically created worlds consistently since the mid 90s. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” feels like a culmination of everything we have come to expect and love from the director, tracking shots, colorfully rich lead and supporting characters, wonderfully produced sets and miniatures, and a fast wit to his language. If the commanding performance by Ralph Fiennes as a legendary concierge does not hook you, the eye candy of sets, costumes, and props will. This is a director on top of his game delivering us joyous entertainment.
3) “Under the Skin”: This under-the-radar art flick is like nothing else on this list. For those skeptics who think movies cannot be art, check out this experimental film from director Jonathan Glazer. Scarlett Johansson plays a mysterious unnamed woman who drives around the foggy roads of Scotland seducing men to come home with her. Glazer uses hidden cameras placed within the car to capture Johansson’s encounters with complete strangers on the road. Yes, completely random people were used as actors in most parts of this film. Johansson disappears into the role as a woman trying to understand human behavior, and the end of the film leaves you with a statement of how truly ugly human nature can be.
2) “Selma”: This is a biopic, which isn’t so much a biopic as it is a capsule of a time and place that just so happens to be occupied by some of history’s most famous figures. Ava DuVernay’s film about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his fight to get the voting rights act passed is a powerful piece of cinema. This film could not be timelier in its depiction of police brutality and protest. The violence is real and horrible, but in DuVernay’s hands it is never gratuitous. Her smart and intimate perspective works impeccably well on this large-scale film. David Oyelowo’s King is something to be seen. He does not go all out imitation of Dr. King but totally embodies the spirit and importance of his words; there is simply no better male performance this year.
1) “Whiplash”: First time director Damien Chazelle explodes onto the film scene with this passionate, powerful, and intense drama staring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. Shot in only 19 days and working from a script he wrote, Chazelle tackles themes of power, student vs. teacher, and the pursue of perfection. A totally intoxicating story of young drummer Andrew, played by one of the best young actors around, Teller, who is accepted into the most prestigious jazz band within his school. Fletcher, a ruthless drill sergeant played with ferocity by veteran character actor Simmons, conducts the band. Precision editing, sharp dialogue, and an engrossing character study of a young man’s decent into perfection. As Fletcher says, “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job’.” I will simply say “Whiplash” is the best film of 2014.