Best of 2014
10. Under the Skin
Director: Jonathan Glazer
R; 1 hr. 48 min.
An alien in human form is on a journey through Scotland. (Synopsis by A24).
This is a very strange little film; atmospheric and almost incomprehensible. The script is mysterious and beautiful at the same time. While it is not the most accessible film for general audiences, it is one of the best recent films of the sci-fi genre.
Director: Damien Chazelle
R; 1 hr. 46 min.
Andrew Neyman is an ambitious young jazz drummer, single-minded in his pursuit to rise to the top of his elite east coast music conservatory. Plagued by the failed writing career of his father, Andrew hungers day and night to become one of the greats. Terence Fletcher, an instructor equally known for his teaching talents as for his terrifying methods, leads the top jazz ensemble in the school. Fletcher discovers Andrew and transfers the aspiring drummer into his band, forever changing the young man’s life. Andrew’s passion to achieve perfection quickly spirals into obsession, as his ruthless teacher continues to push him to the brink of both his ability-and his sanity. (Synopsis by Sony Classics)
Simplicity is sometimes best. The script here boils down to two actors and jazz music. It is slow to start, but once rolling it is a ferocious and unrelenting portrait of mentorship.
8. The Raid 2
Director: Gareth Evans
R; 2 hr. 28 min.
He thought it was over. After fighting his way out of a building filled with gangsters and madmen – a fight that left the bodies of police and gangsters alike piled in the halls – rookie Jakarta cop Rama thought it was done and he could resume a normal life. He couldn’t have been more wrong. Formidable though they may have been, Rama’s opponents in that fateful building were nothing more than small fish swimming in a pond much larger than he ever dreamed possible. And his triumph over the small fry has attracted the attention of the predators farther up the food chain. His family at risk, Rama has only one choice to protect his infant son and wife: He must go undercover to enter the criminal underworld himself and climb through the hierarchy of competing forces until it leads him to the corrupt politicians and police pulling the strings at the top of the heap. And so Rama begins a new odyssey of violence, a journey that will force him to set aside his own life and history and take on a new identity as the violent offender “Yuda.” In prison he must gain the confidence of Uco – the son of a prominent gang kingpin – to join the gang himself, laying his own life on the line in a desperate all-or-nothing gambit to bring the whole rotten enterprise to an end. (Synopsis by Sony Classics)
Martial arts movies are making a comeback, but nobody is quite pulling off what “The Raid” series has done for stylized violence. Behind all the action is a better-than-average script which creates an organic feel for the action sequences.
7. The LEGO Movie
Director: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
PG; 1 hr. 41 min.
“The LEGO (R) Movie” is the first-ever, full-length theatrical LEGO (R) adventure. The original 3D computer animated story follows Emmet (Chris Pratt) an ordinary, rules- following, perfectly average LEGO minifigure who is mistakenly identified as the most extraordinary person and the key to saving the world. He is drafted into a fellowship of strangers on an epic quest to stop an evil tyrant, a journey for which Emmet is hopelessly and hilariously underprepared. (Synopsis by Warner Bros.)
In no way should this be this good–yet here we are. Taking such a simple premise and riffing so frantically on popular culture has never been more fun. Everything is awesome, indeed.
Director: Bennett Miller
R; 2 hr. 10 min.
FOXCATCHER is a psychological drama directed by Academy Award nominee Bennett Miller (MONEYBALL) and starring Golden Globe winner Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Academy Award nominee Mark Ruffalo, Academy Award winner Vanessa Redgrave and Sienna Miller. The film was written by E. Max Frye and Academy Award nominee Dan Futterman. FOXCATCHER tells the story of Olympic Gold Medal-winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Tatum), who sees a way out from the shadow of his more celebrated wrestling brother Dave (Ruffalo) and a life of poverty when he is summoned by eccentric multi-millionaire John du Pont (Carell) to move onto his estate and train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Desperate to gain the respect of his disapproving mother, du Pont begins “coaching” a world-class athletic team and, in the process, lures Mark into dangerous habits, breaks his confidence and drives him into a self-destructive spiral. Based on actual events, FOXCATCHER is a gripping and profoundly American story of fragile men who pinned their hopes for love and redemption on a desperate obsession for greatness that was to end in tragedy. (Synopsis by Sony Classics)
The performances alone elevate this “best of” material, but coupled with a fascinating script this film truly shines. The smart play here is focusing on the human story behind the sensationalism. A morality play about modern society and the American dream.
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Director: Wes Anderson
R; 1 hr. 39 min.
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL recounts the adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The story involves the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for an enormous family fortune — all against the back-drop ofa suddenly and dramatically changing Continent. (Synopsis by Fox Searchlight)
No director creates worlds the way Anderson can. But what really sets him apart is his ability to capture humor and sadness in that world. This is a darker film than his last few, but still immensely fun to watch.
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
R; 1 hr. 59 in.
BIRDMAN or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance is a black comedy that tells the story of an actor (Michael Keaton) – famous for portraying an iconic superhero – as he struggles to mount a Broadway play. In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career, and himself. (Synopsis by Fox Searchlight)
Previously reviewed by The Dagger.
Director: Ava DuVernay
PG-13; 2 hr. 7 min.
SELMA is the story of a movement. The film chronicles the tumultuous three-month period in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights in the face of violent opposition. The epic march from Selma to Montgomery culminated in President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant victories for the civil rights movement. Director Ava DuVernays SELMA tells the real story of how the revered leader and visionary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and his brothers and sisters in the movement prompted change that forever altered history. (Synopsis by Paramount)
The best portrayal of the civil rights movement. Both a sobering and stirring history lesson and drama. The greatest shock is that this is still relevant in modern society.
2. The Missing Picture
Director: Rithy Panh
UR; 1 hr. 36 in.
For many years, I have been looking for the missing picture: a photograph taken between 1975 and 1979 by the Khmer Rouge when they ruled over Cambodia…On its own, of course, an image cannot prove mass murder, but it gives us cause for thought, prompts us to meditate, to record History. I searched for it vainly in the archives, in old papers, in the country villages of Cambodia. Today I know: this image must be missing. I was not really looking for it; would it not be obscene and insignificant? So I created it. What I give you today is neither the picture nor the search for a unique image, but the picture of a quest: the quest that cinema allows. (Synopsis by Strand)
Panh is a survivor of the Pol Pot regime. This film is a journalistic attempt to document the history of Cambodia, himself, and his family. What Pol Pot attempted to destroy, Panh brings alive again with simple clay figures. Not an easy watch, but an important one.
Director: Richard Linklater
R; 2 hr. 45 min.
Filmed over 12 years with the same cast, Richard Linklater’s BOYHOOD is a groundbreaking story of growing up as seen through the eyes of a child named Mason (a breakthrough performance by Ellar Coltrane), who literally grows up on screen before our eyes. Starring Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as Mason’s parents and newcomer Lorelei Linklater as his sister Samantha, BOYHOOD charts the rocky terrain of childhood like no other film has before. Snapshots of adolescence from road trips and family dinners to birthdays and graduations and all the moments in between become transcendent, set to a soundtrack spanning the years from Coldplay’s Yellow to Arcade Fire’s Deep Blue. BOYHOOD is both a nostalgic time capsule of the recent past and an ode to growing up and parenting. It’s impossible to watch Mason and his family without thinking about our own journey. (Synopsis by Sundance)
Was there any other choice for 2014’s best? A film that spans a literal lifetime. This type of scope will probably never happen again in the history of cinema, especially with the myopic nature of modern audiences. Even if the film was average, the through-the-years accomplishment elevates “Boyhood” to a place against which no other film can be fairly compared. But it is also probably the best coming-of-age film ever. It isn’t a typical movie with a standard plot. It is life–documented, dramatized, and impeccably observant. This challenge to our expectations of the “growing up” story is easily the best film of the year.
Honorable Mention: Nightcrawler, The Strange Little Cat, Ida, Force Majeure, Snowpiercer