Thursday, December 25, 2014

Honorable Mention: Best Films of 2014, 25-11

So my 'Honorable Mention' section for my Top Ten of 2014 was getting a bit too robust, so in succinct fashion I will present The Best Films of 2014, 25-11. **There are a few movies that I would have loved to see that may have majorly effected this list, but considering the nature of late releases, was made pretty much impossible for me to see. Those films are: Selma, Two Days, One Night, Leviathan, A Most Violent Year and Winter Sleep.

John Lithgow and Alfred Molina in Love is Strange
25. Love is Strange. Ira Sachs' modestly told tale of contemporary marriage is so wonderfully lived-in, hilarious without being over-the-top. Tough to find better acting than John Lithgow and Alfred Molina here, playing a pair of newlywed life partners who find that life has much more in store for them once they finally achieve their lifelong dream of getting married.

24. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The second part in the latest iteration of 'Planet of the Apes' films may very well be the best. Mixing strong performances with intoxicating filmmaking, Dawn expertly draws the parallels to today's headlines without blinding it's central narrative. Andy Serkis as the lead ape, Caeser, continues to show that no one is even in his stratosphere in terms of motion-capture acting.

23. Obvious Child. Funny lady Jenny Slate's incredible performance fuels this wonderful millenial comedy about an up-and-coming stand-up comedian who finds the need to abort a pregnancy from a one-night stand. Hysterical and honest, this indie from first-timer Gillian Robespierre proves that good, real comedy can come from taboo subjects.

22. Belle. This period piece seemed like a stuffy costume drama on paper, but proved to be a truly effective film about 18th Century racial politics. Born from a Royal Navy Admiral, Belle (stunning Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is raised in luxury under her great uncle (Tom Wilkinson) despite her mixed race. As she becomes an adult, she begins to learn the rarity of her situation. Belle's story is a sort of inverted 12 Years a Slave - a much less brutal picture, but equally as wide in its vision and message.

21. Mr. Turner. Mike Leigh's love song to Romantic painter J.M.W. Turner is a grand testament to the English filmmaker's unorthodox legacy. Timothy Spall's performance as Turner is filled with growls and grumbles, and greatly helps Leigh's illustration of a melancholy genius who was able to visualize the chaos of humanity in his artwork so brilliantly, yet struggled mightily with the complexities of his own life.

Rosamund Pike haunts Ben Affleck in Gone Girl
20. Gone Girl. David Fincher treats the subject of marriage as he treats most things: with cold, clever disconnect. Based on the best-selling novel from Gillian Flynn (who also wrote the film's twisty screenplay), Fincher placed the drama of this murder mystery before we even went to the theater. Casting Ben Affleck in the lead was a stroke of genius that paid off handsomely, and as he's joined by a brilliant Rosamund Pike and a terrific supporting cast, Gone Girl is Fincher at his most mechanically subversive.

19. Birdman. The performances from Michael Keaton and Edward Norton in Birdman are amongst some of the greatest work you're viable to see in a movie in this year or any year. They're Birdman's main source of excitement. The latest film from Mexican auteur Alejandro González Iñárritu is a trippy journey through the crumbling mind of an actor (Keaton) hoping to reclaim past glory. Birdman has the best acting ensemble I saw this year, and it's cinematography from guru Emmanuel Lubezki isn't too shabby either.

18. Force Majeure. This Cannes favorite from Sweden is an engrossing comedy-drama about a fragile family's trip to a ski range in the south of France. When Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) takes his wife (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and children on a high-class vacation, he expects to relax. Instead, a chance event changes everything and starts raising serious questions about the nature of his position in his own family. A fascinating dissection of the twenty-first century male, Majeure is one of the year's best dark comedies.

17. Blue Ruin. This made-for-nothing indie thriller about a man's quest for vengeance created some of the most unbearable suspense of any movie from 2014. When a drifter (Macon Blair) hears some enlightening news, he decides to return to his hometown to avenge an awful deed from his past. His actions create a chain reaction of violence that could lead to trouble for his loved ones. Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, this violent tale hits the right neo-noir beats and effectively creates an eerie atmosphere.

16. Art and Craft. This wonderful documentary follows a few eccentric people, but none as interesting as Mark Landis, an art forger who's been playing massive cons on major museums for over thirty years. The filmmakers fill in the blanks of Landis' life story while showcasing his current hermetic life. The film also deals with Matthew Leininger, an art registrar who's obsession with catching Landis proves even more outlandish than the film's main subject. Art and Craft is equal parts funny and melancholy, a wonderful esoteric treat.

Jesse Eisenberg: One of the most interesting
acting talents in the movies
15. The Double. Director Richard Ayoade tackles Dostoevsky in his second major film about a Kafka-esque government clerk (Jesse Eisenberg) who no one notices. When the firm hires a man who is the clerk's exact physical copy but his exact emotional opposite, the clerk must fight desperately to assert his position at his job and with the woman he loves (Mia Wasikowska). Eisenberg plays both roles with such polar ferocity, further proving that there are few actors capable of the performances he's able to deliver.

14. Ida. This stark black-and-white film from Poland follows an orphaned novitiate nun (Agata Trzebuchowska) who gets a visit from an unknown aunt (Agata Kulesza) who tells her that she was Jewish and that her parents were killed during the Nazi occupation when she was a baby. Pawel Pawlikowski directed this somber study of two women desperately trying to get at the harmful truth in very different ways, in a country that may never overcome the specter of the Second World War.

13. Whiplash. Damien Chazelle's film about the obsessive nature of perfection is a violent, thrilling, character-driven story filled with breakneck filmmaking and a couple of performances that illustrates the film's complex themes. Miles Teller is a young jazz drummer who dreams of one day being a musician of the level of Charlie Parker. JK Simmons is the instructor leading the jazz band at the prestigious music conservatory who's not above heaving metal chairs at his students' heads to teach a lesson. Whiplash is loud, bloody and a brilliant narrative about the symbiotic nature of abuse, and the trials that one puts themselves through to achieve greatness.

12. Land Ho!. The story behind this film is so incredibly simple, and yet so unbelievably beautiful. Paul Eenhoorn plays a divorced sad-sack who's dragged out of his house by his blustering former brother-in-law - played by Earl Lynn Nelson with a charming Kentucky drawl - on an impromptu vacation to Iceland. The chemistry between Eenhoorn and Nelson is the structure behind this delightful comedy. The two old men drink, do drugs, have dinner with two younger women and most of all have such an inspiring amount of fun. Only We Are the Best! did a better job this year of cinematically visualizing the spirit of a life well-lived.

The only thing he loved more than the movies.

11. Life Itself. Steve James' documentary about the life of Roger Ebert does more justice to America's favorite film critic than any possible biopic ever could. Based on Ebert's own memoir, Life Itself splits between clips and interviews detailing Ebert's many achievements, and personal footage that James gets of Ebert in the final months of his life. Ebert spent the last few years of his life without his lower jaw, in and out of the hospital, and yet, he still continued to watch films and review everything he saw. James' footage proved that even in his harrowing situation, Ebert's lively spirit was never defeated. His love of films, his love of his family and, most importantly, his love of life becomes so apparent. It's the perfect testament to one of the movies' greatest icons.


As a special treat at the end of this post, I will include the Top Ten from my main movie (and life) companion, Taylor Panetti, who saw nearly every movie that I saw, right by my side.

10. Obvious Child. A hilarious comedy about something that's a very controversial, female-related issue, that's very honest and relatable.

9. Belle. An interesting take on pre-colonial slavery, condensing the race issues of the time and funneling it through it's multi-racial heroine in a way that's both universal and personal.

8. Under The Skin. I don't know why I liked it, but I did. It's weird and creepy and kind of gross - which are usually reasons I don't enjoy movies. But in it's gloomy, monochromatic way, it's finds a beauty. It's nice to see that Scarlett Johansson has a cute little belly, just like me!

7. Interstellar. I'm a sucker for anything space-y. Matthew McConaughey is great and Nolan's sense of scale was awesome and easy to appreciate as a space nerd. It's attempt to include actual scientific theory - while occasionally bloated - was cool too.

6. Calvary. It's dreary and depressing and it's Irish. It has gorgeous landscapes with cute settings. It's stance on religion aside - Brenden Gleeson seems to get a shit deal - it's a fascinating collection of eccentric characters.

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel. It's a Wes Anderson film, which means that it has a rich color palette which I always love. Ralph Fiennes is fantastic and funny (though I kept trying to erase his nose).

4. Guardians of the Galaxy. Chris Pratt calls someone a "turd blossom", which almost gets it on here on its own. It's a superhero movie that doesn't take itself seriously at all, with a really good soundtrack cast, and it's nice to see a franchise that's more unfamiliar.

3. The Book of Life. It's nice to see a completely different culture represented in an animated film backed by a major American movie studio. It's world-building is ambitious, vibrant and colorful, but still is able to pay homage to Mexican culture (even providing a voice cast of mostly Hispanic actors) without overdoing it. It also has a great incorporation of modern pop songs.

2. Wild. It's display of depression was incredibly human, helped greatly by the wonderful performance from Reese Witherspoon. Cheryl Strayed's journey is fluidly mixed with her tormented past, and the film's carousel of male cameos, showing the full spectrum of male hostility, went a long way toward showing how much a woman has to face, beyond hiking the harrowing Pacific Crest Trail.

1. The Boxtrolls. The perfect example of animation as an art form and craft. It's sad that there's only one company, Laika, that still does this, but it's impressive that they can maintain this craft when the movie industry is about quick fixes and fast money. They seem truly interested in the purity of stop-motion animation. With the film itself, it's a very unique story with very weird characters, that incorporates a lot of absurdity and grotesqueness in way that's safe for children and fascinating for adults. The form and texture of the animation style has such a sense of depth that puts it ahead of all other animated films, and it's a style that needs to supported and encouraged.

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